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.

Snow For Your Valentine

A little more snow, a little more shoveling. We have not tired of it yet, but because the table is now covered with seed catalogs and lists of plants we’ve propagated for the coming season, we are feeling mindful of spring and the promise it brings. Next week, many of the classes we will offer in 2019 will be posted. I know that a hypertufa class will start the season off, I’m thinking April. For those wanting to sculpt some pots and have them cured and ready for planting, this is the class for you!
I have been spending lots of time in the studio, hoping to have some full baskets of handspun yarn to offer knitters this season. And just think, sheep shearing is right around the corner! More wool on its way!
I am including a photo of some socks I made from old sweaters and have now come to the point of needing repair. I really plan on getting the most out of the clothes I wear! Don’t discard…re-make, up-cycle, repair, mend, and patch, I say.

And, why not a poem to celebrate Valentines Day. Enjoy!

To have without holding
BY MARGE PIERCY

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch ; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.

Fire And Ice


This past weekend was the annual youth fishing derby at the lake ( St. George). I volunteered to haul over a carload of # 10 cans, several spatulas, and a few crates of dry kindling to help kids learn to build a fire and cook their own food. It was so fun! The ice fishing derby is a great mid-winter event created to encourage kids and their families to get out and ENJOY winter. A whole day of winter fun! Kids (and adults!) could try their hand at drilling a hole through the ice and ice fishing, they could put on a pair of the skates or strap on the snowshoes that were provided, or borrow the sleds to use, or take a ride around the lake on a snowmobile, they could even crawl inside an igloo. My contribution (along with my much-appreciated Fernwood helpers) was to set up a “Hobo cookout’ using # 10 cans as individual stoves and to teach kids how to cook on them. Please picture in your mind a bunch of kids in a large area looking out over the lake scattered with large # 10 cans and small ‘kid constructed’ piles of tinder and dry twigs and boxes of ‘strike anywhere’ matches and plates piled high with hamburgers, hot dogs, and rolls. Now you have an image of how things looked. Here’s the really fun and great thing about teaching kids to build a fire outdoors in the middle of winter and letting them grill their own lunch; All of a sudden, despite any past finicky behavior about food, they will now eat almost anything. They are so proud of this basic skill…make fire, cook meat… that they forget about any picky tendencies. I watched one very slight girl cook and eat 6 hotdogs ( no bun, straight off the stick), I saw several hot dogs roll off the stoves and hit the ground, picking up a slight coating of vegetative matter, only to be quickly wiped off with a wet and grimy mitten for further cooking, then eaten. Many of the cooks charred their dogs to the point of oblivion, no bother, they ate those too. Hamburgers were flipped onto the ground, over-cooked, undercooked, and then happily eaten smothered in ketchup using a wooden shingle as a plate. One boy did touch the top of his stove without wearing his gloves and burned a finger, teared up for a minute, plunged his hand in the snow for relief, and then continued cooking his burger to perfection with the other hand. Bravo! All of this great fun happened because a community recognized the importance of getting outdoors, learning seasonal skills and craft, as well as providing an opportunity to embrace winter here in Maine. The event was also free for everyone… burgers, hot dogs, chili, soup, and baked goods were all donated and also free, all day. The big barn on the property was open and heated with a big wood stove, inside were posters and booklets about fish species, lake habitat, animal tracking guides, and ice fishing rules and regulations. Large pots of hot chocolate, coffee, and tea were on standby for anybody needing a warm drink. Community is essential to all of this. I am so proud to live in a place where we celebrate the beauty and opportunity provided by our landscape and to gather, one and all, to have fun and share knowledge and experience. As you can probably surmise, it was a good day! Oh, and check out some of the beauties kids caught throughout the day ( picture above)…not bad, heh?

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.

A Day Of Fishing

‘Ice Camp’

Our fishing neighbors 1/4 mile down the ice

The way to spend a birthday here in Maine during the month of January, when the temperatures are low and the lake is good and frozen and the brook trout and salmon are hungry for baitfish and you have a family(extended family included!) who are gung-ho for winter adventure, is to gather a sled and fill it with ice fishing traps and cast iron cookware and fresh eggs and bacon and a birthday cake and even a bit of champagne, and the wilderness tent with wood stove, and head out early to get a good spot on the ice. Then, everyone takes a job to get ‘camp’ set up, holes drilled, traps set, and bacon frying.

Odyn, the ‘ bacon fryer extraordinaire’

Best to throw in an enthusiastic 5-year-old who can endure a full day out on the ice (with glee and not one complaint of being cold or bored, by the way) to pull and whip around in a sled, to help pull the line up when a fish bites, and to cook the extra bacon strips on his home-made Hobo stove using a # 10 can. He ate everything he cooked, including one of the bait fish he decided to fry up as well. Already a well equipped outdoorsman, this one. Bravo, little friend!
That’s the very best way to enjoy not just a birthday with people you love but to embrace this beautiful state we live in and the wonderful outdoors.

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!

Hay (Hey) Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Yes, as I was out throwing hay to our flock of woolies they did seem to be commenting on the briskness of the day! The chore of covering the nursery was completed in just the nick of time. Whew! Today, (Sunday) after our first snow of the season, the sun is out and the temperature hovers around 30 degrees. Not so bad, not so bad. A good day for wood splitting, a little deer tracking ( without the rifle today…Sunday), and some knitting. I am scurrying to finish a pair of wool socks as requested by our son, Noah. His birthday just past and since he’s not here on his home turf at the moment, a box of goodies that remind him of his roots was what he ‘wished’ for… a case of Moxie, some homemade whoopie pies, and a new pair of hand-knit wool socks. As one might say, there’s no taking the country…or the love of home…out of this boy.
So that’s our day here, perhaps I’ll end it with a cup of earl grey tea and some almond biscotti. Fireside, that is!

As The Weather Turns…

The heat seems to have subsided. I think we are all thankful. I know the gardens are thankful. I am not convinced that New Englanders, particularly northern New Englanders, are built for hot and humid weather. After a winter of 20 below and a snow that lasts until mid-April, we are often heard making reference to the ‘hot and hazy days of summer’. We make these comments as if we can’t wait for the near 100 degree days, as if we’ll all lie bare and prostrate into the beating sun and love it. This isn’t quite the reality or our response to the baking sun. Once those brutally hot days appear, once the thermometer readings travel into the nineties, we start moaning. We whine and then comment on places like Texas and Arizona, “how do they stand it”, we say. It scares us. It is way out of our comfort. We complain. Most people in Maine don’t have air conditioning. Most will still roll their windows down while driving to capture a breeze before they would ever consider turning on the AC. I’m not sure if our Subaru even has air conditioning. I know the old 1-ton dump truck we drive doesn’t, it has windows you actually have to roll up or down. Very old fashion.
Since the humidity has passed, Maine people are smiling more now. We have resumed the spring in our step. We’re back to our old selves.
So, yes, the days are shortening and the temperatures are cooling. The weather is tolerable. We still may get some Indian summer days when the temps rise, but they probably won’t be so oppressive. We’ll welcome the continuation of sunshine and gentle warmth. The worst of the heat is probably over so we’ll stop being babies and get back to facing our days without complaint. Afterall, we still have tomatoes to ripen and the eggplants wait for the deep heat to grow plump and turn that amazing hue of purple. The winter squash is relying on a long growing season to mature before harvest. The second cut of hay still needs cutting and days of good drying. And, we don’t have all of our firewood split and stacked into the woodshed yet. Yesterday, after collecting seed and working on propagation in the greenhouse, we did manage to haul some firewood as well. Cooler days will soon turn to colder days!
Certainly, everyone is familiar with the quote from Mark Twain, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
Luckily, this ‘wait a few minutes’ for the scorching heat to pass us by has come and we are feeling relief here in the northeast. Thank goodness!!