High Summer

There is a brief window during the season when we experience a slight lull…in the gardens and in the nursery. It happens just after school lets out in late June and continues until the 4th of July weekend. We appreciate the small reprieve. The garden’s beds are planted, weeded, and looking great, the flow of customers is steady but not as busy as in May and June, there’s a calm before the ‘storm’ that the now ‘high summer’ brings. From here on in however, our pace picks up again. The nursery gets re-stocked with late season offerings and with plants that simply needed replacing from earlier sales. Now is the time we do most of our propagating for the next season, this involves collecting seed, taking cuttings, and dividing plants from the stock beds. The greenhouse is cloaked in shade cloth and a misting system gets set up ( in the greenhouse)to provide a constant and controlled amount of moisture. In the vegetable gardens, the bounty to be harvested and preserved is coming fast and furious….summer squash, cucumbers, kale, chard, greens, snow peas and shell peas, beets, and loads and loads of broccoli. Every meal is the essence of freshness, plates of homegrown chicken surrounded by steamed veggies and an extra large green salad. I begin to eye the squash patch with concern, a day of not picking could lead to one of those gigantic zucchinis or an overly bulbous yellow squash. Harvesting the squash patch becomes a secret competition between me and the cucurbits. I am determined to harvest each and everyone before I need the wheel barrow to haul them away. I’m determined to pick them when they’re small and incorporate them into meals before they roll to the back of the fridge and become wobbly. Right now I’m winning, we’re roasting squash, grilling squash, steaming squash, and using them in our favorite squash fritter recipe. So far so good. If you come for dinner more than once a week and think to yourself “squash, again?”, please don’t say it out-loud. I’m on a mission and only looking to feed ‘Team Squash’ while I’m at it. Be happy that your squash fritters include smoked Gouda and that your grilled squash wedges are peppered with a nice spicy dry rub. Eat and be happy.
It’s at this time we begin glancing forward to what’s ahead. Yes, we’ll still be harvesting and preserving well into September, our work at propagating will continue, mowing and weeding and moving sheep fence a constant until the leaves begin dropping, but there will also be firewood to bring in and hay to be gathered and stored, meat birds processed and sheep brought home. It’s not about not living in the moment or in the present (we always hope to manage this as well!), it’s about the cycle of the season and how our lives here are connected to the natural rhythms of time. We’re part of it and I like that. Well, it’s 6:30 a.m. and I must leave you now, my Patty Pan squash and Costata Romanesco zucchini have had well over 12 hours to gain inches and it’s time to rein them in!
And while out in the garden stalking the vegetable bounty….we sure are stopping to smell the flowers!

A Long Deep Furrow

Just a bit of farming being done here in our neck of the woods as we await spring and the melting of snow. Yes, we have begun sowing seeds and working out in the greenhouse, but it will be a while before the first patch of earth is turned over or we see real evidence of spring ephemerals pushing up through the ground. In the meantime, I am re-reading a favorite book of mine, A Long Deep Furrow, Three Centuries Of Farming In New England by Howard S Russell. It is an extraordinary and well-documented account of New England’s farming history, best described by Mark Lapping who wrote this in the forward:
A Long Deep Furrow will be of interest to readers and students of New England history and life, agriculture, environmental studies, and rural affairs and developments. I know of few books which so successfully integrate the elements of biogeography with socioeconomic and cultural patterns within the context of agriculture as a way of life and livelihood. Most of all, the book is a testament to the Yankees who farm the sides of mountains, take gambles on weather and markets like a pack of riverboat cardsharps, and who consistently fly in the face of the “conventional wisdom” which says there is no New England agriculture”.
Aside from this book being a fascinating look into the very beginnings of agriculture and farming in New England, it is especially endearing to me because the diary of my own ancestor, Thomas Minor, was used as a reference.
If you are looking for something to sink your gardening/farming minds into while we await spring and a new season of growth, consider A Long Deep Furrow , I think you’ll like it!

There is still snow on the ground (you think?). Our nights are still rather cold. Daytime temperatures are vacillating between giving into spring and keeping a determined hold on winter. Fickle.
I feel anxious during the month of March. On one hand, we are kept at bay from the chores we know are creeping upon us, the cold and snow make many advances impossible.Yet, still, we have to stay in step with time, moving forward regardless of weather variables. Peppers, leeks, onions, herbs, and eggplant need to be sown early in order to have a long growing season out in front of them. We stoke the wood fire, then run out to make sure the greenhouse is not getting too warm. We make another pot of soup using the stored winter squash but crave fresh greens. Long johns? No long johns? Pull the taps on the maple trees or leave them for another week or so? Like I said, this all makes me anxious. One foot is still firmly planted in winter and the other is stretching out looking for the warm, squishy ground of spring. I like my months to be well defined, and yet, I should know by now, the month of March doesn’t play very fair. March is fickle. March is indecisive. March is wishy washy. I have no choice but to muddle through. Today we worked again in the greenhouse potting up some Hepaticas, Shortia uniflora, and Erythronium japonicum. They had been putting on too much growth in their winter storage and so we decided to pot them up. There are others of these same plants, tucked undercover and still dormant, showing no signs of growth.They will remain until the snow is gone and we uncover the nursery rows for the season.
In the meantime, I will work through my restlessness and be grateful for all the good and wonderful things that make up our days….a little of this and a little of that among the tug of seasons.

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

More Gathering

picture-3596More gathering of seeds happening here. What a selection. Each plant has a unique seed design….texture, shape, color, as well as specific propagation requirements. Such incredible diversity. Here are a few we collected most recently:picture-3597picture-3600

One Of The Most Important Things I’ll Ever Ask Of You On This Blog…….

Please find a way to watch this film, SEED The Untold Story. It will be shown here in Maine at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. Their week-long run begins on Friday, September 16th. (Showtimes to be announced.) Check out Railroad Square Theater for more info. If you live elsewhere, please visit this site: http://www.seedthemovie.com/ to find screenings in your area. You can watch a clip of the film by going here: https://vimeo.com/97882647
As 94% of our vegetable seed varieties have been lost, as seed diversity which is essential to the health and well-being of our planet becomes increasingly threatened, as we struggle to feed the growing numbers of humans and animals that reside on this planet, it is crucial that all people understand what is happening to our traditional seed sources. Look for cinemas or venues that will be showing this film….please. We will be in Waterville, Maine on Friday night watching and supporting this production. Please take the time to watch this film…. its message is so dearly important to all of us.

Fall Whirlwind

Tarragon....another Fall chore , drying herbs from the garden

Tarragon….another Fall chore , drying herbs from the garden

Once September rolls around, I have it in my mind that the chores, tasks, and the ‘goings on’ here at the nursery will calm a bit. Not so. It never does, and you’d think by now I would remember this. Fall is busy. We remain open through September and then by appointment in October. Customers continue to roll in, making end of the season selections for next year’s garden. We are collecting seeds and propagating, as well as dividing the plants that need it.The vegetable gardens are bursting. It has been a fantastic tomato year, we pick daily crates of tomatoes which are brought in for preserving. Today, I will start another succession of greens….lettuces, spinach, and tatsoi, for the hoop house. We’ll have meat birds to process later in the season, firewood is always on the list, and the small WWOOF cabin we built needs some finishing touches. For help these days, we have Molly, a senior student from College Of The Atlantic (here in Maine) doing a 3-month internship with us. Molly grew up here in our neck of the woods and has spent most of her life lobstering with her Dad….she is not at all unfamiliar with hard work. I think, however, she’s glad to be free of filling bait bags for a while.
This past weekend I was in Eastport for the Salmon Festival as a fiber vendor. This coming weekend is Fiber College in Searsport Maine. My friend Sally will be there teaching a class in paper mache elves and I’ll be assisting her in the class. Fall is certainly busy…always a little melancholy for me as the days go by. What feelings does the Fall bring to you? Are you ready for the end of summer?

Oh, For The Love Of Soil

Over the last couple of days, I have been reseeding areas for the next crop succession. This means pulling some of the spent vegetation of earlier crops, like spinach and tatsoi, and replanting it. The very last of the dark green leaves of spinach are harvested, blanched, and tucked away into the deep freeze. Before the next food crop goes in, however, I amend and loosen the soil. Once again, my hands plunge into the dark silky soil. I work my way up the row, turning and sifting, adding a good measure of well-rotted compost and sheep manure. How many times have I heard myself say ” grow good soil, grow good soil”. As I pull that last bunch of tatsoi, I thank our fine rich garden soil, for I know, it has provided the food for our food. It is the basis for all of what we do here. It should be praised accordingly. And don’t I just love the feel of soil…should I even dare mar this perfect canvas of earth? Does it really need a seed or small seedling to make it more beautiful…no, I don’t think so. I know that down below every display of greenery, the soil is there quietly doing its thing. It’s wonderous and amazing life giving thing…oh, for the love of soil!

And to further praise the endearing qualities of soil, here is a poem written by Wendell Berry…

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

Our Days Now

Picture 2392Our days now are spent tending to both the needs of winter and the needs of spring. We’re still hauling in firewood, and feeling the need to warm ourselves with hot tea and homemade broth. Somedays we are still putting a layer of long underwear on beneath our work clothes. The water buckets for the sheep and chickens are often still frozen in the morning. We are, however, for the most part without snow. Plants like winter aconite have pushed through the thawing ground and have blooms ready to open. Small, bright yellow flowers, just what we need to bring warmth to the landscape! Already the chickweed (Stellaria media) is starting to come up and spread along the ground in the greenhouse. This is great because I will pick it for salads, tea, and make a tincture with some – (More on this later).

Xanthoria parietina

Xanthoria parietina

I recently collected some lichen for wool dyeing. A jar of Xanthoria parietina sits soaking in a mixture of ammonia and water, fermenting nicely.Picture 2405 In about three months or so, I will have the makings of a nice dye bath. I’ll keep you posted as the process moves along. Whether I am making tinctures, salves, or a concoction to be used for dyeing wool, I love this chance to be a ‘kitchen chemist’. A very basic ‘kitchen chemist’ that is, but with wonderful results that improve our health, nutrition, and can bring wonderful color to a skein of yarn. Speaking of yarn, the last package for our winter yarn CSA will go out this month. It’s been fun putting together the skeins of yarn, choosing patterns, and including a snapshot of one of our lovely sheep. We’ll surely be offering this again.
A warm weekend coming up, a few new lambing pens need to be built and another wall boarded in the studio. Maybe one of the giant brush piles can be burned. What sorts of things are people doing to ready themselves for spring? Any new gardening projects on the ‘to do’ list? We’d love to hear.

Amazed

Picture 998Yesterday I was planting another succession of lettuce and greens in the vegetable garden. We do this throughout the season to ensure an ongoing crop. There I was squatting down in the dirt, after having made another long furrow, and ready to carefully set each tiny seed in its place. Have you ever considered how tiny one lettuce seed is? How about carrot seeds? They’re so tiny they can be annoying. We all know that thinning carrots is a result of how tiny those seeds are, and how difficult it can be to space them far enough apart. Yes, I know you can buy the pelleted form, but I never do. Back to my lettuce planting. I looked carefully at one of the small oblong ‘Bronze Arrowhead Oakleaf’ seeds I was about to put into the ground. Wow! This one tiny seed is going to grow into one harvestable, edible , lettuce plant. This will feed us. This one plant will make a salad for someone. This one tiny seed will be covered with a bit of nutrient rich soil, patted down, watered, and will eventually crack open, sprout, and begin growing into food!!!!! I just want you all to know, I have been growing vegetables for over thirty years now (not counting my childhood farm and gardening years), and I am still in awe of a seed’s amazing and miraculous ability to germinate and grow into a plant. I love this feeling ( even after all these years) of being stunned, of being in awe, of being surprised, and also humbled, by this natural world. I love that after all of these years, as an adult woman with many, many, seasons of lettuce planting under her belt, that I can still be brought to my knees by the potential of a single seed. The power of seeds, truly amazing! Farming, being a grower of plants, may not bring you monetary richness, but it sure does offer up gratitude on a daily basis!

The Man Born to Farming

The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?
-Wendell Berry