In The Studio

Through the remainder of August and into September we’ll be featuring some local artisans in the studio. If you’d like to get a jump on some holiday gift purchasing and want to support some local artisans, this may be your chance. The studio will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 9-5.
Our friend Sett Balise (brambledragon.com) is an accomplished potter from Liberty, Maine. Sett has a beautiful and functional selection of pottery available ( we eat oatmeal out of some of his bowls all winter!), come check it out!
My friend Sally Savage, photographer and mixed media artist, left a small collection of her polymer clay ‘beach stone’ necklaces for purchase. Sally will also be teaching a class this Fall at Fiber College if you’d like to join the fun and make some stones on your own.
And of course, there will be yarn for sale….handspun, hand-dyed yarn from our own flock of Blue-Face Leicester sheep! It’s never too early to increase your winter yarn stash!
Come check out the studio, wander the gardens, and find out what’s happening these days here at Fernwood!

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

Winter Knitting, Anyone?

picture-2104We are just about to begin our yearly 3-month yarn CSA ( community supported agriculture). If there are any knitters who are short on yarn stash or simply want to knit something using some delicious Blue Face Leicester yarn from our flock…here’s your chance. picture-735It’s soft and lustrous, hand dyed and all from our sheep here at Fernwood Nursery. And, you actually get a little more than yarn…right to your mailbox!! Please email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net with any orders or inquiries. I’ll respond pronto! And the sheep here… well, they say “thank ewe”!picture-3926picture-3923

A Storm Brewing

picture-3880A snowstorm in the forecast, although the predicted snow accumulation seems to dwindle as the day moves along. Dang! Now, we may see some freezing rain instead! I’d much prefer snow. Snow is good for banking the house, helping to insulate the plants outdoors, and can certainly help with the water table come spring. I was really hoping for a lofty blanket of snow to welcome in the New Year. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a long cross country ski to reflect on the places we’ve been and the road ahead? I can still hope. After all, hope is and will be a necessary endeavor as we enter 2017.picture-3882
Now that the Christmas holiday is behind us, I will start the New Year with a clean slate. First on the agenda is straightening up the studio. All the Christmas Merry-making caused a bit of a stir out there. There is still lots of wool to spin and dye for upcoming events, some felting projects that need completing, and an elf or two in the making. Organizing my workspace will probably help with the progress of these things…. it’s hard for me to be creative amongst the clutter.
Here’s wishing you the very best in the upcoming year….Peace, happiness, and love. Happy New Year!picture-3874picture-3877

In The Making….

picture-3847Our household has always been big on handmade gifts. This year I have been busy in the kitchen and the studio creating a number of home crafted items…salted caramel sauce, loaves of cranberry bread and Christmas stollen, several pairs of knitted socks, and an assortment of salves, facial creams, and lip balms.Some members of the family like to wait until the last few days before Christmas before beginning their gift projects. Our son, Noah, is one of these people. He makes up for his ‘wait until the last minute’ approach however with his talent in woodworking. He pulled down some of the beautiful walnut boards we have been storing in the barn loft to make some pretty sharp looking cutting boards. They are beautiful! I am so glad this tradition of making gifts has been passed forward. Pleased that something offered to a friend or loved one does not require a day of shopping. A gift from the heart, time spent with others, laughter, and love, ….these are the things we cherish and pause for.
Happy Holidays everyone, hope they are filled with wonder and delight!

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas”. Calvin Coolidge

picture-3838A beautiful light snow fell yesterday, six inches in all. It was an easy snow to shovel and we’re happy about that. Around here there are many paths to be cleared…to the barn, the hoop houses, and greenhouse, to the studio and little cabin, etc… even the entire driveway. Sometimes we use the tractor for this (the driveway) but prefer to clear the way without the noise and fumes. No need for a winter fitness program, we certainly get our workout. Rick and I don’t mind, we’re outdoors, together, and home, three things we love most. Inside, a pot of potato leek soup ( the last of our stored leeks!) was warming on the cookstove, a much welcome reward after a day of shoveling.
The sheep, though designed for cold and blustery weather, may take a few moments to come out and face the day. Here are a few barnyard shots from yesterday morning:picture-3830picture-3843
If you reside in the North East and got snow as well, I hope you enjoyed the wintery weather!

Knitting Brown Sweaters

picture-3707I’ve knit several brown sweaters over the years. Yes, one was for my love and he continues to wear it when winter’s at its coldest, an insulated woolen armor just right for those very bitter -20 below days of January. Another was knit for a little boy, who will very soon be turning the ripe old age of 21. He quite often pesters me (his devoted mum) for another one. I’ll try and get to that this winter. Right now, I have a multi-colored brownish sweater in the makings…for me, can that be? Really? Something for me?!!! But the brown sweater that still stands out in my mind was the one being made by my young friend Sandy many years ago. She had just finished her degree in marine biology at the University Of Maine. After graduating she worked with me in the bakery and was not quite sure where her feet were going to land that summer, so she came to live with us. When she wasn’t rolling out pie dough or playing her guitar, she was working on a brown sweater intended for a boy she couldn’t get her mind off of. I’m not sure that the feelings of devotion and passion were reciprocated, but I do remember with fondness the brown sweater, Sandy’s tender heart, and her intention to win him over with skeins of soft brown wool. After a long day of turning butter and sugar into scrumptious pastries, Sandy would come home, turn on some music, open a beer, and pick up her needles. Between sporadic dates with that boy, she kept her needles clicking with hope. That boy didn’t take the bait…his loss. Sandy went on to further her education, land an important job in the field of environmental policy, and make her way in the world. She always was and she is, quite a gal. Sweater or no sweater, she’s a catch. I hope Sandy is still playing her guitar. I like to picture her playing one of her great tunes wearing a too big handknit sweater. Maybe singing a sassy song about lost love, freshly baked scones, and a summer spent with a mom and her two kids. So, in memory of brown sweaters knit with love, a poem by Kate Barnes… for Sandy.

The Brown Sweater

Knitting a sweater for your unrequiting love,
You knit hair into it twice so that whichever
way he turns, some will lie by his heart.
Black hair, fine and small, Irish hair,
hair that has its instructions, that has been programmed
to get itself wound tightly around his affections
and lead them to you like horses brought up from pasture.

I touch the sweater made of undyed wool
from brown sheep in Iceland. The soft stuff feels
as resilient as moss. I look at you busily wishing.
Your face is not screwed up with concentration;
it only deepens with the same sudden deepening
produced by the sight of a train passing under a bridge
or a falling star, each good in your mind for one wish.

In the evening you read French cookbooks
looking for something
to delight him. In the morning you tell me your dreams
about him. Every night you dream about him!
Every day – all day -you are listening for his truck.
And this has gone on for a year! How can I say:

God’s will be done, or: that man alone is happy
who makes the best of what Fates send him?
I can’t.

In the face of your longing, in the face of
your suffering need
consolation of any kind would be
an injury. You hug the sweater and stare
across the top at me with the look of the doe
I once saw plunge in the lake leaving a pack
of stray dogs yelping behind her in our hayfield.

It was still summer, though late, the water not
too cold, the dogs not too determined. She swam

bravely away, growing smaller and smaller, until
she reached the opposite shore and disappeared,
safe in the thicket.

Give me magic, give me hope!
Give me the powers of bone-deep wishes, the lucky
Omens, the white horse, the first star of the night,
the doe ten miles by land from her howling griefs,
the blue-black hair, springing from a head of dreams,
twining into a strand of brown yarn and bringing
love and luck to the wearer – without his knowledge.

Kate Barnes

Work And Being Tired

Picture 3488We have two WWOOF volunteers here at the moment. Our lovely returning WOOFer Hannah, who is a UNH student and ceramics teacher, and Zack, who may very well be the kindest and most polite 20 year old we’ve ever met. Both of these visitors are a great help to the farm and nursery. They are hard workers and upbeat, easy going and curious. We like them a whole lot. After a long day of farm work, moving sheep fence, and learning to shingle an out-building, they are tired. Farm tired. Work tired. Tired to the bone tired, but proud of their accomplishment tired. They sit in the evening after a good hearty meal, legs slung over the arm chair or stretched out across the ottoman, and knit. Both of them. Zack leading the way with his craft experience dating back to the age of 10 ( his mum taught him to knit, good mum!!), helping Hannah to cast on with round needles and to keep her stitches from twisting. I join them, advancing on my current knitting project until my own sleepiness gets the best of me ( is it 8:30 yet?). Last night we talked about being tired. Hannah pointed out how good it feels to climb into bed, rest your head on a pillow, and know that you’ve really earned a good night’s sleep. We talked a bit about the different kinds of tired….emotional and physical, and how being emotionally tired may keep you up at night ( thoughts still racing), but being physically tired is conducive to collapsing into a decadent slumber. In your early twenties, I think sleep is still something coveted. I was amazed at how many times they both hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks before reaching their actual wake up time.I don’t use an alarm clock and waking to a buzzing noise every 5 minutes seemed pretty disruptive to me, but they assured me that this was all part of their morning ‘time to get up and pull yourself out of dreamland’ ritual. I told them I just wake up, eyes wide open, and bolt into the day. My approach seemed to scare the hell out of them.” Why would you do that?” they asked. After several rows and a few more inches on my own knitting, I trail off to bed. They’ll stay up a bit longer, I know. Tired they are,….bone tired…but can’t quite give up on their night life here at Fernwood. Knitting and drinking tea beyond a proper bedtime….. real party animals these two.

And now a poem to sign off with….

“I may never be happy, but tonight I am content. Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent setting strawberry runners in the sun, a glass of cool sweet milk, and a shallow dish of blueberries bathed in cream. Now I know how people can live without books, without college. When one is so tired at the end of a day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth. At times like this I’d call myself a fool to ask for more.”
—Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals

Calendula Flowers

Picture 3177Before the day gets too hot and just after the dew has dried, I harvest the calendula blossoms (Calendula officinalis) from the gardens. I’ll dry the flowers for making calendula oil and then add the oil to some of the salves and creams we make. Calendula is one of my favorite ingredients to use in ointments. It is antiseptic, has antimicrobial properties, and is an anti-inflammatory. As a topical ointment, it helps to heal wounds, soothes burns, rashes, and bug bites, and aids in collagen regeneration. It is also an antifungal. Some of the dried flowers will be stored in clean glass jars for making tea. We use the tea to promote digestions, as an immune booster, and in soothing abdominal cramps. The very last picking will be kept fresh and put into a pot of hot water, left overnight, strained, and then used for a dye bath. Along with a mordant of alum ( A mordant is a chemical binding agent that adheres well to both the fibres and to the dye. The word comes from the Latin mordere, which means to bite), it will produce a beautiful golden yellow dye to sink my wool into. Very nice indeed.
I love having these bright blooms among the veggies in the garden (that is where we grow them) and though we harvest most of their cheery orange and yellow blossoms, we do leave a portion of the flowers for reseeding.
The gardens here are glorious at the moment, despite the lack of rain. We spend much of our time watering, watering, and watering. The showy lady slippers, the corydalis, and bowman’s root are all in bloom…to name a few. Beautiful. We recently had a guest from South West Harbor visiting the nursery, a lovely lady who declared that pulling up a seat to enjoy Cypripedium kentuckiensis for an entire afternoon would suit her just fine. Can’t blame her…they are quite stunning. Happy gardening to all, and let’s hope we get some rain soon!

Cypripedium kentuckiensis

Cypripedium kentuckiensis

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.