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Homestead Reflections - March 2020

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2020 March Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler

Spring is in the air. Yesterday, my heart leapt and then sank, after seeing sap buckets hanging on sugar maples up the road from us.  Pru and I had discussed when, or if, we’d tap out this year and have decided not to as it would push us over the proverbial edge.  With so much to do before our move from the homestead, sugaring dropped to a very low priority, thus the sad heart.  Even though the new place doesn’t have a sugar bush, we are keeping a few buckets and taps in hopes of future use on some friendly neighbors’ trees.

As many of you faithful readers already know, we have sold our homestead and will officially move from Wild Browse Farm this spring.  So go the ups and downs of a homestead and homesteaders in transition. I know that this poignant roller coaster ride will continue for quite awhile.  Guess it’s time to strap on my hardhat and seat belt and learn to enjoy the ride. 

I’m watching the garden beds emerge from the snow and ice, enticing me to think of seeds, though I know we still have more snow and cold ahead.  Next week is March and I’ll begin starting them in the greenhouse, another in a long string of “for the last time” events which are coming along much more rapidly as April 15 (our move date) approaches.  What will it be like to not have a greenhouse again, after so many years of being blessed with one?  How will I be able to have such sturdy, healthy starts for the garden?  How will I spend the time I had devoted to planting, tending, & transplanting those tender vegetables and flowers?

Tomatoes
An abundant yield of tomatoes

“Time-before-a-greenhouse” meant: seeding & transplanting starts in the kitchen (a big mess), setting up temporary grow-lights, building an outdoor “hot-bed” from hay bales and manure as an interim seedling-home before planting out.  When the greenhouse was built, it was a relief to finally have the kitchen as a kitchen. 

Wow, I don’t know if I’m up for all that, at this point in my life.  Maybe there is someone out there who grows & sells healthy, local, organic starts?  But, that is hard for a self-reliant (and frugal) homesteader to even consider.  Hmmm, dilemmas everywhere I turn.

I’m already cutting back on the types and numbers of vegetables I’ll be growing this year, still trying to figure out where to tuck them in around the fruit trees or at the Wendell Community Garden, to keep them out of the way of the construction zone.

For many years, I’ve been starting seeds later than I used to.  The peppers which will be seeded March 7th, and the tomatoes on March 26th, won’t be planted into the garden until early June.  Transplant timing is very important for continued plant development and for optimizing conditions to help the plant mature into its full potential.  Monitoring and providing the right conditions (root & vegetative space, nutrients, access to light, air & soil temperatures) for a stress-free growth continuum will really pay off at harvest.

I was reminded of my early years of gardening, while talking with a friend who said how hard it was last year for her to manage her tomato plants, which were several feet tall before she could plant them into her garden.   She also said that they took a very long time to catch on and to start to grow in the garden, and that her yield wasn’t very good.   

I could relate to her urge to start sets early, in hopes of having the first tomato in the neighborhood, as it was mine for many years.  But now my goal is to have the healthiest plants and the most nutritious tomatoes I can possibly grow, with an abundance of yield whether it is tomatoes, peppers or squash. Early has slipped down below these other priorities.

Besides getting ready to start those seeds, I’ve been putting my old electrician’s training to good use.  Rehabbing the cabin we’re moving into has been fun but exhausting. Everything takes 5 times longer than what my younger body used to be able to accomplish. I’ve upgraded some of the kitchen lighting to make the space more useable as well as enjoyable.   It really seems important to “make it ours” and to have it as sweet as the one we are leaving, so that the move is a forward/positive step rather than a regretful one.

We’ve continued our search for used building materials & appliances for our new home. We have been really happy with our “finds”, great windows, doors, lighting fixtures, a bathroom sink, & a countertop.  All of which not only fit in with our frugal nature, but also help keep very nice & useable things from landfills.  So far, none of these items have great stories attached to them.  Hopefully, those items and stories will come our way. 


Shed mid "flight"

Back in the mid ‘80’s, it took us (with the help of our friends), three years to build our present Wild Browse Farm home.  During that time, we also happily scavenged for used and recycled building materials.  Many of those items have a “story” connected to them, which we’ve enjoyed recalling over the years.  Like the origin of the octagonal window located in the peak above our entry door, which a friend pulled undamaged from a spring-flooded river; or the beautiful 4-paneled solid wood doors found curbside on their way to the trash.  Alas, these things, and their stories, must remain here and aren’t moveable.  However, we could use some of those nice solid wood doors… send them our way and you will become part of the new story.

Okay, Sharon, stop begging for interesting additions to the new house.  But Pru says, we should consider inviting any of you local-ish able-bodied folks to help us with the physical move and/or with the transplanting of some perennials.  Hmmm… I’ll have to think about that.  Don’t want to use my NOFA position for personal gain!  Oh, and speaking of stories, we did have our friend Joe use his excavator to move our shed about 75 feet.  A picture is worth a thousand words. 

Well, it’s off to the WRATS (Wendell Recycle & Transfer Station) to deposit some building demo debris and hopefully to pick up something we don’t even know we need, until we see it.  We have a great “free-store” at the WRATS, where residents drop off and pick up usable items.  Last fall we found 2 bundles of unopened bamboo flooring which we’ve already installed.  Last week we brought home enough beautiful terra cotta tiles for a hearth under the wood stove.  Later, I found out that they were left over from a job at the home of a much loved, now deceased, local conservationist.  Okay, okay, so I guess we do have some stories already, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need more.

Happy planning and planting your seeds and enjoy mud season.

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