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?

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!

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.

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!

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/