Stellaria media

The greenhouse is full of seedlings and pots of plants from our propagation efforts. Rows of sprouted green growth filling the benches and all inching their way upward. Trays of just sown seeds laying slightly beneath the surface of our homemade potting soil. Heat mats and watering systems and seed packets litter the back bench along with a lifetime collection of terra cotta pots and vessels. All of this growth and promise and good intention we’ve sown is accompanied by a little plant that’s trailing along the ground, all by itself, making its way and quenching its thirst from the drippings above. It’s Stellaria media (chickweed)…the wonder plant! I always have to be on the lookout for this little lovely plant. It self sows all along the floor of the greenhouse and if I am not watchful, often Rick will pile pots or row covering on top of it and will hinder it’s delightful and intentional march forward. He is not quite as attentive to the more ‘seedy weedy’ friends that pop up and that I find useful. I’m still training this master horticulturist on the benefits of my weed collection and its encouragement.
I have just harvested a bit of Stellaria and made an infusion to sip throughout the day. Stellaria is an amazing little plant chock full of nutrition. It’s high in chlorophyll and omega 6, as well as calcium, manganese, zinc, iron, potassium, and magnesium. It’s also very high in vitamin C, A (from carotene) and B. It is well known for its ability to cool, draw, and dissolve. It contains a soapy substance called saponins. Saponins are emulsifiers and help to increase the permeability of cellular membranes. Saponins also work at dissolving and breaking down unwanted matter. Because of this, Stellaria has been known to have an ability to combat bacteria, dissolve cysts and benign tumors, and to break down thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive system. An infusion or tea of chickweed when you have a respiratory infection with a lot of congestion can be just the thing.
Chickweed has often been used to treat eye infections due to its antibacterial constituents and is also soothing because of its cooling properties. I have used a poultice on skin irritations like bug bites or itchy rashes (poison ivy) with great results. Remember, Stellaria cools, draws, and dissolves. All properties that can coax out a stinger or draw out an infection while soothing the spot of irritation.
I’ll keep harvesting this little plant, leaving small clumps to flower and reseed. As the greenhouse temperature increases, chickweed will start to wither away. It prefers the coolness of spring. No worries, I’ll find little patches in the gardens as the ground continues to thaw and warm and my second round of harvesting will happen outdoors. I always feed handfuls of chickweed to the laying hens (what a treat!!) and to the Angora rabbit. Everyone deserves the super powerful spring tonic of Stellaria media! Look for it in your own gardens, make a tea or add it to a salve, eat the little petals in your next salad and know that this little plant is full of good and nutritious energy!

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!

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.

Economies

Picture 1807Since being home from Ireland we have been finishing up with our winter’s wood supply. We view firewood as an important economy in our household, a full shed of seasoned hardwood is like money in the bank. Better than money in the bank, I think. I like living a life that places value on commodities besides the almighty dollar. Firewood, a hefty storage of root vegetables , a pantry full of preserved foods, freezers full of meat, sourdough starter, are all considered precious assets. Let’s not forget pesto…..very ritzy! What we choose to value in life is really a choice. We may all do this differently, and that’s o.k., we certainly value personal choice. Here we not only value the things we can provide without having to spend a great deal of money, we also value time. We value our community. We value our friends. We value working at a lifestyle that allows us all to spend time together. Rick and I eat lunch together almost everyday……I love and value this. Fall is a busy time here at the nursery and farm. Securing our ‘savings’ in the way of the commodities I’ve mentioned takes time. We are always careful not too spend too much time trying to place a monetary value on the time it takes us to provide many of these things. We would probably feel pretty defeated, wondering what we are doing wrong. But then we remind ourselves that true value …….enormous, over the moon value….. can be placed also on feeling good about one’s life. We value our life, we value the freedom to make these choices, we value the energy that we have to make this life work. All of a sudden we feel incredibly rich…..and we are.