Summer’s Bounty

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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Before rippling.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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It was a wonderful year for bees and butterflies.

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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.

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Wild cherries over the bee hive.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Clouds crimped like fleece.

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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.

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

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

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The wood is in. Bring on fall and winter.

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38 thoughts on “Summer’s Bounty

  1. What an amazing season you’ve had. I don’t know how you fit in all that activity, but you will certainly eat well this winter and have plenty to do. Glad your mum’s house survived.

    • As usual, we were far too busy this summer. We keep trying to slow down but something or other always pops up as an unexpected time suck. Now that all our food and wood is in, things really are slowing down. It’s a lot of work to put up food, but the flavors of our home-grown food are so much richer than anything we can buy. It’s amazing how much punch our home-dried herbs have compared to store-bought. I know you would appreciate them in your cooking!

  2. You two are absolutely phenomenal! Your little farm is even more prolific than images from my old Whole Earth Catalogs and Mother Earth News, back in the day. Just WOW!

    • We were astonished at how amazing the gardens were this year. Some combination of weather and soil hit a sweet spot. We are still adjusting what and how much we grow, but the glut of veggies in August is unavoidable. This little farm has been a dream since the early days of Mother Earth News, so it’s play time for us. I hope your scorching weather is over and you return to some normalcy.

    • Honestly, in reading other blogs it almost felt like we were the one spot on earth with decent weather this year. I felt a little guilty writing about it. The flax experiment has been great fun. I’m planning on growing more next year. We want to try growing rice too!

  3. I figured you’ve been harvesting up a bounty – it is such a rush at the end of the season when everything comes in at once. Sounds like you are set for winter.
    Your flax processing was fascinating to read about. I’m curious to see what you make with your goodies.
    We bought a couple of those nifty drying racks and they worked beautifully for our tulsi and lemon balm. Thanks for the tip!

    • Our freezers are packed with goodies. And with this glorious September weather, the peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes just keep coming. I’m glad that the drying racks worked out for you. I’m still drying herbs! I may try them for drying mushrooms, too. I am enjoying the flax processing so much. Now I have to figure out how to spin the stuff and get my loom fixed up for weaving. Lovely winter projects.

  4. What a treasure to be able to read your post and learn about things unfamiliar to me. Seeing your photos is like going on a mini-vacation. They celebrate the nature’s beauty and your own hard work. Thank you for taking the time to share your adventures.

  5. Your life sounds so rich and fulfilling, Brenda. I’m sure it’s hard work but how rewarding to grow loads of your own food, wood and fabrics! Being outdoors and close to nature must also reap great rewards. I’m glad you’ve had a wonderful summer and that your mother’s house was spared by the hurricane. Thank you for giving us a peep into your lovely world. PS Hope the mushrooms were good!

    • We are fortunate to have been able to retire while we are still young enough to do the physical things that we love. After so many years sitting at a desk at work, it feels like every day is a vacation. Going back to the comments on your blog, it would be great fun to do a “day in the life” for bloggers, but I have no idea how to organize such a thing! The mushrooms were pretty good–not very strong, kind of a subtle, delicate flavor.

  6. I can’t get over how much you have both achieved in one summer… Congratulations! The whole flax processing is new to me, and I found it most interesting. I think you could write a book about it all, and include bits and pieces about the farm. It is amazing to see what good weather you’ve had considering the appalling weather conditions elsewhere. I enjoyed the story of your terrible bird family, although I’m sure they must drive you crazy. Best wishes for autumn….. time to rest?

    • The flax processing is new to me too! That’s one of the reasons it’s been so much fun. If I actually had to process flax for clothes, years on end, I imagine it could quickly feel like sheer drudgery. But for me, it’s fascinating to turn a plant into usable fiber. The weather has been amazing. I don’t expect to ever experience a summer with such glorious weather again. And hearing of all the dismal conditions elsewhere made us really appreciate what we had.

  7. Your monthly posts inspire me to get out–to work harder, plant more, take more photos, create more–just to try and keep up with you! I love that you’re going through the whole flax–>linen process and keeping us apprised. What a summer!

  8. It sounds as if your summer has been jam-packed too–with the extra burden of your friend’s illness. I am looking forward to slowing down for fall and winter. I am so excited about getting my loom going, it’s been a very, very long time since I have done any weaving. I suspect that the amount of flax that I manage to spin won’t amount to much, but perhaps I can incorporate it into a bit of weaving. I sure have enjoyed the whole process.

    • It’s been a very good summer and we eat like royalty. I got some photos of my Mom’s house today and amazingly only a few palm fronds are down. Phew. I feel for those in the Caribbean and the Keys who lost everything.

  9. That would be lovely, but no paddy fields here. Although we do have a water buffalo farm nearby. Apparently there is such a thing as upland rice that grows in Maine. Thought it might be fun to give it a try.

  10. Brenda, I am just now getting a chance to catch up on my blog reading after waiting to see what Irma was going to do and then dealing with the aftermath. I’m so glad your mother’s home was spared. Here along the Georgia coast many areas were flooded. Tybee Island suffered a tremendous amount of flooding. Many residents were just finishing up repairs from Matthew when Irma again flooded their homes. I understand St. Simons suffered a lot of flooding, too. Our house is fine.

    • Beth, I’ve been thinking of you and wondering how you fared. So glad that your house is fine. I was afraid that Tybee and St. Simons were getting another big flooding. It must be very disheartening to have this hit so soon after Matthew. Let’s hope that the rest of the hurricane season is quieter.

  11. Always good to get a peek at your paradise and see what you have been up to. What a harvest. It’s good to see how well everything has grown, including the four-leggeds. Oh noooooo, more nagry bluebirds, they are the only fly in the ointment. I love those wooden tools! It’s good to hear your mums’ house was spared, I can imagine you concern. Here’s to more good weather all around.xxx

    • Our weather has continued to be warm and lovely heading into fall. Aren’t the wooden tools great? I especially love how the angled one is carved out of one piece of wood. I would love to know what they were used for, though. Best of luck and speedy healing in your surgery, Dina. And don’t do too much afterwards!

  12. I’m amazed how good your harvest has been, it looks fantastic. I was really interested to read about the flax. The area around here was well known for flax and hemp growing that was used to make nets. We have lots of tools and examples of the process in our local museum. Sarah x

    • We were a bit surprised at how well everything did this summer. We seem to live in a sweet spot for soil and temperature. I would love to see your museum. It’s quite an experience to use the antique flax tools and spinning wheels–very evocative of an earlier time and way of life.

  13. Your piece of paradise is so bountiful it was pure pleasure looking through all the photos. What a challenge the flax harvest was and a long drawn out process. What are you going to do with the finished product? We had an amazingly mild autumn and winter. Great for tourist but not so good for the garden. But 2 days ago it started to rain and hasn’t stopped yet. Lovely gentle soaking rain, so I am now into redesigning some areas. Great to catch up. I see you have 2 dogs now….

    • It’s so good to have you back! Processing the flax has been a real pleasure to me, but it’s hard to imagine having to work acres just to get clothing on your back and sheets on your bed. I plan on spinning and weaving with the flax, but my yield won’t be enough this year to make anything useful. I plan on doubling my little patch next year. And, yes, we have two new dogs–Capp and Alice. We still mourn Zoe, but these two have been such a joy.

  14. Wow, what an incredible harvest you have had. Are those tomatillos I see in the fourth picture down? I tried to grow them this year and they were a flop. And you even grew flax! Your flowers and butterflies are also beautiful.

    • I am not sure why we had such prolific gardens this year. Others in the area complained about late tomatoes and low yields. We seem to have a good little micro-climate on our hillside . In any case, we ended up giving away quite a few vegetables this year–tomatillos included. We had three tomatillo plants, which was too many. They went berserk and we have enough salsa verde in our freezers to feed the neighborhood. By the way, your blog inspired me to try tithonia this year. I grew them from seed and wasn’t very optimistic when I transplanted them. They were quite sad looking. But they did pretty well, so I’ll try a few more next year.

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