Reaping and Pillaging and a Little Lubec

For more than six years, we have been planting, fencing, building, clearing, and chopping on our piece of hillside to create our vision of home.  In the process, we have—intentionally and otherwise—rearranged the plant and animal populations around us. 

For one thing to live, others have to die. A balancing act in which we often tip the scales. This summer was a good time to take stock.  What stays, what goes, what needs adjustment? 

Birds, for example. Our bird population has become much more diverse since we took down our bird feeders several years ago.  I have been feeding birds all my life, so it was difficult to give up. 

Tree swallows

But what an amazing trade-off.  Our property feels like a bird haven now, with nests and baby birds popping up everywhere throughout the spring and summer. The bird feeders will stay down.


Watching the bird population evolve has made me wonder if keeping honeybees has a similar skewing effect on the native bees and wasps.  I am taking three years off from keeping bees, so it will be interesting to see if we notice an increase in the native pollinators.  If so, I will reevaluate setting up hives again.  

As for our plant population, we are always experimenting with what we can grow and continue to be surprised at the wide variety of things that do well this far north.   Our fruit trees are starting to yield and my experiment in bagging fruit was a huge success. 

These pears were bagged until the last weeks before harvest

We had a bumper crop of peaches and pears,

unblemished and with exquisite flavor. 

Surround spray took care of the plum curculios that devastated my cherries last year.

 The greenhouse fig trees went crazy bearing fruit this year,

and I was tickled to have fruit salad with home grown apples, peaches, pears, and figs (we did not grow the pecans but are working on hazlenuts). 

We enjoyed our first small crop of northern kiwis

and had enough black raspberries to freeze for winter.  One of our new grape vines put out several clusters that, while small, were the most delicious grapes I’ve ever eaten. 

Our pawpaw and persimmon trees have struggled but, finally, this year seem to have taken hold and are happily establishing themselves.  Climate change appears to be lengthening our growing season, so I expect they will continue to thrive, while more and more diseases and insect pests continue to migrate north. 

It was an odd summer, weatherwise.  High heat and humidity early on, followed by a cold snap, and then fairly normal temperatures with plenty of rain—a contrast from our droughty recent summers.  As October winds down, it is unusually mild, with no real frost in sight. So, it is not surprising that our warm weather crops fared well, with lots of okra, eggplant, peppers, melons, and even peanuts. 

Our greenhouse exploded with growth

and, for some reason, our leeks were massive. 

With all the rain, our grass grew like mad–lush and green. It kept George mowing and he perfected grass circles.  

On the downside, the rain and high humidity brought various blights, which affected the tomatoes and, for the first time, potatoes.  We had enough tomatoes for a winter’s worth of sauce,

but lost a lot of potatoes to late blight and the bane of our existence–rodents. We still are battling mice and voles, our little pillagers, which seem to have a big spike in population throughout Maine these past two years.  Despite help from predators, such as this snake that hung around the greenhouse,

and constant trapping, the voles and, to a lesser extent, mice, once again feasted on the garden, especially enjoying the potatoes, squash, carrots, beets, and melons.  A resident chipmunk, here enjoying some flax seeds,

was adept at climbing the highbush blueberry right next to our porch and stripping the berries. 

The adorable pillaging chipmunk ate almost all of these blueberries

Fortunately, we don’t have rodents in the house but it is a never-ending struggle to keep them out of the vehicles and equipment. 

Sadly, after much deliberation, we took down several old apple trees, including two near the house, because they were so badly infected with fire blight.  To our surprise, once they were gone, we did not miss them.  In fact, our view opened up magnificently and we no longer have to chase the dogs away from eating the rotting windfalls every time they go out (it was impossible to pick up all the downed apples).  We will have the trunks sawed into boards, which George will turn into furniture. We also are going to cut down the huge old oak that frames our view in the back. 

It lost one of its trunks in a storm last year and has struggled since.  It appears to be rotting internally and prematurely shed its leaves this fall. So we want to cut it on our terms rather than have the whole thing come down in a storm. I will be sad to see it go, but am hoping that not having a massive annual acorn drop will cut down on rodents. Needless to say, George has been busy converting the apple branches into firewood and the oak will keep him busy for quite some time. 

Sauna wood in the background–just a tiny portion of all that George has cut and split

The evergreens George has planted are thriving with all the rain and he put in another star magnolia, a stewartia, a mulberry (for silkworms!), a dwarf gingko, and a katsura. 

He has also cleared the area at the top of our drive, planting grass and clover around some of our ancient apples, which fortunately did not get hit with blight. 

During an August lull in gardening, I went to Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont for a week, where I learned new techniques (new to me, they are actually very old traditional techniques) weaving linen singles on a big old New England loom. 

Everyone in the class was wonderful, including the teacher, Justin Squizzero. I learned a ton, and came home exhausted. 

After recovering from all that mental effort, I caught up in the gardens, and turned my attention to late summer tasks.  August and September are full-on food processing time.

And dyeing season. I spent several happy days outside dyeing handspun wool skeins

Woad vat for blue
Madder roots for red

with my homegrown woad, weld, dyer’s chamomile, and madder. 

In September, I processed my flax crop,

which I kept a bit smaller this year, since I still have a lot unspun from last year.  

I have been trying to put my vegetable garden to bed for the winter, but it has been so mild, I’m still harvesting fennel, leeks, shishito peppers, carrots, lima beans, chard, kale, and collards.  And we still have tomatoes in the greenhouse.  I need to divide perennials, get the vole guards on the fruit trees, harvest ginger and turmeric and plant bulbs.  Looks like I will be gardening into November.  Crazy.

We bought a second kayak in late summer and took a maiden trip on the two lakes that we can see from our house. 

It was good to be out on the water with George again. 

It was a busy summer and by October, we were ready for a short vacation.  We love the uncrowded coastline of Downeast Maine and rented a cottage on the ocean in Lubec, a tiny town right on the Canadian border.

The weather was glorious and the dogs in heaven.  They swam at the beach every day

The tidal ranges are huge in this area

and hiked at beautiful Quoddy Head State Park, the easternmost point in the contiguous United States. 

The trails wind through fragrant balsam woods, around a bog filled with insect-eating pitcher plants,

and skirt the rocky shoreline, where the water is a vivid blue-green. 

Alice was ecstatic to be hiking, although she always wanted to check out the water, even if it was below a sheer cliff.  A little nerve-wracking.  

I am already planning next year’s gardens, but am really looking forward to coming inside and focusing on weaving and spinning this winter.  The dogs are soaking up the late fall sunshine. 

It is time to slow down for a few months and savor the quiet and coziness of our Maine winter. 

19 thoughts on “Reaping and Pillaging and a Little Lubec

  1. A delightful post from beginning to end. Your hard work has paid off. I have read that honey bees tend to drive out other pollinators so it will be interesting to see the result of your experiment. We have had few honey bees in our garden this year but a lot more bumble bees than usual.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was hard to stuff four months into one post. It makes sense that honeybees would drive out other pollinators, but we’ve always had lots of bumble bees, sweat bees, and others I don’t know. It is going to be fun to see what happens. I miss my honeybees, though.

    • I’m glad to hear that Peggy. Thank you. I really miss your posts. I hope things are well with you, although I imagine you must be going stir crazy going so long without travel.

      • I’m okay with not traveling for now. We’ve been vaccinated and have stayed well and that’s the main thing. Must get inspired to post.

  2. Good to see your post, Brenda. You two have been quite industrious, as always! You manage to grow the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen in a home garden, such a gift. We’ve had past issues with fire blight, too, and lost half a dozen trees to it, which was heartbreaking. The trials of growing one’s own food is fraught with challenges. I feel lucky that we have an organic CSA farm here in town, so now I only grow mostly herbs and have more room for cut flowers.
    It was a pretty hot summer, so your beach getaway I bet was a welcome respite. I’m looking forward to being able to travel safely once again some day. I haven’t seen the beach in 3 summers!
    Pats to the dogs, and hello to George. I hope you have a nice cosy winter!

    • Hi Eliza! I tend to focus on food growing and my flowers get sadly neglected. My poor perennials are ridiculously crowded and I have to be ruthless in dividing this year. We have become spoiled with our garden food–it just tastes so much better than anything else. I took a break from growing corn this year because I was having so many problems with worms, but the corn at our local farm stand just wasn’t as good as what we grow. Sorry to hear about your fire blight–it is fairly new up here and a lot of people aren’t really aware of it. When it hits, it can hit hard. We seem to have so many more diseases and pests coming our way, gardening is going to be even more fraught with challenges over the upcoming years, I’m afraid. Cheers to a cozy winter for all of us.

  3. Glad to hear you found something to keep you from being bored. 🙂 Seriously, I am always in awe of what the two of you accomplish, and everything always looks great right down to those amazing veggies and fruits. I won’t bother worrying about you having enough to eat this winter. 🙂 For those of use who work outdoors, the rodents are truly a pain and cost money to attempt to keep them out or fix their damage. We have several old oaks on the property, and the amount of dropped acorns is really outrageous. Even the simple task of keeping all doors closed while I’m outside working is annoying, but it keeps them out. Once you finish with your fall chores, it looks like you are definitely going to have some fun indoors. Happy buttoning up, and it’s always good to hear from you.

    • No boredom here. I won’t miss the deluge of acorns. The past three years, the acorn drop has been ridiculously heavy. It’s like walking on ball bearings. I have heard that heavy acorn years correlate to heavy rodent years, which has seemed to be the case here. We also no longer have a fox den next to our property since the neighbors cleared that land, and I can’t help but wonder if the lower fox population has also led to our rodent fiesta. Enjoy the New England fall and your winter sewing Judy.

  4. I always enjoy your posts Brenda, and, as others have commented, the amount you and George are able to do in a year is amazing. I love your home grown tomatoes, and Paul is very envious of your leeks, and we are both envious of your incredible fruit crop! Just as well you don’t have cockatoos to contend with! I’m surprised you can grow ginger and turmeric, as I have only seen it grown in Queensland, (no frosts) but I should give it a try. I’ll look forward to seeing your winter weaving projects. Best wishes for all your autumn crops and lovely to see your dogs enjoying their holiday too.

    • Ha! I always envy your colorful birds, Gerrie, but you are right, I’m sure I would view them differently if they were devouring our fruit. I grow the ginger and turmeric in our little greenhouse and pull it before the first hard frost. My ginger is even blooming this year. The tiny patch that I grow is more than enough to last us all year and to give some away. Wish I could send Paul some of the leeks, we have way too many this year. Have a wonderful spring.

  5. It’s always fascinating catching up with you. What a fantastic read, I’m in awe of all you achieve and the range of your hobbies. Your land is just fantastic. xxx

  6. Another inspiring post, Brenda. Like you, I love the quieter beauty of the far downeast coast.
    I think our plague of rodents is a consequence of climate disruption. Since the two main ingredients for photosynthesis are CO2 and water, all that CO2 in the atmosphere means rich living for plants, as long as they have enough moisture in the soil to take advantage of it. It looks as though we have fewer acorns here this year than in the past two years, probably as a result of last year’s drought. I am hoping for reduced rodent populations this winter.

    • Thanks Jean. We have really fallen in love with the downeast coast. Especially after experiencing the influx of people here on the midcoast this summer, it’s lovely to leave the crowds behind.
      I apologize that I never got the name of the undercoating that we had used on our truck last year. As it turns out, it wasn’t a rodent deterrent this year. Perhaps they got used to the smell. Unlike you, we have tons of acorns again this year, but we just took down our huge oak in the back, which was rotten in the middle. Apparently it was a mouse apartment house because they came running out of the tree and up the trunk as it was being cut down. Although we will miss the oak, it’s absence should help cut down the rodent and brown tail moth population.
      Always good to hear from you!

  7. Your garden and orchard are amazing! A ton of work for sure but I bet you eat well all winter. Loved your pictures and stories. Thanks for sharing. Do you have cats? That’s how we keep the voles, moles and gophers under control on our small farm. Bernie

    • Thanks. We do eat well all year long. In fact, we are spoiled rotten with the quality of our food. As for cats … We have thought about it but, outside cats don’t seem to last long in our neighborhood. We have so many predators–including a lot of coyotes–that seem to go for cats AND we suspect our dog Alice would not take kindly to a cat either. If we could just train Alice to eat the rodents, we’d be all set.

      • Our dogs job is to keep the deer and the coyotes out of the yard. The cats jobs are to keep the rodents out. Works pretty slick for us although when we first got the cats we had a lot of work to introduce the dogs to these creatures that they weren’t allowed to chase.

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