Magnolia stellata

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMagnolia stellata is one of the earlier trees to bloom in our area. Its blooms are a welcome sight after a long winter, and just as ornamental are the flower buds, looking very much like giant pussy willows. From the time the leaves fall off in autumn, until they open in early spring, the fuzzy buds  add interest to the winter landscape . While most people are waiting for the flowers to appear in the spring, we appreciate the buds all winter long. As the weather warms and the days get longer, the buds swell and then open to  white star-like (stellata) flowers. Some cultivars of M. stellata, of which there are many, have pink to pinkish colored flowers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This small tree, with its buds, flowers, and deep green foliage, has something of interest most of the year. Magnolia stellata and most of its cultivars are readily available.

Sourdough At Fernwood

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday was a sourdough bread baking day. Usually, we bake off anywhere from 15-20  loaves at a time. It is a help having a 60 quart Hobart mixer and a commercial oven.  Believe it or not, these are just the things I wished for as a teenager. Back when most girls my age were pining away for fancy dresses or a racey car, I was wishing for industrial baking equipment. It must run in the family. When our son Noah was 16 and we asked what he would like for Christmas, his answer was …a welder and some scrap metal ( He got both and at 17, he’s already become a certified welder). This year he asked for a draft horse and a woodlot .We haven’t come through on this one yet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have been baking bread for a long time now.  My grandmother allowed lots of experimenting in her kitchen, so I developed a love for baking at an early age.  Bread baking has always been an interest and a bit of a passion, and the “doing” of it fits well into our self sustainable lifestyle.

The sourdough starter is now about three years old and has developed into a tangy and effective culture. I am still enchanted with the concept of live cultures being fed on a regular basis,  and then rewarding the baker with an abilty to give their dough a “lift”. A little kitchen chemistry, and pretty amazing. Most often we will make whole wheat or plain white sourdough, and then on occasion, trays of cinnamon raisin, rye, or pumpernickel. We have customers who buy bread from us on a regular basis ( our kitchen is certified ) . The extra makes its way on to our own plates or into the freezer, saving the day when someone in the family says “we’re out bread !”

The most difficult chore for me with regards to maintaining sourdough starter, is discarding some of the original sponge when it’s time to feed it. The process requires saving 1/4 cup of the starter, feeding this with flour and water, then discarding the rest. This is a bit like thinning carrots.  I have to coach myself through these chores knowing that if I don’t eliminate some of the bunched up little seedlings or chuck some of the glutinous sponge, I end up with a pathetic carrot crop or a refrigerator packed with mason jars ……..all filled with dough starter crying to be increased, again.  I’ve learned to be ruthless.

Well, we all know that spring is just around the corner. Onions, leeks, and some early brassicas have been sown in flats. We watch for swelling buds and shoots of green, paying attention to the plants that have been lying dormant, and are beginning to emerge.

Sheep And Felting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are nearing the end of our lambing schedule, awaiting our last few ewes to deliver. So far, we have had 9 lambs…… 6 ewes and 3 rams, all easy births and all healthy. After a long winter and tending to our original flock, it is a delight to go out and be greeted by a bunch of springy lambs frolicking about. It amazes us that within a couple of days from being born, they are racing back and forth,  jumping into the air, and chasing each other around. Wallace ( remember him?) looks around now with a dazed expression and instead of a   ” Did I do that ? ”    it’s more like a  ” what have I done ? “.  We love watching them all.

slippers 012

slippers 016Indoors, these are some examples of the felting projects I have been working on. The slippers are made by a process called wet felting. I spent some time this winter working on a slipper pattern that I was happy with and then carded my wool into batts for felting.  The process involves using hot soapy water , layering the wool batts, and then a lot of shaping by hand. Wool typically felts by being subjected to three things: temperture change, alkaline, and agitation. Many of us have experienced this when putting a wool sweater into the washing machine. Usually what comes out, if the sweater is 100% wool, is a smaller, tighter,  woven version of what was put in. Well, that’s basically felting.

slippers 019The slippers I have been working on are all hand felted and dyed using some of the fleeces that best lend themselves to this process. Felt is a great fabric….warm and sturdy and tends to shed water due to the wool fibers being so densely shrunken and tightened. This resulting in a material that is perfect for keeping feet warm during our Maine winters.  Maybe next winter I’ll felt a yurt. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA