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!

In The Woods And In The Nursery

We just began the process of uncovering the nursery. Such a fun job after a long winter. Each time we roll back the landscape cloth we immediately inspect the condition of the plants underneath. One little Hepatica transylvanica that we’ve propagated was already in bloom. A determined little gem! It looks like most everything has come through the long winter splendidly. Always a joy and a relief to know our plants were tucked in well for the winter, undisturbed by voles, and are now ready to have their covers lifted.

Lobaria pulmonaria

While out foraging, I came across one of my favorite lichens, Lobaria pulmonaria. This lichen is an epiphytic lichen, which means it is an organism that uses another plant for structure and derives its moisture and nutrients from the rain and air but does not harm the plant it’s living on. This particular lichen is very susceptible to air pollution and will not often be found in areas where air quality is poor. Fortunately, our air quality is pretty darn good here in the woods of Maine, so I come across it quite regularly. I harvest a small amount of Lobaria for two reasons. First, for its medicinal value. I tincture this lichen for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, lingering coughs, and croup. Lobaria is an expectorant, an astringent, is an antimicrobial and a pulmonary demulcent. Having antibiotic properties it can help with bacterial infections. I tincture Lobaria and also gather a bit for drying to add along with other respiratory herbs and then use it as a tea. The other use I have for Lobaria is as a dye plant. Used fresh or dried, Lobaria gives a dark brown color to the yarn I am dying. I don’t often use a mordant ( a mordant is a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye and helps to fix it to the wool), but with the most recent collection, I will see if I can shift the color a bit using some copper or iron. Aren’t these plants just the most amazing things ever? I am very careful about leaving the bulk of a lichen undisturbed. Lichens are very slow growing and such an important part of our ecosystem that I find it best to be very thoughtful when harvesting. Not much is needed for tincture, for tea, or for a dye bath, so a very small amount is actually gathered.
Tomorrow, I may take my Lobaria pulmonaria down to the coast and set up a little fire and a dye pot. Curious as to what the salt water and all its minerals will do to alter the color. We shall see and I’ll keep you all posted on the results!
Hope where ever you are, you are feeling the strength and restorative properties of the approaching spring season. So very lovely, isn’t it?

Spring, We Can Feel It And We Can See It

It was over eighty in the greenhouse today without the heat turned on. The sun was strong. The dog lounged all day in a pile of leaves on the south side of the house. We uncovered two rows of conifers and they are so green green green and they appear happy to be unveiled. We potted up some Hepaticas and some more Bloodroot and sowed more vegetable seeds. We ate our lunch outdoors and saw our first robin return to the feeder. We didn’t have a fire in the woodstove all day. We thought about going up to John’s Ice Cream for a strawberry milkshake because it felt so deliciously warm that it made us think of spring and summer things…like milkshakes. We didn’t go because as much as we felt like sipping on a milkshake we didn’t feel like driving out through the mud and ruts that are indicative to spring and of course indicative to the other word for spring in the northeast…mud season. The sheep’s water buckets didn’t freeze overnight and the chickens were eager to get out of the henhouse and to cruise the yard for morsels. Tonight there is a possibility of light snow, perhaps a half an inch. That doesn’t mean it’s still winter and it doesn’t mean it’s not spring. This we know. We’ll stay flexible.
But today, we felt spring in our bones and we saw signs of it all around us. Glory be!
For the sake of spring, which may come and go several times before staying put..please read and enjoy this poem by Kate Barnes.

April and then May,
violets up in the field,
the ewes with their twin lambs;

time has decided
to turn into spring again
after all.

The maples are unfolding their leaves,
chives stand green at the kitchen door,
the black flies have decided to come back;
and the work mare has her new foal
capering over bluets in the pasture,
and the hall smells of daffodils;

and everything
is divinely ordinary –
the deep ruts in the field track,

the spring overflowing,
the excited swallows,
the apple trees

budding for perhaps the hundredth time –
and the pruned boughs budding too
that must bloom just where they lie.

By Kate Barnes

A Beautiful Day In March

What a delightful day! Warm and sunny and the ground squishy and oozy with mud. We walk across the strategically placed planks along the ground to duck into the greenhouse as early in the day as possible. Decadent warmth! Our bones are so happy to have heat from the sun! Aah! We so appreciate our dutiful woodstoves and the great heat they provide us throughout the winter, but I must say, our souls are sun seekers now. We are basking in the glory of vitamin D. Of course, because of our work, we are directed outdoors almost every day now. The greenhouse, the nursery, the gardens…And, as Ruth Stout said ( and I agree!) “I LOVE SPRING ANYWHERE, BUT IF I COULD CHOOSE I WOULD ALWAYS GREET IT IN A GARDEN.”

Our curious hens have found bare ground!

Hair cuts are desperately needed!


Today, we have been busy with an array of chores. Flats of seeds started, chicken coop mucked out and all the bedding deliciously tossed into the compost heap and replenished with clean shavings, a few signs were painted for the nursery season, two huge piles of brush were collected and are now ready for burning, emails were written and sent, more class postings have been added to our ‘classes and more’ page, and I was even able to put together some yummy chocolate Irish whiskey brownies. Did I already use the word decadent in this post? Let’s just apply that same word to these brownies, and then, let me share the recipe with you please.

Brownies With Irish Whiskey And Currants

1 cup hazelnuts ( I have also used walnuts)
12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup Irish Whiskey
1 1/2 currants or raisins
2 cups granulated sugar
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 unbleached all-purpose flour
Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat to 325 degrees. Spread hazelnuts (or walnuts) on the baking sheet and toast for 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool and remove skins from hazelnuts. Set aside.
Turn heat up to 350 degrees.
In a stainless steel mixing bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter. Take off heat once melted and allow to cool slightly.
In another small saucepan over low heat, heat the whiskey with the currants or raisins, stirring constantly to keep from sticking or burning. Cook until the liquid is sticky, bubbly, and reduced. About 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a bowl with an electric mixture whisk sugar, salt, and the eggs until they are mousse-like. Add flour in three batches. remove from mixer and stir in the chocolate. Stir in the currant mixture. Last, stir in the nuts. Bake in 11X17 baking dish well buttered. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until firm to the touch. Cool before serving.

Oh boy, you’re going to love, love, love these! Enjoy!

The Shift Is Here

The shift from winter to early spring comes quickly here. Not so much in temperature or the landscape, we still have a hefty blanket of snow cover, the woodstoves are still ablaze, and just this morning we were out, once again, shoveling paths and clearing the driveway. Winter still has a grip. The transition and its intensity come from the tasks that are required to be up and ready for a new nursery season when spring truly arrives. The greenhouse is seeing a flurry of activity; seeds are started, soil is being prepared, heat mats are stretched out and tested, plants lists are being scrutinized and revised (oh, the excitement of all the new goodies for the nursery this season!), we’re addressing any repairs on the infrastructure that may have been altered during the winter months ( must fix that hinge on the hoop house door!), we’re writing up our class descriptions for the spring and summer. Oh, boy, the pace is quickening! How delightful though, to feel well rested after a long and quiet winter and to now welcome and embrace the sudden burst in energy and new life emerging…how long before the winter Aconitum start pushing their bold yellow flowers through the snow, who will spot the first fuzzy catkins to open on the willows, and let us not forget the hardiness of the early Hellebores (Lenten Rose) that will flower well before their new leaves emerge? For so many of us, the transition is not simply the physical changes or demands we may experience shifting from winter to spring, but the mental awakening we feel when the sun is higher in the sky, the days are longer, and the ground though still nestled beneath its blanket of snow is sending its earthy fragrance upward. Ahh. I can feel it, I can. Excitement and anticipation. I want to tip my head toward the sun and shout “Welcome and thank you, Mr. Sun, and aren’t you something you big ol’ ball of fire!”
That’s the atmosphere here at Fernwood Nursery right now, a grateful nod of farewell to winter and with hearts and arms opened welcoming the promise of spring.

We’re ready!

Sanguinaria canadense Multi-plex

It has been a busy weekend here at Fernwood! On Saturday, we offered our ‘Early Bloomers and Ephemerals’ class. After a talk and slide show, attendees were able to walk the gardens and view the many early woodland and shade plants gracing the gardens at the moment. So nice to share time with eager gardeners wanting to learn more about those garden gems that are first to bloom here in Maine. Great fun!
The hoop house finally got its new skin. After 5 years, the poly needs replacing and we were happy to have another set of hands to help pull the plastic over and secure it. Thanks, Charles!! It’s looking pretty snazzy…like a kid in their new summer kicks!
We continue to pot up plants for the season, the nursery is well stocked with rows of both new and old selections. Opening day here is Wednesday, May 3rd. Our hours are from 9-5. Regular hours through the season will be Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Visitors can always call or email us for directions and with questions.
It is always exciting (and busy) this time of year. We are putting as many hours into the day as we can fit…”making hay while the sunshines” as they say. Hope to see you this season!
Now, why not a poem…

April Woods: Morning

Birth of color
out of night and the ground.
Luminous the gatherings
of bloodroot
newly risen, green leaf
white flower
in the sun, the dark
grown absent.

by Wendell Berry

March On!

picture-3943Have we had a few days of really, really cold temperatures lately? Brrr and yes, but the sun is high and strong and the very near future promises much warmer weather. Yeeha! So, we’ll march on through the month readying ourselves for what’s to come…..sowing seeds, turning over soil, boiling sap into maple syrup goodness.picture-4029I’m not going to squander a minute of March. Before long we’ll be doing that “sun up til sun down” thing we do every year. I’m using these last days of winter (yes, soon to be spring) to finish all the wool spinning and dyeing, all the knitting and felting, all the rummaging through boxes of family papers, all the reading (thank you Rick H. for the package of books you sent!!) I can muster before it’s too late. picture-4008This past weekend both Liberty Tool Company and Liberty Graphics opened their doors for another season. This is great for all those who travel to Maine looking for something special to bring home…like a smoothing plane, or a mortising chisel, or a really nice locally printed tee-shirt. For us locals, we wait all winter for the village to show signs of life again. After a winter of staying close to home, gathering at Liberty Graphics for a cup of coffee and a good chat is a sure sign of revitalization.
Even our chickens seem to have a pep in their step, grooming the landscape for spring morsels. Deep snow and cold temperatures keep them close to the coop until the bare ground starts appearing. Then the door is flung open and out they come, busy the rest of the day rototilling through the gardens and the woods.
Enjoy your days, peek out into the gardens, tip your face to the sun….spring’s a comin!picture-4032picture-3948

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?

If You Were Coming For Lunch…….

jpg”>Picture 182If you were coming to have lunch at Fernwood today, corn chowder is what you’d be served. Corn chowder made with garden grown frozen corn, potatoes and onions that were stored in the pantry, a bit of homemade chicken stock, fresh Jersey milk and our own smokey salt pork…… and also a lonely sweet potato that needed using up. Your choice of tea or coffee.
Picture 233Picture 190You would probably notice the dyed yarn and roving from todays project and the seedlings that are doing their best to grow strong and healthy. Picture 236The only difficulty…….would be the getting here. Yup, spring is here and the soil is warming. Did I say soil? I meant mud. Picture 235