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.

One Month On The Homestead

We’ve been here one month, now. It’s all sinking in– the reality, the permanence. It’s spectacular. And while the work is hard and plentiful, I remind myself of how much we’ve accomplished. With a toddler at foot (or on my back), here’s what the first month has yielded on the new homestead:

  • We’ve installed and repaired hundreds of feet of fencing. Some will be replaced with wood posts once the auger is here, but the animals are contained and the garden protected.
  • The Chibbit House is complete and working perfectly. The chickens are cooped full-time at the moment, but we plan to let them out during the day once the garden gate is mounted. The rabbits were bred a few weeks ago, though I’m not certain whether it was successful.
  • Sheep were sheared.
  • The geese are fattening up on pasture.
  • Everything on the property has been pruned, mowed, and tidied to a reasonable degree. Wildflowers, lilies, roses, rhododendron, and lamb’s ear are all blooming, now excavated from the brambles.
  • The vegetable garden is fully planted, mulched, and growing– and a complete update on that is to-come. Many plants were late for the season, but we’ll just see what happens. The first row of potatoes, which we planted on one of our trips up months ago, is about ready to be harvested.
  • I’ve thoroughly acquainted myself with the local flora, and we’ve enjoyed foraged food with almost every dinner so far. Yesterday we picked wild strawberries, cherries, and blackberries, but few made it back to the kitchen.

  • We’ve filled our new home with wonderful meals– fresh pasta from our hen’s eggs, half a dozen loaves of delicious bread, smoked ribs, sauteed morels.
  • I’ve fermented a gallon of pineapple weed wine, in the same style as my mint wine.
  • We’ve steeped ourselves in the beauty of this place and begun to know the area better. We’re only a few miles from gorgeous lakes with a comfortable little beach for relaxing and letting our toddler play. In the heat of the afternoon we plod down to our own creek to dip our feet in.

We’ve settled into somewhat of a routine, which is an immense relief to me. I thrive on regularity. I’ve made list after list of projects large and small, and checking each item off has pushed me on to the next and made it all feel possible.

There is plenty I have not done, and an endless amount yet to do. But so far, so good.

Taking Time

Thanks to social media today, we have the luxury of presenting to the world carefully selected parts of our lives. Naturally these are more often than not the rosy bits: grinning children, plump homegrown tomatoes, our sources of pride and joy.

These joys are contagious, and sharing them has helped grow an important movement: to regenerate a culture of creativity and self-reliance. To spurn convenience spending, materialism, and unquestioning dependence on the greater systems. Social media has spread the revelation that, “Hey, I can do that!” And you can. We all can.

But none of us can do it all. And that’s the part of the story that our digital personas don’t often tell.

I could never have truly prepared for the magnitude of this move back from California to Oregon. The incremental nature has enabled the planning, organization, and sheer effort to be infiltrated by doubt and a sense of impossibility. Not all the time, of course. Not in the busy, just-get-it-done moments. It’s when an hour opens up—an hour in which I would normally write a blog post, take some photos, work on a chapter in my book. Replant some herbs or finish a project in the kitchen. An hour suddenly spoken for, beckoned for, by so many forces that I become frozen.

My goals for the coming week include making prepared mustard from the wild seed I recently threshed and winnowed; tying up loose ends at a job I’ve adored for four years; moving 50 animals 600 miles; fencing 1,800 square-feet of garden and continuing to plant; and most optimistically, putting pen to paper on my book.

I’ll share about all of that, to be sure. But as you can imagine, there are many moving parts behind these scenes, and for each project we do manage to accomplish there are inevitably a dozen more that we do not. At least not yet.

So in the interest in devoting my regrettably finite creative energy and time to this last push of the move and to settling our family into a new home and new life, I will be taking 10 days off from blogging. I ought to say “10 more days” but these will be guilt-free. I’ve got work to do.

I will leave you with a few words for Mother’s Day, so check back this weekend. I’ll also be checking in on Facebook, so feel free to follow me there.

And for anyone who might feel at times, at I have, that they just can’t keep up while so many others seems to “do it all,” here are a few reminders from other bloggers that there’s more to every story, and every day requires certain compromises.

Saying No To Saying Yes from SchneiderPeeps

I Don’t Do It All from Homespun Seasonal Living

Why We Do Not Do It All from Just Plain Marie

I Can’t Do It All from The Elliott Homestead

Cheers, and be back soon!

Planting Fruit Trees

We’re back from a longer-than-planned trip to the new place– the last visit, perhaps, that is merely a visit. The anxiety for change is mounting, as is the excitement, as is the stress, as is the sense of accomplishment for all that we managed to do in the past two weeks.

While we finally had the Internet connected after Week One, I couldn’t find more than a single moment to devote to any writing whatsoever, which does leave a vacant place in my heart that I’ll be working to fill in the next few weeks and in the new routine I will be developing.

Albeit a tad late, we planted four apple trees: a Gravenstein (deeply endeared to me in my upbringing in Sonoma County), a Cox’s Orange Pippin, a semi-dwarf Yellow Delicious, and an heirloom English variety of which I cannot recall the name (but I have tagged). We also planted a hardy Chicago fig, two blueberry bushes, rhubarb, and a long row of Russian Fingerling potatoes.

Getting the fruit trees was critical if we were to have any in this year. The soil is wonderfully soft and fairly loose, so digging is a piece of cake compared to the arid, compacted clay of the Valley. We amended the holes with lots of compost and mulched around the slight trunks with plenty of dried field grass. Our toddler enjoyed helping– and “helping.”

Two major threats to our garden and orchard frequent the land: deer, of course, and a notorious neighbor’s herd of ever-roaming cattle. The only solution, it seems, is to fence our entire acreage. In the mean time, though, particularly while we are away, each plant needs its own stronghold. We planned simple circles of field wire around the trees, upheld with a few posts. The wire was too flimsy un-stretched, however, so the construction took far longer than planned. They didn’t come out perfect, but more than satisfactory to me.

Best of all, we have met several neighbors who are more than a wealth of information: they are avid homesteaders and gardeners, active in the community, and as welcoming and generous as I could imagine asking for in new neighbors. For all of this I am boundlessly grateful.

Pruning Time

The next time we haul a load up to the property and get any work time in, it will be spring, so this trip was my last opportunity to prune the trees and vines before they begin to bud out.

The property has endured many years of neglect, and opportunistic ivy and blackberry brambles have consumed most of the trees. If you look closely to this top photo, you can make out the lichen-covered branches of an old apple tree, as if reaching out for air and sunlight.

Last year, we were fortunate to see the place at height of ripeness– otherwise I would never have known, or at least not until later this year, that this was an apple tree at all. But it was putting off some small, scabby apples, and I hope that with some care, the tree will be a good start until our tiny new orchard-to-be begins to bear.

The rescue operation took hours, using a saw, loppers, a rake, and oddly enough, a crow bar. The ivy vines, which are terrible parasites that will ultimately kill a tree, wound around the trunk and branches, digging into the bark with abundant wiry roots.  I was able to cut the thickest vines, with a massive three-inch diameter, into segments and pry most free with the crow bar and lots of sweat.

The pile that I removed made a towering heap. The tuft of ivy that remains will die, and then I will cut it off. Until I began working, I didn’t realize that the tree was planted on a steep slope that made work particularly difficult. The original trunk had been cut down and is now the home of some nesting animal. Three offshoots are now the primary trunks.

When we first saw the place last year, the Concord grape vines were also heavy with hundreds of pounds of plump, sweet fruit. However, they had clearly not been pruned in many, many years, if ever. By winter, it looked like this:

It turns out the primary vine boasts a 12-inch trunk! Some of the largest chunks are dead and decayed, but most of the main vines are more than an inch thick, some several inches. The trellis, fortunately, is in fantastic shape and sturdy.

The prospect of cutting the beast back was intimidating, and it took me two days with my husband’s help.

I was more timid than I know I should have been, and that I could have aggressively hacked off most of the woody vines. The photos fail to show the four-foot-high piles of snarled debris.

I attempted to propagate a half-dozen cuttings, but it was nearly dark when I got them in the ground and it was a haphazard effort. At the outset of the project, though, I did make several grapevine wreathes to update the décor on the front door.

I’m hoping that at least this will give a good start for future years and that we still get a significant crop this coming summer. I’ve got my heart set on Concord grape wine.

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.

Love and Country Wine

I made my first batch of country wine this summer, with my daughter in a carrier on my back and during her nap times, using drought-stifled tart plums. I’d read quite a bit about the basics, and John Seymour’s description of the simple, forgiving process appealed to me greatly. That and the self-sufficiency aspect– beer and wine aren’t cheap, and anything made in my own kitchen brings that much more gratification.

My husband was skeptical, to say the least, when he eyed my bucketful of hard olive-like fruits and heard my plan.

That first batch yielded a case and a half of warmly golden wine that had a robust alcohol content and was decent-tasting at bottling time and more delicious as each week went by.

As quickly as it transformed, I was making new brews: rosehip and apple and Chinese date. Some were roughly palatable, full of potential with some age. (See? Never a failure, even when it doesn’t come out great.) The apple is a bit sweet, but effervescent and sublimely pure– you can actually taste the Golden Delicious nuances of the apple.

Pumpkin spice wine now sputters away in a carboy in our dining room, and my husband’s first mead project is starting to ferment (look for more on each of these here soon.) Persimmon and mint are on-deck.

  

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These projects are intensely satisfying. I love walking through the room and meeting the evolving, pungent scent of fruit and alcohol wafting away from yeast hard at work. I love the fizz, and the raucous created by a good, aerating stir twice a day.

Working with yeast provides a whole different excitement apart from cooking. With fermentation, you are the sous chef, not the chef. The yeast do all the work when given the right tools and a little love.