Busy

IMG_2236

Two words for this spring—cold and wet.

IMG_2103

Late snows, hard frosts, frigid mud, and a miserly portion of sunshine delayed our yard work and gardening, again and again.  When the weather finally began to warm up a bit (only a handful of days have teasingly felt like summer), we were in catch-up mode, trying to get everything done at once.

IMG_2099

Preparing the greenhouse pad.

Although I held off on planting, the ground remains unseasonably cold and wet.  My potatoes and flax have stunted patches and the warm weather crops are struggling to get established.  New growth for deer browse was late and some deer—looking for spring nutrition—girdled several of the apple trees that I planted last fall in the lower orchard.

girdling

They didn’t touch any other saplings—that sweet young apple bark must be especially tasty.  I tried to do some cleft grafting to save them, but it doesn’t appear to have taken. So, we will plant more in the spring and fence them well.

IMG_1972

I was hoping the grafts would take, but it doesn’t look good.

I also had another fail with my bees this winter.  They had swarmed last June and the remaining bees in the hive never seemed to get up to full strength.  I was happy that they made it into January, but then I lost them in a long, deep freeze.  I reluctantly decided to take a year off from beekeeping for several reasons:  I would be out-of-state when the bee packages arrive; we want to move the hive to a new area that won’t be ready until later in the year; and we want to do perimeter work around our fence (near the hive) to keep our tick population down.

IMG_2370 (2).JPG

There are other hives in our area, and plenty of bees came to pollinate our wild apples, but I really missed having our own.  I put off cleaning out and storing the hive and in a wild, unlikely hope that maybe a swarm would take up residence.  And, sure enough, that’s what happened.  One morning in mid-June, I noticed some bees at the hive.  I could not tell if they were robbing the little honey left or if they might be scouts for a swarm.

MVI_2491_Moment

A few hours later I heard a massive buzzing sound and the air was filled with a bee swarm descending on the hive.

IMG_2499

It was pretty exciting.  They now are happily established.  So much for moving the hive—I’m so happy to have these new arrivals, it’s staying where it is.

IMG_2506.JPG

The other insects of note this spring are the brown tail moths that are invading midcoast Maine.  They make ticks seem like pleasant little nuisances.  The moth caterpillars have toxic, barbed hairs that become airborne and can create a nasty itchy rash and a cough if breathed.  They favor oaks and apples, of which we have plenty.  Up until this year, they weren’t a problem for us and we did extensive pruning this year on our old apples—not worried about moths.

pruning

Early spring pruning on the wild apples in the yard.

Unbeknownst to George, though, one of the trees was moth-infested and when he was cleaning up the downed branches, he developed a horrible rash.  To finish up the job, he has had to hose down all the wood and wear a moth hazmat outfit.  Yuck.

IMG_2566

Despite the cold and toxic moth hairs, we have never had so many nesting birds.

IMG_2560

Sparrow nest I stumbled on when clearing orchard weeds. Fortunately, I didn’t scare the mother, she’s still sitting on the nest.

The birdsong has been amazing—it goes on from earliest pre-dawn until the evening.  We have nesting wrens, cardinals, sparrows, phoebes, chickadees, mourning doves, yellowthroats, thrushes, catbirds, vireos, towhees, various unidentified warblers, woodpeckers, robins, goldfinches, waxwings, evening grosbeaks, and a a very vocal melodious Baltimore Oriole for the first time this year.

IMG_2260.JPG

We put up two nesting boxes with trepidation, hoping that our pugnacious bluebird wouldn’t return.  He didn’t.

IMG_2433

Bluebird fledgling about a minute before his first flight.

We had a friendly bluebird couple take up residence and a gorgeous pair of swallows.

IMG_2112.JPG

George has been going non-stop all spring with pruning, putting up next winter’s wood, improving the drainage down the driveway and around the new garage, building beds for my new dye garden,

IMG_2569

Dye garden and fleece washing tubs.

building screen houses for the brassicas,

IMG_2438

The screen enclosure in the background has been wonderful to protect the brassicas from cabbage moth caterpillars.

working on the sauna, planting trees and shrubs, preparing foundations for a new shed and green house, on top of the usual yard, trail, and house maintenance.

IMG_2198.JPG

I’m in love with our new greenhouse.

IMG_2204.JPG

While George has been giving the tractor a workout, I’ve had a textile-rich spring.  With help from a friend, I put together an exhibit highlighting weaving, spinning, flax production, and antique textile tools for the local library, which recently acquired a trove of new books on these subjects for its craftsmanship collection.

IMG_20190226_160440

I didn’t take photos of the exhibit, but we had antique wheels and a tape loom.

In late April, Jan and I also did an evening presentation on antique spinning wheels at the same library, hoping to gain converts to rehabilitate the old wheels and get them spinning again.

IMG_2187

Current herd of great wheels.

Soon after, I went to Vavstuga weaving school in western Massachusetts for a course in Swedish Classics.

IMG_20190508_125425

Learning rosepath.

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

IMG_20190508_180348

Monksbelt variation.

When I returned, I got going on taking and collecting photos for a presentation on Connecticut wheelmakers for an Antique Spinning Wheel Symposium at Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont in early June.

screenshot_2019-05-24-ancestry-com-connecticut-wills-and-probate-records-1609-1999.png

The presentation also involved countless hours of genealogy research and deciphering probate records and inventories from the 1700s, to try to track down the identity of wheelmaker J. Platt.  I still don’t know who he is.

IMG_2119

But, we had magical weather for the symposium and what a treat to get together with a bunch of antique wheel nerds.  The talking was non-stop, it was such a rare opportunity to all be speaking the same language of scribe lines, double-flyers, hub shapes, spindle supports, chip carving, maidens, mother-of-alls (mothers-of-all?), and, on and on …

IMG_20190608_175444

At Lone Rock Farm in Marshfield.

I stayed over the next day for a flax workshop with Norman Kennedy, the 86-year-old grand master of weaving, flax, stories of textiles in Scotland, and song (among other things).

IMG_2423

Norman dressing a distaff.

And I stayed at a wonderful farm B&B, where I got to enjoy morning visits with the cows, pigs, chickens, and kittens.

IMG_20190611_080612

Marshfield was beautiful, I loved being with “my people,” and enjoyed an amazing three days, but—as always—it was so sweet to get home—with flowers and dogs to greet me.

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

IMG_20190316_163916

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

IMG_20190320_121639 IMG_20190311_135639 IMG_20190401_115053

and finished up processing last year’s flax.

IMG_2444

Bottom batch was dew retted (twice) last fall and the top batch was retted on snow this winter.

IMG_2452

I bought this wonderful flax break at auction last month for $10. The auctioneer had no idea what it was.

IMG_2461

Snow retted flax being hackled. It’s a lovely color.

IMG_2479

From left to right: early dew retted (under retted), tub retted, double dew retted, snow retted.

IMG_2465

I was engulfed by lilac fragrance while processing the flax. We had a bumper crop of lilacs this year.

Now that summer is officially here, I’m just about caught up on spring chores and hope to have a less busy, more relaxing summer.  We’ll see.

IMG_2529

Spinning on the porch, watching thunderstorms and rainbows.

Spring Ahead

IMG_1476

I have not died or otherwise disappeared off the face of the earth. I simply have been engrossed in worlds other than blogging. Now my challenge is to condense nine months packed with living into one blog post.  We have gone from spring mists

IMG_0062

to fall mists

IMG_1245

to this

IMG_1503

since I last wrote.  Here goes …

One reason I dropped out of the blogosphere was because Capp became terribly ill in July. Seemingly overnight, he went from a happy-go-lucky, just-turning-two-year-old lab, full of mischief and swagger, to a ball of misery who didn’t want to leave his crate.

IMG_20180727_150354

After time at the local dog emergency clinic and with our local vet, his mystery condition was bumped up to the veterinary specialists in Portland, an hour-and-a-half from home. He almost died.

IMG_20180804_121727_1

Home after tests with lots of shaved spots.

He spent three days at the Portland vet on an IV and undergoing a battery of tests. At first the fear was cancer, but it turned out that he had immune-mediated neutropenia, which was causing his white blood cells to drop to treacherously low levels. After six months on prednisone, and other drugs, he is finally back to our old Capp.

IMG_20190217_105148

We still don’t know exactly what caused his condition. The theories are a reaction to immunizations or perhaps a tick-borne disease (although he tested negative for all the common ones). He remains on a low dose of pred and must have regular blood tests, but we are so relieved that we didn’t lose him. He has become quite popular with the wonderful vets and technicians caring for him. One tech calls him “Cute Adorable Puppy Prince,” and it has stuck. Amazingly, we had pet insurance–the first we’ve ever had for a dog–and they really came through for us, too.

IMG_20190129_164949_1

Throughout Capp’s illness, Alice has remained her sweet affectionate self.

Because of Capp’s illness, we have been sticking pretty close to home. In the spring, we consolidated our vegetable beds into two fenced-in gardens. “We” meaning George–he did all the fencing and leveling.

IMG_0083

The gardens were lush and productive this year.

IMG_0459

IMG_0912

IMG_0885

IMG_0724

Flax.

We were eating our garden potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and onions well into February. I tried growing cotton this year, and it did well, but frost hit before the cotton fully developed.

IMG_0804

Cotton blossom.

Next year, I will try hanging the bolls inside to continue to mature.

IMG_0477

IMG_0952_edited-1

The vegetable beds. Much neater than last year.

George is getting really good at putting in trails.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-2-4,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

We have a whole system that now reaches each corner of the property.

IMG_1743 (1)

IMG_20190224_104716

The first set of trails were named after the grandchildren. The next will be named after the dogs.

He also is building an outdoor, wood-fired sauna–something that I became enamored with during our years in Alaska.

MVIMG_20180907_095343

Preparing for the sauna.

But the biggest project this year was building a garage.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-2-4,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

IMG_0126.jpg

IMG_20180718_172127

We hired contractors to do most of the work, but George did much of the prep and finish work himself (he’s still doing finish work) and oversaw everything–not an easy task. The upstairs is an open space that will be half guest room and half an area for sewing, my small loom, and my really big spinning wheels. I inaugurated the space two weeks ago with a gathering of nine great wheel spinners from around mid-coast Maine. It was wonderful.

IMG_1571

I have fallen deep into the spinning and weaving world. Old wheels just seem to follow me home and it gives me a thrill to work on them and get them spinning again.

IMG_0563

Amazing wood on Shaker wheel from Alfred Lake, Maine.

They fascinate me with their beautiful wood, colors, craftsmanship, and history.

IMG_0077

This European wheel, likely from Austria, was singed by being too close to the fire.

I am planning on doing a few presentations and classes on antique wheels with another friend this year.

IMG_1175

Canadian Bisson wheel.

We’re hoping to convince lots of spinner to rescue these lovely wheels, so that they won’t be lost to future generations.

IMG_1522

It’s amazing how beautifully the old wheels spin. I have continued to buy local fleeces–this year Romney/Finn, Gotland, and Cormo–because I enjoy the whole process of scouring, processing, dyeing, spinning, and weaving.  It’s so satisfying to do it from start to finish.

IMG_0700

Beautiful Cormo fleece.  I will spin with this on the great wheels

And flax, well, I’m just in love with flax.

IMG_1193

About a third of my line flax this year, all processed and ready to spin.

IMG_1160.jpg

Home grown and dyed flax woven into tape on an antique tape loom.

In the spring, before Capp’s illness, I took an amazing flax course at Snow Farm in western Massachusetts with Cassie Dickson–a flax guru, coverlet weaver extraordinaire, and all-around wonderful person.

IMG_0185

The flax Cassie brought was retted in various ways so that we could compare them.

The course was for five days and covered everything–planting, processing, spinning, dyeing, and weaving.

IMG_0182

Classmate Victoria, an amazing textile artist.   A link to her site: victoriamanganiello

I felt so fortunate to learn from Cassie, she usually teaches in the South, closer to her North Carolina home.  Here’s a link to Cassie’s site: CassieDickson.  People in other Snow Farm classes were fascinated by the flax.

IMG_0330.jpg

Flax that we processed, spun, and dyed at class.

There was in class in welding sculptures out of all sorts of found objects, aka junk, and the instructor and one of his students kindly made us stands to keep our cups of water for flax spinning.

IMG_0246

I treasure mine.

IMG_0749_edited-1.jpg

In the fall, weaving took the spotlight.

IMG_0782

I wove these on my small loom in the summer.  Destined to be chair cushions.

I again traveled to western Massachusetts–this time to Vavstuga in Shelburne Falls for the introductory weaving course. What a treat. Having been–until recently–totally self-taught in weaving, I just soaked up all the years of knowledge shared through this wonderful weaving school.

IMG_1145

A tablecloth being woven by a returning student.

The focus there is on Swedish weaving styles and looms, so it was especially timely for me because I had decided to buy a Swedish Oxaback loom. I was able to bring one home with me from Vavstuga and get right to work with it. Bliss.

IMG_1204

Putting the first warp on my new loom.

I also really enjoyed Shelburne Falls. Every morning I went out early to the Bridge of Flowers, which spans the river right in front of the school, and chatted with the head gardener.

IMG_20180916_165347

Every evening I walked down to the Falls, which were swollen with water after torrential downpours that we had on the second day.

IMG_20180918_190208

I’m returning for another course in May. Can’t wait.

IMG_1800

Current project on the loom.  Overshot with handspun and  naturally dyed wool and handspun linen tabby.

We have been rich in guests these past months, which has also kept us busy. We had family reunions in Connecticut and Massachusetts in July and both of our children, with their spouses, and the grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving. We had a big dump of snow, to the delight of the grandkids, who have never lived with snowy winters

image

Soap Sally, our creepy Thanksgiving snowperson, freaked out the dogs.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I really savored having the whole family here.  The granddaughters took to weaving like fish to water.

IMG_1323.jpg

Our daughter returned again in December with the grandkids and, while George stayed home with the dogs, we took a two night trip to Quebec City right before Christmas.  It was magical.

IMG_20181219_144725

And, of course, I brought home a beautiful Quebec wheel.

IMG_1515

This post is starting to sound an awful lot like one of my mother’s holiday letters. But rather than edit it, I’m going to post it, as is. Or I may never get it done. I will try not to go so long between posts again.  I have been posting pictures on Instagram under “olddogsnewtruck.”  It’s more my speed these days.  Happy Spring.

IMG_20190211_180912.jpg

Tapping In and Warping Up

IMG_9356

We are waiting for our third snowstorm in two weeks. Even so, the air, light, and birdsong feel like spring. Our earliest seedlings–onions and leeks–are lined up in front of the upstairs southern window, with kale, chard, lettuce, and peppers soon to follow. And this year, we were even more aware of signs of spring because we tapped maples for syrup.

IMG_9401.jpg

The sap has been running for several weeks and there’s such a good flow this year that we actually have too much to use. We only tapped three trees and one–the big house-side maple that turns brilliant crimson in the fall–had such thick bark that we didn’t drill deep enough and gave about a third of the amount of sap of the other two. But, even so, we are drowning in sap.

IMG_9266.jpg

The dogs love to go gather the sap.

On our first boil, we used our lobster pot on the grill-side burner outside. It is supposed to take about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so it has to boil for a long time. A very long time.

IMG_9328.jpg

We finished it off on our kitchen stove indoors.

IMG_9405.jpg

We ended up with about a quart and a half of syrup on the first boil.

IMG_9423.jpg

We decided to do all of the second boil on our kitchen stove. It was much faster and we can use the added moisture in the air.

IMG_9421.jpg

Our trees are red maple rather than sugar maple and the syrup has a distinctive vanilla-like flavor different than commercial syrup. Since we have so much sap, I’ve been drinking it. Delicious.

IMG_9443.jpg

Right from the bucket with its own ice.

Aside from gathering sap, gathering wood, and our usual walks, we have been enjoying the last of winter’s snowbound inside days. As soon as the snow melts, we’ll be out pruning , readying the gardens, and starting building projects.

IMG_9228.jpg

I have loved the inside time.  I made a small quilt to cover the couch for the dogs.

IMG_9236.jpg

Note the wine for basting.

But I spent most of my winter blissfully spinning, restoring wheels, and weaving–for the first time in decades.

IMG_9462.jpg

George resurrected my old loom.

IMG_3925

The poor thing has been stored for about 40 years.

IMG_3929.jpg

Before.

He made a new square beam, tightened up joints and glued a break, and made new dowel pieces for the sectional beam.

IMG_9373.jpgIMG_9346

I made a new apron and replaced the old cords and tie ups with texsolv, a wonderful easy system using eye-looped cords and plastic pegs.

IMG_9343.jpg
IMG_9344

It’s a unique and wonderful little loom. The woman I bought it from in the 1970s said that her grandfather made it for her grandmother early in the 1900s.

IMG_8049

The loom was thoughtfully made, and includes lights conveniently placed front and back. When George brought the lights in to have the wiring brought up to code, we found that one of the lightbulbs had a tungsten filament and dated from the 1920s. It’s still working.

IMG_9363

IMG_9369

Even the light clamp looks like it’s from the 20s

I had forgotten how much I love to weave.

IMG_9426

Unlike some weavers, I enjoy all of the preparation steps–

IMG_9339.jpg

winding the warp,

IMG_9358.jpg

threading the reed and heddles,

IMG_9370.jpg

and seeing the neat warp all wound on, miraculously untangled and ready to weave.

IMG_9431.jpg

For this first weave, I made twill dish towels, without any set color or treadling pattern, just experimenting with both.

IMG_9473.jpg

Ready to hem and clip the strays

IMG_9488.jpg

I also took some Soay yarn that I have been spinning and did a quick sample, thinking I might use it in my next project. But I liked it so much that I wove enough to cover the seat in my spinning chair. Soay sheep shed their wool in lumps rather than being shorn, and the wool is fine and crimpy but with lots of short strands and little clumps.

IMG_9470.jpg

I spun it nubbly, thinking it might look interesting in a traditional twill, and was surprised at how much I liked it in this rosepath twill.

IMG_9453.jpg

My wheel herd continues to grow bigger and I have all of them spinning. Now to find new homes for some of the rescues.

IMG_9455
IMG_9319.jpgIMG_9459.jpg

Our aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us daily. He continued to attack the windows even on the most frigid winter days. I wish we could have him neutered.

IMG_9342.jpg

Elsewhere

IMG_8949.jpg

Blogging has fallen by the wayside for me this winter as I’ve been so happily engrossed in other activities. My spinning wheels seem to be breeding.

IMG_9172

I now have nine rescued antique wheels and three reels/swifts in varying states of restoration.

IMG_8899

Sadly neglected and needing some time in the spinning wheel spa.

I am immersed in bringing them back to life and in trying to determine their history.

IMG_9187IMG_9195_edited-1.jpgIMG_9173.jpg

George and I are getting my old loom working so I will soon be weaving, and I am spinning different fibers on each of my working wheels–linen, alpaca, Soay, and California Variegated Mutant (sounds weird, but so lovely).

IMG_9085

My first attempt at spinning my homegrown flax into linen is on the right and some linen off of one of the old wheels on the left.  Both pretty hairy looking.

I am also working on two quilts and sewing clothes.

IMG_9214.jpg

And, of course, we are delighting in our dogs and the large turkeys and eagles that have been perched in our backyard trees.

IMG_8734

Unfortunately, my bees did not survive our below-zero cold spell, but I’ve ordered more for the spring, sent my seed and tree orders off, and spring pruning and maple sugaring will be here soon.

IMG_9039.jpg

It’s been a cozy, busy, creative, productive winter and I’ve enjoyed my time away from the computer.

IMG_9101

I suspect I’ll be back to blogging at some point but, in the meantime, I hope everyone is likewise enjoying their winter (or summer) wherever you are.

IMG_8777.jpg

Sky and Wind, With a Little Mustard

IMG_7910

Many New Englanders dread winter and muddle through it with a sort of grudging resignation, mixed with stir-crazy frustration and patches of downright hatred.  Others leave.  But we love winter in Maine.  After years of living in Anchorage, where days are short, sunlight scarce, and glum gray skies the norm, the constantly changing, brilliant winter skies here are a continual–and still unexpected–delight.

IMG_7933

Soon after the leaf colors fade, the skies come alive.  October and November seem to produce the year’s most brilliant sunrises and sunsets.

IMG_7895.jpg

They linger with changing colors, highlighting the gorgeous filigree of our leafless oaks and maples.

IMG_7941.jpgIMG_7800.jpg

October’s morning fog settles in the valleys below us, revealing folds in the hills that are otherwise obscured.

IMG_7727.jpgIMG_7717

These months also bring wind–and weather–from all directions.

IMG_7748IMG_7820

Massive fronts move over us, the edges of which are often visible as a line on the horizon.

IMG_7863

Hills on the bottom, clouds on top, with a sliver of light in between.  This was a particularly ominous looking front that ended just at the edge of the ocean over our hills.  The smudge in the middle is rain.

The end of October treated us to a massive wind storm.  Fortunately, we had enough warning to prepare and cover our equipment and bring in outdoor furniture.

IMG_7783.jpg

Alice knew something was going on when the deck furniture disappeared.

IMG_7745.jpg

There were lots of bluejays seed-gathering before the storm came in.

It was quite a dramatic show on hillside, with whipping winds and sideways rain.

IMG_7768.jpg

Storm coming in.

IMG_7767.jpg

The oak leaves were blown horizontal.  And then stripped.

Unfortunately, along with much of the state’s population, we lost our electrical power early on.  We have a wood stove for heat, propane for cooking, and candles and battery lamps for lighting.  Our water is from a well on our property, pumped by electrical power, so we have no water when the power goes out.  But the town provides water from a tap at the fire station, so it’s not too much of an inconvenience.

IMG_7797

Our real worry was our two freezers, packed to their brims with garden produce, sauces, and meat for the winter.  George pulled out the portable generator that we had from our RV days, which managed to keep the two freezers going and to charge our phones and computers.  We went four days without power.  Not bad compared to others in the state, and nothing compared to Puerto Rico, but enough time, nevertheless, to remind us to appreciate all the little luxuries that power brings.

IMG_7810

On the day after the storm–Halloween–the bees were bringing in huge loads of orange pollen.

IMG_7774

We had a small birch come down on our woodpiles.

IMG_7770

Hydrangeas were ripped off of their stalks …

IMG_7772.jpg

… where they gathered in an eddy by the porch.  Otherwise, we had little damage.

Our street lost power because of a beautiful old maple that fell across the power lines.

IMG_7834.jpg

It was a magnificent old tree, turning brilliant red in the fall.  I always wanted to get a good photo of it for the blog, but couldn’t because the power lines ran right across the tree, ruining any chance of a good shot.

IMG_6412

Now most of the tree is gone, taking the lines with it—temporarily—but leaving one beautiful back portion as a reminder of is previous glory.

IMG_7843.jpg

Soon after the power returned, and we were getting back to normal, I was excited to learn of an antique flax break for sale.  I have been looking for one since spring, with no luck at all.  This one came up at an auction in Massachusetts, where they were selling pieces from the American Textile History Museum, which sadly closed last year.  I wasn’t able to attend the auction, but a fellow spinner and wheel collector from the online group, Ravelry, was there and offered to bid for me and the bring the wheel home with her.  I couldn’t believe it when I had the winning bid of less than half of what I was willing to pay for it.

IMG_7974.jpg

Aside from a few worm holes, the break is in good condition and nice manageable size.  

It’s rather depressing to the see the museum collection scattered all over the place at auction, but nice to know that many of the pieces are going to spinners who will use and appreciate them.

IMG_7979

George has been making me peg boards for hanging yarn.  It’s beginning to look like my own museum.

To make room for my new flax break, I took down the drying rack that had been full up with mustard pods.

IMG_5583

The first batch.  I ended up with about five times this amount.

I grew two very small rows of mustard this summer, for a mustard-making experiment.

IMG_4853

Mustard’s on the left.

The pods had been drying for months and it was easy to crush them with a rolling pin, leaving the seeds.

IMG_7879.jpg

The difficult part was separating the pod chaff from the seeds.  I winnowed them in the wind outside and then handpicked pieces out.

IMG_7881.jpg

I got most of the chaff out by sifting through colanders.

It wasn’t too tedious because I only had about 2/3 of a cup of seeds when all was said and done.

IMG_7957.jpg

But the pods are spiny little devils.  Next year, I will have to find a more efficient and less prickly way of cleanly separating the seeds from the mess of pod bits.

IMG_7884

I tried two different mustard recipes—one with white wine and vinegar and maple syrup, and the other with apple cider, cider vinegar, honey and coriander.  The initial tasting was pretty good.  They are now “working” in the refrigerator, where the flavor is supposed to develop and mature.  If they turn out as well as I think they will, I am going to grow more mustard next year.  We don’t use it as a condiment, but do cook with it, and it’s fun to be able to experiment with exotic mustard flavors.  I will have horseradish ready to harvest next year.  Horseradish mustard—yum.

IMG_7961.jpg

The dogs enjoyed Thanksgiving, with a fat Turkey and all the trimmings.

IMG_7954.jpg

Unseasonable with a McIntosh

IMG_7528.jpg

October is winding down. But the weather remains crazily mild.  We bask in the late-year sunshine, even though it comes with a canary-in-the-coal-mine quality. Our dry, warm weather has resulted in leaf colors more muted than last year, turning later and lingering longer.

IMG_7619.jpgIMG_7467.jpg

As the leaves turn, we have been marking maples along our new woods trail for tapping next spring. The biggest ones are impressive multi-trunked red maples, which, along with a few huge oaks, are the senior generation in our woodlot.

IMG_7478

Red maple leaves–three major lobes and, mostly, red.

We have some young sugar maples (the best for syrup) coming along that we will nurture into adulthood.

IMG_7522.jpg

The sugar maples have a distinctive Canadian-flag shape with five major lobes and turn more yellow and orange-ish than red.

Both work for syrup, although the sugars are queen.

IMG_7516.jpg

Fall be damned, the flowers just keep on blooming.

IMG_7572

Most are covered with groggy bees and wasps bellying up to bar for last call.

IMG_7578

IMG_7585

Sticky hollyhock pollen on this bumble bee.  The yellow patch is rust on the hollyhock leaf.

We even have stray butterflies hanging about.

IMG_7570.jpg

I have done a “final” clearing of the veggies several times now. Yesterday’s haul was a shiny mash of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.

IMG_7651.jpg

Eggplant on October 20th? And we still don’t have a killing frost in sight.

IMG_7608.jpg

The weirdly warm prelude to winter seems to have invigorated our winecap mushroom bed, which had a major eruption over the past two days.

IMG_7640.jpg

Fortunately, winecaps dry well, so I had the oven on low all day, permeating the house with intense mushroom odor as I dried a winter store for risotto and soups.

IMG_7643

Gorgeous set of gills.

The weather also nurtured bumper crops of fruit flies and lady bugs–all of which want to invade our house.  Right now the fruit flies are dive-bombing my glass of wine.  We are besieged.

Our yard and wood trail are covered with fallen wild apples.

IMG_7496.jpg

Both dogs love them. The dogs have an apple-eating posture, with feet planted wide and heads lifted with a look of concentration as they munch away. It’s a constant battle to keep them from eating too many.  Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any deer lured by the apples. Our game camera shows the usual suspects wandering down the trail–raccoons, skunks, foxes and … a cat.

unnamed (1)unnamed (6)

unnamedunnamed (7).jpg

unnamed (4).jpg

Every few nights, the same cat would show up on the camera, although we’ve never seen it ourselves.

unnamed (5)

When “missing cat” posters went up in the neighborhood, we called the number and, sure enough, our little prowler was the cat on the poster. The owner set live traps for the cat on our trail for about a week.   I mentioned to George, let’s hope she doesn’t catch a skunk.  Of course, the only thing she caught was a skunk.

unnamed (2).jpg

The camera also captures grouse, woodcocks, squirrels and ….

unnamed (3).jpg

… Capp inspecting a golf ball long lost from our neighbors hooking it into our woods.

Unfortunately, last week a rabid fox attacked a man out cutting wood less than a mile away from us. So now, when we set out on walks with the dogs, they wear orange tick-vests as protection from hunters and the fall ticks. And we carry bear spray as protection against rabid beasties.  Oddly well-armed.

IMG_7470.jpg

Aside from putting the gardens to bed and other fall chores, I took on another spinning wheel rescue. I am afraid I have become happily addicted to this activity. I first saw a desolate looking wheel several months ago at an antique store. But the wheel itself had a worrying, drunken wobble and I was pressed for time, so I reluctantly left it after taking some photos. The wheel was filthy with grime, but had a maker’s name–I S McIntosh–and date–1857–stamped on the end.

IMG_7400.jpg

After a little research, I found that McIntosh wheels were made in Nova Scotia by Alexander and I S and the two likely were father and son, although I S is a bit of a mystery as those initials don’t show on any census records for the area. The wheels are well-made and good spinners.

Although intrigued, I already have three wheels, so had put the wheel out of my mind. But when my facebook feed showed that the antique store was discounting everything to move in new (well, antique-new) stock and their photo showed the wheel was still there–what else could I do? I drove over first thing in the morning and pulled the wheel outside to get a good thorough look. It appeared that she was missing several parts, but that wheel itself wasn’t warped–the wobble likely was due to a bent axle, something I thought was fixable. And so, after negotiating a good discount, she was mine.

IMG_6945.jpg

Gouges, paint drips, and grime.

These old battered, neglected wheels are strangely like dogs in pound to me, crying out to be taken to a loving home.

IMG_6965.jpg

There’s beauty under that grime.

IMG_6960.jpg

Feed me!!

Over the next weeks, I cleaned her up–my favorite task–made new leather bearings for the “mother of all” that holds the flyer, and shimmed the uprights to better align the wheel.

IMG_6976.jpg

Removing decades of grime.

IMG_7016

The uprights that support the wheel were black from more than a hundred years of who-knows-what-grease was used to lubricate the axle.

IMG_7021.jpg

Slowly scraping off the accumulation of crud to reveal the original markings.

IMG_7028

Revealing the beauty of the wood.

IMG_7411

The “mother of all” which holds the flyer supported by two leather bearings, both of which are broken or damaged.

IMG_7417.jpg

Cutting new leather bearings for the flyer.

IMG_7536.jpg

IMG_7539.jpg

I made this new leather bearing from a worn-out sandal.  It’s blue, so not so traditional.  Do I care?  Not at all.

IMG_6974

The flyer, whorl, and bobbin, with some beautifully spun wool that had clearly been there for decades.

George made a new footman–the wooden piece that connects the treadle to the wheel–and straightened the axle.

IMG_7541.jpg

The new oak footman had nice grain and matched the wheel beautifully.

This wheel intrigues me because of her condition.

IMG_6956.jpg

Aside from the wear on the treadle, which shows a lot of use, she has unusual wear marks on the spokes and lots of hammer marks.

IMG_7284

Perhaps she was not gently used. But she will be now. She spins beautifully, and responsively, like the veteran she is.

IMG_7567_edited-1

IMG_7645.jpg

 

Scutching, Hackling, and Bee Graveyards

IMG_7338

Our string of sunny days continues, but the afternoon light is dense and golden enough to let us know that that the season is changing. Fall is breathing down our neck and we feel the need to finish up outdoor chores. George has been working on a drainage trench and rain garden to siphon the spring sogginess from our little orchard.

IMG_7071.jpg

I have been processing the flax from my small patch so that I can spin it this winter.
After harvesting, retting, and rippling–removing the seeds–I bundled and stored the flax.

IMG_6846.jpg

I had searched antique stores and barn sales for months this summer to try to find antique flax tools.

IMG_7317.jpg

I found three hackles and bought a scutching knife on ebay.

IMG_7311

But I was not able to find a flax break or scutching board, so George made them for me.

IMG_6856.jpg

A flax break uses leverage to smash and break the woody portion of the flax stalk into pieces–the boon, while leaving the fibrous strands intact.

IMG_6866.jpg

The top half of the stalks have been broken here.  The stalks are then turned to do the other  half.

George made a table-top break, which I initially set up on plywood. I later moved it to sit directly on sawhorses (which was what George had in mind).

IMG_6984.jpg

That allowed the boon to fall to the ground rather than getting re-tangled in the flax bundles.

IMG_6873

After breaking.

The next step was scutching. The term apparently derives from an obsolete French word “escoucher,” meaning to “shake out.” The process requires an upright board–slightly angled worked well for me–and a wooden scutching knife to whack and scrape at the flax to remove the woody bits.

IMG_6886.jpg

I did a great deal of shaking out, feeling as if I was grooming bits of chaff out of some lovely horse’s tail.

IMG_6916

Close up of the bits off boon being broken up by the flax break.

For me, scutching was the real test for whether I had retted the flax properly.  Too much retting time, and the spinnable fibers start to break down, too little retting and the fibers remain ribbony, rather than thready, and the hard boon doesn’t easily separate.

IMG_7002.jpg

Over-retted, with broken frizzled fibers before any processing.

The retting process uses soaking or nightly dew to break down the pectin in the fibers. I retted the flax in three different batches. One was submerged under water in a kiddie pool, the second was dew-retted on the ground where it was grown, and the third was dew-retted on our front lawn. I suspected that I had over-retted the kiddie pool batch by about a day and that proved to be right. The fiber was more fragile and broke up more than the other batches.

IMG_7313.jpg

The batch that was dew-retted where it was grown, was slightly under-retted, with more ribbon-y strands. It also included the largest plants, at the outer edges of the plot, which tend to produce coarser fibers.

IMG_7298

Under-retted, with ribbon-like strands.

The front yard dew-retted flax was the Goldilocks “just-right” batch. It was in a sunnier and drier spot than the other dew-retted batch and I let it sit for about a week longer.

Each batch had a different color. The water-soaked batch was white and looks like gorgeous shining platinum-blonde hair (with lots of split ends). The batch from where the flax was grown received more overnight dew and was quite yellow (tow-headed) with some silver. The front-lawn was a gleaming silver.

IMG_7331.jpg

All of the colors were beautifully lustrous.

I like the silver, but traditionally it would have considered undesirable and bleached out. Apparently, to have avoided the dark spots on the flax that resulted in the silver coloration, I should have waited until cooler weather for retting.

George made a perfect scutching board and I whacked, scraped, and shook. I don’t usually buy things on ebay, but I couldn’t find any scutching knives locally. The knife I bought is from Sweden and is supposed to be from the 1800s.  It looks to be old, perhaps with a newer paint job. I didn’t buy it for authenticity, but as something I could use, and was delighted to find that it felt perfectly weighted in my hand and worked beautifully. It’s nice to look at, too.

IMG_6889.jpg

After scutching out most of the woody bits, the final step was hackling. Hackles are metal combs of varying degrees of fine-ness that cull out remaining boon, rat’s-nesty stuff, and short bits.

IMG_6895.jpg

What is left after hackling, are long strands of shiny line flax–the most desirable end product–and lots of tow flax–the combed out portions of fiber that are shorter, but also spinnable.

IMG_7307.jpg

Tow flax–what’s left on the hackles.

IMG_7325.jpg

Tow flax ready to spin.

From my small flax patch, which was about 6 X 12 feet, I ended up with 5 ounces of line flax and lots of tow flax. I didn’t expect to get this much, so I’m delighted. Now I have to learn how to spin the stuff.

IMG_7337

Line flax

Now that I have finished with the flax, I need to put the gardens to bed. Our tomatoes are still producing, we have parsnips, leeks, and carrots to pull, and we have fresh greens in our cold frame.

IMG_7046.jpg

My bees seem to be doing well. We still have lots of flowers blooming and I’ve stumbled on several bees that died in the performance of their duties–while gathering nectar from Queen Anne’s Lace or pollen-dusted in a cup of hollyhock.

IMG_7192

Not a bad place to die.

IMG_7168.jpg

This bumble bee died in a hollyhock.

In the cool mornings, my honey bees sleep late, but the bumble bees are out early, scouting the remaining flowers.

IMG_7158.jpg

Covered with pollen.

IMG_7190.jpg

IMG_7254_edited-2IMG_7221.jpg

In the dry afternoons, the honey bees congregate at the bird baths, sucking up water.

IMG_7212.jpg

IMG_7246.jpg

Our red October moonrises have returned.

IMG_7364

And the dogs are happy.

IMG_7373.jpg

Bookmark

IMG_5785.jpg

We have been busy, busy, busy.

IMG_5490.jpg

With our usual exuberance of planning and ideas, we again find ourselves scrambling to get everything done this summer while still fitting in some mellow relaxation time.

IMG_5771.jpg

IMG_5308.jpg

I’ve had little time or inclination for blogging,

IMG_5772.jpg

but things are starting to slow down a bit. I think.

IMG_5508.jpg

In the meantime, this post is a bit of a bookmark–a place-holding glimpse into a part of what we’ve been doing.

IMG_5810.jpg

IMG_5312.jpg

Our winter wood is in. The gardens are bursting with more than we can eat and promise of much more.

IMG_5631.jpgIMG_5752.jpgIMG_5335.jpg

We have been drying herbs, digging potatoes, freezing beans, corn, and squash, and planting fall vegetables.

IMG_5579.jpg

My new herb drying rack.  I think it’s designed for marijuana growers.

IMG_5582.jpg

I have been washing fleeces, obsessively searching for antique flax processing tools, and had a lovely visit with a local farmer and spinner on Maine’s Open Farm Day. I brought home two beautiful fleeces, a bag of interesting wool from a Soay sheep, and some Woad seeds for planting a dye garden next year.

IMG_5399.jpg

The small sheep is a Soay and the large curly one is a Leicester Longwool

IMG_5406.jpg

The Soay’s wool is pulled off in clumps rather than sheared.

IMG_5409.jpg

The glossy locks of the Leicester Longwool.

I finally made it to the the Windjammer parade on Rockland’s breakwater this year.

IMG_5057.jpg

In the 1800s, sailboats owned this coast–whalers, traders, fishing schooners.  Maine was a sailing hub–sending its boats and captains to every ocean and building some of the fastest clipper ships in the world.

IMG_5196.jpg

IMG_5111.jpg

Now the windjammers primarily provide entertainment for tourists, but it gives me an ache to watch them.

IMG_5161

Looking down from the lighthouse over the breakwater to shore.

IMG_5207.jpg

If I had a bucket list–which I don’t–it would include time-travel back to sailing ship days.  IMG_5219.jpg

Since that will never happen–I really enjoyed the parade.

IMG_5223.jpg

IMG_5224

Back home, in our yard, the aggressive male bluebird continues to harass us while his mate sits on her birdbox nest looking as if she wants someone to rescue her.

IMG_5262.jpg

A noisy nest in the apple tree by the side porch turned out to have baby waxwings.

IMG_5774.jpgIMG_5736.jpg

Our gardens are full of insects and the hive has the summer smell of honey and brood.

IMG_5366.jpg

The ant is moving towards this waspish creature on the tansy …

IMG_5367.jpg

as the ant approaches, the waspish creature lifts his leg and then brings it down.  I’m not sure what happened to the ant.

IMG_5384.jpg

I had thought that the hive might be ready for honey harvest this week, but it needs a few more weeks.

IMG_5724.jpg

These past weeks we’ve celebrated an anniversary, a birthday, and have had several visitors, including blog friend, Eliza, at Eliza Waters.

IMG_5270.jpg

She patiently endured a (very complete) tour of our little property, down to and including the compost bin, and we fit in a short hike.  I neglected to take any pictures, but she kindly brought us this begonia,

IMG_5832.jpg

which for now adorns the table on the porch where I rock, flick wool, and look at the view.

IMG_5284.jpg

 

High Summer

IMG_4994

When we first moved to Maine, someone told us that for five months of the year, it has the best weather in the world.  He was right.  I cannot imagine more perfect summer days. Warm, breezy, and sunny with enough afternoon thunderstorms to keep everything watered, followed by mellow, thick, golden evening light and then … fireflies.

IMG_4403

True water dog that she is, Alice adores playing in the sprinkler at the end of a hot day.  

IMG_4413

Last summer was marred by Zoe’s illness and death, so we were not able to really appreciate how magical summer is here. This year is different. The mixture of sun and rain is producing the most magnificent garden vegetables I have ever grown.

IMG_4796.jpg

This fennel self-seeded and is growing out the sides of the raised beds.

IMG_4853

The only challenge has been keeping the dogs from chowing down on them.

IMG_4757.jpg

They especially like to graze on the peas.

IMG_4979

Our flowers are blooming like mad,  becoming so big and crowded that I am going to have to tackle some serious digging and division this year.

IMG_4677.jpgIMG_4950.jpgIMG_5003.jpg

But, right now, I’m enjoying the riotous mish-mash of flowers, including the milkweed that sprung up on its own last year.

IMG_4681

I love its fragrance, beauty, and butterfly-value, so it is welcome to stay.

IMG_4846

IMG_4825

I have never been a big fan of yarrow, but grew this as an orchard companion and love the subtle colors.

IMG_4838.jpgIMG_4832.jpg

IMG_4493.jpg

Our new clematis is doing well.

We still have some nestlings, although most of the young birds have flown.

IMG_4526.jpgIMG_4510.jpg

I thought that I spotted some unusual woodpecker with a brilliant orange “W” or “M” mark on its crown.

IMG_4569.jpg

Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.

IMG_4577.jpg

Unfortunately, the aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us and seems to have chased off our beloved swallows. He looks a bit disheveled after hours of window and car attacks but nothing seems to faze him.

IMG_4941.jpg

He is a gorgeous but such a bully, I’d like to wring his neck. Bluebirds have now joined chipmunks on my “cute but evil” list.

IMG_4940

George has been  working on the trail system through our woods.

IMG_4744

About five acres of our land is wooded and we want to put in trails so that we can cut firewood, tap maples in the spring, and enjoy the woods all year round.

IMG_4543

In our first year, George built a loop trail from our front drive to the back garden.

IMG_4698.jpg

Original loop

This spring we mapped out several other trails leading off of that one.

IMG_4743

New trail

He is now working on one that will run around the perimeter of the property. There are some amazing, huge old trees back in there and a few impressive giant boulders.

IMG_4727.jpgIMG_4717.jpg

The bees are thriving this year.

IMG_4987.jpgIMG_4903.jpg

IMG_4814.jpg

No bees on this bee balm, but I love the double-decker flowers

On very hot days, the workers line up near the hive entrance, lift their bee butts, and fan their wings to cool the air.

IMG_4633.jpg

IMG_4627

Hive air conditioning

I have a few vegetable experiments underway. I am growing yellow mustard for seed this year. I will grind some and use some to make our own mustard (I hope).

IMG_4779.jpg

Yellow mustard seed pods

I am most excited, though, about my small patch of flax. I hope to process it for spinning. It has been maintenance-free so far, with no pests or disease to worry about. And it is sowed thickly that weeds have not been an issue. It’s in full bloom right now and is exquisite, with lovely blue flowers and curving stems.

IMG_4971.jpg

It anticipate that it will be quite a job to process the flax. The seeds need to be removed and then the stalks must be retted–a soaking process that rots the hardest part of the fibrous stem. After retting, the tough fiber must be removed through a process of breaking, scraping, and combing, which is called “dressing” the flax.

IMG_4753

My little patch

I’ve been on the hunt in antique stores for old flax processing tools. They have medieval names–hatchel (or hetchel, hackle, heckle), scutching sword, retting tub, and ripple. Most places don’t have much familiarity with flax tools. So, I was thrilled yesterday to stumble on a small store in which the owner broke into a large grin when I asked if he had any flax processing tools. After moving various items off a tiny set of back stairs, we climbed into an attic room where he had a collection of a dozen hatchels.

IMG_5038

The spikes on this hatchel are fairly close together.  If you look carefully on the left you can see scribe marks  for lining up the spike rows.

They resemble torture devices and are used for the final combing stage of dressing. Ideally, several hatchels should be used, starting with wide spacing of spikes to very fine spacing. I was thrilled to bring home two.

IMG_5026

I fell in love with this hatchel made of striped maple, with a cover, and initial stamps.  It’s likely about 200 years old.

IMG_5030

Capp had his first birthday.

IMG_4436.jpg

He’s an amazing dog.

IMG_5019.jpg

Alewives and After Rain

IMG_3920

The weather remained cloudy and cool for most of our daughter’s visit. But we took advantage of one brilliantly sunny day to watch some alewives run.  A nearby town, Damariscotta, holds an annual festival to celebrate the spring migration of alewives–a type of herring–from the ocean to their spawning ground in fresh water lakes.

IMG_3681

Alewives are about a foot long and were a valuable source of food, bait, and fertilizer for the native Wabanaki and early settlers on Maine’s coast.

IMG_3791

Smoked alewives

As with many Maine rivers, the construction of mills on the Damariscotta River in the 1700s obstructed the area’s alewife run.  In 1807, in response to a request from the state, a fish ladder was constructed in Damariscotta Mills, to allow the fish to move upriver alongside the mill race.  Two hundred years later, in 2007, a much-needed restoration of the fish ladder was undertaken. The Alewife Festival raises money for the restoration project.

IMG_3686

The falls at the old mill site.  The metal contraption on the right is a harvesting pen.

Just the name “alewife” makes me like these fish. But the origin of the name is uncertain. One theory is that the fish have fat bellies and resemble fat-bellied women tavernkeeper alewives. I’m not buying it. Other theories are that the name evolved from Wabanaki or old English names for herring.

IMG_3670

The dark area is all alewives

Our first view of the fish was impressive. As we walked over the bridge leading into Damariscotta Mills, a wide swath of river was darkened by a traffic jam of alewives working their way to a gauntlet of seagulls lining a narrows leading to the fish ladder.

IMG_3685.jpg

The gull gauntlet

It was fascinating to watch the gulls fishing.

IMG_3719

IMG_3703IMG_3705IMG_3706

The gulls swallow the alewives whole, creating bizarre distorting lumps on the gulls’ necks and backs as the fish go down.

IMG_3707

IMG_3708

IMG_3721

IMG_3722.jpg

Today, harvesting of the alewives continues.

IMG_3697.jpg

Harvesting pen

Most of the harvested fish are used as bait for lobster fishermen, but some are smoked for eating.  The fish ladder itself is a series of pools connected with sloping channels for the fish to swim from pool to pool.

IMG_3736.jpg

IMG_3758

We followed the ladder upstream, taking advantage of activities for kids along the way that the grandchildren really enjoyed.

IMG_3688

Then we turned around and wandered downhill through Damariscotta Mills

IMG_3776

and visited my favorite fabric store named, fittingly, Alewives Fabrics.

IMG_3768.jpg

It was a good day.

IMG_3888

Home again.

The rain returned the next day.

IMG_3803.jpg

The cool drizzly days brought on a flush of plant growth.

IMG_3843

IMG_3815.jpg

The cool-weather garden crops have been going nuts and the roadsides were especially beautiful when the sun emerged after the rain.

IMG_3878

IMG_3837IMG_3867

Bringing a spectacularly colorful rainbow.

IMG_3910

We did have a Capp-tastrophe this week when Capp took on a young pear tree and won. It wasn’t a contest, really, he shredded that baby in about 10 seconds flat.

IMG_3949

The shredded remains of the pear tree.

Capp loves to pull up vegetation and roots, so I had been surprised and pleased that he had (so far) ignored are little orchard trees. After he destroyed the pear tree, however, we wasted no time in building little fences around all of our young trees.

IMG_3951

IMG_3956

George just built this beautiful arbor for our northern kiwis.  We fenced off the kiwis, too!

Fences make for happy Lab owners.

IMG_3944

We are in full nesting season in the yard.

IMG_3894.jpg

Our bird houses are full.  Two have swallows, two have wrens, and one has bluebirds.  I love this time of year.

IMG_3938.jpg