“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.”
—Josephine Nuese

Words of truth, I’d say! We begin winter here thinking about the long, silent months ahead. The deep snow and the frigid temperatures which will turn us indoors for more reading and knitting and fire-warmth. We drop our shoulders, breath deep, and feel thankful for the slow pace of winter. We’re some of the few who are not in a hurry to move these cold months along…the sun and the warmth will come back to us, all in good time. But we can feel the stirrings now, the seed catalogs spread across the table, the lists of new plants for the nursery ( some dandy primula!), the urge to ‘hoe’ out the greenhouse and fire up the stove that heats it. Oh, truth be told, our minds are never completely void of gardening and plants and soil. Notebooks are filled with lists and ideas for a new season of promise. Are you thinking about spring? Does a bit more winter trouble you? Are your veggie seeds ordered? Any new garden plans? Let’s hear!

High Summer

There is a brief window during the season when we experience a slight lull…in the gardens and in the nursery. It happens just after school lets out in late June and continues until the 4th of July weekend. We appreciate the small reprieve. The garden’s beds are planted, weeded, and looking great, the flow of customers is steady but not as busy as in May and June, there’s a calm before the ‘storm’ that the now ‘high summer’ brings. From here on in however, our pace picks up again. The nursery gets re-stocked with late season offerings and with plants that simply needed replacing from earlier sales. Now is the time we do most of our propagating for the next season, this involves collecting seed, taking cuttings, and dividing plants from the stock beds. The greenhouse is cloaked in shade cloth and a misting system gets set up ( in the greenhouse)to provide a constant and controlled amount of moisture. In the vegetable gardens, the bounty to be harvested and preserved is coming fast and furious….summer squash, cucumbers, kale, chard, greens, snow peas and shell peas, beets, and loads and loads of broccoli. Every meal is the essence of freshness, plates of homegrown chicken surrounded by steamed veggies and an extra large green salad. I begin to eye the squash patch with concern, a day of not picking could lead to one of those gigantic zucchinis or an overly bulbous yellow squash. Harvesting the squash patch becomes a secret competition between me and the cucurbits. I am determined to harvest each and everyone before I need the wheel barrow to haul them away. I’m determined to pick them when they’re small and incorporate them into meals before they roll to the back of the fridge and become wobbly. Right now I’m winning, we’re roasting squash, grilling squash, steaming squash, and using them in our favorite squash fritter recipe. So far so good. If you come for dinner more than once a week and think to yourself “squash, again?”, please don’t say it out-loud. I’m on a mission and only looking to feed ‘Team Squash’ while I’m at it. Be happy that your squash fritters include smoked Gouda and that your grilled squash wedges are peppered with a nice spicy dry rub. Eat and be happy.
It’s at this time we begin glancing forward to what’s ahead. Yes, we’ll still be harvesting and preserving well into September, our work at propagating will continue, mowing and weeding and moving sheep fence a constant until the leaves begin dropping, but there will also be firewood to bring in and hay to be gathered and stored, meat birds processed and sheep brought home. It’s not about not living in the moment or in the present (we always hope to manage this as well!), it’s about the cycle of the season and how our lives here are connected to the natural rhythms of time. We’re part of it and I like that. Well, it’s 6:30 a.m. and I must leave you now, my Patty Pan squash and Costata Romanesco zucchini have had well over 12 hours to gain inches and it’s time to rein them in!
And while out in the garden stalking the vegetable bounty….we sure are stopping to smell the flowers!


One of our favorite early greens to grow is tatsoi. We sow seeds in the greenhouse in March and when the seedlings are ready, the first batch is planted in the hoop house. Another flat of seed is sown for an outdoor planting late in the spring. Tatsoi is classified as a Brassica and is a variety of Chinese cabbage and commonly known as spoon mustard or spinach mustard. It is a small low-growing plant that forms a rosette of petite, dark green, spoon-shaped leaves. It is super cold hardy, withstanding a temperature as low as 15 degrees F. We can count on having a bounty of tatsoi by mid-April and it does just the trick for satisfying our craving of fresh greens. Tatsoi has a mild taste, much like spinach. Being a plant that likes cooler temperatures ( perfect for here in Maine, yes?), it will become a bit more bitter tasting if allowed to bolt and flower.
We’ll often eat it raw in a salad or on sandwiches, but mostly we use it in a stir-fry or in an omelet. My favorite way to use Tatsoi is quite simple : Saute a medium size onion in a little olive oil, add a lot of minced garlic ( 4-5 cloves), chop the tatsoi (stems include) and toss that in ( we sometimes add shitake mushrooms), sprinkle in a few red pepper flakes, season with tamari and black pepper. We pile this onto some cooked brown rice and top it off with some crumbled feta cheese. Food for the soul! Often during our busy season here at the nursery, this is just what we’ll eat for lunch.Tatsoi is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, carotenoids, folate, calcium and potassium. So good, so nourishing, I highly recommend adding it to your garden repertoire.

Let’s Talk Dirt!

Come Learn Some Dirty Words At Fernwood Nursery
Join us at Fernwood Nursery on Sunday, May 21st, from 1:00 to 3:00 to talk about what’s in your dirt! Green sand, blood meal, and mycorrhiza are just a few of the ”dirty” words you’ll hear when we talk about soil here at Fernwood! We’ll discuss soil structure, the essential components for soil health and plant growth, and how to amend your own garden plots using organic materials that are easily sourced. Find out which animal manures do what, learn about the important minerals in your soil, and discover the benefits of green manures,. Interested in making your own potting soil? We’ll talk about this as well and…. you’ll go home with a sample bag of our own homemade potting mix (along with the recipe)!
In addition to a lively discussion about dirt, freshly baked scones and tea will be served.
Here at Fernwood, we are famous for saying “ if you want to grow good plants, grow good soil” so come join us for an informative afternoon of soil talk!
Class size is limited to 10. Please call ahead or email us to sign up. Please visit our classes and more page for more information.

There is still snow on the ground (you think?). Our nights are still rather cold. Daytime temperatures are vacillating between giving into spring and keeping a determined hold on winter. Fickle.
I feel anxious during the month of March. On one hand, we are kept at bay from the chores we know are creeping upon us, the cold and snow make many advances impossible.Yet, still, we have to stay in step with time, moving forward regardless of weather variables. Peppers, leeks, onions, herbs, and eggplant need to be sown early in order to have a long growing season out in front of them. We stoke the wood fire, then run out to make sure the greenhouse is not getting too warm. We make another pot of soup using the stored winter squash but crave fresh greens. Long johns? No long johns? Pull the taps on the maple trees or leave them for another week or so? Like I said, this all makes me anxious. One foot is still firmly planted in winter and the other is stretching out looking for the warm, squishy ground of spring. I like my months to be well defined, and yet, I should know by now, the month of March doesn’t play very fair. March is fickle. March is indecisive. March is wishy washy. I have no choice but to muddle through. Today we worked again in the greenhouse potting up some Hepaticas, Shortia uniflora, and Erythronium japonicum. They had been putting on too much growth in their winter storage and so we decided to pot them up. There are others of these same plants, tucked undercover and still dormant, showing no signs of growth.They will remain until the snow is gone and we uncover the nursery rows for the season.
In the meantime, I will work through my restlessness and be grateful for all the good and wonderful things that make up our days….a little of this and a little of that among the tug of seasons.

Snow and Mud

Picture 843Winter has been reluctant to let go. Spring wants to take over, I know it does, but here in the north east the two seasons are overlapping and on some days, winter has continued to get the upper hand. On the days that spring does play a more dominate role….. sunshine, glorious warmth, and mud reminds us that it is in fact, Spring.

The mud season foot bridge out to the hoop house

The mud season foot bridge out to the hoop house

However, the traits of winter still show up too. Yesterday was cold, windy, and with a bit more snow. I’m not kidding. Hats on, hats off. Scarfs wrapped warmly around our necks, scarfs unwrapped and tossed aside. Woodstove still cranking, next day…..let’s open the windows! Geez!
Regardless of the weather, lambs are still being born and the seedlings are putting on growth. On Easter we had a set of twins, two ram lambs. And yesterday, another set, a ewe and a ram, who needed a bit of help making their way out. My friend Pia came over to help as midwife, and between the two of us we were able to assist two slippery babes out into the world. The first lamb delivered was very large and his front foot kept getting stuck against the ewe’s pelvis. The ewe kept pushing but couldn’t quite move that lamb out and beyond without some help. Thank goodness I was close by and could see that she was having a hard time. It was also super helpful to have another set of hands( Pia). Both sets of twins are doing very well and the ewe that needed help is just fine. Maybe that little ram lamb who was a bit stubborn about making his way into the world was waiting for a “spring” day. Can’t really blame him!Picture 833

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!

Picture 803Picture 817Picture 814

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…..in 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!