Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lammas Tide Comes

Once again, the wheel of the year has rolled around and the First Harvest celebration is upon us. Many folks call it Lammas and celebrate August 1. I call it First Harvest and consider it a "tide" as opposed to a single day, though I will make a celebratory meal at some point this week.

Here in Maine, it's not so much about grain harvest, for me, though this is traditional. I have seen farm stands offering the first of the local corn; though ours is not ready yet, I may include a few ears in our meal, as much because of my love of fresh corn on the cob as for any other reason! Mostly, though, I will celebrate with the fruits (or more literally, vegetables and meats) of my hands, giving thanks to the Gods and the Elements for the bounty.

These harvest celebrations -- this one, the first and Autumnal Equinox (which I think of as "high harvest") and Halloween/"Winter Finding" at the end of October/first of November which marks the end of the harvest season and the season by which one needs to have the outside work done, gardens put to bed, wood put by and the homestead buttoned up and ready for the dark winters nights -- are not only times for giving thanks, but also for reflection and planning.

I see that this year, our first batch of meat chickens have been long processed and a second crop is well on its way. Last year, with only one batch, I harvested the first of the flock for this harvest meal. Last year we did not get the electric deer repellent fence up early enough and there were other issues that compromised our harvest of peas and beans. This year, though the spring was late and wet and peas and beans were planted within the same week, we got the fence up early and not only are still picking our bountiful harvest of peas, but have begun harvesting the beans.

This year, too, my harvest season is a time to celebrate being able to "harvest" all of my energy and time to the most productive tasks in their own times thanks to having been able to retire.

Though the summer has not been a hot one (for which I, at least, give thanks) and may not offer up as large a harvest of tomatoes and peppers as last year,  and though the tractor's tiller most likely has given up the ghost, all in all this First Harvest offers much for which to give thanks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Days In -- Reflections

It was strange -- and wonderful -- to awaken early Sunday, but not by the alarm, and instead of heading off to do mindless commerce I headed out to the critters and the garden and picked like a madwoman... peas and dye flowers and lettuces for the pot luck later in the day and parsley... because it needed it. Over 6 POUNDS later, it filled the bathtub, where I stashed it to wash and hold until I could process it for drying and freezing.

By the time I had all this food hauled into the house, there were still HOURS until time to head off for the local MOFGA chapter potluck, so we got to start on one of our annual animal chores -- clipping and shaving the apparently unavoidable mats from our long haired rescue kitty, CC. This is almost always a several day project, both for our sanity and the kitty's.

Collaborative pea shelling
By the time we headed to potluck, our salad and a bucket of peas to shell while we chatted, the day began to feel a lot more normal.

It took a decidedly different turn, upon arriving at the farmstead of our friends and hosts. They had several sows farrow and they are not necessarily playing nice with the babies, so several had been moved into the house, with the intention that they would be bottle fed... but they were not really keen on the idea. We got the chance to hold and attempt to teach the little guys the joys of milk replacer from a bottle, with limited success. The baby pigs were great fun, regardless.

The predicted rain arrived while we were playing with the babies and with it, cooler temperatures. I know this is summer, but I truly appreciate the ebb and flow of the thermometer here in the Northlands. The 80+ degree days are so much more tolerable when they are mitigated by cool evenings and passing cold fronts that one can actually feel!

The rain continued as predicted through Monday, though it held off for a brief bit during the morning which allowed me to do critter chores most efficiently.   Knowing that more rain was on the way, I fed the fowl somewhat lightly, as when their food gets damp it clogs the feeders; I also walked the length of the garden on my way back from the turkeys to discover.... BEANS!

Remember when I said how strange it was to be planting peas and beans in the same week?  Well, now I will be processing peas and beans at the same time, which I expected. LOL I am most thankful for the abundant harvests -- not having to share with the deer has given us bumper crops -- and even more thankful to be able to "go with the flow" without town interruptions.

This is what 6 lbs of
parsley looks like, drying.
Parsley with ruler
One of the major tasks for this rainy Monday was getting the parsley out of the tub. I had run the water out after we got back from potluck and thrown a sheet of plastic over it, just to keep it moist overnight, but knew that after we finished shearing the matted fur from our long haired cat and dog, that the tub and shower would be needed! Some will likely try to tell me that, with the size of these stalks and leaves, I did not plant parsley but instead Par-cel (a type of cutting celery that develops more like parsley than the more typical very thick "rib" stems of the kind commonly seen in the store, but I can assure you, this is just plain parsley, planted where the chicken run was located several years back! In addition to hanging 17 bunches, I chopped and froze the bits that did not have long stems -- a heaping cookie sheet full that will be ready to bag up today.

I realized yesterday, while washing up from supper, that if I had still been working I would have been MUCH more stressed by a wet Monday (no wash day) and that having thus been "behind" in the work flow, with the beans calling to be picked Tuesday morning -- after the end of the rain, with laundry also waiting to be washed and hung -- I would have been additionally frustrated by having to head off to town to tend to the dubiously important task of "new release day" for music CDs and movies on disk.

Instead I washed my dishes, painted on a hex and fell into a sound sleep.

Completing this blog entry Tuesday morning, I am feeling calm and centered. The sun is up, shining through the departing clouds. The first load of wash is in the machine, K is busy cleaning the plastic totes that hold, for now, our second round of meat birds and second hatching from our hens eggs, and

Friday, July 25, 2014

A New Chapter Begins

Not just turning the page this weekend, but starting to write a whole new chapter in the book of my life, as it were.

Today was my last day on the job in town. Normally I don't work with music -- at least not extra music... there is always some sort of sound going in the store, even before it opens... if not displays telling their stories or muzak, it's other employees playlists on portable devices. Today, I loaded MY playlist for the day on my 'Droid and started the workday with Hoyt Axton's "Boney Fingers".

As my hours came to a close and I was finishing up and getting things set up for my colleague and friend who will take my place until the end of the contract (a couple of months at most) I switched to Kenny Rogers "The Gambler." You'd think I was a country music fan, wouldn't you?  LOL  I'm not, really, except that I find it pretty good road trip music and now and then one of the songs... like these two... hit me. Especially The Gambler....

And, as I roused a manager to unlock the door and let me out, as I was done -- as planned -- before the store opened... Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It!"

I worked without my required uniform of black slacks and white blouse... all of those were in a box in the truck, destined for the charity drop off... and instead I wore my Farm Aid shirt and what turned out to be a freshly washed but definitely FARM pair of blue jeans.

Dropped the former work clothes at the charity drop off, but after delivering veggies to a friend, who had noticed my mention of donating the clothes and asked if by any chance any of the pants would be long enough to fit her, and indeed the newest pair was!

Ran errands, and realized that it is going to take me a while to get used to this not only not having, but not needing to LOOK FOR a job thing. I guess it's kin to my continuing to do double takes at for sale signs on rural properly for months after we bought our farm. I found myself doing the same thing every time I passed a "now hiring" sign on my errand route. Either I have not been noticing them or they sprouted up over night, for the seemed as prevalent as if I had suddenly been transported into the pre-holiday staffing frenzy of early November. They were EVERYWHERE! 

Tonight I shall do ritual with Frigga and thank the Gods for the good run, the good timing and the good times and prosperity ahead. And tomorrow with the turn of the moon, I shall step forward into the new chapter.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hexen, Hummers, Peas Oh My!

24" Inspiration sign
I recently shipped two more hex signs and the customer for the Inspiration sign gladly shared a photo of it. While most are mounted at the peak of a building, that is not the ONLY place they can be hung, as this sign shows. It's mounted on the folks privacy fence!

On the garden side of things, Mother Nature definitely is doing her thing with the peas this year. They got planted late, but the main crop is coming on like gangbusters. This is my pickings of the morning today, and I see there is (likely a) final picking on the earlier row out there as well. The main crop row has at least as many pods still coming on, and many of the plants are still also in blossom. Thanks to the Sun and the Earth, the Wind and Water too for this abundant harvest. And thanks to the Electrons coursing through the fence keeping the deer at bay! I have already frozen over 5 lbs from previous smaller pickings. Looks like we might not have to buy peas in the store this year!

The Hummer's Tail

The Hummer's Tale

 We did have a bit of unexpected excitement the other day. We leave our front door open for circulation, and have not yet figured out how to do the screen door (it's a sliding door, second hand, and the track for the screen is missing. And we have a humming bird feeder hanging from a tiny shepherd's crook attached to a porch post. Several have hovered near the door looking in over the past few weeks, but as I was getting up from the computer,I heard a buzzing sound near the ceiling. I immediately looked up, thinking bumble bee but instead there was a hummer, trying to figure out why it couldn't get through the little window at the peak of the wall. It took us over an hour to get it out and quite a circus it was!

It flew back and forth, right at ceiling height, and the sloped ceiling did not make it easy to put anything up to help direct it towards the door. And, of course, it soon figured out that the ceiling fan was "good cover" from whatever evil predator was down there trying to catch it So around and around it went, taking brief rests perched on the fan and then taking off just as we moved in with a net.

Eventually, though, my patient Dr. Dolittle, AKA Tractor Guy, was able to get it to sit on the rim of the fishing net we use for catching wayward fowl when needed. The mesh on this net was sufficiently large that the little bird just flew THOUGH it when we tried to catch it that way! On the second try with the little bird on the edge of the net, he was able to walk it slowly out of the computer room (I quickly shut the door behind us) and to the open front door.

The silly bird did not make a break for it, but rather flew off to explore the living room and kitchen for a while. Since the door was RIGHT THERE, and OPEN, Tractor Guy hung the tiny feeder above the open door and just outside. Eventually the little hummer spotted it, flew out to drink and then flew off. Whew!  Mission accomplished without damage to the bird, apparently not even to its psyche, as there were two of the small creatures visiting the feeder later in the day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Year of Transition Coming to a Dramatic Conclusion

With little more than one week left in the slightly shortened Year of Transition, things may be moving to a much more dramatic conclusion than I had expected.

On the town job front,  I am once again amazed to discover that my intuition was spot on in the timing of my retirement... both the original timing and the current, shortened span that has me working my last day a week from Friday. The company announced in a conference call (that I was unable to take, on account of not being scheduled during the time of the call, and instead being on the road on errands... my boss summarized in an email to me after the fact) that our duties at Best Buy will be transitioning back to the Best Buy staff during the coming two months, while Anderson services to WalMart are on an increase. They apparently expect to hire more folks for that side of the business and transition existing staff currently assigned to BB to the Walmart team.

Thank you, but no thank you. I have DONE merchandising tasks (for other companies, on an ad hoc basis over the past few years) at WalMart and have zero desire to be assigned there. The only company lower on my list is Target.

So, once again, my kick ass survival instinct has kicked in and motivated me to jump ship before the waves swamp the boat and the decision was made much earlier and totally based on intuition. I did a similar thing many years ago, in TX, successfully leaving the apparently successful dot-com before it imploded and ended up housed back in the founders basement.

And on the hex sign front, I was contacted some time back by a "lifestyle specialist" media personality in MN who wanted to feature my art in the TV segment. Today it airs... Streaming live CST 9:15-ish... the program that will include my hex signs!

The station's web site already shows what apparently will be the gist of the program

I am hoping for an increase in orders, but hopefully not something overwhelming. I am also thinking on how I can parlay this publicity into articles in print publications, hopefully some of the magazines that focus on the north east and Maine.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Real Life Gardening 002

I said I would publish updates, and so I shall.

Despite a comment that I received on Facebook, I did not just "plant it and walk away" but have been weeding in the rows by hand and between the rows have been worked with the tractor where possible. A spring tooth harrow does NOT remove every weed but does keep them down to what I consider a reasonable level and when I am in the row, I hand pull the big ones. Why don't I hoe, as the FB poster suggested? I suspect he has NO concept of the size of my garden. Would YOU attempt to hoe 1/3 of an American football field? I didn't think so...

At the end of last week I had time and a bit of weather that was not wet nor intolerably hot (over 80 degrees especially with direct sunshine, and I have to pack it in until later in the day) and I began knocking down weeds around the lettuces in preparation for a workshop behind held here.

Weeds knock down prior
to cultivation.
Because the weeds were tall and my tiller is tiny, I attacked between the rows with a string trimmer, until it bound up and then with my scythe. Scythe actually worked much better but unfortunately it can only be worked right handed; the string trimmer, while heavier and more awkward, I can use with either hand holding and the other one operating it which somewhat helps endurance.

Fowl enjoying the weeds.
The fowl enjoyed the green matter, which I pulled out of the garden so it wouldn't get tangled in the tiller.  There was a complete cart load of my medium size garden cart for them to work on.

Banty rooster tiller, left, and the work it has done, foreground.
Untilled rows at the top of pic.
The next morning I started working with the "banty rooster" tiller. As you can see, a pass up and back made short work of the weed stubs and grass... for now. These rows are too close together for the tractor to work them but wide enough apart to be two tiller-widths. The ground where the first crop lettuces are planted and where the onion are -- to the right -- was not worked up mechanically at all prior to planting, nor had it been until just this week. When I started planting, the rotary tiller for the tractor had been declared non-operational but not yet beyond hope, which is about where it is now. Anyway, I started planting what I could because it was necessary and since then we decided to use the harrow exclusively this year.

As you can see in this photo, taken by Yolanda at the workshop, the weeds that you can see as specks of green in the previous picture have pretty much bit the dust. The only drawback to having done this was that participants in the "More than the Tip of the Iceberg" workshop had to knock the dust off the leaves prior to our wandering taste session in the garden. Fortunately, most were gardeners and all were understanding that "a little bit of dirt won't hurt."

The workshop was sponsored by our newly formed chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association was formed in 1971 and is the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country.

On other notes, it appears that we have a broody hen. We have had a roo on the loose for some months. Having two, who don't get along, they take turns being with the girls and having the run of the farm. Newton, the current bachelor roo, apparently has a hen who is sweet on him, so much so that she kept figuring out ways to "flee the coop" so to speak, regardless of my
Where she appeared to go to ground.
having clipped her wings and block up every hole I could spot. Since they stay out of the garden, I figured we might as well let her keep Newton company, which she did for some weeks.

Then, one day, there was Newton at morning chores but no sign of the hen we had taken to calling "the hussy." We figured she had been outwitted by a fox as we have seen them around. But apparently that was not the case, for she appeared for breakfast with her beau the next day. We continued to see her sporadically, and I began to think she had gone broody and was setting. I determined yesterday to watch her on the next morning that I did chores if it wasn't raining... and today was the day. She was cagey and it seemed to take forever but finally I saw her appear to go to ground. I let her be for a bit, then checked next time I was out and found her in one of the old nests someone (perhaps this very hen) had used when they were all at large. 

I won't disturb her again, but next time we see her off the nest and eating away from this area, I shall go check and count eggs.

On a totally different line of work, I had to make a trip to our little rural post office today to ship off this hex sign. This 24" diameter sign is for Inspiration and is on it way to Tennessee. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Real Life Gardening 001

I often don't take photos of my garden through the year, because, honestly, though it manages to provide us with lots of food, it looks like crap.

My main garden, for those of you readers who haven't been following, is approximately 100 foot square. Probably larger, though I haven't gotten a tape measure out there. Who has time for that.
I plant with VERY widely spaced rows, counter to my usual habit and preference, so that my other half will be able to help. Tractor Guy is officially disabled and cannot stand or walk for very long periods and so his help is from the seat of our current tractor... a Massey Ferguson we call Fergie. The tiller attachment we had for Fergie is in need of serious rebuilding, so our only cultivation tool at present is a spring tooth harrow.

This year I tried planting some of the rows closer together, with the idea that he could straddle them with Fergie and cultivate on each side. That sort of worked.

 I am going to write a series of articles with many, many pictures of the garden this year, regardless of how "pretty" -- or not so pretty -- it looks. Why? Because I got to thinking that all the pictures I see on the Internet of gardens, in the forums and groups that I frequent at least, show these beautiful, weed-free plots and I fear that folks who have not gardened may be scared off by the perfectness of it all and never even begin... or give up when their garden dissolves into weeds and never even try to look for a harvest.

My First Rule of Gardening is this: Plants WANT to grow. All plants. Yeah, the weeds are often the more successful competitors in the survival of the fittest, but that doesn't mean that the food plants give up. Quite to the contrary, they struggle on, in and under the weeds, trying their darnedest to do what all plants are driven to do... stay alive and make seed... and in the process make food for us. This was driven home to me very dramatically the first year here in Maine when I literally lost my row of carrots under the weeds all season long. When the frosts killed back the weeds, they revealed stunted but bright green fern like foliage that, when dug, provided us with a much larger harvest of carrots than I could have imagined existed under there even a couple of weeks earlier.

So here goes... My garden, early July 2014.

Starting at the west side of the garden and working west, here are the first two rows, the second planting of lettuce seedlings. The runner grass is coming along quickly after the rains, but hopefully a pass or two with the Banty Rooster tiller will fairly quickly define the rows and Tractor Guy will be able to work between them with Fergie.

 This is the onion and leek row. IN the row is fairly weed free, thanks to having planted them in my paper feed sack mulch. You can see that the general weed growth between the rows is nearly as tall as the onions, and will need to be knocked down somehow before I can even think about getting the Banty Rooster in there. It does not handle big weeds well.

 The first planting of lettuce is beginning to bolt, but many of them (as shown in the top photo) are happily still producing leaves for us and for market despite the weeds. Remember, plants WANT to grow! I have a "meet the lettuce" event happening here tomorrow and after that I will begin pulling some of the bolting plants for the poultry. I plan to let some of them go to seed and collect it, but probably from the LAST and not the first of the crop to bolt.

Bottom pic shows the abundant growth on the parsley that starts one of the two rows of first planting lettuce.

I have seedlings well along, ready to be put into the garden for the third planting as soon as I can figure out where they go.

 We have two full rows of peas this year, mostly English (or shelling) peas. The left picture shows a few feet of a snow pea (the tall ones) that is beginning to set pods; the remainder of that row, and the one in the bottom pic, are the shelling peas.

In the right hand pic, the variety that starts the row, up to where the sit-and-pick scooter is positioned, is producing food! The rest are well podded out and coming along nicely. I shall put the soaker hose on them today.

Most of the peas are climbing on the orange plastic snow fence, cut in half lengthwise. I ran out, though, and had some left over bird netting that was impossible to flatten and straighten out and used that for about 20 feet, but I will not do that again. Some of the plants have grown up into folds in the mesh, which is too small for them to grow through. they still keep trying to grow, though, and wad up into a useless mass of leaves.

Left pic shows a small section of the onion row that was planted to assorted brassica. the seeds got mixed but I planted them anyway and transplanted the seedlings into some of the feed sack mulch. There are cabbages, it appears, some broccoli and kohlrabi.

The right hand pic shows another section of a row (the head of one of the lettuce rows, actually) with some broccoli, also planted with the feed sack mulch.

 If you look VERY closely in the top pic you should be able to see the baby carrots fern-like leaves amongst the weeds. This is the row that I am currently first weeding, by hand, with a three tine cultivator and my mark one hands. this is what all the carrot rows looked like initially.

The bottom pic shows another carrot row in which I have completed the first weeding. You will note that it is not weed free, and likely will not ever be. My weeding goal is to remove most/enough of them to give the food plants a leg up in the fight for survival.

 Celery. Just a few feet of row which was rough weeded early on and needs to have the Banty Rooster run along side again and needs more manure and water. Soon. I promise.

 Can you tell what is in this row? Well, neither can I. LOL I could look back on my notes but most likely will begin weeding and see what I find. Most likely should be beets/chard in there somewhere.

Left hand photo shows my double row of potatoes. I am leaving the weeds to help confuse the potato bugs (yeah, that's my story and I am sticking to it!). It actually does need weeding and then hilling. IF I can find a source of cheap mulch hay, I shall mulch it. Know of anyone with spent or moldy hay in the Bangor area?

Right hand image shows the single row of potatoes. Tractor Guy has worked one side of the row, but the next row was planted too close for him to get in without damaging plants so I will need to weed that side.

 The single row of potatoes also includes a few sweet potato plants (lower photo) and a few feet of climbing beans (top photo.)

The sweet potatoes were nearly taken out by the tractor because I neglected to tell Tractor Guy that I had moved the glass cloches I had placed over them early on, but which were still sitting in the garden. He focused on the glass domes when cultivating and they were sitting next to, but not over, the growing plants. Oops.

Pole beans have some scrounged trellis material that I should get positioned for them soon!

 Poor bush beans! I am going to get some water on them today, I hope, and see how many survive. This was another case of "I planted too close together for Tractor Guy" and we need to work out a better and more accurate way of laying out rows.  I will be planting a second crop and crossing my fingers for a second harvest.

 Corn! Finally something we can see over the weeds!

 Tomatoes, with their cardboard mulch and fence section that will be raised and angled soon for support. And yes, I need to hand weed along the edges of the mulch, but that usually goes quickly once I get there because the adjacent tractor work really does loosen the soil around the weeds.

 Row left ... a sauce tomatoes at the far end with peppers. the fence sections with the sauce tomatoes will be raised but kept flat; on the peppers, they are just there to hold down the cardboard. That row ends with a section of feed sack mulch and a second planting of brassica.