Monday, December 30, 2019

On Changing the Calendar

Here at hex central, we do not make a big deal about "change the calendar day" as I call it. Yes, we usually have poultry on the day before and pork of some form on the actual day. It can be useful to tap into energetic threads, even if you are not totally invested in them, to further your purpose. In this case, the purpose is to "scratch the recently passed time away to the past" and to "root (or push) forward" into the coming days.

As the days begin to lengthen, the impetus to begin starting seedlings will stir, I know, though that phenomenon won't be noticeable to me for a month or so. But since I choose to grow specific varieties of most of the vegetables and herbs in my garden, it will soon be time to begin placing orders. The first seeds -- onions -- will go into the potting soil around Imbolc (Groundhog Day to many of you) with others following in increasingly rapid succession. So, in many ways "the year" begins for me at the spring equinox, even though here in the northlands, it will not be time to turn the soil for another month or so.

Many who follow earth-based spiritual paths consider the year to begin with the slide into the dark season which is marked by Samhain (Halloween). In similar, vein some traditions around the world mark the beginning of a day with nightfall, though our common calendars and clocks count from the middle of the night and our workaday bodies usually mark it as beginning when we arise from our beds and stagger forth to the coffee pot to face our labors. Those who work at night, I will acknowledge, are often confused.

We need conventions or we would *all* be confused, but please feel free to step away from the hoopla of the next couple of days, if you choose. Flip your calendar, certainly. I am sure there are days coming that you will not want to miss! I know I am looking at a couple of nearly double-booked Saturdays which i would like to double and have one event each of the two days. But do feel free to go about your days as usual. Other than the designated meals, we will.

Resolving to make life changes can happen any day you choose, and probably with more effect if they are plotted out as goals, with benchmarks tied to other events and times in your life.

Reflection on the past, likewise, is best done within relevant and actual context.

And lifting a glass to toast accomplishments, to bid farewell, to hail the Gods is never out of season.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Garden planning for increased self-sufficiency

I often talk, or write on the Internet, about my life as a "homesteader." This is my preferred lifestyle and I have plied it at three times in my life, now, in three different states, and in the process have acquired quite a few skills. It is not surprising to me, then, when folks ask me questions about all sorts of things home- and homestead related.
It has been my intention to include more homestead-y stuff here in this blog, along with info on my ongoing "Pennsylvania Dutch" hex sign projects. So I was absolutely delighted to be asked recently, “We're working on making a homestead and making ourselves self sufficient---how do we gauge enough vegetables to plant to freeze, can or eat for just the two of us.” I responded that it was a lovely question, and an even better writing prompt. Here follows my response.

How does one gauge enough to plant?

The first, rather flip response that came to me was "You can't. It's a crap shoot." Not helpful, perhaps, but more true than most of us want to admit.

A more accurate version of this not-terribly-helpful answer would be that it's a moving target, controlled and modified by so many variables -- most of which are not under our control and some of which we are not even aware of -- that the best we can do is try to come close and balance it out over a couple of years. Changing variables involve gaining experience, changing tastes and habits as the result of your lifestyle change and one must always factor in Mother Nature.

Pinning down the human-side variables

There are dozens of "how much to plant" lists put out by extension offices, seed companies and random internet blogging experts. Google it, click on a few and read some. If you have ever gardened at all, I am pretty sure you will eventually read a line, like I just did researching for this essay, and burst out in laughter.
My garden, in June of 2014.
It is less than 1/4 that size now!
In my case, I read that for a family of 4, you only need 5 broccoli plants! Now, maybe if you were in the family of --- was it one of the Presidents Bush who let it slip that he did not like broccoli? -- that would work. But if you like it, even in just in season, that does not seem nearly enough. Even though there are just two of us, it is one of our standard offerings on the table. That might be a whole 10 meals for us, if they were a variety that sends out a fair number of shoots after you cut the main head. And that would put none in the freezer at all!

This brings us to two variables on the people side: what your family likes and when in the year you want to serve it, and on Ma Nature's side, we need to consider how various varieties of each species grow. But more on that later.

What does your family like, how much of it do they eat, when in the year and in what form?

It's winter when I am writing this, so I am going to suggest to my inquirer that she begin getting a real handle on what they eat by making notes -- in a diary or on the calendar or maybe in her new garden planning notebook (we all have one, right?) -- every time she serves something she could grow.

I am sure she will miss some... it's easy to overlook the onions you just cut up for that casserole or the tomatoes that went into that spaghetti sauce, for example, so here is the another example of variables! But even if you just record the dedicated vegetable dishes, you will begin getting the idea.

Some of my stores: canned, dehydrated
(for use in soups) and a stash of lids!
This will get you thinking more about what you eat, what you can grow, what you eat fresh (likely from the store in winter), canned and frozen. If your goal is self-sufficiency – or even something close to it – you will probably begin plotting menu changes. See, there is that moving target again!

Since you will have to order seed and begin planting before a year is up, take some time to think about how your menus change, if they do, over the course of the year. More moving targets, 'cause with all those fresh vegetables calling from your dooryard come summer, I cam almost guarantee they will!
Even before I began to eat more deliberately "in season," I craved salads and fresh, raw fruits and vegetables in the summer and hearty storage veg, like carrots, potatoes, and winter squash, along with more meat, this time of year. And there is nothing quite so appealing as the first meals with each vegetable as it comes ripe! I love fresh, lightly steamed green peas and so I know that if I did not plant more than just enough to offer "a mess" at a time for a meal, none would ever end up in the freezer!

How many pea plants does it take for me to pick a mess of peas for a supper for us two? That depends on when in the season I am picking and the variety or varieties I have planted. In many respects this is all going to be a matter of experience. Harvests are somewhat like those bell curves we may remember from school. First a few come ripe, then more and more until many have been picked and the harvest tapers off to the "why bother" department, at least in my garden. Before the peas are all done, the green beans are "coming on."

So to recap things to think about:

What do you actually eat?
What are your staples/favorites?
What do you eat fresh all year long?
How will your attempt to become self-sufficient change this?
What do you eat canned/frozen?
Do you expect to make veg based condiments and ingredients such as spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc.

Mother Nature weighs in

Now that I've got you thinking about the human side of the equation, we've got to deal with Mother Nature, in all her variable glory! Not everything grows in all climates and not all varieties of any particular veg will grow in a given climate, so lets get to know some of the important and relevant biology! (I promise no quiz at the end.)

If you are used to buying veg in the can or box... or some from the fresh isles... the idea that vegetables have "first names" may be surprising news! A green bean is not *just* a green bean. (...And let me digress here for a moment and explain that they are not called "green" just because of their color, but because they are, actually, unripe! The same is true of green peppers. To further confuse you, I will note that some of my favorite varieties of "green beans" are actually purple when picked and do not turn green until cooked!) The bean plants really want to produce "dried beans." Pinto, navy, kidney beans, and all their kin, could be picked when the pods were young and green, and steamed or boiled to eat. Plant breeding over the years has brought us special varieties that hold longer on the vine or plant, have a better taste and usually lack the “string," a hard, fibrous strand running the length of one side of the pod that is common in the bean varieties that are grown to maturity. You will see the fledgling bean seeds if you open a green bean, and any pods you fail to pick in their eating prime will begin to show bumps where the bean seeds are developing. The pod will become tough and hard to eat, even on the most desirable green bean varieties. Green beans in the veg department of your grocer, even though they don't tell us so, will be one or more of the varieties dedicated to fresh eating and might be "Provider" green beans or "Annihilator" or "Cosmos, all varieties offered by one of my favorite local seed suppliers, Johnny's SelectedSeeds. In scientific terminology that would make them Phaseolus vulgaris (the latin for beans' genus and species) var. Provider or var. Annihilator or... 

The same holds true of all your friends in the produce isle. They all come in many varieties, and you will end up doing a lot of reading, thinking, plotting – and still order way too many seeds! Don't fret; most will keep at least until the next year.

As you browse your catalogs, pay attention to the growth habits of the seeds you are considering. Some peas and beans grow as vines and require support. Others are bushier. It's best not to be surprised. The size of your garden as well as how you work will determine some of your choices.

This is just on example of the varieties of growth habit. Some broccoli makes just one, large head; others make a smaller initial head and finish the season with smaller spouts that emerge from the leaf axils (where the upper leaves meet the stem of the plant). There are varieties of all plants with widely varying times to harvest and not all vegetables take the same length of time to be ready to eat. 

This means that to work most effectively with nature, you need to become very familiar with plants and varieties thereof, but also with how the growing season works in your location. Here in Maine we have two online tools that will show you the average last spring frost and the average first autumn frost in your location. Note that not only are these averages and micro-climates abound here in Maine. There are some veg that can stand a light to moderate frost at the beginning and/or end of their growth cycle.

Just like we humans don't all like the same climate, neither do plants! I still see many gardeners planting their whole garden Memorial Day Weekend (which is actually the safe time to begin seeding and transplanting warm season crops in my location) and then fussing because their spinach and lettuce bolts to seed straight away. If the seed packet says to plant "as early as the ground can be worked" they mean it! As long as the seeds won't be sitting in soil wet enough to rot them (grab a handful of newly cultivated earth. It should stick together in a ball in your hand, but break apart easily when poked) it is time to begin planting spinach, lettuce, peas and other veg that like cool temperatures.
Once the soil has warmed up (and if you are a garden/science nerd like me, you will acquire a soil thermometer and check its temp regularly!) is the time for beans, corn, squash, melons and tomatoes.

Seed packets often tell you how many feet of row they will plant, or how many seeds they contain, if the plants are typically started indoors for transplants. But that gives you no clue as to how much actual food that will produce. There is a big difference between 25 feet of potatoes, tomatoes and peas! Fortunately we now have a resource to help us calibrate how many feet of row we may need, once we have a handle on how much our family will need. This resource, again from the helpful folks at Johnny's, will give you average yeilds from 100' of direct seededrow, and a little math will help you scale it up or down as needed. For the tomatoes, peppers and other crops that are usually transplanted out to the garden, check this

Of course Ma Nature always has the last word, so these are once again only guidelines. Specific weather conditions which vary from year to year will have a massive effect on anything you do. As an example, I have had several years of "really bad luck" with spinach, only harvesting enough for eating fresh in salads in season... until 2019, when again I was able to put some in the freezer -- and out of a shorter row, too! So plan to be flexible if you want to minimize what you have to buy from the store and put by extra in years of abundance. While last year's frozen or canned veg may not have as nice a texture or quite as much nutrition as things put by earlier in the current year, if it has remained properly frozen or the seal is still intact, it is still safe, and we eat them here. Our goal is to be as self-feeding as practical and so we use the overages of one year to offset the challenges of the next. 

And, as a hexeri, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the addition of a sign for Abundance on your homestead would never be a bad idea!

Happy garden planning, get ready to order seeds for starting seedlings indoors and do check out for my work, and you can find me on Facebook as well, where I will be glad to answer questions about homesteading and my hex work.

*"mess" is old time country talk for the quantity of a veg that you go pick prior to starting supper.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Painting and Thinking

I think a lot while I paint the hex signs. Yes, my first and primary thoughts are to focus the energies into the sign for the person or people for whom I am painting. But thoughts lead to thoughts which lead to more as I
focus on the sign (today, strength, as I am painting a Mighty Oak) and today my thoughts ran to my recent frustration with being able to paint quickly and accurately, and then on to advise my father gave me when I was young.

You may have gathered -- correctly -- that I no longer fit that description. I am in my 70s, and while "everyone" notes that I am not typical of women of my age, age is showing to me at least. My recent illness meant several weeks when neither my hands nor my eyes wanted to cooperate with the brush. My body is working much better now -- or else I would not be painting -- but it is still more of a challenge than it was last year. And the advice I was given by an elderly painter years back, "just paint between the shakes" doesn't necessarily apply to what I do. He was a fine art painter; his work did not require two, identical, coats of paint be applied to each area of color. Using house paint on the signs does, so not only do I need to accurately follow my light guide lines, I have to accurately retrace those exact steps again, which means I not only have to coordinate the hand, the eyes have to work pretty darn well. And this is getting more difficult.

Somehow, maybe because the energies in this sign are masculine, my mind wandered on to my father's advice: always have "something to fall back on." He meant, whatever your life path, whatever career you aspire to (I was still a student when he laid his words of wisdom on me), make sure you can do something else as well. I took from his words the meaning of something that would be universally required.

At that time, my heart was set on a career in science, astronomy specifically. And yes, even then I wrestled with the notion of doing something "useful" as opposed to something like astronomy, which, at that time at least, seemed pretty irrelevant to daily life. Probably still is, at least to many folks.  He wanted me to be a teacher "as a fall back." Which made sense, in a way, but had no appeal. But as life unfolded, I did not end up in a scientific career but I did end up teaching... a lot. Most of it was not either in a classroom setting or for pay, which is not surprising to me at all, since I came of age not only in the hippie era, but also in the company of the early computer geeks and hackers. "Information wants to be free."

Over the course of my life, I did many jobs "as fall backs." For several years I was the darling of several temp agencies, as I took whatever they threw at me and made the company look good... from detailing cars just off the boat from Japan to fun in a pizza factory, which could have been a plot straight out of "I Love Lucy," to outworking (and essentially replacing) two high school football players at a tent sale, showing huge throw rugs. Over the years, though, my real "fall back" was janitorial work. It was mindless, easy to come by due to high turn over, and paid the bills. And while it was physical, it was not beyond me.

Now, though... I dunno.

Which got me to thinking about the advice we give our kids, and even to ourselves. We try to raise our youngsters to succeed in the world we see coming. The advice we give them, the ideas and skills we try to share, are thoroughly rooted in our perceptions of the world around us. And while we may not always think so, I think those perceptions actually say more about US than they do about the world. We each see the world through our own "filters": our experiences, what we were taught, etc. These are all very personal and individual things.

My dad could no more foresee the world of 2019 -- or 2020, to play with the upcoming year which will have enough memes to drive us all to drink, I fear -- than most of the science fiction writers I read as a youth. And when he gave me his advice, he was still in the prime of his life so had no clue of the challenges that age would bring him, let alone what I would face as a woman going on three times the age he was at the time.

So, in the face of all this, do I have any words for the next generations? Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut, because pretty much, I think they are doing great with the crap that we, unthinking, handed them. I will say, though, DO THINK it through.. all of it. There is always a tendency to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." Not all of alleged progress is good, not all of the past is bad. I hope you choose better than my generation did, overall. Just my opinion, of course, but I wish more of us had understood that we all have to live together on this one planet, had worked harder to work together, with her, and fewer had been lured by the love of money.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Life Throws Curve Balls

The big hex sign awaits spring!
Late summer and early autumn bring a flurry of activity to Fussing Duck Farm and often to hex central as well. Equinox weekend brings the Common Ground Country Fair, an offering of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which we support big time. Each year, I end up spending all 3 days of the event on site in Unity, managing the Farm and Homestead Speakers' Tent.  While I enjoy this volunteer opportunity, it becomes more exhausting with each year that I age. Dammit, why does getting old have to be such a challenge!

Painting of the big hex got put on hold for the fair, and then we hit a rainy part of autumn (not unusual here... it is a challenge for me to find even one opportunity to scuffle happily through a pile of dry, fallen leaves) and, even worse, I got hit by an unknown illness that kept me alternately freezing/shivering and sweating. At least the first week of this, I was mostly "not here" even though I did not run what I have, in the past considered a high fever. It only hit 101F. Doc thought "'flu" but the swab disagreed and at this point, I guess I will never know. Hope whatever it was, I am immune now, as it took over a month for me to even begin to feel like I was healing and I have not 6 weeks out, regained all of my strength and endurance.

So, despite Tractor Guy having bought and set up a scaffolding to make my painting easier (it will also serve him as a base of operation for roof repair, later), the big hex is now waiting until spring. While I probably could physically climb and paint now, if I planned my day right... well this *is* Maine and even if the rain were to hold off, the temperatures are dropping below optimal paint parameters. We have snow mixed with rain in tonight's forecast and 7+ inches in the long range forecast for next week!

While I was down for the count, the 25 meat chickens I was raising came to -- and exceeded -- optimal harvest size. I am thankful to have friends who were willing to take up the slack and all of the birds got processed. In fact, I have a hen roasting in the oven as I type this!

Not only did I need help with the fowl, but there were 25' rows of carrots and beets still in the garden, some turnips, cabbage, and a bit of lettuce that the marauding deer had left us. The same friends who took charge of the chicken processing, came out one day and made short work of the carrots and beets and the rest I picked in the last few days, a bit here, a bit there. It feels good to have friends who pitch in and also feels great to have the harvest (except for the Brussels sprouts, which will get picked for Thanksgiving) done!

I am thankful that during my illness, hex orders held off. I have one, a Mighty Oak, that I am completing now and then it appears there will be another break. If you want a sign by Yule or Christmas, I hope you will let me know soon, so I can guarantee it will arrive on time!

I am finally feeling up to doing a little bit of extra stuff, so this coming Saturday, November 9, I am attending the Fall Folk Festival in Dover-Foxcroft, as a spinner. A friend will be a vendor there as well, selling her hand crafted soaps. I will be promoting Dutch Hex Sign by spinning on my decorated
spinning wheel and with a display featuring a small livestock protection sign I painted for my friend's rabbitry (she raises fiber bunnies) and business cards, and hope to generate some local interest in my work...but mostly will be talking about the fine, fun art of spinning wool, and maybe flax, hoping to encourage more folks to take up this delightful pass time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Hex signs painted the old way

Primed and ready!
 My neighbor, a house painter by trade, has been painting my garage in between his other projects and recently announced that the west end was ready for me to begin work on the 6 foot diameter hex sign that I have been wanting to paint there for several years. 

Getting up on a ladder to paint a sign is something that I have not for a good long time, and have only done a few times over my life.  And, at 72 with two bionic knees and hips that are not getting any younger, it does not seem like something to be put off for long! But as you can see, up the ladder I got today and while you cannot see any difference, I am painting the background color, white, over the primer (also white).

 I had to position the ladder right on the disk and paint around it to be able to reach the center of the top of the circle. And yes, one of those wires does carry the house electric, which was why I had my hat on backwards. This is not my typical way to wear ball caps, but in this case, being able to see over my head without obstructions, seemed to make sense.

I ended up getting Tractor Guy to move the ladder to the side, so I could get the spots I missed with it being centered, (left) then moved down to the step ladder. I am much more comfortable with them, and it was sufficiently tall to allow me to paint the left section that I had been unable to reach from the center, as well as the bottom of the circle.

And the finished work for the day... looks just like it did before! LOL But I know that it now has a good foundation on which I can draw the design and then begin painting it. After the rain which is in the forecast for tomorrow. With luck I will get it drawn on before the end of the week and can begin painting!

Below is a shout-out to the folks who supply the plywood for the signs that I make as A local lumber yard, Hammond Lumber, with branches in many towns in Maine, have been my partners in hexeri for many years now. If you're in Bangor, please give the folks at their office at 1087 Hammond Street, a chance to help you with your project. (P.S. Their lumber comes from straight trees! ;) )

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..)
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 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 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!

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.