Time to Pitch the Pumpkins

We cut a Christmas Tree yesterday. We have done this for many years at the same place so I guess it is a family tradition at this point. The day after Thanksgiving we grab a saw and some gloves and something to tie the tree to the car and head to Menard’s Tree Farm. Some years it has been warm enough for shorts. Other years we track through snow. Yesterday was our first tree cutting in the rain.

That rain turned to snow late in the day. After we got home we propped the tree in the corner and, once it was dry enough, trimmed it with pewter snowflakes and glass snowmen and paper-framed photos of our kids made in elementary school. By the time we had that done, and other holiday decorating was underway, darkness was falling along with snow.

This year especially, like last year, we have been eager to spruce the place up, to put up lights and make the house festive. These are unusual times, filled with more than literal darkness. Putting up a Christmas tree, however, conflicts with the pumpkins. Those brought their own type of light but it is time for them to go.

On the far side of the field there is a compost pile, filled with gardening scraps–sunflower stalks and mint clippings and old squashes. We moved to this house just over a year ago and, before we had set up a household composting system nearby, I would trudge across the meadow to dump our apple peels and coffee grounds and egg shells. There was a lot piled on that pile.

This summer vines started to grow out of this pile. By fall we had pumpkins ripening. The last owners of the house had tossed their leftover gourds and the seeds sprouted. There were giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins and butternut squash. The butternut squash never really panned out, but we picked maybe twenty pumpkins and decorated the front porch and the back deck. Bonus agricultural products.

As we have been putting the house to bed–trimming the flower beds and the apple trees, turning in the vegetable garden–we have hauled organic material to the pile across the field. We have included some of those pumpkins in those visits. The small ones or the weak ones couldn’t handle a freeze and started to wilt. Right now we have half a dozen still at the house. This morning they are coated in ice and snow. Now that the Christmas season is fully here, it is time to pitch the pumpkins.

They do look pretty cool, so to speak, covered in white, but with even a minimal thaw, they will turn to mush. There are still a few flower vines and lily remnants to gather and haul away, so we will fill the cart and trudge through the inch and a half of snow and add the pumpkins to the pile. Next summer I am hoping they will begin the cycle again, vines stretching from the waste pile to grow some more orange and green globes to celebrate fall. For now, however, bring on the snow.

Day of Food

I spent a good deal of time on food today. It was well worth it, but I am ready for one last trip to the kitchen, to scoop a bowl of coconut chocolate chip ice cream I made a couple days ago, then a sit with a book. I baked bread in my running clothes, after I lit a fire in the stove. I ran 7 1/2 miles this morning in the twenty degree grayness. It was a heck of a beautiful morning and I do that again. We had friends planning to come over and I was on kid duty (four of them) while my wife and company ran. I had to get started.

I was dressed in proper duds by the time our guests arrived, and I also had cut carrots, celery, potatoes, turnips, peppers, and onions. Soup was on. Since I was at it I decided to make some soup stock. The soup and bread were for lunch, along with the apple crisp I whipped up. I froze the stock, along with the remainder of the last batch of stock I made. I also spent time outside in the garden, digging and pulling the weeds that snuck in at the end. I turned compost and worked on making more with leaves and weed bits. I added compost from our kitchen scrap pile to some of the garden beds. And I covered several beds with silver maple leaves that were starting to decompose. It was a productive day.

I wish I could spend this much time on feeding our family more often. I would love to have fresh healthy food every day. We do almost every day, but we do sneak in processed food now and again, in the form of crackers and granola bars and such. Frozen meals almost never make their way to our house, and those boxed ready to prepare meals I feel like I hardly know. I was asked to do a survey recently of instant type meals. There were probably a dozen of them they asked about. I didn’t recognize any of them. I stay away from those center grocery store aisles.

I also baked up a pumpkin and a squash at the tail end of it all. I pureed them in the food processor and popped that in the freezer. The squash was a mystery plant that grew in the compost pile. We had sweet dumpling squash plant last year and this one was sort of like it. But it was orange and green. It think it may have been a cross between a pie pumpkin and the sweet dumpling. Inside it was bright yellow. It tasted sweet but different. I saved the seeds and will plant them in the spring. If it grows again as it did this year, we may have a new variety. I named it after my son.

That son of mine is asleep, along with his sister. He got tuckered out helping me spread dirt and leaves this afternoon. Now is the time to have that ice cream. I am a little tuckered myself.

Compost Bandit

I take our kitchen bucket of scraps out to the compost bin every few days.  The bucket is made for kitchen scraps.  It seals tightly enough, and it has a carbon filter on it keep the odor down.  We don’t usually notice the bucket, except when it isn’t there, meaning I forget to bring it in after emptying it into our outside compost bin.  I do need to empty it, or fruit flies set it.  The scraps consist of lime rinds and the stale ends of toasted bagels and onion peels and pasta that fell on the deck during dinner and other rot.  It is pretty much stuff we don’t want to or really can’t eat.  Not everyone feels so timid about digging into the ort, however.

Every time I head outside to the compost bin to empty the bucket, there are bits scattered about the ground.  I scoop them up and add them to the top of the pile, but they come back again.  Some critter gets in there and roots around and eats stuff and makes a general mess.  It is stealing our future dirt.  It is a compost bandit.  Recently what finds its way out of the wire mesh of the bin is corn husks.  We have been trying to eat corn on the cob lately as often as we can.  Fresh corn season only lasts a few weeks, after all.  I did add a few cobs to the pile the first couple of times we ate local corn, but they take forever to break down, so I often get creative after dinner–read, toss them into the woods.  If the squirrels are going to nibble the cobs anyway, why invite them to dig through the scrap pile?

The thing is, although I have to clean up after them, the squirrels (they are most often the culprits, although turkeys have been knows to find the pile as well) do me a service, despite their slovenly ways.  Whenever they search for bits to eat, they dig, and digging means they move stuff around, and this means they add air to the pile.  They help aerate things so it all breaks down faster.  I do stir the pile whenever I add to it, but they make sure it happens more frequently than I might get to that task.

In the end, the animals can have their bits.  I will not feed them on purpose;  I will always do my best to hide things from them.  But if the critters find something upon which they enjoy dining, they can have it, as long as they have to stir things up and help me out in the meantime.  I don’t mind tidying up their spills.  I can accomodate some quality labor, even if it does make me forget to bring the bucket back inside on occasion.

Getting Stuff Done on a Saturday

I felt like I didn’t get enough done today but I did get something done.  Here is a list:

  1. I gathered the trash and recycling and took it to the dump, including the vinyl inflatable pool that has been sitting outside the garage for a year now, deflated and filled with sand;  yeah, that was good purchase.
  2. I took my son to the dump and convinced him to be happy about not taking the always-offered lollipop because he had had so much Halloween candy lately.  That may have been the biggest accomplishment of the day.
  3. I purchased some snow stakes to line the driveway.  Our old fiberglass stakes are pretty shredded and are nasty splinterizers.  We need to get the new ones in as the ground has been considering freezing lately.  At least I got the first part of that one done.
  4. I rolled about on the floor with my kids and laughed quite a bit.
  5. I made lunch for my son while my wife and daughter were out for a hike–he even ate most of it, including a large peeled carrot.
  6. I hung laundry on the clothesline and then folded a huge pile of it in the late afternoon.
  7. I washed a whole mess of dishes.
  8. I took out and stirred the compost, although I was sad to see it is not cooking as much as it had been in the warmer weather.
  9. I brushogged for two hours.  Last night my brother-in-law dropped off his tractor and I had a grand time mowing the field.  I got only part of it done (it will take 8-10 hours to get to it all) but the kids each rode for a while (I also purchased an additional set of ear protectors at the hardware store) and they had fun bouncing about on my lap.  I only got stuck once but got out with the bucket in but a minute.

Tomorrow I will get out on the tractor some more, hopefully make some banana bread, and start stacking the firewood.  We may get the snow stakes in as well but that may have to wait until we get the tractor out of here.  Oh, and I was hoping to go for a run.  If only I got more done today, I would have less to do tomorrow.  But here we are.  I’ll just have another piece of candy and everything will be fine.