Weekly Homestead Report 16: Nov 28, 2016

Not much to report this week. We made and ate a lot of food, visited with a lot of family, and didn’t go out into the cold mist very much. I’ve been knitting. Johnny jump ups are still blooming, and the strawberries are a nice shade of red.

We made a new bluebird/ swallow box and hung it on the trellis by the garden.

Our motion camera only took pictures of us, despite the tell-tale fox droppings in the yard near the hugelkultur bed where it was aimed. You can see that this is the time of year when we wear orange as if it is armor. So far, so good.


It really feels like we’re about to launch into winter. The chicken water is almost always frozen in the morning. I finally drained the rain barrels and hoses, and put away the last of the garden tools. I put snow tires on my car. Crazy that this week two years ago, I seriously needed them–this photo is from Nov 26, 2014.


Today we saw a bald eagle fly by our perch up on the vista above the Hermit Castle in Erving. (This is the place, but the photo is from mid October–now, all the deciduous trees are grey skeletons among the evergreens).


Weekly Homestead Report 15: November 21, 2016

This week has gone by quickly. The weather has been sufficiently crappy that we can be relatively content working indoors with just one daily walk. We’ve been eating some of our dried, canned, and frozen foods.

The dried beans, in particular, have been great. I didn’t even realize I was craving them until we cooked a bunch up and I keep sneaking a few, cold out of the fridge.

The popcorn, too, has dried properly and now pops like popcorn should in our fancy Whirley-pop pot.

We’re still eating tomatoes and tomatillos we picked green before the last frost. We make a new batch of fresh salsa every couple of days. I have to admit, though, they don’t taste as good as they do in July.


With the help of a light on a timer that goes on for a few hours in the evening and morning, the chickens are back on track, laying a reasonable number of eggs (4-6 per day, up from 0-2 during the worst of the molt). We haven’t accumulated quite enough to want to sell many to the neighbors, but we’re not rationing them out at breakfast, either.

In the woods, the witch hazels are still blooming abundantly. We took a hike up into Satan’s Kingdom to discover this pretty scene.

In the hoop house, I planted some more spinach and Swiss chard, as well as transplanting some lettuce from the little plastic boxes into the ground. I put the now-empty boxes over them to form a sort of second greenhouse to try to retain additional heat and moisture since my first transplants all disappeared into death and nothingness.


It has been relatively chilly, with a few snow flurries, and this afternoon I noticed that some of our exposed soil is displaying ice needles, a neat phenomenon of capillary action which causes the soil to heave in little pillars.

Time to put on my snow tires, I guess. And keep cutting firewood. And cuddle up next to the stove to get some work on knitting projects done.


Weekly Homestead Report 14: November 14, 2016

This earth remains beautiful. The sun still rises every morning. And, there is still work to do. Life goes on (it must!), no matter who we elect on the second Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

It’s mid-November, and our garden is still making food. This week we have broccoli, kale, the best spinach I’ve ever grown, lettuce, arugula, and chard, plus four goumi berries (our first). The hoop house is really working out.

Hyssop, red yarrow, viola, and mullein have put out fresh blooms, while the asters fade.

In the woods, witch hazel is still blooming.


Three very confused sheep laurel plants up on the Crag are also blooming. These same plants did the same thing last fall, too.

The mums continue to delight me as well as a variety of beetles and flies.

Yard work has mainly consisted of mowing and piling up the grass clippings and leaves on the hugelkultur bed, but we also reinstalled vole guards around the fruit trees and cleaned up the weedy areas around them to try to eliminate vole habitat. In a move that our neighbor warned us we’d regret, we used dead trees found in the woods as fence posts and birdhouse poles when we put them up two years ago. Sure enough, one tall bluebird box and two fence posts rotted off and fell over within the last two weeks. This week found us adding metal posts and replanting the birdhouse (we had made it absurdly tall so the neighbors’ abundant cats would be dissuaded from climbing it; this is no longer an issue, so it is okay that it is a normal height now).  We expect it and other posts to rot off over the coming years. So be it.

I find that I must get into the woods and take a hike as often as possible!


Weekly Homestead Report 13: November 7, 2016

It’s hard to think of anything other than tomorrow’s election, but in between reading articles about various election outcomes and watching the Daily Show to try to lighten it up a little, we did go outside a few times.

Charley’s birthday was Friday, and we took the opportunity to go out collecting nuts and berries; specifically, wild cranberries and acorns.

It was a gorgeous day to be outside. The marsh (an abandoned beaver pond) with the cranberry bog was sunny, a little breezy, and had abundant cotton grass growing.


Cotton grass is actually a sedge in the genus Eriophorum, and adds a really nice touch to many of New England’s fens and bogs. It’s like something extra elegant out of a Dr. Suess book.

We also did a little fall yard cleaning this week. We added most of the pile of rotting firewood left over from the house’s previous owner onto our hugelkultur bed. Some grass clippings and leaves also ended up as part of this experiment.


Back to tomorrow’s election. Charley and I are both feeling some intense anxiety about what tomorrow evening will bring, and fear for the country no matter who wins the presidency. Dear readers: please, please go vote, and please don’t waste your vote on a third-party candidate. As Charley wrote yesterday, “There are only two presidential candidates who have a chance of winning. Hillary Clinton is far from perfect, but she wouldn’t be any worse than Obama or Bill Clinton, and they’re the best presidents we’ve been able to come up with in the past 50 years…Okay, thanks. Now back to bugs.”


Or in my case, off to bake some very decadent brownies for the library’s election day bake sale.

Weekly Homestead Report 12: Halloween 2016

Nothing like a little snow to change the scene in a hurry! Don’t worry, it all slid off the solar panel before the sun was up the next morning, and two days later nearly all traces of snow were gone.

But the plants felt the cold. Here are the same three flowers, separated by one frosty night.

Happily, those mums I mentioned last week seem to be able to take it. They’re about the only flower left at this point. The New England asters are still alive too, but barely.


The milkweed seeds are dispersing.

Before the snow, we harvested amaranth seeds (below; approx 1.5 cups from 3 large plants), herbs for drying (oregano and parsley),  pink and green tomatoes, the last of the peppers, and huge numbers of butternut squash, pumpkins, and spaghetti squash.

I cut out a new chicken door in the coop, which we’ll be able to manually open whenever our fancy electric door quits working. It seems to run out of battery every few months, just when we are getting used to relying on it (and/or when we go on a trip, leaving our neighbors in charge of the chickens).


If this works, you’ll see footage of the door closing and opening after manual prompting—a test, after I recharged the battery. The timers are set to open the door for 7:00 am, and close it at 8:00 pm. The chickens are safe and happy, and that makes me happy.

The woods are really lovely this time of year. Yesterday we hiked up to the Crag to enjoy the view and get a little sunshine and exercise, but the little loop through our woods is just as beautiful. It’s worth mentioning that this year there was no fall black fly emergence, for which I am extremely grateful.

I feel like I’m trying to hold on to the essence of this gorgeous season in New England. I’m pretty sure you can’t capture it this way, but the leaves are very pretty.


But of course, autumn is more than yellow-orange-red; it is the feel of the air, the crisp crunch of a fresh apple, a pot of butternut squash soup simmering on the stove, and the cozy feeling of curling up next to the wood stove with a book after a long day cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood.