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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No-Comefort-Zone for the Win

I just received photos of the willow tree custom PA Dutch hex sign installed on the owner's home.

They love it and I think it looks great, mounted on this brick building. I really like it when my clients send in situ photos!

Out of the Comfort Zone

Custom hex sign - protection and abundance
for the family that uses a weeping willow
as a family symbol
Do you like to be outside your comfort zone? I don't and from what I have read, most folks are in the same boat. But sometimes one gets pushed overboard and -- for me at least -- at that point I flail around like a drowning person for a bit and the, finally, get with the program and swim.

That is always the case when I get an order for a custom hex sign that focuses on a more realistic depiction of something. Usually that "something" is an animal in one of the livestock or companion animal protection signs. Previously, I had done the dog, above left and the cow, to the right...both with much trepidation. But I had never been asked for a realistic tree before this most resent offering, above.

I do think it turned out ok and it has actually inspired me to try to draw, if not paint, some of the trees I have been noticing this winter.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

It's THAT Time of Year Again, Folks!

You know who you are... those who have been pouring... dreaming... drooling over the seed catalogs. Bankrupting yourselves putting in order, perhaps, though I hope not. Moderation in all things... remember! But it's time, here in Maine even, when the potting mix hits the flats and you can almost hear the announcer's voice coming over the aethers: Gardeners! Start your SEEDS!

Or maybe not... maybe you are not sure when to start. Maybe your family tradition has been to put everything out on Memorial Day Weekend. Maybe you have moved and are not sure WHAT your seasons will be like.  Well, wonder no more. I am going to share some of my favorite go-to sites for plotting and planning and learning you seasons.

Your calculations need to start with your last spring frost and the first frost in the winter, in order to choose varieties that will ripen in your climate. This is especially important for us northern dwellers, but folks at altitude have this issue as well, perhaps even more so! is the source for this info. You can enter your zip code at the upper left (pay attention! it is in the immediate upper left! the lines numbered 1 and 2 and in large print just below are ADS!) and get an overlay on a Google map base of your area with the climate zones color-coded and first and last frost date averages listed below.

When your seed packet tells you to plant "after all danger of frost" then you are golden, most years. And we all know that gardening or farming is -- always -- a calculated risk. However Johnny's Selected Seeds, one of my favorite suppliers from long before moved to Maine and became their neighbor, has used their and their customers experience to develop a series of interactive tools to help take a bit more of the guesswork out of planting.

They have an online calculator to help you decide when to start seeds indoors for future transplant. The tool also suggest when it will be safe to transplant them after you have hardened the seedling off.

If you have ever considered succession planting -- perhaps when your lettuces have all gone to seed and your tomatoes are signaling the beginning of a bountiful BLT season -- you might find this this tool handy. It is a spreadsheet that can be used with Microsoft Excel, or if you do not have that program, the free and open source OpenOffice Calc program runs it as well. That is what I use. Johnny's says "This spreadsheet calculator allows you to input the date of your first planting of each crop, then it calculates the dates for later plantings. It also allows you to input your first frost date, counting back the appropriate number of days to determine the last date to plant and still get a crop before frost."

They also offer calculators that will help if you want to aim for a specific harvest date (though I know it will not all ripen at the very same time, I have also grown many varieties of paste/sauce tomatoes with the Heinz name that seem to really try to hit that goal! It was a family joke for years.) And if you want a real challenge, a calculator for when to plant crops for a fall harvest.

Another very useful offering is the seed quantity calculator, with which you can work from either the crop, to determine the number of seeds or young plants that you need for a row of given length or from the seed spacing and row length you plan to use, to determine the number of rows.

Based on this last tool, tomorrow I will be making up 300 mini soil blocks, in which to plant 300 onion seeds (plus an additional 40 or so that I will be starting for a friend. Plus shallots and leeks.

Other online tools exist to help you figure out:
-- how much you will harvest per 100' row (you can calculate estimates for smaller gardens!)
-- companion planting, to save space and help your crops thrive
-- identify some of the weeds that inevitably plague us all
-- adjust planting times to avoid some pests and diseases (Maine based)
-- help identify nutrient deficiencies by reference to the plants leaves (You have done a soil test haven't you? Your local extension service can do this as soon as you can access your soil!)
-- how much to plant for your family. Ok, this is just one company's guess... and of course your mileage WILL vary, based on what you love and what you don't like as much, what you put by, and how you cook and plan your meals year round. But if you have never done a garden, and especially if you are aiming to learn to be more self-reliant, it can be a good place to start.

You will also want to become good friends with the folks at your local extension office (this is connection) as they have all kinds of help and publications... from soil testing services, to Master Gardeners who can help answer all kinds of questions, to classes in how to safely preserve your bounty!

Now, don't go broke buying seeds... connect up with friends and SHARE! And all this thought about spring has actually kicked me in the rear to finally get working on a spring-themed custom hex sign order! Watch for the final project photo on Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Winter at Dutch Hex Sign and Fussing Duck Farm

After blizzard, before rain

The snow is piling up and without a tractor with good grip/functional chains or any other snow-moving machinery, we have opted to park the old farm truck, Artie, out by the road (do you see him there?). We walk/snow shoe out and back in, pulling goods on sleds or in "body bags" (large, extra heavy contractor type trash bags) or wrapped in a tarp. We had made a bit more path down the drive than in this photo, though even after a bit of melt, there was enough snow blowing to pretty much obliterat the trail.

I use snow shoes, and do not have to stick to the trail, though I will if it helps to tow my load. Tractor Guy, on the other hand, weighing in at over 300 lbs, has not yet gotten snow shoes. Most of the large (and of course expensive!) ones top out with a max weight of 250 lbs., so he "bulldozes" through. Not fun. And even less fun now that our weather has turned the tables from hovering in the minus-BRRR degrees to a predicted high of 50F with precipitation falling as rain.

Yes, there is melt, but come Saturday the temperature will drop again. After nearly 2" of rain has fallen (if the weather guessers are even close) it will freeze and stay frozen for a while. 

We often have a January thaw, mind you, but usually not this early and usually not with actual rain adding to the mess. And mess it was, yesterday, when I braved it for a trip to town. Plans were to meet up with a group of fiber folks for a bit, but there was no way I was going to pull my spinning wheel, bagged or not, down to the truck.  I took my drop spindle and ended up having a lovely time, even running some errands and getting home before dark. There was no need to use the snow shoes, as the rain and melt had condensed the snow sufficiently to walk on it, and I only sank in a bit. The driveway is not yet clear of course, so I backed in near the road. When I left the truck, at least one wheel was on actual gravel. With freezing rain and ice predicted for today and an early away mission on Saturday, I am hoping for the best.

The thaw did allow me to dump, clean and refill the water buckets for the herd and the dog, though the fowl water bowls were still too well encased in ice and compacted snow to get loose. Maybe today? In any case, the buckets for the four footed crowd are hanging a little higher on the fence which should make such projects easier as winter progresses. If I can't get the birds' bowls loose, I will at least remember to take rags along and a scoop to remove dirty water, as I did earlier in the winter.  And I see the "Christmas tree" appearing through the melt. It is actually the top of a windfall that I dragged home initially for the making of wreaths; our holiday tree is always one we can plant come spring.  If I can extract the windfall from the snow and ice, hopefully will give the goats something to distract them from trying to eat the sheep. I have a sheep blanket on order. 

Inside, I am thankful to be able to report that -- thus far and despite the massively deep and protracted sub-zero temperatures and even lower wind chills -- our pipes have stayed thawed and water running! Yes, we have had constant drips running during the coldest days, so I am not looking forward to the next couple of electric bills. The heat lamp under the house and two bulbs under the bathroom sinks have also been running 24/7. The water heater and well pump also got in on the action (drips often include both hot and cold),  but it beats hauling water up from a neighbor's place on the sled.

Frodo and Sam atop the indoor laundry
drying rack.
Life goes on, and this week will bring the focus around to the garden again. I need to inventory seeds and put in some small orders for things from which I do not save seed. Onions and leeks are at the top of the list, as they will be planted early next month, kittens willing or not! I fear that this seed starting season will be a struggle, to keep the plants safe from the marauding "itty bitty destruction committee," Frodo and Sam.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Follow the Flow and See Where You Go!

Amazing what gets done that is not "on the list" when one just follows the flow. 

I knew the fridge had some science projects that needed to be relocated, and that it also had the last bit of the 3# piece of beef that had been a pot roast and then donated a good bit of leftover meat, as well as the vegs and gravy to the stew (which will be a "thrice blessed" supper this evening) which I was planing to put into a beef/veg soup starting today. In order to clean out the fridge, though, I wanted/needed to clean off the chopping block to be able to easily stash contents as I sorted.

When I went to move things off said surface, the first thing I found was my seldom-used bottle of clear nail polish. Typically, this gets hunted down when I have a run in my silk long johns but a few days ago I had needed a good dollop of the stuff to cover a small slit that remained in a finger nail after I had clipped as close as I was willing to clip. The slit was tiny, but big enough to catch a hair, or a thread and I did not want to risk pulling and making it run far enough to hurt. It took hot water and an application of Great Strength and Awkwardness to get the thing open and I guess that after treating the nail, I set it there with the intention of taking it to the back bathroom when I went that way.

It had other ideas, however, and had laid on its side. The gunked up and terribly insecure threads on the lid had NOT kept the stuff inside and when I picked up the bottle I discovered a pool of polish -- most still semi-liquid -- on the chopping block. Damn!

Well, I keep acetone around for all sorts of uses -- and removing fingernail polish was one of its primary uses back in the day, so I go hunting under the sink in the chemical stash to find my can of the stuff. After all, letting it dry would make matters so much worse! After looking where it was supposed to be (and by that wording you know my search was unsuccessful at that point) I kept looking in the only practical way: I emptied all the stuff out from under the sink.

Now, it's been far too long since I did that, so it was not a quick search and replace. My rag-bag had long ago been buried under loose rags, as had the secondary paper bag of pieces of spent clothing. I stuffed the bags and I extracted rag after rag, and multiple cleaning products as well. There were the two partial cans of oven cleaner (joined by an almost-empty third one), two boxes of granular Spic-n-Span, (both open, of course), two containers, as well, of the organic-approved bug spray I use only in extreme emergencies and lots of other stuff... including (count 'em!) 5 scrub brushes (not counting the two we have been using that are currently deployed in the bathrooms), etc. etc. 

But no acetone. 

After getting it all back in, I grabbed a rag and a bit of paint thinner to see what it would do. It helped some, but I still need the acetone, which is now on the perennial list. 

And I hadn't GOT to the real work of either cleaning off the chopping block or cleaning out the fridge. LOL

The block got a lick and a promise, making enough space to do the 'fridge. The dog got some old lunch meat, the chicken bucket got some other remains and, yes, eventually I DID find and cut up the beef for the soup.

Soup is now cooking, filled almost entirely -- at this point -- with dried vegetables: onion, celery leaves, tomato, carrots, peas, zucchini and kale. It is a tomato-based soup, so it also has a quart of my home canned tomatoes and half a pint of tomato sauce. Once it gets cooked sufficiently to soften the dried stuff, I will throw in a handful of green bean pieces and some cooked and canned dry beans. It will probably be "too rich" (meaning having too many flavors) by Tractor Guy's reckoning, but this one's for me!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Divining the Cabbage

The Cabbage
There are at least as many traditions for New Years Eve as there are cultures, though when we mark the new year, does, of course, vary a bit.

In many places in the USA, folks eat cabbage (or in the south, collard greens) on New Years Day, as these green cruciferous vegetables are considered representative of money. Although I did not grow up with any particular traditions for this time of year, I have adopted the cabbage, and serving pork for the meat in January 1 supper (with 'kraut for me) along my travels. Usually I end up buying one, but this year I had two heads still lingering in the fridge. Both were harvested late and therefore had suffered some from the ravages of the late season weather. As I worked through the dry layers and underlying moldy leaves, a thought came to me.

There are many traditional forms of divination, also practiced on New Year's eve, preferably at the stroke of midnight. You can light a white candle and drip the wax into cold water, or you can poke a hole into the end of the first egg laid on New Year's Eve day (not something practical for us northern farmers who believe in giving the ladies a season of rest) and let the drips fall into hot water (or, I might suggest a clear chicken broth, as after completing the divination, you could eat egg drop soup as the chicken* scratches the old year into the past!) I have also read of a German tradition of melting lead, or possibly in recent times, tin and dropping it in water. This ancient form of divination, known as Molybdomancy, has been used for 1000s of years in many cultures.

If you read cards (playing cards or Tarot cards can be used by those in the know) there is a layout known as the "Clock" or "Circle of Years," in which you place the cards one for each mark on the clock in a cirle, and the last in the middle. You read them, one o'clock for January and so on, and the one in the middle for the whole year.

Now, I have never been good at divination, or really terribly interested in seeking to know what is around the corner. However, as I was working on this cabbage, without seeking for anything other than clean, edible vegetable matter, it spoke to me. 

"I may not be a very big head," it said, "and yeah, my outside is pretty bunged up and gross." "But, look!" She continued as more and more edible cabbage was revealed, "I prevailed!"

This tiny cabbage, echoing an oft-heard and repeated message over this year, will stay in my mind over the next one. Its lesson blends in my mind with many throughout the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, that I finished last night.

I honor her for her tenacity and for the lesson, and nutrition, she has brought. And set the Intention, going forth, to take time to just sit, and even lie in the garden, to continue to notice each plant. And to persevere. Little Cabbage reiterated another recent awareness: little bits matter.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On turning the Calendar

It's almost that time again, time to take down the tattered old calendar hanging on the wall, and put up a new one. Mine has tractors on it, and soon the page with the Oliver brand machine will be extracted for its trip to my grandson, Oliver. I don't this year, have a replacement though! I will have to go hunting; I usually get mine free from the feed store but last time I was there, I only saw their horse ones. I like horses well enough, but usually they have both and I forgot to ask or search for the tractor version. But I digress.

2017 was a pretty beat up year, all 'round, I think. But since I count the year as beginning in the spring -- and it's all just a continual spiral anyway -- I don't normally make a big deal out of "Change The Calendar Day" or the Eve before. But it seems like everyone else does, so the energy is there to piggyback a bit of Working... and why not!

I am also not a big fan of spending tons of time and energy on looking back and reflecting over the past months. Personally, when I have, I seldom find anything new to discover. Lessons and insights come as they come and I do my best to learn and carry the insights forward as I go. And I know from past experience that if I don't, the Powers That Be have no issue with another round of instructions. Usually I manage to "get it" before the bring out the Celestial 2x4 for the whack 'long side the head, thankfully! 

I am also not a big fan of loud noisy parties (period), getting sloshed (deliberately) and the usual shenanigans that accompany the mainstream Change The Calendar Day Eve. While these past months seem good ones for a rousing farewell, on the national and world stage for sure, our lives here at hex central with the
Stormy, not long before
her passing
critters that share our lives -- fussing ducks and all -- was really not that bad. Several passed on, ones we loved as well as the ones I thanked and deliberately sent... you know, the ones we eat. The plants did their best to cope with the strange seasons and I did my best to tend,
harvest and store them. This was NOT a good year for storage onions, though. Not like last year, when we were still eating the bumper crop long after planting this year's seedlings. This winter, we will be lucky to have them for much longer. The harvest, which was adequate in quantity, is proving to not store well, despite being the same varieties as we planted last year. I am cutting and freezing them; mostly they are used in cooking anways, but it's always interesting to me to see the changes from one year to the next.

So rather than a massive celebration of having survived 2017 (which, considering everything that went on outside our four acres this year, I can, kinda, understand doing) I will, as always, spend this weekend moving forward in the way I would like the next bit of time to move. I had hoped to attend a "setting Intentions" ritual with friends, but because of the arctic temperatures and my truck's wimpy heating system, I have decided just to stay at home and work with them in spirit. This IS something new to me... the deliberate setting of intentions. I have for many years, paid attention to some threads that I wished to encourage, mostly by spending the evening cleaning and organizing my abode. It's been some time since I was last able to do a complete house cleaning in a day, though, so while I will be continuing to work on that
Organizing the fiber stash so I can
actually work with it.
project, I have also thought a bit about other threads that have surfaced recently, and I will spend some time today trying to make sense out of that, and to find ways to organize and prioritize giving them attention.  Note, this is not a plotting, planning, setting goals or resolving to do this or that, beyond the level of "paying attention" and "listening to and following" prompting from those Powers That Be.

And following my tradition, we will eat pork on Monday (and saurkraut for me) and there will be a cabbage in prominent display (from the garden! It's been in storage.) and greens of some kind to be eaten as well (likely spinach, raw from the store for Tractor Guy, cooked for me for the symbolism they bring.

May this Change of the Calendar find you all moving forward with abundance and joy!