Strapping On The Snowshoes

Trying to experience and enjoy as much winter as possible here in Maine. My brother and I made a trip over to his land in Rangley (the western part of the state) to do some hiking. It was a beautiful day, fairly warm and the sun was out. My brother, Dan, has always been an outdoor enthusiast. He puts great effort into hitting the trails here in the northeast. I’m always amazed at how much ground he covers. We don’t get enough time together, so it was lovely to spend a day catching up on the ride over and then doing something together that we both love…being in the woods! Plus, he bought me lunch!
Since then we’ve had another snow storm, about 1ft here in our area of Waldo County. A little more time for snowshoeing or strapping on the x-country skis before spring develops.
We are working on a number of classes for this season. Some are posted already, others are in the making. Are there any classes you’d like to see us offer here at Fernwood? Certain topics? We’re glad to hear suggestions. Offering classes at the nursery has been a really fun and rewarding addition for both Rick and I. Not only can we share some insight into our gardening or lifestyle choices here at the nursery, but it also gives us an opportunity to get to know our visitors. Consider taking a class here at Fernwood, come enjoy a selection of homemade scones and tea, and mingle with some fellow gardeners!

Fiber Of Maine And The Heavenly Socks Yarn Shop

My friend Helen Sahadi owns a beautiful yarn shop in Belfast, Maine called Heavenly Socks Yarn. Helen is a lifelong knitter and is passionate about fiber but also about community. Her shop is chock full of the most delicious yarn. Not just eye candy, but lovely squishy yarn that you can take home and make something wonderful out of! It’s the middle of winter, the best time to grab your needles, find a pattern (loads and loads of great patterns at Heavenly Socks Yarn store!!) and start knitting! Take a field trip to Belfast, Maine and visit Helen’s shop…it’s the best!
Helen’s latest addition to her shop is an on-line store where she features Maine yarn from Maine farms. And, guess who’s being featured this month ( February, actually)…us here at Fernwood. You can check us out and Helens great shop and work here: https://www.fiberofmaine.com/

Coffee Time Gems

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt.
Mix these dry ingredients and whisk together.
In a separate bowl add,
1 beaten egg
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 TBLS. melted butter
2 tsp. powdered espresso or powdered coffee
Combine these ingredients and whisk to dissolve coffee.
Add all at once to dry ingredients. Don’t over-beat.
Add:
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Enjoy!!!

Growing up, my Grandma, whom I adored, was always on a quest for the perfect bran muffin, the perfect coffee cake, and the perfect banana bread. She was a fine baker. A really wonderful cook. And, she was always very generous when it came to her kitchen, allowing any of us grandchildren to rifle through her cupboards, pull out her ample stash of muffin tins or bake-ware, and have a go at creating recipes. She was (and still is) my biggest inspiration in the kitchen. Not a trained chef, no top-notch culinary background, but boy could she cook! A few things I learned? Patience, accurate measuring, and always, always, select the best ingredients. Butter and good chocolate could always be found in her larder. An excellent selection of spices and herbs were lined up and sealed tightly in their glass bottles just waiting to become a pinch of this or a pinch of that. You could always count on finding buttermilk and sour cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice in her fridge.
When it came to ingredients for a recipe that we kids were determined to try or if art materials were needed to draw, sculpt or paint something, we had full access to her shelves and cupboards for supplies. Thank you, Grandma, for your grace and willingness to encourage all of us to ‘make things’. I think all of your grandchildren have a knack for creating, thanks to you! I’m still using many of her recipes. Those large index cards all hand-written and often smudged with some of the choice ingredients. I love all the side notes she added, “add a pinch of lemon zest” or “include a dollop of sour cream” or “don’t over-beat the batter”. When I am creating something, for the table or in the studio, I always think of my grandmother.
I just made these little yummy muffins the other day. Not her tried and true bran muffins but a favorite from my Gram’s recipe book. So glad I remembered them! Chock full of raisins, just the right amount of chopped walnuts, and a strong coffee flavor. Delish! Give them a try, really you should! Do you have any recipes that have been passed down from a special cook in the family?

Still Cold And Wool Is King!

We are well into a week of frigid temperatures. Our night time plummet is somewhere between -15 and -20. On a good day, like today, the sun peeks out and we become downright balmy by mid-afternoon. That’s right, an all-time high of about 5 degrees! Whoopee!!
This is not unusual weather for Maine. We experience this every year. We are glad to have a decent blanket of snow covering which helps to insulate the ground and also there is enough to shovel up against the outside of the house for extra warmth. The woodshed is still nice and full with stacks of seasoned oak, beech, and maple. The extreme cold does change how we navigate the day, however. First, it’s the layer of clothes that go on. No easy exit out the door with a slight covering, there’s a process. Here’s what my winter wardrobe looks like:
First layer: wool longjohns, top to bottom. No matter what anyone says, even if you are someone who leads expeditions into the Arctic and you wear the latest in poly-propylene, nothing keeps you warmer than wool. Just saying (and not just because I raise sheep).
Next: two pairs of wool socks. Most likely hand-knit.
Second layer: a wool sweater, then, over that, a wool felted vest ( keep your core warm!) and then my wool hunting pants.
Last layer just before you head outdoors( and quickly before you sweat to death putting all of this on while standing next to the woodstove): a light weight goose down vest ( the next best insulator to wool), a wool scarf, a down jacket, wool mitts with leather choppers, and a wool hat. Of course, boots….either Sorels or my insulated rubber boots or if it’s really, really cold ( but not wet), my hand-made Steger mukluks from Minnesota.
Now, I’m ready to face the day and all its bluster!
Also, chores do take longer in the cold. All the animals are in the barn at night, warm and cozy, but by morning they are anxious to get out, regardless of the cold. Every water bucket is frozen solid and needs to be brought indoors to thaw then turned over to break the ice out. That calls for lots of hauling and bucket swapping. Ice is chipped away from the barn doors so we can get them opened. Paths are shoveled and cleared of snow. Hay bales are tossed down from the mow, opened and then spread outdoors before the sheep go out. Grain buckets are filled. By now, the critters can hear the morning routine and are restless to go out and have their breakfast.
After chores, the daily wood supply gets hauled in from the woodshed. We use a big sled, stack the wood as high as we can, and then make several trips to the house and to any of the cabins that we heat (of course, to the studio, as well!).
Personally, I love this time of year. I enjoy being out in the cold. Let’s face it, a cup of hot tea by mid-morning is divine after you’ve come in from below zero temperatures and the hair sticking out from under your wool hat is frozen stiff! I guess I just appreciate the extremes in life!
Once all the chores are done and if we’re not spending the day cutting ( next year’s) firewood or re-glazing barn windows, I head for the studio to dye wool and felt slippers. Spring shearing is really not that far off and I have a lot of fleeces to work through before the next batch piles up.
So, what kind of things occupy your days in the dead of winter? Any good reading or winter projects you’d like to share? Do tell.
Til next time, stay warm, enjoy, and don’t forget the tea!

Buttoning Up

Many of the tasks we can’t quite get to during the growing season are now being tackled. The two little cabins are being ‘buttoned up’ with a siding of batt and boarding. The little guest cabin is done, the lights are on, and it’s a warm and toasty place to spend a wintery evening. Down through the woods, the cabin our son Noah built is getting its own finishing touches. A finished floor using some grand wide planked pine from a local mill, really beautiful! An Atlantic Kitchen model 121 woodstove has been put in, a stove we’ve had sitting around waiting for a purpose. This week we’ll design a small kitchen countertop ( a gifted piece of left-over granite countertop), a sink (a small double basin salvaged out a camper), and some storage shelves ( above and below). This is fun work for Rick and I. We love putting our heads together to utilize these small cabin spaces in both an aesthetic and efficient manner. The guest cabin is 10×12 sq. ft. Noah’s cabin is 12×12. Both cabins have a fairly roomy sleeping loft. Aside from the lumber which has been sawed at a local mill, the cabins have been outfitted using recycled or upcycled material. Windows from a friends sunroom, doors salvaged from a carpentry job that Rick had worked on, and much of the interior furnishings were collected from yard sales, roadside, friends, and second-hand stores. The Liberty Tool Company right down the road from us has been a heavily tapped source!
The cabins make a great space for visiting friends, family, or WWOOF volunteers. And, on a snowy afternoon…a great place for me to tuck away with a cup of tea and some knitting!!!

These Days

Soon, I am off to Ireland to help my friend Sally with some farm projects. We have some ‘irons in the fire’ with regards to Herdwick sheep , in addition to collecting more oral histories. I’ll be writing about this later and more than likely from ‘that side of the pond’, as they say.
In the meantime, here are a few things happening at Fernwood as we ready ourselves for the colder months ahead….
Some of the potted begonias have been brought in with hopes that I don’t kill them over the winter ( can you believe that someone who co-owns a nursery can kill a houseplant in no time at all!).
The Ray’s Calais corn has been brought in from the garden, shucked, and is now in the greenhouse for further drying. Those jewels of kernels, beautiful, yes?
The winter squash has a couple more weeks of curing and then we’ll haul them in for storage
The carmal colored Adzuki beans are now on the top of the threshing list.
Swiss chard continues to thrive and wave like a row of rainbow flags in the garden.
Playing around a bit with shorn ( uncleaned) fleeces and felting them to processed roving, the result being a ‘sheepskin without the hide’.
And, the knitting continues…

Three Kinds Of Beans

We don’t grow acres of beans, but we do grow enough to get us through the winter. Most often, we plant three types of beans for storage…Vermont Cranberry, Black Beans, and Adzuki Beans. The black beans were pulled a couple of weeks ago, their leaves had dropped and the beans themselves were fairly hard. I pulled the entire row, lashed together bundles of plant and pod and hung them in the greenhouse for further drying.
At the end of the day, we’ve been lighting a small campfire and sitting out to enjoy the evening, often having dinner by firelight. We hardly ever do this during the middle of summer, we’re so busy and tired from the day’s pace that we come inside after dark, eat, and flop into bed. Sitting by the fire, last night along with our friend Jack, who tells good stories, I shucked beans and listened to Jack talk about his travels through Europe and about growing up here in Maine in the fifties.
If we grew fields of beans we’d need a bean thresher, doing this task by hand would then be pretty impractical. Growing just enough for home use makes it possible to thresh beans by hand (preferably by a campfire, ha!), perhaps a bit tedious and time consuming but something I enjoy doing. The next batch of beans are not quite ready, we’ll leave them to dry on the vines for a while longer. Once they’re harvested, they can hang in the greenhouse until we can get to them ( before Christmas, I hope!).
The gardens here are slowly winding down. However, the broccoli is still producing lots of side shoots, the chard is tall and handsome, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and leeks are waiting to be harvested, and there are still tomatoes and peppers in the hoop house to be gathered.The winter squash is all laid out on tables curing for winter storage. A few tender late planted greens continue to provide for fresh salads and sauteing. Even now, as the weather turns and we begin preparing for those long (delightful) winter months, there continues to be plenty. Very thankful, we are. Very thankful.

In The Evening….

If I am lucky and can get myself indoors before dark, make a meal for dinner
(last night was baked winter squash stuffed with roasted garlic and cauliflower and then sprinkled with feta cheese…pretty yummy!), then get cleaned up and find a comfy chair to relax in before my eyes close, I’ll usually read or knit. Right now I am slowly progressing on a pair of baby leggings that should only take me two days to knit up but seem to be taking much longer. Hope that baby’s legs don’t grow too quickly! I am also reading an interesting book by Thor Hanson called, The Triumph Of Seeds, How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered The Plant kingdom And Shaped Human History. The reading of this book is most likely the reason I am falling short on my knitting project. I am always happy to read about seeds, to better understand their biology, and to consider their vital role in the world. I’m still fascinated by plants and their seeds….or should I say seeds and their plants? As Thor Hanson puts it ” seeds transcend that imaginary boundary we erect between the natural world and the human world, appearing so regularly in our daily lives, in so many forms, that we hardly recognize how utterly dependent we are upon them”. Right now, we are busy collecting seeds throughout the nursery for propagation. Every collection is unique, each seed designed specifically to encapsulate all of the characteristics and functions of that plant. We handle seeds daily, and still, I am fascinated by them. If you want to add a good read to your fall or winter reading list, consider Thor Hanson’s book. I think you’ll find it interesting and informative!

Please Rain!

We so desperately need rain. It was well over two weeks ago that we had a good long steady rain. Almost an inch, I think. The lack of it makes me anxious. Watering the thousands of plants we have in pots from our very amazing well does the job but during times like this, we’re always concerned about its ability to sustain itself. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the things that cause stress in our lives. I am curious about how it differs from person to person. The idea of not having enough water in our well is stressful. Water is an important commodity here at the farm/nursery. I feel a twinge of frustration every time I hear the weatherman declare “another beautiful weekend…no rain in sight”. If he’s trained in weather patterns and has at least some inkling of how important rain is to the well-being of everyone and everything, don’t you think he could use his position to encourage water conservation, comment a bit on the consequences of not getting enough rain, and stop saying, “another perfect day here in the Northeast”. No, a perfect day at this point in time ( here in the Northeast) would be to have a week of days with a good steady rain! Life is not always sunny! We don’t want life to always be sunny! The weather around the world has us all concerned for too much of a good thing ( rain is good, sun is good)…but too much heat and sun with no rain dries our crops, empties wells, and drains aquifers, and too much rain floods our communities, washes away fields of grain, and can be disruptive and destructive in itself. These weather trends are not controllable, we stand aside and learn to cope. As we well know, extreme weather patterns can be disastrous. The heroes of the day are not the sun itself or the desperate need for rain, but a balance of both. It is quite obvious that across the board the weather is out of balance. Extreme appears to be the new norm. That’s not good. My plea is that the weather folks here in the northeast stop insinuating that these endless days with no rain are perfect, just what we wanted, no rain in sight. It’s annoying.
Rick and I have been considering a new car. The old Subaru is tired. We’ve gone several times to look over a new purchase and consider upgrading to a vehicle with less than 190,000 miles on it and a working radio ( and a back window in the passenger seat that can actually still go up and down). The salesman told us that people consider buying a new car one of the most stressful things in life. Not for us. I can wander around the new car lot, look at the shiny hunks of metal, read the price tags, and then circle back to our scrubby maroon Subaru and think, ” aw, she’s not so bad” (we’ve done this three times already!). Stopping for an ice cream on the way home drowns out any inkling of stress from this car searching activity. We’re not bothered by it. Endless days of sun and unseasonably warm weather with no rain, that’s stressful. Buying a new car takes consideration, parting with our hard earned cash is a thoughtful process, no doubt. I guess our instinct and our points of concern really lie in the way we live our lives…at home, at the nursery, growing things and living in unison with the natural world and its events. It’s why a forecast of no rain doesn’t equate to “another beautiful, perfect and sunny day here in Maine”. Water. Water. Water. It is essential. It is lovely. It is beautiful. We need it. Would someone please call the folks who deliver our weather forecast and ask them to be fair in their assessment with regards to a “good day”, give rain and water its praise, please! Thank you.

My mom called this morning,”are you still writing the blog”, she asked. I think so. I’m trying. In between getting the firewood split and stacked, the last of the tomatoes harvested and preserved, the lower sheep field bush-hogged, after another fifty bales of hay are put into the loft, once the apples are picked and made into cider, “then I’ll write a blog post”, I say. I am not the least bit put off by the lengthy Fall chore list. Each beautiful autumn day is too precious to not want to be engaged in some outdoor task. Riding the tractor through a field of tall grass ( and a bit of goldenrod and aster) on a sunny afternoon….delight. Filling baskets of apples and scrutinizing the various varieties and tastes of each…joy. Knowing the freezer will be full of stewed and roasted tomatoes…comforting.
Yesterday, our friend Moe brought us some pears from his orchard. Pears are a lovely fruit, don’t you think? I’ll leave them on the table for a day or so, let them ripen some, and be happy to just look at their mottled green and tawny skin…beauty.

How about a poem? Now, for me, back to work!

Pied Beauty

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.