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Homesteading

Tomato and pepper trays under south window

Here it is mid October and we are surrounded by beauty and abundance! Two nights ago (October 14) it was predicted we’d have our first killing frost. Pru and I spent the day harvesting and hauling all the tender fruits. The kitchen and basement are overflowing with baskets and crates of ripe and almost ripe tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, and winter and summer squash. Now the task will be to preserve the bounty: the tomatillos and jalapenos plus our previously harvested garlic and onions will become a spicy hot green salsa. As I write this, the delicious, aroma of green tomato, tomatillo and immature butternut squash curry is wafting my way as Pru is simmering it on the wood cook-stove.

Tomato plants- note green leaves all way to ground

Tomato plants- note green leaves all way to ground

It's the third week in September and we've been lucky that frost hasn't struck yet. It has been a hard growing year, with the drought and hotter than usual weather. As I mentioned last month, we had to resort to watering. We soaked each growing area with about an inch of water each week to augment the sparse rain. It seems that they really needed that boost to get through the stress until they could adapt. After about a month, we stopped watering, even though the drought continues. Now, the plants are thriving and still producing abundantly.

Pepper plant with understory of sorrel

Much of the region has been experiencing a very dry growing season and that goes for us here at Wild Browse Farm. In honor of the NOFA Summer Conference, we finally got our first substantial rain since May. Maybe it was because with so many growers gathered, the elements listened and bestowed the blessing of rain upon us. We gratefully received and gave thanks for an inch and a half of much needed moisture. Before Saturday night we had received less than 2 inches of rain since sometime in May, leading to a long period of very dry conditions. Here’s the report of how we’ve been coping with the draught and how we’re faring.

New orchard fence with electric rope; note cylinder on tree trunk

Pru and I were thrilled to host a very well-attended NOFA/Mass workshop on fruit here at our homestead, Wild Browse, last weekend. We were floored by the unexpected number of folks, traveling from far and wide, across the state and beyond (Haverhill, Plymouth, Arlington to West Stockbridge, Conn. and points in between) who found their way here to Wendell. Thank you all for attending. We hope that you enjoyed the day as much as we did and that your effort was rewarded.

Little friend enjoying black raspberries

A few months back, Pru and I were asked if we’d lead a NOFA workshop on the topic of homestead fruit. We’re looking forward to hosting a group of curious learners at our homestead in Wendell for an Orchard Planning and Maintenance workshop on June 12. We’ll demonstrate overall orchard planning, building diversity into plantings, breed selection, practical fruit growing techniques, and soil and plant health.

Top bar hive

It’s mid-March and the weather is still being crazy. Last week when it was 70 degrees, Pru and I were taking a break, sitting in the sun, when what to my wondering ears did I detect, but a loud buzzing. Turning around, I discovered the source – our honeybee friends had survived the winter! They were out and about, cleaning the hive and searching for non-existent blossoms. To me this was a miracle, as I had had little hope that they would make it through.

In early February, I thought, “Well it’s spring, I guess we won’t really have a winter this year.” There was that spring feel and smell to the air, temperatures were in the 50s and spring bird songs could be heard. Then, luckily, it changed and we got some real snow. With one or two good cross-country ski adventures, I was so happy to have winter. Then, rain and freezing rain and now this deep-freeze, for three days the high temperature hasn’t reached 15 degrees with lows of 15 below, not to mention the wind chills. Tomorrow’s prediction is for rain and temps in the 50s again.

Testing bean seed viability by Karen Blakeman

“What do you do on the homestead in winter?” a friend recently asked. After running out of breath listing my activities, I thought it might be a good topic to share. We always think that this will be a major “down time”, and it is, somewhat, but never as much as we hope. Which is probably a good thing as we all know how rusty things get if they are idle too long! So here’s how we keep ourselves oiled-up and ready for action.

Well, that winter “rest” period is upon us and I find myself a bit overwhelmed, having just returned from two weeks with my family, helping care for my almost 96 year old mother. Spending time with family reminds me of how important it is to carve out time for these visits as my nieces and nephews are now young adults and beginning families of their own. Time flies, and the cute cuddly child is now holding his own 2 year old.

Canned and dried goods make great gifts

November brings colder, darker times, when my thoughts turn more to inside projects rather than those in the garden. It’s time to contemplate how I’ll occupy the coming months in a “homesteady”, productive way. I’ve been reflecting on the many useful things I’ve made over the years, many of them fulfilling my artsy/crafty longings. These usually depend on my carpentry, electrical and plumbing skills, which are used in a totally different capacity. Here’s a stroll down memory lane, though not necessarily in chronological order.

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