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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.