Gleaning Gifts & Making Mistakes

I am beginning to understand that the first few years of homesteading is primarily about observing, receiving what is already there, and doing a lot of things the wrong way (or not doing things and discovering the consequences). This post is a seasonal highlight reel of late summer and autumn – the gifts gleaned and the mistakes made.

August: Mushrooms & Tobacco Horn Worms 

In August, our woods behind the yurt turned into a wonderland of gourmet wild delicacies. This year was a particularly good year for mushrooms in our region and our home range did not disappoint. Over a two to three week stretch we had wild mushrooms every night for dinner! Mark has been harvesting wild mushrooms for years. This year was the year I got hooked going out for a daily walk in the afternoon and coming home with dinner.

IMG_2300
Chicken of the woods
IMG_2319
Chantrelles & Lobster Mushrooms

 

If you’ve never had wild mushrooms you be unable to relate to my joy. Take this testimonial of my friend’s four-year-old. She said this 5 months after eating some wild mushrooms we took to their house: “When I’m a mommy I’m going to collect mushrooms in the forest because I hate mushrooms from the store but Mark and Lisa’s are good. So good and so creamy.” Or if you really want to experience the joy, come visit us in August!

IMG_2323
Weighing known varieties and identifying unknown varieties from just one afternoon jaunt

Disclaimer: NEVER EVER eat a wild food if you do not know with 100% certainty exactly what it is and that it is safe to eat. The above photos are NOT adequate for mushroom identification.

By the beginning of August, my tomato plants were thriving. Their leaves reaching for and soaking up the sun. Big green tomatoes continued to fill out promising a scrumptious yield. One day, I was admiring their beauty, my mouth watering as I anticipated the first sun-ripened fruit. The next day, there was nothing but skeletons where my promising tomato plants once stood.

IMG_2328

TOBACCO. HORN. WORMS.  My first hard lesson in novice gardening.

Any gardener of tomatoes knows this other-worldly monstrosity of a pest. Tomato horn worms are as equally as destructive in their behavior and almost as grotesquely beautiful in their appearance. I so almost because the tobacco horn worms, the cuddly little guys that visited us, have the distinguishing feature of that bright red “horn”. It’s really harmless, but is quite effective at looking like it could kill you. Let me tell you – I will never again let these suckers feast on my food like they did in August 2018. I can say this with confidence because there were definitely plenty of signs that I just didn’t recognize until the plants were decimated. Next time they try to gorge themselves on my tomato plants, their little green eggs will send off crazy alarm bells in my head, along with the sound of incessant tomato leaf munching.

IMG_2336
Mark being an all-star. Meanwhile, the unsuspecting hornworms enjoy it’s last meal. (There are two hornworms in this photo… can you see the second one?)

I thank my lucky stars for a husband who is less squeamish than me to finish these guys off. I’m not even that squeamish as far as squeamishness goes, but these juicy babies were definitely too much for me!!

I also thank the good earth, sun, rain, the tomato plants and the Creator of them all for life’s amazing resilience. The photo below is from TWO WEEKS after we discovered the hornworms. Of course, we lost a lot of tomatoes, but the plants continued to put forth leaves and fruit and the sun ripened the tomatoes.

The universe is bent towards life.

IMG_2346
Hope.

 

September: Apple Sauce & Gluttonous Bears

 We have a gorgeous apple tree on our land. It was once tamed and managed, but after years of human absence has unfurled into a twisted, gnarled shade tree. Throughout August hundreds of little apples begin popping out of the vacuum left by the blossom. All the apples are out of reach as the branches have stretched heavenward in their unquenchable thirst for sunlight. They begin to turn from their undifferentiated green to red apples on one half and yellow apples on the other – a brilliant grafting success that provides perfect cider apples (the yellow) and delicious no-sweetener-needed applesauce (the red) from a common root. The apples warm to the perfect ripeness in early September and subsequently drop to the ground.

In between guiding excursions, I was able to glean at least some of these apples and preserve them for these colder, darker days.

However, I wasn’t the first one to help myself to these gifts of the land.

In mid-September, after resting and recovering from our most recent guiding trip, I reached deep into my inner reserves of motivation and geared up to reclaim the ground beneath the apple tree. The ground needed reclaimed because, in our absence, approximately half of the fallen apples had turned into unappetizing “applemush” with the assistance of critters, microbes, wasps, and time. I needed to reach deep into my motivation reserves because, well, it was disgusting. Yet I was determined to glean the remnant of unrotten apples, if only for a token amount of applesauce to freeze for winter. Armed with gloves and resolve I dove in, pulling the solid apples from their deteriorating kin. Am I successfully relaying how unpleasant this was?

Typically, the more time you spend with something the more readily you are able to observe subtle differences between similar-looking objects. It turns out, this is also true of “applemush”. As I combed the yard for salvageable apples, I noticed a peculiar-looking substance with subtle, but distinct divergences from the majority of the “applemush.”

IMG_2394
Please note: My finger is merely there as a size reference, lest you think I touch this!

Not only was the consistency and coloring slightly off, but the location and organization of these rotting apples was absurd! There were six distinct piles of mush beyond the edges of the tree branches. It was almost as if they had been moved there, but by whom?

 

In retrospect, it’s somewhat embarrassing how long it took me to put the pieces together. As soon as the story coalesced in my mind I ran to summon Mark so we could share in the absurdity. We chuckled and groaned in sympathy for the poor bear who made himself sick on our neglected apples.

October and November: Salvaged Boards & Tractor Search

Life on a homestead involves a shocking amount of time moving things around. Fire wood from the forest down the hill. Water from the stream up the hill. Cement blocks for the yurt foundation. Cedar posts for the woodshed. Salvaged boards for the siding of the mudroom. A HUGE stone for the step out the yurt’s backdoor. Snow from on the deck to off the deck, on the driveway to off the driveway, in our way to out of our way. So. Much. Snow. At least the way we homestead, we seem to always be schlepping around heavy things.

The heavy things that we have been moving over and over again are the boards salvaged from the farmhouse we are slowly dismantling.

IMG_2265

These old boards – some as wide as 20 inches! – were moved from the house to the outside of the barn to dry, to the barn hay loft to store, and now are being moved all over the property as they live into their new roles as woodshed siding, mudroom siding, counter extension and office walls. These old trees haven’t experienced this much commotion since they were harvested, milled and assembled into this old farmhouse and that was probably 200 years ago!

 

We spent sixteen months on this homestead moving all these things by hand. Sometimes, when it was helpful, we used a utility sled to maximize moving potential. When we had three adolescent boys here for a week – two cousins and a nephew – we gladly welcomed their muscular motivation inspired by a challenge from their older relatives. Much to everyone’s surprise they moved a MASSIVE stone up the steepest hill on our land with the utility sled, oomph, ingenuity and teamwork.

Despite the innovation and muscle toning gained by moving lots of heavy things from one place to another, we decided it was time to invest in a tractor. The search was on.

Red tractor. Green tractor. Blue tractor.

This tractor is too small. This tractor is too big.

(Looking for a tractor oddly resembled a children’s book.)

This tractor is just right.

IMG_2670
I truly had no idea how excited I could get about a tractor.

And it was! And is! At least so far, we have been delighted with our Ford 1320, or Babe as we’ve begun to call it. In lieu of a handful of teenagers, it can move a lot of heavy things.

Life happens quickly and I’m still learning how to keep up with writing about all that life. I hope you enjoyed the update and, if nothing else, the photos of all that luscious green! My eyes had forgotten such colors existed!