This Month On The Homestead: Starting Seeds and Picking Flowers
April 2021: The End of Sugaring Season
Final maple syrup count: we made 19 quarts this year! Our sugaring season is over, thanks to the weather warming up, the trees starting to bud out and–crucially–the fact that we ran out of the filters we use to sift sediment out of the syrup. We boiled sap much later in the season than in past years as the gradation in syrup color reflects.
We canned five different batches and, in this photo, you can see how light it was early in the season compared with the deep molasses color of the last batch we canned.
This year’s sap had a lower sugar content, which means we had to boil it down more than normal. Typically, you get about one gallon of syrup for every 40 gallons of maple sap, but our ratio was more like 60 to 1 this year.
I labeled our final batch as “baking syrup” because it has a slight buddy flavor–the flavor syrup gets late in the season when the maple trees start turning their attention to spring and put out buds. It’s totally edible, but it has a slight gamey tang on the end, so I’ll use it to make whole wheat bread and desserts. Did you know you can substitute maple syrup for sugar in just about every recipe? You can!
Making our own maple syrup is a labor of love. It’s time intensive, it’s expensive from an equipment perspective and we have to split a lot of firewood to boil that much sap, but it is glorious and delicious and perfect.
It’s a reason why we live here. This ability to make something from our trees, to sit outside together next to our evaporator, to spoon hot mouthfuls of fresh syrup for our kids to taste–that’s why we do it. Also, the syrup is really, really, really good.
Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA. Wondering about the financial aspects of rural life? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown as well as my monthly expense reports. Contemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.
I’m hoping this Easter was our last pandemic-style holiday. Our last holiday at home without the physical presence of friends or family. Our last holiday celebrated on a computer screen.
For Zoom church on Easter morning, we gathered all the dried flowers we could find to serve as our background. After church, we went out to continue boiling maple sap into syrup while the sun shone down. In radiant 40 degree “heat” we spent the day outside, thankful for each other, grateful for this life, smelling like maple sap, wood smoke and happiness.
This year the girls decorated hard boiled eggs with markers, which I have to say worked really well. It felt a lot easier than mixing up mugs of eye dye and trying to get a three-year-old not to accidentally knock them over. Markers for the win! They had a great time and I later made the results into deviled eggs.
We also did an indoor egg hunt with plastic eggs filed with fruit snacks. And for dinner? Homemade pizza. I’m such a fan of celebrating holidays however you want. I’m the person with no turkey for Thanksgiving, no Easter Bunny, a Santa Claus who shops at yard sales, homemade birthday cakes, as many reusable decorations as I can squeeze into our home, and lots and lots of good food.
Flower Bed Renovation: a Kidwoods, Littlewoods and Mamawoods Project
My mini garden assistants are out in force this spring with their wee rakes. I decided to tackle our neglected flower bed, which hasn’t received any attention since we moved here. It’s enormous and full of dead plants, but still manages to produce prolific perennial flowers. We love to pick and gaze at and dry these flowers, but they’ve been growing through hardship for five years. Now, I’m giving them some love. Of course I did look over one afternoon and realize Littlewoods was pulling daffodil bulbs out by the root, so uh, could be a mixed blessing for the flowers…
But my little crew did serious raking and we cleaned out about 60% of the bed. Bad news: the remaining 40% is populated with thorny black raspberry canes, which contracted blackberry orange rust disease last year and have to be removed. My hope is that the rust disease stays confined to this bed and doesn’t infect our gigantic blackberry patch. Coming soon: me in gloves digging out thorny canes by hand. Also me: reclining on the couch since I threw my back out via some aggressive raking…
Vegetable Garden Prep
I also started all the seeds for our veggie garden, with extensive “help” from my planting assistants who ensured full dirt coverage and were remarkably efficient in crossing things off my “to plant” list. What they crossed off I will never know, but let me tell you, it is crossed off. Now all baby plants bask in the warmth of our kitchen while we wait for snow to melt and ground to thaw.
Mr. FW built our seed starting tower a few years ago and sized it to fit in our kitchen’s bay window. The lights are plain old LED shop lights hung from adjustable s-hook chains that we raise and lower as the plants grow. We started seeds without this tower our first few years and I have to say, the tower is a game-changer. If you’re going to start more than a few flats of veggies, having vertical storage is AMAZING. Particularly if you happen to have, ahem, dirt-curious family members.
Here’s what I started:
- Bush beans
- Snap peas
- Ground cherries
Everything germinated except for the onions. Since not one single onion germinated, I assume I did something drastically wrong. Or maybe I got bum seeds. Either way, it’s too late for me to start more now, so hopefully I can buy/swap some onion starts from a neighbor.
The rest of our garden is either perennial–as is the case with our strawberries, blueberries, currants, apples, chives, flowers and plums–or, it’ll be direct sown, which means planted straight into the ground as seeds.
Early spring flower roll call: hyacinth and daffodil. What we lack in variety, we make up in quantity.
Why, you might wonder, do I have so very many of each flower plucked from my garden? That would be thanks to my intrepid, indefatigable flower pickers. I’m a sucker for bouquets presented at my back door by mud-splattered children so obviously pleased with themselves.
I find myself unable to resist, despite what this “harvest” is likely doing to the longterm life of my flower bed. But wow do I love fresh flowers and fresh children in my house.
Hiking: Always a Good Idea
Kidwoods started hiking the “real adult trail” with me and she’s pretty good at it. It’s not a short or easy hike, but she is strong and tough!
She hiked three times with me in April and going forward, I’m going to set aside one hike per week for her to join me.
She is so earnest in her desire to emulate me and I’m thrilled to instill a love of nature (and hiking!) in a person who is only five years old. I hope she’ll still hike with me in ten years, in twenty years, and maybe someday with kids of her own.
A cold and rainy afternoon near the wood stove, reading and snuggling. These are the moments I WISH I did more often. This is what I imagine when I describe myself as a mom.
But in reality, this is a tiny excerpt of our day. A day of cleaning all the bathrooms and vacuuming all the rooms and doing all the laundry. A day of me snapping at my children as they tackled each other on my bed while I tried to vacuum underneath it. A day of letting them “style” my hair and doing puzzles together. A day with TV for them and frustration for me and a massive quinoa spill on the kitchen floor.
But this was a good moment. A warm, intentional, snuggly moment, captured by my husband on his way to sort the recycling. Because that’s what life is. A lot of shit surrounded by some kickass moments. Also, please ignore my laundry drying in the background.
I am half-vaxxed!!!! Got my first shot of Moderna in mid-April and let me tell you, I have never been so delighted at the prospect of a needle. Pretty sure I embarrassed the very sweet young National Guardsperson who was, honestly, just trying to check me in. I was all, “Oh hello! Yes I DO have an appointment and what a gorgeous day this is [it was snowing. heavily].” And he replied, “uh, ma’am, please just go through the door to your right.” And I thought, yes, I AM a ma’am and I am happy about it because it means I’m old enough to GET MY VACCINE. Mr. FW and I will both be fully vaccinated (+14 days) at the end of May and we are counting it down!!!
Fruit Orchard Status: In The Ground
Our brand new baby trees arrived in mid-April and Mr. FW spent seven hours digging homes for them. Thankfully the snow finished melting the morning the trees arrived so he didn’t have to first shovel snow in order to dig the holes to put the trees in to grow the fruit.
Kidwoods supervised the planting of peach, pear and cider apple trees, which will hopefully bear fruit before she goes to high school. Nothing moves quickly out here—except for a man who has to dig an entire orchard of holes in one day—which suits us just fine. We’re on the slow train to building our perennial, permaculture, permanent, pretty good/good enough homestead.
These trees join our existing orchard of 10 apple trees, 3 plum trees, 28 blueberry bushes, 3 currant bushes and a wild thicket of blackberries
Here’s what we planted:
- 4 cider apple trees
- 5 pear trees
- 2 peach trees
- 4 elderberry bushes
For the rundown on which varieties we planted, and the cost of each tree, check out this post.
New Year’s Resolutions Check-In
This is more for me than for you, buuuuuttttt, as I shared in this post, I made two straightforward New Year’s intentions/resolutions/goals for The Year of Our Covid, 2021:
- I will hike every single day.
- I will spend 1,000 hours outside with my kids.
Here’s how we did in April:
- Hiking: I hiked every day, except for one. Kidwoods joined me on 3 of my hikes this month
- Hours Outside: 88
Year to Date (as of April 30, 2021):
- Days hiked: 118, Days missed: 2
- Hours outside: 222
I’m not sharing this to self-flagellate or self-congratulate or say that you too should have these goals or to prove that I’m awesome (we know that already).
I’m sharing it to keep myself accountable and because it’s fun to have goals that are the end result in and of themselves.
I’m not hoping to become a different person or lose weight or look better in my overalls, I just want to hike and be outside as much as possible.
After moving here, we had solar panels mounted on our barn roof. My full write-up on the panels is here and I include a solar update in this series.
This is the only way for me to remember that: a) I have solar; b) you all would like to be updated on it.
In April, we generated 574 kWh, which is typical for this time of year. For context, in January 2021 our panels generated 95 kWh and in July 2020 we raked in 816 kWh.
Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer and fall sunshine for use in the winter, which keeps our electric bill low year-round, even when the sun isn’t shining.
This has been your solar production update. You’re welcome.
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