The Miracle of Seeds

160418 Seeds

This morning I finally started some seeds for the garden.  People may be shaking their heads and thinking it’s late but I have to tell you nothing goes into the ground before the first week of June here.  You just never know.  I think I will be building a cold frame in the next week or so to give them a little more growing space and sun and ease the hardening off process.

I love planting seeds, they hold such promise.  I’m always amazed that for a couple of bucks you can get a little packet of seeds when planted and harvested could feed a hundred people.  That’s not to say that every seed I plant will produce to that extent, there are variables but there are also the memories of those years where the harvest was beyond belief.  Those I look forward too with a little trepidation.  One summer I canned enough beans to last until the next harvest eating them every single day.  I was really sick of canning beans.

Into the soil they go, in a few days their heads will be popping out of the soil, a couple of weeks and they’ll need new pots, more sun and more water.  A few months, if all goes well, things will be picked and served for every lunch and dinner.  Such freshness and flavor is something you will never find anywhere else and the personal satisfaction is something that can’t be beat.


Singing the Praises of Warm Fall Weather

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When I opened my eyes this morning, still toasty under the blankets, the room was aglow with a warm, radiant light.  Recognizing the signs I jumped out of bed (no easy feat with these achy joints) to be treated to another breathtaking sunrise.

Autumn through spring these are expected but every single one starts the day as a huge gift.  I never see them as predictors of the weather, I see them as the beginning of a string of little gifts for the day.  It reminds me to look for them.

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Minutes later the fog was there and the sky had dramatically changed.  The most amazing part was it being so warm outdoors that I could throw on my Mucks and go out in my bathrobe to photograph the changing sky. I seem to recall there being snow on the ground by now last year or at least so cold I would have considered getting dressed first.

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The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year with it predicted to last through next week.  Thank goodness, there is so much garden work to do.  The cold doesn’t usually stop me but it definitely slows me down.  Fires have to be lit – physically and mentally in order to get going in the morning.  This blessed warm weather keeps the heating costs down.

There are a million things I should be doing indoors, this is usually the time of year when the cold weather projects come out.  I look forward to it – the weaving, rug hooking, quilting but it looks like all of it will be put off until after dark at least.  My carrots and rutabagas are still in the ground, the perennial gardens need cleaning out.  More wood needs to be cut and split.  The coop needs to be moved, buildings buttoned up for the winter.  Yeah, time to get moving and mentally sing the praises of warm fall weather.

End of Season

150830 Morning Mist

The summer season is winding down.  With all of the pressure to prepare for winter it is still my favorite time of year.  Maybe it’s that sense of urgency, the knowledge that every single day will have to be packed full of projects because that cold, snowy weather is right around the corner.

It’s so subtle, it sneaks up on you really.  Mid August you begin to notice it getting darker so much earlier and the day doesn’t begin with the sunrise until after 5:00 AM.  The birdsong is changing.  The insects you encounter are different as well.  You’re listening to crickets, huge grasshoppers leap in front of you on that afternoon walk about.  Huge caterpillars are making themselves known with their size and color.

The leaves are changing to my favorite palette.  Gone are the bright, cheery greens of spring, the steadfast greens of summer. Now comes the olives, golds and rusts.

The photo above shows the reality of my vegetable garden.  It was so beautifully taken care of until August when I went on a week-long vacation.  It got away from me and at this point there’s no going back.  It hasn’t stopped producing.  The blogs I read show immaculately kept gardens but in the back of my mind this is how I imagine they really are.  The realities of doing anything agriculturally – especially by yourself – is that things are not as tidy as you wish them to be.  So you pick your battles.

The fall party this year has turned into a family baby shower.  I will be holding my first grand baby in my arms around the beginning of November.  The grounds will be as tidy as they can be – Bill takes great pride in his lawn.  The messiness of the chickens and that overgrown garden will be here in all of their glory as well as a building flattened and not yet moved and a back forty full of goldenrod taller than I am.

But you know.  The goldenrod is in full bloom and it is the loveliest shade of yellow.

The Body Can Take Only So Much

140818 Patio Garden

Ever feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?  That’s what I’m feeling today.  The photo above is of the stone patio on the southeast side of the house.  There is (was) a perennial garden that ran around the edge of it that has been there since the beginning of time, I swear.  It had irises, phlox, peonies, various herbs and enough daffodils to populate the sides of every road in town.

I have been thinking about digging up this garden for a few years now but every summer it has been just too hot to do it.  With all the other gardens I’ve dug so far this summer I figured I would tackle one last one.  The decision was made earlier in the year when only a few of the irises blossomed.  They were too crowded.  The daffodils were insane every year for decades but this year there weren’t quite many blossoms as I’m used to seeing and I took that as a sign as well.

Today was the perfect weather to spend outdoors doing anything.  Blue sky, breeze, cool.  I started digging at 8:30 and finished around 3:30.  Well, I stopped because I couldn’t dig anymore, my body wouldn’t let me.  I dug and divided oregano, three huge clumps of iris, three huge garden phlox, a sedum, a patch of chives about three feet in diameter, a small peony and hundreds of bulbs.  I must confess I divided the first phlox and planted six good size plants in the front garden but the other two I dug up went out to the compost heap except for a small piece that I gave to a neighbor.  Other things were moved to other gardens but the rest of it is in buckets waiting to go back into the ground.

I have a very large bucket full of bulbs, it weighs over 50 pounds and the digging is a little over half done.  Those daffodils started out as a forced pot of six in 1978 – a gift sent to my sister during a hospitalization.  My mother planted them in the spring and for the last 36 years they have been expanding exponentially.

The interesting thing about this garden is how it has gotten higher up on the wall as the years have gone by.  The lawn has gotten higher and the garden seems to have gone along for the ride.  In digging this side out I have been able to expose more of the wall of the patio.  I think this is due to mulching the grass where it’s cut over so many years.  It creeps up on you and always comes as a surprise to me when I start digging.

The plan is to finish digging the rest of it in the next day or two and plant everything that’s staying by the end of the week.  Fortunately most of the heavy digging is almost done, I have about a third of the garden to go but I have to tell you, the way my body feels right now getting back out there tomorrow morning is making me wish for rain.

The Volunteers

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I have a large mulch pile where I throw a lot of stuff over the course of the seasons.  I usually turn it over a number of times throughout the year with the tractor.  This year there were recognizable plants growing in the spring so I just left it.

There are now potatoes in blossom and the biggest squash plant I have ever grown.  I think it is actually a long pie pumpkin.  There were blossoms in profusion (and still are) earlier in the summer but no fruit.  Yesterday I took a closer look and there it was.  Looks like a giant zucchini but will ripen off of the vine to a wonderful, orange, thick skinned pumpkin.  An excellent keeper and awesome pie pumpkin.

Every year there are volunteers in my garden. This year there were potato plants which I expect since I don’t always get all of the potatoes when I dig them.  There are also a couple of tomatoes and sunflowers. It always amazes me that something grows, I till the plot multiple times before it’s planted each year.

It’s the mulch pile stuff that always fascinates me.  Things that are rotten and intentionally cast off grow and bloom into something more spectacular than is ever grown in the garden.  Maybe next year I’ll just toss my seeds over the bank and hope for the best, it certainly is working this year.

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Garden Bounty

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My vegetable garden has been somewhat of a disappointment this year.  The tomatoes have blight, the cucumbers are slow, everything is 2 to 3 weeks behind because of the cool temperatures and copious amounts of rain we have had.  The things that are doing great are my perennials.

The cooler temperatures have allowed me to begin a long, long overdue garden rehab project.  Yes, new gardens are going in but one of the reasons for the new gardens is that there are so many things that need division in the old gardens.  I have to say that it has taken me by surprise.  One iris, planted about 5 years ago, yielded a garden full of new ones.

I’m never one to complain about free plants mind you but this is a little concerning to me when I look at what I have to divide.  I dug up three plants yesterday, an iris, a balloon flower and a Stella di Oro lily.  The iris yielded about 30 usable rhizomes, the balloon flower maybe three separate plants and the lily went from one larger clump to six good size plants.

The distressing part for me is the fact that I haven’t even begun to dig up the garden that needs to be redone.  I’m not one to throw plants over the bank but foresee that happening.  How many haphazard gardens are there from plants being pitched when the gardens are redone? (You gardeners out there know what I’m talking about).  I have two of those right here.  Daffodils come up all over the place now where they were thrown purposefully or accidentally over the years. Hostas, myrtle, daylilies, even Jack in the Pulpits.  I prefer to refer to those haphazard messes as reserves for the day when I need them.

Yesterday I gave away half of the iris to a friend that was here in the morning.  I didn’t give him a choice – I told him he could pitch them over his bank, I would never know.

This is how friendship gardens happen. Someone is dividing up their plants in order to have them be healthier and bloom better, they are overwhelmed with the number of unexpected plants they end up with, they force them onto their friends and family.  That gives me a whole new perspective on a couple of the gardens that I always thought of as “friendship” gardens.  Maybe all those special plants are really things that were being cast off and rescued by my mother, similar to things that have happened to me recently.

Regardless of how the plants have ended up in my garden I love most of them.  Even if some were cast off from another’s garden renovation I look upon them fondly.  Some of them have been here since 1968 when we moved here and my mother began gardening in earnest.  To identify certain specimens with certain people in an aspect that I love.

So as the garden renovation continues I will be giving away a lot of things and hope that some years from now someone will say,  “Oh I got that from Joanne in 2014 during the big dig”.  For that reason I’m careful what I give away and make sure it is weed free.  The last thing I want is someone cursing me out for some invasive species that I introduced to their garden.  Although at this point irises are feeling a little invasive.

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Birds, Bees and Butterflies

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This garden was one we put in about 3 years ago (time all melds together at this point – maybe it was four years, maybe two).  It is pretty spectacular this year.  All of the plants have matured and I put in a few annuals that Bill brought up.  The best part about this garden is its attraction to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

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If you are within sight of this garden you can see it is a hub of activity.

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I was thrilled to see honey bees on a lot of my flowering plants this year, it’s been a while.

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There is always something to watch.

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I originally planted this for the color it would give our view of the back forty. When I sit in the Adirondack chairs and look over this garden I realize I planted the perfect wildlife garden.  There’s a hummingbird feeder that I have to fill every few days and I have seen finches in and out of it all day long.

There are also a critters that I could do without – chipmunks, red squirrels and woodchucks.  Although, truth be told, I love watching them too. They don’t really bother anything, they do dig holes all over the place.  If and when they get into the vegetable garden I might have a change of heart but for now I’ll share this beautiful space with anyone that wants to visit.



Digging Sod

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I have been thinking about expanding this garden for a couple of years now.  I blame the weather for my lack of commitment to the project.  It’s been too hot during the window I have every summer to move things around.

An opportunity presented itself in the past week or so that has pushed me to do this.  A lifetime gardening mentor is dismantling her perennial gardens and I am the recipient of a lot of her plants.  This is a mixed blessing.  I’ve written before about how I feel about plants in my garden that come from friends and family, they hold a special place in my heart.  For the most part perennials last more than a lifetime, that’s the reason you often see flowers blooming in odd places.  They are very often in spots where homes once existed that are long gone. I have many, many plants that I can tell you came from people I love.  Friendship gardening.

The difficulty in this particular gardening adventure is that I have been visiting Mabel’s gardens for decades.  They were spectacular in design and there were always new and unusual plants in them.  I learned a lot about the gardening of perennials from her.  There are many reasons why she has decided to dismantle her gardens but for me to go there and dig plants out of it seems so wrong to me.  They are part of how I think of her and it seems so sad to me to know that I will not be visiting an amazing array of plantings and have the narrative to go with it.  And it’s not that I visited often but it was just knowing it was there.

At the same time I will be taking a piece of her for my yard.  My sister and I walked her gardens over the weekend with her and she made a mental list of who was taking what.  There were tips on how to dig up certain things and where they might go.  There was also the excitement of having practically a ready-made garden for the moving.

Then comes the hard work.  I have been digging out the sod for a couple of days.  I finished yesterday early in the morning and have been thinking about other spots that should be dug up.  Plants will be moved in the next week or two to various spots around the house, some love sun, some shade. It has also forced me to do things that I haven’t done in the past.  I had to remove the forks from the tractor and put on the bucket – I’ve been shown once but never actually did it. As you can see that was a success.

All in all this project has given me perspective on my physical capabilities.  It’s easy to say I’m too old and out of shape to be digging this much space by hand but honestly it feels so good doing it.  Pace yourself I keep saying, stay hydrated my brain reminds me.  Focus remains a bit of a problem, I want to dig up all sorts of places and know that I could get myself into some trouble with the amount I’ve taken on.

I came in for another large glass of water the other day and my father said, “You know this place once had the most beautiful gardens in town”.  That, my friends, is something to aspire to.

Garden Dreaming

The Weeds Are WinningThis is the time of year when the grand garden dreams begin.  It has been bitter cold out and I’m sad to say the only outdoor adventures I have had in the past month is taking the dogs out twice a day. The snowshoes are waiting in the shed for another good snowstorm.

Like every project I have I start with truly unrealistic plans and then pare them down as the time grows shorter.  The list of seeds is pretty long this year with the hope that the spring weather will be decent and my plants will get a better start.  I plan to start everything at home rather than buying starts anywhere, including my onions.  In years past I just bought onion sets but last year I was unable to get Walla Wallas and was disappointed, this year I won’t leave it to chance.

There has been so much in the news lately about GMOs that I’ve decided this is the only way to go for me.  I can’t source anything anymore, you just have no idea where anything comes from and can’t trust what you’re told for the most part.  I never thought I would have to work so hard at knowing where my food came from.

I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that always had a large vegetable garden. We canned, froze or otherwise put by most of the food we ate.  We always grew our own beef, had chickens for a spell and raised a couple of pigs one time.  Having my food source close to me is nothing new but now there seems to be more of an urgency to it.  I thought it was just me being a little paranoid but having talked to a couple of medical professionals who are seeing more cancers in much younger people I’m thinking I’m not being over cautious.  When someone tells me they know of a 26 year old with breast cancer my first thought is their diet.  We have had decades now where our protein sources are laced with hormones and antibiotics all in the name of increasing production.  The same goes for our GMO crops.  Corn is in everything – every thing.  Even if you are trying to do right by your family if you are not reading labels (and reading into them) you simply don’t know what you are getting anymore.

So the grand plan is to plant a large variety in quantities that will get me through to the next harvest. Things that will keep in a root cellar, are good canned or dehydrated. In reading over the long seed list it would seem that my experiment for this growing season will be Dinosaur Kale and a savoyed cabbage.  Spinach will be in the mix as well.  I’ve grown it before but haven’t in a few years so it made the list.  The garlic and asparagus are in the ground both of them are experiments in themselves albeit really long term ones.

This weekend I will spend some time sitting by the wood stove, drinking coffee,  plotting out my garden space and ticking off the seed list to see what stays and what goes.  I will also do a viability test on some of the seed I have just to see what I really need.  I’ll try to sprout some of my popcorn as well because that was one experiment that worked particularly well.

A Year in Review

CranesJanuary was spent trying to finish my thousand cranes – a resolution I make every year and never quite finish.  I figure a couple more years and they will be done.  I do recommend this to any and everyone.  It’s simple to do and is one of the most meditative things I have ever done.

130227(5)The weather was wintry and exquisitely beautiful.  Each and every storm left behind a landscape that screamed to be walked through on snowshoes and photographed.  The quiet that goes along with weather is restorative and I always look forward to a snowstorms aftermath.

corned-beef-cabbageSt. Patrick’s Day will be one of the most important days of the calendar year to me now, not because I’m Irish but because it was the day I talked to Scott for the first time.  Given up for adoption in 1972 I had come to regard this moment as something that may never happen.  I had left information on a website and through a convoluted chain of events was contacted through an intermediary.  The rest of this year has been spent with each of us getting to know our new family members, a blessing in so, so many ways.

130407 Sugar (3)Sugaring this year was amazing although the snow was rather deep in the beginning.  A lot of work gathering those buckets without the aid of snowshoes.  It makes up for it when we boil and smell that hot maple goodness wafting through the sugar house.

IMG_20130511_104220Spring came in its normal time this year, no hot spells or odd cold snaps and the pear tree was happy.

130609 Throw (2)I made my first overshot throw in wool and discovered a passion for weaving that far and away exceeds any other handwork I have ever done.  My grandfather had wanted me to weave I think, I have a faint recollection of receiving a small, plastic kids loom when I was very young but without someone to teach me.  This has been a special journey with a connection to just about every member of my family.

131225 (4)Every morning the weather cooperates this is what I look at as I drink my first cup of coffee.  There is nothing like walking out the door in your pajamas and sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking your land.  Day to day the view is different, each having its own beauty.  I feel very, very blessed to have this be such a big part of my life.  It’s grounding.

130817 Heath Fair (3)The end of summer brings with it the fairs.  I took full advantage this year.  Heath Fair is one of my favorites with something for everyone.  I also had some validation with winning a blue ribbon for my weaving.

130818 Wood (4)Wood, wood, wood, we cut and split a lot of wood.  It’s best when it’s like this – family all gathered to make it all go quicker and easier.  It’s also more fun.  Everyone pitched in and Chester thought is was awesome.

130818 Percys PointChester started swimming this summer.  He is a very hot dog when the weather is warm but loves playing fetch more than anything.  This was the perfect solution.  He was a bit of a panic swimmer the first day but after that he looked forward to coming to this spot each and every day we were in Rowe, sometimes twice a day.  He is an amazing animal.

130915 (2)My garden had its issues this year but my popcorn, the experiment of the year was a complete success.  There is no better feeling than finding out there is something new you can grow that’s beautiful and functional.

130904 (1)I went to Belfast, Maine to Fiber College this year and spent quality time with old and new friends and ate lobster every day.  It was a fiber weekend for some but for me it was more about photography.  I need to be alone to do my best work and I came away with images that were everything I wanted them to be.  It was also a time to reminisce about childhood, we spent many summers up this way while I was growing up and I hadn’t been here in a good 30 years.

Red Tree

This autumn the foliage was more beautiful than I had seen it in years.  So many of my friends shared exquisite images of scenes right out their front doors that were breathtaking. Photography slows me down and forces me to look at the details.  The photograph above of the red tree was taken almost at dark.  I drove by it in the center of town, said wow to myself and kept driving.  By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I turned around to capture this.  In my head I initially said “Oh, just take it tomorrow” but a few hundred feet down the road I realized that it wouldn’t be there.  Those are the best photographs, the ones that catch that fleeting moment.

131114 SunsetThis fall I saw some of the most amazing sunsets ever.  Enfield never looked so good under these vibrant skies.  This particular evening it seemed that everyone I knew posted a photograph from a different place.  It was like the sky made everyone stop whatever they were doing to watch.  It’s comforting to know that the people I love were all looking at the sky at almost the same time and then sending what they saw to others.

131129 Bonfire (2)Thanksgiving weekend was about family, our immediate family.  What is usually a crowd was just Bill, me and the two girls, our nuclear family.  It was the first time in so many years that it was just us and it was wonderful.  It’s probably the most difficult thing to experience – the loss of your children to adulthood.  The best time of our lives was raising our girls and they have both turned into amazing, remarkable women.  It was good to have the opportunity to have them all to ourselves.  For a treat Bill built an amazing bonfire to share with them and a couple of their cousins.

131225 (3)Christmas has come and gone, although the remnants are still in the house.  A few decorations will return to their boxes in a week or so and life will begin its new cycle.  There aren’t any resolutions this year for me other than to absorb the gifts around me.  The time seems to go by so fast each year it leaves me breathless.  I will spend the winter months planning the garden, weaving and cooking for the people I love.  I will follow in the rhythm of the seasons and work the way I do for each year.  It may seem a little dull but planning my life around what’s growing or the weather is the most comfortable way for me to live at this moment in time, you just roll with it.  I take every moment spent with the people I love and savor it like a fine wine.  Those times of love and laughter are what sustains me through any other trials that come along.  The simplicity of it is all I need.