Winter Here And Now

Are we halfway through winter yet? It’s always hard to say really, the upcoming months of February and March, can in fact, be brutal. The real snowfall here in Maine will often come at the end of this cold winter season, nudging itself into spring. This we know. Today, however, it is warmer. The wood stoves are less hungry at the moment, the chicken’s water may just remain unfrozen for the day, and our pups are not prancing back to the warmth of the house with icy feet. Today is a good day to put together a seed list. It’s a good day to burrow through the winter squash that is stored in the root cellar and cull out any soft ones. I think it’s a good day to make chocolate pudding as well. Agree? There is one recipe I always use for chocolate pudding, a pudding that is so dark and rich and silky smooth that once you put it in your mouth, you may regret swallowing and instead choose to let it linger on your tongue. Decadent, for sure.
How’s it going for you this winter? Are you faring well? I do hope so. Well, so long for now, I must go and raid the pantry for chocolate and get to that puddin’ making!
Here’s the recipe…

Favorite Chocolate Pudding

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 TBLS. granulated sugar
1/4 cup (high quality) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 TBLS. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped ( again, high quality)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir together brown sugar, granulated sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt with a fork in a heavy bottom saucepan, until sugars are broken up and the mixture is well blended. Add 1 cup milk and the chocolate and heat over medium heat, whisking, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the remaining 1 cup milk and cook, whisking frequently, for 6 to 8 minutes, until large bubbles pop on the surface and pudding is thick and smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla, then immediately transfer to a large bowl or 4 serving bowls.

Nearing The Holiday

Life is busy with making and crafting, homemade gifts being packaged and sent off to reach loved ones before Christmas. The kitchen is a jumble of cookie cutters, baking sheets, and loaf pans. Dried fruit, spices, and cookie sprinkling won’t find their way back to the pantry shelf until after the festivities. Butter, eggs, and cream fill the fridge…thank you, thank you, to our flock of layers, their contribution to these holiday confections is very much appreciated!
In between the kneading and stirring, I am clicking needles fast and furious to finish the requested wool socks and hats that will be gifted. Such fun, all of this! Then, of course, there are moments of silly whimsey and we haul out the red Christmas blankets and the old wooden wagon and the Sterno stove for a little tea party while the snow cover is still good ( rain coming, yuk!).
Happy Holidays everyone! Hope your season and the new year is filled with merry and delight!

December Here At Fernwood

Wouldn’t you think by now, after a long and busy growing season, that we’d simply be sitting fireside whittling wooden spoons and rubbing the dog’s belly? That would be nice, for us and our pups, it surely would. However, though the activity may be different than it is during those time-sensitive days of summer, our days are full. The work here is seasonal, a constant flow from one end of the calendar to the next. A rhythm of life that can be measured and accounted for. Right now, as we slide into the colder days of the year, the days are measured in firewood and hay and jars of canned tomatoes. We are not moving the sheep fence for rotational grazing, but we are making trips out to thaw frozen water buckets and cleaning stalls. We’re not dragging hoses and setting up the commercial sprinklers, but we are (already!) dropping trees for next year’s winter supply. We are not collecting seed and dividing plants, but we are going over our plant lists, scheduling talks for the 2019 season, and making room for new cultivars that we’ll be offering.
Yesterday went like this: Up at 5:00 to make coffee and stoke the fires… we heat the house using only wood and have at least two stoves going at all times ( there are three in the house not including the studio, which we also keep heated). Next, animal chores. Hay and grain and water the sheep, the chickens, and Hunny Bunny( Sally’s angora rabbit who winters here) and clean stalls. Back indoors to bake off eight loaves of sourdough bread, roast a chicken from the freezer, cook off a shepherd’s pie using ground venison, and bake an applesauce cake. Back outdoors to cut and split wood (next years), gather greens for wreath making, and then bring a load of firewood to a neighbor’s house who is already running a bit low. Indoors by mid-afternoon for some lunch and a cup of tea and a few rows of knitting (Noah’s Christmas socks). Late afternoon, back out to haul in firewood, sort through this past springs fleeces to try and send off for washing before the end of the month, then sand all the footpaths and driveways that are becoming quite slippery. Before dark, it’s animal chores again, being sure to tuck everyone in safe and sound and well fed. Dinner (with a glass of wine, yes, please!), some reading ( right now, Farley Mowat’s book, The Siberians), and a few more rows of sock knitting. Bedtime…8:30 ish, not kidding.
There you have it, a sample day during Fernwood’s winter. Oh, there’s also the vacuuming and the odd projects that we have a list for and the dishes and the rubbing of dog’s bellies. All that too, for sure. This is a good life. A busy, day to day, cycle. It often feels like the days are too short, regardless of the season, but I think most everyone would agree to that. We do the best we can with the daylight hours we have, we save the nighttime for activity that can be done without light, we are happy when our heads hit the pillow. I think my point in writing about our days this morning is to acknowledge how surprised I am, year after year, knowing full well the busyness of each and every season, that the winter months are not as sedentary as one would think. No, they are not. Is the pace different? Yes. Life does go round and round here, we visit the same needs and chores and expectations, month after month, year after year, over and over again. We know it and we know it well. Yet still, I ‘summer-dream’ of winter days spent fireside reaching for my brewing cup of tea and casually flipping the pages of a good book…and, of course, reaching out with my foot with a relaxed bit of effort to rub the dog’s belly. There are a few days in the throes of winter that will indeed center on the indulgent gift of warmth and hot tea and the captivating words of a good story. I’ll savor these, be glad for them, and they will help make the firewood slinging days more pleasurable. Of course, once those bitter days of February arrive, thoughts of green grass and swelling buds and tender shoots will creep into my mind. I don’t consider myself fickle, I am not a person who wishes time away or one who struggles with routine. Perhaps my mind is joyfully entangled and intertwined with the flow of this life, I know what’s coming and I know what’s been done. Most days, I try and just be in it. Inserted. A cog in the wheel. Hopefully, an integral part of the pattern. And that makes me happy and helps to bring reason to this life I’ve chosen.
Enough said, happy December to you all, I must go, there are things to do and dog bellies to rub!

Join Us This Holiday Season For Some Elf Magic!!

Join Denise and her friend Sally in the studio at Fernwood Nursery on Saturday, December 22nd, from 1:00 to 4:00 for an afternoon of elf making! Spend a wintry afternoon among friends crafting your own festive Christmas elf. Delightful little creations that are sure to brighten your holiday table! A collection of elf wear and accessories will be on hand for the finishing touches.So fun! Sally and I will provide the materials and instruction, as well as an assortment of holiday goodies and festive drink. Yum, yum! Denise’s handspun yarn and felted creations will also be available for order or purchase. Class size is limited, so please call to reserve your spot. Call (207)589-4726 or email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net Cost: $50.00 materials included.

Cold Enough

Once the nursery season is officially over, we wait for the temperatures to be consistently cold in order to cover plants in the retail and stock area. This is somewhat tricky on account of the fluctuating weather we may experience in the fall here in Maine. Many of the plants we over-winter are lined up and then covered in a specially designed winter ‘blanket’. Our ideal is to have the plants freeze and remain frozen, it’s the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw that we’re most concerned about.

Still Green! Epimedium colchicum and Adiantum venustum

Our mission is to protect the roots of the plants. Because some of the plants will remain in their pots and not in the ground, the roots are vulnerable and susceptible to damage if left without protection. Therefore, more care and consideration is needed. Our annual ‘covering of the pots’ truly marks the end of our growing season, the last big chore in the nursery. Of course, we also have a tremendous amount of plants that are over-wintered in growing beds, these don’t require any extra defense and will rely on the earth (and hopefully good snow cover) to protect them. A patch-work of fall-related chores here at Fernwood as we welcome the winter season…we’ve processed this year’s supply of meat birds, the root vegetables are snug in the root cellar, and the firewood is (almost) all stacked in the woodshed. Hip Hip Hooray!
Oh, and bread making! Regardless of the season, there is breadmaking!

Beginnings

Years ago a dear friend suggested we write a blog for the nursery. It took some convincing. Actually, it took some needling and eventually she had to trap me in the backseat of their pick-up truck on the long drive home from a mountain hike and force me to come up with some words. That was the very first post. It was 2012. We had just spent a beautiful day hiking up at Gulf Hagas, our other dear friend, Moe, was with us as well. I love thinking of that day. I love my dear friend who had strategically tucked her i-pad-y thingamajig into her knapsack in order to hold me hostage in the backseat on the way home. She is a very clever friend. I remember feeling tired and a little hungry and being squished in the middle between Moe and Rick. Then without hardly a notice, I remember my friend turning around in her seat so that her face was close to mine and saying “start talking, this is your first blog post”.I was trapped, and besides, deep down I was pretty sure my friend was trying to do me a great favor. She was and she did, I see that now. (Also, let me just mention that I am fairly sure both Rick and Moe had dozed off at this point…a lot of help they were, those boys! ha!) That was seven years ago.
Initially, the blog was meant to feature the nursery and the plants we grow and if you scan back over the years you’ll find that, yes, there are many entries that talk about specific cultivars or about propagation or the running of the nursery. It’s true that much of our life centers around the nursery, propagating and tending to the plants we grow, raising vegetables and critters. However, I think the blog would have been a very different space if I had stuck to being a purist and only wrote about plants and gardening. There’s so much more that goes on in this life I live, certainly so much more that goes on in my head. Through the years, I’ve shared some stories and thoughts, some recipes and poems, and, hopefully, an insight into our life here at Fernwood. My friend was spot on when she suggested we write a blog. It does help our business. It does give us a ‘presence’ in the world of social media. A place people can go to find us, to check our hours, to get a sense of what we’re doing here. That’s all really good and helpful. The thing it has also become ( My friend knew this would happen…I know she did, remember I told you she is really clever) is a place for sharing and connecting. It has opened up a world of other blogs that I so look forward to reading, it has opened up a network of friends I feel I could pick out of a crowd even though I have never actually met them, it has created a place to share and connect and express. Sitting at the computer is never a seat I easily gravitate to, digging holes and tending plants wins the stronger tug. But, this blog means a lot to me. So, thank you…first and foremost, Kari, for your nudging. I really do believe it had to happen just the way it did… between two snoring men in the backseat of a pick-up truck after a long day of woods, and waterfalls, and friends. You’re so smart! And, thank you to anyone who has wandered over to this here blog of ours, I hope it has been at least a little interesting and entertaining. I’ve enjoyed each and every visit and connection and will try and keep the words rolling (very hard sometimes, I must admit).
Well, now, let’s add a poem to this rambling post. Sent to me by another friend, a new friend, who, like my friend, Kari, also possesses a dear and generous heart. Lucky gal, I am.
P.S. Do you see how I placed a link in the word Gulf Hagus? It goes back to that very first post. Yep, my friend taught me to do that too. To add links. She’s so clever. Enjoy!

The Things That Count
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things,
Great deeds of valour and might,
That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day.
But it is the doing of old things,
Small acts that are just and right;
And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say;
In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play—
Dear, those are the things that count.

And, dear, it isn’t the new ways
Where the wonder-seekers crowd
That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own.
But it is keeping to true ways,
Though the music is not so loud,
And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone;
In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan—
Dear, these are the things that count.

My dear, it isn’t the loud part
Of creeds that are pleasing to God,
Not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song.
But it is the beautiful proud part
Of walking with feet faith-shod;
And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong;
In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long—
Dear, these are the things that count.

Cimicifuga ramosa ‘James Compton’ still looking magnificent

Our days are shifting now. The nursery will remain open for just a few more days and then it’s by appointment through the month of October. Each garden has its signs of decay and impending dormancy. The vegetable gardens are looking tired and we are finally ready to shift our daily eating habits from fresh green beans and yellow squash to roasted beets and potato leek soup. Knitting in the evenings are more likely and a long walk in the morning is possible. The sheep are still grazing, though it won’t be long before they are brought home from their summer pasture and will switch over to their winter diet of hay and grain. As of yet, we have not had to light the woodstove, but we know those cool mornings and nippy evenings are just ahead of us. We still have a large flock of meat birds to process in October (50 or so) and about 7 cords of firewood to finish splitting and stacking. I feel like I can take time to bake bread again and dye wool and make pumpkin butter without the feeling of urgency to get back outside and weed or mow or pot plants. A change in routine is good, I do declare!
This summer, we have had a wedding to pull off, a long visit from two little kiddos with tremendous (and delightful) energy, and a fast and furious and super busy nursery season. Yup, I’m tired. I’m feeling a bit whooped. So let the shift of this Fall season begin. Let the days grow shorter, and yes, a bit darker. I’m hoping that the steps I take don’t cover ground as quickly as they do during the hay days of summer. Let there be time to pause, to collect thoughts, to establish a quieter rhythm. It’s time. How are you all feeling? Ready to let go of summer or wanting it to linger a bit longer? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this melancholy transition from summer haze to fall crispness. In the meantime, with an intention to nurture a stillness of heart, I’ll mozy out to the gardens and start pulling onions for winter storage.

Retreat

I took a day off and went to the ocean. A quick retreat. Hardly more than 24 hours. I did, however, have the opportunity to hike a secret footpath along the shore. Glorious, glorious. I did sit looking out at the lobster boats coming in with their haul and was able to begin knitting little Violets sweater. I did have a meal of scallops and fresh tomatoes and homemade goat cheese. All in just a mere 24 hrs! Soul soothing.

Mid August (almost)

Thalictrum rochebrunianum

Here it is mid-August! Jeepers! It is at this time of year my insides begin to feel’ revved’ up. Lists and lists of things to do and accomplish before the snow flies. So much still to do in the nursery!

Helianthus divaricatus

Tons of propagation for next year; cuttings, gathering and sowing seed, divisions. A walk around the display beds every day to check for seed that’s ripe. Investigating the woody material for the timing of cuttings. We are beginning to see the natural decline of a few plants in the woodland garden, the herbaceous growth fading away, most of their energy going into just root growth now.

Anemone vitifolia


Don’t get me wrong, the landscape is lush with growth. A jungle of vines and stems and blooms that we manage to maintain.

Clematis heracleifolia

The vegetable gardens overflowing with food, all to be brought in and transformed into lunch or supper, the excess canned or frozen or dried. Right now (surprise, surprise!) we are hauling in that every season’s bounty of zucchini. Zucchini parmesan, zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini cake, zucchini fritters, a cheesy ham and tomato and zucchini torte. No, I’m not at my wits end with zucchini. I pass on the excess to neighbors before I get to the point of despair and luckily Zoe’s fiance is Italian and has a hearty appetite. One of the reasons we are happy she’s marrying him is because he eats a lot and he’s not at all picky. Such a good and helpul quailty to bring to our table! The tomatoes are ripening, the onions and leeks are looking great, cucumbers are producing in great numbers ( time to make pickles!), swiss chard, broccoli, and kale filling baskets ( soon we’ll be planting a late season crop of these). Sweet and hot peppers, beets, cabbages, and beans, all rolling in.
As I sweep through the gardens picking, gathering, collecting seed, I can’t help but notice the 8 cord of wood that needs splitting and stacking. It won’t be long, you know! We will make time, it will all get done, the cycle of this life now relies on a lifetime of familiar doing. I’ll quiet my inner ‘whirl’ and enjoy one task at a time, one step at a time. A good practice in mindfulness, in staying with the present. Truth be told, I honor this ‘one day at a time, one moment at a time’ philosophy but also know that as a farmer one has to anticipate the days and season ahead. Perhaps balance is a better practice for now. I’ll hone in on mindfulness in February when the snow is 3ft deep and the woodstove is cranking and when there is not much more to do than sit and read a good book!
Enjoy this last season of summer, friends…what is occupying your time in the gardens right now?

Are We There Yet? High Summer, I mean.

And how did we arrive so soon? It is high summer, isn’t it? The first cut of hay is in. The squash and tomatoes and green beans are asserting their jungle personalities. We may still get one more decent harvest of peas before the heat does them in. Swimming holes are still but beckoning. The pray for rain is profound.
No longer do I come in casually from the garden with a basketful of spring greens, the earliest of radishes, a tub of energy-rich spinach, and think “oh, how nice to have a few tidbits, the earth’s first offerings”. Now it’s full-on, two canning kettles bubbling, the threat of squash taking over our lives. And yet. And yet, we have the creeping thoughts of winter, of firewood needing to be split and stacked ( oh, Denise, don’t mention it aloud!), of propagation for next year’s nursery season, of putting food up for the winter larder.
A brief account of summer from Gary Paulsen’s book Clabbered Dirt And Sweet Grass…it sums it up…this life, these seasons, this rhythm.

“With haying done there is not a separation of work. It continues. Always. But there is another line to cross and a new time comes then, comes then to the seasons- high summer. meterorological data means nothing, technical names mean nothing, the divisions are like music, like stops in a symphony. First thaw, early spring, breakup, middle spring, late spring, early summer, midsummer, high summer, late summer, early fall, Indian summer, first killing freeze, high fall, late fall, first snow, early winter, midwinter, high winter, late winter, first thaw, early spring, breakup…more names than months, more names than days, more names because more names are needed. For the luck”.