There is still snow on the ground (you think?). Our nights are still rather cold. Daytime temperatures are vacillating between giving into spring and keeping a determined hold on winter. Fickle.
I feel anxious during the month of March. On one hand, we are kept at bay from the chores we know are creeping upon us, the cold and snow make many advances impossible.Yet, still, we have to stay in step with time, moving forward regardless of weather variables. Peppers, leeks, onions, herbs, and eggplant need to be sown early in order to have a long growing season out in front of them. We stoke the wood fire, then run out to make sure the greenhouse is not getting too warm. We make another pot of soup using the stored winter squash but crave fresh greens. Long johns? No long johns? Pull the taps on the maple trees or leave them for another week or so? Like I said, this all makes me anxious. One foot is still firmly planted in winter and the other is stretching out looking for the warm, squishy ground of spring. I like my months to be well defined, and yet, I should know by now, the month of March doesn’t play very fair. March is fickle. March is indecisive. March is wishy washy. I have no choice but to muddle through. Today we worked again in the greenhouse potting up some Hepaticas, Shortia uniflora, and Erythronium japonicum. They had been putting on too much growth in their winter storage and so we decided to pot them up. There are others of these same plants, tucked undercover and still dormant, showing no signs of growth.They will remain until the snow is gone and we uncover the nursery rows for the season.
In the meantime, I will work through my restlessness and be grateful for all the good and wonderful things that make up our days….a little of this and a little of that among the tug of seasons.

Old Buggies

I once owned, back in the day when draft horses stood in our fields with the sheep, a nice old cream delivery sleigh. When I sold the last horse, the sleigh went as well. It was a beauty. Green with gold painted detail work. The drafts were meant for work, pulling the hay rake or hauling out logs, and these were some of the chores I used them for. However, when there was good snow, out came the sleigh and in we all piled…kids, friends, and neighbors. Boy was that fun! The sleigh was built as a pung with a set of both front and back runners. Just thinking about it makes me want to consider another horse…hmmm? So, here is a poem by Kate Barnes celebrating the days when sleighs and buggies traveled these roads. (The buggy in the photo is from my Mom’s family. They owned a small grocery and this is how they made their deliveries). The Buggies

“When I first began to practice,”
said the veterinary, giving a shot
to the new foal, “ this countryside
was full of old carriages. The barns
all had some. You could buy
a good top buggy for ten dollars. But now
a lot of the barns have fallen down
onto them.

Those old farmers
used to hang their good buggies from the rafters,
safe and out of the way. And some people
went on using them a long time.

I remember
one place in Warren, “he said, putting iodine
on the umbilicus, watched anxiously
by the mare with her flickering eyes, “ they had
this perfect drop- front phaeton. The top
was always up, the seat was plum-colored wool
with a cloth cover over it. Beautiful.
The old lady wouldn’t go to church
in anything else.

But now that I think of it,
she must have gone too, the last time I was by there
the barn roof was down.

They were
nice, those old things-
well made, you know.
They could stand up to a lot.”

He climbed
into his white truck and drove away,
rattling down the lane. Behind, in the stall,
the mare nickered once as her foal began to nurse
and was silent.

The cold March evening
was darkening toward night, the patterns
of old snow made stripes in the dusk, the stars
were slowly coming out but the lake
at the bottom of the hill went on picking up
the last daylight. Its surface glowed
softly as if it were lighted
from below, as if a distant sun were submerged there
under the ice, still shining, alive, an
d warm.

March On!

picture-3943Have we had a few days of really, really cold temperatures lately? Brrr and yes, but the sun is high and strong and the very near future promises much warmer weather. Yeeha! So, we’ll march on through the month readying ourselves for what’s to come…..sowing seeds, turning over soil, boiling sap into maple syrup goodness.picture-4029I’m not going to squander a minute of March. Before long we’ll be doing that “sun up til sun down” thing we do every year. I’m using these last days of winter (yes, soon to be spring) to finish all the wool spinning and dyeing, all the knitting and felting, all the rummaging through boxes of family papers, all the reading (thank you Rick H. for the package of books you sent!!) I can muster before it’s too late. picture-4008This past weekend both Liberty Tool Company and Liberty Graphics opened their doors for another season. This is great for all those who travel to Maine looking for something special to bring home…like a smoothing plane, or a mortising chisel, or a really nice locally printed tee-shirt. For us locals, we wait all winter for the village to show signs of life again. After a winter of staying close to home, gathering at Liberty Graphics for a cup of coffee and a good chat is a sure sign of revitalization.
Even our chickens seem to have a pep in their step, grooming the landscape for spring morsels. Deep snow and cold temperatures keep them close to the coop until the bare ground starts appearing. Then the door is flung open and out they come, busy the rest of the day rototilling through the gardens and the woods.
Enjoy your days, peek out into the gardens, tip your face to the sun….spring’s a comin!picture-4032picture-3948

Cornus mas

canstockphoto14578501Cornus mas, also known as cornelian cherry, is a small tree, 15 -25 feet tall, native to Europe and western Asia. Its ornamental value is in the flush of showy yellow flowers in early spring, followed by the bright red edible fruit(cherries) later in the season. Some selections have striking leaves of gold or variegated edges. Older trees also display colorful exfoliating bark of gray and brown. This characteristic is better viewed if the trees lower branches are trimmed up from the ground. The fruit can be used to make jams, sauces, and is also enjoyed by a variety of birds. It is deer tolerant and seldom bothered by pests and other maladies. Hardy to zone 4, full sun to part shade is the preferred siting in a variety of soils that do not dry out. Of the many cultivars available, those with all yellow or heavily variegated foliage, are best grown with more shade to avoid scorching. The fruit shows more brilliantly against a lighter colored leaf. A few cultivars that are grown for heavier fruit production are ‘Elegant’, ‘Pioneer’, and ‘Redstone’. We grow and sell Cornus mas here at the nursery. Because of its spring flowering, attractive foliage, and berries in the fall, it’s an another lovely specimen for the landscape.

Haying Attire

My grandfather Owen, top right

My grandfather Owen, top right

Owen and one of his beloved dogs

Owen and one of his beloved dogs

I have spent some time this winter sorting through photos and documents from my father’s side of the family. My mom passed them on to me a few years back (thanks, mom!) and I am trying to organize them into chronological order. Much of the work is done, our history has been well documented. Occasionally, however, I come across an old photo with no name on it and this always makes me sad. It is often one that stands out from all the others, so there is nothing to compare it to. Who is that young lady? Who does she belong to?

picture-3994picture-3989While rummaging through the boxes I came across a program held at the University Of Rhode Island. My grandfather, Owen, attended the university for agricultural sciences back in the 1900’s (he came from a long line of farmers). As you can see, it was the first annual banquet of the Alpha Tau Alpha fraternity in 1917, which my grandfather apparently belonged to. I’ve posted a picture of the leaflet describing the ‘after the meal’ lectures. I was quite fascinated by the address given by John H. Fernandez on “should corsets be worn in the hayfield”. How does he know, is he wearing one? I researched a little and found that it was possible…Corsets for men were typically made from a lightweight cotton. The corsets laced up the back and often had buckled straps at the side to prevent the abdomen bulging. You can’t be efficient in the hay field if your abdomen is bulging all over the place, no sir, let’s hold that tummy in place! Corsets for men? This I never knew, but I did get to thinking about how convenient it would be if men (and women) were wearing their corsets in the hayfield, how handy if the old baler broke a shear pin and the answer to fixing it was tucked into your girdle. Making do with what you have, you might say….how old-timey and innovative is that?

More…

picture-3975picture-3972picture-3986More snow, more shoveling, more visits from our owl friend. He (the owl) watches us from his favorite perch. He can scan the whole layout from where he sits…the house, the chicken coop ( no doubt that is what he’s most interested in), the greenhouses. He doesn’t fly away when we are out working. He remains still, turning his head ever so slightly, to keep us in view. I’m glad he’s here. I’m o.k. with more snow. The shoveling?…keeps us fit. picture-3983picture-3988

Sweetfern

66a075fd0cea6ed74b2391c3d121012eFirst of all, Sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina is not a fern at all, but actually, a shrub that is in the bayberry family. The leaves, which are very aromatic, are fernlike in their appearance. An extremely useful and adaptable native, it can grow in a variety of soils in full sun to part shade. Often, due to its spreading and colonizing habit, it used to stabilize slopes or other disturbed sites. Since it fixes its own nitrogen, is drought tolerant, withstands the wind, and can thrive in poor gravelly soils, it is often used in commercial and municipal projects. But it is also very useful in the home landscape. The deep green foliage is an attractive addition to any design that keeps in mind its ability to spread. Once it attains its mature height of 3′-5′, the plants tend to not get any higher, making a hedge that requires very little pruning. In spring the yellowish green flowers are not striking, but very interesting. These are followed later in the year by small edible nutlets held inside a fuzzy casing. The leaves can be used for a tea and many medicinal applications including, but not limited to, astringents, tonics, and the relief of the effects of poison ivy. This is one very tough native that should be considered more often in the residential landscape. We’ll have plenty of Comptonia here at the nursery this spring. If you are looking for an aromatic native with multiple uses, put this plant on the list! It’s a gem!

More Tea!

picture-3950February is often our coldest month here in the northeast. It’s also when we get our heaviest snowfall. By afternoon, usually having spent a good part of the day outdoors, we’re ready for some tea (and scones!!). I have been rummaging through the pantry pulling out many of the herbs I dried this past summer…. rosehips, lavender, chamomile, and raspberry leaf to name a few. This morning I combined these with some dried lycii berries, hibiscus flowers, and some dried orange peel. We love this combination, and with a little Maine maple syrup, it is purely delicious. Of course with all the lovely health benefits of the plant material, it’s really good for you as well! We offered a tea making class here at the nursery last summer, we’ll surely offer it again this year (we’ll post this on the blog once we set the dates). In addition to blending your own tea to take home, it’s a great opportunity to learn a little about drying herbs, flowers, and berries for winter storage, as well as learning about the medicinal benefits of certain plants. There are days I look into the pantry and feel such comfort from the foods that are either canned, dried, or tinctured. They sit waiting to be called into action…to feed our bellies, to be steeped into teas, or used to combat an oncoming cold. Fruits of our labor (or our wanderings through the meadows and forest), an ongoing task toward self-sufficiency that I am truly grateful for.

Lucky Day!

picture-3948This morning while gathering extra bales of hay from the big barn, I couldn’t help but take advantage of the slick snow covering on the field behind the barn. Out came the Flexible Flyer, down came the earflaps on my wool hat, and off I went. We’re getting more snow at the moment and chances are it will cover the good icy sledding snow with a more powdery consistency. Well, I wasn’t going to let good sledding snow go to waste! Halfway down the hill, I passed over a spot that had been pawed bare by the deer. My eye caught what looked like a sharp branch. I hiked back up to investigate….and I found this single spike horn (antler). How lucky! Then!…then!….I came home to find this guy sitting in the tree just outside the sheep barn, no doubt hoping for some rodent activity to satisfy his appetite before the storm really takes hold. All before 10:00 a.m. What a lucky day!picture-3944

Blooming….Tea

picture-2188After a morning of outdoor chores, I came in to do some computer work. Mostly looking back over photographs and sending them off to a magazine that will be featuring the nursery this spring ( more on that later!). While scanning through the many, many pictures we’ve taken, I came across this photo; a pot of blooming tea gifted to me last winter. I remember that day. My very dear friend Sid had come over for some knitting and a chat and she brought us the blooming tea to enjoy together. Flowering tea or blooming tea is a small bundle of dried flowers encased in tea leaves and left to dry.picture-2174 After we covered the bundle of dried herbs and flowers with boiling water, we sat mesmerized as it ‘bloomed’ in front of us. Of course, a glass teapot is essential for this type of tea. Magic! Delight! Surprise! And tasty! Thank you, Sid for that lovely day last winter. Sipping tea that blooms on a cold winter’s day ( with my pal, Sid)…it doesn’t get much better than that!