A Few Days Short Of April

A few days short of April, another poem by Kate Barnes. I am so very thankful for poetry. Reading a bit of poetry helps to bring some inner quiet to my day. I certainly can use such things to balance the world of our physical demands and my mental clarity. While reading a poem, I sit still, I feel more mindful, I feel less harried. Words of comfort, they are.
On the blog front there is a list of topics to write about, but guess what? That physical world, those outdoor chores, seem to take precedence over almost anything else. Breath, breath, breath, I keep telling myself. All will get done. So please forgive me for any absence and short posts, and thank goodness for the gift of poetry…which I hope you’ll all enjoy.


An April afternoon
of brown grass and mist like
rain, and a wind
coming in buffets out of the
You can’t see any greenness
But you can feel it.
It’s like someone holding his
Or like the silence
Just before a child shouts:
Ally ally infree!

by Kate Barnes

Lichens and Spring Snow

Cladonia cristatella or British Soldier Lichen

Cladonia cristatella or British Soldier Lichen

Just when we thought we were rounding the corner to spring, a bit of winter showed up. It snowed throughout the day yesterday, leaving behind an accumulation of about 6 inches. I have a terrible head cold…ugh…so spent most of the day indoors sniffling and sneezing….and spinning! Picture 2444
Just before the snow came I had been out gathering some more lichens for a dye bath. Lichens can be very slow growing, so I am very careful to only harvest varieties that are abundant. It really takes very little to create a dye bath, so my gathering is minuscule. With the Xanthoria, I collected a mere 1/4 of a cup to start the dye bath. Usnea or Old Man’s beard is another lichen I am trying out along with the Xanthoria parietina. I’ll set up a fermentation jar with the Usnea just like I did with the Xanthoria. It will also sit in a solution of ammonia and water for a couple of months. My hope is that by June I can use some of the liquid that has been fermenting in a natural dyeing class here at the studio. Lichens are such wonderful organisms to study. They are not just one organism but are formed by two, an algae and a fungus living together. There are three main types of lichens, Foliose, which is leaf-like. An example of this would be Lobaria pulmonaria or Lungwort. Crustose, which is flat and crusty. These are the type of lichens that are often found growing on rocks and lay very flat against the rock’s surface. Fructose are lichens which grow upright or may hang down. ( they also tend to be brighter in color). Cladonia cristatella or British Soldier Lichen are an example of a fructose lichen. I’ve taken a picture of the Cladonia that are growing on some rocks near the nursery. To me they are as beautiful as any plant we grow in the nursery. Many lichens have been used for medicinal purposes. Usnea is often tinctured and used as an immune booster. It is very helpful in combating strep or staph infections, or any ongoing chronic conditions that may result in compromising your immune system. I have tinctured Usnea by filling a mason jar with the lichen and covering it with 100 proof vodka. I place this in the pantry (a bit darker in there) and then strain it after about 8 weeks. Of course, labeling is very important, especially when one jar is set-up steeping for wool dyeing and the other made to help combat illness or infection . I really don’t want to confuse the two….a swig of Xanthoria fermenting in ammonia would not be good. Thankfully, the chemical reaction between the lichen and ammonia bath cause the fluid to turn a nice bright shade of pink. I also store them in completely different areas of the house. I’ll continue to keep you posted as the dye baths ferment…..and perhaps I’ll go put some Usnea tincture in my morning cup of tea.
Happy Spring to everyone! Picture 2467

And The Season Begins

Picture 2475Picture 2468A word from Rick…. We uncovered the nursery plants that have over-wintered in pots this past weekend. It is the second earliest date that we have uncovered in my 30 odd years in the business. The earliest 2 years ago. Last year, on account of the prolonged snow cover and deep cold, it was almost the first of May before we peeled back their protective blankets. We like to do it as soon as possible and let the plants progress as they would in the ground and not be too advanced in soft growth. If allowed to grow under the protective covers they would not be able to withstand the cold and snow that is still to come this spring. Plants brought into most garden centers are from southerly states and may not be able to handle a frost without injury. Our plants look great and there was very little damage from rodents, a major concern and cause for much anxiety when you first pull back the covers. Now that they are uncovered they will require our care, (weeding, watering, etc.), and so another nursery season begins. We love it and look forward to another year of great plants and great customers.

Hellebore plants ready to be cleaned  and trimmed

Hellebore plants ready to be cleaned and trimmed

Another Class Offered!

canstockphoto7383797If you recall, we offered a writing workshop here at the studio this past February. It was great! The class was taught by Linda Buckmaster, who is an amazing writer and teacher…you can read more about Linda’s credentials below. Everyone who took the class really enjoyed it. There were all levels of writers, some who were interested in writing memoirs, some who wanted to get started on writing a children’s book, and others who simply wanted to improve on their own personal journaling. At the end of the two sessions, each participant agreed that Linda had helped them to improve on their own style of writing. And, everyone was inspired to write more!
This class was such a success that we’ve invited Linda back to teach another class this May. We’ll be gathering in the studio, this time in the early evening. Hopefully, we’ll also have an opportunity to engage in some plein-air writing if the blackflies don’t drive us back indoors. The dates for this class are Tuesday, May 17th and Thursday, May 19th from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Of course, tea and scones will be available for refreshment. Any additional information can be found on our ‘classes and more’ page. Linda Buckmaster calls this class:

“Writing Place: Landscape, People, and the Natural World”

Instructor Linda Buckmaster, lsbuck1@gmail.com

Writing about place includes any of the elements that make a specific place what it is. It can include the layers of history, the natural world, human culture, and the built environment across time to bring us to this present moment. We can be advocates, critics, or lovers. By developing our craft, we can better understand and present our world and experiences.

We will take advantage of the May weather and the beautiful setting of Fernwood for inspiration.

· Open to writers or aspiring writers of any level who will write new poetry, prose, or beyond genre.

· We will discuss readings on craft and the work of other writers for inspiration.

· Through writing exercises and prompts, we will practice the writer’s toolkit of image, voice, language, structure, and more.

We’ll maintain a safe, supportive environment that recognizes there is no such thing as a mistake in writing, just the next draft.

Instructor Linda Buckmaster has taught this popular course in multiple community venues in Maine. She has over thirty publications in regional and national journals and three poetry chapbooks. One of her pieces was named a Notable Essay in “Best American Essays 2013.” Former Belfast, Maine Poet Laureate, she has taught in the University of Maine system for twenty years. She holds an MFA from the Stonecoast writing program at the University of Southern Maine and an MA in Communication from the University of Maine. She was awarded writing residencies in Newfoundland, Oregon, Vermont, Portugal, Florida, and on Kezar Lake in Maine.

Inside And Outside

Picture 2446Oh my, what a day! Yesterday afternoon the weather here in mid-coast Maine was glorious. The kind of day that begs you to be outdoors. At Fernwood, it was an inside-outside type of day. The morning was spent indoors giving all the wood floors a good scrub ( mud season, ya know….doggie tracks….boot tracks…you get the picture). The afternoon was spent giving the chicken coop a thorough spring cleaning. The hens hightail it for their outdoor run while I scrape and scrub their henhouse floor…..worried perhaps that they may get tossed into a wheelbarrow of debris. Chickens have a tendency to dramatize any unusual activity. They watch and cluck with interest, ”watcha doin, watcha doin, watcha doin”, they seem to say. Then, when their coop and nesting boxes are squeaky clean and freshly laundered with cedar shavings, in they come, scratching and investigating my work. They seem quite pleased with the job.
Picture 2457Back inside, when I stop for some tea and a quick snack, I am immediately enveloped by the smell of lilies. Rick had brought a large bouquet home for me earlier in the week and they are just now opening. Aaah, delicious. Outdoors, one lonely hellebore ( Helleborus niger) has come into bloom. More to follow, certainly, but each and every blossom is accounted for at this time of year, and no less appreciated than the fragrant and showy lilies that grace the table.

Nearing Their Time

Picture 2428We bred fewer ewes this last fall and we also bred later than usual. Often our lambs arrive between mid-February and mid-March. I was late putting the ram, Hero, out with the gals because I was off traipsing around Ireland much earlier than usual. It was, however, the very first thing I did when I arrived home…. our ram, of course, being very anxious to spend time with his ladies! Any day now we expect lambs to start arriving. We’ve finished the lambing pens we construct each year so that the ewe’s have a ‘private’ area to birth in. As you can see from the back end of one of those rather plump sheep, they are close to ready. At this time of year I spend a lot of time with the ewes in the flock, checking their udders to see if they have begun to ‘bag up’ …. or to become full looking. From the back of the sheep in the picture, you can see that this is happening and also that the ewe’s vulva has become swollen and brighter pink. A sure sign that she is getting close! A day or so before they give birth, the lambs will ‘drop’ into the birth canal, you may be able to detect this happening by noticing a concave area between the ewe’s hips and her last rib. There will be a ‘dip’ or ‘hollow’ in this area of the sheep’s back as the lambs drop into position. The lambs that are bred this year are all seasoned mothers and I don’t expect that I’ll need to intervene at all. I let them have their babies, only assisting in the actual birth if there is an evident problem. Afterwards, I do go out to help dry them off and to be sure the lambs are standing and suckling. Our ewes are quite friendly and are comfortable with us working around them. I think they would be very happy to crawl into my lap for their rubs and back scratches. Picture 2429

Winter Aconite

Picture 2391 One of the earliest plants to come up in the spring, even pushing through snow, is Eranthis hyemalis, or Winter Aconite. I look forward every year to see when they will come up. A plant that helps to mark time on the calendar from year to year, indicating just what kind of spring we’ve had in the past. A native to the open woodlands of Europe, this very tough little plant by virtue of its native haunts, prefers a fertile well-drained soil, and at least a half day of sun. It can and will tolerate a wide range of soils and when happy will spread by seed to form a colony over time. Some have said that it can be invasive, but considering that it is such a short plant(under 6″) and essentially an ephemeral that disappears shortly after seeding, I can’t see that one would consider it to be invasive. Besides, any plant that is so early and determined to bloom in some of our harshest spring weather, very warm to near zero and below, should have a place in the garden. The name Winter Aconite seems to have come from the fact that the leaves resemble some members of the Aconitum family when it is actually a member of the buttercup family. It was common, before more modern taxonomy, to name and group plants by their similarity to one another. Its latin name, Eranthis hyemalis derives from ‘er’ for spring, ‘anthis’ for flower, and ‘hyemalis’ from hyems for winter. There are conflicting thoughts as to how poisonous Winter Aconite may be, some may possibly be based on its common name ‘aconite'(wolfbanes), and they are poisonous, but our rule is to never eat any plant unless 100% sure beforehand. Like most of the spring flowers, we should take the time to appreciate them, as they can be fleeting, depending on the weather. As we warm up here in the north, daily checks are made in the garden, carefully watching for new emerging plants. Such fun!

Our Days Now

Picture 2392Our days now are spent tending to both the needs of winter and the needs of spring. We’re still hauling in firewood, and feeling the need to warm ourselves with hot tea and homemade broth. Somedays we are still putting a layer of long underwear on beneath our work clothes. The water buckets for the sheep and chickens are often still frozen in the morning. We are, however, for the most part without snow. Plants like winter aconite have pushed through the thawing ground and have blooms ready to open. Small, bright yellow flowers, just what we need to bring warmth to the landscape! Already the chickweed (Stellaria media) is starting to come up and spread along the ground in the greenhouse. This is great because I will pick it for salads, tea, and make a tincture with some – (More on this later).

Xanthoria parietina

Xanthoria parietina

I recently collected some lichen for wool dyeing. A jar of Xanthoria parietina sits soaking in a mixture of ammonia and water, fermenting nicely.Picture 2405 In about three months or so, I will have the makings of a nice dye bath. I’ll keep you posted as the process moves along. Whether I am making tinctures, salves, or a concoction to be used for dyeing wool, I love this chance to be a ‘kitchen chemist’. A very basic ‘kitchen chemist’ that is, but with wonderful results that improve our health, nutrition, and can bring wonderful color to a skein of yarn. Speaking of yarn, the last package for our winter yarn CSA will go out this month. It’s been fun putting together the skeins of yarn, choosing patterns, and including a snapshot of one of our lovely sheep. We’ll surely be offering this again.
A warm weekend coming up, a few new lambing pens need to be built and another wall boarded in the studio. Maybe one of the giant brush piles can be burned. What sorts of things are people doing to ready themselves for spring? Any new gardening projects on the ‘to do’ list? We’d love to hear.