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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Hopping Centuries for Fun, Painting Hexen for Profit, Growing Stuff for??

One thing I can say for sure, my life is never boring.

Early this year, a friend drafted me to accompany her to a living history event, put on by and in support of the Fort Halifax state historic site here in Maine.  They have an annual event in Fort Halifax park, in Winslow, ME, featuring historical reenactment and other fun stuff, of which we were a part, as spinners. So, on Saturday past, we packed up our wheels and took to the road, me with my Ashford wheel and her -- with more guts than I have -- with a persnickety great wheel! I wish I had hauled along a video camera to capture her work as well as she captured mine, but ...  I am in awe of the garb she produced, both for herself and her young friend (not shown) who also was spinning and weaving on the small loom seen on the table.
It was a delightful day and I suspect we will be doing more of this sort of activity. There are times when I feel more at home with at least one foot in the past than I do trying to cope with the insanity that runs rampant these days.

But, back on the farm, there are many hexen to be painted to ship, the garden is finally beginning to take hold (though we have a great production of lettuce and spinach in process! I must pick more spinach to put by soon, and am very thankful for the cooler, wet spring which seems to have helped one of my favorite crops.) and one of the black hens has gone broody. I hope to get the hatchery crop of baby turkeys outside this week, so I can clean up and make room for the hatchery crop of meat chickens coming next week (both for us and to grow for a friend)  and I really need to go back through my notes to see when I need to begin looking for babies under the broody hen, too. It has been our experience that letting the hen hatch, but brooding indoors, works best for us.

I am keeping a close watch on the baby peaches! Totally amazed that this,
the first year of planting a peach tree from Fedco, I have fruit! Traditionally, peaches have been raised in Maine, but of late the most successful growers seem to be those who live in town - at least here in my area -- where the temperature fluctuate less and the buildings and roads offer protection. But here they are! The tree is mulched with a blanket of moth eaten sheep's fleece, so maybe that is the secret?

"Resistance hex" will be empowered
to support the values our Founding
Fathers promoted.

On another thread, my neighbor who is a house painter by trade, and I have worked out a deal to get my garage painted "barn red" and he has been hard at work doing the prep so this can happen. Other events in play, which I will talk about later, have pushed me to follow through on a several year old plan to add multiple hex signs to the garage, including a 6 foot diameter version of this "resistance hex" at the peak of the west side of the building. I designed it several years ago, and am planning to make some changes, mostly in the proportions of the design, and then painting it directly on the building, the very old way! My neighbor/painter will start with the wall on which I pant to paint this design and then continue to work on the rest of the garage, so I can get started. I will add additional signs of they type I paint for sale (on plywood, mounted with screws) to the long south face of the building and over the doors, where he can be seen scraping in the photo.

I am very excited about this project, as well as the current orders in the queue. And I am excited, as well, by the continued damp weather which means less watering in the garden, but no good painting weather. LOL Just call me Pollyanna; I can find something good in anything! How about you?


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Don't Idealize the Seasons, Look Around You

It's been a long, strange winter in many places. The weather has morphed into a long, wet (and in some places, very destructive) spring which follows a rather destructive fall. It's what's happening outside my window. In my garden, which has been planted in fits and starts, plants *are* sprouting and growing, though observations of the bloom cycle of local woody plants is telling me the season is lagging. Normally I have lilacs in full bloom by traditional Memorial Day (nature does not recognize our need to be master of the calendar and lust for 3-day weekends). This year, they are only beginning to bud and the benchmark day arrives tomorrow. This is also the traditional time for "everyone to plant everything" and for me to set out the warm season plants and seeds. But I won't.

I won't wait long, mind you, just until the first of June, to let a predicted overnight low in the mid-40s pass. Things would probably be ok anyway, but as I notice the blooms lagging -- only by a week at most -- I am choosing a bit of a delay.

All of these thoughts bring to mind my frustration, and even anger, at the myriad of folks around me who seem to only listen to the advertisers to mark the seasons. Or perhaps refer to folk traditions from Gods alone know where, or when. Somehow, they seem to think, The Powers That Be have been commanded to adjust the weather programming when Memorial Day (now Memorial Day Weekend... which is even earlier) rolls by. Suddenly, *we* seem to expect warm temperatures, sunny days and mild nights, as if the Gods themselves were chomping at the bit to attend our weekend parties on our newly cut lawns, gathered around the grill and quaffing a brew. As if there was a Universal Digital Thermostat setting for *Summer* that kicked in from Maine to Arizona, around the end of May.
That's as silly as the focus on snow for the December holidays in lands where such weather never happens.  And bears no relationship to reality in many northern or mountain locations. And while I am ranting, have you ever walked into a "big box" store and frozen from the AC in the spring or been driven out by the heat in the fall? That's what happens when the climate in your location is out of sync with that at their main headquarters!

Summer, just to change up the season we are talking about here, begins *astronomically* on June 21. That marks not MIDsummer, regardless of the many traditional midsummer celebrations but the longest day of the year, which is more like the beginning of summer weather, which lags behind the day length.  The lag in temperature occurs because even though the minutes of daylight begin to decrease , the earth's surface and atmosphere continues to receive more energy than just what it receives from the sun.  Average temperatures continue to climb until the sun drops lower in the sky.  (reference

Therefore, come September, while the advertisers have been pushing autumnal images for two months with their "back to school" promotions, and the last things we want to see in the stores are sweaters and heavy coats,  we think "autumn," regardless of the fact that the equinox which opens the door -- tipping the balance toward nights longer than the days -- does not happen until September 23. And again, this is only the beginning of the season as the lag we noted above continues year 'round.  In the words of the poet Ogden Nash: It's Never Too Late to be Uncomfortable, or September is Summer, Too.

And along with our cultural disconnect from the actual seasons, we also seem to value daily weather beyond even what they sang about in the musical Camelot.

I don't expect everyone to like the same kind of climate, but I do get tired of the expectation that I am *also* fixated on a desire for hot days of unremitting sunshine. I am not. In fact, while I know sunshine (or at least bright overcast, which is much prefer) is necessary, it does not seem that there is even close to as much respect for cool days, wind and especially rain. But think about it, folks... without rain, where would your water come from? (And if you say "the store" or "Poland Spring" all I can do is shake my head an offer a "bless your little heart.")

And I hear it now -- regarding the rain -- but there can be too much of a good thing! And yes, it's true... as the storms and flooding attest. But to the contrary, there are few comments in similar vein during prolonged warm-to-hot, dry periods. Even when water use restrictions come into play, the day to day weather comments do not decry the lack of moisture nearly as much as they currently cry for sunshine.

Listen to the world around you, people. Sit on the Earth, with your back up against a tree. Feel his or her thoughts. Run your hand along the grasses... stroke them as you would a cat or dog and learn to know them as well. Walk in the rain, and the wind, and the snow; they are as important to the other beings with whom we share this earth as the sunshine and bathing suit weather are to you.

Monday, May 13, 2019

I love interacting with my clients and customers!

I was up later than hoped last night, waiting for pain meds to kick in enough for sleepy to knock on the door of my brain. A hot Epsom salt soak helped set the sleepy in place and I hit the bed and was out for the count. These spring days, with the extra activity they necessitate, does a number on our aging bodies.

I am thankful for the good rest last night, as today it's time to cut another 4' hex, for which I received the order for yesterday. I also got a delightful email from the client, sharing their intentions in detail. THIS is what I love about this work, which is not just art, but also spirit. The big
48 inch Dutch hex sign being painted
Women's Empowerment hex sign in process
one I am currently working on is not ready to go out yet, but I want to get the next big disk cut and in so, rain or not, things move forward. The current sign I am working on is this 48" diameter version of a sign for Women's Empowerment that I worked up last year, especially for a one-time
PA Dutch hex sign for Women's Empowerment
original 8" diameter sign
local event. Those signs were all painted with artist acrylics on smaller, pre-made disks, like this one to the right. This is the first time that I have designed a sign to be made in a smaller size and then had a request for a large one. Scaling up is a new challenge; I drew grid lines, 3/4 inch apart on a small print of the original and  4.5 inches apart on the large disk and used them as reference to draw the very non-geometric design. It's been years since I used that technique, but I am pleased with the result and hope the client will be as well. He has emailed me recently, inquiring about two smaller copies of a slightly different interpretation of the design, but also for outside display, to be cut from plywood. Of course this delights me, but even more so as I note these signs are being ordered by a father for his daughter. Way to go, Dad!

The remaining smaller versions can be found HERE on the Dutch Hex Sign web site, where there is also an email link to request orders of custom designs or sizes.



On non-related notes, I am crossing fingers that we get the tiller up and running with electric start today, as I could really use to get more seeds in the ground. In many places in our fair land, the time for pushing the early planting season and for getting the cold-loving plants and seeds in the ground has long past.  Here in the northlands,  I am not in panic mode, not even close. Especially not with threats of overnight snowfall which are flitting about on the Internet with folks all a twitter (lower case). Snow, per se, is not a deal breaker and *can* happen even if the temperature on the ground is above freezing. And the "last frost date" for many of us here in central Maine is *not* until the end of the month, later for y'all in "the county" (as folks here say.)

Where ever you garden, learn your hardy crops from the tender ones and make the most of the "shoulder season" without feeling the need to coddle your little green babies with tunnels or the like. Green growing things LOVE to feel the wind on their leaves, real rain around their roots and the sun helping them to create the food they need to feed themselves so they can feed us. When your ground is no longer *soggy* you can plant onions and potatoes, spinach and lettuce, peas, carrots, beets and turnips. Just hold off on the peppers, tomatoes, and all the delicious viney things that we love - melons and cukes and squash of all sorts. They are the tender little ones that need extra time in the house.

Of course, those of you in the southlands will have a very different routine. I remember "summer gardens" and "winter gardens" with the winters being the time for cooler weather crops and the summers sometimes a struggle in the heat for even the most well adapted vines and tomato plants. Now, though, I am thankful for my winter's rest!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Spring Comes (slowly) to the Northlands

The first forsythia blooms outside!
Some of us thought it would never come. Spring, that is. We had a long winter here in the northlands. Many of you across the country have shared this experience. Our snow did not pile up badly, late in the season; instead we got soaking rains on top of snow on top of ice and then as the melt came -- oh, so slowly -- more rain. It is raining, again, as I type this. But ever so slowly, signs of spring appear even here in the country where we have fewer buildings and paving to moderate the climate. The first of the forsythia bushes has burst into bloom. There must be several varieties around, because this one had joined the neighbor's bush in blossom, but the rest of mine, clones of the one that "came with the house" and one sent as a start from a daughter in Utah, are budded but lagging.

 On my trip to town yesterday, I noticed a distinct green tint to the deciduous trees which appeared almost overnight. The birch grove to the north has joined in the display and the ground has warmed to nearly 55F, which means it's time to begin planting! At least that's what the soil says, and I have got some garden work done as the land dried a bit during a brief respite from rain.

The garlic has been up for a couple of weeks, and I have been gazing hopefully at the early seeding of spinach, hoping that the occasional bit of green that I spied was food-to-be and not a weed. In an attempt to keep weeding to a minimum, I have been deploying the paper weed block strips that I make from feed sacks, as you can see to the left. The left-most strip is a walkway between the spinach row and an equally early seeding of some "iffy" lettuce seed. I threw it out when I planted the spinach, hoping that a few -- but not too many -- of the seeds would grow and I would not have to thin them. At this point I am still not sure.  The other two shorter rows of paper are my onion beds; seedling onions planted three abreast through holes poked in the paper.

brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale..)
tomatoes
Brassicas (left) are waiting on the porch for their turn to be transplanted out and a flat of tomatoes (right) push against the lights in the kitten-resistant shelf on the grow rack.

In hex central, I have just completed a new version of the popular Abundance hex sign and two domestic
Abundance hex sign
animal protection signs for German Shepherd dogs and am about to begin construction of a sign for women's empowerment on a 48" diameter disk! 


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The things spring brings

Many small hex signs share table space with
the growing offering of eggs from chicks and ducks.
Spring brings all sorts of busy-ness to the farm and some to the hex painting table as well.  We have had a wet and cold spring thus far, here in the northlands, but with May Day's arrival, things are looking up in the temperature department. The forecast also shows more sun and less rain, which means I will be able to get into the garden and do some serious work.

Because we have struggled with spinach, I pushed the limit of the soil being "workable" and the soil temperature still showing (6" down) at a bit below 50F. Scratched up a bit of a row and threw in some spinach seeds, then a few days later, during another intermission in the rain, a few more feet of them and some lettuce as well. This year, for some reason, I am
Older Troybilt "pony" tiller
struggling to grow transplants and most of the lettuce seedlings did not make it. In the coming week, there is a good chance that I will get my new-to-me "pony" out into the field to cultivate. This is a good thing, in many ways, as Tractor Guy is having health issues and Fergie, the tractor, does not like backing and filing to get into some of the odd corners on the perennial garden. Fergie also needs maintenance, and my being able to till, and start the thing, even (electric start sold me immediately!) means I can work when I need to instead of having to wait on TG's energy and pain levels.

Thus far this year in the hex world has been a challenge, largely due to Google follies. I do not know what part their having killed Google Plus and other features have in the issue, nor how much of it is because my site was never designed to be "mobile friendly." These days, many folks seem to use mobile telephones or tablets for their only tools of Internet access, and my site does not even come up anywhere on a Google search unless you know that I am in Corinth, Maine and search for hex signs in that village! I feel like I desperately need to solve this, but at this point I do not have the skills to re-build the site in the modern mode, or for that matter the time and brainpower to learn, nor the big bucks that it seems to require to hire someone. Oh, for the days when college students who were learning these skills looked for projects like this to add to their practice and portfolio, and offered their services for free... like I did back in the day! LOL 

Somehow, I will work through this, but for now, sales are lagging and the much-needed, small bits of extra income that allowed me to comfortably raise a few extra fowl (chickens, ducks and turkeys.... though the turks are
L-R Rigby, Enterprise, Major Tom
out of the picture this year due to the high cost of day olds of the standard/heritage bronze when you have to buy over a dozen and only want 3) and the three sheep. The wooly crew are looking forward to being shorn soon, and I am looking forward to the arrival of sufficient grass to attempt to pasture them again. Major Tom is an escape artist, so the electric fence may need some extra grounding rods.

But all in all, spring is a hopeful time, and I hope that everyone will make an effort to find DutchHexSign.com and share the link widely. When/if you buy a sign, please add a review on Google! 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Tale of a Duck

April 10 snow
You may never have wondered about what goes on here at DutchHexSign.com hex central under the sign of the Fussing Duck when there are no sign ordered to work on, but I can assure you life is never dull. 

Here in Maine, the coming of spring is not only a much anticipated event, we get to anticipate it over and over, as late season snow falls creep into April on a regular basis. We had broad vistas of pasture and garden last week. And we will again in a day or so, once the approximately 8" of snow that fell over the course of 2 days early in the week, melts.

Despite the snow, the ducks stayed outside the poultry house, as they do in all but the most blustery weather. This duck hen, being of the "dabbling duck" variety, kept some evidence of
Ducks join a hen waiting for food.
her exploration under the surface of the snow. All of the fowl, hens and ducks alike, were happy to play outside once the snow stopped falling. None had any issues with the fluffy white stuff, except for a couple of the smaller bantam hens who ended up bringing their still-unclipped wings into play after being "goosed" into untrod snow as the pecking order sorted itself out at the feeder.

Pallet and tarp poultry house
After feeding and watering, I remembered that I needed to tighten up the twine that was securing one of the roost poles in place and after doing that, I turned to work my way back out of the poultry house. Boy, was I surprised!

I had thought that our two duck hens, after starting the season giving me an egg each per day, had for some reason backed off on productivity to give one each every other day, as they did when production was ending last fall. I had gone from finding two duck eggs each morning, and the chickens' offerings in the afternoon, to only one duck egg each morning. But as I prepared to leave the coop, a full nest in the most unlikely of places, caught my eye.

My poultry house is constructed of pallets, and the depth of the walls is that of a pallet -- the width of a 2x4. Not all pallets have equally spaced slats inside and out, but in between two slats, in the depth of a pallet, a duck had made a nest. In that particular location, she would have had to have squeezed through an opening not much more than 4" tall and then settled herself into a space no wider than that. There was a depression into the ground below the level of the pallet -- remnants of a former rat path I think -- into which the eggs had been laid or fallen, so the nest was almost as deep as it was wide. I had to really squeeze my hand to extract the eggs and one, that was mostly buried in the earth... well I was not sure I would ever get it out!

I did not have anything with which to block access, and thankfully the eggs were cold so the hen(s) had not yet gone broody, though I am hoping one or both will soon. I had the dregs of loose hay from having fed the sheep with me, so I made a nest of it inside the actual house, and left 6 eggs to encourage laying there, and hopefully broody behavior.

Silly duck!

And just so you do remember what else I do, here is a pic of the latest hex sign, shipped to PA, a 4' diameter Protection sign. Now that the weather is warming, and I don't yet have a backlog, this would be a great time to order the sign you have been wishing for! http://www.DutchHexSign.com





Friday, February 15, 2019

Maine Farm Life

I just got a copy of Maine Farm - A Year of Country Life and started reading. A few bits in the first chapter resonated strongly with me: The first years I came close to failing. There was far too much work for a single person, or maybe even two people, to do. and "...everything seems to take much longer than we anticipate." And the observation that the Nearings "did not make it sound easy."  I will continue to read it, but to me it is a view of a microcosm in a microcosm and very much different from my experience and possibly that of very many small farmers here in Maine.

This book is NOT about homesteading, though the author espouses self-reliance, but rather seems to portray an idyllic look at the four seasons on an established, successful small commercial farm in coastal Maine. Thus far what I have read draws heavily on themes of the iconic quaint Maine seacoast. And being placed in a coastal climate, even in Maine, their experience is bound to be quite different from those in the larger part of Maine that is made up of the western mountains, the central highlands and the vast, still largely rural and agricultural "crown of Maine" aka The County.  Here, I see fewer picturesque villages and many more small towns struggling to stay marginally alive (to heck with having a marketable identity) in the face of population drift. Often they are, at most, now, bedroom communities for those who cannot afford to move and struggle with long commutes, or worse, unemployment.

They say that work on the farm takes up "most" of their time from spring through fall, even though they manage to round up help for major projects. My experience is that -- with or more often without help -- we are always way behind.

And then, they leave the farm in the winter! Farmers who take vacations?? The farmers I know struggle to be able to get enough time away to attend necessary family functions (weddings, graduations) and all of them have at least one family member working off farm for an additional income.

Snow shoe and sled - winter chore tools
There are many benefits to the homestead/small farm lifestyle that they describe well. There are beauty, magic and miracles potentially around every corner, every day. Like today, when I took to my snow shoes for chores, thankful that I did not have to break trail *once again* on account of first falling, then massively drifting snow. The walk, pulling a sled full of feed and water behind as I made my way from pen to pen, was pleasant, no
Rigby, Enterprise and Major Tom
arctic wind sucking the warmth from my thrice-gloved hands, no sun in my eyes, no rain or sleet seeking to soak my chore coat or hat. The sheep came along the fence, following me as always but carefully lifting their hooves and stepping through snow drifts nearly up to their bellies. No frolicing today, just careful treads to beg extra scratches and attention.

All of the fowl were out in their yard, as well, walking on the
Cock (and hens) "au vin"
area that had been shoveled and trod down by human and ducky feet, and making their way over the top of the drifted snow as well, leaving chicken tracks and trails as they tired to find their usual favorite spots -- now bluried under the mid-week snowfall. I stood for much longer than usual after feeding and watering them, just watching. There are three hens and a roo, hatched late last year at a friend's farm, who came to live with me as their mom was not terribly protective. Three are mostly white and one is mixed black and white. "Barnyard mix" they are, and they flock together within the larger crowd. There are three black Langshan hens, and a fourth that looks like them, but is a bit smaller though. She was hatched here and is another barnyard mix, with obviously one of the other three as her mother, though I was at one point gathering random eggs to put under a broody bantam hen. There is another rooster (in addition to "Old Roo," an elderly Rhode Island Red who is the senior chicken in the flock); the other "hatched here last year" success story. He is a beautiful, and very colorful feather-footed bantam that got the name Bullseye for his accuracy in pecking K's eye as a chick. He and his clutch mate, the smaller "Langshan" that we call Buckshot, used to hang together but of late Bullseye is often the first one out of the coop, the last one in and the chicken who wanders the farthest from the flock. I found great peace as I just stood and watched them this morning.

These times come, when you can slow your pace a bit and look for them. Sometimes they reach out and whack you 'long side the head, too, even when you are going gangbusters with hyper-focus
on a project. 
You see a picture-postcard scene; I do too.
But I also see that there's going to be lots of work
to dig out the truck to get hay!

So, as my word picture above shows, we do have idyllic moments. But if you read that book, don't think that's what life is like for most of us "back to the land" folks here in Maine. Even my best rose colored glasses can't change life that much.