This For That

Picture 429 We live in a community where bartering is common. All sorts of items and services are offered up on a regular basis without any monetary transaction. I have one very close friend who I swap, barter, or gift things with almost weekly. I tease her and say that our relationship is like a big “Go Fish” game. I call up to find out if she has any rennet ( for making cheese), she’ll call to see if there are extra canning jars available. “Do you have any wide wale blue corduroy?” “yep”, I say. “Oh, do you have any extra seed pots?” she may ask. Of course, we always have plenty of those.

Picture 396But this is the first time we’ve collectively had an organized swap. It’s great to go through the things you no longer need, or to find something you make, that can then be offered for something else. I love watching the ease with which my good neighbors traded for things. More value is put on their relationship than the things being swapped. It’s nice when a deal is sealed with a smile and a hug. We used the town office building and gathered with our wares( or services) to see what kind of trades could be made.

Picture 418We drank tea and ate scones and cookies, too. Here are some example of the swaps that were offered up: Picture 407Picture 413 Picture 409Picture 432Picture 415Picture 405
Everyone went home with something, and there was lots of chatter about another swap in the future. Maybe one for each season…..we’ll see. My favorite swap? This great book I traded heirloom tomato seedlings for.Picture 434

The Nature Of Things



The last week has been a busy one. Fernwood opens on May 3rd, and the lingering type of winter we’ve had has pushed spring back. This means that many of the jobs we do early on in the season, couldn’t really be done until it warmed up and the ground became workable. ( oh, and we had to wait for the snow to melt, that too).Picture 332
Now that the conditions for getting those jobs done are possible, we’re on a tear to finish them before opening day. Rick and I go about this differently. I scurry around feeling the urgency and need for every task to be tended to, right away. I fret a bit, I sigh a lot, I make lists and race to get an item crossed off. I wonder why we run a nursery that puts us on high alert once spring arrives. Most days, I feel that another 6 hours would have helped. I do this to myself. I’m the one who looks around and sees the enormity of what still needs to be done and feels overwhelmed by it. We both work from sunup to sundown. Rick has a much different approach (thank goodness) and after a few days of me scurrying around acting like Lucille Ball wrapping candy at the conveyor machine, his steady and methodic nature helps to temper mine. He has always approached work with more of a ” one thing at a time” attitude.
o.k. this is just a little too relaxed

o.k. this is just a little too relaxed

He gets a lot done, and I don’t ever see the same panic in his eyes, that I often feel. He reminds me to breath, to not get whipped up and carried away with this self imposed driving nature, I seem to be in possession of. He’s right. Most everything will get done, and the things that don’t will wait their turn.The nursery opens and the place will look great. Rick will remind me of this and his calm and mellow nature is a help to my ” busy” one. It really is a blessing to work together and I appreciate Rick’s temperament. ( now get out of that pot!)
emerging peony

emerging peony

Also, the plants, each one that reflects the very reason why we choose to do what we do, are emerging in their own timely fashion and should serve as our best indicator of ” all in due time”. They’ve got it figured out.
When I look around and see a million things that need doing, and I can’t seem to keep up with the pace of things ( my self imposed pace, that is)…..I feel like Lucy. Enjoy!

Spring Eating

Picture 319This time of year, one of the first spring crops to come into the house are the Jerusalem artichokes ( also referred to as Sunchokes). A native to North America, these knobby tubers can become rather invasive, but if you can find an area to grow them ( and control them), they are a delicious spring addition to meals. We begin digging them in mid April, and find lots of creative ways to use them in recipes. Jerusalem artichokes look a bit like a knobby potato. Most strains have a reddish skin and are crisp, with a nutty taste. Our favorite way to prepare sunchokes is to roast them along with lots of garlic, onions, and olive oil…….maybe with some hot pepper flakes thrown in. There is no need to peel their thin skin, simply wash them thoroughly and chop them into chunks. Roast them in the oven at 350. If we’re feeling decadent, a splash of maple syrup towards the end of roasting, fancies things up.
Jerusalem artichokes also make a nice soup, we like this variation from the Local Flavors cookbook. We’ll share the recipe:
1 small onion
3 small red potatoes
1 pound Jerusalem artichokes
1 celery rib
2 Tbls. Sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, minced (we use more)
6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
Sea salt/freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
Milk or cream for thinning
½ cup croutons, crisped in the oven
Roasted hazelnut oil
Wash all the vegetables. then chop them into ½ inch chunks. Heat oil in soup pot, add the vegetables, and sauté over high heat, until lightly browned. About ten minutes. Add the garlic during the last few minutes. Pour in the stock. Add 1 1/2 tsp. salt and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender. About 25 minutes. Cool briefly, then puree until perfectly smooth. Return to soup pot and add enough cream to thin it to the desired consistency. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve with a few croutons and the oil drizzled in a thin stream over top. Enjoy!

You can dig Jerusalem artichokes in the spring or fall. By the end of summer, they are one of the last flowering plants to be standing. Like giant sunflowers…..masses of them if they take on that invasive spirit I was talking about. After a long winter of stored vegetables, it’s a treat to have something fresh out of the ground. Our own patch, which is tucked away from the other garden spots, borders on being invasive. Because they remain separate from prime growing spots, we aren’t too worried and can enjoy sharing them with others. Besides, like asparagus, I like having this perennial food supply nearby.
Tomorrow, the kale seedlings, tatsoi, and pak choi all go out into the garden. No more waiting……..time to get planting! Picture 315

Today And Everyday

We know it’s Earth Day and it is pleasing to think that the world takes time to celebrate our big green earth. It seems fair and just, that this planet, our global home and mother that tries her best to sustain us, gets her day on our yearly calendar. I’m not sure this particular day is what we consider so significant, but what we are celebrating and honoring, certainly is. Honestly, think about it, everyday is Earth Day. We plant our feet on it everyday, we benefit from all its life giving components, we are able to exist because of her generosity, everyday. We all have our own mothers, and soon we will be celebrating that day as well. We will call our moms and thank her, we will give her cards and flowers, and we will say ” Thanks for life, mom”. When we consider how life giving all mothers are……our own birth mums and the big green earth mother that embraces all of us….it may feel surprising that we would take any of it for granted. I hope this one day that gets written on our calendar as Earth Day, reminds us to pay tribute…. each and every day. A simple acknowledgement, a thank you, a prayer, some gratitude and appreciation , for this wonderful planet that tries to sustain us, against some great odds. Doesn’t it make sense that we protect, nurture, and honor this life giving force? I am often humbled by the earths tenacity, resilience, and fierce want to provide……I am also confused at how we may often underestimate our responsibility to respect and regard its health and future.
Enjoy this day, enjoy tomorrow, enjoy each and everyday that is gifted to us from our big, lovely, Mother Earth.2012-02-16_13-14-51_634

Todays Tasks

Picture 297First off, this collage of winter accessories will be taken down and stored away. Despite the low temperatures still causing a nip in the air, I am refusing to wear our winter wool attire any longer. As much as I love wool.
Today, we will be busy potting up selections of these beauties.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have several varieties but a limited number. One of the highlights here at the nursery is when the showy ladyslippers are in bloom.
In the wee hours of the morning, before those greater tasks need our attention, I get a little creative time in. I love hand sewing and these little woodland dwellers remind me of the elves my grandmother use to make. I’d like to make an entire village of them. That’s what early mornings are for.Picture 282Picture 301

When Snow Gets In Your Eye

Picture 289When snow gets in your eye during the month of April, you groan. If your a lovely stone sculpture, I guess you just stand there and take it.

leucojum vernalis

leucojum vernalis

Cardamine glandulosa

Cardamine glandulosa

Along with some of the early spring plants that are already in blossom, we rely on our hardy nature to see us through.
Picture 290The nursery area…… is again covered. Deep breaths, we know most of this new snow cover will be gone by afternoon. The sun will shine and spring will find her way back to us. In the greenhouse, the growing seedlings hardly know what’s happening in the world outdoors. Until it warms up…….I’ll just hang with them! Picture 285 Picture 287

Sheep Spa

Picture 269Picture 277Once again, it’s shearing time. A bit later this year due to the cold weather. Would you believe that it snowed again last night! No worries, the newly shorn flock were warm and cozy in the barn. Every spring when shearing day arrives, I try and invite some young helpers to come over and be part of the days work. I tease them about helping out with the sheeps annual spa day, ” you know”, I say, ” the sheep get their hair done (shearing) and their nails done (hoof trimming) and are given a little refreshment ” (worming medicine). Picture 276The kids seem to like having a task while the job of shearing is getting done. Sweeping the floor matts between sheep, bundling up the fleeces, helping me to skirt (remove the manure tags and unwanted part of the whole fleece), and we always need a gate keeper to let sheep in or out.Picture 273Picture 278 Of course, the great reward after all the work is done, is being able to climb up into the big (almost) empty hayloft. A long rope hangs from one of the big old barn beams and the kids love swinging off the stored hay bales and out across the loft.
This years fleeces looked great. Long staple length and healthy with nice luster. The health of a flock will often show in fleece quality. Despite the long and very cold winter, our ewes all seemed to fair well. We didn’t breed as many ewes this year, and this allows for more energy to go into fleece production. Today, I will continue to skirt the fleeces and sort them according to quality. A new ram will be arriving late this summer and will join the flock. Every couple of years, rams need to be rotated out and replaced to prevent inbreeding, but also to bring different and favorable qualities to the flock. He’ll help increase numbers and add new genes to the existing flock. We’ll let you know when he arrives. And I think I may have some new young shephards in the neighboorhood who are willing to take on a flock of their own. Picture 281

Sourdough Bialys and Some Dyed Skeins

Picture 260With the nursery opening for the season, time spent in the kitchen baking bread or dyeing wool slides to the back burner. We will continue to have our bread customers through the summer, and much of the wool being processed will be available for sale as well. So everything needs to get done. However, squeezing in the time for these tasks becomes a chore in itself. Today I baked several orders of sourdough bialys. Bialys are a bit like bagels, but are not boiled before they are baked. Bialy is a Yiddish word for “chewy yeast roll”. The word originated from Bialystoker, referring to a city in Poland. Bialys were brought to America by jewish immigrants. They are basically a yeasted bun (in this case sourdough) with a place in the middle for onions, garlic, or poppy seeds. Typically, you bake them less than you would a traditional loaf in order to maintain a chewy texture. I baked dozens of bialys to send out to customers, and a few extra to satisfy hungry mouths here at home.Picture 254
At least twice a week, I try and dye fiber (wool) or yarn and then get some spinning in. We will be shearing sheep in the next few days, so a new batch of fleeces will be needing attention. Wool can easily pile up. Rick feels certain that we have enough at the moment to insulate an entire house. As if I’d let him use my wool for that! Ha. Picture 262

Let The Season Begin

Picture 241 On Saturday May, 3rd , Fernwood Nursery will again open for the season. As we uncover the nursery and work around the display beds, we are seeing signs of new growth. Spring is arriving later than it has in the past few years. Hopefully this good weather will hold and the plants will be up and growing well on opening day. Our hours will be as usual, Tuesday through Sunday, 9:00-5:00. If you are planning to visit the nursery on Saturday, on opening day, we will have fresh baked scones and tea to enjoy while you wander about. In the meantime, we will continue to prepare for the season and take delight in springs long awaited arrival. See you soon!Picture 243Picture 244

Managing the Larder

We are very busy in the greenhouse at the moment. New seeds are being started, in addition to potting up the seedlings that need larger accommodations. Here at the nursery, we make our own potting soil mix, and so the potting bench is always covered with a moistened mound of soil and an array of pots to be filled. Work to do, always work to do! I do love being in the greenhouse on a day that isn’t quite as “comfortable” outdoors. It feels like our own private cocoon. A little niche of spring and soil smells and green growth.
Picture 209Inside the house, I am looking into our storable food caches and circulating what needs to be used up. This week it has been rooting through the stored garlic, feeling for soft heads, and then finding ways to use them. Not a huge problem. It’s pretty common for us to use a whole head of garlic on a daily basis. The heads that need culling out are peeled, checked for bad spots, and then the individual cloves are stored in jars of olive oil, along with a few splashes of lemon juice.

homegrown chicken soup with garlic, foraged black trumpet mushrooms,  frozen kale and dried hot peppers.

homegrown chicken soup with garlic, foraged black trumpet mushrooms, frozen kale and dried hot peppers.

Picture 214The hot peppers that have been dried and stored in a cool room upstairs are being ground into cayenne or chili powder. Some will also be processed into hot pepper flakes. All these things are being done because soon these food supplies will be replaced with this years harvest. It’s always a matter of managing the larder.
All this has me thinking about the concept of home economics. I have a sense that years ago the idea of managing your home economy had more to do with a food bank than the cash in your pocket. It probably had a bit to do with both. In our own household, where growing or raising a significant amount of the food we eat is common practice, the food becomes a big part of our economy. It may not always be sold for cash money( in fact most of it isn’t) but it is given considerable value and managed as such. I like to think about the economy of small farms back in the day when growing and raising one’s own food was common as mud. Everything on the farm was considered into the economy of the place. Efficiency and frugality are put into good practice when your food systems, and quite possibly your livelihood, depend on it. Without a doubt, for as long as there has been a money currency, it has been included in the way we manage for what we need. But keep in mind, that before there was this type of monetary currency, the household economy was based on something very different. It was more likely an economy based on the food and wares you produced and services that could be rendered. I realize that in order to pay the light bill, I can’t really send them a pork roast and some home canned pickles to cover my portion of electrical use. It would be great if I could, and someone there may really appreciate it. But I can regulate the amount of electrical usage, and therefore control the monetary spending of our household. We work hard to see that the running of our household and farm are part of an economy based on what we need, use, and produce. I may decide to grow most all of our own vegetables, raise all of our meat, and knit our winter garments, but I’ll probably still buy chocolate. And avacados. And have to put gas in the car. I think consideration is a good measure to apply to any economy. And there’s always a lot to consider. A friend was over the other day and we were both working on some hand sewing projects. She’s a young mom with three kids and has the good talent of being able to sew or knit most of their clothes. On this day she was mending a pair of well made wool long johns that had passed through the wearing of each child. They were on their last little pair of legs, I would say, but she was cleverly patching the knees and crotch and a bit of the bottom with scraps of wool fabric, teasing out their tattered life just a bit longer. I love this kind of thinking and doing. For her ( and for many of us), she could still see and assess the value of those long johns. That’s some of the consideration I’m talking about. Until they were completely irreparable, they continued to be part of her “home economy”. I guess it’s a differnt kind of cash flow. I think it makes sense. Common sense. Another old time practice in home economics.
I appreciate the idea of including the cash we may need, along with the food we raise and things we make, then giving them each a value that is appropriate. I also think if gratitude is added to the mix of this figuring, your off to a good start.
I don’t know if they still teach home economics in school. I hope they do, and I hope it still involves some real skill based learning. Perhaps some points on both time and money management as well. And also exploring the concept of the difference between what you want and what you really need in your life. These very words are best said by my friend Marguerite, who is 95 years old and still lives on her own. During the summer months, when yard sale signs throughout rural Maine are dotting the landscape, Marguerite piles into her car with all the “sale goers” in the neighborhood. Before stepping out to cruise the goods, she always says “well girls, remember… you want it or do you need it”. She should be teaching a home economics class.