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!

Cimicifuga ramosa ‘James Compton’ still looking magnificent

Our days are shifting now. The nursery will remain open for just a few more days and then it’s by appointment through the month of October. Each garden has its signs of decay and impending dormancy. The vegetable gardens are looking tired and we are finally ready to shift our daily eating habits from fresh green beans and yellow squash to roasted beets and potato leek soup. Knitting in the evenings are more likely and a long walk in the morning is possible. The sheep are still grazing, though it won’t be long before they are brought home from their summer pasture and will switch over to their winter diet of hay and grain. As of yet, we have not had to light the woodstove, but we know those cool mornings and nippy evenings are just ahead of us. We still have a large flock of meat birds to process in October (50 or so) and about 7 cords of firewood to finish splitting and stacking. I feel like I can take time to bake bread again and dye wool and make pumpkin butter without the feeling of urgency to get back outside and weed or mow or pot plants. A change in routine is good, I do declare!
This summer, we have had a wedding to pull off, a long visit from two little kiddos with tremendous (and delightful) energy, and a fast and furious and super busy nursery season. Yup, I’m tired. I’m feeling a bit whooped. So let the shift of this Fall season begin. Let the days grow shorter, and yes, a bit darker. I’m hoping that the steps I take don’t cover ground as quickly as they do during the hay days of summer. Let there be time to pause, to collect thoughts, to establish a quieter rhythm. It’s time. How are you all feeling? Ready to let go of summer or wanting it to linger a bit longer? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this melancholy transition from summer haze to fall crispness. In the meantime, with an intention to nurture a stillness of heart, I’ll mozy out to the gardens and start pulling onions for winter storage.

There was Spinning And There Was Knitting

A week ago we had an open studio day where many showed up to practice their craft. What fun! It had rained the night before, a long generous rain which we desperately needed, but it cleared by mid-day to allow for the studio deck be a place for spinning, knitting, and drawing. I think there were at least 8 spinning wheels whirring, several knitters clicking away, and a new friend ( Hello, Boots!) working on her postcard-a-day drawings. Of course, there were snacks to keep us all well fed and hydrated!
It is often so hard for me to take a moment away from the gardens and the nursery to sit and spin wool or knit during the summer season. The studio takes a back burner during these precious growing months. Having an event like this allows for those wonderful opportunities to visit with friends and makers, share ideas and projects, and to be inspired by all the fabulous and creative talent that surrounds us here in Maine. I did not know that the little town of Jackson has a healthy band of spinners who are willing to pack up their wheels, their fiber and needles, to make their way over to Montville for an afternoon of spinning and knitting. Such a fun bunch! Two blogging friends came from miles away…loved spending time with you both, Sarah and Brenda!
So, now I know that I need to schedule another day of ‘spinning and making’! I’m thinking August. A day when the summer begs to sit on the porch with friends and share in the spirit of making.

An Afternoon Of Spinning And Making!

I am inviting any and all to join me here at Fernwood on Sunday, June 24th from 1:00 to 4:00 for a day of spinning and making. If you have a spinning wheel and want to try out some lovely Bluefaced Leicester roving, come along! ( I’ll provide the wool!) If you are a knitter, a spoon carver, a crocheter, a rug hooker, a felter, a stilt maker, bring along your craft and join us! Pack up your needles and thread, your embroidery floss, and some choice fabric and come sit out on the studio deck for an afternoon of making and sharing. I’ll provide the crackers and cheese and goodies!
I don’t want these lovely summer days to slip by without finding a moment or two to sit among the gardens and make things with friends…so come along! Sound fun? I’ll even have an extra spinning wheel avaiable if you’d like to try your hand at learning to spin. Why not?
Between now and June 24th, give a call (207)589-4726 or email fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net if you would like to join us. Rain or shine, we’ll set up outside or inside the studio. See you then!

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/

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!

Home

Home. Home to trees and fields, dirt roads, and cooler temperatures. Home to the family. Home to my friends and community.
When I arrived on Tuesday, the house was woodstove warm and welcoming. Both dogs were overjoyed that I wasn’t ( apparently) gone for good. Aah, home.
Now back to work. Winter projects on the docket. Work on the board and batting for the studio. Re-shingle the back of the house. Wool to spin and send out for the yarn CSA.
Speaking of wool, in Ireland the landscape is covered with sheep. Most are breeds suited for the conditions there, cold and wet, and most breeds are raised for meat. The market for fleece is not great and it may be difficult to find yarn made from Irish sheep. Real Irish yarn, that is. Not likely that you will find merino sheep on an Irish farm. The merino would not stand the conditions in Ireland. The breeds in Ireland tend to be a courser breed of sheep, great for rugs and weaving. The fiber in Ireland would be considered ‘carpet wool’, strong, coarse fiber truly great for weaving tapestries or rugs but often considered too scratchy for garments. But, I love wool and back in the day, even our wool here in New England was typically more scratchy than it is now. Remeber those wool snowsuits kids wore? Breed importing has improved over the last 50 years and raising sheep breeds that have soft, fine fiber, are now widely available here. Our weather in the Northeast being dryer allows us to manage with some of the finer wool breeds. Still, I personally love that old fashion course and strong wool all sweaters and socks ( and snowsuits!) were made from in year’s past. Bartlett wool and yarn from Briggs and Little are still companies that produce yarn using fleece that is a mixture of breeds, all put into a wool pool, and spun into yarn. Lots of my socks are knit with wool from Briggs and Little. I call them ‘socks that are not for the faint of heart’. They are a bit scratchy (I don’t get the heebie-jeebies from scratchy wool on my skin) and they are tough…the course wool does not pill or tear as easily after lots of use. In Ireland, I did find a shop that carried true Irish yarn ( in Donegal) and it is scratchy, but I love it. My green wool hunting pants are scratchy. My vest from Filson is a thick felted wool that is scratchy. But both are two of the warmest garments I own. The sheep we raise at Fernwood are a fairly longwool breed, soft and lustrous, beautiful wool….and warm. They are a sheep breed I find really works for all the various knitting and felting I do.They grow excellent lamb for the freezer. I’ll always buy some rough and tumble yarn for sock knitting or for that outdoor barn sweater I know will stand the test of time (and abuse). Among the other projects on the needles these days…a baby sweater, some mittens, a few scarves, there are also some hearty socks in progress, made with tough and gnarly wool, just waiting for the inevitable cold our Maine winters bring. And I know they’ll do their job!

A Few Things….

In Ireland….wear boots, always. Understand that when the sun shines, regardless of the time of day, it should be coveted and celebrated. It also reveals a brilliance that I’m not sure is experienced any where else in the world. The view is long, unlike home where the trees break up the scope of things, you can see long distances and this will make you want to put on your walking shoes (boots, remember) and start covering some ground.

Sally’s latest addition to the farm…Herdwick sheep

Around every bend there will be donkeys, and a sea of sheep, and fields and fields of grazing cattle. Horse fair are held in the middle of town and they are meant for trading. The grass, even in November when Maine farms are already tossing out hay to their critters, is green, green, green… but soggy, so as I mentioned before, you’ll want boots. The wind blows sideways ( I kinda like that) and the rain just shows up anytime it has a hankering to do so. A good rain jacket to go along with your boots is a good thing. The air smells smokey and peaty and moist. Quite nice and earthy. Learn to like tea, learn to love tea. And scones, with butter or jam, and definitely eat lots and lots of local yogurt, because that green green grass helps to grow great cows, which produces rich and tasty milk, which can be made into sweet and tangy yogurt. And butter. And cheese. And who wouldn’t travel far and wide for delicious cheese and butter?
Well,that’s really all for now….more to come, I’m sure.

Sally and her trusty companion, Frazier, laying in the green, green grass