Taters And Toads

picture-3610It’s the time of year we begin digging our winter supply of potatoes and it’s also the time of year ( here in the North East) for amphibians to find a winter resting place. This toad was already hunkered down and cozying up to some spuds for his winter nap. Or he may have simply been trying out suitable sites. Our night time temperatures are dropping, though it’s plenty warm during the day and there are still plenty of insects for him to be munching. Best if he goes into winter with a good layer of fat, he’ll be relying on it for energy throughout the winter months.

Thank goodness we didn’t hit him with the digging fork! Amazing that they survive our Maine winters burrowed into the soil. Nature has the great ability to provide its natural world with all the right tools, doesn’t it?

While in dormancy, ice crystals will form in parts of a toad’s body cavity, as well as in its bladder and beneath its skin, but a high concentration of glucose in the frog’s vital organs will prevent it from completely freezing. Built in anti-freeze, you might call it! How cool is that! If you came across an amphibian in its winter state of dormancy, it may very well appear as being dead. Not so, but both its heart rate and breathing will most likely be nonexistent during its winter suspension. Once spring arrives, along with warmer temperatures, Mr. Toad will warm up and resume his normal activity.

I moved our toad friend to the other end of the garden and along the forest edge. I’ll let him decide where he hops off to so he can find a good wintering-over spot. In the meantime, we’ll be very careful to just harvest taters…not toads!picture-3614

More Gathering

picture-3596More gathering of seeds happening here. What a selection. Each plant has a unique seed design….texture, shape, color, as well as specific propagation requirements. Such incredible diversity. Here are a few we collected most recently:picture-3597picture-3600

And Now?

Picture 147And now, most days, aside from the everyday garden chores, tending sheep, hauling in this year’s supply of firewood, and continuing to preserve a bounty of vegetables, we are busy collecting seed. Already looking to the future, already imagining the promise of another season, being grateful for that small parcel…the seed, that will make it all happen. Glory be!
How about a poem? I think yes, a good one from Mary Oliver….

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

~ “What Can I Say” from Swan by Mary Oliver ~

The “Young’uns”

picture-3589We no longer have a household of children, but we still have a fair number of young’uns around the place. Our own kids are young adults now and are busy in their own lives. One lives not so far away, close enough to stop in to fill grocery bags of fresh produce to take home, borrow cookbooks, or simply visit for a ‘taste of home’. I love this, really, I do. The other has already built his own cabin just beyond our place and through the woods. He has his own small carpentry business and is constantly on the go…no grass grows under the feet of this boy, that’s for sure. Then we have our assortment of young people who live and work with us. WWOOFers and an intern at the moment, living in the little dwellings that are scattered around the property. I truly love the energy these young people bring to our days. The conversations we have with them are always so full of ideas and promise. They all take such a genuine interest in the world and they are committed to doing their best for this planet and humanity. They have a vision for themselves and a vision for how they can serve the world. All of this keeps me very hopeful for the future. Often, our conversations together delve into farming, sustainability, politics, religion, science… you name it and we’ve probably sat around the kitchen table and shared thoughts with one another. In the evening, I love watching them seek one another out, walking foot paths through the woods to sit around a campfire or make food together and engage in their own round table of conversation. Laughter, banter, opinions, singing, we hear it all….and it is such a privilege to bear witness to their growth and experiences. The people who come to learn here at the nursery are a great help to us. We do our best to teach them as much as we can, to send them off knowing how to grow food, or to use a foraged plant for a particular medicinal remedy, or to spin wool or make cheese, skills that we hope will be of use to them on their own journey. What they may not know but I should remind myself to tell them more often, is that each one leaves us feeling better about the world. Not just because they now know how to thin carrots or identify a native plant ( although these are great skills to acquire!) but because they are people you can be proud to stand behind. The future will be better, safer, and kinder with these young people making their way forward. They are searching for ways to make a difference, they want the world to be a better place for everyone. They are willing to make sacrifices and commit themselves to choosing a life that is not self-serving, but one that contributes to the greater good. I love them all. I am proud of each one, including our own. It may seem or appear that the world is on a slippery slope, one that does not bode well for the future. This may be true and there are many areas of concern, no doubt, but when I sit across the table from one of our young visitors and listen to their hope and vision of the future, I am reassured of their intent and ability to turn the ship around. I’ll grab an oar and gladly help them row!

One Of The Most Important Things I’ll Ever Ask Of You On This Blog…….

Please find a way to watch this film, SEED The Untold Story. It will be shown here in Maine at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. Their week-long run begins on Friday, September 16th. (Showtimes to be announced.) Check out Railroad Square Theater for more info. If you live elsewhere, please visit this site: http://www.seedthemovie.com/ to find screenings in your area. You can watch a clip of the film by going here: https://vimeo.com/97882647
As 94% of our vegetable seed varieties have been lost, as seed diversity which is essential to the health and well-being of our planet becomes increasingly threatened, as we struggle to feed the growing numbers of humans and animals that reside on this planet, it is crucial that all people understand what is happening to our traditional seed sources. Look for cinemas or venues that will be showing this film….please. We will be in Waterville, Maine on Friday night watching and supporting this production. Please take the time to watch this film…. its message is so dearly important to all of us.

Luxury Houses, The Tiny Version!

picture-3534Here are the little clay dwellings that were made at our fairy house workshop. We took them from the kiln a few days ago. They are so adorable, each one!. I am quite certain that any fairy, gnome, or traveling wood nymphs searching for a place to reside would love one of these handcrafted homes. We’ll be offering this class again in the spring. If you’d like to add a little whimsy to your garden next season, consider taking this class! picture-3539picture-3536

Fall Whirlwind

Tarragon....another Fall chore , drying herbs from the garden

Tarragon….another Fall chore , drying herbs from the garden

Once September rolls around, I have it in my mind that the chores, tasks, and the ‘goings on’ here at the nursery will calm a bit. Not so. It never does, and you’d think by now I would remember this. Fall is busy. We remain open through September and then by appointment in October. Customers continue to roll in, making end of the season selections for next year’s garden. We are collecting seeds and propagating, as well as dividing the plants that need it.The vegetable gardens are bursting. It has been a fantastic tomato year, we pick daily crates of tomatoes which are brought in for preserving. Today, I will start another succession of greens….lettuces, spinach, and tatsoi, for the hoop house. We’ll have meat birds to process later in the season, firewood is always on the list, and the small WWOOF cabin we built needs some finishing touches. For help these days, we have Molly, a senior student from College Of The Atlantic (here in Maine) doing a 3-month internship with us. Molly grew up here in our neck of the woods and has spent most of her life lobstering with her Dad….she is not at all unfamiliar with hard work. I think, however, she’s glad to be free of filling bait bags for a while.
This past weekend I was in Eastport for the Salmon Festival as a fiber vendor. This coming weekend is Fiber College in Searsport Maine. My friend Sally will be there teaching a class in paper mache elves and I’ll be assisting her in the class. Fall is certainly busy…always a little melancholy for me as the days go by. What feelings does the Fall bring to you? Are you ready for the end of summer?

The Great Harvest

Picture 3528Now is when the vegetable harvest floods the kitchen. Buckets, baskets, and wooden crates filled to the brim with tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and more. Let’s not even mention the cucumbers. Or the squash…. you know how that goes. We’ve been trying to harvest all the squash before it grows to its potential baseball bat length. This can happen overnight, as you know. ‘Sunburst’ patty pan squash grow like berries on a bush, you pick them one day and the next there are just as many. Our favorite way to prepare these cute little Cucurbita are to first throw them into a pot of boiling water, cook until just tender, then take them out to drain and dry off a bit. Then scoop out a small hole on the top side of the squash, discard seeds if you want to, and fill the hole with something yummy….like a bit of the roasted tomatoes, garlic, red pepper, and eggplant that’s been in the oven all morning. Top this with a little goat cheese ( we like Appleton Creamery’s ‘Chipotle lime’) and put under the broiler for a minute. A great little presentation, I must say.
Hope everyone’s gardens are doing well despite the lack of water ( here in the North East). Happy harvest to all!Picture 3533

Is it Too Late to Plant?

From Rick…..

We are asked this question frequently this time of year. It usually starts after the 4th of July and increases as the season goes on. Our answer is always “No it is not!”. In fact, now through September and into October it is not only a good time to plant perennials, trees, and shrubs but an ideal time for both the plants and you. By late summer and fall, you will have had the time to see what changes and additions are needed in your garden. You can do it now while it is fresh in your mind, most of the plants are still up rather than having to guess where they are in the spring. Also, the soil is more workable than it might be in a soggy or wet spring. Rains are more numerous and the temperatures are cooler. This is the only time of year when the soil is warm and the air is cool. Perfect for plants to go about the business of producing a good root system without the stress of heat and low moisture. They also are not producing a lot of new top growth and flowers as they do in the spring. In the spring they are asked to do it all. This time of year the energy goes into rooting, roots for the winter, and more roots to survive dry periods next year. Plantings now will be much more vigorous next year than those planted next spring. For me, I much prefer working outside in the late summer and fall without the blackflies, mosquitoes, and heat of summer. The most important part of planting now and into the fall is keeping the plants watered. Usually, in our area, we have more than enough rain. We understand that this year has been a challenge for some gardeners with the lack of moisture during our summer months. If the rains return as they do in a normal year, it will be an opportunity to plant what you may have been reluctant to during the heat and drought. Remember that water needs for the plant diminish as fall approaches. With the spring as busy as it is for us with the nursery and vegetable gardens, late summer and fall are when we have the time to divide our plants and create new gardens. Now is a great time to plant.

Watering Cans

Providing a drink to a recently planted Azalea

Providing a drink to a recently planted Azalea

In this very dry period, we have tried to reduce the use of water from our well on the display beds and some newly transplanted shrubs. If we notice signs of wilting, we try to give each plant just enough water to get through until the next rain, (not that we’ve had one or truly expect one in the near future, ugh!). What has worked well is to take a large can (a quart at least, or small bucket) and poke a very small hole in the bottom of it near the edge. We then place the can next to the plant with the hole as close to the stem or crown as possible and fill it with water. The water will then slowly drip down to the roots and not run off as it would if just poured on the ground around the plant. All of the water goes to the plant. In our display beds, some plants do not handle the prolonged drought as well as others. This way we can selectively deliver water to them and not have to water the whole bed. It has been very easy to do and has kept many plants from shriveling up without using a large volume of water.

We have not had a good rain in weeks. Here in the northeast, drought is not something we consider common. We are lucky to have a fair range of weather….the right amount of sun, the right amount of overcast, the right amount of rain. Lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers spread across this state of Maine, we are water rich. This year, however, those precious water holes are a bit stressed, water tables are low, the lakes and ponds are well below normal levels. Our well here at the farm is a good one. We are very fortunate to be located above a healthy aquifer, but still, we conserve. Let’s consider water as it should be…. a precious, life-giving, absolutely necessary resource, that everyone needs. Let’s consider water as nine-year-old Gabriel does….

Gabriel and the Water Shortage

When the water shortage comes along
he’s been waiting all his life for it,
all nine years for something to need him as
the water needs him now. He becomes
its protector–he stops washing, till dirt
shines on the bones behind his ears
over his brain, and his hands blaze like
dark blades of love. He will not
flush the toilet, putting the life of the
water first, until the bowl
crusts with gold like the heart’s riches and his
room stinks, and when I sneak in and
flush he almost weeps, holds his
hands a foot apart in the air and
says do I know there is only about
this much water left! He befriends it, he
sits by its bedside as if it is a dying
friend, a small figure of water
gleaming on the sheets. He keeps a tiny
jar to brush his teeth in, till green
bugs bathe in its scum, but talk about
germs and he is willing to sacrifice his health
to put the life of the water first, its
helplessness breaks his heart, the way it
waits at all the faucets in the city for the
cocks to be turned, and then it cannot
help itself, it has to spill

to the last drop. Weeks go by and
Gabriel’s glazed with grime, and every
cell of dirt upon his body is a
molecule of water saved and he
loves those tiny molecules
translucent as his own flesh in the spring, this
thin vivid liquid boy who has
given his heart to water element
so much like a nine-year-old–you can
cut it, channel it, see through it and
watch it, then, a fifty-foot
tidal wave, approaching your house and
picking up speed as it comes.

Sharon Olds