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!

Utilizing Everything We can

Picture 1296Where have we been? No blog post for several days? Well, things are moving along here at Fernwood, fast and furious you might say. We did get a day off ( Monday) to do some hiking. More on this adventure later, along with pictures. We’ll share the location and the wonderful gal that hiked along with us once we get all the pictures together.
The gardens here are providing us with a bounty. Fresh vegetables with every meal, and then the surplus being preserved for winter. This week we made jars and jars of garlic scape pesto. How do we make it? Here’s the recipe:
20 or so garlic scapes
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup almonds ( or another nut you prefer)
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt to taste.
Put all of the ingredients into the food processor or blender with steel blade. Puree until fairly smooth, maybe a bit chunky if you like it that way. Season to taste with salt.
This will also freeze well. We love it on pizza, on pasta, and drizzled onto freshly steamed vegetables.
Picture 1288Picture 1291Picture 1289We have also been mining the soil from the chicken’s run. After letting layers and layers of chicken poop, straw, bedding hay, and leaves, to decompose, it has become a nutrient rich soil source. Throughout the year we will spread the chicken’s outdoor run with organic matter ( of the above mentioned minus the poop, they provide that themselves). A year or so later we begin excavating it to spread on the display beds and into the vegetable gardens. The chickens love when we start digging up their yard. Lots and lots of earthworms and beetles surface for them to dine on. They love rooting through the newly turned earth. After we’ve gathered enough to spread on the garden beds, we begin the process all over again. Even our weeds from the garden go into the chicken run. The chickens will feast on the green shoots and seeds and the rest will compost into the soil. We’re always trying to utilize everything here that we grow or produce. From grass clippings to garlic scapes, they all find their way into something useful.



The display beds and the nursery are bringing us a feast for the eyes. Pure delight. These flowers are from one of the many Sempervivums we grow. Lovely, I think. We hope the summer is going well for all, that your gardens are providing wonderful blooms and foliage, that the vegetable gardens are producing delicious fresh food , and that you too are finding a moment to sneak away and enjoy these summer days. Picture 1286

This Weekend

Picture 251 Fernwood will be participating in the Belfast Creative Coalition Cultivate: Arts and Farm Tour this weekend ( both Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th from 10:00- 4:00). Rick will be giving a native plant talk on both days at 1:00 p.m. I will be providing a wool dyeing demo ( also on both days) at 11:00 a.m. Picture 254The tour is free, and for folks wanting to get out on a beautiful fall weekend to explore some local farms and art, check out this site for more information and a tour map ( Belfast Creative Coalition). We’ll be here at the nursery talking plants, gardening, wool, and sustainability. We’ll also be pressing apples throughout the day using our 1800’s cider press . If you plan a visit to Fernwood today, you are apt to see lots of what happens here in the fall. Garden beds being turned over and amended, seeds being harvested, leaves raked and spread into the gardens, garlic being planted. Come ask some questions and see for yourselves what chores take place this time of year at Fernwood. The weather should be great and perfect for getting out to explore all that Waldo County has to offer. Come join us!

Come meet Wallace, Fiona, and Penelope , our winter Southdown  residents

Come meet Wallace, Fiona, and Penelope , our winter Southdown residents


It’s Not Over Quite Yet

Picture 194Our days are busy with cleaning up garden beds, we are still planting some last minute things in the display beds, and garlic will go in over the next two weeks. We refuse to let anything get caught in one of those early autumn frosts. So, each night Rick checks his trusted weather source for temperature dips, and we make our evening rounds covering the last of the vegetables hoping to eek out a few more days ( weeks) before we really have to call it a season. At night our gardens look a bit like a Halloween display, sheets and burlap ghosts lay still around the farm, the last of the chard, winter squash, broccoli, and cabbages tucked warmly underneath. As the winter squash fully ripens, we haul them in and place them in the greenhouse to cure. In early August we feel almost an overwhelming burden with all there is to pick and preserve. Now, knowing our short growing season is nearing its end, we treat the gathering of this last bounty with a new reverence. Oh, is that a little zucchini still clinging to its vine? How delightful. A few more sprigs of basil that have escaped the nightly frost? Bring it in, more pesto! What’s still left to pick in your gardens? Picture 192

This Time Of Year……..

Anemone vitifolia 'Robustissima'

Anemone vitifolia ‘Robustissima’

Fall is approaching, and we begin to see some of the foliage around us taking on their autumn hues. Along with the harvesting of ripe seeds from the display beds for propagating, and continuing to gather ripe fruits from the vegetable garden for processing, we are also beginning to put some of the beds( vegetable) to rest. The ornamental display beds are still glorious in growth and many fall blooming plants are just coming into their own.
Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta'

Clethra alnifolia ‘Compacta’

Picture 038The Clethra (Clethra alnfolia ‘compacta’) is blooming profusely and the sweet scent of its blooms are a delight in the garden right now. Anemone vitifolia , Kirengeshoma koreana, Kirengeshoma palmata, and Lycoris squamigera are all in full bloom. Cardnial flower ( Lobelia cardinalis ), gentian ( Gentiana asclepiadea), and the Helianthus( Helianthus divaricatus) are bringing great color to the landscape. Our native turtleheads ( Chelone), with both pink and white blooms, are just beginning to open.
Lobelia cardinalis 'Black truffles'

Lobelia cardinalis ‘Black truffles’

Gentiana asclepiadea

Gentiana asclepiadea

Gentiana asclepiadea

Gentiana asclepiadea

Helianthus divaricatus

Helianthus divaricatus

The fall gardens bring a new surprise each day, and many visitors to the nursery are using this time to add unique and special plants to their landscape. The ornamentals continue to do their thing as we begin to tend to the chores of the fall vegetable garden. Aside from the asparagus and herbs, the spent annual plants are pulled out, the soil turned over, and an amendment of compost or manure is applied. In some beds a green manure, like winter rye or buckwheat may be sown, and this will be turned under in the spring. Green manures are a great way to replenish the soil with some of the nutrients it may need. We are still collecting lots of food from these gardens, and will continue to do so through the fall, though some areas are ready for cleaning up. Two rows of green beans have pretty much exhausted themselves, several areas where lettuce and various greens are growing can be turned over, and the garlic beds are empty. The hoop house will soon be rid of its summer residents ( peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes)and replanted with a fall crop of kale, broccoli, and greens. I have to admit, this little bit of clean up helps to bring some order to the lush jungle appearance of the gardens. These tasks of both seasons, summer’s end and the fast approaching fall, merge together right about now. Yes, tomatoes are still being picked and canned, the lawn needs mowing, seed is still being harvested and sown, but the firewood is also being cut and stacked and we have our sights on cooler weather and what it entails. Tomorrow, I will begin bushogging the lower pastures at the farm , moving the ewes once again, and adding an anxious ram to the mix. All fall related tasks. For a while, we will feel like we’re living between seasons. Perhaps this overlap brings a flurry of work……ending some tasks and starting new, but I love that we so intimately witness and partake in the seasons transitions. We are a part of this change, we have our hand in it. It will happen regardless, but our lives which are so connected to the natural world, keep us rooted in observation and paticipation. Here are a few more photos of the fall bloomers we are enjoying at the moment:
Lycoris squamigera

Lycoris squamigera

Picture 024
Kirengeshoma palmata

Kirengeshoma palmata

Kirengeshoma koreana

Kirengeshoma koreana

Getting Started

_DSC0122This week we began the seasons earliest task of starting seeds. Onions, leeks, and all the pepper varieties are first in the lineup. Cell trays are filled with soil mix and then tiny seeds are deposited. Next they are watered ever so gently and then placed on the seed tables in the front room. _DSC0537
These early starts are kept indoors until they germinate. We are fortunate to have built the house with huge windows facing due south, perfect for providing the elements we need for tiny seeds to crack open. Within the next two weeks, the big greenhouse will be fired up and all the seedlings will move out there. For now, I am so happy to have that sunlit front room which stays super toasty with the woodstove cranking. With the temperatures we have been having, I cringe when thinking about heating the greenhouse. Yet, despite the frigid cold, we know the sun is high and strong and warmer days are just beyond us. Also indoors, we are using up any vegetables that are showing signs of being stored. Winter squash, beets, carrots, and the last of the onions all finding their way into our daily meals. So, right now, the house is also showing signs of both ends of the cycle. I love that. Like so many who grow their own food or those who garden for the pure aesthetics, bearing witness to this cycle is part of the joy and reward._DSC0541

Photo of Denise's yarn

Falls “Wooly” Goodness at Fernwood

The fall “to do” list is almost as long as the one we write in the spring. There seems to be a misconception in our minds that as the nursery winds down and the gardens are harvested and cutback, we will have a bit more free time. Well, this is not really the case. Somehow our lists seem to get longer as the days get shorter. However, we are determined to fit in some creative activity amongst the continuing chore list.

Sheep in the pasture

Photo of sheep's fleece in the fall

Fleece growth since the spring

One of our fall tasks is bringing the sheep home from their summer pasture. I always look forward to this because it allows me an opportunity to evaluate their fleece growth, especially amongst this year’s lambs. This “wooly” goodness gets me excited about the winter’s spinning, knitting, and felting projects. Fleeces are always skirted, washed, and processed in the spring….leaving most of the dying and spinning (and project making) for the fall and winter. Continue reading

Tomato Glutton

This is the time of year when the tomatoes come on strong. Fortunately, we escaped any of the dreaded blight that has been plaguing farmers in the Northeast over the last few years. We plant approximately 60 tomato plants and find this truly meets our fresh tomato needs as well as providing an ample supply for the winter.

Our varieties this year included Martha Washingtons, Cherokee Purples, Soldack, New Girls, Cosmonaut Volkov, Black Krim, Hinez Paste, and a selection of our favorite cherry tomatoes.

Our winter supply is stored by canning, making sauce, salsa, and freezing. By mid-September, I feel less ambitious about standing at the stove stirring pots of tomatoes. To remedy this, I find roasting tomatoes not only frees up my time but also creates a versatile end product with a delicious and intensified tomato flavor.

I skip the traditional process of dipping tomatoes in hot water then cold to remove the skins and then seeding them. Instead I take my largest roasting pan, put a skim layer of good olive oil in the bottom, core all my tomatoes (still fresh), cut them into quarters and pile them into the pan. To this I add an ample amount of garlic, often two large heads, cored and seeded sweet red peppers and then sprinkle a little more olive oil over the top. Occasionally, I throw in some fresh oregano and basil. Then I put the whole pan, uncovered, in a 300 degree oven and roast for about three to four hours, without stirring. My goal is to reduce as much liquid from the tomatoes as possible.

I then use the tomatoes in a variety of ways:

  • Puree the whole pan and transfer into freezer bags for freezing.
  • Fill quart jars and follow traditional canning procedures for the vegetables included.
  • Add to the cheese I make.
  • Add to soups.

I do believe you’ll find that roasting the tomatoes brings out their sweetness. Of course, you can do this on a smaller scale as you bring in your harvest each day if you’re just looking for a fresh addition to your evening meal. This combination can even be roasted in foil on the grill. Try this over pasta and brown rice. Yum!

Come January when we’re craving the flavors of our summer’s bounty, we can satisfy this want by opening a jar of homemade sauce and delighting in the preserved tomato goodness.

REMEMBER: When canning, always follow recommended procedures for canning various vegetables.

I’d love to hear your ideas for using an overabundance of tomatoes.

Next up: A sea of sweet red and hot peppers!