In The Woods And In The Nursery

We just began the process of uncovering the nursery. Such a fun job after a long winter. Each time we roll back the landscape cloth we immediately inspect the condition of the plants underneath. One little Hepatica transylvanica that we’ve propagated was already in bloom. A determined little gem! It looks like most everything has come through the long winter splendidly. Always a joy and a relief to know our plants were tucked in well for the winter, undisturbed by voles, and are now ready to have their covers lifted.

Lobaria pulmonaria

While out foraging, I came across one of my favorite lichens, Lobaria pulmonaria. This lichen is an epiphytic lichen, which means it is an organism that uses another plant for structure and derives its moisture and nutrients from the rain and air but does not harm the plant it’s living on. This particular lichen is very susceptible to air pollution and will not often be found in areas where air quality is poor. Fortunately, our air quality is pretty darn good here in the woods of Maine, so I come across it quite regularly. I harvest a small amount of Lobaria for two reasons. First, for its medicinal value. I tincture this lichen for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, lingering coughs, and croup. Lobaria is an expectorant, an astringent, is an antimicrobial and a pulmonary demulcent. Having antibiotic properties it can help with bacterial infections. I tincture Lobaria and also gather a bit for drying to add along with other respiratory herbs and then use it as a tea. The other use I have for Lobaria is as a dye plant. Used fresh or dried, Lobaria gives a dark brown color to the yarn I am dying. I don’t often use a mordant ( a mordant is a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye and helps to fix it to the wool), but with the most recent collection, I will see if I can shift the color a bit using some copper or iron. Aren’t these plants just the most amazing things ever? I am very careful about leaving the bulk of a lichen undisturbed. Lichens are very slow growing and such an important part of our ecosystem that I find it best to be very thoughtful when harvesting. Not much is needed for tincture, for tea, or for a dye bath, so a very small amount is actually gathered.
Tomorrow, I may take my Lobaria pulmonaria down to the coast and set up a little fire and a dye pot. Curious as to what the salt water and all its minerals will do to alter the color. We shall see and I’ll keep you all posted on the results!
Hope where ever you are, you are feeling the strength and restorative properties of the approaching spring season. So very lovely, isn’t it?

Spring, We Can Feel It And We Can See It

It was over eighty in the greenhouse today without the heat turned on. The sun was strong. The dog lounged all day in a pile of leaves on the south side of the house. We uncovered two rows of conifers and they are so green green green and they appear happy to be unveiled. We potted up some Hepaticas and some more Bloodroot and sowed more vegetable seeds. We ate our lunch outdoors and saw our first robin return to the feeder. We didn’t have a fire in the woodstove all day. We thought about going up to John’s Ice Cream for a strawberry milkshake because it felt so deliciously warm that it made us think of spring and summer things…like milkshakes. We didn’t go because as much as we felt like sipping on a milkshake we didn’t feel like driving out through the mud and ruts that are indicative to spring and of course indicative to the other word for spring in the northeast…mud season. The sheep’s water buckets didn’t freeze overnight and the chickens were eager to get out of the henhouse and to cruise the yard for morsels. Tonight there is a possibility of light snow, perhaps a half an inch. That doesn’t mean it’s still winter and it doesn’t mean it’s not spring. This we know. We’ll stay flexible.
But today, we felt spring in our bones and we saw signs of it all around us. Glory be!
For the sake of spring, which may come and go several times before staying put..please read and enjoy this poem by Kate Barnes.

April and then May,
violets up in the field,
the ewes with their twin lambs;

time has decided
to turn into spring again
after all.

The maples are unfolding their leaves,
chives stand green at the kitchen door,
the black flies have decided to come back;
and the work mare has her new foal
capering over bluets in the pasture,
and the hall smells of daffodils;

and everything
is divinely ordinary –
the deep ruts in the field track,

the spring overflowing,
the excited swallows,
the apple trees

budding for perhaps the hundredth time –
and the pruned boughs budding too
that must bloom just where they lie.

By Kate Barnes

Join Us This Holiday Season For Some Elf Magic!!

Join Denise and her friend Sally in the studio at Fernwood Nursery on Saturday, December 22nd, from 1:00 to 4:00 for an afternoon of elf making! Spend a wintry afternoon among friends crafting your own festive Christmas elf. Delightful little creations that are sure to brighten your holiday table! A collection of elf wear and accessories will be on hand for the finishing touches.So fun! Sally and I will provide the materials and instruction, as well as an assortment of holiday goodies and festive drink. Yum, yum! Denise’s handspun yarn and felted creations will also be available for order or purchase. Class size is limited, so please call to reserve your spot. Call (207)589-4726 or email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net Cost: $50.00 materials included.

Retreat

I took a day off and went to the ocean. A quick retreat. Hardly more than 24 hours. I did, however, have the opportunity to hike a secret footpath along the shore. Glorious, glorious. I did sit looking out at the lobster boats coming in with their haul and was able to begin knitting little Violets sweater. I did have a meal of scallops and fresh tomatoes and homemade goat cheese. All in just a mere 24 hrs! Soul soothing.

There was Spinning And There Was Knitting

A week ago we had an open studio day where many showed up to practice their craft. What fun! It had rained the night before, a long generous rain which we desperately needed, but it cleared by mid-day to allow for the studio deck be a place for spinning, knitting, and drawing. I think there were at least 8 spinning wheels whirring, several knitters clicking away, and a new friend ( Hello, Boots!) working on her postcard-a-day drawings. Of course, there were snacks to keep us all well fed and hydrated!
It is often so hard for me to take a moment away from the gardens and the nursery to sit and spin wool or knit during the summer season. The studio takes a back burner during these precious growing months. Having an event like this allows for those wonderful opportunities to visit with friends and makers, share ideas and projects, and to be inspired by all the fabulous and creative talent that surrounds us here in Maine. I did not know that the little town of Jackson has a healthy band of spinners who are willing to pack up their wheels, their fiber and needles, to make their way over to Montville for an afternoon of spinning and knitting. Such a fun bunch! Two blogging friends came from miles away…loved spending time with you both, Sarah and Brenda!
So, now I know that I need to schedule another day of ‘spinning and making’! I’m thinking August. A day when the summer begs to sit on the porch with friends and share in the spirit of making.

An Afternoon Of Spinning And Making!

I am inviting any and all to join me here at Fernwood on Sunday, June 24th from 1:00 to 4:00 for a day of spinning and making. If you have a spinning wheel and want to try out some lovely Bluefaced Leicester roving, come along! ( I’ll provide the wool!) If you are a knitter, a spoon carver, a crocheter, a rug hooker, a felter, a stilt maker, bring along your craft and join us! Pack up your needles and thread, your embroidery floss, and some choice fabric and come sit out on the studio deck for an afternoon of making and sharing. I’ll provide the crackers and cheese and goodies!
I don’t want these lovely summer days to slip by without finding a moment or two to sit among the gardens and make things with friends…so come along! Sound fun? I’ll even have an extra spinning wheel avaiable if you’d like to try your hand at learning to spin. Why not?
Between now and June 24th, give a call (207)589-4726 or email fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net if you would like to join us. Rain or shine, we’ll set up outside or inside the studio. See you then!

Mending

Needles. Thread. Cloth. A favorite old shirt in need of repair. Cozy wool socks with a worn out heel. An heirloom quilt that required some patching. Our mending class was a big hit. Each person brought some beloved fabric to mend and went home with the skills and confidence to do so. We’ll definitely offer this class again!
Learning to make something…a loaf of bread, a pair of knitted socks, a raised bed, are all skills worth passing on.This class reminded me of the great worth and value of learning to repair. That’s a skill too. In this world of great abundance and a tendency to dispose or replace the things we need before considering how to fix them, the skill to repair can honor the maker and allow us to breath new life into things that we may deem obsolete or non-functioning. There is a virtue in repairing the torn or worn. There is satisfaction in fixing a problem or something broken. All of these things require us to look at the design and construction of an item and to recreate or repair the piece that no longer functions or operates. What a great way to sharpen and improve our critical thinking skills! Make. Fix. Repair. Mend. So, gather up all of your holey socks and frayed long johns, take out that favorite shirt from your mending basket, and watch here for posts about our next mending class!

Fiber Of Maine And The Heavenly Socks Yarn Shop

My friend Helen Sahadi owns a beautiful yarn shop in Belfast, Maine called Heavenly Socks Yarn. Helen is a lifelong knitter and is passionate about fiber but also about community. Her shop is chock full of the most delicious yarn. Not just eye candy, but lovely squishy yarn that you can take home and make something wonderful out of! It’s the middle of winter, the best time to grab your needles, find a pattern (loads and loads of great patterns at Heavenly Socks Yarn store!!) and start knitting! Take a field trip to Belfast, Maine and visit Helen’s shop…it’s the best!
Helen’s latest addition to her shop is an on-line store where she features Maine yarn from Maine farms. And, guess who’s being featured this month ( February, actually)…us here at Fernwood. You can check us out and Helens great shop and work here: https://www.fiberofmaine.com/

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!

Buttoning Up

Many of the tasks we can’t quite get to during the growing season are now being tackled. The two little cabins are being ‘buttoned up’ with a siding of batt and boarding. The little guest cabin is done, the lights are on, and it’s a warm and toasty place to spend a wintery evening. Down through the woods, the cabin our son Noah built is getting its own finishing touches. A finished floor using some grand wide planked pine from a local mill, really beautiful! An Atlantic Kitchen model 121 woodstove has been put in, a stove we’ve had sitting around waiting for a purpose. This week we’ll design a small kitchen countertop ( a gifted piece of left-over granite countertop), a sink (a small double basin salvaged out a camper), and some storage shelves ( above and below). This is fun work for Rick and I. We love putting our heads together to utilize these small cabin spaces in both an aesthetic and efficient manner. The guest cabin is 10×12 sq. ft. Noah’s cabin is 12×12. Both cabins have a fairly roomy sleeping loft. Aside from the lumber which has been sawed at a local mill, the cabins have been outfitted using recycled or upcycled material. Windows from a friends sunroom, doors salvaged from a carpentry job that Rick had worked on, and much of the interior furnishings were collected from yard sales, roadside, friends, and second-hand stores. The Liberty Tool Company right down the road from us has been a heavily tapped source!
The cabins make a great space for visiting friends, family, or WWOOF volunteers. And, on a snowy afternoon…a great place for me to tuck away with a cup of tea and some knitting!!!