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!

Cold Enough

Once the nursery season is officially over, we wait for the temperatures to be consistently cold in order to cover plants in the retail and stock area. This is somewhat tricky on account of the fluctuating weather we may experience in the fall here in Maine. Many of the plants we over-winter are lined up and then covered in a specially designed winter ‘blanket’. Our ideal is to have the plants freeze and remain frozen, it’s the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw that we’re most concerned about.

Still Green! Epimedium colchicum and Adiantum venustum

Our mission is to protect the roots of the plants. Because some of the plants will remain in their pots and not in the ground, the roots are vulnerable and susceptible to damage if left without protection. Therefore, more care and consideration is needed. Our annual ‘covering of the pots’ truly marks the end of our growing season, the last big chore in the nursery. Of course, we also have a tremendous amount of plants that are over-wintered in growing beds, these don’t require any extra defense and will rely on the earth (and hopefully good snow cover) to protect them. A patch-work of fall-related chores here at Fernwood as we welcome the winter season…we’ve processed this year’s supply of meat birds, the root vegetables are snug in the root cellar, and the firewood is (almost) all stacked in the woodshed. Hip Hip Hooray!
Oh, and bread making! Regardless of the season, there is breadmaking!

Gifted

These are the remains of a sewing basket that belonged to a dear and special friend of mine. Her name was Alva. She hemmed all of her own pants and fixed the holes in all of her older brothers work clothes. The last brother was Charles but everyone called him Peanut. She never married and she outlived them all. She sat on Saturday evenings in an old rocker who’s cushion was pieced together with collected remnants of cloth and she watched (religiously) the re-runs of the Lawrence Welk Show. She had also outlived her teeth, but her smile was the best most honest grin of anyone I knew. Her favorite foods were 35 cent ice cream sandwiches, fresh strawberries, and cream of wheat. She was kind, undemanding, and enjoyed life. She carried a huge old fashion pocketbook that was filled with essential things, like safety pins, and matches, and small notebooks for recording important information. She tucked a small wad of Kleenex up her sleeve just like my grandmother did. She remembered the dates of birthdays and deaths and weddings but never learned to drive, didn’t own a microwave, had never traveled out of the state of Maine, and didn’t own a cell phone. She wore two headscarves, one on top of the other…I don’t know why. When I sort through her little sewing basket, carefully and tenderly examining each little trinket, each little needle case, each little prize, I smile and feel glad and sad and privileged. Perhaps the thread will be used to make baby Violet a new pair of leggings. The fabric pieces will patch a pair of holey jeans. I’ll sharpen the scissors and line up her collection of thimbles on the sewing table. Maybe I’ll sit quietly in the evening, hand sewing and eat ice cream sandwiches.

The Month Of April At Fernwood Nursery

It doesn’t matter that after a long day of potting in the greenhouse we sat with cups of tea and looked out at this…We are confident that any emerging plants are hearty enough to weather a little snow falling on them. The ground is warming and many plants are now able to utilize the water that’s being absorbed into the ground. This snow will melt quickly and provide some extra moisture for their new and rapid growth. No worries. It is the potential frigid temperatures we worry about, especially after new growth has started.
As you can tell, our pup Lucky finds that the greenhouse (at 88 degrees) is the perfect place for an afternoon nap. I must admit, that deep warmth does feel awfully good! Some early greens are on hold for just a bit longer before being transplanted into the hoop house. Of course, my favorite early green, tatsoi, will be the first to sink its roots into the warm hoop house soil. I wrote a post about tatsoi last year and you can read about it here if you would like. I can’t wait to be harvesting our very first bunches of this nutrient-rich green. The best!

tatsoi


The onions are coming along and the peppers and tomatoes are developing their first ‘true’ leaves which will provide them with an ability to photosynthesize. As many of you know, the first little leaves to appear are cotyledons or ‘seed leaves’. These are actually part of the seed and they provide a food source for the sprouting seedling.
During this time of year, we use the greenhouse for potting some of the plants that will go into the nursery this season, for sowing seeds that have been in winter storage, and for starting vegetable seedlings. It’s filling fast! Its a precarious time of year. The snow may fall, we are still walking planks that we’ve set down along the paths to the woodshed and the studio to keep from sinking into mud, and on some days all of the windows and doors in the greenhouse must be opened to keep it from getting too hot! April really does have a flavor of at least two seasons mixed into one month! We are so looking forward to our doors opening in the first of May… yet another nursery season! So many great plant selections, old and new. Some great classes scheduled (check here) and some in the works and waiting to be posted. A really fun and skilled based class on mending clothes is scheduled for April 22nd. A fine young textile artist will be on site to teach both traditional and sashiko mending methods. I’ll post this class in the upcoming week! Until then, enjoy this lovely (and somewhat unpredictable) April!

And Again The Tempertature Dips

Once again we have been out covering rows of late harvested vegetables. Kale, swiss chard, broccoli, turnip, beets, and a bit more winter squash…..and even some peppers which continue to flourish in the large cold frames. The last of the hot peppers have been picked, then ground with vinegar and horseradish and made into hot sauce. The hoop house gets closed up to protect the salad greens and Fall spinach. A bit more cilantro and some radishes which are growing under cover, and late planted chard, are enveloped in remay (along with the last tomato plants in the hoop house, that we let hang on). I have to confess that we become truly energized by the somewhat urgent foraging, last minute harvesting, and collecting that goes on right now. Winter is around the corner, and the growing season will soon be behind us. Gathering the last of this year’s bounty becomes significant. Firewood is assessed. The freezers checked. Has the gas company been called to fill the L.P. tanks? Is hay storage accounted for? Do we have enough butter? A bulk supply of flour and oats? Rice and beans? These are the things we consider just before we head into winter. We are well aware of the seasonal shift. Sooner than we think we will be blanketed in a cover of snow. That’s o.k. We know how to be prepared for the long months of winter. We have enough food, we can entertain ourselves well, and the temporary lack of daylight doesn’t phase us. All of the chores that we hurry to complete are a part of that preparation. We feel confident in knowing that we have been part of this routine for a very long time and have learned from experience. It’s been a long time since we worried about the wood supply running out before the end of winter, and we know the uncomfortable feeling of counting hay bales in March, hoping they’ll last until the pastures green up. One learns these things from years and years of doing, and also by a few mishaps. Second cut hay is at a premium come late March or April, so falling short can be a lesson well learned. We all do have to learn these things and the past stings of ‘falling short’ are good reminders. As the winter months draw near, we write a check list and consult it daily ( I think the winter check list actually gets written sometime back in June). We know we’re at the tail end of the seasons that allow us to grow our food and stock up. Things are changing fast. Soon the sheep will be brought home to their winter pasture, and a light goes on in the chicken coop to create extended daylight. Now, morning at the breakfast table begins in darkness, and by the time you’ve finished your second cup of coffee, the sun is up. We take great care and interest in preparing for the cold and dark months of winter. We feel truly engaged and alive ( thoughtful) in the process of doing so. We know that our forefathers had a much more critical dependency on preparing for winter, but I think the imprint to do so is still ingrained. We’re glad for this. We know where to look for guidence and counsel. It is not lost. These traditions and skills are still accessable along with the desire and commitment of living sustainably.There is still the instinct to take care of oneself, one’s family, one’s community. We know this. We practice this approach to living. And thank goodness it is still there to be retrieved and brought forward, to apply to our daily way of living, even in today’s world….especially in today’s world. I think it matters as much now than it ever could. We really feel this way. So out we go, just before dark, to cover those last bits of garden bounty. To honor the good and hard work of growing one’s own food. To be mindful of the ways we prepare and ready our household with all the things it needs to manage through the winter months. Living this way is not a burden, it is hard work, but we choose it and know in our hearts why we do. There is tremendous gratitude and a good sense of accomplishment in doing so. Beside, your own homegrown beets,roasted with garlic and onions, along with some home pressed cider to wash it down with, can taste pretty darn good come February.