Crossing to Safety

Bean & Bantam: One day's harvest from the garden, from six or eight plants.

We have this patch of garden, these apple trees, and those woods, to hold onto while we choose.  Sometimes, I think, that is taken for granted.

We have this place we call our own, to garden, to plant fruit trees and raise children and chickens, and we haven’t ventured here from all that far away.  We haven’t sailed across oceans, migrating as my Dutch ancestors did in the seventeenth century to America.   We haven’t traveled here from another home, driven by war. My grandparents did, my grandmother a woman traveling alone with her children, my mother and uncles, traveling through Europe by train during World War II, my grandfather away, in the thick of it.  I heard war stories as a child that would make your hair stand on end, but I haven’t gone through it myself.  I can only imagine the journey, and remember the stories about the attempt to cross the perilous and enter into safety, to shelter from bomb blasts under piles of suitcases tumbled into and out of a targeted train, picking a way through bomb craters, swims through icy rivers and long roads.  The risk, the danger, the war stories that, as a child I grew impatient hearing over and over from one particular grandparent, trying to settle in  for the long story, not being able to quite resign oneself to hearing it again.  Many of those, I’ve mainly forgotten, but I do remember some, mainly the ones from those that rarely spoke of it.  I’m lucky to be here.

With the recent news coverage of refugees in my mind, I’ve felt mixed about posting pictures of baskets overflowing with tomatoes and apples, about posting pictures of the extraordinary abundance this year.  Those that do not have a place to call their own, those even who are fleeing from war, their stories recall memories of stories long ago.  I feel just one or two steps removed, filled with empathy, unable to help in any real way, thankful for what I have, and a sense of horror for what others have lost, or risk losing, in their attempt to cross to safety.  A small boy in a red tee shirt and blue shorts, the same age as my son, indelibly etched in my memory from the news this week.   And, Matthew Price of the BBC tweeting about a walk from Budapest, for eight hours or more, with a Syrian mother, pushing her two year old in a stroller, her four year old beside her, holding her hand (and Mr. Price’s kindness in lifting him up onto his shoulders and walking the rest of the way with them, in the dark by the side of the road with other refugees).

As the seasons move forward, as the months and years go by, as we make our way through life, this land is ours for a bit, and to have that, to know where we will sleep and what we will next eat, we are fortunate, more than we may realize.

Bean & Bantam: Apples and plums from our own trees

In the garden, September is a leg of the garden journey, the month we travel into fall’s rush of leaves and eventual stark branches, and then on to winter and long nights lit by candles. September in the garden is a month of departures and slow good byes.  The lush garden season comes to an end this month; we do not extend the season with sheets or cold frames, or hoop houses (yet).  It’s been hot, and dry for the past two weeks.  The cucumber leaves crisped, then the pumpkin leaves.  So dry, that the sunflower leaves wilted, as did the morning glory vines I planted to climb up them.  I hauled the hose over, and watered what I wanted to keep: the sunflowers, the morning glories, the rainbow Swiss chard and the kale.  The beans are too far gone.  The potatoes need to be dug, the plants long ago withered.  I pulled ripe jalapenos into a basket, and a final harvest of tomatoes.  I went through the pumpkins, and cut them from the vine, leaving a generous stem end to cure and dry.  The tomato plants were blighted, the leaves entirely brown, so once the tomatoes had been picked, the plants were uprooted and piled into the wheelbarrow, the wire tomato cages and stakes pulled and stacked.  Next year, we need tomato supports made of  2×4’s, if we grow this variety again (Big Beef).  I am not joking, I need serious tomato supports.  A lone cherry tomato is left, ‘Supersweet 100’ an indeterminate sprawling plant, the leaves still lush.  The corn plants cut, or pulled.  Last year, we left the corn to stand through October, a spooky seasonal end to the garden, but this year I want them gone, to better reveal the row of sunflowers with morning glories climbing.

I was driving home the other night, and a car pulled to a stop in the other lane, full of teenagers, their heads craned to the lane far in front of me.  I slowed, and stopped, unsure as to what the problem might be.  A back door opened, and a teenager in a red shirt, basketball-tall and gangly, stepped out and looked at the road, looked uncertainly at me.  I made a “go ahead, be my guest” gesture with my hand, waving him into my lane, in front of my  car, where he picked up a turtle that I could barely even see, and brought it all the way across the road.  I smiled and drove on once the road was clear.  People can be so kind when they choose to.

If only it were so easy the world over, and among human beings, as complex as they are.   If only we could make consideration, or mercy, mandatory. We must all reach up, reach down, and reach across to others. We are lucky to be here.  We are all, in our own way, crossing to safety, some on much more perilous journeys.

Wishing safe travels for all, and that all may cross to safety.  Fall abundance in VermontBean & Bantam: dehydrating apples

Bean & Bantam: Sun dappled shade, dappled chicken
Sun dappled shade, dappled chicken

Heating with Wood

We have used a wood stove as our primary heating source for a few years.  It's incredibly warm, and something I love to have: a warm fire crackling.  It requires some skill, and some safety tips.  Heating with a wood stove, on our homestead, during the Vermont winter. Read more at Bean & Bantam.

IMG_2778The wood stove is our sole source of heat for the winter, and a good part of the fall and spring, and we use it to heat our house without the reassurance of a “back up” furnace.  In a New England winter, heat is essential to survival.  Temperatures regularly go below freezing, and sometimes below zero.  Our wood stove keeps us warm and keeps our plumbing from freezing up.  We do have an oil-fueled boiler in the cellar, but somewhere in the process of our ongoing house renovation (my husband would know exactly at what point, I prefer forget anything to do with renovation) the boiler was disconnected.  The pipes which circulated heat throughout the house were torn out, a cracked chimney was torn down, through the middle of the house…six feet from our bed and down through our living room which involved cement grout dust like you would NOT believe, and a new chimney was built on a gable end far from the old boiler.  We plan to hook the boiler back up, but we haven’t, for the past two winters.  We have relied on the wood stove to heat the entire house, and we think it does so quite well.  Last week the temperatures fell well below zero (-7 F), and we were able to keep our house at a very comfortable 69.6 F using only the wood stove, although we did have to load a bit more wood than usual to do so.  I felt like we were racing against the cold, loading the stove with an eye on the outside temperature and praying the inside temperature wouldn’t drop as it fell further below zero outside.  I think the factors that assist in our being able to heat only with a wood stove are:

  1.  We have an open floor plan on the first floor so heat can circulate freely on the first floor before heading upstairs.  Our kitchen, dining room, and living room (this last being where the stove is located) do not have doors or walls separating or defining each space.  The second floor is heated as the warm air rises… we often have to shut bedroom doors at night to keep from flinging open windows in order to sleep comfortably.
  2. We have a large wood stove:  a Harman TL300 Top Load  which is about 3 cubic feet, and we can load up once a good bed of coals is established, and then shut down for a slow burn (the Harman web site claims “up to 17 hours of steady, even heat from each load of wood” but we have not seen that… I’d be amazed if I ever saw that… we can leave the house in the morning and come back at night to a good bed of coals that re-catch if you put a couple logs on, without a big fuss).
  3.  This is not a drafty old house any longer; we have double-paned energy efficient windows (and the house has been insulated, wrapped, and re-sided), and we aren’t afraid to throw open those windows for some fresh air, even  during a snowstorm.  Because, that stove can seriously crank out some heat and there are winter days where we miscalculated the outside temperature, and loaded in too much wood, or burned it a little too open, and it’s then 74 or 80 F inside the house and we start wilting.  Too much heat has, just once or twice, led me to throw open all the windows downstairs and stand in front of a nice winter breeze to cool down just a bit (and fresh air is always good, when things get shut up all winter long in most New England houses).
  4. We don’t travel during the winter; if we were to travel, we would need to have someone house sit to literally “keep the home fires burning,” or frozen pipes would become an issue.  Frozen pipes or frozen sewer lines mean that at first thaw, water rains down your ceiling and walls, and your house is essentially flooded and ruined.  By travel, I mean we don’t leave the house for more than 8-10 hours.
  5. I should put this item first.  None of this would be possible if my husband didn’t split, stack, and haul fire wood, and a lot of it.  It’s a lot of work.  He is definitely to be commended.  This past summer he split and stacked an entire log load of wood:  an entire logging truck was unloaded at the top of our driveway and converted, through his labor from full size logs to neat stacks of split wood.

The result is that so far, we’ve done well with just the wood stove. We will eventually move the boiler over to the new chimney, hook it back up, and connect the piping throughout the house,  but before we do, there’s some renovation that has to occur on the second floor… now that the first floor is pretty much finished.

Heating with a wood stove, on our homestead, during the Vermont winterI would love to hear your experiences heating with wood, please feel free to share in the comments below, or ask any questions.

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