It’s O.K. If We Get More Snow

Picture 505One of my dear friends and fellow knitters has been in Costa Rica for the last month helping her daughter and new grand-baby. Just before she left, she said ” when I get home to Maine, I hope we get tons of snow, so that I won’t be able go anywhere”. She had an idea of herself curled up fireside, with baskets of knitting and maybe a few good books. Well, she got her wish. Yesterday she called to say that her driveway (a straight up the mountain kind of driveway) was so snow covered and slippery, her husband had to leave the car parked at the bottom of the hill and walk up. This often happens to them during mud season as well. She’s the kind of friend that when she invites you over for tea you always ask ” how’s your driveway?” So, yes we are still getting snow. More expected on Monday. And, we’re still loving it. I feel like a Tomten in the early morning, opening the barn doors after another night Picture 439of snowfall and winded drifts. The sheep hear me coming and begin bleating softly, anticipating their morning grain and hay, and just maybe the company of hearing my voice. The chickens cluck and crow greeting the light that pours into their coop, chattering as I refill their water pans and hanging grain buckets. Even in the midst of a storm, they manage to leave some eggs to be gathered. Such good chickens!Picture 504
I really am tempted to say the words of Astrid Lindgren’s Tomten while reaching over to scratch the backs of the pregnant ewes “Winters come and winters go, Summers come and summers go, Soon you can graze in the fields”. This is one of the books the kids loved when they were little……and being partial to gnomes and tomtens and woodland elves, it’s a favorite of mine as well.Picture 507
Picture 514On Sunday we have our knitting group over. We drink tea, eat yummy baked goods, and knit together. I’m hoping my “winter storm wishing” friend comes down from her mountain top to join us. It would be nice to see her and hear about her tropical reprieve from the chilly north. I’ve been knitting up lots of mittens using mohair and a quick and simple pattern. One skein of mohair makes a pair of mittens. I’ve had several skeins of mohair left over from making these mittens for Christmas gifts. I’m also knitting a cowl in linen stitch with some hand dyed, hand spun Blue Face Leicester from our flock. With the way things are going, there will be plenty more opportunity to wear a cozy cowl snugged against my neck. Or maybe it will be tucked away to get a jump on next year’s holiday gift giving. Ah, imagine that, thinking ahead. The trick with that plan will be storing it in a place I can remember eleven months from now. February looks like a month of more snow shoveling, more knitting, and soon……LAMBS! Any day now, and we’ll keep you posted with any new arrivals.Picture 508

Seeds For The Season

IMG_0027We’ve just finished with our seed orders for the upcoming season. Folks often ask us which seed companies we buy seed from. As many of you know, the nursery end of our plant production is done on site. We propagate most of the woodland, native, and shade perennials ourselves. As you may remember from past posts,( 2nd seed post) seed collection is one form of propagation we use here. The seeds that we order from the companies I’ll be mentioning, are for the several large vegetable gardens we grow. We garden organically and feel very committed to purchasing seeds from companies that offer organic seed, open pollinated varieties, as well as a selection of heirloom varieties. Most importantly we want to support seed companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. As signers, companies pledge that they do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. As the seed industry is becoming dominated by large multinational corporations, sourcing safe seed from ethical and ecologically minded companies can be challenging. But good seed companies still exist, they are out there, and supporting them is important ( crucial, really) to the safety and health of all us, the environment, and the future of our food. Without listing the names of the ” multi -national giants” who are permeating the seed industry, we encourage gardeners and growers to do some research on the negative effects caused by GMO’s and treated seed. For example, neonicotinoids, an insecticide used by many of the large seed companies to coat their seeds, is absorbed into all parts of the plant, including the flowers. Residues build up in both pollen and nectar, and are extremely toxic to our bee population ( as well as all other pollinators), causing both paralysis and death. Who you buy your seed from is an important matter.IMG_0028
With all that said, here are the seed catalogs we primarily order from : Fedco Seed Company,, P.O, Box 520 Waterville, Maine, 04903 , ( 207) 426-0090
Johnny’s Selected Seeds,, 955 Benton Ave. Winslow, Maine 04901 , (877) 564-6697
Seeds of Change,, P.O. Box 152 Spicer, MN. 56288 , (888) 762-7333
High Mowing Seeds,, 76 Quarry Rd. Wolcott, Vermont 05680, (802) 472-6174
Territorial Seed Company,, P.O.Box 158 Cottage Grove, OR 97424, (800) 626-0866
Turtle Tree Seed,, 10 White Birch Rd. Copake,NY 12516, (518)329-3037
We buy the bulk of our seed order from Fedco and Johnny’s. Our favorite tomato variety, Martha Washington, is offered at Johnny’s. In addition to Fedco’s huge vegetable, tree, and cover crop offerings, I always buy my dye garden seeds from them and most everything else. They’re local and both great companies. We like Seeds of Change, Territorial, and High Mowing, and often find a few specific varieties that one or the other does not offer. My seed order with Seeds Of Change this year: Corno Di Toro pepper, Hutterite bean, Emerald Oak Lettuce, Tokyo Market Turnip, and Leonardo Radicchio. A small order, but very specific. I love to support Turtle Tree Seed company from upstate New York. They are a small bio-dynamic, open pollinated seed company that is doing great work to ensure the future of our seeds. Two things I will order from them ( for sure) is Phacellia, an annual that is native to California and Arizona, a great pollinator and used as a soil builder in Europe. The other is Silphium perfoliatum, also called Cup Plant, a native perennial from the mid west to the east coast, north into Canada. It grows 4-8 feet tall, with sprays of yellow flowers from July through September. It is also important to birds, butterflies, and bees.
There is so much conversation to be had regarding the future of our seed security. It is really worth reading up on and researching. It is truly worth the effort in knowing where your seed and plants come from. It can and does impact so much. Well, happy gardening…….not quite yet, we have to get through a few more snowstorms first! IMG_0033

The Next Day

IMG_0022IMG_0043IMG_0049IMG_0044We had a few more inches of snow during the night. Now, the sun is out and this winter landscape is quite stunning. The real cleanup began this morning. The driveway gets completely cleared, cars moved, paths tidied, and of course….more wood brought in. The hatch door allowing the chickens out into their run gets lifted and I tramp down their area wearing my snowshoes. They are very thankful to get out and absorb some vitamin D. IMG_0035IMG_0037The sheep greet the new day, they are self propelled snowplows, and are happy to have their breakfast outdoors.IMG_0056IMG_0057 On the other hand, our trusty ( wimpy) dog Lucky, continues the theme of yesterday’s post……Comfort During The Storm….by curling up in his favorite chair with his beloved fluffy stuffed animal. Pathetic.
Looks like more winter weather coming at the end of the week. This week we’ll have most of our seed order completed and will post some thoughts and suggestions. Later, an afternoon wandering the woods on snowshoes, checking for tracks and signs of the wild creatures that roam the land around us. Enjoy this bright and wonderful day, where ever you are!

Comfort During The Storm

IMG_0014IMG_0020Well, we did get a whopper of a storm. The power went off just after morning chores and has just now been restored. It was a blustery day, very high winds that whipped the snow into 4 foot drifts. It piled up against the barn doors and the woodshed. Each time we went out to tend the animals it meant shoveling our way through. I love doing chores when the weather has turned extreme. I feel like I’m on an Arctic expedition. The sheep and the chickens all seem to appreciate the added effort we put into assuring their well being and comfort during a storm. Everyone gets extra bedding and extra grain and hay. We fill five gallon buckets before the storm arrives, storing them inside to keep them from freezing. We need to know that all of our critters will have fresh water if the power stays out for days. The chickens don’t love these kind of snowstorms. They don’t (won’t) venture outside of their coop until it’s over, until someone (us) goes out and packs down their outdoor run. They are not fans of having cold swirling snow in their faces. The sheep pretty much take this kind of weather in stride. Their heavy fleeces are well suited to keeping them warm, and they create a lot of body heat when all together in the barn. I am often surprised at how often they will choose to leave the comfort of the barn to be outside. Snow piling up on their backs and covering their face , and still they will venture out into a storm and seem refreshed by the conditions.IMG_0017 Picture 434Picture 438

breaking ice out of the water buckets, morning and night

breaking ice out of the water buckets, morning and night

Chores do take longer during storms, the routine changes a bit, trudging through the deep snow slows things down. Inside, we enjoy the quiet of the day……drink tea, knit, and read, until the storm has passed and the last of the cleanup takes place. Then back out for more shoveling and clearing. Tonight, more snow is being predicted , another 4-5 inches to add to this storms current dumping of 2 feet. Snowshoeing tomorrow! We can still here it howling outdoors, the animals and fires have all been tended to, and we can enjoying knowing that everyone has been cared for.

Where Knitting happens

Picture 455As I have mentioned so many times before, winter is a time for us to indulge in projects and interests that summer doesn’t always allow for. Reading, spoon carving, spinning, snowshoeing, and ( at the very top of the list) knitting. Almost every night, with the woodstove keeping the house nice and toasty, here I sit with my latest project. This winter? Lots of socks, more mittens, a new shawl, and many various hats to replace the ones which will surely have gone missing come spring. The seed catalogs are lined up on the table, a reminder that this idle winter will not last. In the meantime, we’ll sit back ( at least in the evening), and be thankful for the slow pace of winter.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile out on our winter walks we will often come across plants with galls. You may see these growths on the stems and tips of plants. They are often in the shape of round balls or irregular masses. These are galls, they are tumor-like growths that are formed by the feeding of insect larvae. They are produced by a chemical reaction between the insect that lays the eggs, and the chemicals of the plant itself. This causes the growing tissues of the plant to swell around the eggs. The cell growth is accelerated by secretions from the larvae. The gall provides food, shelter from extreme weather, and protection from predators, mainly birds, squirrels, and mice. There are more than 1500 species of insects that produce galls. Most of the insects are wasps, aphids, midges, and flies. Each insect species has a specific plant that it will lay its eggs on and thus form a gall. Some galls are harmful to the plant while others can be so numerous as to distort and sometimes cover the plant almost entirely.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One gall, the willow pine cone gall, is found growing at the tips of willow shrubs. A small gnat (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) lays its eggs at the growing tip of the branch. The gall is shaped by many overlapping and tightly formed leaves, resembling a pine cone. It is host to a whole community of living organisms, interacting as a food web, overwintering, feeding, and breeding. In one study 23 galls were collected. 564 insects were reared from them. 6 wasp parasites, 384 meadow grasshopper eggs, and 169 other guest gnats were also found. Quite an impressive number in only 23 galls. Only 15 galls had the original larva of the gnat. Two other commonly found galls are the Goldenrod Ball Gall or Elliptical Gall. We come across these quite frequently. The first is caused by a tiny fly and the second by the larva of a particular moth. Next time you see galls when you are out and about, try to imagine the number of insects that my be residing inside them. Everyone needs a home in winter!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

New Cupboard

Picture 495Very excited about our new cupboard, made from old barn boards, a recycled window, and a knob I had kicking around. This was my birthday gift and just what I needed. Most often in our family when gifts are given they are of the homemade kind. Winter here at the nursery allows for a little more time to create things like this. It was a fun little project for Rick, who loves finding old boards or windows to work with. We are grateful to have time to make things during the colder months, pretty soon we’ll be right back to growing things. Of course, we love that too! I’m quite delighted to have a rustic cupboard to store extra bowls and tumblers, and just looking at it makes me happy. Homemade goodness, for sure!

Where Does The Pesky Woodchuck Go?

5149859-clear-close-up-of-woodchuck-in-clover-fieldThat pesky woodchuck ( Marmota monax) is hibernating. Yes it’s true, and they are amazingly designed to do so. There are only three true hibernating mammals in the North East. The brown bat, the jumping mouse, and the woodchuck. Other mammals that you may not see and who often disappear during the colder months, like bear, skunk, or raccoons, are actually considered deep sleepers, not true hibernators. These animals do become inactive for part of the winter, but their body temperature remains higher than the surrounding air temperature, and they may stir occasionally to venture out during a warm spell. A true hibernator stays hibernating for the long haul. Knowing what I do about the woodchuck’s ability to hibernate, allows me some sympathy during the summer when he’s out munching our beans or enjoying the neat rows of greens in my garden. During the summer he is eating almost constantly to store fat for the winter. He will live on this fat for the entire time he spends underground in his burrow of grass and leaves, where he’ll curl into a tight ball ( less surface area) and remain for the next 5 months or so. Woodchucks generally go into hibernation from November to early April. At this point they are able to reduce their breathing rate and body temperature to extremely low levels. A hibernating woodchuck takes a breath about every six minutes. They are able to lower and maintain a body temperature of about 38 degrees, their normal body temperature being closer to 96.8. Its heartbeat will drop from its normal 80 beats per minute to about 4 beats per minute. During their time in hibernation they will lose about 47% of their body weight. They live the entire time absorbing stored body fat. There is really no fecal matter during hibernation because there is nothing moving through their digestive tract. Woodchucks, during hibernation, have an increase in brown fat deposits. This brown fat is usually found around an animals vital organs and along its back and shoulders. Brown fat has a higher rate of oxygen consumption and heat production than white fat. It’s the kind of fat you want to burn when sleeping through the winter. Considering the energy that it takes for a woodchuck to endure and survive a long Maine winter, I should be growing a row or two in my garden just for him. Fortunately, we have not had woodchucks in the gardens for a long, long time. Two patrolling dogs probably have something to do with this.
Years ago I spent a couple of winters teaching a winter ecology program in Vermont. I became fascinated with how plants and animals adapt to a cold climate. Understanding just how difficult it can be for plants and animals to acclimate to extreme winter temperatures, makes the arrival of spring and warmth even more of a celebration. We’ve had really cold temperatures lately, the woodstoves are eating up wood, and being outdoors means lots of layers. I think of the animals and plants who all have their unique ways of tolerating and surviving the cold. Amazing, really.

Cold Morning Breakfast

Picture 457What could be better on a cold and snowy morning than getting up to a flavorful breakfast of nutritious multigrain cereal? We don’t skimp on our hot cereal. We add dried fruit and nuts, a drizzle of maple syrup and a dab of butter, and then pour a bit of milk over the top. Indulgent hot cereal, huh? No excuses about it. It’s hot and satisfying, and a far cry from any slim version of morning porridge. Often we will make up a large amount of the dry grains and store them in a cool place. We use a gallon glass jar with a tight fitting lid for this. Most often our mixture goes something like this: 2 cups of cracked wheat, 1 cup of rolled oats, 1/2 cup of toasted wheat germ, 1/2 cup of raw wheat germ, 1 cup of coarse cornmeal. To cook, we use 1 cup of cereal to about 4 cups of water, adding a dash of salt to taste for each cup of grain. Bring the water to boil and stir in the dry cereal. Cook and stir for about 20 minutes or so. ( stirring fairly often is important to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pan). We add the raisins or dried fruit at the beginning because we like them on the soft side. The nuts, butter, maple syrup, and milk we add just before serving. As you can imagine, if you’re planning a day working outdoors in the cold, this is your ‘go to’ breakfast. If you’re trying to lose weight or cutting down on your butter intake, just make the cereal without the extras. It won’t be nearly as yummy though. Anyone have a different cold morning breakfast cereal you really enjoy?

Across The Pond

Picture 462Picture 473Picture 471One of our favorite places to walk or snowshoe ( or canoe, come summer) is Kingdom Bog. If you walk through our woods about 1/4 mile, you come to the bog. It’s an open water bog, more like a pond really, about 20 acres, and fairly shallow. I think the deepest section is just over 16 feet. There are no camps on this pond, and it’s not easy to drive to. Fortunately, it’s always been quite secluded. This afternoon, while the sun was warm and bright, I took the dog for a hike across Kingdom Bog. The ice is a good 12 inches thick right now, and there’s about 6 inches of snow covering its surface. There was not one single track made across the entire pond. Just an expanse of white, with the sun sparkling across its surface. It looked and felt pristine. It felt still and wonderfully quiet. I have lived by the ‘Kingdom’ for most of my adult life. Long before I was married and had kids, I would walk down to the Kingdom and swim in the evening. Then I’d make my way back to a dark house through the woods carrying a Coleman lantern. I have fond memories of those night time dips, the feeling of diving into black water, knowing that no one else was on the pond.
Picture 483Picture 485Picture 480 Later, my kids learned how to ice skate on the pond. The absolute privilege of having an entire frozen landscape all to yourself, gliding along on a frigid afternoon in January or February! We’ve always ice fished on this pond, caught lots of pickerel or perch, and occasionally a brook trout. For several years we’ve set up our 12×12 canvas wilderness tent, equipped with it’s own wood stove, up on the bank amongst a grove of hemlocks. Then we drag the goal nets down to the ice and leave them there for the season. Epic pond hockey games have been played out on Kingdom Bog. When the ice is good, we make the effort to keep a large section clear of snow. With our own outdoor hockey rink primed and ready, we traipse down, often on snowshoes and with our skates thrown over our shoulders, for an afternoon of play. In the summer, especially just as the sun is rising, Kingdom Bog is a beautiful place to canoe. Serene. It is home to beaver and muskrat, and lots of waterfowl. We often see eagles there. Fox and coyote cross the pond once it’s frozen, and deer and moose travel the banks. Today, Kingdom Bog was a glorious place to be. When Noah was about 14 years old, I came home to find a handwritten note he left on the table. ” Shawn and I went down to the pond to shoot pucks, didn’t want to waste a day of sunshine and good ice, love Noah”. I hope we all learn how to not waste a good day of sunshine and good ice . Today, I did just that. Picture 477Picture 481Picture 487 Picture 486