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Monday, August 21, 2017

Dark Moon Magic in the Day

 Eclipse of the sun! If you were one of the lucky ones to be in, or to have traveled to, the path of totality, I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the celestial magic. To those of you who, like me, watched the phenomenon from the much larger partial eclipse path, do not let the amazingness of the fact that it even happens at all, gets lost. I think it might be easy to do, in the wake of the excitement of its path of totality crossing a wide swath of the country.

Eclipses -- both solar and lunar, are phenomena based in the imperfections (not sure what word would work better, but that doesn't feel right) of the orbits of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth. 

The path the earth takes around the sun and the one the moon takes around the earth are not both "flat" -- that is that they are not on the same plane. The Earth's orbit, known as the ecliptic, is by definition our reference point at 0 degrees inclination. The Moon's orbital inclination with respect to the ecliptic varies, but it is, on average 5.1 degrees. 

Think about this for a minute. The Moon's orbital inclination varies and most of the times that it goes 'round the earth, we just get the standard "new moon" (what I call dark moon) when it spends its days positioned more or less between us and the sun. As it moves around its orbit, we begin to see a small sliver of lit moon in the sky, the waxing crescent that appears in the western sky at sunset. As the moon continues around its orbit, it moves farther from being more or less between us and the sun and shows up later in the night until we see it fully illuminated at full moon. And then it continues around the orbit, rising later and later (or earlier and earlier by reference to morning, until we can only see that small sliver of waning moon, in the east just before sunrise.

We think of a lunar cycle as being 28 days, but while the moon completes its orbit around the earth in 27.3 days, due to the Earth's motion around the sun it has not finished a full cycle until it reaches the point in its orbit where it is in the same position with reference to the sun.

With the offset in orbital planes, not to mention the variation in the moon's orbit, the fact that they EVER line up is amazing... astronomical, in fact! 

Add to all of this, that for a solar eclipse to be total, the relative positions of sun and moon need to be just right for the moon to appear the same size as the sun. It's only by chance that the Moon and the Sun each take up approximately half-a-degree on the sky as seen from Earth's surface. Because both the Earth's orbit around the Sun and the Moon's orbit around the Earth are ellipses rather than circles, sometimes the Moon appears larger than the Sun, casting its shadow all the way down to Earth's surface, (a total eclipse when viewed from those locations on earth where the alignment is precise, but as a partial if viewed from other places nearby) while at other times the Sun appears bigger, with the Moon unable to completely cover the solar disk. This latter phenomenon is called an annular eclipse, and while nearly all of the suns's disk is obscured, we see a ring of sun around the moon, rather than the apparent flaming tendrils of the coronasphere that makes total solar eclipses so dramatic.

I am looking forward to the potential opportunity to see a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, right here in Maine. According to this image from Accuweather if the weather gods smile on us (April... Maine... start praying now!) we will only have to travel to northern Piscataquis, Penobscot or southeastern Aroostook
projecting the eclipse
counties. At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to attempt to project this partial eclipse with a pair of binoculars, out in front of the house. Somewhere, I have an image of myself, as a teen, doing the same thing with my 4" refractor telescope, which I had recently completed. Believe me, I was longing for the good, solid mount for it that my dad built to go on a heavy, wooden surveyor's tripod that we found in one of our raids on the local surplus stores. By the time 2024 rolls around, I will have a more stable mount for whatever optics I use!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Moon Wanes and the Harvest Builds

It's been a very busy week here at the sign of the Fussing Duck and Dutch Hex Sign. I shipped not one but TWO large hex signs today, destined to grace a barn in Zionsville, PA.
48" Abundance and Prosperity sign

36" Wilkom (welcome) sign
These are the last two of a three sign order and will soon be mounted on a newly painted barn.

I am finally getting caught up with the backlog (only three signs in the queue at present, not counting the one I paint for our MOFGA chapter to donate to the Common Grounds Country Fair grounds. It is nice to have the kitchen table back for a few days!

Out on the farm, the meat chickens continue to grow. In fact, one was so big that I thought it was a wayward hen from the layer flock, which I have been culling down to a more reasonable size for 2 people, and culled it late last week. I realized my folly when I found no evidence of it having ever laid. I can attest to the fact that it made a delicious Sunday meal, regardless. I do intend to let the balance of this flock mature, though. I am not used to getting only one meal and a half from a bird (though to give it full credit, there is still a back and neck to use for chicken and dumplings.)  We are down to 4 hens and a roo (so I think the last count was) plus 4 turkeys, 2 duck hens and a drake and two guineas in the mature fowl department... plus the replacement layers and banty chickens "just for fun."

Broccoli and lettuce
Tall corn!
Garden harvest has picked up, and I have moved from "take a basket when you go to the garden" to "take a BIG basket..." LOL  We harvested the first broccoli (ate some tonight and half of the head is in the freezer) and a good size cabbage. The green beans continue to offer pickings, though the peas are essentially done. I am leaving the vines to harvest seed. Tomatoes are starting to come on, and the second variety of flint corn has given me flashbacks to my younger days, visiting family in Iowa "where the tall corn grows."

We keep having decent amounts of rain, mostly as late afternoon/evening thunder storms and we remain thankful that Thor graces us with the thunder than marks His presence but no hail.

As a former astronomy student and long time hobbyist, I am looking forward to the solar eclipse on Monday. It will be partial here, and I aim to project and photograph it. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Crazy, distracted week

It's been a crazy, distracted week here at hex central, under the sign of the fussing duck.

I have not done any painting this week. I needed to... there are two hex blanks hanging fire in the house and the replacement mail box within reach of completion....but I have been focused on the garden, on culling fowl and on getting rid of STUFF.

Downsizing the homestead to a HOMEstead size takes work; the duck pen got de-commissioned, two more ducks culled and the balance are running with some of the chicken flock. But that left fence panels to be moved/repurposed and other parts of their former enclosure to be dealt with..some will go to the dump, hopefully today and some will be moved elsewhere for re-use.

There are two more chicken hens to be culled. One will be easy to capture some evening. The other has been running with the meat birds and is currently in their "chicken tractor" as they were all locked in at dusk. Tomorrow after a trip to town, I plan to get Tractor Guy to help me get INTO this pup tent size and shaped structure to capture the wayward hen, who will then become food. the other...well later in the day, most likely, will join her. Then the fowl culling will be done and I can focus on merging flocks and making one confinement pen for them all, with two sections and one shelter.

Rigby, out to pasture
I am happy that the goats and the sheep seem to be making a.. flock?? herd?? together. They happily go to pasture and share the former goat house at night. Rigby, the sheep, even trots to and from pasture easily, following me. The goats... well I have leashes for them! One of these days I will get Tractor Guy to shoot video of me bringing everyone back in the evening. It's crazy! One sheep following like a fairly well trained dog and two goats, on leash, both trying to go everywhere but WITH me and a flock of Red Rangers under foot!

We have also been working to make space in the garage... this and the decommissioning of the duck space has called for an extra dump run. I am aggressively offloading stuff scrounged for projects that have been hanging fire for some time and TG has brought the two free bookcases we scored a while back, into the computer room, to help organize stuff there.

I am hoping to get back to painting this weekend. The forecast is for two more rainy days to follow this morning's rain and thunder. There are peas still producing, the green beans are coming on and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen so in addition to the dump run early this afternoon, I will have to get to the garden to harvest. I would like to bring in some beets, as well, but as I pulled some of the larger ones to share with a friend yesterday -- in trade for a bag on perfectly good lemons from the waste food stream -- they can wait a bit.

The cleaning and organizing that I am wrapping up for the week, I am dedicating to Frigga, All-Mother and the Lady of the Hearth. It seems very appropriate to do so as this week's projects wind down on Her day. I will, as always, hold my Needfire tonight. At this point I am not sure if the ritual will fall before or after I make my way into the turkey pen to find the final hen for culling, but I am hoping to complete both tasks tonight. As folks who have tried to catch a chicken that does not want to be caught soon discover, it's easier to sneak up on a sleepy hen than to catch one in broad daylight. Unfortunately, this does not work on ducks or guinea fowl, though guineas are easier than ducks. At least I hope so, as I need to catch our two and clip their wings in hopes of keeping them out of the pen so they don't beat up on everyone else (especially the young layers, who will soon join the flock). If they insist on being bullies, and getting in with the other fowl, they will need to find a new home or will become dog food.

Gotta love life "in the slow lane."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Thou Shalt Not Get Sentimental About Old Plants

Long, LONG ago, when I had barely achieved my majority, I was attending a party with my BF, a PhD candidate in upper atmospheric sciences. This was an after-finals/before summer blowout attended, primarily by a large crowd of doctoral and masters candidtate, a post-doc or two, a few odd dates and a handful of younger students, in '69 or '70, which might explain why I don't, actually, remember too much of the evening. LOL However, I recall vividly entering into discussion with a group of ag students, as I was, even back then, growing a large organic garden alongside the rural home the BF was renting. These students, I suspect, were well in the clutches of "big ag" as it was configured, but not yet named at the time, as they made me promise "not to get sentimental about old plants."

Looking back, I am not exactly sure what they meant, but this memory bubbled up a bit ago, as I was out in the garden pulling up the first planting of peas and combing the vines, as I did, for the ones that had not yet gone by. There were plenty, and while I pulled and searched, I contemplated my usual gardening tactic of hanging on to the bitter end. As long as the plants were blossoming and trying to produce, I usually let them do so. I pick small batches to add to a casserole or soup, as the end of production pickings are never enough to make even two servings for a supper. Is that, I wondered, what they meant, letting the plants finish a natural life cycle? They had just met me, so would not have known that hanging on to the bitter end -- tenacity to those who like me, stubbornness to the rest -- is one of my super powers.

I suspect, though, this was not what they meant. Those days and those times, I think, lead into more hybridzation and then into the genetic level modifications that stir up such strong feelings these days. They were grad students... in the sciences... where research drives the game and having the luck of being named in the paper your research allowed your advisor to write would have been a feather in your cap and a springboard to greater things.

They would not have been concerned about genetic diversity, even had I known to mention it. But, speaking back through the ages, I will tell them that supporting genetic diversity is far from the same thing as "getting sentimental" over old plants, and their seeds and their genetics.

While my mind was playing with the time machine, another somewhat related memory from the same era popped up.   "Grab hold tightly, Let go lightly." Yea, like I said tenacity has always been strong in me, the letting go, not so much so. 
The Moment of fullness

Grab hold tightly,
Let go lightly.

The full cup can take no more.
The candle burns down.
The taut bow must be loosed.
The razor edge cannot long endure
Nor this moment re-lived.
Grab hold tightly
Let go lightly
--- Timothy Leary
 I have been working on this lesson since I first encountered this bit of poetry. So, in the spirit of things gone by, the pea plants have gone by to the fowl, a batch remain to be shelled and the second planting to be picked later today.

As I was pulling, I noticed a new pea plant growing; it is about 6" tall, so was self-seeded a couple of weeks ago, but it reminded me to make a note in the calendar and to try planting a short bit nearby this volunteer, to help pin down the timing for a fall harvest of peas for fresh eating... something for which I have not yet not the planting date figured out.

I love my garden meditations and even more when it talks to me.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let the Harvests Begin!

This week ushers in the tide of First Harvest. Also known as
Lammas, Lugnasad and Freyfaxi, it is a major holiday to this homesteading Northern Tradition witch.

Here in the USA, Pagans often focus the celebration around the harvest of maize ("corn" here, though in the rest of the world I believe it is more commonly known as maize and "corn" is either wheat or a generic term for all grains) though here in the northlands, it is not yet even tassleing, let alone ready to harvest as sweet corn for eating, not to mention as a grain, dried to grind for bread.

Winter wheat, though -- planted in the fall and overwintered under Mother Nature's blanket of snow -- IS ready to harvest here on Fussing Duck Farm. This year, one of my experimental projects was to be growing several varieties of wheat, so last autumn I planted Banatka and Sirvinta, two heritage wheats which I have been harvesting for crafting and hopefully to have a wee bit of grain to grind for flour for a ritual bread later on. I also planted a variety of spring wheat, which is just now heading.

2016 YuleBock was quite skinny!
My main goal for planting wheat was to see if I could... and if so, to have fodder for crafting. Last year I attempted to make a Yule Bock but even after buying wheat at the Common Ground Fair AND from a craft store, he turned out kinda skinny. And I enjoy trying wheat weaving projects so having long strands with wheat on was something I wanted to play with. And over the past few weeks I have been harvesting it. First I cut any green stalk that "lodged" (what it's called when stems of wheat blow to the ground in wind and rain storms) and then continued to harvest as the stalks and grains dried. There are still a few standing in the garden ( or I hope they are, after the thunder storms of this late afternoon!) which I will harvest tomorrow.

I won't have the grains all sufficiently dried, threshed, winnowed and ground yet, for sure... but I am looking forward to seeing this whole process on miniature scale.

In process; I used cable ties to secure the
stalks until they dried.
I do, however, have a delightful wheat craft that I completed last week, a pentagram constructed from stalks of wheat and braided with a wreath form for support. Wheat weaving, like basket making, requires that the stalks be soaked in warm water to make them flexible and I was waiting for the project to dry completely before removing the black cable ties that I used to help secure things while it was being constructed.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

When the Garden Talks

I often get insights while doing common repetitive tasks like washing dishes, ironing (yes, I still do some times), weeding, shelling peas. This morning while washing dishes I realized that my garden has been talking to me, guiding me, teaching me.

This is a different garden, though in a part of what I have been gardening since I got here, eight years ago. It is different in how I planted it and therefore how I work it, but I never expected the changes to be so dramatic.

I have only twice before had the space for what I consider a large garden, something measured in a hundred feet or more on a side rather than tens of feet on a side. One was in virgin sandy soil, along a stream bed in western Colorado and the other was a wonderful, existing and previously small commercial organic garden in eastern Washington state. The first flooded and we moved shortly thereafter and the second had been well established and was easy to tend with just the family to help.

Garden at 100'x100'
June, 2015
Moving onto this 4 acres, with Tractor Guy wanting to help, but being unable to work for reasonable periods, while standing or bending to use hand tools, I laid out the garden with very widely spaced rows. The plan was for him to control weeds (many were the ubiquitous runner grasses that had claimed this former potato field long ago) by cultivating between the rows with his tractor while I weeded in the rows by hand and by hoe. We struggled with this plan until last year, when I cut the garden size in half and the row spacing as well. My plan was to weed the smaller garden by hand and it worked almost as well as the previous widely spread/with help set up. Which is to say, not well.

Most of my gardening life, though, I have had to make do with smaller plots, tucked into back yard corners and worked around existing trees and bushes. In these smaller plots, every square foot of earth was valuable beyond measure and because of the smaller size, I could easily add sufficient compost and manure to keep the plants well fed. At the peak of the season, a visitor to the garden would have speculated that I harvested by suspending myself from a hidden crane or had mastered levitation, as there were no visible paths or places to stand. The were there, though, under the leaf canopy. You just had to have seen the garden earlier in the season and learned where the virtual stepping stones were placed.

This year, as I continue to move toward subsistence farming and become aware that my energy is a finite substance, I downsized the garden dimensions again. This year's plot is a nominal 50x50 feet and, in an effort to squeeze in all the species and varieties that I wanted to grow, I pushed many of the rows closer together than in the recent past.

I have been applying truck loads of manure regularly, as well as the tractor-bucket loads that Tractor Guy brings from the horses next door and the soil is showing me that it can adequately support the increasted plant load.

The smaller garden and shorter rows has also meant that it has been much easier for me to keep up with the weeding. At present about 1/3 still needs serious attention, and will get it in the coming week.
The weeded section; except for garlic
(left) more recently planted

needs weeding - earlier plantings
 Much of the section that has been weeded is the most recently planted; herbs, some grains, lettuce, beets and carrots.

But what really spoke to me over dishes this morning was a result of the time spent tying up tomato plants recently. I have a new tomato trellis, made from metal conduit and the tomato plants are secured in an upright position, keeping the fruit off the ground, by
Tomatoes secured to trellis
means of string and small clips. The tomato row is on the west side of the garden, placed there so, if necessary, we could secure it in place with guy wires against our sometimes considerable west winds.
Between tomatoes
and sunflowers!

To the east of the double tomato row is a row of "flowers" that turned out to be mostly sunflowers, which yo can see peeking over the tomatoes in the picture to the left. Now, remember I said I was cozying up the rows, closer together? The photo to the right shows what I saw when I started up that row, securing the tomatoes new growth to the strings. On the ground there were very few weeds, and to the east of the sunflower row, the spring wheat is starting to head up in the afternoon shadow of the tomato/sunflower rows.

A bit farther to the east, the pea row (badly supported by plastic step in posts and plastic mesh) which will be getting its own metal trellis next year, also gives afternoon shade to carrots and beets in the next easternmost rows.

“Full sun” means at least six hours per day, but some plants such as vegetables really need eight to ten hours per day. “Partial sun” or “partial shade” means that the plant needs 3-6 hours of direct sun per day. Here in the northlands where I live, all the plants west of the crops providing shade easily get the required hours of light in the morning to early afternoon, so what my garden has taught me this week will impact how I plant next year. 

With tomato, sunflower and pea rows producing shade, I shall experiment placing my lettuce and spinach, at least -- plants that really do not like the heat and do not especially require extra sunshine -- directly next to the taller crops. 
"Three Sisters" traditional
inter-cropping: dent corn,
beans and squash

As you can see, the traditional pairing of corn, beans and squash/pumpkins seems to be quite happy. The corn in the foreground is Darwin John, an heirloom flint corn for which I was gifted 12 seeds, which is also traditional.

Which brings us to native American wisdom, and to connections that came up this morning. Back in May, I spontaneously decided to attend a talk by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. As a result of attending her talk, I purchased the book, though as is my tradition, a study of it will wait until the dark season. However, her talk prompted me to consider how I look at, and talk to, and listen to my plants. And I attribute my insights today to this change.

The garden is always willing to talk; we have to be willing to truly listen.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Day Without Women -- looking ahead

Tomorrow is International Women's Day and here in the USA, many are calling for "a day without women, a protest to highlight "the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.”

I no longer work for "the man," as we used to say. I am retired from that life, on a minimal pension which is at least partly because of lower wages due to being female. It is also (full disclosure here) because I chose to work only in jobs where I was able to wear clothing that was comfortable to me, thus eliminating the "hose, heels, power suits and makeup" drill required to rise in the work place, if you are female. I am not
Welcom sign which
I painted and ship tomrrow
putting blame on "the patriarchy" or even the common culture because, had I been male, I am honestly not sure I could have dealt with the suit, long sleeve shirt and tie wardrobe required of guys in the same arena.

Anyway, and regardless of all that I do still work. Anyone who knows me (and especially my massage therapist, who I will be seeing tomorrow -- more about that farther on) can attest to that. I am a folk artist and I WILL be going to the post office to ship off 2 pieces tomorrow. Yes, I could put that off, but to do so would require a special trip and I have been
Natural Balance sign
which I painted and will
ship tomorrow
prioritizing "living lightly on the Earth" for years. So I will ship off the work of my hands, wearing a red turtleneck shirt (for those who do not actually strike, wearing red in solidarity and support is encouraged) and my "pussy hat," symbolic of the Women's March.  

And before that, I will tend the critters on my subsistence farm. Could I ask my partner to do that? Yes. Would he? In an instant DESPITE the fact that he really should not because when he was carrying water to the goats this morning, he fell hard and flat on his back and is currently under concussion watch. And it will be no less icy tomorrow, with rain on top of it. So, no, I will not put another human, or the critters, at risk for this.

What I will do is take my poor, old, working-class self to a woman-owned, woman-run business (Carpe Diem Salon in Dover-Foxcroft where my friend, Melissa Veraldo, will work her massage and energy medicine magic to put me back together again (after 6 weeks of hard work, snow shoveling and a good ol' Maine winter.) Missy won't be striking either. Why? Like many families, hers depends right now on her income while her wonderful hubby does battle with cancer.  I am happy to be one of her clients all the time, and especially happy to be able to support her tomorrow.

We're kinda in the backwoods of Maine, but I will be keeping a lookout for a group of women standing or walking their strike and if I see any, you can be sure I will join them for a bit. Because the issues are valid ones, and maybe even more so for those who are less privileged than I; for those who hold more than one job and still can't quite make ends meet; for those caught in positions where they dare not complain but cannot quit.

We, all of us, must do what we can, when we can and where we can -- for those who can't and most need to.