High Summer

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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They especially like to graze on the peas.

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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.

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

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

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

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Our new clematis is doing well.

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

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

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Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Original loop

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

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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.

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The bees are thriving this year.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Capp had his first birthday.

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He’s an amazing dog.

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46 thoughts on “High Summer

  1. Oh, happy birthday, Cap! What busy, creative, productive lives you, your dog buddy, and your people lead!

    • The flowers are running a bit rampant. Nothing like your tidy garden, I’m afraid. It’s all I can do to keep the dogs out of the perennials. Our vegetables seem to be growing unusually large this year. Thank goodness I didn’t plant any Cardoon, they would have taken over the whole bed. I could take photos of bees all day long.

  2. I was so happy to see the thriving bees doing air conditioning duty. Your garden looks fabulous. That fennel would go into a dish I make with shrimp, fennel, peas and a bit of chopped onion and wine over pasta bow ties. It’s yummy. Your flowers are gorgeous as well, and it’s always good to see a dog in the sprinkler! I’m impressed with your trailblazing in the woods. That one tree looks amazing! It will be nice to have a strolling path in all seasons.

    • I love watching the bees. It’s mind-boggling to see them all carrying out their individual tasks for the hive community and thought-provoking in the context of humans, with our continual push and pull between individual vs. community. I almost hate to take their honey, but I will be harvesting some in the next week or so. That should be exciting … Your shrimp and fennel dish is making my mouth water. I made something similar last week with mussels but think I’ll give it a go with shrimp. There is nothing that compares to vegetables right out of the garden. And everything we grow here seems particularly tasty. I don’t know if it’s the soil or the fact that we are retired and can take time to smell the roses.

  3. Your garden is flourishing and lovely to see photos of the bees around the flowers, the mustard growing ( don’t think I have seen that before) and also the flax … What a pretty blue flower. It will be interesting to see how you process the flax … That will probably take months to do …. The first hatchel could be an instrument of torture .. The one made of stripped maple has been beautifully restored. Oh the stories they could tell! Happy birthday to Capp .. He is looking older.

    • All that garden flourishing– and we haven’t had to water once. Astonishing compared to last year’s drought. This year has been the perfect mix of sun and rain. How often does that happen? I’m slightly obsessed with the flax production right now. We spent the afternoon hunting for more flax tools (oh, if they could speak …) to no avail, but also got a good ocean swim in for the dogs. Capp is becoming quite the gentleman. With a good bit of pup still thrown in.

  4. This post clearly indicates what a good and happy life you have and your absolute gratitude for each and every day! What fun, what delight, you and George and your canine pals are having!! Happy birthday to Cap…boy did he land the perfect home! ( Alice, too!!). Life is good, yes????

    • I wake up every morning looking forward to whatever I’m going to do that day (with a very occasional exception). But we waited a very long time for our little farm-let, so that makes it extra sweet. We are doing exactly what we want to be doing at this time in our lives. So, yes, life is good.

  5. I love reading your posts–so full and varied and happy! And your photos impress me every single month–that one of the 5 bees encircling the flower is amazing! It all looks beautiful and lush–we haven’t had at the perfect weather you’ve had but we’ve had the rains so we have burgeoning growth here, too. The linen processing fascinates me, too–the weaving school I’ve been to–Vavstuga–does a workshop on the process but I haven’t been. I will follow your journey with interest and hope you find more wonderful antique tools!

    • You should see the bees when the poppies are at their morning peak. It’s a real frenzy. It has made me wonder if there is some bee intoxicant in those poppies. The girls go nuts. Sort of a Beatles/Elvis frenzy. Interesting that you’ve had so much rain. On the radar maps, it seems these big weather fronts come through your area and then track up to the west of us. Perhaps breezes or temperatures coming off the ocean pushes them north. In any case, our weather has been sublime this summer.
      Your Vavstuga school is ridiculously appealing. All those amazing Scandinavian patterns … I am chomping at the bit to get my loom up and running but am waiting until fall when things slow down a bit. I was fortunate to learn something about flax processing at the Common Ground Fair last year. We went on the hunt for flax tools today and found nothing–except for a hatchel/hackle for $650!!! It was a nice one, but, are you kidding me?

  6. Contentment sings out from your words and pictures, Brenda; it’s lovely. I’m so glad you are enjoying this summer and your land, bees and dogs are obviously thriving with you. Gorgeous photos, as always. x PS Happy birthday to Capp.

    • Thank you Sam. I hope you are likewise feeling contented. The years when the kids were growing up were more frenzied and crackling with action than these days when there are only the two of us and the dogs at home. It’s easier now to focus on contentment, if you know what I mean!

  7. Happy birthday Capp! You have so many wonderful things in this post I don’t know where to begin! Your property is so beautiful and I love it all. Creating the paths in the woods look likes a huge project but I’m sure you will both enjoy them once they are finished. I hope your flax project will turn out the way you want. And I’m happy to see you have bees again.

    • George absolutely loves making the trails with all the tractor work. He is becoming a trail-making master. We are looking forward to having the trails for cross-country skiing and sledding in the winter. It’s like another world in there.
      The flax will be fun no matter what happens. I’m learning a lot about what it took to make a simple flax garment a few hundred years ago. Even if I only spin a few yards of fiber, I’ll be happy.

  8. Here’s hoping Capp got a wonderful treat to celebrate his birthday. 🙂 You two have been busy, busy, and it shows in your beautiful veggie and flower gardens. I imagine you pop out of bed in the morning and get right at a long to-do list with all those projects. But, I’m also guessing you are pretty happy with all your hard work and the results you are seeing. Your photos are beautiful and expertly tell the story of your homesteading efforts. Impressive. 🙂

    • No need to hope. Capp got several wonderful treats to celebrate his birthday. All day long, in fact. And Alice got them too, of course. What have we come to, celebrating our dog’s birthday? Oh well, we love him. You are right about our busy, busy days. We are too busy, in fact, and trying to dial it back. Juggling visitors, dogs, volunteering, and all our projects has been a bit dizzying. On the other hand, we need to get all this physical stuff done while we are still young enough. Building trails, harvesting wood, building stone walls (that’s on the agenda)–who wants to do that with dodgy hips, knees, back, heart, or whatever?
      It has been a busy, but satisfying time, full of life and plans. Not bad for retirement.

      • What you guys are accomplishing is an amazing feat, and it will certainly be satisfying to walk along those trails down the road when large projects are all done. I will look forward to the stone wall project. I went to a class once, and I loved the idea. I’ve made a couple of tiny little divisions, can’t call them walls really. 🙂

  9. Such a bountiful post, lovely to see everything thriving, including the dogs and bees. Happy birthday to Cap, where did that year go??? How wonderful it must be to have five acres of woodland with your own personal trails…..and fireflies, they are just amazing. I love your hairy woodpecker and as for that crazed bluebird, struth, what’s to be done with him. Be interesting to see how the flax works out!xxx

  10. I am still amazed that Maine has such a wonderful growing climate…who would have known, as it is (as you know) one of only 3 states I have never visited. And I would dearly love some bluebirds out here – please send them.

    I always love photos of your wonderful dogs. Capp looks delightful. And your flower pictures are wonderful, as always. You two work so hard on your property.

    BTW, I think our ancestral mill (Bobb’s mill) was gristmill for flax? Not sure.

    • I think it’s time for you to visit! You can have our bluebird. We are tired of him! I suspect that the Bobb’s mill was for grain rather than flax, but if you have information about flax there, I would love to know it. The Schwenkfelders were known for their spinning and weaving but I’m not sure about the Bobbs. There are a lot of antique spinning wheels made in Pennsylvania, so I suspect that the Bobbs did their fair share. I have an old wheel from my Mom’s family, what I wouldn’t give for a wheel from Dad’s too.

  11. This really is turning into a Goldilocks-just-right summer, a great improvement over last year’s drought. I love your volunteer fennel growing out through the sides of the raised beds. Like you, I welcome the volunteer milkweed plants. They’re easy enough to pull out where they’re not wanted, and I love the fragrance of those flowers.

    • Yesterday I was talking with friends who live on the coast in Gouldsboro and they complained that they have had been blanketed in constant fog this summer. I guess we are fortunate to be in the hills. Our volunteer milkweeds are right by our back deck, making for very fragrant deck-sitting. I love it. I also learned recently that you can process milkweed stalks in a way similar to flax and spin the fibers. So, I may try that this year.

  12. Hi Brenda, Your garden summer highlights are wonderful! I am amazed how much land you have the woodland trails look fantastic. I was so interested in the tools to use with your flax. We have flax tools in our museum I will have to see if they have any examples like yours! Sarah x

    • Thanks Sarah. I would love to see what you have for flax tools in your museum. Except for the hatchels/hackles, I haven’t found any more flax tools. But I”m enjoying the hunt.

  13. Your garden is bursting with life and beauty! Even if some of the life, like the Bluebird, is annoying. You make the summer in Maine sound completely idyllic. So glad your bees are doing well and that you let the milkweed grow. Isn’t the fragrance marvelous?

    • It has been such a glorious summer weather-wise that plants are just exploding with growth. It’s almost scary. This summer has been pretty idyllic. I keep waiting for some catastrophe. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love the fragrance of milkweed and saw our first monarch of the season flitting about them yesterday.

    • Amazingly, we haven’t had to water the garden once this year and it is doing beautifully. For some reason, the bees go nuts on the poppies first thing in the morning. It’s a bee frenzy.

  14. You really do take some wonderful photos. Love the ones with the sprinkler! You also have quite a lot of land to look after – fabulous! I have seen fields of flax in bloom – it looks so beautiful. Enjoyed that post.

    • Thanks. The sprinkler has been a big hit with Alice. It feels a bit as if we have small children at home again! Flax is a lovely plant, isn’t it? All those blue flowers swaying in the wind. I would grow it just for the flowers, but I’m looking forward to trying to process it.

  15. It doesn’t surprise me to get positive feelings while reading your blogs, flowers, dogs, bees and whatnot, but I never expected to feel so kindly disposed towards a piece of wood with spikes sticking out. Three cheers for finding a good pair of hatchels! And another for all the sentences one never knew were out there.

    • Hatchel hunting, who knew? I found a third hatchel this week for $7 at a barn sale down the road. This morning I am off to a huge antique sale to see if I can find any more flax processing tools. Wish me luck.

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