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.

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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.


Learning rosepath.

It was wonderful to be back there, immersed in a week of nothing but weaving.


Monksbelt variation.

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.

IMG_2536IMG_2221Capp is doing wonderfully now.  It’s such a relief to have him back to normal.


Throughout the spring, I’ve been spinning and weaving,

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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.

44 thoughts on “Busy

    • If you ignore the ticks and toxic moth hairs, it is pretty idyllic. I love it here and the pests and weather challenges keep things interesting. I spent years sitting at a computer most days, which probably is why I now spend as much time as I can outside, often just standing there soaking it all in.

      • Love to! I sent the broken antique wheel parts for the Fiber College’s little wheel to John Sturdevant per your recommendation and he has been so nice.

      • I’ll send you an email. Or, if I don’t, you send me an email! I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed working with John. Not only is he extremely nice and accommodating, but he does beautiful work.

    • I think that things are slowing down, for me at least (George still has a bundle of projects on his list), so maybe I will manage to post a bit more and keep up with other blogs. I really enjoyed your posts on your trip to Ireland and Scotland. It looks like you had quite a special trip–and all those blue skies!

      • Glad you are enjoying the posts about our trip. We were very lucky to see so much blue sky! I still have a couple of more posts I need to work on.

  1. Nice to see your post, Brenda. You two prove that retired folks are busier than those still doing the 9-to-5, lol! Lots of projects – George is a wonder. Glad to hear that Capp is well, give him and Alice a hug from me.
    Enjoy your summer!

    • We are trying to pack in the projects before we get too decrepit to do them. I was planning on visiting you on my way to Vavstuga, but ended up picking up a spinning wheel in New York state (straight over the “mountains” from Shelburne Falls) instead. Hmmm. Not sure what that says about my priorities! Next time.
      Enjoy your summer, too.

  2. Always lovely to read your posts Brenda, I’m amazed at the amount you have achieved in this last year…the gardens and orchids are looking good. What a shame to have the dreadful brown tail moths, do the birds eat them? You have such a range of birds around you, all very interesting for me. Your weaving projects are inspiring too, I have two friends who would dearly love to spend more time with their weaving friends.
    So glad Capps is looking healthy and happy.

    • We got behind last summer because of Capp’s illness, so it feels good to be catching up on our plans. The brown tail moths have been an unpleasant wrinkle this spring, though. The caterpillar’s toxic hairs are a defense mechanism to keep birds from feeding on them, unfortunately. I believe birds eat the moths themselves, though. If so, maybe our burgeoning bird population will have a good go at them.
      My weaving slows down in the summer, because I spend as much time outside as possible. It’s wonderful to have it to look forward to for winter.

  3. It’s always fantastic to hear from you, I do miss your posts! Oh my….I wouldn’t know were to start comment wise, it’s wonderful to know Cap is well and that you are living such a wonderful, fulfilled life! Everything is looking wonderful, there will always be bugs but that will never spoil the pleasure you have in your land.xxxx

    • You would love all the birds and beasties here. June is especially raucous with life and birth–and bugs. And most of our bugs are wonderful–we expect to see the fireflies any night now. Do you have them in the UK? I hope you are enjoying your new grandbaby. She’s lovely.

    • You’re very welcome. I’ve been catching up on your blog. You are well ahead of us on flowers this year. Our peonies haven’t even bloomed yet and the roses are still tightly budded. I’m cultivating patience.

  4. I love reading your blogs. You’ve had a wealth of birds, flowers and activity, despite the pests. Your weaving is just amazing. How do bees survive your winters in the wild, Brenda?

    • It’s interesting that we have a wider variety of bird species and more nesting birds now that we have stopped putting up bird feeders. Many domestic honeybees that swarm into the wild don’t make it through the winter, but many wild colonies survive for years. Genetics and a small hive cavity with thick walls help to promote a disease resistant strain and to keep them warm enough through the winter. There is a wonderful article by Thomas Seeley (mentioned by leggypeggy) called “Darwinian Beekeeping,” that discusses wild bee colonies, if you are interested.

  5. So exciting to see all that’s happening at your place. You might be interested in the book Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley. Fascinating and it explains how bees find a new location.

    • Yes! I love Thomas Seeley. He spoke at our state beekeeping group a few years ago. Honeybee Democracy is a real eye-opener isn’t it? Amazing creatures. When I saw the bees at the hive in the morning and thought they might be scouts, I was urging them to go back to the swarm and convince the others that THIS was the place to settle. Apparently, they did.

  6. G’day Brenda, So pleased to see you pop up in the reader. Thank you for taking the time to give us this update of your incredibly busy life. The garden is really coming together and your spinning and weaving projects look beautifully productive and satisfying. Ugh those brown tail months sound a terrible pest, hope your birds eat them and don’t have any side affects from the poison. What a bonus having the bee swarm take up residence. We are going to get a hive of native bees, they are in decline and the council are giving a $250 subsidy towards getting them. I do not blog much now, like you I prefer to be outside in the garden and doing art projects. Pleased to hear Cal has made a complete recovery, they are both looking fit and well. Hope you have a great summer, not too hot and very productive

    • If I can get a blog post in every few months, I will be happy. It’s nice to be busy when you love the things you are doing, isn’t it? Wonderful that you are going to get bees. They are endlessly fascinating to me and I believe that the pollination rate for our fruit trees was considerably lower this year without having our own hive (although the wet weather may have contributed). Enjoy your winter season!

      • Our new next door neighbours are gardeners too and they are also talking about getting bees. Native bees don’t give so much honey but they are stingless and endangered and there are hundreds of species, quite fascinating

  7. Every time I read a post from you (not often enough, for my taste, BTW!) I start my plans to move to Maine so I can hang out with you. Then I get distracted, by our own house and yard chores, by weaving and what-not, until you write another post. You have an lovely life, full of fascinating passions and a beautiful setting. And a husband who is an Energizer bunny! Glad to know that both dogs are doing well–that kind of worry is enervating–and that all the textile production is ongoing!

    • It was a rainy indoor day yesterday–told you it would take that for a post! I really wanted to be winding a new warp but, once I got going, enjoyed doing the blog. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we lived closer and could hang out together? I hope you will get over here for a visit sometime.
      George’s energy is impressive–he keeps going well after I’m worn out. And we have enough projects to keep both of us going for years … It’s really satisfying to create a place where we can pursue our passions. I’m getting so I never want to leave home!

  8. Slacker – I’m felling like a slacker. Wow, you guys have been busy. I love what you do in your retirement. 🙂 Happy to hear the pups are doing well and visiting bees have decided to hang around and produce some honey for you to enjoy. Extremely sorry to hear about the moth which I was not familiar with so did some googling and read up. Here, I thought those darn biting flies and ticks were bad, but I’m thinking that moth is leading the pack in creating yet another roadblock for gardeners. Love the greenhouse and the tubs. You guys really do have vision. Now if you only had more time to blog, the rest of us could really get inspired. I love reading how you’re doing, and certainly understand enjoying the outdoor opportunities when they present themselves. I’ll anxiously await your next post to keep up with your projects including the new greenhouse which I’d love to hear more about. 🙂

    • Ha. I feel like a slacker when I read about all your master gardener activities. I hope these moths don’t come your way. Apparently, they have been around since the 1890s and are cyclical. There was a surge in the 1920s that hit New Hampshire pretty badly. I had never heard of the darn things until last year. We can live with them no problem at the level we have now, but we have a huge oak that canopies one of our veg gardens and if it gets infested, things could become ugly. We’re researching the best way to try to keep them in check.

      I’m so excited about the greenhouse. We’ll be using it for early spring and late fall greens, having a few plants for late tomatoes and peppers, and for spring seedlings. I’m most excited about the exotics, though–ginger and turmeric, bay trees and figs, AND, I’m trying to grow some passion fruit–one of my favorite things to eat. I’ll keep you updated.

      • I will look forward to your updates and try to be patient in between because I know you’re going 24/7. 🙂 Our big issue down here are those darn invasive jumping worms. We’re finding them in more gardens. Nasty individuals who strip the soil of nutrients. This gardening is getting to be a huge challenge with the weather changes and all the pests. But, we keep going don’t we. 🙂

  9. An up and down kind of spring, that’s for sure! Good luck with that moth. The picture of Capp is beautiful. So glad he is healthy and well. And speaking of beautiful…your weaving. Wowsah!

    • Hasn’t it been a crazy spring, weather-wise? I take it you don’t have any moths (yet)? I’m not sure how far they are expected to spread, but they are nasty little things. If only I could find a way to make them palatable to the birds!

    • Just down the hill from us, huge oaks have been almost totally defoliated by the moths. They moved in with a vengeance. We are preparing for all sorts of new pests up here as our temperatures rise and the growing season extends. You should be safe from the moths, though. At least for another few decades!

  10. I was trying to get my May garden chores done by the end of June, but I didn’t make it. Now that we are getting some warm weather, everything is happening at once in my garden, and it is all a bit breathless. I love to see all your spinning and weaving stuff, and how nice to have a volunteer swarm of bees take up residence in your hive.

    • Breathless is right. I am starting to think that I will always be a little behind in my gardening this year. But the gardens seem to managing just fine. On these glorious sunny days, I’m just so happy to be in the midst of a Maine summer, that I often just stand there and drink in the beauty.

  11. Saw your reply on Kerry’s blog and thought “I haven’t read her blog for a while. Has it dropped off my follow?” But no, I just missed your early summer post. It looks lovely there. I hope things are still well!

    • And I missed your comment! I’ve been very spotty in posting and reading blogs this past year. I have been stopping by your blog, though, and following your summer garden–you have so many critters to contend with there. We actually put up an electric fence around our corn this summer to keep out the raccoons. We only turned it on during the night. Of course, somehow the raccoons eventually figured that out and had a daytime raid! Persistent beasties.

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