Two words for this spring—cold and wet.
Late snows, hard frosts, frigid mud, and a miserly portion of sunshine delayed our yard work and gardening, again and again. When the weather finally began to warm up a bit (only a handful of days have teasingly felt like summer), we were in catch-up mode, trying to get everything done at once.
Preparing the greenhouse pad.
Although I held off on planting, the ground remains unseasonably cold and wet. My potatoes and flax have stunted patches and the warm weather crops are struggling to get established. New growth for deer browse was late and some deer—looking for spring nutrition—girdled several of the apple trees that I planted last fall in the lower orchard.
They didn’t touch any other saplings—that sweet young apple bark must be especially tasty. I tried to do some cleft grafting to save them, but it doesn’t appear to have taken. So, we will plant more in the spring and fence them well.
I was hoping the grafts would take, but it doesn’t look good.
I also had another fail with my bees this winter. They had swarmed last June and the remaining bees in the hive never seemed to get up to full strength. I was happy that they made it into January, but then I lost them in a long, deep freeze. I reluctantly decided to take a year off from beekeeping for several reasons: I would be out-of-state when the bee packages arrive; we want to move the hive to a new area that won’t be ready until later in the year; and we want to do perimeter work around our fence (near the hive) to keep our tick population down.
There are other hives in our area, and plenty of bees came to pollinate our wild apples, but I really missed having our own. I put off cleaning out and storing the hive and in a wild, unlikely hope that maybe a swarm would take up residence. And, sure enough, that’s what happened. One morning in mid-June, I noticed some bees at the hive. I could not tell if they were robbing the little honey left or if they might be scouts for a swarm.
A few hours later I heard a massive buzzing sound and the air was filled with a bee swarm descending on the hive.
It was pretty exciting. They now are happily established. So much for moving the hive—I’m so happy to have these new arrivals, it’s staying where it is.
The other insects of note this spring are the brown tail moths that are invading midcoast Maine. They make ticks seem like pleasant little nuisances. The moth caterpillars have toxic, barbed hairs that become airborne and can create a nasty itchy rash and a cough if breathed. They favor oaks and apples, of which we have plenty. Up until this year, they weren’t a problem for us and we did extensive pruning this year on our old apples—not worried about moths.
Early spring pruning on the wild apples in the yard.
Unbeknownst to George, though, one of the trees was moth-infested and when he was cleaning up the downed branches, he developed a horrible rash. To finish up the job, he has had to hose down all the wood and wear a moth hazmat outfit. Yuck.
Despite the cold and toxic moth hairs, we have never had so many nesting birds.
Sparrow nest I stumbled on when clearing orchard weeds. Fortunately, I didn’t scare the mother, she’s still sitting on the nest.
The birdsong has been amazing—it goes on from earliest pre-dawn until the evening. We have nesting wrens, cardinals, sparrows, phoebes, chickadees, mourning doves, yellowthroats, thrushes, catbirds, vireos, towhees, various unidentified warblers, woodpeckers, robins, goldfinches, waxwings, evening grosbeaks, and a a very vocal melodious Baltimore Oriole for the first time this year.
We put up two nesting boxes with trepidation, hoping that our pugnacious bluebird wouldn’t return. He didn’t.
Bluebird fledgling about a minute before his first flight.
We had a friendly bluebird couple take up residence and a gorgeous pair of swallows.
George has been going non-stop all spring with pruning, putting up next winter’s wood, improving the drainage down the driveway and around the new garage, building beds for my new dye garden,
Dye garden and fleece washing tubs.
building screen houses for the brassicas,
The screen enclosure in the background has been wonderful to protect the brassicas from cabbage moth caterpillars.
working on the sauna, planting trees and shrubs, preparing foundations for a new shed and green house, on top of the usual yard, trail, and house maintenance.
I’m in love with our new greenhouse.
While George has been giving the tractor a workout, I’ve had a textile-rich spring. With help from a friend, I put together an exhibit highlighting weaving, spinning, flax production, and antique textile tools for the local library, which recently acquired a trove of new books on these subjects for its craftsmanship collection.
I didn’t take photos of the exhibit, but we had antique wheels and a tape loom.
In late April, Jan and I also did an evening presentation on antique spinning wheels at the same library, hoping to gain converts to rehabilitate the old wheels and get them spinning again.
Current herd of great wheels.
Soon after, I went to Vavstuga weaving school in western Massachusetts for a course in Swedish Classics.
It was wonderful to be back there, immersed in a week of nothing but weaving.
When I returned, I got going on taking and collecting photos for a presentation on Connecticut wheelmakers for an Antique Spinning Wheel Symposium at Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont in early June.
The presentation also involved countless hours of genealogy research and deciphering probate records and inventories from the 1700s, to try to track down the identity of wheelmaker J. Platt. I still don’t know who he is.
But, we had magical weather for the symposium and what a treat to get together with a bunch of antique wheel nerds. The talking was non-stop, it was such a rare opportunity to all be speaking the same language of scribe lines, double-flyers, hub shapes, spindle supports, chip carving, maidens, mother-of-alls (mothers-of-all?), and, on and on …
At Lone Rock Farm in Marshfield.
I stayed over the next day for a flax workshop with Norman Kennedy, the 86-year-old grand master of weaving, flax, stories of textiles in Scotland, and song (among other things).
Norman dressing a distaff.
And I stayed at a wonderful farm B&B, where I got to enjoy morning visits with the cows, pigs, chickens, and kittens.
Marshfield was beautiful, I loved being with “my people,” and enjoyed an amazing three days, but—as always—it was so sweet to get home—with flowers and dogs to greet me.
Capp is doing wonderfully now. It’s such a relief to have him back to normal.
Throughout the spring, I’ve been spinning and weaving,
and finished up processing last year’s flax.
Bottom batch was dew retted (twice) last fall and the top batch was retted on snow this winter.
I bought this wonderful flax break at auction last month for $10. The auctioneer had no idea what it was.
Snow retted flax being hackled. It’s a lovely color.
From left to right: early dew retted (under retted), tub retted, double dew retted, snow retted.
I was engulfed by lilac fragrance while processing the flax. We had a bumper crop of lilacs this year.
Now that summer is officially here, I’m just about caught up on spring chores and hope to have a less busy, more relaxing summer. We’ll see.
Spinning on the porch, watching thunderstorms and rainbows.