These Two Months On The Homestead: August Apples and September Sugar Wood
August and September 2021
The harvest frenzy starts in August and doesn’t let up until October. These months represent the bounty of what we grow, what we harvest and what we preserve for winter.
As I write this in mid-October, I’m ready to put the gardens to bed. Ready for the welcome blanket of snow that signifies my outdoor labor is done until spring.
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.
Happenings Around Town
Our local hot air balloon festival happened in September. We were out in a field, surrounded by friends and neighbors, watching enormous plumes inflate and ascend.
There’s no new way for me to say how much I love our community. Nothing I haven’t said before: that I’m grateful and connected and happy. But I can’t stop saying it because this is our place. Devoid of most consumerism and traffic, with limited cell reception and lots of friends. I’m thankful we get to live here.
The very next weekend in September brought the county fair. A stereotypically idyllic annual event where pumpkins are given prizes for their size, little kids lead their 4-H cows through the show ring, tractor enthusiasts roll out their antique John Deeres to compete in the tractor pull, and we buy our kids ice cream cones and a carousel ride. A day very well spent.
Summer lawn games happened this year with the croquet set I bought for $2 at a yard sale three years ago. The wickets were ignored, the balls flew down the hill, mallets were akimbo and Glamour Shed was there for it all. Croquet: maybe not a game for children. No problem! Kidwoods ended up winning, adherent as she was to the rules, which cannot be said for the rest of us
The Harvest Season
August inaugurates the harvest season and all the fruits and vegetables start to come back inside the house. Tubs of apples, crates of tomatoes, colanders of beans, and loose pumpkins litter the kitchen floor. The kids rifle through it, finding the largest apples to take one solitary bite of, swaddling the pumpkins in towels, and sorting the beans by color. Although this is preferable to last year when they absconded with my biggest squash, put it in their doll stroller and I didn’t find it for… several weeks.
September is the hedonistic height of fall, the bounty before the frost. Cold mornings warn us, but we don’t listen. We keep making applesauce, pretending the largess will last.
I planted about 689 tomato plants, so I’m pleased to report that some of them did ok. We don’t get enough sun, nor do we have a long enough growing season, to rake in tomatoes, but we do alright.
Many of them get eaten fresh from the vine, many more become tomato/basil/mozzarella salad and the rest get canned as tomato sauce, of which Mr. FW made 19 quarts.
According to the kids, there are three options for tomato harvesting:
- Your pockets (that was an interesting laundry day, let me tell you)
- The actual harvest basket (too conformist; no one used)
- The direct-to-consumer, as demonstrated by Littlewoods’ chipmunk cheeks.
My bush beans were prolific this year and I made 16 quarts of dilly beans using this recipe. My kids ate almost all of these quarts immediately. Can a child overdose on beans? Apparently not. The seeds were the Mardi Gras blend from High Mowing.
Our black currant bushes continue to thrive–they seem to love our climate and soil. Mr. FW made 16 quarts of currant jam. The kids have not yet eaten all of it, but they’re trying hard. His jam is 2 parts currant, 1 part sugar by weight.
In their second year, our 100 strawberry plants did pretty well. We put bird netting over them, which helped deter overhead attacks. But chipmunks weaseled underneath the netting (despite it being tied down… ) and munched quite a few choice berries.
A family of garter snakes also took up residence in the beds and could be seen sunning themselves on top of the plants. Still, we got a lot of berries! I froze the minuscule amount that we didn’t eat straight from the patch.
Our three-year-old blueberry plants–all 28 of them–did pretty well this year, although it’s clear they’re not yet at the peak of their production capabilities. I had a hard time keeping the weeds down, which tells me we need to spread wood chips between the plants again. A fall chore, methinks. We still managed to harvest a lot of berries, but then again that’s relative when you have two little kids who will happily eat a quart of berries in an afternoon and then ask for more berries for dinner. As with the strawberries, I froze what wasn’t immediately devoured.
There’s a wild bramble of blackberries next to our lower field and the kids and I tromp through like mama bear and cubs every summer to pluck these gems.
It’s a thorny, messy job, but the berries are worth it. I managed to pick and freeze a lot of these to serve as wintertime bursts of summer.
Our apple harvest comes in two waves: the Red Duchess tree starts to ripen in August and the nine other trees ripen throughout mid to late September. Over the years, I’ve learned to use the Red Duchess apples–which also happen to be the sweetest and largest–for applesauce and dried apples. The rest we press into cider.
Littlewoods nominated herself as my preeminent, teensiest assistant for applesauce making and she was ON IT with the peeler/corer. So on it, in fact, that we managed to break one of our peeler/corers (from a yard sale) and had to move onto our back-up peeler/corer (found by the side of the road back when we lived in Cambridge, Mass). YOU NEVER KNOW when you might need your trash find peeler/corer.
My niblet assistant and I canned 24 quarts of applesauce–using this recipe–and made an indeterminate number of dried apples. I sprinkle the apples with cinnamon before I put them in the dehydrator, which makes them divine and perfect for school lunches during the year.
Kidwoods started Kindergarten the week of this apple adventure and thus was not on hand to assist with apple activity, a fact reiterated to her by her little sister THE moment she got into the car at school pick-up. Listen, we all have to defend our thing. And in the case of Littlewoods, that thing is apples.
Salad and Herbs
My two raised beds of salad greens and herbs continued their abundance through early fall. There’s nothing like harvesting your dinner salad right outside your back door! Yum.
Chickens Start to Become Useful (sort of)
WE GOT OUR FIRST EGG IN SEPTEMBER!!!! All credit goes to Daisy chicken, the smallest of the flock, the first of her name, the Golden Comet with the heart of gold.
After laying it precisely in the nesting box, atop a soft bed of shavings, she announced her accomplishment with a flurry of boisterous bah-gocks and a fair amount of grandstanding. Littlewoods then squeezed the egg and Kidwoods dropped it, but it somehow remained intact.
As I shared the other day, not all of our chickens understand the memo on where to lay eggs, so we bought ersatz model eggs for chicken instructional purposes.
So far, the flock is averaging only 3-4 eggs per day when it should be more like 11 per day (that’s one egg per hen). And of course now the weather’s getting colder, which often equals a decrease in egg production.
We’re going to put a light in the coop soon so they’ll have the requisite number of daylight hours to facilitate laying. TBD.
As summer wends its way into fall, Mr. FW turns his attention to wood. We burn wood in two ways around here: firstly, to heat our home with our woodstove and secondly, to boil our maple sap down into syrup in our evaporator. He starts off cutting the latter, known as sugar wood. Sugar wood differs from house wood and we store it in a separate wood shed.
Sugar wood needs to be faster burning and split thinner because you’ve got to have your sap boiling hot in order to make maple syrup. House wood needs a high BTU and it needs to dry and cure for several years (ideally) before you feed it into your wood stove. You want a slow, hot burn in your woodstove and a faster burn for your syrup.
Once he’s felled and split enough trees for sugar wood, he’ll move onto back-filling our main woodshed with house wood. We burn about three cords per year to heat our home and our shed holds nine cords total, enabling us to dry and cure the wood of future years.
Mr. FW’s other chainsaw-related summer activity is trail clearing. We have hiking trails crisscrossing our land–some of which were here, some of which we’ve built–and he has to stay on top of them to keep them open.
Some trails he can brush hog with the tractor, but most require him to hike with the chainsaw into the woods in order to remove fallen trees and branches. Worth it for the ability to hike right outside our front door!
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 August, we generated 691 kWh
- September brought 601 kWh
For context, in January 2021 our panels generated 95 kWh and in June 2021, we raked in 830 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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