Wreaking Havoc

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No half measures this summer—everything has hit with ferocity.  A normality-ending disease, human wrecking hammers smashing every aspect of our system of government, life-sucking heat and drought, and new garden pests have all been wreaking havoc.  Even George has created a little havoc with massive tree clearing.  It’s exhausting.

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All summer, it has felt as if we are existing on two levels.  On the one hand, we have been enormously productive, working on things we love, which brings deeply satisfying contentment.

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On the other hand, there is an underlying current of tension, anger, and disbelief over the state of the world that never really leaves.  I have never felt so powerless in my life.

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So, we do what we can to improve the world where we do have some power—our little hillside domain.

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Staying home, with no visitors, has given us ample time to really dig in and do things right.  In previous years, I had so many things going on in the summer, that I was always playing catch up in the gardens.

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Flax in July

This year, with George’s help, I finally managed to get enough mulch in the walkways to keep the weeds under control.

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Most everything has been thriving, despite the crazy weather.

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June started with weeks of wet, dripping fog, leaving things feeling sticky and smelling moldy.  When the fog lifted, the heat settled in.

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My experimental peanuts like the heat

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The peanuts grow underground off of these pegs extending down from the stems

Week after week of brutally hot sun and high humidity.

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It is not weather we are used to in Maine.  We soldiered on, working outside through the heat, dripping sweat and fending off black flies and deer flies.

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It finally got so bad that the heat was making me feel slightly sick and I ended up retreating inside in the air-conditioned sanctuary of our garage loft.  The dogs were uncomfortable, too, parking themselves in front of their personal fans.

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We were not the only ones to notice that the gardens are thriving.

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The chipmunks and mice discovered them, too, this year.

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Tunneling their way under everything, they decimated my brassica seedlings, ate bean plants down to nubs, and nibbled and gnawed their way down every bed.

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Tunnels everywhere

They aren’t picky eaters—peas, strawberries, melons, flax seeds, carrots, beets—I even found a wee mouse with huge feet nesting among the potatoes when I dug them up.

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Fortunately, they can’t climb up the corn and we now have a small solar electric fence to keep the raccoons out.  So far, so good.

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Aside from the rodent mayhem, insects have created some havoc, as well.  Seemingly overnight, plum curculios descended on my cherry trees, leaving not one cherry unmolested.  I had never had a problem with them before, so wasn’t prepared.  I will be next year.  Since I only have a few fruit trees that are mature enough to bear fruit, I decided to bag some of the fruit against pests this year as experiment.

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Plastic bags on the apples, cloth on the peaches.

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It looks weird but seems to be working.  While it has been a record year for Japanese beetles, we only saw one monarch butterfly all summer.

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Japanese beetles made lace of the soybeans

We had so many last year, I don’t know how this year’s migration got waylaid, but something must have happened.  I miss them.

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Our birds and bees have been thriving, though.

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Every year we have more birds nesting on the property.  They seem to like it here.

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House finch hatchlings in the hanging basket

The robin that had been nesting in the sauna wood box, moved her subsequent nests to under our deck, much safer from predators, and raised two broods there.

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Baby robin under our deck, ready to take the leap

I harvested my first honey this year.

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Tastes like home.

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Birds aren’t the only creatures who like it here.

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All sorts of animals have discovered our trails—deer,

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We are hoping the coyotes don’t get this fawn

coyotes,

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Coyotes (sometimes called coywolves) appear on the camera day and night

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domestic cats, a bobcat,

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porcupines, raccoons, foxes, skunks,

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Young skunks

rabbits—all right behind our house.

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Young porcupines jousting

We rarely see the larger animals—only their tracks—but the game camera gives us a glimpse into what is going on when we aren’t around.

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George has been a whirlwind all summer, mostly clearing out highly overgrown areas,

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to give space and light to our screens of evergreens, wild apples, the new orchard trees we are planting, and to maintain our view and that of our neighbors.

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When our neighbor moved into his house in the early 70s, the hillside was almost entirely cleared, with blueberry fields and pasture.

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In the years since, trees have grown up at an amazing rate and much of the hillside now is heavily wooded. The growth rings on this large maple show that it is about 45 years old.

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George hasn’t just been taking down trees, he put in a welcoming light and new sign at the head of our driveway,

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built me a grape trellis, stacked and split four years’ worth of firewood, and created what we’ve named our “industrial drive” along one of our trails, where he processes wood and parks equipment.

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It feels good to be getting so organized.

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Aside from the gardens, I have continued to focus on my flax and spinning two fleeces for natural dyeing.

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Drying flax

I processed most of last year’s flax and will finish it and this year’s harvest in September.

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Flax tub retting

I should have enough to actually weave some fabric this year.

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Some of last year’s crop, ready to spin

My dye gardens are thriving

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Harvesting Japanese indigo

and I’ve had two dyeing days,

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one with weld and indigo and one with madder.

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Yellow from weld, blue from Japanese indigo and green overdyeing weld with indigo

Because this was the first year the madder bed was old enough to harvest,

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I wasn’t sure what to expect for color.  It wasn’t exactly what I was aiming at, but I love it.

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We have not stayed home all the time.  I’ve picked up a couple of spinning wheels,

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we socialize with neighbors,

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I’ve been kayaking and swimming,

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and George and I went to the coast for our wedding anniversary, enjoying a walk on the beach and some fried clams.

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We’ve been fortunate to have very few Covid-19 cases here in Maine, so far.  Let’s hope it doesn’t escalate too much in the fall.

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Figs in the greenhouse

I’m looking forward to cooler fall weather and inside weaving time but dreading the upcoming months until the election.   It is going to be ugly.

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I will try to focus on the beauty here and hope we make it out the other side with our sanity, health, and government intact.

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Sweet Alice

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34 thoughts on “Wreaking Havoc

  1. What a truly beautiful post. Sometimes, like today, I think I’m busy, but then I look at what you guys are doing on a regular basis, and I need to get moving. 🙂 You have certainly settled in and made yourselves a wonderful homestead. Some time when you see a generic article on flax will you send it to me. I am truly fascinated by what you do but don’t really understand it. Congrats on the honey because I can only imagine how much you will enjoy it knowing it came from right there. Everything looks great, and I really like George’s industrial drive. It’s perfect for all the work and tools. NH numbers are decent but not as low as yours. There are two rather large events going on in the state, and I wonder if our numbers will elevate in about two weeks. But, again, this is something along with a lot of other things that I have no control over so I’d probably get more satisfaction pulling some more weeds. Stay well. 🙂

    • This place will always be evolving. We have reached the point where we can adjust our work as we please. Right now, as you said, weed pulling provides satisfaction and a way to channel frustration. I will hunt up a flax article for you. Better yet, once we can travel again, come up for a visit and I’ll give you a flax tour. The honey, of course, is the best I’ve ever tasted!

  2. I am exhausted just reading of all you have done. I am sorry about the terrible depredations on your produce. It is hard to bear when hard work disappears in a puff of smoke.

    • Exhausted? Ha. Your cycling exploits leave me in awe. Every year we seem to figure out a way to fend off something eating the produce (raccoons, cabbage moths) and the next year another pops up. Oddly enough, we didn’t have any tomato hornworms this year and they’ve been a huge pest in the past. Maybe they are partying with the monarchs somewhere.

  3. Brenda, Your dyed flax is just beautiful!
    I was amazed when you described June as dripping with fog; I’m not that many miles away from you, but I’m far enough inland that we didn’t get the fog. Instead, June in my part of Maine was a month of dry and drought; it was such a relief when we finally got some rain at the end of June.
    I don’t know if you’re familiar with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s history, The Midwife’s Tale, based on the diary of 18th-19th century Hallowell midwife, Martha Ballard. Toward the end of Ballard’s life, when rapid social change made it seem as though the world was spinning out of control, she turned to her garden for solace. I’ve thought of her often this summer as I do the same.

    • Thanks Jean. Actually, I should have explained that the skeins that I dyed are wool, not flax. It’s much harder to get vivid colors on flax and I probably won’t dye very much of the flax, but keep the natural colors from retting.
      It is odd that you didn’t get any of the June fog. We are close enough to the coast that when the winds are in our direction, we can smell the ocean, but we usually don’t get the coastal fog. Part of the June fog may have been because we are up fairly high on a hill. It may have been low cloud cover.
      I love Ulrich’s books, and used Ballard’s diary accounts of her flax production in deciding when to plant and harvest! It provides some solace to me to remember all the times in history when it seemed the world was spinning out of control, it always eventually settled into a reasonable orbit again–eventually. These past months, I have immersed myself in Sharon Kay Penman’s series of historical novels on the Angevins and found them oddly comforting in putting our current woes into perspective. And think of how many people have turned to their gardens for solace.

  4. Nice to read your update, Brenda. Sounds like you are thriving despite the bumps in the road. You both are so busy and productive! The garden looks healthy and I expect there are loads to process for winter. I hope the rodents don’t get your peanuts – who would have thought they’d grow in Maine? I am most impressed by your spinning and dyeing, the colors are beautiful!
    Hi to George and pats to the dogs, they should be more comfortable now that the weather seems to be turning towards fall. Hard to believe that there’ll be frost in 2 months and snow flurries in 4. Time flies! Take care, stay well.

    • This change in weather has been so welcome. The dogs love it. We had a downpour yesterday … finally! You could almost feel the garden’s relief. We try to keep our food processing simple and don’t do any canning, just freezing (lots of freezing). Although we are going to try to dehydrate some things this year. As for the peanuts, I don’t know how they will do. These are supposed to be northern hardy varieties, so we’ll see. The dogs enjoyed your pats and George sends greetings.

  5. Lovely to read your post.. I agree with previous comments, you and George have been amazingly productive.. the soil in your vegetable garden looks rich and heathy…. as do your crops. I would love to sample your honey, we buy from a coastal farmer and he has his hives near some Eucalyptus trees ..(Yellow Box & another) . so I guess would be very different taste. I shouldn’t complain about pesty Cockatoos ..you have quite an array garden pests to contend with …skunks, raccoons and mice etc.
    I’m looking forward to seeing your weaving projects using all those lovely colours .. Japanese Indigo is my favourite.
    Best wishes that common sense and good will prevail In the next few months for your beautiful country.

    • Are you in Canberra? I clicked on your name and it gave me a Canberra post. I am too, in Tuggeranong. I’ve known Brenda for 51 years now.

    • You have some amazing honey in Australia! The comment below is from my long-time penpal, Kerri, who also lives in Canberra. As she said, we started writing to each other when we were 14. When she was in Maine five years ago, we finally got to meet. In fact, she and her husband were our very first visitors–we had just moved into our house. She brought me some amazing leatherwood honey from Tasmania, and you are right, it has a very different flavor from mine. I love that honey is so place-sensitive–reflecting whatever is growing when the bees collect it. Best wishes to you as well–enjoy your spring!

      • I’m so glad that you enjoyed the leatherwood. Australian honey always has the hint of eucalyptus about it, and i find it a little less sweet than other honeys. My son Omar has just sold his 10 acre bush block in Royalla and has moved into the suburbs, in Kambah. They had plenty of beehives in Royalla and I shall miss getting their honey. The Kambah property they have bought nevertheless has a big productive garden, easier to manage.

  6. Hi Brenda – your garden is looking so beautiful and productive. What a wonderful place you are making! Of course the rodents are attracted to it. You are keeping them alive too. And i think a refuge is the right place to be in the next few months in America, if not the whole world. I do love your dyes. The madder is a lovely soft colour. I’m glad the bees are thriving. I was thinking of you just yesterday as i was reading Fantastic Fungi ed by Paul Stamets, in which he describes the benefit that bees get from some fungi.

    • Those rodents know a good thing! I don’t mind sharing, but was upset when they decimated all of my brassica seedlings that I had been carefully nurturing for weeks. I also resent it when they chew a nice hole in a beautiful melon before it’s ripe and then leave the rest to rot. It’s been a big year for chipmunks here, they tend to have population fluctuations based on acorn production. So, I’m hoping that this is unusual.
      We are very fortunate to have our little refuge here during this pandemic. So many others are being hit hard, it’s hard to see their lives unraveling.

  7. So good to catch up with you again Brenda, what an amazingly productive year you’ve had. Ups and downs with pesky pests, it can be so disappointing to see a years expectations disappear overnight. Was fascinating to see all your visiting wildlife on your cameras. And your flax colours are vibrant. Look forward to seeing what you produce from them. You are living in a small patch of paradise, savour it.

    I watch in horror as your drama unfolds over the election. I only hope that November will bring some hope to your future. Thanks for the update, stay safe and best wishes for the future. Oh and hugs and pats to your adorable dogs

    • November looms large. It’s what wakes me up in the middle of the night, envisioning another 4 years of this madness. But we do our best to savor our daily living in this lovely spot. Keeping busy helps, too. I have loved seeing your garden evolve on your blog. Enjoy your spring and summer and fingers crossed for better times soon.

      • Yes definitely fingers crossed for November. September and October are my favourite months in the garden, full of colour and productivity, and we have a long term weather forecast for rain, but only hope that it comes in moderation. Keeping busy is definitely the best way to beat the blues or worries about the future. 🌻🌷🦘

  8. Brenda, so glad to you are posting again. You and Georgia have really been working hard and have created a beautiful sanctuary there. Your dyed flax is gorgeous! Glad you and George are doing well and were able to take some time off to get away for your anniversary.

    • Thanks Beth. Things are starting to move toward fall here, and after our summer weather (it felt like Georgia), it’s such a welcome relief. I spent another day at the beach today–decided to get in some ocean swimming while I can.

  9. Goodness, you are amazing! So creative and productive. Oh, climate change is here now and is probably going to cause more disruption than this virus over the coming years. 2020, what can I say? Yes, I too feel powerless but being more self-sufficient helps, and goodness, you are self-sufficient! That is always comforting. This pandemic has me feeling content and productive but also frustrated and anxious. Your hilltop is simply stunning. The land and what you have done to it is so inspiring, I also love your woods and wildlife, how lucky you are to live in such a beautiful place. Loved the chicks, especially those in the hanging basket. Your produce looks delicious. I did enjoy seeing the peanut plant. xxx

    • Self-sufficiency has never felt so good. The change in our climate is just getting started, I shudder to think how crazy things will be in a decade or so. I feel as if this year is just a preview of things to come. I’ve loved seeing all that you’ve been growing this years. Saving seeds, armageddon potatoes–we’ll be in better shape than most! I think you would love it here, so much wildlife all around us. And dogs, of course!

  10. Golly, you have been busy! It all looks so lovely, but I know it was a lot of work! My pathetic gardens haven’t enjoyed the heat, I haven;t watered them much, which might be the cause… and the deer have enjoyed what did grow. 😉 But I have been knitting and spinning, and working, and so grateful to still have a job when so many do not. Loving the cooler weather!

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