Anticipation of Fall

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In the midst of summer, under July heat and between berry-picking and trips to the lake, my mind always begins to move to fall. On chilly mornings, or when a breeze picks up and thrashes the plants out front, I feel it coming, though its arrival is still months off yet.

It’s always been at this time of year that I start knitting. Crafting for cold weather lets me channel the euphoria and creativity that the first chill and yellowing trees light in me. As I work I imagine the smell of rain and fallen leaves and pumpkin and roast chicken, and my soul leaps with excitement.

Now that we’re back in the Pacific Northwest I am overjoyed for the promise of cooler weather and rain.  The season will be rung in by my daughter’s second birthday. We’ll return to cooking inside and lighting the wood stove.

I’m not knitting my way through this summer– partly for lack of time; partly because my daughter would object– but instead I’ll be thinking ahead as I dig and plant our fall garden. I’ll be stacking firewood, storing potatoes, picking hazelnuts, and nailing siding up on the hay barn.

As always, there is more to do than there are hours in the day or energy in my body. But we’re moving forward, chipping away, and I’m feeling blissfully inspired.

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Small-Batch Experimentation

My husband’s first batch of mead was a simple combination of one part raw honey to three parts tap water, boiled and cooled. The natural yeast was activated by tightening the jar lid and shaking it frequently throughout the day until fermentation began.

After two days, he went camping for the weekend. The morning after he departed, it occurred to me to aerate it with a good shake. I tightened the lid and with a mere jostle as I prepared a serious shake, the contents erupted in a violent fizz, straight through the seal of the lid. It’s fortunate that the lid gave, because consequences might have been serious: exploding fermentation jars have been known to maim and worse.

Instead, the worst of it was a sticky mist adorning the walls, ceiling, windows, out toddler, her toys, and me.

Only a few ounces of the mead were lost, but in spray-mist form, a little went a long way. All I could do was laugh, undress, and get the laundry basket.

In spite of the drama, its cause was exciting and positive: the yeast was alive and well, and honey-water was becoming honey wine.

A week later, I decided to try some other quart-sized experiments while my husband made a more serious batch of mead amounting to several gallons. I made another mead with a lower honey content and the seeds of a fresh-picked pomegranate. I added a tablespoon or so from the already fermenting batch to speed activation on the yeast. It worked: fermentation began virtually immediately.

The pumpkin wine I made a few weeks ago yielded gobs of excess yeast, and I realized I’d made a novice error: when I multiplied the recipe I was roughly following, I multiplied the yeast packets. This is never necessary unless the volume is over several gallons, since yeast colonizes and reproduces. The residual yeast was still living, so I opted to keep it and feed it more sugar.

I used this to make another quart-sized batch of mint wine—I have a 4-gallon batch winding down its primary fermentation and smelling delightful—to see if the resulting flavor was good and if nurturing a long-term yeast colony would be worthwhile.

Small-batch projects offer a different pleasure than the teeming carboys have. While it’s wonderfully satisfying to fill an entire case or so of wine from one great effort, the small jars are simple, fast, and low-commitment.

Whichever turn out best, we’ll have to serve in small glasses and keep the recipe.

The Trees

Many of the trees on the property are overrun with ivy; some are gravely plagued with the aggressive vines, beautiful as they can be. We’ll have quite the task removing them, which we’ll need to do post haste.

There’s an old plum tree near the Little House toppling under its own broken branches, and a large unpruned apple tree bending under a snarl of vines. The trees will be one of the first projects, and I’m sure we’ll need to hire an arborist for some of the largest and most ailing.

In the spring, we’ll be planting new trees, a small orchard of various fruit. I’ll plant a collection of heirloom apple trees– early and late, cooking and eating– a cherry, plum, and pear.

I have plenty of research yet to do on which varieties thrive best in USDA Hardiness Zone 8b. I’m well acquainted with local floral and native plants, but I want to choose the best adapted fruit trees for the area.

This property is also just far enough from the town we used to live in to be slightly colder in the winter, which may mean more than that the rarest in-town snow and more days with below-freezing temps. From where I sit in a November day expected to reach 80 degrees, this will be a welcome but intense change.