Patches of grass made themselves known this month as snow receded by degrees, not unlike ocean waves. A sunny day would initiate a melt, with grass and mud gradually reclaiming territory, biting away at the uneven edges of ice and slush. The next day, snow would mount a resistance, falling determinedly for a few hours, only to succumb to sun the next day. And so on went the month, leaving us in an uncertain state on February 28th, with muddy patches competing for attention while snow remained the dominant ground cover. But spring is decidedly on the horizon as several days passed with no need for us to build a fire in the woodstove. Soon, the snow will lose its losing battle.
Of course the most notable event this month was the birth of our second daughter, Littlewoods (don’t worry, that’s not her real name, I swear). We’ve been in semi-hibernation, adjusting to life as a little family of four. I say “semi-hibernation” because the month was interspersed with a great deal of hubbub around the publication of my first book–Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living–on March 6th. An interesting thing to birth both baby and book within just a few weeks of each other. Not perhaps something I’d advise doing, exactly, but it certainly made for an eventful time of our lives. Thankfully, my in-laws came to help us out for the month, for which we are deeply grateful. We wouldn’t have survived without them!
If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here and enjoy the best and worst (ok, mostly the worst) moments of our first year on the homestead here. Wondering if it’s less expensive to live rurally? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.
A close second to the baby and book events of February was bringing our homemade hard apple cider to fruition at long last! You may recall the earlier steps in this process–namely picking the apples, pressing the apples, and fermenting the cider–and this month wrought the final installment. Making your own apple cider from your own apples is super simple and takes no time at all (said no one ever).
Here’s a quick recap of the process thus far:
- Buy a homestead with mature apple trees.
- Realize those trees are WAY overgrown and in need of serious pruning.
- Take a class on apple tree pruning. Read a book on apple tree pruning.
- Prune the trees. Realize you still have no idea what you’re doing.
- Take another workshop on apple tree pruning.
- Prune apple trees with increased confidence. Reap rewards.
- Realize trees are infested with bug/parasite problem.
- Apply organic compounds to mitigate bug/parasite situation.
- Allow time to pass.
- Wonder if trees are dead?
- See blossoms in spring. Rejoice.
- Observe apples growing.
- Observe herd of deer munching on the literal low-hanging fruit (rude).
- Chase deer away, while in pajamas, bellowing “Run for your lives, deer!”
- Resume tending to trees.
- Observe flock of turkeys jumping up into apple trees to eat apples (rude).
Chase away turkeys, wearing your pajamas, while yelling “Thanksgiving!!!!!!” at top of lungs. Point out the millions of wild apple trees in woods where turkeys could dine instead.
- Be grateful you have no neighbors in sight.
- Set out to harvest apples in fall.
- Realize the trees have done very well and there are now approximately 9,987 apples to harvest.
- Learn that picking apples is glorious for the first few hours. Takes a long time after that.
- Purchase fruit pickers after realizing many/most apples are too high to reach with human arms alone.
- Enlist toddler to held in carting picked apples to the apple collection bucket.
- Realize 20 minutes later that toddler is taking a solitary bite out of every single apple.
- Resign self to chewed-on apples.
- Cart buckets and bins of apples onto porch and into house.
- Realize that a full bucket of apples weighs A LOT. Like, seriously, a lot.
- Divide up apples for the following processing purposes:
- Eat as is! Yum.
- Make dried apples in dehydrator
- Make apple butter
- Make hard apple cider
To make hard apple cider:
- Purchase a cider press (after spending a year and a half trying to find one used to no avail).
- Spend 2 hours assembling cider press.
- Realize part of cider press is installed upside down. Ask wife not to take photos of this for the blog, please.
- Take press apart and re-assemble.
- Con some friends from the city into coming up to homestead for “weekend of fall fun,” by which you mean forced apple harvesting and cider pressing labor. They loved it (we think). Although they haven’t been back…
- Spend a delightful two days sorting apples, washing apples, and loading apples into the grinder and press.
- Grind apples into apple mash.
- Press apple mash into cider.
- Attempt to keep toddler out of stainless steel apple bath. Fail. Resign self to soaking wet toddler and more chewed-on apples.
- Transfer cider into glass carboys (purchased used from Craigslist).
- Add yeast (see yeast notes below).
- Allow to ferment for three to six months.
- Buy more cider equipment.
- Remove cider and taste test (see tasting notes below).
- Rejoice that does not taste terrible. Tastes good, actually! Pat self on back.
- Purchase a used keg, regulator, and tubing to hold finished hard cider.
- Purchase C02 canister to add fizz to hard cider.
- Sanitize keg using Star San solution.
- Transfer cider into keg.
- Wait longer.
- Tap keg and imbibe!!!!
And it is truly delicious!!! As this was our first foray into hard cider making, we had no idea how it would turn out or if it would be even remotely palatable. The fact that it is genuinely delicious is downright thrilling. As Babywoods would say, “Hooray!!”
Mr. Frugalwoods employed three different yeast strains, in three different carboys, in order to test out which we like best. Here are our tasting notes on each:
- In the first carboy, Mr. FW added yeast immediately (called “pitching the yeast”). For this batch, he used Safcider yeast. Tasting notes: sour; lighter and sweeter than the others.
- In the second and third carboys, Mr. FW first added campden tablets to kill the natural yeast, waited 48 hours, and then pitched the yeasts. For the second batch, he used Danstar Belle Saison dry yeast (owning to my enduring love of farmhouse Saisons). Tasting notes: funky, yeasty, delicious. Tastes similar to a saison beer. Our favorite!
- In the third batch, he added Wyeast 4766 Cider yeast. Tasting notes: most alcoholic-tasting, sharpest, driest.
Since we concurred that the saison dry yeast batch tasted the best, Mr. FW went ahead and kegged that batch first. We tapped it this past weekend and it is truly delicious! This cider tasted good even without the carbonation, but we both prefer it fizzy and so are glad we took the extra step of adding C02. So far we’ve
forced encouraged four other people to taste it and they’ve concurred that it’s delicious (although what were they going to say as we stood there with huge grins, am I right?).
All in all, our first hard cider-making adventure totally worked and we are definitely doing it again next year! The only potential problem is that we now have 9 gallons of hard cider in our basement! Luckily it keeps for a long time and we’re planning on taking it to parties and perhaps hosting our very own cider-drinkin’ fest sometime this spring/summer/whenever we can get organized post-baby… If you live nearby, just stop over sometime for a pint of cider to help us work through this supply!
Apple Tree Pruning
In a perfect illustration of the ongoing cycle of growth, Mr. FW pruned our apple trees this month as they must be pruned before blossoms start to sprout. Fruit trees need to be pruned annually in order to ensure they’re healthy and producing their highest yield. Too many branches, branches that overlap, trees that grow too tall, and more are all examples of thwarted growth.
You want your apple trees to grow in a sort of low bowl shape such that you could throw your hat through the middle of the tree. This ensures that the tree gets enough light and that you’re able to more easily pick the fruit. You want a tree to put energy into growing fruit, not into growing tall or long branches. Since these trees were in a state of neglect when we bought our property, Mr. FW has had them on a several years-long improvement plan. It’s not wise to prune away everything in one year as it’ll shock the tree and potentially kill it. Thus, you’ve got to prune a little bit each year in pursuit of the ideal tree shape and size. We have ten apple trees in our yard and great clumps of them in our woods. Mr. FW focused his pruning efforts on the trees in our immediate yard and, time permitting in March, will turn his attention to some of the wilder trees ringing our woods.
Maintaining, and improving upon, our little apple orchard is a major goal and focus for us as we adore these trees and the fruit they yield. It’s no small feat keeping them in good health–and then processing the apples–but it’s a worthy endeavor that we (mostly) derive great pleasure from. I think our apple tress might, at this point, represent our greatest homesteading success since we’ve managed to: 1) not kill them; 2) improve their health dramatically; 3) harvest larger quantities of apples each year; 4) find effective ways to use all of the fruit. I’m quite proud of us and our apple trees! We hope to enjoy many more decades together. If we can keep the turkeys out of the branches. Fingers crossed.
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Onward to March, frugal comrades!
P.S. I wrote a book and there’s still time to get a free signed bookplate if you order a book by March 13th and email your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org. Details here. If you’ve already read the book, I would really appreciate it if you’d consider leaving a review on Amazon! Many thanks for your support!
How was February on your own personal homestead?
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