I wish I had a little oak barrel. Or a little cherry barrel. Or some little barrel.

Why? Because I am married to the delightful, talented, and immensely generous Josh Legler, whose ancestry traces back to a family of small barrel makers. The barrels were small, not his relatives. And I want a small barrel to put new vinegar into.

Last year I started making fruit vinegars. I age them in mason jars, but I kind of wonder what wonderfully surprising things would happen if I aged them in small, wooden barrels.

This year I am attempting to make balsamic vinegar, without a small barrel. Here’s what I did:

I used my friend’s grape juice steamer, and Niagara table/juice/wine grapes. I poured the juice into a pot and reduced its volume by 50% by boiling. I poured it into jars (50% full) and waited until it fermented. Some of the jars were slow to ferment, so I jump started them with a jar that was quicker to ferment. After they started to ferment, I let them bubble for a week to 10 days. Then I gave them each a vinegar mother. They will hang out with her until she starts giving them outdated advice or criticizing their life choices.

I contacted our local winemaking supply store, and asked if they sold barrels or champagne yeast. They didn’t have either, and they were abrupt and unhelpful. My interaction with them kind of left a bad taste in my mouth that had undertones of Rogaine for Men with high notes of premium gasoline and a finishing whiff of attorney’s fees and divorce papers. La di da. I understand. But it made me think that maybe wine people need more vinegar in their lives, and less wine.

So, I’m still looking for a small barrel to age this new batch of balsamic vinegar.

It’s Monday, August 9th and I am just catching my breath from the flurry of July “farmer drama” (or “fahmah drama”, as we like to say). Garden harvests, fall crop plantings, food preservation, and late nights. My upper back aches by then end of every day–but it’s an ache that I live for. It means that I’ve been on my feet, lugging water, reaching in awkward positions to grab a Sungold tomato that is buried inside a jungle of tomato vines or chasing a crew of “ducks on holiday” back to the pasture. I have pushed myself this summer to be a little more pioneersy, a little less Tik-Toky. (But for reals, I learned how to drop an egg in a pan to crack it perfectly, so thank you TikTok.)

I received a very sweet, generous gift from Josh this week–and I love it so much I miiight ask for it next year, too. He took the kids on a trip and let me stay home. This is my week to garden, read, can beans, dehydrate grapes, brew vinegar, pick blackberries, catch up on going through my piles of projects, and make a massive kitchen mess without worrying about what to prepare for dinner. It’s a lovely gift and it comes at the perfect time. Yes, I do all these things (and more) while the kids are home, but usually it’s interwoven with afternoon trips to the river, a ride to a store, a meal, help with a project, clearing everyone’s stuff off the kitchen table before dinner, sitting and listening, or just watching the ducks with the kids. I am enjoying this time to be a “controlled environment” homemaker instead of a “real world” homemaker. I know this week is a luxury, and I’m loving every minute.

While I type this, I’m sitting across from a sputtering pressure canner, watching the dial gauge as if my life depends on it (’cause it kinda does–oh hello, Clostridium botulinum, we were just talking about you). I take pressure canning very seriously, and do my best to follow precautions 100%. In the 22 years that I have mommed the heck out of this family, we’ve never had any issues with food-borne illness. I like to be super safe while canning, as well as when I’m cooking meat (which we eat sparingly) or preparing any food for the family.

So, today I pressure canned beans + beets and dehydrated grapes. That doesn’t seem like much, but it also included planting a new row of beans and beets, harvesting the grapes from Merrie’s house, and preparing the harvest to be canned.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to get a load of blackberries harvested to last us until next August! My goal is to preserve 12 quarts with a few extra quarts for blackberry plum jam and blackberry vinegar.

One of our goals this year is to keep our garden full. When one crop is harvested, a flat of month-old seedlings will be planted in its place. It requires me to think ahead and plan where to put the next batch of teeny plants. It also means leaving a little margin in the garden just in case things take longer to grow than I anticipated.

This new way of approaching gardening (new to us!) is very fulfilling and exciting. It means that during the most productive months, our garden is running at full capacity. We are harvesting every day. We are making good use of the space we have.

But there’s always more that we can learn or do. I know there are spots under the corn where I could plant lettuces. I could have done a better job of protecting my baby beets from the baby ducks. I could have filled in the herb garden (but no–it will do that on its own). I could have spent more time over last winter prepping the east and west ends of the garden so they’d be as fertile as the central section. I could have planned something to put where the garlic was, instead of leaving it empty (like it still is right now.)

I’m not beating myself up with all my mistakes. I actually get giddy in the garden when I recognize mistakes–because it means that next year’s garden will be more beautiful, abundant, and lush than this year’s garden. I can learn and grow through my mistakes.

I’m going to add one more thing to this post. Actually two more things. First, I love gardening with Josh. I love doing anything with Josh. We share so many interests–some that we discovered as we dated in 1998 and some we’ve developed together since we were married 22 years ago. He brings so much joy to my life as we grow together. Second, Josh is a very organized person, and his sugar snap pea plants did not reflect that at the beginning of their growing season. They were Seussian–and that is not a vibe that jives with Josh. I put up a trellis a few weeks after they sprouted so that Josh’s snow peas would more closely match his desire for order and systems–not in a 1940’s German way, but in more of a Swiss farmer way. Now, as the snow pea season draws to a close, the pea plants which were trellised continue to produce, while the peas which were left to find their own path, wrapping their tendrils around each other, have become withered and spent.

In the stories of Peter Rabbit, as of today I ally myself with Mr. McGregor.

The bunnies are escaping on a daily basis. They mowed down all of the leeks, tatsoi, peppers, tomatoes, snapdragons, a few garlics, and all of my lettuce. I’m not a happy gardener.