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!

My Dad And His Bluebirds

Last week, during a time when the weather seemed ‘unfit for man nor beast’ and while Rick was working on reglazing some barn windows…working inside the barn not out… two bluebirds showed up to feed on the dead flies trapped along the window sill. Bluebirds! Yes, really, a pair of bluebirds! Well, this is odd and it meant two things. First, call George. George is the retired vet in our area and also an avid birder. George is the only other person we know besides my father who has a great love and appreciation for bluebirds. When my dad was alive he and George would often consult one another with regard to the comings and goings of the bluebirds. This was great for my dad, (who by the way also wore the covers off of every sequel to ‘All Creatures Great And Small’), and his being able to converse with someone who was a vet and also kept track of this areas bluebird migration.

George filled us in on some of the habits of bluebirds and then (secondly) we did some research of our own. My dad would be very happy to know we did this.
So, bluebirds don’t always migrate. When they do leave the frozen northeast, they head for places as far as Texas but may only travel as far as they need to find a food source. Their winter fare is mostly berries. It is true that some hardy bluebirds do brave the winter here, apparently making their way through by eating berries and fruit from various trees and shrubs. They’ll also feast on dead and frozen bugs, like the bluebirds who were eating frozen flies along the window sill at the farm. Not an easy choice I would say, but not as uncommon as you’d think. When not nesting they move in flocks and beginning in the Fall, these groups of bluebirds start meandering south following food sources. But, some do stay. At least these two did. In the winter, if they remain in a frigid climate, like Maine, they will find shelter in a hollow tree. Often as many birds that can fit inside that hollow will do so creating warmth in numbers. Unfortunately, there has been a significant decline in bluebird populations over the last several decades. Most of this is due to habitat loss, insecticides, and the introduction of starlings and house sparrows that out-compete them for food and shelter. This makes me even prouder of my Dad ( and you, too, George!) for taking such an interest in the well being of our bluebird population.

When my Dad passed away, my mom forwarded some of his books to me. Mostly because my dad and I loved many of the same things…nature, farming, and food ( he was known to drive 100’s of miles for a good piece of pie…who wouldn’t!). In one of the books that was passed along, ‘Song And Garden Birds Of North America’ I found pages of my Dad’s bluebird notes folded up in the back. He had been tracking the bluebirds (and building them boxes) since 1966! His last entry was 2002, just two years before he passed away. I love that my dad did this, I love seeing his carefully handwritten notes, excerpts like “A pair of Bluebirds arrived, they did not nest until April 2nd or 3rd. The female laid a clutch of five eggs”. This was written in 1971. On another account, in 1969, he wrote this “A pair of Bluebirds arrived and soon nested in the same bird box of previous years. Also, I noticed the presence of a house wren. Which seem to be a menace to the bluebirds. By the sound advice of a friend, Mrs.Trudy Smith, who is quite familiar with all birds, I netted the female house wren who had nested in one of the bluebird boxes. With somewhat of a struggle, I might add. Mrs. Smith then took the house wren, banded it, and took it to the Harkness Estate in Waterford.The bluebirds had two eggs in the box at the time of the house wren departure. The female bluebird has been in the nest two days. So I think she may have laid a clutch of four eggs”.

In honor of my Dad and all other bird watchers, we’ll keep a close eye on the two bluebirds that have stayed. We’ll hope that they brave the winter so that this spring when the first hatch of insects descends upon us, they’ll be swooping through the fields having their fill.
In addition, consider checking out this site: http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/
Perhaps you have the perfect location for some nesting boxes or maybe you’d just like to find out a little more about those birds my Dad so carefully thought of throughout his years.

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!

A Gal From Texas Comes To Maine

Howdy from Texas! My name is Anna Guillory and I’m a WWOOF volunteer (what’s WWOOF? Check that out here!) who has spent the last ten days at Fernwood Nursery with my lovely, lovely hosts, Denise and Rick. I recently graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in Art Education. I wanted to take the time to WWOOF the summer before starting a job teaching high school art and I decided that Fernwood was the right fit. I first heard about WWOOFing from my cousin at the disinterested age of 14 and never thought I’d be doing it now. Through school, I became interested in learning about sustainable living and organic gardening and I was making artwork centered around these ideas. I thought WWOOFing would be a good way for me to inform myself as an artist, as well as bringing back some insights to my future classroom and students. Increasing one’s knowledge of gardening, the biology of plants, and how things grow, etc. can often give us a much better understanding of how we look at things in the world. My WWOOF experience has helped accomplish this and being here at Fernwood has inspired me to look at things in the natural world more closely. I found Fernwood Nursery back in March when their WWOOF site had posted that they were looking for volunteers. Being an artist, I was really interested in how Denise works with her sheep. Fibers and textiles are something I have always wanted to learn more about, and I was equally interested in the farm and nursery aspect. It was a win-win! I’ve heard beautiful things about Maine, and wanted to see another part of the States. All that being said, it has blown me away! Aside from my interests in coming to learn and experience farming, it has been an incredibly healing place for me to be before beginning a new season of life after college. Working with Denise and Rick and learning from them, as well as just being on their property, has grounded me and been a rejuvenating experience. I had almost thought I wasn’t going to be able to come to Maine but Denise and Rick were flexible with my change in dates, and have proven to be ever too generous with my needs. I’m glad to know they will always be people I can count on and available to me. Denise asked if I would write 10 things I’ve learned during my stay. If you do the math right, that’s one thing a day, but I know there are many more things I could list and I am certain I will only continue to build upon them after returning to my life in Texas.There are also some photos included of some great outings and projects, so enjoy!

Ten things:

1.Ephemeral plants bloom in early spring and often go dormant in the late summer months ( this I did not know!!)

2.How to make a hyper-tufa vessel ( I’ll be carrying a mini hyper-tufa vessel home with me, yee ha!)

3.Weeds can be edible ( like purslane and lamb’s quarters and chickweed!!) and super good for you!!

4.How to make Beet and Fruit Kvass ( yum, yum, thank you, wise woman, Liz!!)

5.How to make lemon balm pesto with freshly picked garlic scapes

6.Felting with wool from Denise’s Blue Face Leicester sheep

7.Skirting a fleece

8.The importance of seed saving ! (oh my, how very, very important! I watched this while at Fernwood, SEED: The Untold Story)

9.What a hula-hoe is and how to use it ( and boy did I use it!)

10.Not all flying things ( bugs) are harmful, only some. (and only if you develop a phobia and run like the dickens to escape them)<

In addition, while here in Maine, I also traveled to Rogues Bluff with a Teardrop trailer, hiked a local trail (Haystack mountain) and picked wild blueberries, learned to shingle an outbuilding on the farm, learned some plant propagation techniques, harvested vegetables and herbs, and had the pleasure of mingling with some of the local community and to discover how welcoming and friendly Maine people are!
Now back to Texas where I’ll be certainly pondering all the wonderful experiences and things I learned during my time in Maine. My wish is to call upon all of the valuable lessons learned from my WWOOF experience and to apply them as best and often as I can in my life back in Texas. Have a great summer, my Maine friends!

A trip Downeast for a picnic with the teardrop trailer!

A super yummy picnic, that is!!

A hike up Haystack just a mile from Fernwood!

This Old Dog….

This is Miller. Our big loveable and loyal lab. Miller loves people. He’s our nursery greeter…happy for a pat and a belly scratch. He’ll gladly follow you around as you look over the plants in the nursery rows or as you roam the display beds. When we weed the gardens, he likes to be close, often laying right beside us. When we get up to empty our weed buckets, he’ll follow along. Miller has dedicated himself to being a constant companion. Johnny on the spot. Our very reliable sidekick. This year Miller is showing his age ( he’s 10). He tires more quickly on walks now. He sleeps more soundly than he ever has and he can no longer make the jump into the pick-up by himself. We keep a hay bale nearby so that he can use it as a step up into the truck. He doesn’t mind that his old body can’t leap up into the truck or that he can’t run fast anymore, he’s just always happy to be with us. He has always been our goofy, happy-go-lucky dog. That’s Miller.
This year, however, Miller has decided that he feels uncertain about other dogs coming to the nursery. We’re not sure if it’s because he can’t see as well or if being less able has left him feeling a bit vulnerable. We’ve never allowed visitors to let their dogs out at the nursery, even if they have a leash. It’s just not something we’ve ever felt comfortable with. Now, with Miller getting older and feeling less steady on his feet ( and less mentally alert), we thought it might be a good time remind customers about our dog policy. If you are traveling with your pup in the car and you do come to the nursery, please leave them in the car as you shop or walk around. We have a nice very shady parking spot up near the nursery and with the windows rolled down, it should be quite comfortable. If your dog needs water ( we’ll happily get you some!) or needs to get out and relieve themselves, there are plenty of spots to let your dog out just down the road a piece ( away from the nursery).
We and good Ol’ Miller really appreciate your understanding and consideration, the nursery is certainly a place we want people to feel welcome, but we’re trying to give Miller a sense of comfort as he enters old age. Thank you and we hope to visit with you this summer!

We’re ready!

Sanguinaria canadense Multi-plex

It has been a busy weekend here at Fernwood! On Saturday, we offered our ‘Early Bloomers and Ephemerals’ class. After a talk and slide show, attendees were able to walk the gardens and view the many early woodland and shade plants gracing the gardens at the moment. So nice to share time with eager gardeners wanting to learn more about those garden gems that are first to bloom here in Maine. Great fun!
The hoop house finally got its new skin. After 5 years, the poly needs replacing and we were happy to have another set of hands to help pull the plastic over and secure it. Thanks, Charles!! It’s looking pretty snazzy…like a kid in their new summer kicks!
We continue to pot up plants for the season, the nursery is well stocked with rows of both new and old selections. Opening day here is Wednesday, May 3rd. Our hours are from 9-5. Regular hours through the season will be Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Visitors can always call or email us for directions and with questions.
It is always exciting (and busy) this time of year. We are putting as many hours into the day as we can fit…”making hay while the sunshines” as they say. Hope to see you this season!
Now, why not a poem…

April Woods: Morning

Birth of color
out of night and the ground.
Luminous the gatherings
of bloodroot
newly risen, green leaf
white flower
in the sun, the dark
grown absent.

by Wendell Berry

Gifted…

Yesterday afternoon we had some visitors, Leslie Moore and her husband arrived in our dooryard and presented us with this….
The most lovely ( wow!) linocut done by Leslie herself, this particular image inspired by one of our very own ewes standing in the barn doorway while contemplating the wintery weather…
Please check out Leslie’s website! Once I began looking at Leslie’s art work and her most beautiful linocuts, I felt even more inspired by her craft. Amazing! I especially loved her Chiaroscuro Linocut called Saving Nails. Once you’ve visited Leslie’s site, be sure to go to her blog to see a wonderful sampling of her work!
Also, if you live in the area, you can see Leslie’s work in person at Waterfall Arts upcoming show titled “Home”.
I will be looking for the perfect spot to display ” sheep in Snow“. If you have a spot on your wall that is in need of a beautiful piece of artwork…look no further and consider one of Leslie’s linocuts! http://lesliemoore.net/section/435333-Prices-Guidelines.html

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.

Old Buggies

I once owned, back in the day when draft horses stood in our fields with the sheep, a nice old cream delivery sleigh. When I sold the last horse, the sleigh went as well. It was a beauty. Green with gold painted detail work. The drafts were meant for work, pulling the hay rake or hauling out logs, and these were some of the chores I used them for. However, when there was good snow, out came the sleigh and in we all piled…kids, friends, and neighbors. Boy was that fun! The sleigh was built as a pung with a set of both front and back runners. Just thinking about it makes me want to consider another horse…hmmm? So, here is a poem by Kate Barnes celebrating the days when sleighs and buggies traveled these roads. (The buggy in the photo is from my Mom’s family. They owned a small grocery and this is how they made their deliveries). The Buggies

“When I first began to practice,”
said the veterinary, giving a shot
to the new foal, “ this countryside
was full of old carriages. The barns
all had some. You could buy
a good top buggy for ten dollars. But now
a lot of the barns have fallen down
onto them.

Those old farmers
used to hang their good buggies from the rafters,
safe and out of the way. And some people
went on using them a long time.

I remember
one place in Warren, “he said, putting iodine
on the umbilicus, watched anxiously
by the mare with her flickering eyes, “ they had
this perfect drop- front phaeton. The top
was always up, the seat was plum-colored wool
with a cloth cover over it. Beautiful.
The old lady wouldn’t go to church
in anything else.

But now that I think of it,
she must have gone too, the last time I was by there
the barn roof was down.

They were
nice, those old things-
well made, you know.
They could stand up to a lot.”

He climbed
into his white truck and drove away,
rattling down the lane. Behind, in the stall,
the mare nickered once as her foal began to nurse
and was silent.

The cold March evening
was darkening toward night, the patterns
of old snow made stripes in the dusk, the stars
were slowly coming out but the lake
at the bottom of the hill went on picking up
the last daylight. Its surface glowed
softly as if it were lighted
from below, as if a distant sun were submerged there
under the ice, still shining, alive, an
d warm.

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