Welp, winter is upon us. The golden forest behind me is suddenly flocked in powdered sugar which mutes the mountains to a blur of pastel yellow and sage gray.
Our fall was a whopping 53 days long! Summer, we declared officially over the last day of August on our mountain homestead. We prepared for an early winter, but October was generous, supplying a tasting menu of all four seasons, including a wacky springlike week where everything turned green again, new plants springing up after the return of the rain, fooling the birds, the bees, and the humans.
The past few days we’ve spent putting the garden to bed for the 2023 growing season, and what a season it has been! As I stood at the garden gate looking back at the newly-stripped fleet of raised beds, a collection of rescue-potted herbs and calendula at my feet, a stirring of emotion flurried up in me like a foreshadowing of the snow today would bring. By virtue of my absurd side, the lyrics to “Goodbye Old Girl” from Damn Yankees drifted over the bare beds and I found myself singing a love song to the garden.
I’m sure there are plenty of songs out there with more straightforward lyrics to sing to one’s garden, but I’m a reporter more than anything and these are the words that came. By the by, I assure you, all I had brewed Monday was tea. But as my brother is apt to remind everyone, “Candace requires no alcohol to become intoxicated.” Zany I was born and zany I will die, no doubt with a steaming teacup in my hand.
At any rate, I stood there as the words sank with the sun, shaking my head at my own looney thought-reel. But then, an odd perception came to me and sobered me right up. How amazing is it, I considered, still hesitating at the gate, that even my decade-gone-by theatre days are here with me on this mountain. That performance ‒a craft, industry, and culture so seemingly opposed to that of the homesteader‒ even that personal history of mine has prepared my appreciation in some way for this land and way of life. And I stood in gratitude that I have been allowed to experience these two polar lifestyles; the fast, furious, spotlight stage world, and the rigorous, raw, radiant days of a family farm. Most amazing of all, I am convinced that the former is what paved the way for the latter. That every single “stage” in my life has somehow been leading up to this homestead life our family has chosen. Or perhaps the life that has been chosen for us.
Perhaps a reference to “all the world’s a stage” or “the world is the true classroom” would be fitting. But a far better quote comes to mind to sum up all I am trying to say. “All things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” I believe this is continually being fulfilled in our lives. I can see how all the experiences, hardships, blessings (the good, the bad, and the ugly) have directly and indirectly prepared us to live on this land and work it together as a family.
I smile to remember that among my past stage roles, I sang “somewhere that’s green” in Little Shop of Horrors before being fed to a giant plant, and “plant a radish, get a radish” in The Fantasticks (our university did a gender inclusive casting in which the fathers were replaced with mothers). Never once during those years did I have any inkling I would become a homesteader in ten years’ time.
Everything We Did Our 2nd Fall on the Homestead
I’m already slipping fast into hibernation mode, so before I go full Rip-Van-Winkle in our little Montana snow globe, here’s a look back at the 2023 harvest season!
Our second fall we . . .
HARVESTED POTATOES AND CARROTS
The pictures, I believe, should speak for themselves. We pulled a veritable jackpot out of the ground over the past few weeks There’s taters in them hills!
COLLECTED OUR FIRST FEW HUNDRED EGGS
- Number of hens: 18
- Chicken breeds: Americauna and Olive-Egger mix
- Average number of eggs per day: 9
Oh, the joy of opening the nesting box hatch each day to find a collection of multi-colored eggs. And yet, chickens add so much more than just eggs to a homestead. We honestly cannot emphasize enough how transformative having a coop has been to our family and garden. Firstly, the kids played all spring and summer long with the chickens and play cannot be underestimated in importance on a family farm. They may actually have spent more hours with the chickens than they did with the dogs. The kids also got to take part in the project of building the chicken coop with Papa, cleaning it out every two weeks, feeding and watering, corralling, harvesting eggs, and helping Mama cook them up. Yum! Truly, I consider hen husbandry a very important part of our children’s homeschool education.
In addition to all of this, chicken poop is a hot commodity in the garden. Last year, and even just this spring, we payed out more than twenty bucks a bag for “plant fertilizer” whose main ingredient was chicken poop. Every time we scoop out that coop, it’s a twenty-dollar bill kept in our pocket. Plus, I have confidence in this fertilizer and the satisfaction of producing it on site. We feed our chickens the best diet, give them a great life, and we do it all outside our front door, no brightly labeled plastic bags necessary. And lastly, a flock of chickens, especially when placed directly in the garden, adds another dimension of life and beauty to the homestead. It is something you must experience for yourself: planting or harvesting over a vegetable bed while nature moves all around you–kitties playing at your feet, bees buzzing in the blossoms, kids squealing on the swings, and chickens pecking away at the newly harvested potato bed.
FILLED THOSE FREEZERS
This fall, we put away:
- fresh salsa
- salsa verde
- tomato sauce
- green beans
- pumpkin puree
- six roosters (it was their fault)
Stay tuned for our Best & Worst In-Show for 2023’s Harvest! Spoilers alert: it’s ripening to be entirely different from last year’s.
STARTED RAISING THAT BARN
We finally got a crew of a few up here to start on the barn raising . . . an entire week before this first big snow came. Sigh. We are hoping and praying for a few weeks of good weather to finish her off.
PRESERVED OUR OWN HERBAL TEA
Herbal tea is my favorite thing to harvest and preserve on the homestead. The entire process is low maintenance which is this girl’s cup of tea right there!
*Stay tuned for my tea-making tutorial this spring with our family’s favorite blend pictured above.
Garlic is a milestone both in fall and spring. It’s the last thing to go into the ground when fall gives up the ghost to the first winter front. And it’s one of the first green things to poke up out of the spring thaw.
BURNED WEED PILES AFTER LEARNING THE HARD WAY
Last year we had a fail. We did weed the garden, but we . . . umm . . . left them there. The explosion of weeds on the floor of the garden come spring was not cute. So, this year we dutifully raked all the gathered weeds to a few central spots in the garden and let the kids try their hands at pyromania.
TUCKED UP THE GARDEN
Here’s what we did to put her to bed:
- pulled everything out of the beds other than perennials, of course
- heaped up the compost heap and covered in straw to keep it a bit warmer through the winter
- mulched all the fruit trees and perennials
- cleaned the coop
- covered the Skyfort playset
- spread a mixture of “green” (uncured) chicken poop over all of the raised beds to age on its own before spring
- hauled out the last veggies
- rescued some herbs and potted them up for cheering us through the long winter
- gave the garden and God a round of applause complete with victory whoops (literally)
And just like that, the harvest is over! Let hibernation commence!
Thank you so much for reading!
Love, Candace Arden