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Homestead Reflections November 2017

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2017 November Issue Newsletter

Sharon Gensler, Soil Carbon Outreach

With apples producing on an every other year cycle this year will have a lot of apple processing!

While I write this article, I’m sitting outside in the sun between our house and the garden looking at the incredible beauty surrounding me.  Mid-October and we still haven’t had a killing frost in the garden, though there was a light one in the pasture two nights ago.  The tomatoes are dead, as we were hit by late blight.  The cucumbers and squashes, both summer and winter are spent and ready for the compost pile, but everything else is still green and vibrant.   Especially the cover crops planted in August.

I’ve been busy preserving the harvest: canning, freezing, fermenting, dehydrating and storing in our root cellar.  Actually the root cellar is an old refrigerator we use until we redesign and build a new cold storage space.  Our previous one became nonfunctional after an addition to the house raised the basement temperature.  I’m looking into coolbot technology  (A gizmo that allows an air conditioner to cool a space down into the 30’s).  Maybe that will be my winter project. 

Though most of the garden produce has been safely stored for future use, there is still much to do.  Our apple trees usually produce on an every other year cycle, thus we need to can a lot of applesauce and dehydrate many yummy apple slices for a 2 year stretch.  I prefer to harvest and freeze kale after the nights are cold. The plants keep more sugars in their leaves, which serves as an “anti-freeze” to protect the leaves.  To me they taste more tender, and they have a better flavor once they are touched by frost. 

It is great taking a break and sitting in the sun. Before coming out I loaded the food dehydrator with the last of our tomatoes and some apple slices, hoping to not only preserve some produce, but to warm the house up a bit!  During the transitional fall & spring seasons, temperatures in our house are often colder than is comfortable.  While we could fire-up the wood stove, we usually just layer-up with clothing and then sit in the sun for a heat re-charge!

The passive-solar design of our home allows the low angled sun to penetrate deeply into the house,  heating & lighting the space during late fall and winter.  During the summer with the sun high overhead, the south facing windows conduct less heat into the house, and with the aid of shade from large deciduous trees; it’s like having air-conditioning.  It is a bit crazy-making at times.  Coming in from the garden in August means wearing a sweater while December necessitates wearing shorts and a tee shirt inside.   However, free heat and air conditioning is a great advantage and the energy savings are good for the environment. 

Right now, a problem with the oak shade trees is the fear of being hit by falling acorns.  As with our fruit trees, it seems to be a very productive year. This means the rodents will be happy and prolific, possibly leading to an increase in the tick population.  We used to put out toilet paper tubes filled with  “safer” flea & tick killer sprayed cotton balls.  Later we learned that bumblebees often use old mouse nesting materials for their own nests.   We love those pollinators and do not want to do anything to harm them.  Yikes!, all things ARE interconnected and it is difficult to know what our actions  might also affect.

Chicken report:  Our injured hen, “Brave Heart” has moved from the shower stall hospital to the winter coop for isolation & rehabilitation.  She is doing a fantastic job; the wound is healed over and feathers are beginning to grow, but she still has a slight limp.  Tonight after dark, we will re-introduce her to the flock by sneaking into the pasture coop and placing her on the roost. In the past, we’ve had good luck using this method and hope it works for her.  If not, we’ll remove her again and place her in isolation in one of the pasture mobile coops made of poultry fencing.  That way they can be together but she’ll be protected from being picked & pecked on by the other hens, until she is accepted and able to mingle freely.  I love chickens, but their “pecking order” behavior and their tendency to gang up on one another that shows any weakness is a bit too much to take.

Every summer growing up, my brothers and I were treated to a truckload of sand to play in and redistribute in our hair and clothing.  It was always dumped under the seckel pear tree where we’d impatiently await those glorious pears to be edible.  We’d start eating them when they were at the tasty green stage through to final delicious golden ripeness.  This is a fond memory for the whole family.  

So when I started my fruit trees, the seckel was one of the first trees to be planted.  It is a great homestead fruit tree as is it self-fertile, disease resistant and edible right from the tree, no “harvest green and wait-to-eat” like many pear varieties. 

This year’s seckel harvest was abundant so I made both of my brothers happy by sending them care packages full of memories as well as the pears, garlic and foraged cranberries!  I only wish my mom was still alive to enjoy her share. 

I hope your harvest has been abundant and you are inspired to plant your very own seckel pear.



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