Transformations

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As usual, summer whirled by.  We took on too much, but are feeling the sweet satisfaction of transforming our slice of hillside into our long-dreamed-of ultimate home.  It feels good.

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George capped off a summer of building projects by finishing the sauna.  He put an amazing amount of time, thought, and work into it.  And it’s a beautiful creation, with gorgeous wood inside and out, nestled in the trees, promising hours of bliss—soaking in heat, hot cedar fragrance, and the flickering light of the woodfire.

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To accompany the sauna, George also built a deluxe outdoor shower.

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Beginnings of the shower (with the dye garden and fleece washing station behind)

There’s nothing like watching eagles soaring overhead while showering.  Getting clean has never been so sweet.

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While George was busy building, the butterflies moved in.

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The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails appeared first

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar–the only time I’ve seen one–the “eyes” and swaying head were a bit creepy

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar

We were besieged by monarchs.  In their caterpillar incarnation they ate our milkweed to desolate skeletons, every tender bit devoured.

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We were fortunate to catch the moment of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis while the grandchildren were here.

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Attaching to form a chrysalis

I hope it didn’t give them nightmares of alien transformations.

IMG_3205Lots of writhing and pulsing, as a massive chrysalis (where did that incredible hulk come from?) shed the vivid caterpillar skin, leaving a shriveled bit of tissue-paper debris in a matter of minutes.

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Ouch.

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By August, Monarch chrysalises were hanging everywhere—from perennial stalks, siding, windowsills, and even a wheelbarrow.

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As good hosts, we left them alone—no cutting back of perennials or bumpy wheelbarrow rides during chrysalis-hood.  On the final day before butterfly emergence, the chrysalis becomes a deep blue, with wings and colors visible.

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But the actual emergence is very fast—it’s over in minutes.  Although I kept on eye on ripe ones, I kept missing the magic moment.  I finally camped out on our deck steps shelling tiger beans, next to a chrysalis looking about to burst, determined to wait until the moment of emergence.

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After about an hour, there was a sudden twitch and the chrysalis listed to one side.

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Then, in an eerie similarity to the caterpillar-chrysalis transformation, in minutes the butterfly shed the chrysalis and burst out—BOOM—into a crumbled color of wings with an outsized body.

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After a few hours drying, it was off, feasting on nectar for the migration south.

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Some evenings more than a dozen would be dancing over our Joe Pye Weed.

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They stayed well into October.  I hope they made it to Mexico.

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It was a good summer for growing—monarchs, flowers, and vegetables.

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The gardens produced wonderfully and I swear the vegetables get tastier every year.

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Flax

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In the summer, we filled the greenhouse with tomatoes, cotton, a fig tree, passion fruit vines, bay laurel, herbs, turmeric and ginger.

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Passionfruit flower

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Curing sweet potatoes in greenhouse

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Hoping for tomatoes into November

Now it’s also planted with greens for fall, winter, and spring.  I’m looking forward to seeing how much it extends the season for us.

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Sweet Alice

The dogs and bees are thriving, too.  Capp appears to have recovered completely from his mystery illness last year, which is such a relief.

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Capp sunbathing

He and Alice are our best buddies, making us rich in love and dog hair.

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My adopted bees settled in beautifully and are going into fall as the strongest hive I’ve ever had.  I’ll wrap the hive next month and hope they make it through the winter.

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Samuel Morison great wheel

Much of my summer was textile-related—most of it outdoors.

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Gotland fleece ready to wash

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Dew retting flax

I went to two natural dyeing workshops, washed fleeces, spun a lot of wool for dyeing, worked on wheels, grew and retted flax, and taught a class on antique wheels.  In late summer, I set up my outdoor dye kitchen for two dyeing sessions, using plants from my dye garden and our land.

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Simmering goldenrod

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Japanese Indigo–notice the blue tinge to the water

What a range of colors emerged: blues from Japanese Indigo and Woad; yellows from Weld, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace; gold and orange from Dyer’s Coreopsis; and green from overdyeing the yellows with the blues.

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Dye day one, Woad, Japanese Indigo, Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace and overdyeing for greens

There’s a wonderful sense of witchy-ness in hovering over a brew of plants transforming them to potions of color.

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Dyer’s Coreopsis

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Dye day two–Japanese Indigo, Dyer’s Coreopsis, with overdyeing and afterbaths of washing soda and iron

I was so busy with outside activities that I had little time for weaving.  In September, however, an antique wheel friend offered to sell me her Leksand loom, a beautiful 19th century Swedish loom for weaving bands.  I was thrilled.

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Beautiful old Leksand–I’m very fortunate to have this loom

They are very hard to find and really fun to use.  It took some time to figure out how to set it up and weave on it–all the helpful books were in Swedish.  I also rescued an old Maine tape loom that had been covered with 70s-era painted flowers and have a line-up of spinning wheels waiting for my repairs.

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Cape Breton wheel needing work

Last week I finally warped up my big loom.

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It’s still too beautiful, though, to spend much time inside.  The leaf colors are spectacular this fall.

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But, winter is coming.

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And I plan to be a recluse—home with George, dogs, snow, wheels, spinning, sewing, and weaving.  And the sauna, of course.

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Busy

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Two words for this spring—cold and wet.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Bluebird fledgling about a minute before his first flight.

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

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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,

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Dye garden and fleece washing tubs.

building screen houses for the brassicas,

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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.

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I’m in love with our new greenhouse.

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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.

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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.

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Current herd of great wheels.

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

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Learning rosepath.

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

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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and finished up processing last year’s flax.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Spinning on the porch, watching thunderstorms and rainbows.

Spring Ahead

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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

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to fall mists

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to this

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The gardens were lush and productive this year.

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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.

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Cotton blossom.

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

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The vegetable beds. Much neater than last year.

George is getting really good at putting in trails.

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

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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.

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Preparing for the sauna.

But the biggest project this year was building a garage.

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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.

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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.

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Amazing wood on Shaker wheel from Alfred Lake, Maine.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I treasure mine.

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In the fall, weaving took the spotlight.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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May Hap

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Maine in May. A morning walk brings a full-on explosion of plant and bird procreation in all its colorful, musical, hustling glory.

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No sinful secretive New England Puritan sex here, but an unabashed in-your-face sensory overload of fecundity–mating calls, mating chases, seed-flaunting,

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and the perfection of miniature leaves unrolling from their womb buds, still perfect and unmarred by disease or insects.

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Birdsong wakes us in the morning and peepers put us to sleep at night.

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I love the catbirds, because of their incredible vocal gymnastics and the mourning doves–who travel everywhere as a couple.

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Our swooping, gurgling swallows are back.   We weren’t sure they would be because our aggressive male bluebird chased them all off last year. After he harassed us all winter, we took down the nesting boxes in hopes that he would move on. He did.  But not far.  He is now harassing our across-the-street neighbors and launching himself at their windows. He thoughtfully finds time to visit us periodically to attack our cars and windows, just so we know he hasn’t forgotten us.

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The female bluebird with the injured foot is back.

We still have lingering cold and the flowers are late to bloom, so the poor hummingbirds have been lining up at our nectar feeder.

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The soil has been so cold that I’ve only planted a few vegetables, but we have overwintered parsnips, and green onions and spinach in the cold frame.

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Our asparagus is up and in its third year, so we can harvest a decent amount. What a treat to have it fresh out of the garden. We are consolidating our scattered vegetable gardens this year into two big gardens. I’m ridiculously excited about it.

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This 1950s tractor has its original engine, without even a rebuild.  It will be drilling our fence post holes.  It’s not ours, but we get to admire it.

There’s something about having fenced-in vegetable beds, with wide walkways–and plenty of room for flowers–that makes my heart happy. I’m growing more flax this year, a dye garden, and trying cotton–a wild experiment. This spring, we planted paw-paws, persimmons, more pears, hazelnuts, goji berries, maypops (passionflower), and mulberries (for silkworms). All of last year’s bushes and fruit trees survived the winter and appear to be thriving.

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The peaches are covered with blossoms.

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Spreading apple branches.

This is the time of year for morning fog and gathering, cutting and splitting next year’s firewood.

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George is constructing an impressive fort of firewood, which we hope will get us through next winter.  We ran out of wood this past winter, with its prolonged cold spells, and had to buy a cord.

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We are finally having a garage built this year. We are NOT building it ourselves, thank goodness–we have enough on our plate without a major construction project. George is designing an outdoor sauna to build this summer, which is something I’ve been wanting for years. And he’s continuing with trail building, which makes the dogs very happy. Things are taking shape around here.

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I have been spinning and weaving in the evenings and on rainy days and continue to grow my flock of wheels. My latest find was another dusty antique store treasure imprinted with the “Thomson” in the table.

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I was thrilled. There was a Thomson family of wheel makers in Massachusetts in the 18th and 19th centuries, headed by the patriarch Archibald, who is reputed to have made the first treadle spinning wheel in this country. They were Scots-Irish from Ulster and, interestingly, George has Thomson ancestors who settled in the same area of Massachusetts a few decades after these Thomsons. An “H” Thomson migrated to Maine at some point, likely around the time of the Revolutionary War, and made beautiful wheels, with simple Shaker-style lines. This wheel looks like one of his, although the “H” is worn off.

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Amazingly, the flyer assembly was all intact, although the wooden tension screw was totally frozen. I cleaned her up and finally got the screw unbound.

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She is one my sweetest spinners and her wood is exquisite.

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There are some gorgeous modern wheels with beautiful wood (that cost a small fortune), but–to me–they just don’t compare to the glowing wood on these old beauties (which go for a song), that has been mellowed by time and the touch of so many hands over hundreds of years.

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I also bought a little 19th century tape loom. It’s amazing to think that just a few hundred years ago, every imaginable kind of tie and strap was woven at home on these little looms–often by the youngest and oldest family members.

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The loom I bought has a foot pedal that raises and lowers two shafts and has a small beater for fast, efficient weaving. The two shafts are only designed for eight warp threads, which means it was used to weave a very simple straightforward tape.

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In fact, the loom likely was used to make lamp wicks, with no design at all. I have been experimenting with putting multiple threads in each heddle and some warps between the heddles, to create a middle shed that I can manipulate with my fingers to make some simple designs. I’m quite enjoying it.

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Happy May … and June … and July. At the rate I’m going, it will probably be midsummer before I post again!

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Unseasonable with a McIntosh

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fall be damned, the flowers just keep on blooming.

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

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

We even have stray butterflies hanging about.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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… 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There’s beauty under that grime.

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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.

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Removing decades of grime.

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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.

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

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Revealing the beauty of the wood.

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

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Cutting new leather bearings for the flyer.

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

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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.

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

This wheel intrigues me because of her condition.

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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.

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

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Scutching, Hackling, and Bee Graveyards

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tow flax–what’s left on the hackles.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Not a bad place to die.

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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.

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Covered with pollen.

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

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Our red October moonrises have returned.

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And the dogs are happy.

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Summer’s Bounty

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Hearing of all the weather turmoil around the world these past months, we have had an embarrassment of fine weather. It feels as if we are living on an island of perfect summer days, leading to a startling bounty of goodness to see, smell, and taste.

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I only had to water my vegetables one time the entire summer and I have never in my life had gardens produce such large and luscious yields.

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We barely kept up–a frenzy of chopping, slicing, blanching, and freezing–and then giving the rest away. Our freezers are full of beans, eggplant, zucchini, fennel, corn, roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste (a first), salsa verde, chopped basil and parsley rolls, and corn.

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Our agribon-covered tunnel for the brassicas was a great success, giving us pest-free cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and kale. The cover is still up over the brussel sprouts, which are just about ready to eat. We had bumper crops of potatoes and shallots and continue to have more tomatoes than we can eat. Our okra plants ended up doing pretty well, despite a slow start. But I didn’t know that you are supposed to harvest the pods after just a few days and left them on far too long. Hard as a rock. So George bought and froze a case of okra from our local farmer’s market. Only peppers are left to process–roasting and drying–yum.

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Our latest harvest came today when Capp noticed mushrooms sprouting from a wood-chip bed. We had spread the bed with wine cap mushroom spawn earlier in the summer but didn’t hold out much hope because the mushroom spawn that we had carefully pegged into logs last summer had failed to do anything. The chip bed is along our woods trail and Capp sometimes pees on one corner–the same corner in which the mushrooms have sprouted. Perhaps he has a magic elixer. His pee seemed to deter the raccoons from our corn this year, so I’m all for it. We haven’t eaten wine caps before. Let’s hope we like them. We’ll do a tiny taste tonight to make sure they don’t kill us and go from there.

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My little flax patch grew happily without any attention from me.

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When the stalks were about 2/3 yellow, I pulled the plants by the roots and bundled them into stooks to dry.

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Almost harvest time.  Some seed heads are brown, some yellow, some still green.

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After drying, I took the seed heads off, a process called “rippling,” with two wooden tools I bought on ebay.

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Before rippling.

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I really have no idea what they were originally used for–they were advertised as “flax hackles,” but I’ve also seen them for sale as Turkish weaving beaters, so who knows? In any case, they are beautiful hand carved tools that worked very well to comb the seed heads off of the flax.

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Seeds on a sheet.

After I removed the seed heads, I retted the flax. Retting is essentially a process that rots the stems a bit, breaking down the pectin to leave long fibrous strands for spinning. I retted my flax in three batches.

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One was submerged in water in a kiddie pool–held down with rocks. The other two were retted by the dew–one in the flax patch and one on our front lawn.

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Interestingly, the batch in the flax patch, which is lower down on the property, retted faster than the batch on the lawn.

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I then dried each batch again and have it waiting for the next stage–when it’s smashed and combed–called “breaking” and “hackling.”

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Although I scoured every antique store in mid-coast Maine for a flax break, I had no luck in finding one. So, George has kindly offered to make one for this year, while we continue to look. The break smashes the stems, separating the spinnable fibers from the rest.

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A small bit of flax that I processed is hanging from the distaff.  

As our vegetables and flax grew, so did our flowers.

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It was a wonderful year for bees and butterflies.

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We had lots of monarchs this year AND lots of these milkweed tussock moths, which turned some of the milkweeds into skeletons.

Berries are thick, bringing berry-eating birds, including our waxwing babies.

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Wild cherries over the bee hive.  

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Unfortunately, our cursed bluebird continues to hang around and he may be training up his progeny to be just as nasty as he is. After months of enduring his assaults on our house and car windows, we hoped that he might calm down once his babies fledged.

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I grudgingly admit that he was a good provider and was surprised to see, when I pulled up the photos, that the female had a damaged claw–it was always bent under.

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Was his aggression protective of her injury? Or did he cause it? I have no clue, but he was one incredibly aggressive bird. The two of them raised three chicks and they went off in the world.

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We didn’t see anything of them for several weeks. The past few days, however, the whole crew is back and a male with a short tail is attacking house and car windows again. I fear he is the next generation.

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We haven’t been entirely immune from weather woes. My mother’s water-front Florida house was slated for demolition by Hurricane Irma at one point. We spent some helpless, nail-biting hours wondering if the house and its contents would be swept away, while our weather continued sunny and glorious.

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But, Irma danced a bit eastward and the house was spared. Fortunately, my mother wasn’t there and–due to her dementia–didn’t know that her home was imperiled. A small benefit of extreme age, I guess.

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Clouds crimped like fleece.

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Crimpy fleece like clouds.

Our weather was like summer today, with an overlay of fall smells and colors. I love fall and look forward to slowing down after a hectic summer. I am already planning inside activities–spinning, weaving, and sewing. I processed all the fleece that I bought this summer, using George’s loam separator to pick the vegetable matter, crud, and poop from the fleeces.

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CVM fleece (California Variegated Mutant–awful name, lovely wool).  

Actually, with one exception, the fleeces were extremely clean and washed up beautifully.

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The wood is in. Bring on fall and winter.

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Bookmark

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We have been busy, busy, busy.

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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.

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I’ve had little time or inclination for blogging,

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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The glossy locks of the Leicester Longwool.

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

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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.

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

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Looking down from the lighthouse over the breakwater to shore.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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,

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

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High Summer

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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They especially like to graze on the peas.

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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.

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

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

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

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Our new clematis is doing well.

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

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

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Turns out it is a juvenile Hairy Woodpecker.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Original loop

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

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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.

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The bees are thriving this year.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Capp had his first birthday.

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He’s an amazing dog.

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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.