Sky and Wind, With a Little Mustard

IMG_7910

Many New Englanders dread winter and muddle through it with a sort of grudging resignation, mixed with stir-crazy frustration and patches of downright hatred.  Others leave.  But we love winter in Maine.  After years of living in Anchorage, where days are short, sunlight scarce, and glum gray skies the norm, the constantly changing, brilliant winter skies here are a continual–and still unexpected–delight.

IMG_7933

Soon after the leaf colors fade, the skies come alive.  October and November seem to produce the year’s most brilliant sunrises and sunsets.

IMG_7895.jpg

They linger with changing colors, highlighting the gorgeous filigree of our leafless oaks and maples.

IMG_7941.jpgIMG_7800.jpg

October’s morning fog settles in the valleys below us, revealing folds in the hills that are otherwise obscured.

IMG_7727.jpgIMG_7717

These months also bring wind–and weather–from all directions.

IMG_7748IMG_7820

Massive fronts move over us, the edges of which are often visible as a line on the horizon.

IMG_7863

Hills on the bottom, clouds on top, with a sliver of light in between.  This was a particularly ominous looking front that ended just at the edge of the ocean over our hills.  The smudge in the middle is rain.

The end of October treated us to a massive wind storm.  Fortunately, we had enough warning to prepare and cover our equipment and bring in outdoor furniture.

IMG_7783.jpg

Alice knew something was going on when the deck furniture disappeared.

IMG_7745.jpg

There were lots of bluejays seed-gathering before the storm came in.

It was quite a dramatic show on hillside, with whipping winds and sideways rain.

IMG_7768.jpg

Storm coming in.

IMG_7767.jpg

The oak leaves were blown horizontal.  And then stripped.

Unfortunately, along with much of the state’s population, we lost our electrical power early on.  We have a wood stove for heat, propane for cooking, and candles and battery lamps for lighting.  Our water is from a well on our property, pumped by electrical power, so we have no water when the power goes out.  But the town provides water from a tap at the fire station, so it’s not too much of an inconvenience.

IMG_7797

Our real worry was our two freezers, packed to their brims with garden produce, sauces, and meat for the winter.  George pulled out the portable generator that we had from our RV days, which managed to keep the two freezers going and to charge our phones and computers.  We went four days without power.  Not bad compared to others in the state, and nothing compared to Puerto Rico, but enough time, nevertheless, to remind us to appreciate all the little luxuries that power brings.

IMG_7810

On the day after the storm–Halloween–the bees were bringing in huge loads of orange pollen.

IMG_7774

We had a small birch come down on our woodpiles.

IMG_7770

Hydrangeas were ripped off of their stalks …

IMG_7772.jpg

… where they gathered in an eddy by the porch.  Otherwise, we had little damage.

Our street lost power because of a beautiful old maple that fell across the power lines.

IMG_7834.jpg

It was a magnificent old tree, turning brilliant red in the fall.  I always wanted to get a good photo of it for the blog, but couldn’t because the power lines ran right across the tree, ruining any chance of a good shot.

IMG_6412

Now most of the tree is gone, taking the lines with it—temporarily—but leaving one beautiful back portion as a reminder of is previous glory.

IMG_7843.jpg

Soon after the power returned, and we were getting back to normal, I was excited to learn of an antique flax break for sale.  I have been looking for one since spring, with no luck at all.  This one came up at an auction in Massachusetts, where they were selling pieces from the American Textile History Museum, which sadly closed last year.  I wasn’t able to attend the auction, but a fellow spinner and wheel collector from the online group, Ravelry, was there and offered to bid for me and the bring the wheel home with her.  I couldn’t believe it when I had the winning bid of less than half of what I was willing to pay for it.

IMG_7974.jpg

Aside from a few worm holes, the break is in good condition and nice manageable size.  

It’s rather depressing to the see the museum collection scattered all over the place at auction, but nice to know that many of the pieces are going to spinners who will use and appreciate them.

IMG_7979

George has been making me peg boards for hanging yarn.  It’s beginning to look like my own museum.

To make room for my new flax break, I took down the drying rack that had been full up with mustard pods.

IMG_5583

The first batch.  I ended up with about five times this amount.

I grew two very small rows of mustard this summer, for a mustard-making experiment.

IMG_4853

Mustard’s on the left.

The pods had been drying for months and it was easy to crush them with a rolling pin, leaving the seeds.

IMG_7879.jpg

The difficult part was separating the pod chaff from the seeds.  I winnowed them in the wind outside and then handpicked pieces out.

IMG_7881.jpg

I got most of the chaff out by sifting through colanders.

It wasn’t too tedious because I only had about 2/3 of a cup of seeds when all was said and done.

IMG_7957.jpg

But the pods are spiny little devils.  Next year, I will have to find a more efficient and less prickly way of cleanly separating the seeds from the mess of pod bits.

IMG_7884

I tried two different mustard recipes—one with white wine and vinegar and maple syrup, and the other with apple cider, cider vinegar, honey and coriander.  The initial tasting was pretty good.  They are now “working” in the refrigerator, where the flavor is supposed to develop and mature.  If they turn out as well as I think they will, I am going to grow more mustard next year.  We don’t use it as a condiment, but do cook with it, and it’s fun to be able to experiment with exotic mustard flavors.  I will have horseradish ready to harvest next year.  Horseradish mustard—yum.

IMG_7961.jpg

The dogs enjoyed Thanksgiving, with a fat Turkey and all the trimmings.

IMG_7954.jpg

Unseasonable with a McIntosh

IMG_7528.jpg

October is winding down. But the weather remains crazily mild.  We bask in the late-year sunshine, even though it comes with a canary-in-the-coal-mine quality. Our dry, warm weather has resulted in leaf colors more muted than last year, turning later and lingering longer.

IMG_7619.jpgIMG_7467.jpg

As the leaves turn, we have been marking maples along our new woods trail for tapping next spring. The biggest ones are impressive multi-trunked red maples, which, along with a few huge oaks, are the senior generation in our woodlot.

IMG_7478

Red maple leaves–three major lobes and, mostly, red.

We have some young sugar maples (the best for syrup) coming along that we will nurture into adulthood.

IMG_7522.jpg

The sugar maples have a distinctive Canadian-flag shape with five major lobes and turn more yellow and orange-ish than red.

Both work for syrup, although the sugars are queen.

IMG_7516.jpg

Fall be damned, the flowers just keep on blooming.

IMG_7572

Most are covered with groggy bees and wasps bellying up to bar for last call.

IMG_7578

IMG_7585

Sticky hollyhock pollen on this bumble bee.  The yellow patch is rust on the hollyhock leaf.

We even have stray butterflies hanging about.

IMG_7570.jpg

I have done a “final” clearing of the veggies several times now. Yesterday’s haul was a shiny mash of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.

IMG_7651.jpg

Eggplant on October 20th? And we still don’t have a killing frost in sight.

IMG_7608.jpg

The weirdly warm prelude to winter seems to have invigorated our winecap mushroom bed, which had a major eruption over the past two days.

IMG_7640.jpg

Fortunately, winecaps dry well, so I had the oven on low all day, permeating the house with intense mushroom odor as I dried a winter store for risotto and soups.

IMG_7643

Gorgeous set of gills.

The weather also nurtured bumper crops of fruit flies and lady bugs–all of which want to invade our house.  Right now the fruit flies are dive-bombing my glass of wine.  We are besieged.

Our yard and wood trail are covered with fallen wild apples.

IMG_7496.jpg

Both dogs love them. The dogs have an apple-eating posture, with feet planted wide and heads lifted with a look of concentration as they munch away. It’s a constant battle to keep them from eating too many.  Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any deer lured by the apples. Our game camera shows the usual suspects wandering down the trail–raccoons, skunks, foxes and … a cat.

unnamed (1)unnamed (6)

unnamedunnamed (7).jpg

unnamed (4).jpg

Every few nights, the same cat would show up on the camera, although we’ve never seen it ourselves.

unnamed (5)

When “missing cat” posters went up in the neighborhood, we called the number and, sure enough, our little prowler was the cat on the poster. The owner set live traps for the cat on our trail for about a week.   I mentioned to George, let’s hope she doesn’t catch a skunk.  Of course, the only thing she caught was a skunk.

unnamed (2).jpg

The camera also captures grouse, woodcocks, squirrels and ….

unnamed (3).jpg

… Capp inspecting a golf ball long lost from our neighbors hooking it into our woods.

Unfortunately, last week a rabid fox attacked a man out cutting wood less than a mile away from us. So now, when we set out on walks with the dogs, they wear orange tick-vests as protection from hunters and the fall ticks. And we carry bear spray as protection against rabid beasties.  Oddly well-armed.

IMG_7470.jpg

Aside from putting the gardens to bed and other fall chores, I took on another spinning wheel rescue. I am afraid I have become happily addicted to this activity. I first saw a desolate looking wheel several months ago at an antique store. But the wheel itself had a worrying, drunken wobble and I was pressed for time, so I reluctantly left it after taking some photos. The wheel was filthy with grime, but had a maker’s name–I S McIntosh–and date–1857–stamped on the end.

IMG_7400.jpg

After a little research, I found that McIntosh wheels were made in Nova Scotia by Alexander and I S and the two likely were father and son, although I S is a bit of a mystery as those initials don’t show on any census records for the area. The wheels are well-made and good spinners.

Although intrigued, I already have three wheels, so had put the wheel out of my mind. But when my facebook feed showed that the antique store was discounting everything to move in new (well, antique-new) stock and their photo showed the wheel was still there–what else could I do? I drove over first thing in the morning and pulled the wheel outside to get a good thorough look. It appeared that she was missing several parts, but that wheel itself wasn’t warped–the wobble likely was due to a bent axle, something I thought was fixable. And so, after negotiating a good discount, she was mine.

IMG_6945.jpg

Gouges, paint drips, and grime.

These old battered, neglected wheels are strangely like dogs in pound to me, crying out to be taken to a loving home.

IMG_6965.jpg

There’s beauty under that grime.

IMG_6960.jpg

Feed me!!

Over the next weeks, I cleaned her up–my favorite task–made new leather bearings for the “mother of all” that holds the flyer, and shimmed the uprights to better align the wheel.

IMG_6976.jpg

Removing decades of grime.

IMG_7016

The uprights that support the wheel were black from more than a hundred years of who-knows-what-grease was used to lubricate the axle.

IMG_7021.jpg

Slowly scraping off the accumulation of crud to reveal the original markings.

IMG_7028

Revealing the beauty of the wood.

IMG_7411

The “mother of all” which holds the flyer supported by two leather bearings, both of which are broken or damaged.

IMG_7417.jpg

Cutting new leather bearings for the flyer.

IMG_7536.jpg

IMG_7539.jpg

I made this new leather bearing from a worn-out sandal.  It’s blue, so not so traditional.  Do I care?  Not at all.

IMG_6974

The flyer, whorl, and bobbin, with some beautifully spun wool that had clearly been there for decades.

George made a new footman–the wooden piece that connects the treadle to the wheel–and straightened the axle.

IMG_7541.jpg

The new oak footman had nice grain and matched the wheel beautifully.

This wheel intrigues me because of her condition.

IMG_6956.jpg

Aside from the wear on the treadle, which shows a lot of use, she has unusual wear marks on the spokes and lots of hammer marks.

IMG_7284

Perhaps she was not gently used. But she will be now. She spins beautifully, and responsively, like the veteran she is.

IMG_7567_edited-1

IMG_7645.jpg

 

Scutching, Hackling, and Bee Graveyards

IMG_7338

Our string of sunny days continues, but the afternoon light is dense and golden enough to let us know that that the season is changing. Fall is breathing down our neck and we feel the need to finish up outdoor chores. George has been working on a drainage trench and rain garden to siphon the spring sogginess from our little orchard.

IMG_7071.jpg

I have been processing the flax from my small patch so that I can spin it this winter.
After harvesting, retting, and rippling–removing the seeds–I bundled and stored the flax.

IMG_6846.jpg

I had searched antique stores and barn sales for months this summer to try to find antique flax tools.

IMG_7317.jpg

I found three hackles and bought a scutching knife on ebay.

IMG_7311

But I was not able to find a flax break or scutching board, so George made them for me.

IMG_6856.jpg

A flax break uses leverage to smash and break the woody portion of the flax stalk into pieces–the boon, while leaving the fibrous strands intact.

IMG_6866.jpg

The top half of the stalks have been broken here.  The stalks are then turned to do the other  half.

George made a table-top break, which I initially set up on plywood. I later moved it to sit directly on sawhorses (which was what George had in mind).

IMG_6984.jpg

That allowed the boon to fall to the ground rather than getting re-tangled in the flax bundles.

IMG_6873

After breaking.

The next step was scutching. The term apparently derives from an obsolete French word “escoucher,” meaning to “shake out.” The process requires an upright board–slightly angled worked well for me–and a wooden scutching knife to whack and scrape at the flax to remove the woody bits.

IMG_6886.jpg

I did a great deal of shaking out, feeling as if I was grooming bits of chaff out of some lovely horse’s tail.

IMG_6916

Close up of the bits off boon being broken up by the flax break.

For me, scutching was the real test for whether I had retted the flax properly.  Too much retting time, and the spinnable fibers start to break down, too little retting and the fibers remain ribbony, rather than thready, and the hard boon doesn’t easily separate.

IMG_7002.jpg

Over-retted, with broken frizzled fibers before any processing.

The retting process uses soaking or nightly dew to break down the pectin in the fibers. I retted the flax in three different batches. One was submerged under water in a kiddie pool, the second was dew-retted on the ground where it was grown, and the third was dew-retted on our front lawn. I suspected that I had over-retted the kiddie pool batch by about a day and that proved to be right. The fiber was more fragile and broke up more than the other batches.

IMG_7313.jpg

The batch that was dew-retted where it was grown, was slightly under-retted, with more ribbon-y strands. It also included the largest plants, at the outer edges of the plot, which tend to produce coarser fibers.

IMG_7298

Under-retted, with ribbon-like strands.

The front yard dew-retted flax was the Goldilocks “just-right” batch. It was in a sunnier and drier spot than the other dew-retted batch and I let it sit for about a week longer.

Each batch had a different color. The water-soaked batch was white and looks like gorgeous shining platinum-blonde hair (with lots of split ends). The batch from where the flax was grown received more overnight dew and was quite yellow (tow-headed) with some silver. The front-lawn was a gleaming silver.

IMG_7331.jpg

All of the colors were beautifully lustrous.

I like the silver, but traditionally it would have considered undesirable and bleached out. Apparently, to have avoided the dark spots on the flax that resulted in the silver coloration, I should have waited until cooler weather for retting.

George made a perfect scutching board and I whacked, scraped, and shook. I don’t usually buy things on ebay, but I couldn’t find any scutching knives locally. The knife I bought is from Sweden and is supposed to be from the 1800s.  It looks to be old, perhaps with a newer paint job. I didn’t buy it for authenticity, but as something I could use, and was delighted to find that it felt perfectly weighted in my hand and worked beautifully. It’s nice to look at, too.

IMG_6889.jpg

After scutching out most of the woody bits, the final step was hackling. Hackles are metal combs of varying degrees of fine-ness that cull out remaining boon, rat’s-nesty stuff, and short bits.

IMG_6895.jpg

What is left after hackling, are long strands of shiny line flax–the most desirable end product–and lots of tow flax–the combed out portions of fiber that are shorter, but also spinnable.

IMG_7307.jpg

Tow flax–what’s left on the hackles.

IMG_7325.jpg

Tow flax ready to spin.

From my small flax patch, which was about 6 X 12 feet, I ended up with 5 ounces of line flax and lots of tow flax. I didn’t expect to get this much, so I’m delighted. Now I have to learn how to spin the stuff.

IMG_7337

Line flax

Now that I have finished with the flax, I need to put the gardens to bed. Our tomatoes are still producing, we have parsnips, leeks, and carrots to pull, and we have fresh greens in our cold frame.

IMG_7046.jpg

My bees seem to be doing well. We still have lots of flowers blooming and I’ve stumbled on several bees that died in the performance of their duties–while gathering nectar from Queen Anne’s Lace or pollen-dusted in a cup of hollyhock.

IMG_7192

Not a bad place to die.

IMG_7168.jpg

This bumble bee died in a hollyhock.

In the cool mornings, my honey bees sleep late, but the bumble bees are out early, scouting the remaining flowers.

IMG_7158.jpg

Covered with pollen.

IMG_7190.jpg

IMG_7254_edited-2IMG_7221.jpg

In the dry afternoons, the honey bees congregate at the bird baths, sucking up water.

IMG_7212.jpg

IMG_7246.jpg

Our red October moonrises have returned.

IMG_7364

And the dogs are happy.

IMG_7373.jpg

Summer’s Bounty

IMG_6670.jpg

Hearing of all the weather turmoil around the world these past months, we have had an embarrassment of fine weather. It feels as if we are living on an island of perfect summer days, leading to a startling bounty of goodness to see, smell, and taste.

IMG_6486.jpg

I only had to water my vegetables one time the entire summer and I have never in my life had gardens produce such large and luscious yields.

IMG_5885IMG_6321.jpgIMG_6225.jpg

We barely kept up–a frenzy of chopping, slicing, blanching, and freezing–and then giving the rest away. Our freezers are full of beans, eggplant, zucchini, fennel, corn, roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste (a first), salsa verde, chopped basil and parsley rolls, and corn.

IMG_5853.jpg

Our agribon-covered tunnel for the brassicas was a great success, giving us pest-free cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and kale. The cover is still up over the brussel sprouts, which are just about ready to eat. We had bumper crops of potatoes and shallots and continue to have more tomatoes than we can eat. Our okra plants ended up doing pretty well, despite a slow start. But I didn’t know that you are supposed to harvest the pods after just a few days and left them on far too long. Hard as a rock. So George bought and froze a case of okra from our local farmer’s market. Only peppers are left to process–roasting and drying–yum.

IMG_6801.jpg

Our latest harvest came today when Capp noticed mushrooms sprouting from a wood-chip bed. We had spread the bed with wine cap mushroom spawn earlier in the summer but didn’t hold out much hope because the mushroom spawn that we had carefully pegged into logs last summer had failed to do anything. The chip bed is along our woods trail and Capp sometimes pees on one corner–the same corner in which the mushrooms have sprouted. Perhaps he has a magic elixer. His pee seemed to deter the raccoons from our corn this year, so I’m all for it. We haven’t eaten wine caps before. Let’s hope we like them. We’ll do a tiny taste tonight to make sure they don’t kill us and go from there.

IMG_6797

My little flax patch grew happily without any attention from me.

IMG_5933_edited-1.jpg

When the stalks were about 2/3 yellow, I pulled the plants by the roots and bundled them into stooks to dry.

IMG_5934

Almost harvest time.  Some seed heads are brown, some yellow, some still green.

IMG_5998.jpgIMG_6015

After drying, I took the seed heads off, a process called “rippling,” with two wooden tools I bought on ebay.

IMG_6247.jpg

IMG_6242

Before rippling.

IMG_6261.jpg

I really have no idea what they were originally used for–they were advertised as “flax hackles,” but I’ve also seen them for sale as Turkish weaving beaters, so who knows? In any case, they are beautiful hand carved tools that worked very well to comb the seed heads off of the flax.

IMG_6281
IMG_6282.jpg

IMG_6290.jpg

Seeds on a sheet.

After I removed the seed heads, I retted the flax. Retting is essentially a process that rots the stems a bit, breaking down the pectin to leave long fibrous strands for spinning. I retted my flax in three batches.

IMG_6296.jpg

One was submerged in water in a kiddie pool–held down with rocks. The other two were retted by the dew–one in the flax patch and one on our front lawn.

IMG_6298.jpg

Interestingly, the batch in the flax patch, which is lower down on the property, retted faster than the batch on the lawn.

IMG_6305.jpg

I then dried each batch again and have it waiting for the next stage–when it’s smashed and combed–called “breaking” and “hackling.”

IMG_6668.jpg

Although I scoured every antique store in mid-coast Maine for a flax break, I had no luck in finding one. So, George has kindly offered to make one for this year, while we continue to look. The break smashes the stems, separating the spinnable fibers from the rest.

IMG_6840

A small bit of flax that I processed is hanging from the distaff.  

As our vegetables and flax grew, so did our flowers.

IMG_6349.jpg

IMG_6470.jpgIMG_6473.jpg

IMG_6625_edited-1.jpg

It was a wonderful year for bees and butterflies.

IMG_6631.jpg

IMG_6438.jpg

IMG_6712.jpg

We had lots of monarchs this year AND lots of these milkweed tussock moths, which turned some of the milkweeds into skeletons.

Berries are thick, bringing berry-eating birds, including our waxwing babies.

IMG_6343

Wild cherries over the bee hive.  

IMG_6337.jpg

Unfortunately, our cursed bluebird continues to hang around and he may be training up his progeny to be just as nasty as he is. After months of enduring his assaults on our house and car windows, we hoped that he might calm down once his babies fledged.

IMG_5910.jpg

I grudgingly admit that he was a good provider and was surprised to see, when I pulled up the photos, that the female had a damaged claw–it was always bent under.

IMG_5973.jpg

Was his aggression protective of her injury? Or did he cause it? I have no clue, but he was one incredibly aggressive bird. The two of them raised three chicks and they went off in the world.

IMG_5989.jpg

We didn’t see anything of them for several weeks. The past few days, however, the whole crew is back and a male with a short tail is attacking house and car windows again. I fear he is the next generation.

IMG_6684_edited-1

We haven’t been entirely immune from weather woes. My mother’s water-front Florida house was slated for demolition by Hurricane Irma at one point. We spent some helpless, nail-biting hours wondering if the house and its contents would be swept away, while our weather continued sunny and glorious.

IMG_6119.jpg

But, Irma danced a bit eastward and the house was spared. Fortunately, my mother wasn’t there and–due to her dementia–didn’t know that her home was imperiled. A small benefit of extreme age, I guess.

IMG_5350.jpg

Clouds crimped like fleece.

IMG_5352

IMG_6036.jpg

Crimpy fleece like clouds.

Our weather was like summer today, with an overlay of fall smells and colors. I love fall and look forward to slowing down after a hectic summer. I am already planning inside activities–spinning, weaving, and sewing. I processed all the fleece that I bought this summer, using George’s loam separator to pick the vegetable matter, crud, and poop from the fleeces.

IMG_6496.jpg

IMG_6508.jpg

CVM fleece (California Variegated Mutant–awful name, lovely wool).  

Actually, with one exception, the fleeces were extremely clean and washed up beautifully.

IMG_6608
IMG_6697.jpg

The wood is in. Bring on fall and winter.

IMG_6373.jpg

 

Bookmark

IMG_5785.jpg

We have been busy, busy, busy.

IMG_5490.jpg

With our usual exuberance of planning and ideas, we again find ourselves scrambling to get everything done this summer while still fitting in some mellow relaxation time.

IMG_5771.jpg

IMG_5308.jpg

I’ve had little time or inclination for blogging,

IMG_5772.jpg

but things are starting to slow down a bit. I think.

IMG_5508.jpg

In the meantime, this post is a bit of a bookmark–a place-holding glimpse into a part of what we’ve been doing.

IMG_5810.jpg

IMG_5312.jpg

Our winter wood is in. The gardens are bursting with more than we can eat and promise of much more.

IMG_5631.jpgIMG_5752.jpgIMG_5335.jpg

We have been drying herbs, digging potatoes, freezing beans, corn, and squash, and planting fall vegetables.

IMG_5579.jpg

My new herb drying rack.  I think it’s designed for marijuana growers.

IMG_5582.jpg

I have been washing fleeces, obsessively searching for antique flax processing tools, and had a lovely visit with a local farmer and spinner on Maine’s Open Farm Day. I brought home two beautiful fleeces, a bag of interesting wool from a Soay sheep, and some Woad seeds for planting a dye garden next year.

IMG_5399.jpg

The small sheep is a Soay and the large curly one is a Leicester Longwool

IMG_5406.jpg

The Soay’s wool is pulled off in clumps rather than sheared.

IMG_5409.jpg

The glossy locks of the Leicester Longwool.

I finally made it to the the Windjammer parade on Rockland’s breakwater this year.

IMG_5057.jpg

In the 1800s, sailboats owned this coast–whalers, traders, fishing schooners.  Maine was a sailing hub–sending its boats and captains to every ocean and building some of the fastest clipper ships in the world.

IMG_5196.jpg

IMG_5111.jpg

Now the windjammers primarily provide entertainment for tourists, but it gives me an ache to watch them.

IMG_5161

Looking down from the lighthouse over the breakwater to shore.

IMG_5207.jpg

If I had a bucket list–which I don’t–it would include time-travel back to sailing ship days.  IMG_5219.jpg

Since that will never happen–I really enjoyed the parade.

IMG_5223.jpg

IMG_5224

Back home, in our yard, the aggressive male bluebird continues to harass us while his mate sits on her birdbox nest looking as if she wants someone to rescue her.

IMG_5262.jpg

A noisy nest in the apple tree by the side porch turned out to have baby waxwings.

IMG_5774.jpgIMG_5736.jpg

Our gardens are full of insects and the hive has the summer smell of honey and brood.

IMG_5366.jpg

The ant is moving towards this waspish creature on the tansy …

IMG_5367.jpg

as the ant approaches, the waspish creature lifts his leg and then brings it down.  I’m not sure what happened to the ant.

IMG_5384.jpg

I had thought that the hive might be ready for honey harvest this week, but it needs a few more weeks.

IMG_5724.jpg

These past weeks we’ve celebrated an anniversary, a birthday, and have had several visitors, including blog friend, Eliza, at Eliza Waters.

IMG_5270.jpg

She patiently endured a (very complete) tour of our little property, down to and including the compost bin, and we fit in a short hike.  I neglected to take any pictures, but she kindly brought us this begonia,

IMG_5832.jpg

which for now adorns the table on the porch where I rock, flick wool, and look at the view.

IMG_5284.jpg

 

High Summer

IMG_4994

When we first moved to Maine, someone told us that for five months of the year, it has the best weather in the world.  He was right.  I cannot imagine more perfect summer days. Warm, breezy, and sunny with enough afternoon thunderstorms to keep everything watered, followed by mellow, thick, golden evening light and then … fireflies.

IMG_4403

True water dog that she is, Alice adores playing in the sprinkler at the end of a hot day.  

IMG_4413

Last summer was marred by Zoe’s illness and death, so we were not able to really appreciate how magical summer is here. This year is different. The mixture of sun and rain is producing the most magnificent garden vegetables I have ever grown.

IMG_4796.jpg

This fennel self-seeded and is growing out the sides of the raised beds.

IMG_4853

The only challenge has been keeping the dogs from chowing down on them.

IMG_4757.jpg

They especially like to graze on the peas.

IMG_4979

Our flowers are blooming like mad,  becoming so big and crowded that I am going to have to tackle some serious digging and division this year.

IMG_4677.jpgIMG_4950.jpgIMG_5003.jpg

But, right now, I’m enjoying the riotous mish-mash of flowers, including the milkweed that sprung up on its own last year.

IMG_4681

I love its fragrance, beauty, and butterfly-value, so it is welcome to stay.

IMG_4846

IMG_4825

I have never been a big fan of yarrow, but grew this as an orchard companion and love the subtle colors.

IMG_4838.jpgIMG_4832.jpg

IMG_4493.jpg

Our new clematis is doing well.

We still have some nestlings, although most of the young birds have flown.

IMG_4526.jpgIMG_4510.jpg

I thought that I spotted some unusual woodpecker with a brilliant orange “W” or “M” mark on its crown.

IMG_4569.jpg

Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.

IMG_4577.jpg

Unfortunately, the aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us and seems to have chased off our beloved swallows. He looks a bit disheveled after hours of window and car attacks but nothing seems to faze him.

IMG_4941.jpg

He is a gorgeous but such a bully, I’d like to wring his neck. Bluebirds have now joined chipmunks on my “cute but evil” list.

IMG_4940

George has been  working on the trail system through our woods.

IMG_4744

About five acres of our land is wooded and we want to put in trails so that we can cut firewood, tap maples in the spring, and enjoy the woods all year round.

IMG_4543

In our first year, George built a loop trail from our front drive to the back garden.

IMG_4698.jpg

Original loop

This spring we mapped out several other trails leading off of that one.

IMG_4743

New trail

He is now working on one that will run around the perimeter of the property. There are some amazing, huge old trees back in there and a few impressive giant boulders.

IMG_4727.jpgIMG_4717.jpg

The bees are thriving this year.

IMG_4987.jpgIMG_4903.jpg

IMG_4814.jpg

No bees on this bee balm, but I love the double-decker flowers

On very hot days, the workers line up near the hive entrance, lift their bee butts, and fan their wings to cool the air.

IMG_4633.jpg

IMG_4627

Hive air conditioning

I have a few vegetable experiments underway. I am growing yellow mustard for seed this year. I will grind some and use some to make our own mustard (I hope).

IMG_4779.jpg

Yellow mustard seed pods

I am most excited, though, about my small patch of flax. I hope to process it for spinning. It has been maintenance-free so far, with no pests or disease to worry about. And it is sowed thickly that weeds have not been an issue. It’s in full bloom right now and is exquisite, with lovely blue flowers and curving stems.

IMG_4971.jpg

It anticipate that it will be quite a job to process the flax. The seeds need to be removed and then the stalks must be retted–a soaking process that rots the hardest part of the fibrous stem. After retting, the tough fiber must be removed through a process of breaking, scraping, and combing, which is called “dressing” the flax.

IMG_4753

My little patch

I’ve been on the hunt in antique stores for old flax processing tools. They have medieval names–hatchel (or hetchel, hackle, heckle), scutching sword, retting tub, and ripple. Most places don’t have much familiarity with flax tools. So, I was thrilled yesterday to stumble on a small store in which the owner broke into a large grin when I asked if he had any flax processing tools. After moving various items off a tiny set of back stairs, we climbed into an attic room where he had a collection of a dozen hatchels.

IMG_5038

The spikes on this hatchel are fairly close together.  If you look carefully on the left you can see scribe marks  for lining up the spike rows.

They resemble torture devices and are used for the final combing stage of dressing. Ideally, several hatchels should be used, starting with wide spacing of spikes to very fine spacing. I was thrilled to bring home two.

IMG_5026

I fell in love with this hatchel made of striped maple, with a cover, and initial stamps.  It’s likely about 200 years old.

IMG_5030

Capp had his first birthday.

IMG_4436.jpg

He’s an amazing dog.

IMG_5019.jpg

Yardbirds and Going Undercover

IMG_4291.jpg

We stopped feeding the birds sunflower seeds this spring after a chipmunk (or red squirrel) had an air-filter-and-hood-insulation feeding frenzy in our car. We hoped that the rodents that normally forage for sunflower seed debris under our feeders would move on down the road and, so far, it seems to be helping. We see very few squirrels now and our chipmunk population is down to two.

IMG_4210.jpg

The goldfinches survey the garden but haven’t eaten the chard yet this year.  Perhaps they did so last year to get moisture during the drought.  

I dragged myself kicking and screaming into the decision to stop feeding the birds. George and I love watching the birds at our feeders. But now, several months later, I have found an unexpected boon to taking down the seed feeder. We seem to have a greater variety of birds in the yard now and an increase in the nesting population. It’s possible that I am simply more observant of bird behavior around the yard now that the bird feeder playground has been closed. But I think it is more than that and we actually have had a change in the resident bird dynamics.

IMG_4254.jpg

A robin nesting in an apple tree in the middle of our yard.  

We still feed suet and added two more birdbaths, so continue to see most of the usual suspects. We see far fewer chickadees and cardinals, but now the more elusive warblers–which I usually hear but don’t see–have been putting in appearances in trees near the house. The biggest change, however, has been the increase in nesting couples.

IMG_4131

Robin eggshells?

Aside from the bluebirds, swallows and wrens nesting in our boxes, I believe we have bluejays, robins (at least two pairs), mourning doves, catbirds, sparrows, nuthatches, and phoebes nesting in trees in and around our yard.

IMG_4285

This past week, the late-nesting goldfinches and cedar waxwings have been gathering string and wool for their nests. I don’t know why we have become such a bird nursery this year. Perhaps there are less predators with our large fenced area and without the attraction of a feeder. In any case, I am glad that we took the feeders down.

IMG_4329

Mourning dove nesting in the apple tree behind our compost bin.  The male sits on it during the day and the female takes the night shift.  

We were fortunate again this year to see the first flights of some of the swallow nestlings. They don’t fool around with little short flights to a neighboring tree.  They carve a wide arc into the sky, trying out all the swooping, gliding, turning, fluttering swallow acrobatics in that first amazing flight. It’s looks like utter exhilaration in motion. Imagine how it must feel to go from a crowded nest box to dancing on the wind like that.

IMG_4379
IMG_4380IMG_4350.jpg

IMG_4343

Getting ready for the first flight with a meal of dragonfly.  The swallows are feeding constantly in the days before they leave the nest.  

The increased bird population has not been without its problems. Our male bluebird became crazed after the birth of his brood and starting attacking our house windows with mind-numbing (his and ours) zealous hits–boom, flutter, boom. Over and over and over. It looked as if it would hurt, but he persisted–for hours–then days. We leaned a piece of plywood against his favorite window to cut down on the reflection.

IMG_4110

But he simply moved to our vehicles’ side mirrors,

IMG_4114IMG_4115.jpgIMG_4112.jpg

IMG_4113

becoming so enraged at his reflection that he couldn’t contain his poop, leaving us with cascades of lovely fecal matter down both sides of the car and truck.

IMG_4104

I finally had to cover the mirrors.

IMG_4106

The babes have flown and I suspect he thinks he’s warding off competition for a second brood.

IMG_4331.jpg

Our other bird issue was not unexpected. We had our first real crop of strawberries this year and as they started to ripen, it was apparent that something was eating them. I didn’t know if it was birds, chipmunks, or mice until I caught a cedar waxwing redhanded. We quickly cobbled together a funky netting system to cover them, which has worked beautifully. Except for the fact that I have to crawl around to pick the berries and weed.

IMG_4272.jpg

The netting is hard to see but so far it has kept the birds out.

We also covered our brassicas this year with agribon fabric.

IMG_4363.jpg

They were devastated by cabbage moth caterpillars last year. So far, the plants are thriving under the fabric.  The agribon does raise the temperature, so may end up being too hot for the cool-loving brassicas.

IMG_4365.jpg

We’ll see.

IMG_4171.jpg

IMG_4201

The wet weather last month may have contributed to the shoot blight we’re seeing on young poplars in the woods

Weatherwise, the past weeks have been perfect, with lots of gorgeous sun and warmth punctuated with afternoon and evening thunder storms.

IMG_4301

George put in a water line to the vegetable gardens, but we haven’t had to use it yet, there has been such a nice mix of sun and rain.

IMG_3958.jpg

Trench for the water line.

The bees are thriving,

IMG_4066.jpg

flowers blooming,

IMG_4205.jpgIMG_4223.jpgIMG_4220IMG_4207IMG_4228.jpgIMG_4016.jpg

and the dogs are doing their doggy things.

IMG_4241.jpg

IMG_4248

It’s been a good June.

IMG_4322.jpg

First peach.

 

Alewives and After Rain

IMG_3920

The weather remained cloudy and cool for most of our daughter’s visit. But we took advantage of one brilliantly sunny day to watch some alewives run.  A nearby town, Damariscotta, holds an annual festival to celebrate the spring migration of alewives–a type of herring–from the ocean to their spawning ground in fresh water lakes.

IMG_3681

Alewives are about a foot long and were a valuable source of food, bait, and fertilizer for the native Wabanaki and early settlers on Maine’s coast.

IMG_3791

Smoked alewives

As with many Maine rivers, the construction of mills on the Damariscotta River in the 1700s obstructed the area’s alewife run.  In 1807, in response to a request from the state, a fish ladder was constructed in Damariscotta Mills, to allow the fish to move upriver alongside the mill race.  Two hundred years later, in 2007, a much-needed restoration of the fish ladder was undertaken. The Alewife Festival raises money for the restoration project.

IMG_3686

The falls at the old mill site.  The metal contraption on the right is a harvesting pen.

Just the name “alewife” makes me like these fish. But the origin of the name is uncertain. One theory is that the fish have fat bellies and resemble fat-bellied women tavernkeeper alewives. I’m not buying it. Other theories are that the name evolved from Wabanaki or old English names for herring.

IMG_3670

The dark area is all alewives

Our first view of the fish was impressive. As we walked over the bridge leading into Damariscotta Mills, a wide swath of river was darkened by a traffic jam of alewives working their way to a gauntlet of seagulls lining a narrows leading to the fish ladder.

IMG_3685.jpg

The gull gauntlet

It was fascinating to watch the gulls fishing.

IMG_3719

IMG_3703IMG_3705IMG_3706

The gulls swallow the alewives whole, creating bizarre distorting lumps on the gulls’ necks and backs as the fish go down.

IMG_3707

IMG_3708

IMG_3721

IMG_3722.jpg

Today, harvesting of the alewives continues.

IMG_3697.jpg

Harvesting pen

Most of the harvested fish are used as bait for lobster fishermen, but some are smoked for eating.  The fish ladder itself is a series of pools connected with sloping channels for the fish to swim from pool to pool.

IMG_3736.jpg

IMG_3758

We followed the ladder upstream, taking advantage of activities for kids along the way that the grandchildren really enjoyed.

IMG_3688

Then we turned around and wandered downhill through Damariscotta Mills

IMG_3776

and visited my favorite fabric store named, fittingly, Alewives Fabrics.

IMG_3768.jpg

It was a good day.

IMG_3888

Home again.

The rain returned the next day.

IMG_3803.jpg

The cool drizzly days brought on a flush of plant growth.

IMG_3843

IMG_3815.jpg

The cool-weather garden crops have been going nuts and the roadsides were especially beautiful when the sun emerged after the rain.

IMG_3878

IMG_3837IMG_3867

Bringing a spectacularly colorful rainbow.

IMG_3910

We did have a Capp-tastrophe this week when Capp took on a young pear tree and won. It wasn’t a contest, really, he shredded that baby in about 10 seconds flat.

IMG_3949

The shredded remains of the pear tree.

Capp loves to pull up vegetation and roots, so I had been surprised and pleased that he had (so far) ignored are little orchard trees. After he destroyed the pear tree, however, we wasted no time in building little fences around all of our young trees.

IMG_3951

IMG_3956

George just built this beautiful arbor for our northern kiwis.  We fenced off the kiwis, too!

Fences make for happy Lab owners.

IMG_3944

We are in full nesting season in the yard.

IMG_3894.jpg

Our bird houses are full.  Two have swallows, two have wrens, and one has bluebirds.  I love this time of year.

IMG_3938.jpg

 

 

Digging In and Looking Back

IMG_3668

We had an anniversary this week. We moved to this tiny paradise on a hill two years ago. It was a marriage of sorts, of people and place, and deserves anniversary recognition. We celebrated by digging, planting, and constructing, and generally reveling in the explosion of spring in this lovely spot of earth.

IMG_3262.jpg

The day we moved in, the apple trees were in full bee-buzzing bloom. We had never thought to find a place with dozens of ancient apple trees and were amazed at our luck in landing here. We couldn’t have arrived at a more beautiful time of year. Aside from the apples, the lilacs and wild honeysuckle were just starting to bloom. It is a peak time for fragrance and birdsong. Intoxicating.

IMG_3583

That first year, we could just see the blossomy tops of what appeared to be a ring of old apple trees through the brush and small trees behind the house.

IMG_0495

Zoe in the yard the day after we moved in.  The blossoming tops of the ring of old apple trees are barely visible.

We decided to clear back to those trees and open things up for vegetable gardening and a small orchard and sitting area.

IMG_0551

The big oak when we moved in, surrounded by small trees and brush.  

IMG_0501.jpg

The first lawn mowing.

IMG_0549

We quickly cleared high grass for raised beds within a week of moving in.  The next summer, we moved the raised beds to the area below the house and turned this into our little orchard area.

It will be a work in progress for years, but has been incredibly satisfying to work on this beautiful property.

IMG_3523.jpg

The big oak and ring of old apple trees revealed.  

IMG_3643.jpg

Little orchard with swale and companion plants.

IMG_3663.jpg

First cherry blossom

IMG_3655

Now that we’ve been here through three blooms, we’ve seen the fruiting cycle of these old trees. We had heard that the wild trees often bloom and bear fruit every other year. And sure enough, the trees that bloomed that first year didn’t bloom the second year and now are blooming again.

IMG_0475.jpg

Last May.  Only two trees blooming and a branch here and there on the other trees.

IMG_3636

This  May.  All the trees are blooming, except for the two that bloomed last year.

This is the bloomiest year in the cycle.  Depending on where in the yard we are working, we can hear the buzzing of bees in different apple trees.

IMG_3474.jpg

This beautiful tree has little yellow apples that stay all through the winter–at least until the Waxwings visit for a mid-winter gorge.  

It is quite loud and makes me happy. Good for the bees and good for the trees.

IMG_3547.jpgIMG_3545.jpg

The past few weeks finally brought us some warmth and sun.

IMG_3230

Before the sun.  A little greening up on the hillside.

Green growing things, which had been patiently waiting through cold, rainy April, apparently decided to make up for lost time.

IMG_3334

From this …

IMG_3541

… to this …

IMG_3566.jpg

… to this in a few days.

A plant orgy of sorts.

IMG_3035.jpg

Maples just budding, with teensy developing seeds.

IMG_3269.jpg

Soon after, the leaves are popping out and the seeds developing their wings. 

IMG_3331.jpg
IMG_3280.jpgIMG_3283.jpgIMG_3276.jpg IMG_3307

IMG_3292.jpg

This chipmunk looks like he was indulging in excessive spring celebration–cheeks stuffed to overflowing with something.  At least it wasn’t parts of our car.  

Now that the weather has improved and the soil is warming, we have been working like mad to get things planted. George also has been busy making fences. Both pups are gourmands, LOVING veggies, flowers, herbs, grass, soil, fertilizer–if we plant it, they will eat it. And they have generously shared their personal fertilizer on a few choice perennials.

IMG_3627.jpg

So, we are putting up small fences, at least while they are young.

IMG_3648.jpg

We have eight raised beds this year (with little dog-proofing additions), two large beds for corn, tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and squash, and a separate bed for growing flax (which I’m going to try to process for spinning). Our little orchard trees are thriving. I will transplant the apples I grafted last year to the gaps in our ring of old trees.

IMG_3658.jpg

Last year’s grafted trees are ready to transplant.

And my herb garden is flourishing. We are rich.

IMG_3571

Aside from all our work outside, we’ve had visitors. Our son and daughter-in-law were here early in the month while the weather was a little iffy. But we had glorious weather and crashing waves on our trip to Pemaquid Point.

IMG_3186

Last week, we had doggy guests. Capp’s brother, Henry, and a sweet female, Quinn, came for two days.

IMG_3410IMG_3343

IMG_3377

Capp and Henry.

One day was freakishly hot, so we had dog summer camp, complete with a pool.

IMG_3347

Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren will be here in a few days so we are madly trying to get everything planted before they arrive. I think we are going to make it.

IMG_3275.jpg

 

May and a Walking Wheel

IMG_3049.jpg

Our drought is officially over. April did it in. We have had a soggy, misty, cold-footed, gray-skied, sodden-lawn spring.

IMG_2918.jpgIMG_2814.jpg

April’s wet and chill delayed the emergence of new growth, but in May, we are greening up.

IMG_2947.jpg

IMG_3098.jpg

Trees are blooming, leaves popping out, and a few flowers are showing their colors. Our lawn is so green it feels more like Ireland than Maine.

IMG_2795.jpg

IMG_3089

IMG_3037.jpgIMG_3054.jpg

IMG_3073.jpgIMG_3015.jpgIMG_2988

As I raked up the “mummies,” old apple drops from last year, I found that some were germinating the seeds within.

IMG_2931.jpg

It looks as if something chewed this and spit it out.  But it’s just the rotting apple with its seeds sprouting.  A perfect medium for growing.  I planted these in a pot.  It will be fun to see if I can bring some apples up from seeds at the same time we raise them from grafts.

In May, the birds and the bees are back.

IMG_2895

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

IMG_2924

Our bluebirds and swallows have been jousting over the most select bird houses, but seem to be settling into the same ones they chose last year. Several birds have checked out the new houses we put up, but last year’s houses seem to be the preferred real estate.

IMG_2754

When I cleaned out last year’s nests, I found the bluebirds had lined their nest of grass, twigs, and assorted vegetative matter with about an inch of compacted but soft, downy, white something. At first I thought it was sheep’s wool, but then realized it was Zoe’s fur. I like to brush dogs outside in the spring and summer and throw their fur to wind. It’s an easy way to dispose of the fur and I thought some birds might use it. Little did I think that I would find a lovely reminder of Zoe in a bird’s nest almost a year after she died. I hope Capp and Alice’s fur will line nests this year.

IMG_2953.jpg

As for Alice, we have discovered that she is a beast in the water. Her father was a hunting retriever and she obviously has his genes. I suspect she would retrieve to her last breath. When Alice is happy every bit of her being exudes pure joy in doing what she is doing.

IMG_2972.jpg

Capp, in the water, prefers retrieving sticks to bumpers. So far, he is an enthusiastic farmer boy, inspecting (and eating) all we do in the yard. A gorgeous bundle of swagger and sweetness, he is full of adolescent male curiosity and loving intelligence. We are fortunate to have two dogs packed with personality and love.

IMG_2845.jpg
Both dogs are garden marauders, though. George had to dog proof our raised beds to keep pups from cavorting in them. They love to eat every kind of green and brassica, charcoal bits, weeds, sticks, and Capp eats tulips (not good for dogs!).

IMG_2919.jpg

Our hillside is starting to look a bit like a little farm.

IMG_2855.jpg

Cold frame is filling up.

The strawberry patch is doing well, the asparagus shoots are poking up, our orchard trees are swelling with buds and we are putting in new beds for flax and more vegetables.

IMG_2807

George built a holder for the tractor’s shank ripper.  Looks like a throne or an electric chair.

IMG_3115.jpg

Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.

IMG_2899.jpg

The white is mycelium growing (so they tell us).

We are tearing out almost all of the rugosa roses that lined our parking area and the front of the house in a scraggly hedge want-to-be.

IMG_2769

I hate to destroy someone else’s vision for the property, but after two years, both George and I came to harbor a sort of hatred for the spiny invasive devils. Allowed to grow wild in a hedge, they might be wonderful. But they were not planted in wild-hedge territory. They sucker up huge unwieldy shoots and creep everywhere underground, through lawn, gravel, wood–persistent little spiny monsters. And for much of the year they are really very ugly.

IMG_2832.jpg

So, we dug most of them out and righted their severely listing retaining wall. We are planting a variety of sweet-smelling pollinator-attracting shrubs instead. RIP prickly invaders. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of you.

IMG_2829.jpg

We have installed a new package of bees in the hive and, on our few sunny days, they have been bringing in loads of yellow pollen.

IMG_2987.jpg

I did a post mortem (I wish–what do I know, really?) on the hive and concluded that I killed the bees through my worrying and ineptness. The hive was loaded with honey and I could find no obvious signs of disease. Without getting into too much detail, I believe that I should have insulated the hives and should not have opened them for what turned out to be totally unnecessary winter feedings of sugar cakes. I had large bee die-offs both times I opened the hives, so there clearly was a connection. The good news is that it doesn’t look like the bees died from mite infestations or other diseases. The bad news is that I probably killed them. Live and learn. In any case, I harvested one frame of delicious honey and the bees this year have a good head start.

IMG_2762.jpg

May also brought me a walking wheel.

IMG_3131.jpg

I am having a sort of love affair with antique spinning wheels. I now have three wheels. Mudd Sharrigan did a beautiful job in restoring the flyer and bobbin for my Connecticut wheel.

IMG_1145

The flyer, bobbin, and whorl, broken and chipped.

IMG_1146.jpg

IMG_2935.jpg

Mudd retained the original flyer as much as possible, while rebuilding the arms and filling in the chipped areas.  

I took the ancient flax off of the distaff–it has been on there longer than I have been alive–and found that the distaff was made of a sapling, stripped of bark, with the branches curved upwards.

IMG_2939.jpg

The distaff on a flax wheel holds the prepared flax to be spun. 

Such distaffs are not uncommon, but just think of someone going out in the woods and picking out a young tree and shaping it so long ago. I love the history of these old wheels.

IMG_3135.jpg

A comparison, of the size of the Connecticut flax wheel with the New Hampshire Walking Wheel.

My new/old wheel probably dates from the 1800s in New Hampshire. Walking wheels–also called great wheels–were used for spinning wool and are huge compared to the Saxony style flax wheels.  My new wheel is as tall as I am.  What a beauty.

IMG_2941.jpg

She has a spindle–the Sleeping Beauty prick your finger kind of spindle– with an accelerating head (also called a Minor’s or Miner’s head) patented in the early 1800s.

IMG_3137.jpg

I am just learning the ins and outs of spinning on her. It will take a while.  When I hit the sweet spot, it clicks, literally, with a tick-tick-tick sound of the spindle and wool. I can see that it is a dance of wheel, wool, and spinner.

IMG_3140_edited-1.jpg

More on this wheel later.