Yardbirds and Going Undercover

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We stopped feeding the birds sunflower seeds this spring after a chipmunk (or red squirrel) had an air-filter-and-hood-insulation feeding frenzy in our car. We hoped that the rodents that normally forage for sunflower seed debris under our feeders would move on down the road and, so far, it seems to be helping. We see very few squirrels now and our chipmunk population is down to two.

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The goldfinches survey the garden but haven’t eaten the chard yet this year.  Perhaps they did so last year to get moisture during the drought.  

I dragged myself kicking and screaming into the decision to stop feeding the birds. George and I love watching the birds at our feeders. But now, several months later, I have found an unexpected boon to taking down the seed feeder. We seem to have a greater variety of birds in the yard now and an increase in the nesting population. It’s possible that I am simply more observant of bird behavior around the yard now that the bird feeder playground has been closed. But I think it is more than that and we actually have had a change in the resident bird dynamics.

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A robin nesting in an apple tree in the middle of our yard.  

We still feed suet and added two more birdbaths, so continue to see most of the usual suspects. We see far fewer chickadees and cardinals, but now the more elusive warblers–which I usually hear but don’t see–have been putting in appearances in trees near the house. The biggest change, however, has been the increase in nesting couples.

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Robin eggshells?

Aside from the bluebirds, swallows and wrens nesting in our boxes, I believe we have bluejays, robins (at least two pairs), mourning doves, catbirds, sparrows, nuthatches, and phoebes nesting in trees in and around our yard.

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This past week, the late-nesting goldfinches and cedar waxwings have been gathering string and wool for their nests. I don’t know why we have become such a bird nursery this year. Perhaps there are less predators with our large fenced area and without the attraction of a feeder. In any case, I am glad that we took the feeders down.

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Mourning dove nesting in the apple tree behind our compost bin.  The male sits on it during the day and the female takes the night shift.  

We were fortunate again this year to see the first flights of some of the swallow nestlings. They don’t fool around with little short flights to a neighboring tree.  They carve a wide arc into the sky, trying out all the swooping, gliding, turning, fluttering swallow acrobatics in that first amazing flight. It’s looks like utter exhilaration in motion. Imagine how it must feel to go from a crowded nest box to dancing on the wind like that.

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Getting ready for the first flight with a meal of dragonfly.  The swallows are feeding constantly in the days before they leave the nest.  

The increased bird population has not been without its problems. Our male bluebird became crazed after the birth of his brood and starting attacking our house windows with mind-numbing (his and ours) zealous hits–boom, flutter, boom. Over and over and over. It looked as if it would hurt, but he persisted–for hours–then days. We leaned a piece of plywood against his favorite window to cut down on the reflection.

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But he simply moved to our vehicles’ side mirrors,

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becoming so enraged at his reflection that he couldn’t contain his poop, leaving us with cascades of lovely fecal matter down both sides of the car and truck.

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I finally had to cover the mirrors.

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The babes have flown and I suspect he thinks he’s warding off competition for a second brood.

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Our other bird issue was not unexpected. We had our first real crop of strawberries this year and as they started to ripen, it was apparent that something was eating them. I didn’t know if it was birds, chipmunks, or mice until I caught a cedar waxwing redhanded. We quickly cobbled together a funky netting system to cover them, which has worked beautifully. Except for the fact that I have to crawl around to pick the berries and weed.

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The netting is hard to see but so far it has kept the birds out.

We also covered our brassicas this year with agribon fabric.

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They were devastated by cabbage moth caterpillars last year. So far, the plants are thriving under the fabric.  The agribon does raise the temperature, so may end up being too hot for the cool-loving brassicas.

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We’ll see.

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The wet weather last month may have contributed to the shoot blight we’re seeing on young poplars in the woods

Weatherwise, the past weeks have been perfect, with lots of gorgeous sun and warmth punctuated with afternoon and evening thunder storms.

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George put in a water line to the vegetable gardens, but we haven’t had to use it yet, there has been such a nice mix of sun and rain.

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Trench for the water line.

The bees are thriving,

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flowers blooming,

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and the dogs are doing their doggy things.

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It’s been a good June.

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First peach.

 

Digging In and Looking Back

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We had an anniversary this week. We moved to this tiny paradise on a hill two years ago. It was a marriage of sorts, of people and place, and deserves anniversary recognition. We celebrated by digging, planting, and constructing, and generally reveling in the explosion of spring in this lovely spot of earth.

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The day we moved in, the apple trees were in full bee-buzzing bloom. We had never thought to find a place with dozens of ancient apple trees and were amazed at our luck in landing here. We couldn’t have arrived at a more beautiful time of year. Aside from the apples, the lilacs and wild honeysuckle were just starting to bloom. It is a peak time for fragrance and birdsong. Intoxicating.

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That first year, we could just see the blossomy tops of what appeared to be a ring of old apple trees through the brush and small trees behind the house.

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Zoe in the yard the day after we moved in.  The blossoming tops of the ring of old apple trees are barely visible.

We decided to clear back to those trees and open things up for vegetable gardening and a small orchard and sitting area.

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The big oak when we moved in, surrounded by small trees and brush.  

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The first lawn mowing.

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We quickly cleared high grass for raised beds within a week of moving in.  The next summer, we moved the raised beds to the area below the house and turned this into our little orchard area.

It will be a work in progress for years, but has been incredibly satisfying to work on this beautiful property.

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The big oak and ring of old apple trees revealed.  

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Little orchard with swale and companion plants.

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First cherry blossom

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Now that we’ve been here through three blooms, we’ve seen the fruiting cycle of these old trees. We had heard that the wild trees often bloom and bear fruit every other year. And sure enough, the trees that bloomed that first year didn’t bloom the second year and now are blooming again.

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Last May.  Only two trees blooming and a branch here and there on the other trees.

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This  May.  All the trees are blooming, except for the two that bloomed last year.

This is the bloomiest year in the cycle.  Depending on where in the yard we are working, we can hear the buzzing of bees in different apple trees.

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This beautiful tree has little yellow apples that stay all through the winter–at least until the Waxwings visit for a mid-winter gorge.  

It is quite loud and makes me happy. Good for the bees and good for the trees.

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The past few weeks finally brought us some warmth and sun.

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Before the sun.  A little greening up on the hillside.

Green growing things, which had been patiently waiting through cold, rainy April, apparently decided to make up for lost time.

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From this …

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… to this …

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… to this in a few days.

A plant orgy of sorts.

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Maples just budding, with teensy developing seeds.

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Soon after, the leaves are popping out and the seeds developing their wings. 

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This chipmunk looks like he was indulging in excessive spring celebration–cheeks stuffed to overflowing with something.  At least it wasn’t parts of our car.  

Now that the weather has improved and the soil is warming, we have been working like mad to get things planted. George also has been busy making fences. Both pups are gourmands, LOVING veggies, flowers, herbs, grass, soil, fertilizer–if we plant it, they will eat it. And they have generously shared their personal fertilizer on a few choice perennials.

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So, we are putting up small fences, at least while they are young.

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We have eight raised beds this year (with little dog-proofing additions), two large beds for corn, tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and squash, and a separate bed for growing flax (which I’m going to try to process for spinning). Our little orchard trees are thriving. I will transplant the apples I grafted last year to the gaps in our ring of old trees.

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Last year’s grafted trees are ready to transplant.

And my herb garden is flourishing. We are rich.

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Aside from all our work outside, we’ve had visitors. Our son and daughter-in-law were here early in the month while the weather was a little iffy. But we had glorious weather and crashing waves on our trip to Pemaquid Point.

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Last week, we had doggy guests. Capp’s brother, Henry, and a sweet female, Quinn, came for two days.

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Capp and Henry.

One day was freakishly hot, so we had dog summer camp, complete with a pool.

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Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren will be here in a few days so we are madly trying to get everything planted before they arrive. I think we are going to make it.

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Good Life

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Unexpected events caused a hiccup in my blogging. First, the election addled my brain. Fueled by middle-of-the-night insomnia, it has been struggling to reconcile our good life with twilight-zone flashes of disbelief and helplessness over an increasingly bizarre new reality. I had no heart to blog about puppies and bees.

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While I grappled with strategies for moving forward (hunker down? become militant? Rip Van Winkle?) my camera gave up the ghost. It just died. No photos, no blog. I had not realized how much a part of my life my camera had become. I felt as though I had lost an appendage.

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I have a new camera and am trying to develop a new perspective. As I imagine the parade of horribles challenging our more-fragile-than-I-thought system of goverment, I remind myself that we have been through dark periods before.

I have been thinking particularly of Scott Nearing, likely because this summer we visited his final home, Forest Farm, about an hour-and-a-half drive from here on Cape Rosier. I have been meaning to write about that trip, which we took in August after Zoe died. Now is as good a time as any.

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Scott Nearing was a pot-stirrer extraordinaire–a radical, outspoken pacifist and socialist from the time he was a young man until his death in 1983 at the age of 100. Interestingly, like Trump, he attended Wharton School of Business. The similarities end there. If you imagine Donald Trump and then imagine his polar opposite, you might come up with someone like Nearing.

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The Nearings’ stone-built barn at Forest Farm.

There was no flip-flopping with Nearing. He was passionate and uncompromising–believing that the wealth of the rich was founded on the misery of the poor. After graduation with a PhD, Nearing was hired as an assistant professor of Economics at Wharton. But, in 1915, the school abruptly dismissed him for his outspoken activism and stance against child labor. He fared no better in his next teaching position, fired for his active opposition to WWI, in a fiercely nationalistic climate. Nearing’s 1917 pamphlet, “The Great Madness,” criticized the war as arising from commercial interests, rather than idealism. As a result, he was indicted under the Espionage Act for alleged interference with troop recruitment. He won at trial, but was blackballed from any further university teaching. He eventually joined the Communist Party, and apparently was ejected from it, as well. Non-conformist to the core.

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The alpine-style home at Forest Farm.

In the 1920s, after separating from his wife and children, he became involved with Helen Knothe, a woman some twenty years his junior (maybe he had something else in common with Trump). Helen was a non-conformist in her own right, with theosophist (some sort of mystical philosophy) leanings, and a previous romance with another strong personality–philosopher Krishnamurti.

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A view of the walled garden, fruit trees, and the back of the house.

Scott and Helen moved to rural Vermont during the Depression in an attempt to build a self-sufficient, “simple” life. They gardened, built stone buildings, wrote, and produced maple syrup as a cash crop. In the 1950s, as ski areas increasingly encroached, in search of a more remote area, they moved to coastal Maine–beautiful Cape Rosier off of the Blue Hill Peninsula.

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I fell in love with the walled garden.

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The caretakers had the garden in immaculate shape, despite the drought.

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By the 1970s, the Nearings had became guru-like parent figures to many in the back-to-the-land movement. Their books, especially “Living the Good Life,” inspired mostly youthful baby boomers to attempt (some successfully, some not) to live a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle.

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It’s hard to say how many moved to Maine because of the Nearings, but the back-to-the landers’ influence can still be felt here in Maine’s rich culture of small organic farms, small support businesses, food co-ops, seed co-ops, and farm-to-table restaurants. Eliot Coleman, now well-known for his books on four season and small-scale organic farming, was a Nearing disciple, buying land from and working with them. His daughter Melissa’s memoir of her childhood growing up in the Nearings’ sphere, poked some serious holes in the picture of the Nearings’ idyllic simple life.

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We took a long look at the greenhouse.  We intend to build something similar (only better).

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I attended two small college-campus talks that the Nearings gave in the 1970s.  Scott was about 90 years old then. He seemed small, spry, deeply wrinkled, and utterly committed to his beliefs–a hard knot of a man. I remember Helen as having spiky gray hair, baggy clothes, a lapful of knitting, and a sharp tongue. I was drawn to the idea of having a small somewhat self-sufficient farm, but was not particularly attracted by the Nearings themselves. I am wary of anything approaching zealotry, and found the Nearing’s strict (and, to me, bland) vegetarian diet, structured hours, ascetic approach, and unyielding ideology off-putting. And the lifestyle they promoted was not realistic for most people, especially those with children.

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Scott died in 1983 and Helen in 1995, but the non-profit Good Life Center keeps their house and garden alive and open to visitors. I wanted to go there primarily to see the stonework in their buildings. The Nearings used a slipform method of building with concrete and stone that can be done by hand and we are thinking of doing something similar for a greenhouse wall.

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A form for building the stone walls.

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The stonework up close.

Forest Farm was the Nearings’ last house. They lived in an old wooden farmhouse during their first decades in Maine. The stone-built Forest Farm was their retirement home–so to speak–with a smallish walled-in garden, a few fruit trees, a greenhouse, and an incredible view over the water. The farm’s caretakers were a young, earnest couple who answered our questions and then let us wander around and take pictures.

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Every farm needs a yurt.

After we returned from the trip to Forest Farm, I read “Loving and Leaving the Good Life,” a book Helen wrote after Scott’s death. My view of the Nearings remained unchanged after reading the book–admiration, undermined by a nagging feeling that I did not really like them very much. Nevertheless, Scott’s life is a good reminder of some very ugly truths about this country’s history. We have recurrent cycles of nationalism, scapegoating, increasing economic inequality, and a dismal record when it comes to protecting dissent and free speech. Perhaps the cycles are inevitable. If so, the question is how to best react to keep them from becoming permanent.

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Nearing paid dearly for his activist reactions and eventually chose to refuse to participate in the larger economic system by living on a small, relatively self-sufficient scale. A solution for him, but not helpful on a larger scale. I do not have any neat lessons learned from Nearing’s life. But I am working on it.

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Meanwhile, back at our little farm, Capp is blissfully unfazed by politics, growing at an alarming rate, and immeasurably sweetening our good life. Back to writing about puppies.

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From Capp to Cardoon

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I was looking forward to a serene September. What was I thinking? A new puppy smacks serenity upside the head.

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The whirlwind of Capp’s puppiness descended on us full force–morning wake-up leg attacks, outside-inside-outside-inside-do-it-all-over-again, chew-chew-chew, bite fingers, nibble toes, tug-of-war with dress hems, cabbage kamikaze, eat-who-knows-what in the back yard, water slobbers down the hall.

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Capp loves cabbage, beets, and brussel sprouts

A messy, sometimes frantic, onslaught of new life–questing, exuberant, beautiful, excited, adorable, and a sponge for learning.

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Having a pup again has been tiring, but it’s such a sweet privilege to watch the development of this wonderful, intelligent new creature.

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Capp is an amazing bundle of loving dogginess and wasted no time in working his way firmly into our hearts.

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So, our September days were focused on pup training and preparing for fence installation for our back garden and orchard area.

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We are fencing almost an acre and George has been clearing along the fence line and putting in portions of the fence, over drains and our septic system, by hand.

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We will have help in digging most of the holes and hope to have it completed later this month.

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We are slowly getting things ready for winter. The bee season is wrapping up with a hive loaded with honey that I hope will bring the bees through the winter.

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The hive was surrounded by asters and goldenrod in September

We had a heavier Varroa mite infestation than I would have liked, but treatment seems to have brought the mite levels under control.

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The bees have thrived despite my clumsy mistakes. I actually dumped a hive body on the ground during the last inspection–I thought we had properly separated the middle body from the lower, but the sticky bee propolis brought the lower body along as we lifted the middle one and then as we moved it–crash–the lower body dumped on the ground. It was pretty exciting for a while as the bees let us know they were not at all happy. But aside from two stings on George’s pants, they let us put things back together and we all went about our business. This hive has the gentlest bees that I’ve ever seen.

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I let some of my vegetables flower for the bees.  This is wild bee on a purple carrot flower.

The fall has been warm so far, so I am just starting to ready the garden beds for winter.

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Some flowers linger in the gorgeous fall light.

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We still are picking cherry tomatoes and the cool weather crops, such as carrots, beets, kale, cabbage, and parsnips become sweeter as the temperatures cool. We had an odd summer for eggplants and peppers. They had such a slow start that I almost pulled them to replant with late summer crops.

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Then, suddenly in late July, they took off. Finally, in September, we had a wonderful crop of eggplants and peppers, that I’ve roasted and frozen. And, now, in October, they are still producing.

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We did not have any problems with deer this summer but, unfortunately, the raccoons got to our corn. We had about a week-and-a-half of daily fresh corn before they discovered the corn patch and then one morning–corn devastation. I managed to salvage some of the popcorn, but that was it.

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We tried growing a few exotics (for us) this year, including okra and cardoon. I thoughtlessly planted the okra in the shadiest part of the garden, which was a mistake. Two small plants each proudly produced one pod apiece. They were sort of sweetly pitiful. I will try it again next year in a really sunny spot and I think it will do better. The cardoons started slowly–just like the peppers and eggplants. And then they suddenly grew like weeds. They are related to artichokes, with similar flowers, but ours never made it to the flowering stage.

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Still, I was growing them for the stems, which have an artichoke-like flavor. The leaves are lovely and serrated, but have nasty little spines that need to be removed.

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After the spine removal, I peeled them,

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boiled them, baked them with parmesan, seasoning, and butter, and dotted with cherry tomatoes. They looked promising, but we weren’t very impressed with the flavor or the texture.

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They were not bad, but not great. Considering how much room they take in the garden, I doubt that I will grow them again. Or maybe, with all those spines, I could plant them around the corn to keep the raccoons away.

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September also brought wonderful skies, which promise to get even better in October. I’m looking forward to some serenity this winter. Ha.

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Empty Spaces

IMG_3539Zoe’s death left recurring, sometimes unexpected, often random, but always heart-sad, voids in our life. Her absence permeates our daily routines. Her weight on our feet at night in bed, the expectant face as we stirred in the morning, strings of drool as she politely, patiently waited for her breakfast, the intent eyes and head tilt at the slightest sign of an impending morning walk, her serene pose in the shady grass under the apple tree as she surveyed her domain, her joyous enthusiasm for countless daily pleasures (fetch! ride in the car! snow! popcorn! you’re home!), helicopter tail wags of utter pleasure, twitching tiny-bark dreams, and–to the very end–the thump, thump of her tail when we entered the room–all that love–it’s just gone. All those empty Zoe spaces. IMG_2107.jpg
So, what to do. We have never been of the school of thought that it is disrespectful to soon replace a dog with another dog. In fact, in my experience, the only way to really heal from the loss of a dog is to get another one. But, it’s not so easy. We really want another Lab. Although we have had several rescue dogs over the years, it’s hard to find a rescue Lab in Maine. Labs are in high demand here, being the quintessential Maine dog, posing beside fireplaces and Old Town Canoes in countless L.L.Bean catalogs. The few available rescues are imported from southern states and have only a passing resemblance to actual Labrador-hood. And we are serious about taking in a dog–it’s for life, no matter what. We want a good fit. For us and for the dog.

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I don’t want to keep posting  endless Zoe pictures, so am putting in some random shots.

But litters from reputable breeders are reserved for months in advance. We were desolate at the thought of six months or so without a dog. Noooooo!!!! So we have been hoping that people will drop off litter reservation lists. Zoe came to us that way. She had been promised to the Fire Chief of a coastal Alaskan town, but he was about to be divorced and decided not to take her. His misfortune was our gain. Zoe would have loved being a fire station dog (and living on the ocean) so I always felt that we had a high standard to live up to.

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Pinkish Queen Anne’s Lace

All this leads to the fact that we have spent a great deal of time researching potential dogs. It’s time to fill the house with dogs. We believe that we have found a male pup that we can bring home in September. We are going to look at the litter tomorrow. I’m so excited I likely won’t sleep many winks tonight. IMG_3245In the meantime, we are busy. We have visitors throughout the whole month of August, including our children and grandchildren (and a family reunion in Connecticut). We are so full up with visitors, work on the gardens, and dog research, that I have not had the time to even look at other blogs, let alone leave comments. I doubt that I will have any real blog time until September. Forgive me, blog friends.

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Raised beds, corn, tomatoes, and our growing brush pile.

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The gardens are doing fairly well, despite a prolonged drought.

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We dug this swale this spring and now are filling it with rocks. It diverts the water that had been soggying up our orchard area.

It’s been a month of lilies.  A few survived the lily beetles and others grow by the roadside. IMG_3390.jpgIMG_3306.jpgIMG_3296.jpgIMG_3672.jpgIMG_3294We have more vegetables than we can eat and are about to be hit with an avalanche of tomatoes.

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Baby watermelon

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Tonight’s tomato sauce ingredients

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I found two enormous tomato hornworms and quickly drowned them in a soap bath.

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Voracious and bloated-looking.

My herb garden is flourishing, loving the dry weather.

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Herb garden in mid-July.

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Three weeks later (and looking from the opposite direction).

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I’ve been continually harvesting and drying herbs.

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The bluebirds that had been casually hanging around the bluebird house turned out to have had a second brood. The babes never thrust their hungry beaks out the box opening as did the swallows, but, for about a week, we heard them clamoring for food every time their parents approached the box. The fledglings emerged last week and sat upon the box top before taking small experimental flights.

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One of the fledglings.

It was quite different from the swallow babes, who took off like acrobats at first flight, swooping and confident.

Even though it’s been very dry, we continue to have some nectar flow for the bees and the hummingbirds.

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I guess it’s the pistil of the blue globe thistle that curls as it matures.

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No curling on the younger flower.

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Corn doesn’t need bees for pollination, wind is sufficient, but there were some bees on the corn.

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We had a lovely day at Fort Knox, up the coast, with our son’s in-laws, and enjoyed the dizzying views from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory.  IMG_3504

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I love the shapes, lines, and textures at the fort and the bridge.

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The observatory is at the top.

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Happy August. See you in September.IMG_3541.jpgIMG_3649IMG_3724.jpg

Midsummer

IMG_3126We received bad news on Zoe this week. She initially rallied on steroids but then did not continue to improve. After further tests, it appears that she does have a fast-moving cancer. So, we are staying close to home to keep our sweet girl company, just as she has kept us company throughout her life. She remains happy, although she is getting weaker and less mobile.  IMG_3188As we come to grips with the bad news, our whole property is pulsing with midsummer life. The bees were coming in so laden with deep yellow pollen last week that they looked as though they would miss their landings. IMG_2649I traced the bees to the staghorn sumac, which was in full bloom and bursting with pollen. IMG_2730We have several varieties of sumac on our hillside, but the bees were ignoring all but the male staghorn blossoms.

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Close up of red sumac blossom, with no bees in sight.

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The plentiful hairs on this bee indicate that she is relatively young. The hairs will wear off as the bee ages.  She’s in the staghorn blossoms here and has pollen even on her rear hairs.

After the sumac flow slowed, the bees were driven to a frenzy by our Flemish Antique poppies. Each poppy only lasts a day and every morning they were mobbed with wild and honey bees frantically gathering nectar and stripping the pollen. I have never seen anything like it.IMG_3066Our borage, in comparison, was almost deserted. IMG_3110.jpgIMG_2939.jpgAnd the bees were much less interested in our small jelly bean poppies. IMG_2896All the pollinators have been on the wild milkweed, however, which has been spectacularly lush and sweetly fragrant this year.IMG_3172IMG_2841.jpg

IMG_3138.jpgOur yard has been alive with butterflies, moths, bumblebees, sweat bees, unidentified wild bees, wasps, and moths. IMG_2785.jpgIMG_3145.jpg

IMG_2877IMG_2936IMG_2988IMG_3029IMG_2812But, our baby swallows are gone.  After entertaining us for days, we watched them leave the nest one by one. It was such a thrill to see their first flights.  We still have swallows and bluebirds in the yard, so apparently they like it here.IMG_2446.jpgIMG_2463

Although the weather has been extremely dry, we have had enough rain to keep most of our vegetables coming along nicely. We are harvesting peas, lettuce, early potatoes, baby onions, collards, kale, carrots, and lots of herbs. IMG_3112

I had to pull out some cabbage being chewed by pesky cabbage worms. The cabbage moths continue to hover over all the brassicas, so I will harvest them soon and then put in a new, unmolested, bed for fall harvest and cover it with agribon fabric to keep the moths out.

Our goldfinches turned out to be unexpected garden marauders.  They have been dining on the rainbow chard. They are not eating bugs or worms, but the chard itself. Goldfinches generally eat seeds, so I’m wondering if they sought moisture from the chard leaves in our recent dry spell.IMG_3025.jpg

Our wild apples are plumping up and looking less disease and pest-ridden than last year. We did some pruning in the spring to cull out branches and let in more light and air. It appears to have improved the apples.IMG_2766

And so, life goes on.IMG_2516.jpgIMG_2567.jpg

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Lupine pods.

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Sweet Symbiosis

IMG_1835A teacher at my beekeeping class this spring warned us that, once we had bees, we would never view plants in the same way again. He was right. I love plants. I like to grow them, observe them, smell them, eat them, identify them, revel in them, and occasionally talk to them. But now, I also see them as allies in keeping my bees healthy and happy.IMG_1193_edited-1
The relationship between bees and flowers is more than just mutually beneficial–they need each other for continued existence. To reproduce, most plants must transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma–a difficult task to pull off alone when you are rooted to the ground and cannot move. That is where wind, animals, and–mostly–flying pollinators come to the rescue. Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and birds do the job that plants cannot do for themselves. IMG_1755They spread the riches. And, at the same time, take home some for themselves. A neat arrangement developed over an unimaginable amount of time. A sweet symbiosis.IMG_1851
My daily walks and garden checks have taken on a bee-like perspective. I have become keenly interested in exactly what is blooming, what pollinators are attracted to those blossoms, whether the nectar is flowing, and where my bees are foraging. I have a whole new appreciation of the intricate dance between plants and their pollinators. IMG_1314
After the apple blossoms faded, we had a long spell of dry weather. Although the honeysuckle was blooming, the nectar didn’t seem to be flowing and there were only a few dump-truck-sized bumblebees tumbling around. IMG_0894.jpgWe finally got much-needed rain, after which the flowers and pollinators went into high gear. IMG_1125.jpgIMG_1141_edited-1.jpgIMG_1400Our bees wasted no time in finding our neighbor’s lupines. The bees stretched open the bottom petals to get at the nectar.   Fascinating.IMG_1229
IMG_1235IMG_1234IMG_1237Many of our showiest blossoms are not honey bee magnets.

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No bees yet.

The honey bees have avoided the rhododendrons and peonies, and have shown little interest in the iris or oriental poppies.   Here’s a bee-less poppy through all it’s stages.IMG_1275IMG_1278

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All that pollen. Some bees have been bringing in dark pollen like this, but I haven’t seen them visiting the poppies.

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The bumble bees, in contrast, love the rhododendron and irises.IMG_1296IMG_1389

I discovered the honey bees instead, often deep in the woods, feasting on the inconspicuous green bittersweet blossoms and drifts of raspberry brambles.

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Bittersweet

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Wild bee on a wild raspberry blossom.  I haven’t learned to identify the wild bees yet.  Next year.

Our honey bees are not the only pollinators, of course. We have plenty of wild bees, butterflies, wasps, and birds doing their part. IMG_1465

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He sips lots of flower nectar, too. I just haven’t caught him with the camera.

As an update to previous posts, we have had three active nests in our bird boxes. The bluebirds seemed to have successfully raised their chicks. One day they were coming and going with slugs and worms for their little ones and the next day they were all gone. We missed their departure from the nest.

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Swallows nestbuilding.

But this morning we watched the tree swallow fledglings emerge from another box to take their first flight. They almost crashed into George. Exuberant, glorious things. We still have wrens nesting in the front yard box.IMG_1658
And George built Zoe two ramps. IMG_1563.jpgShe’s appreciative.IMG_0867

One Full Circle

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It has been a year since we moved to Maine. Four seasons on our hillside–a busy, satisfying time, learning about our new home and making it ours.  Our largest project was clearing a patch of land below our lawn, opening it up to a ring of gnarly wild apple trees that had been concealed by brush and saplings.

It looked like this when we moved in:

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You can just see the blossoming tops of the apple trees, obscured by brush and small trees.

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Now garden beds.

A year later:IMG_0297

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Two of the beautiful old apples in the ring revealed by the clearing.

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Looking across the newly-planted gardens from the hive area.

The cleared space is a work in progress. We still have brush to burn and stumps to pull. But we have put in eight raised beds, an asparagus patch,

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Our first asparagus shoot.

strawberries, two separate rows of tomatoes, a compost bin and a potato patch. Still to come this year are a corn patch, and hills of squash and melons.

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I love strawberries.

The area between the beds has been planted with grass and clover, which is just coming up.

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This jack-in-the-pulpit sprung up near the end of the herb garden.

We have three stone rings planted with annuals. They weren’t planned exactly, but rather grew up around stones too large to remove. Eventually we will build them up into real stone-walled planters and will put in a stone-flagged seating area and firepit.  There’s no shortage of stones.  But, that’s for later.

Perhaps my favorite area is the bee yard.

Here it was last year:IMG_0414

And now:

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The hive and herb garden in the afternoon sun.

We plan to add another hive next year. There is more than enough forage to sustain several hives, if I can just ferry the bees through mites and other bee hazards and keep them alive over the winter. IMG_0396Right now the apple blossoms are in full bloom and the bees seem to be ignoring everything else. IMG_0383IMG_0385IMG_0419IMG_0388.jpgIMG_0392A quick hive check last week showed that the hive is progressing well, despite cold and wet weather at the start. IMG_0111The bees have drawn comb in most of the top box and the queen appears to be laying plenty of brood.

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This shows how the bees draw out the comb–from flat foundation on the lower right gradually building to drawn comb on the upper left.

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Still drawing comb in this frame.

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The comb that you can see in this frame is fully drawn and we could see eggs, larvae and some capped brood–all the phases of the brood cycle.  You can see a squished bee at the edge of the box that I must have mashed when we were last in the hive, checking to see that the queen had been released.  And I was so careful!

Even though we don’t have farm animals (unless the bees count) it’s starting to feel like the little farm we long envisioned. Our neighboring cows provide the farm fragrance, along with the lilacs. IMG_0044.jpgIMG_0535.jpg

And like gardeners and farmers everywhere, we keep an eye on the weather.  We need rain.

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It looks lush, but it’s very dry.

 

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In the dry weather, I’ve been having to clean and fill the birdbath at least once a day. The big  bluejays are messy bathers.  This cardinal looks like he’s telling me that it’s time for a refill.

Despite our lack of rain, our vegetables are coming along.  Radishes and lettuce should be ready for harvest this week.  The chives are flourishing.IMG_0472
Our little orchard is doing beautifully. Except for one hazelnut (which may or may not be dead), all of the fruit trees and berries that we planting are thriving. And I am ridiculously proud that all of the apple grafts that I muddled together at the workshop this spring were successful! IMG_0578At first I thought that only two grafts took, which would have meant that I was a dismal grafting failure. But, slowly, one tree at a time, buds swelled on the grafted scions and then little leaves popped out. If I can keep deer and other critters from munching on them, we will have nine more old heritage varieties to add to our orchard. IMG_0504
Our bluebirds are vigilantly protecting their nest.   They successfully fended off the swallows and chased away a house wren that set up phony nests in two of other bird houses.

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It took the wren a while to figure out how to get this stick inside.

I like the wrens (tail wagging and singing), IMG_0146but apparently they sometimes rob other nests and the bluebirds and goldfinches were quite aggressive in going after them. IMG_0359

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Although I suspect the tea cup flowers are roses, I’ve always thought of them as apple blossoms.  The finch in the apple is as close as I’ll likely get to reproducing this tea cup scene.

George built a beautiful cedar table to go with our outside bench IMG_0601.jpgand he’s about to build a ramp for Zoe, who turned twelve this spring. She has some neuropathy and arthritis that is making it hard for her to climb stairs. She’s slowing down, sweet girl, but loves it here. It’s a good place to grow old.IMG_0639

Bees, Buds, Birds

IMG_9395The beginning of May has alternated between work and distractions.  We are in the midst of what may be our busiest time in retirement–our first planting season at our new home.  We picked up a good-sized order of orchard trees, companion perennials, berries, asparagus, hazelnuts, seed potatoes and more on the last weekend in April at Fedco–our Maine source of all things growing (in the plant world).  So we pushed hard to get our newly cleared land ready for planting. IMG_8480

But, every day, while I shoveled, planted, and watered, the utter exuberance of the life around me hit me upside the head.  It was a distraction.  But one that I didn’t fight.

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A bumblebee, not one of our honeys.

I had my camera with me while planting, so when I heard the Towhee’s “drink your tea-eeeeee” in the sumac, I tried to get a photo as he hopped, maddeningly, deeper into the brush.  I never got a good shot of the Towhee but then was distracted by the blooming maples.  IMG_9378.jpgI spent a lot of time this past week just looking up and listening.  Fortunately, in retirement, I have no deadlines and can indulge in these lovely distractions. IMG_8510IMG_8958IMG_8993

The bees may be my biggest distraction, requiring detours multiple times a day to linger and watch.  I just can’t keep away from them.  We checked on our queen four days after installing the package and the diligent little ladies had properly released her from her cage.  They were building lovely waxy white comb and bringing in pollen, which generally indicates that the queen is laying.

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Like planes stacked up to land at Hartsfield Airport.

Our trees have just barely started to leaf out and green up, so our woods remain austere and wintry looking.  But the bees are bringing in fat legfuls of psychedelic orange pollen and a more subdued yellowish stash.  IMG_9173I imagine the orange is from the maples.  IMG_9320IMG_9324The yellow likely comes from dandelion, coltsfoot, birch and willow.  IMG_9331IMG_8831IMG_9359IMG_9424I picked up our tree order on Arbor Day (a fact of which I was unaware at the time) and, that afternoon, planted three apples, two pears, two cherries, two peaches, two persimmons, and a giant medlar (no idea, really, what it is).  IMG_9163The birds were out in full force.  It’s mating season, after all, and the calling, squabbling, and acrobatics are at their peak. 

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This Bluejay was drinking from the hose when I watered in a transplanted blueberry.

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Here he’s puffing out his feathers at Bluejay on the neighboring branch. Attracting a female or intimidating a rival?

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We have hordes of berserker goldfinches.

So, I would dig a bit, pause a bit, watch a bit, take a picture or two, and then dig, plant and water some more. 

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This Northern Flicker blends in so well he’s hard to see.  The Flickers just migrated from their winter grounds.

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The next day I planted blueberries, haskaps (honeyberries and new to me), an elderberry, a Carolina allspice, and made a nursery for some chestnut whips and my grafted apples (it looks like some of the grafts have taken).  Once I was done, I wandered off in search of the white throated sparrow that had been mournfully singing first on one side, then on the other.  I couldn’t spot the sparrow, but kept happily wandering, fully distracted by the buds and blooms in the exquisite afternoon light.IMG_9432IMG_8599

IMG_9328.jpgIMG_9375IMG_9440IMG_9436.jpgWe spent Mother’s Day weekend in Connecticut visiting my mom and now are looking forward to a week of warmer, sunnier weather.  Bring on the bloom.IMG_9499IMG_9237IMG_9471

 

Sow. Snow. Sew.

IMG_7223We took one lazy day after our roadtrip and then headed outside. It felt like spring and we were itching to get to work.

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Poplar catkins

We have been here almost a year now and have spent that time assessing the sun, wind, and drainage to plan the layout for our gardens.

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Alders

We decided to move the raised vegetable beds that we installed when we moved in last May. That area–at the side of the house–will be our little orchard, with fruit trees and berries.IMG_7146 Our first project was to start a drainage ditch down one side. We will get the area ready to plant by the end of April. IMG_7202.jpg
The raised beds are moving to the area we cleared below the house. Once we remove some stumps, and finish burning brush, we will lay down the frames and finish moving the soil. We are putting in additional raised beds and will have regular beds for potatoes, corn, asparagus, strawberries, herbs, squash, and melons. Perhaps we’re too ambitious, but it’s so much fun.IMG_7178
Along with outside work, I started seedlings indoors. Lots and lots of seedlings. We are fortunate to have triple-paned southern-facing windows that act like passive solar powerhouses, generating enough heat on sunny winter days to warm the house. Because the windows act so much like a greenhouse, I decided to go without heat mat for germination and without supplemental grow lights. A risk, I know.

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These water jugs as seed beds act like mini-greenhouses.

So far, I’ve been pleased. The kale germinated within 48 hours and all the seeds were up within a week.

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Do you think we’re growing enough lettuce varieties?

Most of my seeds are from Fedco, a wonderful Maine co-op. They have by far the best germination rate of any I’ve ever used.  I have had no damping off (sometimes older seeds are more prone to it) except for in two little peat pots of a seed from a company other than Fedco. Interesting. My recently planted pepper plants will be the real germination test, though. They require good warmth to germinate, so we’ll see how they do without a heat mat.

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Water-jug marigolds.

As the plants have been emerging, inside and out, the birdsongs have become increasingly competitive–me, me, pick me!  After I saw a male bluebird in full throat at the top of a maple down the street, George quickly put up bluebird and wren houses. I started pruning the lilacs and apples and then … snow.
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IMG_7298.jpgLots of snow. About eight inches. It brought the wild turkeys, searching for windfall apples at the edge of the yard.

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Turkey tracks are huge. My boot is in the lower left for comparison.

Then it got cold. The snow has lingered on. IMG_7326

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The snow makes Zoes feisty.  She’s trying to kill her ball.

IMG_7302I’m not sure yet how much damage we will see to emerging buds and sprouts.

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Poppies emerging before the snow.

Today we are housebound by a coat of ice and mizzle of freezing rain. IMG_7407.jpgOn the bright side, the snow and ice have given me time to finish sewing projects. In January, I was making great progress on a quilt for a granddaughter when my sewing machine started to act oddly. The motor belt seemed to be slipping–something it had never done before. The band was old, brittle, and cracked. I decided that it was time for a tune up anyway, so dropped off the machine at a local fabric store to be picked up by the local sewing machine repairman. His normal two-week turn around time stretched three because, on delivery day, the fabric store was closed due to heavy snow. Three weeks without my machine during prime sewing season. IMG_6556
Finally, the machine came home with a new belt, all greased and lubed, and, for the first few nights, smoothly humming away. The next afternoon, however, I sat down to sew and the new motor band started slipping a bit. I let it sit for a few hours, tried it again that night, and it was fine. But the next day, it started slipping badly. Really badly. Odd that it slipped during the day, but not at night. Then a light went off–actually a lot of light. The machine was sitting right in front in one of our greenhouse-like southern windows, awash in sunlight. That sunlight was HOT and the heat was expanding the band so much as to cause it to slip. Duh. Problem solved.

The quilt is finished and ready to be shipped out west. My quilting style is best described as low-stress or wabi sabi. No seam is too crooked, no corner too awry. I put it together, hope it will come out approximately square , and enjoy the process. A real quilter would roll her eyes and tut disapprovingly. But it works for me.

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An exuberant, one-of-a-kind quilt for an exuberant, one-of-a-kind granddaughter.  This quilt was made of about 60 different fabrics that my daughter collected when they lived in Okinawa and traveled through Asia and Australia.  

While the machine was away, I worked on the spinning wheel. When I treadled the wheel without spinning any yarn, all moved sweetly along. But when I started spinning yarn, the drive band tended to fall off the wheel. Eventually I realized that the mother-of-all (wonderful name) was wobbling back and forth when I put tension on the yarn, causing the band to jump off the wheel tracks. I shimmed it up and all went smoothly. My lovely old wheel is now spinning.

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The white shim steadies the mother-of-all crossbar. The mother-of-all holds the end supports, called the maidens, the u-shaped flyer and the bobbin of spun yarn.

Spring goes on.

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Our neighbor uses old-style buckets for gathering maple sap. The cold spell keeps the sap flowing. The piece of scraggly wood in the hole in this tree looks like an old man’s face.

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