This Morning, For My Friend Pia

A poem I love.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

by Marge Piercy

Another Day Of Seeds And Wool

Picture 827Out in the greenhouse this morning, sowing seeds and dyeing wool. It’s about 70 degrees in the greenhouse and many of the seeded flats are sprouting. Yeah! Outdoors it’s overcast and a bit raw, I think I saw a few snowflakes wafting down from the sky, but I’m ignoring that. Nursery customers are beginning to call to find out when the nursery will be opening ( May 9th!),inquiring about specific plant varieties, and other such matters. The gas stove I often use for dyeing wool is in one corner of the greenhouse, and this makes it very convenient to be simmering a dye pot while I also sow seeds. The last of the 2014 fleeces ( six left, I think) have been kept in the greenhouse over the winter. One by one I take them over to the washing station, give them several soaks, pick them over, and then start the dyeing process. Often I’ll wash the fleeces in thirds, it’s much easier to get a smaller batch of wool really clean this way. During the first week of April we’ll be shearing the entire flock. I’d like to think I can get those few fleeces from last year washed and dyed before the new ones start piling up. We’ll see! This lingering winter has allowed a little more time for finishing up with these kinds of projects. It’s chilly outdoors, the tea kettle is staying hot on the woodstove, it’s a good day for greenhouse warmth, sorting through seed packs, and dyeing wool!Picture 818Picture 822

Oh That Glorious Sun

Picture 799Picture 795The lambs have been taking advantage of this glorious sunshine. Sunbathing. Having a dreamy little mid afternoon sleep while the sun sinks into their bones. Aah! And when they’re not napping, they’re trying to make friends with the chickens, who are so happy to find a little bare ground to scratch in, they don’t seem to mind hanging with the sheep in the hoop house. The sun is out, the day is warm , it’s a very good day!

even warmer when you nap in a black plastic sled!

even warmer when you nap in a black plastic sled!

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As The Days Get Longer

Magnolia stellata buds swelling and a sure sign of spring!

Magnolia stellata
buds swelling and a sure sign of spring!

As the days get longer, the lists of things to do gets longer right along with it. While we’re having our morning coffee, we add or subtract the tasks that indicate to us that spring is here. Pepper seeds, onions and leek seeds, all the eggplant that needs to be sown, done. Workshop cleaned out and reorganized, done. Greenhouse furnace checked, done. Cross them off the list ( yippee! love crossing things out! ) But the list will grow, and the page will turn to make more room for all those reminders of what chore is next. People will often ask us “when is it time to start sowing seeds ? Or when should you start uncovering plants? When will you shear the sheep?” We wish we had an absolute answer to these questions, but often the answers depend on a variety of factors. The weather, for one. Every year is different, this one in particular, being colder and with the terrific snow accumulation, it will impact when certain things get done. We have an overview of all the things that need to be tackled from now and throughout the entire growing season, for both the nursery and for the farm, and this is where the lists come in. All the notebooks and lists from years past are hauled out and we begin looking at when we did these very same chores during previous seasons. We look back because we keep track of almost everything, not just when we tackled the task and the exact date, but also what the weather was like ( from day to day ), how much snow was on the ground, who lambed first and when, when did we shear last year, when did we tap trees, what varieties of seeds did we grow and how did they pan out ( these notebooks follow us through the entire season), when did we begin transplanting and when did things go in the ground,? All this information helps us to make decisions about this year’s chore list. It reminds us of what worked, what didn’t, and why certain variables affected the outcome. We never look at our past lists and say ” oh, we start sowing leek seeds on March 10th.” Believe it or not, we rarely find that the dates are the same, but the old notebooks provide a guideline and are full of helpful information. My grandfather kept a little spiral notebook in the barn, in it he recorded all the events, occurrences, and changes that happened on his own small farm. He milked cows, so breeding dates, calving dates, milk output, grain intake ( grain prices!), etc., were all recorded in this little barn diary. I found it after he passed away, when we started using the barn for raising beef cows. This keeping tract of year to year events was ( is) an important tool for storing knowledge and information. We find it to be very handy still. Do most gardeners or farmers or homesteaders write lists and keep notebooks from year to year? I’m curious. What’s your method for transitioning into spring and tending to all the chores it requires?

Where We’re At

barn waste spread into the field

barn waste spread into the field

Now that the greenhouse is being heated, it provides a space that at least feels like we’re working outdoors. This weekend we had another snow squall. A few inches perhaps, nothing too serious. Being able to work in the greenhouse, beginning to smell warm soil and carefully placing tiny seeds into flats, certainly helps to tolerate this prolonged winter weather. Still, we have our sights on what’s to come, and we glean every opportunity to tackle any “spring’ chore that can be done even while there is still snow on the ground. For instance, all the bedding that has come out of the barn through the winter and piled up is spread around one of the large vegetable gardens. I get very excited thinking about all this soil enriching goodness that accumulates during the winter and will slowly breakdown into the soil. It’s like money in the bank… the way of poop in a pile, that is. The leeks and peppers and eggplant have all been started. Trays and trays of both sweet and hot peppers. King Of The North, Jimmy Nardelo’s, Cubanelle Semi- Sweet, and Falvorburst are a few of our favorite sweet pepper varieties. On the hot side, we grow Anaheim, Czech Black, Long Red Narrow Cayenne, Hidalgo Serrano, Thai Hot, and lots of Early Jalapeno.Picture 782 This morning, once again, I will bring down more of the winter squash that is stored in a cool upstairs loft. These winter vegetables are a staple throughout the non growing months, and we love them, but we sure look forward to those first greens of the season. Just as soon as we can turn the soil in the hoop house, in go plugs of spinach, chard, kale, lettuce, and beets. Soon enough. The sun at the moment is peeking out from the east, a possible promise for the day. We hope you are all finding ways to greet the coming season…..planting a few seeds, forcing some spring bulbs, or designing your vegetable plots. Spring and warmth are bound to come!

If Rod Stewart were a chicken

He’d look like this……..Picture 770 This silkie rooster is one of the many ( 6 total? ) that my dear friend Sally gathered up during one of her epic chicken buying frenzies. I think 20 new birds landed at her place this past summer, and six of them ended up being roosters. They’ve been wintering here over the last few months, and after some talk about how practical ( not) it is to have more than one rooster, several are up for grabs.Picture 761 Roddy is one of them. As you can see, he is a beautiful silver grey silke, quite flamboyant actually. Very serious about impressing the ladies, and feels that his hairdo adds to his sex appeal. Anyone interested in owning him ? Free. Really, I mean how do you put a price on a rock and roll star chicken?Picture 760
Next up is a bit more traditionally feathered rooster, a grand boy who can really strut his stuff. He’s large, with beautiful bronze, crimson, and steel grey feathering. Also quite fond of the hens, he takes a less ” showboat” approach to his relationships. He doesn’t need to parade around stealing the show, he’s much more sophisticated and gentlemanly than that. If anything, he’s a bit aloof……this seems to woo the young hens he shares a coop with. Anybody need a rooster with both beauty and brawn? He’s your man. Also….free. All this free does not mean there is anything wrong with these fellas, but let’s face it ……6 roosters? Both will be a year old this spring, and truly they are such nice roosters, it would be too bad to not find them good homes. So, if your hens are looking for a nice husband or live in male roommate, let us know here at Fernwood, we’ll arrange a time for you to pick them up. Picture 776 This last photo is of H.P.( half pint) the rooster that will actually go back to live with Sally this summer, he’s an awfully sweet little guy and due to his size, feels a bit threatened with the idea of having to spend the summer with all these boys. So…….free roosters at Fernwood Nursery! Come and get’em!

Not Far Off!

Very ready for shearing!

Very ready for shearing!

It really isn’t that far off…….spring, the nursery opening, the gardens flourishing……the lawn needing mowing (O.k., that’s going too far….we’re still a ways off from that). Though we still have a pile of snow to watch disappear, everyday we see significant melting. Oh, this is promising! This week we start sowing seeds, checking over the list of plants that will be available in the nursery this season, putting together a list of the classes we’ll be offering. Several hypertufa classes, for sure. A class on bee keeping. A native plant lecture. Just to name a few. We’ll be tapping the maple trees this weekend, we hear the sap is running fairly well at the moment. I must make a date for the sheep shearer to come, certainly before those ravens get all of their wool! More lambs are expected, pigs and meat birds will arrive in another month. Amazing how quickly our days start filling up. The sunshine and the slow melting, the idea of bare ground and softened earth, needles us to get out and begin tidying our outdoor spaces. The barn, the chicken coop, the workshop, let’s get in there and make a difference! Just the same, an urge to organize all the winter clutter inside the house feels deeply necessary. A new coat of paint on the front room’s floor. Let’s surely wash all the windows! Who piled all this stuff in the mudroom? All of this makes me think of a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Kate Barnes. I’ll share it with you.

The House Asleep
By day my house says to me, “Clean me, clean me!”
The compost bucket growls, “Put on your boots,
get ready for the trek out through the snow.”
The rug cries for the vacuum cleaner, the floor
says, “Sweep me, and now please wash me, I want a pure soul.”

But at night, once I have turned out all the lights,
I can’t go to sleep, I have to wander around,
like a ghost, through the warm rooms of my sleeping house.
I put a stick of birch in on the ashes
and something begins to whisper in the stove,
but I can’t quite hear the words.

The traveling moon,
almost full, looks down from above the roof
to the white hills, she walks silently
over the corn fields. The house is filled
with her milky blue fire, three times reflected,
through which I wander in my white nightgown
brushing past the rose geranium leaves.
Suddenly the guitar hanging on the wall
speaks by itself. One string gives a loud twang,
and then it is all silence again, and light,
the smell of the leaves, the wordless dreams of the house.

Well, off to do some tidying up…inside or out, it needs to be done. I’ll leave you with a photo of one of this years lambs…..exploring her outdoor world and finding a spring in her step! Picture 728Picture 732

Fleece Lined

Picture 679Picture 688Picture 684Picture 683Picture 682Picture 681Every year a pair of ravens (Corvus corax) who roost in the woods nearby start making daily visits to our farm. It is believed that ravens and crows mate for life, so we are assuming that it is the same pair returning. It makes sense, because every February we can expect the presence of these ravens, carefully watching us from their perch in one of the giant pine trees. Their daily visits have become one of the great and rewarding things we look forward to as winter nears it’s end. They have become part of our seasonal markings of time. Someone says “The ravens are back”, and then everyday we feel like the patterns of our lives are not just being observed by them, but some calculated interaction begins to happen as well. In February, ravens are building their nests. Every morning, starting mid winter, they begin cruising above watching to see if an egg, or some compost, or even straw bedding is being tossed out. Ordinarily we would not be tossing eggs out into the snow, but during the bitter cold if we find a frozen egg in the coop that has cracked, we may toss it into the snow. The ravens seem to know this. So, we’ve gotten into the habit of leaving them an egg, every morning and night ( they know exactly when we do chores). At first we leave an egg in the same place. On top of the snow and several yards away from the barn. Later we begin leaving them in different places, just to see how carefully they are watching us. Their keen eyes don’t miss a thing. On top of the trellis, the peak of the greenhouse, even on the ground between the two barns, the ravens pay attention to where the eggs are left. Then they wait. They wait until we go back into the house. They make a few passes from overhead, they caw to one another, and then one makes the descent and collects their egg. This goes on though the months of February and March. But the really amazing thing that we have been observing for years ( 6 or 7 years) is how they come back to gather nest building material. Every year these ravens come and gather fleece from our sheep. The fascinating thing is that they actually land on the sheep’s back, these giant ravens, without the sheep making any real attempt to move away. They grab a big hunk of fleece and yank and yank until a big tuft comes out. The sheep? They just stand there! They would never let me yank out a handful of wool like that! I have been trying to get a picture of this for years, but the ravens are too crafty for me to catch them. I swear they can even see me peering out the window. Yesterday I did finally catch them landing in the sheep pen and stealing wool ( although I’m not sure if it can be considered stealing if the sheep seem to be o.k. with this!). The pictures were taken through the window from inside the house, with me crouching and trying not to make sudden movement. Those keenly observant ravens really don’t miss a thing! One of the lambs, as you can see from the photo, seems quite perplexed as to who these birds are yanking wool from their mum’s back. Let’s face it, you can’t beat a fleece lined nest to welcome your new arrivals this spring. Pretty cushy! We truly love living amongst these great birds and observing their behavior. We wonder? Do the ravens and the sheep have some way of communicating this arrangement of fleece offering? Do the sheep think “well, we mama’s know what it’s like to have babes during a cold snap, you ravens take some insulation for your young ones”. I don’t know. We do feel privileged to bear witness of the ravens in winter, we enjoy knowing that sheep, ravens, chickens, dogs, and humans share common ground and can live fairly well together. There’s room for everyone here at Fernwood! Picture 708Picture 709Picture 711Picture 715Picture 717

Working On…….

" Rabbits in the making "

” Rabbits in the making “

Working on some rabbits for Spring. You know, Spring? What’s apparently coming after all the snow is gone. While waiting, these paper mache rabbits are being made in preparation for a class we will be offering this spring and summer. My friend Sally ( who I travel to Ireland with ) made the rabbits, then sent them along to me for “dressing”, which I am in the process of working on. I’ll post pictures of the completed bunnies once their finished. The class will be offered this summer and I’ll be sure to pass along the details as we grow closer to a confirmed date. If you are interested in learning how to work with paper mache, and then to explore some creative ways to “dress” a rabbit…..which may very well include some ” knitting for bunnies”, let us know. We’ll sign you up!

Still Pretty Cozy

Picture 449The month of March, we know spring will be here, but we’re not quite out of the “winter” woods yet. A bit more snow last night, some coming on Wednesday, and about 4 feet remain on the ground. The ground? I think it’s down there some where. Over and over we are asked, are you sick of it yet? Not really. When spring does arrive, we’ll be ready and happy to meet her arrival. We’ll know what to do. There will be a flurry of activity here at the nursery and farm. Of course, we love that too. After all, gardening, farming, growing plants, growing food, running the nursery……all of this is an integral part of our life. But it’s hard to wish away days. I always feel uncomfortable with this, the wishing to speed up and get to a point in time (or a season) that we think may be more preferable. What’s more preferable than today, I ask myself? We’re o.k. with winter. We’re o.k with waiting. In a very short time the greenhouse will be warmed up ( we actually heat the greenhouse in early spring) , and regardless of snow cover or cold, we’ll have a little micro environment of green growth. The warmth of the greenhouse, those first early shoots and seedlings help transition us from the dormant months of winter to what’s to come as spring makes her way. This morning I looked out to see another 3 inches of snow covering, the sheep happily munching on their hay, and the trees laced in white…….still quite beautiful really.It’s the first of March and winter still feels cozy.Picture 539