Friday, September 18, 2015

Hope for a Good Season

This week I have been thinking a lot about gratitude and thinking of the sign, above, that I found last year and still hangs on my wall.

Harvests are iffy things. Some years they are good, other years less so, but like the fishermen and boat builders of the Core Banks (about whom the book by the same title as my post was written) what keeps the farmer, the gardener, the hunter, as well as the fisherman going is hope.  And, in many ways, being able to live within your harvest, however that may turn out.

It can be easy to be grateful for abundant harvests. I can also be a challenge, when the last thing you want to look at is ANOTHER sack of potatoes or onions, another bushel of tomatoes to can or another few pounds of an herb that you usually deal with in ounces.

I try to always be grateful, even with extreme abundance, and not to fuss while finding shelf space or freezer room or still more jars. This year's overabundance may very well pad the larder in a year to come. This is the case here at the sign of the Fussing Duck this year; our tomato crop has gone down the tubes. Between a late, cold start and uneven temperatures and rain, the blight and the marauding fowl I have harvested barely a half a bushel of fruit. We are out of canned whole tomatoes, BUT thanks to an overabundance last year, we still have many jars of tomato sauce on the shelves. Cucumbers also are a bust, but with a bit of care we will still have pickles and relish sufficient to get us through.

Likewise it can be very hard to be thankful for meager crops, but we must remember that each plant is trying its best, regardless. If a tomato or a bean or pea plant produces a single fruit, bean or pod of peas, it has more than replaced the seed I planted to grow it. And, even in the worst of years, those plants that survive most likely produce many more than just a single offering.

My 75' row of "Vermont cranberry beans" which started out as a handful of seed from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) seed and scion exchange in 2014 grew enough seed for the long row last year. This year I have a canvas shopping bag full of dry pods, hopefully some to eat and sufficient seed to plant two rows next year. They, too, got a late slow start but they gave their all and I am grateful.

In addition to putting up tomatoes (6 quarts) and having three trays marjoram and two of basil in my newly acquired electric food dehydrator, I have a large baking sheet of basil being frozen. It will join the remaining "overabundance" of parsley from last year in the "fresh frozen herb" larder. I also have dill weed frozen and many more stalks currently air drying.

In the hex world, abundance is again flowing. There is an order for three signs from a single customer on the books, an order for a single small one and -- best news -- the 4' sign destined to adorn the draft horse barn at the Common Grounds Fair is well underway. I am excited to be able to support the Penobscot County Chapter of MOFGA and the fair with my talents! It will be hard work to continue getting the harvest in (there are still potatoes, carrots and cabbage out there, plus lettuce and chard) while getting ready to spend two days painting as a demo at the Fair. If things go as well there as they did at the 55th Anniversary Community Appreciation Day event put on by Pomeroy's Garage August 1, I will have all my orders completed and ready to go by the end of the demo.

Meanwhile, I will be off to a natural dye workshop tomorrow at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Waning Moon

This HAS been a week. With the dark moon approaching very early next week, the end of the moon "dejunking" and cleaning rituals have taken center stage. I went through a plastic tote of books that I had not had shelf space to hold for some time and ended up putting the majority of them up for friends to choose from. I posted pictures of the books, grouped by subject or author, on my Facebook page and shared with some local Pagan groups (they were mostly pagan oriented materials) and before the week ended, I had posted them all off for the promise of reimbursement for postage. Loved the process! Much better than dealing with trying to sell them on Ebay.

I pulled a few from my shelves as well, and cleared out a bunch of old school art projects and moved the remaining books to shelves. That, along with hauling the odd ends that had collected over the month to Goodwill, and finally taking the trash, recycles and redeemable containers out has completed this moon cycle's abundance ritual.

And abundance has been flowing in, as well. Early in the week I scored a free electric food dehydrator and later in the week got an order for 3 hex signs from a single customer. In the hex realm, as well, I accompanied my friend Galen, president of our local chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to the meeting of the committee which oversees the organization's annual shindig, the Common Ground Fair, in an attempt to finalize a proposal that we had offered earlier in the year, to paint "folk art barn sign" style signage for the currently un-signed livestock barns. The last I heard was in February, when the proposal was to be taken before committee. With the fair starting on Sept. 25, I needed to know one way or the other, and after the meeting ended we were able to find out that they did want a sign (this year for the Draft Horse barn) and would indeed allow me to sit and paint "within sight" of the new sign, as I had requested. I will not be selling signs, of course, since each is painted to order, but I am able to hand out business cards, which I shall do.

During the week we also discovered that the "bay window" area of the bathroom actually has openable windows, but only on the outside! The inside window is a single pane of decorated glass. The outside unit is opaque plastic, designed to open but (until recently) lacking screens. We discovered this while cleaning up behind the bathtub. We have at least one cat who does NOT like the new boxes and/or their location. Disgusting. But nevertheless I am glad that the cleaning brought the window issue to our attention. It was quick work to remove (for now) the inside panels. And did not take much longer for Tractor Guy to make screens. It is nice to have the extra air flow, especially as the windows face generally west, towards the prevailing winds. Especially with the 90 degree temperatures that we had to deal with this week, and the lack of overnight cooling. Thankfully, we are back to much more normal Maine weather now.

The cats are another issue... we plan to segregate one at the time to try to find the culprit and meanwhile, scooping boxes each day seems to help.

Midweek I had an appointment with my health care provider (a PA-C) and we talked among other things, about the rapid pulse and non-associated vertigo that had been popping up randomly during the last month. She tried everything to get them to fit into a diagnosis box and failing that, said she would consult with the MD. The upshot of that all is that they fixated on the ONE incident that seemed to have been postural in nature (I bent over to check on something on the chicken pen we were working on and became instantly VERY dizzy) and have recommend physical therapy. Hey, at least it is non-invasive!

I have been hard at work, mostly early mornings and evenings before supper, taking the weed eater to the "green manure" between the garden rows. Some might actually say I am whacking actual weeds, but "green manure" it is, that is my story and I am sticking to it!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rituals of Autumn

I know it's not Autumn yet. It is barely September, but September is a liminal month and even while I am working hard on the late summer tasks of the Putting By Moon, I am thinking ahead. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons.

As a farming/homesteading witch, from early August through the end of October I focus is on harvest and preparing for the season of dark and cold. Starting with "First Harvest" in early August, through Equinox I am mainly working with the garden, "putting by" with thanks to the Gods and the Elements for all the abundance. Even in years like this one, where some crops are REALLY sparse (I had one cucumber plant survive the late, cold spring for example) it is important to me to be as thankful for that one-at-a-time cucumber as for the plethora of beans and peas. All the plants are giving their all and deserve thanks!
One annual fall project -- weed whacking and mulching!

Then, as September wanes, my focus shifts to having the homestead "buttoned up" against the cold and snow. Even though we don't get more than flurries before December, usually, I like to have it done and everything protected by the time the Hunt traditionally begins at the end of October. That also includes putting the active garden to bed and having the fallowed one ready for spring planting.

I feel an urgency this year to get to, and through, the rituals of Autumn. No, I don't mean gathering under the moons -- dark or full -- with a group of fellow travelers. Nor will I be likely to attend a gathering for Equinox. My rituals are more of the "chop wood, carry water" type and though we do not yet heat with wood, the growing piles and stacks of fuel that I see in yards and sheds and barns as I do my errands makes me think that my neighbors may be feeling a similar urgency this year. Or, maybe they are just reacting to the past long, cold winter and the scarcity (and related price increases) of the supplemental supplied they needed to fend of the cold until Spring finally managed to break through.

I've already started picking up odd ends that gather around the farm... broken pieces of plastic fence post, shredding tarps and the like... for the next couple of dump runs. These odds and ends do not need to sink even more securely into the earth over the winter.

I have been taking mental note of the missing kerosene lamp chimneys and each Saturday brings me closer to beginning the weekly Autumn and Winter ritual of chimney washing and lamp filling. Yes, we have electricity, but the warm glow of these lamps is comforting to me and in the dark of winter, when I arise before the house is sufficiently lit by the sun, it is their light I prefer to use to greet the day.

Likewise, I have been making a note of the location of all the flashlights, many of which have ceased to function over the summer. The stash gets fewer each year, because I cannot stand the cold bluish glow of the LED bulbs (and as bright as they may be, I don't seem to be able to see well by them) and the old fashioned kind are becoming hard, if not impossible to find. Soon I will gather all the units up and give them to Tractor Guy for a working-over. As many as can be made to work will be what I use. When one does not light fowl coops and eschews a yard light, it's important to keep flashlights at hand in various places.

Unexpected apples tree
Unexpected apples!
I am also thinking about food storage. "Fresh" storage of onions, potatoes and carrots, mostly. Apples we don't have in that quantity yet, so I pick up local ones from the store through the winter. I DID get a surprise, though, this week of the apple variety. While none of the trees I have planted are old enough to make fruit yet, there is a tree that came with the house. We were not told what it was, but it has leaves that look like apple and an apple growth habit. It has, until now, not fruited however. And somehow it must have sneaked the blossoms past us this spring, for neither of us noticed anything... until yesterday, when Tractor Guy was working the back field and noticed an apple on the ground. Coming back around, he spotted one, then more in the tree. I have no idea what variety or if they are ripe. I will check them with a spray of iodine solution once I acquire some.

Basil, waiting to be dried.
 In the garden, the tomatoes are beginning to ripen -- a good sign here that the Summer season is coming to an end. They are a late season/early fall veggie for me here in Maine. I am digging the potatoes (another fall ritual, which is early this year) and harvesting herbs like crazy! Basil, dill, marjoram, chives and sage are producing in abundance and the parsley is giving a decent report as well.

We are also getting ready to put an insulated box around the water inlet, pressure tank and such under the house and run plastic around the skirting -- inside, this year -- to hopefully keep the water flowing, another Autumn ritual in Maine. Thawing the pipes is a Winter ritual that we would rather avoid.