These Two Months On The Homestead: October Apple Cider and November Snow
October and November 2021
These are the tipping point months. The months that descend into true, deep, orange fall and coast through a rough outline of winter. Leaves are loud in October–they change, they fall, they take up all the space, they are glorious. November brings a more reserved beauty, forcing us to notice the contours of denuded trees, to hear the tingle of ice-encased branches tapping their nearest neighbors, squeaking out the soundtrack of cold.
As I look back on these two months, in an early December already shrouded in full snow, I realize I once again rushed through the latent warmth of fall. I took it for granted, as I always do, and now my insulated boots are my closest friends.
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.
It’s impossible for me to designate a “best” of Vermont fall, because the entire thing is a chain of nostalgia-inducing activities, each more pastoral and idyllic than the last. But making our own apple cider ranks high. We are the proud inheritors of ten apple trees in our immediate yard and countless cider apple trees in our woods.
These apple trees bear well every other year and so we’ve settled into something of a routine of every-other-year cider making. In the off-years, I still have enough apples to make applesauce, apple butter, apple crisps and dried apples. But I need the full apple production situation for cider pressing. And this was a cider pressing year.
We once again
dragooned invited friends and family over to help us press cider. And we were even slightly smarter about it this year. In past years, we’ve tried to run the entire operation in one day: from picking the apples to setting up the press to pressing to canning. Not this year. After several years of Nate and I going back outside in the cold, dark night–after putting the kids to bed–to finish the pressing, we did some stuff ahead of time.
I picked alllllll of the apples in advance. Nate picked some too. We stored them in buckets and tubs in our kitchen. This because the first year I stored them outside on the back porch and a varmint ate them. This year, they were subjected only to the nibbles of my two house varmints.
Nate set up the cider press in advance. A key decision since we discovered we were missing a few pieces. Also, it had to be drilled into the wood of the porch to prevent it from tipping over. Nate also cleaned and prepped all of our cider receptacles beforehand: food-grade 5-gallon buckets, funnels, lids and our glass carboys, where the cider goes to ferment.
We then had a right old shindig complete with a bonfire, hot dogs, 2019’s hard cider on tap and plenty of friends to help turn the press. We ended up with 15 gallons of cider, which is currently fermenting. I kept a few gallons of soft (non-alcoholic) cider in the fridge, but those are long drunk up by now. Many thanks to everyone who came out to press apples!! We’ll see you again in 2023 and we’ll crack open the 2021 vintage to enjoy. We’ll see you long before then, but make your October 2023 weekend plans accordingly.
I had another (mostly) successful pumpkin harvest. None of them grew to the size they were supposed to–that of proper jack o’lantern–but they were adorable and orange. Probably would’ve helped if I’d watered them more often… there were some really dry patches this summer.
Undaunted, my gourd-lets made for perfect fall decor. Many thanks to Littlewoods for her aggressive hose-down wash of the squash. And thanks to Kidwoods for helping me line little pumpkins up for their glamour shot. Is it worth the months of planting, re-planting, weeding and watering? Probably not. But will I keep doing it? Absolutely.
We had to buy two jack o’lantern-sized pumpkins from our neighbor’s farm to carve into Halloween representatives. We did the carving outside on a day of unseasonable warmth, a stereotypical Vermont October blue sky, with predictable pumpkin guts smeared in children’s hair. The chickens feasted on the pumpkin debris and we people feasted on roasted pumpkin seeds. Children were bathed, pumpkin combed out of their hair, and only one of them ran away in fear when we lit the jack-o’-lanterns that night.
A Carrot Surprise
I forgot I’d planted carrots until I went out to remove bolted herbs from the raised beds. And there, interspersed with the dill, I saw carrot tops! For some unknown reason, I planted carrots alternating with dill, which was super dumb because they look A LOT alike until they’re grown. A happy discovery! Maybe next year I should go back to labeling my rows…
The Gardens Went to Bed
I put all of the gardens to bed last month. This is the first year I’ve done this in the fall (when you’re supposed to… ). I usually put it off so long that it snows and I say, “whoops, guess I’ll have to do it in the spring.” Nope, I was ON IT this year. We do no-till mounds in our big veggie garden so I left up the cattle panels and cut all the plants off at ground level. I leave the roots in to nourish the soil. I also cut down all the teensy tangles of twine we used to tie up the tomato plants. After cutting everything down, I loaded it into the wheelbarrow and either fed it to the chickens or threw it in the compost.
I also pulled all the plants out of my salad green/herb garden raised beds. This I fed to the chickens, who were THRILLED with the bounty. It’s good to be a chicken in the fall. I left the sage and oregano in the ground because they both seem to overwinter just fine and will pop back up next year. I meant to weed the blueberry and currant bushes before it snowed, but, whoops…
Witches In My Woods!
In October, I spotted a wee witch in my woods. I followed along on her investigations of beech leaves, gnome homes, milkweed pods and mud. What glory it is to be five years old, free to roam the wilderness, with the knowledge that tea time and cookies await you at home every afternoon.
Halloween was a delight although a rough ending for those of us who are three and announced, “I will NOT smile!” while putting hands on hips and pointedly remaining in the frame, with turned back. I would like to take this moment to personally thank everyone in my in-laws’ neighborhood who handed out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Special shout-out to whoever did the pumpkin Reese’s. Not that I ate them all or anything… I mean, what Reese’s? I certainly did not rifle through my children’s candy after they went to bed. What kind of a person would DO that?!
We made it another hand-me-down holiday with both girls wearing costumes we’d received as hand-me-downs in previous years. I keep all of our garage sale, thrift store, and hand-me-down costumes in boxes, ready for dress-up play and, of course, Halloween!!! I pulled out all the costumes that fit them and let them choose what they wanted to be. Then, I did some minor sewing to fix rips, washed them, and made any needed accessories with stuff I have around the house: a witch wand for Kidwoods and a princess headband for Littlewoods. Voila! A free Halloween.
My husband and I have started going on REAL hikes while the kids are at school! The last time we summited a “real” mountain together was back when we lived in Boston and I was 6 months pregnant with our now-Kindergartener. But our new Hike-While-They’re-At-School program exemplifies what we always hoped we could do together.
THIS is what we were working towards all those years. The ability to spend the day together, in nature, and then have afternoon tea with our children. The time, the space, the freedom to hike a mountain on a random Wednesday in October. And another random Tuesday in October. And in November.
I am so thankful and so humbled. FIRE is amazing, folks. Also, we made it to school pick-up with 5 minutes to spare, although that wasn’t assured as we rapidly descended that mountain, in slightly less athletic condition than six years ago…
I am pretty sure there is nothing better than climbing mountains and traveling trails with my husband. And I am NOT SORRY that I’m still wearing the same fleece, hat and pack from 10 years ago. I had a nightmare the other night that I lost this hat and…. my head was cold. Bad times, folks, bad times.
First Little Snow: November 14th
We awoke to real live snow that morning! The kids scampered out before breakfast to reacquaint themselves with the optimal sledding start points, I ran around photographing every snow-encrusted tree branch, the chickens were unsure and my husband cooked our breakfast. A perfect first snow morning.
Second Less-Little Snow: November
This was snow SNOW, our first real snow! The kids report that it tasted great, the chickens looked mad and Glamour Shed managed to not fall over.
Chickens in The Snow: They Are Unsure
Chickens: not certain about snow. We cleared a patch of grass for them inside their fenced-in area and they do seem to scratch around in there a bit, but I wouldn’t say they’re happy about it. Luckily they have the under-coop run, which is snow-less. We moved the coop in November for the final time this season. It’s now situated next to the barn so we can plug in their water-warmer and winter night light. We’re not turning their light on yet as they’re still laying and we don’t want to stress them too much. But the water-warmer is ideal! Otherwise, the whole waterer would be frozen.
Notes from Chickens, courtesy of Millie Fluff-a-Puff, Spokeschicken:
- Snow: bad.
- Pumpkins: we likes them.
- Stale bread: more, plz.
- Snuggles: no. Just no.
The wee niblets stirred and whisked and I must say I was most pleased with my pie crusts this year. In addition to our traditional Shoo Fly pies and pumpkin crisp, I made a new pie–maple pecan from King Arthur Baking–using our homemade maple syrup. Delicious. It will be added to the Thanksgiving cannon.
The chickens enjoyed a beast feast of one whole raw pumpkin (ably split in half by my sister-in-law). And we humans relished being inside the same house together. Three generations around the table, grateful for each other and our not-at-all-dry turkey, sourced from a farm down the road. All thanks to my husband the cook and his generous applications of homemade sage butter.
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 October, we generated 418 kWh
- November brought in 328 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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My dad always called it “checking the Halloween candy” – oddly, ony his favorites were bad for me, and he carefully disposed of them every year.
But interestingly, they have probably become good for you now that you are an adult…
For years into my adulthood I was convinced I didn’t like Peanut Chews. In my late 20s I was reading the package at a store and couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t like them since I liked all the ingredients – bought them – and loved them. Only in later years did my Mom admit they were her favorite and my entire childhood she told me and my brother that we didn’t like them (so she could take them from our Halloween stash).
At first I was like “who is Nate??” 🙂 Anyway, glad his retirement is making possible such wonderful day-hikes. I’m jealous!
lol, me too!
Haha! I was wondering if now that he’s retired, he’s no longer “Mr Frugalwoods” too?
I noticed it too!
I wondered the same thing!
Hahah, I didn’t even realize I’d done that. But, yeah, it feels more natural to use our first names at this point. Also, no one has ever called me “Mrs.” anything in real life 😉
Same – took me a minute 🙂
Thanks again. Another lovely read.
“Parent tax” is something my friends introduced me to – totally legit – comes in handy after parties, Halloween etc. My kids are now at the stage where they begrudgingly accept it’s a real thing and hand over their least favourite lollies (yes, I still sneak the good ones after bedtime).
Here on the east coast of Australia we’re experiencing a wet start to summer which is a nice change from recent drought and bushfire years. Love the juxtaposition in climates. Happy Holiday season!
Wonderful post, I’m always amused with your way with words and photos! Thanks for reminding some of us that this is achievable even when society says it isn’t.
I’m coming up on my two year anniversary of not working, it’s gone by fast but the true blessing has been just being able to stay home with my kids. I’m glad they’re all going to school(even if one is just pre-k 2 hours/4 days a week). It is just enough breathing space for me. I’ll think more about sustainable living and gardening in the upcoming year. I’ve been handling household expenses and home renovations on one income, while navigating this new life of ours.
Congrats! That’s wonderful!!!
I am considering buying a water warmer for our chickens but concerned about the fire hazard. What do you do to protect from fire with so much straw in the vicinity. Hang the water? Does it spill a lot? We’re in Albuquerque so usually just bring water into our sun room at night and out in the morning, but we may be gone for a few days with infrequent visits from friends to help our chicks.
This was totally hilarious and I also noticed Nate, not Mr FW!. I guess you come out of the shadows after you retire! LOL. Thanks for the very enjoyable read. Stay warm!
Hahah, I didn’t even realize I did that. I think I’m tired of calling us Mr and Mrs since everyone knows our first names anyway. And, no one in real life has ever actually called me “Mrs.” hah!
As always, I enjoy your great writing and beautiful photos. I am thankful that my sons never noticed my sneaky theft of chocolate bars form their trick or treating activities. However, I see your gorgeous carrot harvest surprise being a better Halloween treat than your daughter’s candy haul. Fall weather often makes carrots super sweet and tender. Next year mark your plant rows and leave your carrots alone for a late fall harvest.
Really nice post, thank you for sharing! It makes me excited for my own future fall activities when I move up to Vermont or New Hampshire.
I’d love to taste fresh cider again! I grew up in an area that had a number of apple trees in yards and small orchards on farms. So, so good.
You are putting your garden beds to bed, and I am encouraging mine. This is the time of year in Florida to grow cool weather crops – including carrots!
I look forward to seeing your holiday plans. Will you do a “frugal holiday” post again this year?
Love this post and all your beautiful pictures, so festive! It reminded me of our pumpkins still hanging around in early December (me = red faced). They were still in great shape, never carved, so I cut them in half and brought them to a nearby forested area for the deer!
We definitely need to hear more from the SpokesChicken!