A Gal From Texas Comes To Maine

Howdy from Texas! My name is Anna Guillory and I’m a WWOOF volunteer (what’s WWOOF? Check that out here!) who has spent the last ten days at Fernwood Nursery with my lovely, lovely hosts, Denise and Rick. I recently graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in Art Education. I wanted to take the time to WWOOF the summer before starting a job teaching high school art and I decided that Fernwood was the right fit. I first heard about WWOOFing from my cousin at the disinterested age of 14 and never thought I’d be doing it now. Through school, I became interested in learning about sustainable living and organic gardening and I was making artwork centered around these ideas. I thought WWOOFing would be a good way for me to inform myself as an artist, as well as bringing back some insights to my future classroom and students. Increasing one’s knowledge of gardening, the biology of plants, and how things grow, etc. can often give us a much better understanding of how we look at things in the world. My WWOOF experience has helped accomplish this and being here at Fernwood has inspired me to look at things in the natural world more closely. I found Fernwood Nursery back in March when their WWOOF site had posted that they were looking for volunteers. Being an artist, I was really interested in how Denise works with her sheep. Fibers and textiles are something I have always wanted to learn more about, and I was equally interested in the farm and nursery aspect. It was a win-win! I’ve heard beautiful things about Maine, and wanted to see another part of the States. All that being said, it has blown me away! Aside from my interests in coming to learn and experience farming, it has been an incredibly healing place for me to be before beginning a new season of life after college. Working with Denise and Rick and learning from them, as well as just being on their property, has grounded me and been a rejuvenating experience. I had almost thought I wasn’t going to be able to come to Maine but Denise and Rick were flexible with my change in dates, and have proven to be ever too generous with my needs. I’m glad to know they will always be people I can count on and available to me. Denise asked if I would write 10 things I’ve learned during my stay. If you do the math right, that’s one thing a day, but I know there are many more things I could list and I am certain I will only continue to build upon them after returning to my life in Texas.There are also some photos included of some great outings and projects, so enjoy!

Ten things:

1.Ephemeral plants bloom in early spring and often go dormant in the late summer months ( this I did not know!!)

2.How to make a hyper-tufa vessel ( I’ll be carrying a mini hyper-tufa vessel home with me, yee ha!)

3.Weeds can be edible ( like purslane and lamb’s quarters and chickweed!!) and super good for you!!

4.How to make Beet and Fruit Kvass ( yum, yum, thank you, wise woman, Liz!!)

5.How to make lemon balm pesto with freshly picked garlic scapes

6.Felting with wool from Denise’s Blue Face Leicester sheep

7.Skirting a fleece

8.The importance of seed saving ! (oh my, how very, very important! I watched this while at Fernwood, SEED: The Untold Story)

9.What a hula-hoe is and how to use it ( and boy did I use it!)

10.Not all flying things ( bugs) are harmful, only some. (and only if you develop a phobia and run like the dickens to escape them)<

In addition, while here in Maine, I also traveled to Rogues Bluff with a Teardrop trailer, hiked a local trail (Haystack mountain) and picked wild blueberries, learned to shingle an outbuilding on the farm, learned some plant propagation techniques, harvested vegetables and herbs, and had the pleasure of mingling with some of the local community and to discover how welcoming and friendly Maine people are!
Now back to Texas where I’ll be certainly pondering all the wonderful experiences and things I learned during my time in Maine. My wish is to call upon all of the valuable lessons learned from my WWOOF experience and to apply them as best and often as I can in my life back in Texas. Have a great summer, my Maine friends!

A trip Downeast for a picnic with the teardrop trailer!

A super yummy picnic, that is!!

A hike up Haystack just a mile from Fernwood!

Into The Fields

We just moved the sheep onto their summer pasture. The grazing will improve as the days get warmer, but the beginnings of green grass are a welcome sight for our wooly ewes. They will continue to be fed hay and grain until the fields can really sustain them, another 3 weeks or so. Tomorrow is shearing day! Off come their winter coats, their hoofs will be trimmed, and each sheep will get a dose of wormer. Always a big day here at the farm, another task that signifies the coming of spring! If you are a hand spinner looking for a luscious Blueface Leicester fleece to spin, give us a call! I am determined not to keep them all!

The nursery is shaping up….the rows are cleaned and filled with plants for the upcoming season. Some great new additions that we’re really excited about! We open on May 3rd and we are looking forward to seeing customers and talking about gardening!

We hope everyone is enjoying the arrival of warm weather and the promises of a new gardening season. Happy Day to you all!

Winter Knitting, Anyone?

picture-2104We are just about to begin our yearly 3-month yarn CSA ( community supported agriculture). If there are any knitters who are short on yarn stash or simply want to knit something using some delicious Blue Face Leicester yarn from our flock…here’s your chance. picture-735It’s soft and lustrous, hand dyed and all from our sheep here at Fernwood Nursery. And, you actually get a little more than yarn…right to your mailbox!! Please email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net with any orders or inquiries. I’ll respond pronto! And the sheep here… well, they say “thank ewe”!picture-3926picture-3923

picture-3838A beautiful light snow fell yesterday, six inches in all. It was an easy snow to shovel and we’re happy about that. Around here there are many paths to be cleared…to the barn, the hoop houses, and greenhouse, to the studio and little cabin, etc… even the entire driveway. Sometimes we use the tractor for this (the driveway) but prefer to clear the way without the noise and fumes. No need for a winter fitness program, we certainly get our workout. Rick and I don’t mind, we’re outdoors, together, and home, three things we love most. Inside, a pot of potato leek soup ( the last of our stored leeks!) was warming on the cookstove, a much welcome reward after a day of shoveling.
The sheep, though designed for cold and blustery weather, may take a few moments to come out and face the day. Here are a few barnyard shots from yesterday morning:picture-3830picture-3843
If you reside in the North East and got snow as well, I hope you enjoyed the wintery weather!

Fields Of Sheep

Sheep in the pastureIt won’t be long before we bring the sheep home. Their summer pasture is dwindling and soon they will be on their winter diet of hay and grain. We try and stretch their time on grass as far into the season as possible, but this year with rainfall way below normal, the fields are not recovering as quickly. We do practice a rotational grazing system, moving electrified portable fencing every week. This system is a great way to manage a pasture. It helps to maximize forage growth and encourage desirable plants to regenerate. Given a large free range of area, sheep will graze on the most choice forage, basically eating what tastes best and is most nutritious, leaving the undesirable plant material. Fields can quickly revert to weedy pasture if not managed. These weed plants are great opportunists and have the vigor and tenacity to out-perform the grasses. Without management, this less desirable (and less nutritious) plant material will crowd out the better grasses we want for our sheep. In order to maximize forage growth and to encourage the fodder we want, the sheep are moved through a series of fresh pastures in order to provide a “rest period” for plants to regrow their leaves (grass). The sheep are also forced to graze down the weed material, keeping it from going to seed or taking over. We watch each paddock carefully, keeping an eye on its regeneration and then knowing when it is time to circle back and graze that area again. Moving fence is always on our weekly or bi-weekly chore list. This year, because of the lack of rain we watch each field carefully to make sure they are not overgrazed or stressed. Rainfall, our flock size, and soil nutrients can all play a role in pasture health. It seems our life always has an aspect of ‘plant tending’, whether it is on a large scale ( the sheep fields) or on a smaller scale ( the nursery and gardens), we are always mindful of the botanical world that surrounds us.

Work And Being Tired

Picture 3488We have two WWOOF volunteers here at the moment. Our lovely returning WOOFer Hannah, who is a UNH student and ceramics teacher, and Zack, who may very well be the kindest and most polite 20 year old we’ve ever met. Both of these visitors are a great help to the farm and nursery. They are hard workers and upbeat, easy going and curious. We like them a whole lot. After a long day of farm work, moving sheep fence, and learning to shingle an out-building, they are tired. Farm tired. Work tired. Tired to the bone tired, but proud of their accomplishment tired. They sit in the evening after a good hearty meal, legs slung over the arm chair or stretched out across the ottoman, and knit. Both of them. Zack leading the way with his craft experience dating back to the age of 10 ( his mum taught him to knit, good mum!!), helping Hannah to cast on with round needles and to keep her stitches from twisting. I join them, advancing on my current knitting project until my own sleepiness gets the best of me ( is it 8:30 yet?). Last night we talked about being tired. Hannah pointed out how good it feels to climb into bed, rest your head on a pillow, and know that you’ve really earned a good night’s sleep. We talked a bit about the different kinds of tired….emotional and physical, and how being emotionally tired may keep you up at night ( thoughts still racing), but being physically tired is conducive to collapsing into a decadent slumber. In your early twenties, I think sleep is still something coveted. I was amazed at how many times they both hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks before reaching their actual wake up time.I don’t use an alarm clock and waking to a buzzing noise every 5 minutes seemed pretty disruptive to me, but they assured me that this was all part of their morning ‘time to get up and pull yourself out of dreamland’ ritual. I told them I just wake up, eyes wide open, and bolt into the day. My approach seemed to scare the hell out of them.” Why would you do that?” they asked. After several rows and a few more inches on my own knitting, I trail off to bed. They’ll stay up a bit longer, I know. Tired they are,….bone tired…but can’t quite give up on their night life here at Fernwood. Knitting and drinking tea beyond a proper bedtime….. real party animals these two.

And now a poem to sign off with….

“I may never be happy, but tonight I am content. Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent setting strawberry runners in the sun, a glass of cool sweet milk, and a shallow dish of blueberries bathed in cream. Now I know how people can live without books, without college. When one is so tired at the end of a day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth. At times like this I’d call myself a fool to ask for more.”
—Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals

Felting Workshop At Fernwood!

ii_1543638107133d97Saturday, July 23rd, noon to 4:00canstockphoto28865455 (2)
Join fiber artists Jessica Peill Meininghaus and Denise Sawyer for an afternoon of felting. Come learn the basic techniques for wet felting wool, then move on to create a beautiful needle felted wool painting! Roam the gardens for inspiration, chat with fellow fiber enthusiasts, and learn a new skill! Materials and supplies included…..plus teas and scones will be served!
If you’d like to join us, email at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net or call (207) 589-4726
You can check out our ‘classes and more’ page for specifics.ii_1543638155403891

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

Battenkill Fiber Mill

For years …as long as I have raised sheep, over twenty five years now, I have been searching for the perfect woolen mill to process some of our fleeces. We always keep a bundle of the newly shorn fleeces here to process ourselves, the rest will often get sent off to be cleaned and carded. This means bags of beautifully cleaned roving returns, ready to spin. The last two years I’ve even sent off several fleeces to have them cleaned, carded, and spun into yarn. So I have both available……skeins of our Blue Face Leicester spun right here with me at the wheel or yarn from our sheep that has been sent over to the Battenkill. Even with any mill spun yarn, I still do all the dyeing of each skein. With a flock of sheep’s fleeces piling up (I can only spin so fast and there is always so much else to do…surprise, surprise, huh?) I decided two years ago to send some of the fleeces off. This allowed me to have more inventory to sell to our yarn customers. Finding the right woolen mill has always been a challenge. For years we’ve had a local mill who did a great job, but they no longer clean fleeces, and because ‘cleaning’ the fleeces is the job that is most helpful, I began looking elsewhere. It’s not easy to find a mill you trust. Being a handspinner and working hard to maintain the quality of our sheep and their fleeces, I don’t want to risk sending them just anywhere. I had one mill years ago lose all of my 1st year lamb fleeces. Not happy, I can only say. Blue Face Leicester tends to have a fairly long staple length (length of the locks), it is quite crimpy, and often contains a fair bit of lanolin. This can gunk up a machine, so carefully washing is important. Some cottage mills are not able (or talented enough) to handle fleeces that are considered extra fine , like Merino or Rambouillet, or they are not able to slow the machines to handle a long stabled fleece…like Blue Face Leicester. Owning and operating a woolen mill is a craft. They need to understand the different wool breeds, they need to be able to assess the fleeces when they come in, and they need to be able to process each order to the customer’s request. There is a lot to pay attention to. So, this is why I am promoting the Battenkill Fiber Mill. They are, by far, the best mill I’ve come across. One of the great things about them is that they strive for accuracy. I get my own fleeces back and the weight of the finished product is always on the high end. They are great communicators, I often send my fleeces with a ( fairly) long list of instructions and thoughts…. the folks at the Battenkill know that they are working with producers that care about their sheep and the end quality of their fleeces, and so they listen. Quality is first and foremost at the Battenkill. I have been so happy to find a mill, one that is not across the country, that I can trust with my fleeces. They really are an excellent mill.
Recently, I received an email from Mary Jeanne who owns and operates the Battenkill Fiber Mill. She sends out a yearly update of things happening at the mill, along with this great video which explains how the mill operates. The best part of the video is learning a little bit about the happy folks who work there. If happy and contented people are doing the job of processing your fleeces, it makes sense that they come back to you reflecting the happy hands that handled them.
Check out the Battenkill’s website, the video is there to click onto……join in with supporting a great little business!

Hand Work

One of the things I do to bring some balance to the very physical needs of our life here at Fernwood, is to knit. Well, first I spin, then I knit. This craft of being relatively still, allowing my mind to get lost in the making of stitches, and the methodical nature of needles twisting and clicking, is a gift onto the day. Slow. Restful. Restorative. I really like these words written by Naomi Nye, I’m impressed that she saw the humble craft of needle work worthy of a poem. The ending message, however, also made me feel grateful for the rural community I live in. Here, in the north east part of New England, knitting and crocheting….mending a patch in a flannel shirt, are a part of our language. Seeing someone take out their needles in public in order to make some gain on their knitting project, opens the door for conversation. “What are you working on?” “What kind of yarn are you using?” ” Oh, I love those colors!” , these are all things you might say when one handcrafter bumps into another. We can’t help ourselves, it’s a strong tie.
Yesterday, I spun some of the first angora collected from my friend Sally’s rabbit. I’ll be using that soft and silky yarn in the headband I’m knitting for a friend’s Christmas present. Oh, this wondeful art of sewing, knitting, and crocheting, …..spread the word!

Sewing, Knitting, Crocheting……

A small striped sleeve in her lap,
navy and white,
needles carefully whipping in yarn
from two sides.
She reminds me of the wide-angled women
filled with calm
I pretended I was related to
in crowds.


In the next seat
a yellow burst of wool
grows into a hat with a tassel.
She looks young to crochet.
I’m glad history isn’t totally lost.
Her silver hook dips gracefully.

And when’s the last time you saw
anyone sew a pocket onto a gray linen shirt
in public?
Her stitches must be invisible.
A bevelled thimble glitters in the light.

On Mother’s Day
three women who aren’t together
conduct delicate operations
in adjoining seats
between La Guardia and Dallas.
Miraculously, they never speak.
Three different kinds of needles,
three snippy scissors,
everybody else on the plane
snoozing with The Times.
When the flight attendant
offers free wine to celebrate,
you’d think they’d sit back,
chat a minute,
tell who they’re making it for,
trade patterns,
yes?

But a grave separateness
has invaded the world.
They sip with eyes shut
and never say
Amazing
or
Look at us
or
May your thread
never break.

Naomi Shihab Nye