More 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.
First 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!
February 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.
This 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!
After 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. 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!
Most afternoons, we venture into the woods. It is the dogs favorite part of the day… and ours too! With the icy conditions along the nursery footpaths and along the road, the deep woods offer better footing at the moment. Traveling ground that keeps us upright is not the only reason we tuck into the forest every day. Aside from the peace and serenity the woods provide, it’s also the track stories we can read along the way that call us into the wild. In our absence, perhaps while we lay fast asleep, many of the wild critters who stay active during Maine’s harsh winter are out prowling or foraging in search of food, and in doing so they have left their travel stories in the snow. As we hike toward Kingdom pond through a mixture of both coniferous and deciduous trees, cross over an old lumber clearing, and arrive at a grove of mature hemlock, the animal activity is laid out before us in a network of foot patterns. Coyote and fox travel with their intentional, business-like gait, leaving well-defined canine tracks behind. Snowshoe hare bound from one thicket to another, their large paddle-like back feet leaving imprints out beyond their front feet. Mice move from stump to stump leaving their slight tail dragging marks. Turkeys have left evidence from their searching for acorns under an oak tree, the snow trampled and flattened, looking as though a square dance had taken place. Deer tip toe across the coyote tracks, carefully heading in the opposite direction, their heart-shaped hoof prints leaving their mark. Of course, the dogs go mad with all the smells and freedom and cover over many of the tracks before we reach them. By the time we arrive at the pond, we have added our own foot travels to the mix. We can see where that lone fox has kept going, his thoughts on distant shores, his determined trail leading out across the ice. Maybe a meal or a warm den awaits him on the other side. I hope he finds both.
Black chokeberry is a North American native shrub that is very useful to both wildlife and as a healthy food for humans. The berries are a favorite of grouse, turkeys and other birds. Though quite tart, when sweetened the fruit is very tasty and good for you, being a strong antioxidant. Many medicinal benefits are claimed and practiced from using the extracts. They have extremely high antioxidative activity, are used as an anti- inflammatory, and are super high in vitamins ( A, C, D, B9, B2 and vitamin E) and beta-carotene. Growing from 3 to 10 feet tall, depending on the cultivar, chokeberry is an easy keeper being not fussy about moist or dry soils, PH, and light conditions from full sun to part shade. It can develop into small colonies that are simple to manage with minimal pruning and thinning if so desired. Along with the fruit is an amazing display of orange and red foliage in the fall. Several forms are available to suit the size of your garden or landscape.
We tincture the berries and keep them on the pantry shelf for use through the winter.
Here is a more thorough list of their incredible health benefits:
Alleged Health Benefits:
Cancer (brain, lung, colon, liver)
Cardiovascular ailments: lowers blood pressure, lowers bad and improves good cholesterol, promotes heart and arterial health, improves elasticity of blood vessels and prevents their clogging, reduces discomfort due to varicose veins and inflammation (flavonoids, proanthocyanidin, biophenols, vitamin P)
Accelerates recovery from heart/brain stroke (anthocyanins, phenols, vitamin P).
Stops arteriosclerosis, prevents dementia and Alzheimer’s, helps with headaches and migraines through improved circulation (anthocyanin, vitamin P)
Eyes: cures macular degeneration, prevents cataract, protects from UV radiation, improves vision (anthocyanin, vitamin P, beta-Carotene).
Diabetes: regulates hemoglobin and blood sugar level, regulates pancreas, and cures diabetes (sorbitol, anthocyanin)
Liver and gallbladder: improves the function of both organs, regenerates liver even in major diseases and cleanses it from fatty deposits; gallstones, inflammation, jaundice (phenols, flavonoids)
Regulates thyroid and other hormones.
Gastrointestinal: reduces inflammation, pain, cramping, stomach ulcers (anthocyanins) and stops diarrhea.
Urinary tract infections(5-10 times more effective than cranberry),some prostate problems
Increases immune function, so helps with colds and influenza (flu) (biophenols and vitamin C)
Cleansing: Aronia binds heavy metals and radioactive materials and helps their excretions (beneficial in post-radiation therapy or accidental exposure to radiation).
Disinfects wounds and dramatically accelerates healing time (helpful post-operatively) (biophenols, vitamins P, C and E).
Skin: Improves elasticity, reduced wrinkles, stretch marks, sun spots, and broken capillaries; freshens skin and slows down the aging process (vitamin E, beta-Carotene, flavonoids)
Aging: slows down aging (antioxidative function)
These two gals, dear friends, and amazing women whom I love and admire traveled together, as mother and daughter, to walk in the Women’s March in Washington. They are strong in conviction and courage, they are full of beauty and empathy, they seek truth and justice for all. When I look into their faces,
I am filled with pride. Attending the Women’s March was only one example of how these two practice citizenship. They do a range of big and small things each day….from writing letters to congressmen to volunteering with organizations who need help. They consider the needs of others, make conscious choices in the consumer world, and support a healthy and harmonious world for all….every day. I’ve witnessed it. They are an example to follow. They are to me, as Gloria Steinem put it so well, “the upside to the downside”. Thank you, dearest of friends, Kari and Rachel for putting your feet to the pavement and your voices to be heard on January 21, 2017.
Now is the time we begin putting seed orders together for the vegetable gardens. Now is the time we look at our list of plants in stock for the nursery and we check our notes on all the plants we’ve propagated this past Fall. Yes, we still have some winter out in front of us. All of February, and depending on what kind of season it will be, the month of March as well. However, as we turn the page on the calendar (soon), we really do have the upcoming growing season on our minds. Rick has been very busy sourcing and also propagating some real goodies for the nursery. New plants that are sure to excite customers! I’m excited!
Now is also the time a tiny feeling of panic sets in. Winter never seems quite long enough to get all the things that I’ve wanted to do completed. I need more time for walking in the woods, some more time ice fishing, of course way more time knitting and spinning (and dyeing and felting), and working on that pesky quilt that remains unfinished but in progress, as well as a list of household projects… and if we’d only get a good dumping of snow, more snowshoeing and sledding. Slow down winter! I need more time!
The last few days, we’ve all had a nasty cold, but this wasn’t going to keep me from progress. It is impossible for me to lay around without noting some accomplishment at the end of the day. Don’t ask me why this is a problem because I really don’t know the answer. I wasn’t quite up to splitting wood or reshingling the back of the house, but I did organize the cellar, put some time into a pair of socks I’m knitting and made bread. This, along with several cups of ginger tea, made my down days seem less down. Now we all feel better and are expecting a group of friends over tonight for game playing. An evening of sitting around the table with friends, a collection of goodies and drink to keep our spirits up, and a good game, is yet another winter indulgence that we’ll have no time for come summer. Yeah Winter…stay with us! What do you do during these winter months? Do you have some winter indulgences or do you wish it to hurry up and be over? To tell.
With the recent storms that have brought us a mixture of ice and heavy wet snow, many of us have had some damage to some of our most prized trees and shrubs. Several here have been bent right down to the ground with the top branches frozen into the snow and ice. Others have just had a branch or two bent over. When this happens, there is often a break or crack in the branches and or even in the main trunk. If the break is bad and all the way through so that that the piece is almost off, then maybe it is best to cut it off at the break. New growth should replace much of it in the next few seasons. If it is merely a crack and the bark is still connected on two sides, then it is possible to repair it. In the past, I have straightened the branch or small trunk to the point that the break is closed up and the bark is touching where the crack was formed. I then wrap it tightly with duct tape to hold the sides together. After that, I add a splint strong and long enough to keep the branch or trunk from bending again. On trunks, it may be necessary to stake them as well. It is important to do this as soon as possible before the bark dries out. The tape will eventually disintegrate and you will see the new growth push against and around it. We have saved several trees and shrubs this way, including a Stewartia and a Dogwood that are both now over fifteen feet tall (the pictures are actually of a damaged lilac).
It looks like next weeks forecast is calling for more ice and freezing rain, which could bring even more damage than we’ve already had this year.