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!

Into The Fields

We just moved the sheep onto their summer pasture. The grazing will improve as the days get warmer, but the beginnings of green grass are a welcome sight for our wooly ewes. They will continue to be fed hay and grain until the fields can really sustain them, another 3 weeks or so. Tomorrow is shearing day! Off come their winter coats, their hoofs will be trimmed, and each sheep will get a dose of wormer. Always a big day here at the farm, another task that signifies the coming of spring! If you are a hand spinner looking for a luscious Blueface Leicester fleece to spin, give us a call! I am determined not to keep them all!

The nursery is shaping up….the rows are cleaned and filled with plants for the upcoming season. Some great new additions that we’re really excited about! We open on May 3rd and we are looking forward to seeing customers and talking about gardening!

We hope everyone is enjoying the arrival of warm weather and the promises of a new gardening season. Happy Day to you all!

In The Studio

picture-3809Yesterday I treated myself to a day in the studio. There was a fire in the woodstove and a tea kettle whistling on top of it….the makings of a good day. I spent the first part of the morning cleaning and organizing supplies, labeling baskets that contain ‘needful things’ and making a list of unfinished projects. There seems to be enough on the list to carry me through the winter without starting anything new. Not starting any new projects? That won’t happen. I did finish an elf I was working on. Well, maybe he’s finished. I may still add a little more embroidery, a bell, and a burlap sack to hold. The body of the elf is paper mache and his clothes are felted wool. Mr. Elf has been brought inside and will sit on the dining table along with some berries and greenery to help him feel at home. Now, should I start another elf or pull something to complete from the ‘to do’ list? Hmmm.

Fields Of Sheep

Sheep in the pastureIt won’t be long before we bring the sheep home. Their summer pasture is dwindling and soon they will be on their winter diet of hay and grain. We try and stretch their time on grass as far into the season as possible, but this year with rainfall way below normal, the fields are not recovering as quickly. We do practice a rotational grazing system, moving electrified portable fencing every week. This system is a great way to manage a pasture. It helps to maximize forage growth and encourage desirable plants to regenerate. Given a large free range of area, sheep will graze on the most choice forage, basically eating what tastes best and is most nutritious, leaving the undesirable plant material. Fields can quickly revert to weedy pasture if not managed. These weed plants are great opportunists and have the vigor and tenacity to out-perform the grasses. Without management, this less desirable (and less nutritious) plant material will crowd out the better grasses we want for our sheep. In order to maximize forage growth and to encourage the fodder we want, the sheep are moved through a series of fresh pastures in order to provide a “rest period” for plants to regrow their leaves (grass). The sheep are also forced to graze down the weed material, keeping it from going to seed or taking over. We watch each paddock carefully, keeping an eye on its regeneration and then knowing when it is time to circle back and graze that area again. Moving fence is always on our weekly or bi-weekly chore list. This year, because of the lack of rain we watch each field carefully to make sure they are not overgrazed or stressed. Rainfall, our flock size, and soil nutrients can all play a role in pasture health. It seems our life always has an aspect of ‘plant tending’, whether it is on a large scale ( the sheep fields) or on a smaller scale ( the nursery and gardens), we are always mindful of the botanical world that surrounds us.

Felting Workshop At Fernwood!

ii_1543638107133d97Saturday, July 23rd, noon to 4:00canstockphoto28865455 (2)
Join fiber artists Jessica Peill Meininghaus and Denise Sawyer for an afternoon of felting. Come learn the basic techniques for wet felting wool, then move on to create a beautiful needle felted wool painting! Roam the gardens for inspiration, chat with fellow fiber enthusiasts, and learn a new skill! Materials and supplies included…..plus teas and scones will be served!
If you’d like to join us, email at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net or call (207) 589-4726
You can check out our ‘classes and more’ page for specifics.ii_1543638155403891

Nearing Their Time

Picture 2428We bred fewer ewes this last fall and we also bred later than usual. Often our lambs arrive between mid-February and mid-March. I was late putting the ram, Hero, out with the gals because I was off traipsing around Ireland much earlier than usual. It was, however, the very first thing I did when I arrived home…. our ram, of course, being very anxious to spend time with his ladies! Any day now we expect lambs to start arriving. We’ve finished the lambing pens we construct each year so that the ewe’s have a ‘private’ area to birth in. As you can see from the back end of one of those rather plump sheep, they are close to ready. At this time of year I spend a lot of time with the ewes in the flock, checking their udders to see if they have begun to ‘bag up’ …. or to become full looking. From the back of the sheep in the picture, you can see that this is happening and also that the ewe’s vulva has become swollen and brighter pink. A sure sign that she is getting close! A day or so before they give birth, the lambs will ‘drop’ into the birth canal, you may be able to detect this happening by noticing a concave area between the ewe’s hips and her last rib. There will be a ‘dip’ or ‘hollow’ in this area of the sheep’s back as the lambs drop into position. The lambs that are bred this year are all seasoned mothers and I don’t expect that I’ll need to intervene at all. I let them have their babies, only assisting in the actual birth if there is an evident problem. Afterwards, I do go out to help dry them off and to be sure the lambs are standing and suckling. Our ewes are quite friendly and are comfortable with us working around them. I think they would be very happy to crawl into my lap for their rubs and back scratches. Picture 2429

PictureI am being urged out of hibernation to make a quick trip to Ireland. We’ll be foraging, dyeing wool with lichens, and attending a few local horse fairs. I’ll keep you posted on our day to day adventures….another sit-down afternoon tea with the donkeys, no doubt. Stay tuned!

Yarn From Some Happy Sheep In Maine

Picture 735The sheep (and their shepherd) here at Fernwood would like folks to know that we have a winter yarn CSA available ( CSA- Community Supported Agriculture). Purchase a 3-month membership and we will send you a skein and a ‘one-skein’ knitting pattern each month. Beautiful, hand dyed, soft and lustrous skeins of yarn from our flock of Blue Face Leicester sheep. Though it hasn’t been one of our coldest winters on record, and perhaps there has been less need to bundle up in woolens, we do hope you’re still finding an opportunity( and reason!) to knit. If you are interested in Fernwood’s Yarn CSA and would like more information, email us please and I will promptly send along all the details. Thank you and stay warm!Picture 2104

St. Distaff’s Day

Picture 2171In times past, January 7th, the first free day after the twelve of Christmas was known as St. Distaff’s Day. It had no connection whatsoever with any saint but its place in the folk calendar gives an indicator of the importance of spinning at a time when this was the only means of turning the raw wool, cotton or flax into thread capable of being woven into cloth. The day, which was also know as Rock Day (referring to another name for either the distaff or the spindle) indicated that this was the end of the Christmas festivities and the return to the normality of spinning whenever there was a spare moment. As Anthony Fitzherbert, wrote in his ‘Boke of Husbandrie’ (1523) ‘it stoppeth a gap…it saveth a woman from being idle, and the product was needful’.

Before the invention of the Spinning Wheel, spinning on what is known as the Drop Spindle (a pin or stick weighted by a whorl) was a slow and tedious task. The spinning of one pound of woollen yarn could take about one week and one pound of heavy cotton yarn several weeks to spin. The method had not changed since the earliest times. There are images from as far back as time of the Ancient Egyptians showing how the distaff was used to hang the flax or tow and the spindle to effect the twisting. The distaff was carried under the arm, and the spindle left dangling and turning in the fingers below, and forming an axis round which to wind parcels of the thread as soon as it was made.

Women of all classes would spin. Everyone from the Lady to the peasant was expected to spend time on the task, though the wealthier may have elaborate spindles. In the evening, after the chores of the day were done, there would be spinning, and the spindle would be taken to visit friends as the task could be undertaken at the same time as a conversation.

The woollen industry became in the Middle Ages, the major industry in the land with huge areas gaining there main income from sheep. It is said that many of the elaborate churches in East Anglia, such as those at Long Melford and Lavenham, were financed from the woollen industry. In the 14th century, Edward III commanded that the Lord Chancellor should sit on a sack of wool – a reminder of the importance of the trade, for not only had home consumption increase but there was now a thriving export market.

It was at about this time the spinning-wheels first started to appear, to replace the drop spindle. There are several depictions of women from this time using the spinning wheel – all show the woman standing at her work, moving the wheel with her right hand, while with her left she twirls the spindle. The introduction of this method speeded up the production of spun wool and the addition of the foot driven mechanism in the 1500s made even more of a difference.

Land use was also greatly affected by the wool trade. Many of the deserted villages that have left their mark on the English landscape, particularly in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire occurred as a result of whole communities being moved to make space for the grazing of sheep between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Spinning the wool became more important than ever and Distaff Day a crucial date in the calendar

But whereas women would recommence spinning on Distaff Day, the men did not return to the plough until after Plough Monday when their ploughs had been blessed. Robert Herrick in the seventeenth century collection of poems ‘Hesperides’ describes young people maids and ploughboys messing around at this time with the lads setting fire to the flax and in return, the maids soaking the men from the water-pails…

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaffs Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then cane home and fother them:
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff’ all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.’

Finally!

Picture 2140Please don’t be upset with me. We are finally getting the long-awaited snowstorm, and it makes me so happy! A winter that doesn’t act like winter makes me uncomfortable. Winter should know its place and behave accordingly. Snow. Cold. Frozen ponds and lakes. Are you with me on this? I’m not sure the sheep are, but they’re designed for this kind of weather. Built-in winter coats? Sunny Florida is not the place for them, they belong right here where the cold will encourage them to grow long and heavy fleeces. And you know what that means, plenty of scrumptious Blue Face Leicester wool for me to spin and knit with. So……let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! I think I actually see a smile on the sheep’s faces, don’t you? Picture 2142