Sunday, June 26, 2022

Not everyone is a fan of summer

 If it was not necessary for growing food, I would gladly consider plots to eliminate summer. I am not a fan. Hot weather and the super long days have vexed me all of my adult life. Thinking back, it is hard to believe that I voluntarily went outside in temperatures up to 114 degrees F while visiting kin in the sand hills of Nebraska as a teen. And no, boys were not the lure. My aunt's house had air conditioning, and even then I did not like it. I still do not like it -- and have never used it in any home of my own, despite being plagued by the heat of summer. In fact, I have had at least one case of heat exhaustion in the last three states where I have lived (TX, NC and, yes, even Maine.)

I moved to Maine "for the climate" I say... imagining summer days eventually warming the lakes sufficiently for those who enjoy such pursuits to swim... maybe in August. Wearing flannels to drink my morning coffee, in June -- like earlier this month -- does not feel out of line.

But then the whammy comes. Is it climate change or simply a misapprehension, as when living in the Pacific northwest, I learned that "it's always damp, cloudy and rainy here" was a myth perpetrated by the locals to keep visitor numbers in check?  We are not even close to leaving June behind and our high temperature reached 91 here on the farm yesterday. TFH and I am thankful that I had planned a "do nothing" (but the ritual dump run) day for my body to recover a bit from the aggressive gardening of the previous two days.

I literally did nothing most of the day, and after returning from the dump, did more nothing, but with fewer clothes on, sitting by a window with the breeze and a fan attempting to work their magic. Typically, once the heat hits, it takes my body weeks for the sweating response to kick in. This odd phenomenon does tend to make me uncomfortable and it is also part of the reason I eschew air conditioning. I NEED to sweat; that is the body's natural cooling method and hiding from the heat only prolongs my misery. I suppose I should be glad that, while doing evening chores -- before the sun had dropped below the western tree line -- I had sweat literally running down my face. One day in to the heat... this is unheard of for me.

I am anxiously waiting and watching for the sun to move back south a bit. This year I want to mark how long it takes, past the solstice, for the setting sun to return to the solid bank of trees to the west. When it sets behind their bulk, I can do evening chores earlier and this means supper, which I start after chores, will be earlier in the evening. As it is now, we often do not finish our evening meal until quite late. Where the sun sets at present is directly behind the sheep area, as seen from the house, and that means that chores start with me walking, squinting, directly toward the setting sun to feed the wooly bullies, bring them in from pasture and turn off the electric fence so I can safely access the Nuggets to feed and water their quickly maturing carcasses.

The real issue is not where the sun sets, though, but the gap in the tree line and the scraggly top of the single conifer behind which it currently attempts to hide. Just a few degrees to the left -- south -- the tree line becomes a solid wall of green, effectively making for a much earlier twilight in the barnyard. Eventually we will get there, and even though that does not have any actual effect on the air temperature, it will feel cooler to my mind.

Strange how bodies work, eh?

Now, for the first time this summer, I am heading out to the garden FIRST. Before jumping most of my medical hoops, before critter chores and definitely before breakfast. I need to move the water hose and get the irrigation going again, but first it will be time to check to potato plants for bugs and, with luck, to do some more weeding, in an attempt to complete weeding of the onion rows, and make the last picking of spinach.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Rituals of Daily Life

40 yards of hand spun linen yarn
Yesterday, as I spent time at the spinning wheel, turning two thin bits of linen yarn into this thicker, two-ply version, I sat and meditated with Frigga in my mind's eye. My Lady of Fensalir, Goddess who is said to "spin the battle from afar" was my focus, but the news of the day was on my mind. Among Her many attributes, she is know to "give comfort and solace in childbirth" and she was also known as a goddess of frith, which is a combination of peace and social order. As the wife of Odin (the All-Father), she,, the great Mother, sat in his stead on the high throne of Asgard and fulfilled all of the duties thereof . There are connections here. 

As I spun and talked with Her, I called on Her to lend her attention to here and now, and thanked her for her continued presence as my Patron and for her wisdom, strength and support.

And as I spun... more accurately plyed the yarn previously spun... I thought about the other task still awaiting me: Digging the trench for the replacement potatoes and the planting there of.

Gardening literally grounds me. It always has. And now we read of research showing contact with a kind of benign bacteria in soil improves mood by altering the gut-brain connection. But my rambling thoughts went down another trail, reminding me that even our most mundane tasks -- the (lower case R) rituals of daily life can be transformed into Rituals, with a capital R and power as well, by the conscious addition of true Intent.

Now I go back to the garden, with a mattock (pick axe with wide blade.) I will be making a furrow to plant the replacement potatoes but there will be *intent* in every swing as I "dig up the dirt" and plant anew. The "old ones" (those these particular spuds that did not grow are only stand-ins) are dead and gone. And from the bucket and bags of "yesteryear" (and the work of my own hands last year)_ will come forth a new crop, to feed us here. And with my swinging of one of my favorite garden tools to work off what I am thinking and feeling, and bring forth food to sustain us for the coming year, you can bet your sweet bippy that there will be spell work being done. Again and still, and again and still as needed.

It's how I roll. And today's monthly, waning moon task is another of the household rituals made sacred: the taking out of the trash to the dump. I know there is no real "away" (as in "throw it away") and have been working on trash minimization protocols for years. Part of my process includes considering packaging as equal in importance to the actual product being bought. Less is more. Recycleable is better than not (though these days that is seriously a concern as much of it is NOT being re-used) and where possible, re-used until it is in shreds or more. We take one can a month and it's not the biggest that could be bought and the trash goes into bags that come into the house as packaging. I will not buy plastic bags just to throw things away. Today there will be a bit more, as I have some old wood and metal from around the farm clean up to go away; both those go into different piles at the dump and not into the landfill. Once a month, close before the dark moon is the timing and the Ritual is to clean up and make order to allow for more blessings to flow in, with the turn of the moon. And since we do not want for much, I say it works.

What rituals can become Rituals in your life?

Friday, June 24, 2022

Of Spuds -- Still -- and Fiber (no not the dietary kind)

Seed 'taters, soon to be planted

 It's Friday and the day dawns with loads of meaning for many workers who are looking forward to the next two days off work -- the weekend. The concept has permeated (or infected) our entire culture. Work hours and days truly have never been that uniform, I do not think, though I will say that may just be based in my personal experience. I grew up with a mom who was an RN and a teaching dad and for them, as well as the kids shift-working dad -- and myself also when I was working as a temp == all bets were off. Many factories run two, or even three shifts, day in and day out. Truckers work until their load is delivered. And goodness knows, our desire for immediate gratification cannot abide a day when commerce is not available for our participation.

Here at hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck (figuratively at least... I do need to paint such a sign some day, I guess, if I am going to continue to write this) while this day has special meaning, the following two a just ordinary days. Farming -- even when "just" for subsistence and not for profit -- is like that. In my world, Friday is devoted -- or at least should be -- to the Goddess Frigga, my patron (matron?) in the northern pantheon. She who loves spinning and fiber arts, who is friend of the Norns and keeps them close and uses spinning as a way to (or metaphor for) reaching out beyond her immediate presence. But I have been seduced by the needs of the garden of late and have not sat at a wheel, or picked up a spindle, on her day to commune with Her. That needs to change.

I am also being tempted by the call of the Tour de Fleece (a fiber lover's event that runs concurrently with the famed Tour de France bicycle race, which starts next Friday.) I have played in that world in the past, and it is calling me once again. To participate, one sets a goal for the three week period and works toward the goal every day that the cyclists are riding. They -- and we participants -- do get rest days from time to time. In the past I have spun, but I think this year IF I participate, my goal will be to skirt all the fleeces I have on hand and  be prepared, by the last day of the race, to take them to my favorite mill, Underhill Fibers,  to be washed and prepared into roving.

That being laid out in my mind, I still need to think about today. My spud project is not quite complete. I have a single pot full that needs to be processed and frozen. I need to bag up the spud pieces I froze yesterday and I need to plant and water the well started seed 'taters that I separated from the pack, which will require finishing the weeding of the alleged russet row. I have my work there cut out for me!

Two bobbins, partially filled
with linen yarn

 I also intend to spend a little time at the spinning wheel. I have two bits of flax spun and want to ply them together and then (probably) crochet a bit with the final yarn. This project comes about because I will be moving away from the plastic "rooster clips" as I call them that I have been using to contain my hair. The kind I like (small and understated) seem to be no longer made and -- well -- they are, after all, plastic. for years I wore my hair in a twist, held in place by a single large bobby pin or a skewer through a bit of leather, after I found such a thing that fit the amount of hair that I had. Now, there is less volume and I suspect this may be a continuing changing issue, so I am thinking that an oval of crocheted linen yarn would allow me to adjust the stick (a repurposed orange stick from the cosmetic isle works well) as needed. Thinking linen because (a) I have a wee bit that I have managed to spin and I could use it and show it off! LOL and (b) it is much less likely to stretch even as much as cotton might. But I have never piyed with linen. I wonder, do I do it with wet fingers like when spinning the fiber? Time will tell and the barnyard and garden is calling!



Thursday, June 23, 2022

All About the Spuds....

Because you know he's all about the spuds 'Bout the spuds, no trouble
He's all 'bout the spuds, 'bout the spuds, no trouble
He's all 'bout the spuds, 'bout the spuds, no trouble
He's all 'bout the spuds, 'bout the spuds... (to the tune of All About that Bass)

 Those of you following along at home may remember our awesome and overwhelming and still-being-eaten-from-fresh-storage bumper crop of potatoes harvested last fall. And I recently mentioned this year's planting had very poor germination. I did not realize quite how bad the determinate varieties start was. As I was weeding yesterday, I found exactly three plants in nearly 25 feet of row! At this point, with as much row yet to weed, that indicates nearly one forth of the crop will not happen.

I was thinking on this issue while I weeded yesterday and am sad to say it took me nearly all my weeding session to come up with a solution, in the form of some of the already sprouting potatoes in the storage area. They are only now beginning to get soft, so I had them on my mind for an indoor day project -- namely getting a bunch more washed, peeled, diced, blanched and frozen. I was thinking ahead to a lean potato year from what I was seeing, and not seeing, in the garden. And I am going to give them a shot at helping solve the problem in another way, too.

Is it "too late" to plant potatoes here? Honestly, I do not know. I suspect it may be too late for a crop of decent size bakers, but likely some of that will be determined by the weather this fall. Spuds do not like it cold and as our cold spring may have contributed to the failure to germinate, perhaps a long, warm autumn will allow for more growth. But in any case, small 'taters are better than no 'taters -- heck some folks even pay premium prices for them as a gourmet item! A fact that I will try to remember this winter when I am inclined to cuss the extra work of small potatoes, if they happen.

So, I will finish weeding later this afternoon, after Tractor Guy gets back from his good deed trip to town (carrying a neighbor to a doctor's appointment) to ride herd on the dogs, so I can concentrate and loose myself in the weeding  and then planting of the spuds I will prepare this morning.

And I probably will be singing "All about the spuds..." while I work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Solstice Garden - Future Abundance

 

Young tomato plant, June 21
The garden did not get much work yesterday, on the solstice. Instead, I took myself to a nearby farm, which offers pick your own strawberries, as that season has finally begun. It was more of a challenge than usual to pick a mess of berries for supper with some left to freeze. The late, cold spring has affected much of the spring growth, but here in the Northlands, this holiday always marks only the beginning of the season. The lush drawings and photos that appear in so many greeting memes do not represent our northern reality, only our hope. 

It is almost time to begin tying strings to the tomato trellis, though, to begin my annual session of "tomato bondage" which supports the plants and keeps the fruit off the ground to avoid rot in the late summer and fall harvest time. 

Peas plants find the trellis.

The pea plants that share the trellis area with the tomatoes, have found their hand-knotted bailing twine net and are happily climbing. One variety is just beginning to blossom; the other has yet to start. I have never actively tried to make the local garden goal of "peas by the Fourth of July" and it's a good thing. Otherwise I would face yearly disappointment, often at the hands... er... mouths of the deer. This year, I managed to get the fence up before they found the pea plants. Instead they feasted on my ready-to-harvest big second crop of spinach and tasted the potato plants instead. So there will be peas for supper and to freeze. Just not quite yet. 

There are some spuds in
there somewhere!

And as for those potatoes, I give you, left, a before and after pic of the weeding and mulching in process. Kudos if you can even find the 'tater plants in that right hand row! I assure you that, unfortunately, you are not overlooking much. That is my row of Elba and Caribou Russet that I have yet to weed, mound and mulch and the germination was terrible. In the row that has been mulched, you see Dark Red Norland and Vivaldi, early and mid-season varieties, that are doing much better.

After last year's super abundant bumper crop of spuds -- yes, we are still eating them and I am hoping to get more of them peeled, blanched and frozen before they totally go by -- soon -- to help offset what I fear will be a very poor showing this year. 


Young squash plant

The "vine crops" as I call my array of squash, pumpkin, melon and cucumber plants at the south end of the garden, have been holding their own through these past cold nights. As you can probably see, the entire area (plants are spread about 5-6 feet apart) need a hoe job and hopefully will get one in the next few days. I also have plans to lay down mulch -- probably cardboard covered by mulch hay -- in the next few weeks. I located a decent deal on the hay (and yes, I use hay as straw is much more costly here even in normal times) when I stopped by a large feed supplier yesterday to check for mulch hay, which he did not have. He did offer to sell me feed hay, but I demurred because of the price. Honestly I was not trying to negotiate a better deal, just sitting on a bucket in the shade chatting with the dude and petting the resident dogs, when he offered to drop the price a dollar a bale. It is honestly still too high, but then what isn't these days! But I will get some probably the end of the week.

young watermelon plant
I share these weed garden pix because (a) that IS what my garden actually looks like and (b) to assure everyone that your garden need not look like something out of a magazine to provide you with lots of good food.

Yes, being able to find the vegetables helps, and reducing weed pressure allows the vegetables to claim more sunlight, water and soil nutrients. At the same time, the soil likes to be covered and weeds can help the bugs you don't want by giving them something else to eat and giving cover to the bugs you do want, so they can find and eat the others. However, if your garden weeds get away from you over time, do not just walk away from the garden and consider yourself a failure. One of my first gardens here did just that. I thought it had produced little, but when the frosts came and much of the weed cover died, I was surprised to find -- previously hidden in the solid green weeds, but then showing strongly against the dead grasses and other cover -- a full row of wonderful carrots and another of beets that had been totally hidden a week before.



Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Welcome, Summer!


Wishing y'all a wonderful summer (or winter, as appropriate) solstice. Some day, I want to celebrate this seasonal marker with a group reading of Midsummer Night's Dream though the day is hardly "mid-summer" at least now, and to be honest I am not sure if the day referenced would be last night ("midsummer" eve) or tonight. 
 
I had to go hunting for an illustration on the Internet to represent this day, here in the Northlands, as most of the summer solstice photos and drawings so tagged are much more representative of our *next* earth holiday, the cross quarter between solstice and autumn equinox often called Lughnasadh, which I call "first harvest" since i do not walk a Celtic path. In case you are wondering, the common pagan name for today is Litha. Don't ask me why.
 
Anyway, whatever you call it, while today marks the longest day of the year, it would be hard to argue that it is anywhere near the middle of summer, especially this year. Parts of the state had a frost warning last night and here at the farm, we recorded low temperatures in the mid-40s over the recent nights. The weather, and hence the agricultural seasons, lag behind the astronomical events. Most of the summer solstice images show lots of flowers and abundance, or folks dancing by the ritual fire and while that may be reality for some, as a farmer-witch this day is much more about hope and potential. 
 
Melon seedling in weedy bed

The plants and seeds have been tucked into the ground and many are showing the beginning of their journey towards abundance. A few, but only a few, are providing for our sustenance: the lettuces and spinach are early season stalwarts and strawberry season is beginning in earnest.

Since I celebrate the quarter and cross-quarter points and tides rather than times, we had our "big meal" on Sunday, with the roasting of a wonderful locally grown chicken. Tonight, some of the remaining meat from that bird will return to the table (I am not yet sure in what form) along with fresh-picked lettuce and spinach and a wonderful desert of strawberries on home made pound cake. My ritual of the day, for the season, will be picking strawberries down the road at a nearby farm and putting them up -- most of them at least -- in the freezer, to spread the early summer blessings through the year. 
 
May you also help manifest the potential of the earth's abundance from this day forward. Blessed be.

 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Summer, Where Art Thou?

 The summer solsticetide is upon us, though here in the Northlands it feels more like autumn in some ways. The days are long and won't even begin to creep, imperceptibly, shorter for a few days. Even this sky-watching farmer won't actually notice shorter days for close to a month. But this year, instead of hurrying to get animal chores done and hit the garden, to weed and pick, before the sun gets too high in the sky and the temperature rises into potential heat exhaustion territory (and yes, even in Maine, it happens. I am, apparently prone to it as I have had significant bouts in the last three places I have lived: Texas, North Carolina and, yes, Maine.) and/or choosing to slather on the bug dope and fight the flying biters for the last usable rays before the sun sinks behind the western tree line, throwing shade on veg and weeds alike... the usual routine which begins before solstice and continues well into the autumn because September IS summer too.... instead of all that, we are having a significant cold snap.

Yesterday the weather turned wet, again (not that we farmers are complaining about that) but the temperature dropped into the low 40s F overnight and looks to stay below 50 degrees F overnight and to revisit those numbers for the next two nights as well. I have not yet been out to give the summer vine crops and the tomatoes and peppers another pep talk, but I shall. There are way too many of them and they are well spread out, so that is the best I can do for them. Were there only a handful -- like in the typical backyard garden -- I would have covered them on general principles. But I do not have that much stuff with which to cover nor the energy to attempt it. I will give them a nice "vitamin rich" side dressing in a day or so and try to convince them that days more to their liking are coming. And I will hope for all I am worth that they are... and that the plants believe me.

So this year our Solstice will be marked with a lot of hope for a good -- or at least a decent -- season. There will be prayers of thanks, for sure. We are still eating potatoes and onions grown last year and stored whole and unprocessed. Last year was the best potato year I have ever seen... so much so that I am struggling to remain thankful for them, in fact. I am pretty sure that will not be an issue this harvest time; the sprouting was the worst I have ever seen. Yeah... balance. I get that. But does it have to be so dramatic?

Our Solstice supper centers on a roast chicken -- one grown by a farmer friend that I bought at farmers market yesterday -- since our meat birds, though right on schedule for growth, are not yet ready to process. Soon, though. I will probably begin with the largest ones around Independence Day. The solstice supper bird is stuffed and trussed up and in the oven as I write. It will come to the table with some of those potatoes, of course, and the stuffing contains some of the onion and our sage as well. We have awesome lettuces that I planted last fall, which maintained themselves through the winter, all on their own, and surprised me this spring with early life. Some will find their way into the salad along with spinach leaves that have grown back after the deer raided the row. A good supper, with thanks and hope. There will be many hours spent tending the veg and fruits, watering when needed and weeding, always, and doing our best to stay flexible enough to be thankful for what our collective efforts yield. May you have the same blessings. Happy Solstice and So Be It.