Friday, October 22, 2021

A visit to the farm on a damp October morning

 Welcome to Fussing Duck Farm, my subsistence-oriented homestead which is the home of Dutch Hex Sign.

This morning, after doing chores, I grabbed my camera to take a walk around, documenting some of the strange phenomena we have been seeing here during this strange and apparently late, long autumn. While our average first frost date is October 1st, a quick check of the definition of average shows us that we need to have both late and early comings of Jack Frost and his delayed arrival this year, while it seems unusual, does fit with the math.

I started my photo journey in the barnyard, where some unexpected wild daisies have been greeting me for several weeks as I entered the chicken coop to collect eggs. The coop is an old camper-trailer, gutted and with roosts installed and bedding on the floor. It stays pretty dry, even when the poultry yard is awash in mud and water. Our small flock consists of half a dozen laying hens (barnyard mix) and their rooster, 4 young and one adult guinea fowl, Thanksgiving, the turkey and the three ducks.

The ducks are why we cannot have nice things, so the chickens think, and they are not far from wrong! Take a close look at the left side of the picture...  

The sheep are still out on pasture, not a common sight here this time of year, but they still have green stuff to eat, thanks in part to the warmish temps and in part to the copious rain. Even having been shorn (Icelandic sheep get two hair cuts a year, and no need to knit them sweaters, as their wool grows in quickly in the fall!)

You can see that the rains and wind have not taken down all of our fall color yet, but it's a good thing I did my annual "scuffle through the dry leaves" when they first started to fall! Looking at the forecast, I won't see any more dry ones this year!

views of some of my
American bittersweet
plants. They are all
the same age, same
As I was visiting the bittersweet I also noticed a beautiful little volunteer maple tree
, a bright new goldenrod and what I hope is an elder bush, fighting to survive and grow.

Are you an Elder?goldenrod

And back on the porch, a pile of pumpkins celebrates the season while waiting to become food -- or feed -- and the amazing lavender who is blooming in solidarity with the goldenrod and the daisy, while waiting to be transplanted to her home in the herb bed.

And don't forget to visit before it's too late for me to paint you a sign for holiday gifting and like/follow us on Facebook as well!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The cross-quarter celebrations: when I feel it, I DO it!

part of the garden

If you are a Pagan, chances are you are looking forward to Lughnasadh, or in its Christianized, more recent guise, Lammas (Loaf-Mass) on August 1. Heathens follow a different calendar and as far as I know, they did not have a summer harvest festival. But since I have been pretty much doing my own thing with more reference to what the natural world and other non-material entities (Gods and Goddesses, if you will) have told me, celebrations of thanks for harvests fit well into my practice.

There are three times during the year that elements of harvest figure strongly in my spiritual workings. I call them First Harvest, ThanksGiving and WinterFinding.

First harvest is... about now! yes, I have been harvesting and we have been eating and putting by a bit now and then, from the first bites of lettuce to the abundant flush of peas just past, for which we do give thanks as we tend, pick, process and eat. But around the beginning of August, there is a change in the feel of it all.

When I lived in wheat growing country (eastern Washington state) the wheat harvest began in August and with the addition of other locally grown grains, carried over to September. Evidences of it were everywhere, from the combines working the fields to harvest the grain, to the chaff in the air (which caused me to stop eating wheat for the month, to abate my apparent allergy, thanks to the advice of a wise chiropractor) to the trucks heavily laden with grain trundling more slowly than many motorists liked, toward the grain silos for unloading. 

chard, with deer damage
While I know we grow wheat here in Maine (and I have indeed done so) it is not obvious in my area. But sometimes -- like today -- the harvest abundance just reaches out and hollers "HARVEST TIME!!" as I work the garden. Today I picked snap beans, dug the first "new" potatoes, brought in the first onion, as its top had fallen over, picked the first two picking cukes (one of which the dogs mostly ate!) and another zucchini, 4 large heads of broccoli and a large "mess" of Swiss chard that has bounced back very well from the deer munching a while ago.

carrots and garlic harvested
As I set to processing the beans and broccoli for the freezer, I was prompted to make our supper from some of the beans, a few of the 'taters, the onion, carrots pulled a day or so ago and stashed in the fridge, the first few beets, some beet greens with some of the chard and some broccoli. To top off this home grown meal, I grabbed a chicken breast from one of
some of the broccoli!
last year's meat birds and dredged it in locally grown flour from a local mill.

So, tonight we celebrate First Harvest. The time is right and as we eat, serenaded by the rain which is predicted to fall through the night and into the morrow, giving us and the garden a good inch of water, I give thanks to the natural world, the Gods and Goddesses and wights and spirits that have worked together -- as I do alongside them -- to make this happen.

Chard, deer munched

Monday, July 19, 2021

the post in which I brag about my garden

 My gardens are always a bit crazy. Well, often more than a bit. I get busy -- or in the old days had to work -- and the weeds take advantage.

My planting -- and what planning there is -- follows a "What is the weather now? What needs to be planted now?" order from one side to the other.

And I have never been a fan of weed-free gardens like you see in magazines. the earth WANTS to be covered, so my weeding is often a trade off between helping the veg grow and keeping the soil covered.

I prefer to let nature do the watering, when possible. Ma Nature does it best. My soaking hoses (sprinklers waste water) while directing liquid to the plants rather than the paths and weeds, are always second best.

I am delighted with the results thus far from this year's garden, so

I will brag a bit. First off... peas. I have put up close to enough for us this year, so I invited a friend to come pic, and she took this photo of me in the pea rows. On the right are some Champion of England and an unidentified (at present) tall petit poi variety. Remember what I said about being a bit crazy? We ran out of frozen peas this past spring so... I have the row of short Iona petit pois at my knee in this photo and two more rows not shown. I will go out tomorrow and glean the last of the edible ones, allow some to mature for seed next year and pull the rest for the fowl.

I struggle with bell peppers -- all peppers actually -- each year and this spring, on a visit to a "local" health food store in the spring I saw some locally and organically grown seedlings that called to me, so I bought 4. This is the first bell pepper to come close to being big enough. I will never grow enough to supply all our needs, but I will cherish the fruit of this plant and its 3 cousins.
Tomatoes are a late summer crop in Maine, but I am glad to see blossoms AND fruit beginning to appear on the plants that I began supporting on their trellis recently. They need to be checked again, maybe tomorrow, and have more support applied but eventually there will be eating, canning and sauce fruit to deal with. While I still have some canned 'maters and sauce, it will not get us through to next year.
I know lots of folks who are really into flower gardening. Veg are my thing, but I try to throw flower seeds in a row or two in the veg garden because while I do not have the energy to prioritize them, I to enjoy them. These coriopsis are both nice to look at AND a dye plant for my fleece!
Corn is often not "knee high by the 4th of July" as I learned from my youth with kin in Iowa, and I have plenty of sweet corn, cut off the cob, in the freezer which will carry us through to next year. But there is nothing quite like FRESH sweet corn. Start the water boiling, head out to the corn patch to pick a few ears, husk and pop them in the water. No butter or salt needed, in my world! These guys have been inter-planted with an experimental crop of fall shelling peas. Not to put by, just to see if I have the timing right for a few "messes" of fresh peas as the weather cools
First harvest of garlic and a few of the early planting of carrots... the latter will go in with a beef roast tomorrow. Garlic is all about ready to harvest, hopefully the carrots will continue to offer up crunchy goodness until the fall storage crop is ready.
Cole slaw! Probably sauerkraut, too... since I did not end up with any late cabbages this year. The recent cool, damp weather has them heading up nicely.

And broccoli... someday I would like to be able to grow enough to put by a full year's worth of one of our favorite green veg. One of these may be eaten soon, the rest will be blanched and frozen. there will be more, as I planted a blend of varieties. 

This last pic gives you a good idea of my garden chaos. Tomatoes being trellised onto twine at the right foreground, that corn in the right background. The black stool sits in the row that contains the pepper plants and beyond them, cucumbers (not weeded in this pic).

Rows to the left are beans, first pintos (needing a trellis of sorts) and then snap beans and in the upper far left are the potatoes.

Monday, July 12, 2021

I Choose Hand to Hand Garden Warfare

Long ago, for a lower school essay assignment, I took on the topic of chemical warfare as my subject matter. It was so long ago, in fact, that Agent Orange never arose in my research. While I do not think that research paper long ago had a direct impact on my garden philosophy, it lingers in the back of my mind each time I go out to the garden to defend my food supply from those usually smaller creatures that also wish to devour it.

My gardening roots entangle with those of my maternal grandfather, who had a large garden in Iowa and with whom we spent a month or more each summer of my youth. While my cousins were off doing other things, I spent most of my time in that garden, helping pick and weed, or sitting in a comfy perch in a nearby apple tree, reading, looking out at the garden and listening to the birds and insects who shared their space with me. I never once saw Grandpa spray and I was never once told to stay out of the garden, as I know Mom would have insisted had anything been amiss. Even if something "safe" had been applied, Mom was super over-protective.

So now, as I work to defend my turf and my food, my go-to is essentially hand to hand combat. I literally lay a hand -- or at least a finger or two -- on any "pest" that I find.

These days, the marauding horde is mostly Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). They are about 10 mm (38 in) long, with a bright yellow/orange body and five bold brown stripes along the length of each of its elytra (the hardened wing sheaths that you see on their backs.)

I have, over the years, become quite familiar with these creatures, and have become pretty adept at finding the yellow egg clusters, laid on the underside of leaves, as well as the adults and the larvae in their various sizes and guises. I am pretty happy with my hand to hand combat approach, as they will not likely develop a resistance to this technique, as they have to many pesticides.

The "babies" start out as very tiny, brick red spots with black heads, much smaller than the proverbial head of a pin to which small things are often compared. In my experience, they tend to hide in the tightly folded new leaves at the top of a potato shoot or tucked into the node where the leaf stem meets the plant. In good light situations (don't try to hunt them near dusk!) I find the tiny things, as well as their larger kin, easy to spot, even several feet away if I am looking from the correct angle. Moving the plants around helps bring more bugs into view.

As the larvae grow, they change color and eventually end up a very light, large hungry beast. These are what do the most of the damage. BUT I have found egg masses (turning the plants to one side then the other to reveal the underside of leaves, with a eye peeled for the flash of bright yellow which indicates an egg mass), larvae of various sizes and adult beetles in the garden at the same time and even on the same plant!

De-bugging is a daily event for me, and takes about an hour for my 4, 75' long rows of potatoes. I either plan to squish every stage of bug development that I find, or I am prepared with a small container of water with a wee bit of detergent (to cut surface tension) into which I knock the adults, drop the larger larvae and the sections of leaf with egg masses. the smaller larvae get squished. 

It is coming on mid-July now, and I am seeing Japanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) beginning to appear on the potatoes also. If I am quick, I can knock them into the soapy water, too. I am learning to come at the beetles lounging on the plant's leaves with my hand from above with the water just below, as if one attempts to fly away, it will likely hit my hand and fall into the water.

If you should get tired of the daily debugging session, keep in mind that:

  • Potatoes can usually tolerate up to 30 percent defoliation when they are in the vegetative stage.
  • They are much more sensitive when tubers are beginning to bulk and can only tolerate about 10 percent defoliation.
  • Tuber bulking begins soon after flowering, making this time critical for beetle management.

And if they do get away from you, you can always resort to chemical warfare. I had to do so a couple of time when I was working full time and had to miss a de-bugging session or two in a row due to weather and my work schedule. As the University of Minnesota extension office says, the main drawback to chemical control is the bugs developing resistance, I found that using Bonide's Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew (approved for organic gardening) worked well.

[all photos courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension web site]

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

From cat in box to childhood poems to the history of tableware and made up words we go!

Random morning wanderings.

cat in box
different cat,
different box

It started with a cat. A cat in a box, as they often like to be. This box happened to be a clean, dry litter box, waiting to go back into the stash, to be used next time we clean boxes. We have a lot of cats, 9 to be exact, and find that having spare boxes ready to fill with litter and place as we collect the dirty ones works well. But I digress. This cat was not curled up in the box, asleep, but lying there, looking over the side, “like a commander in a tank” my SO said. Or like a captain in a boat, my mind added. Even though boats are usually not painted blue, the blue litter box on the different blue linoleum of the front hall evoked that image in my mind.

And with the idea of a cat in a boat, on the water came the first lines of a children's poem “The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat.” My mind flashed to the seasonal d├ęcor animals that sit around the house: a frazzled black Halloween cat we call Fradie, the equally black bird from the same holiday a few years later, “Nevermore,” and others. Many critters,

Random owl
Do I have your attention?

but much as we both like them, not an owl in the bunch. I voiced that thought. “If we had an owl, we could put it in there with her and I could take a photo. It would be easy to Photoshop the “boat” to make it green.” “Do you know that poem?” I asked K.

In response, as he had come back into the computer room where I was relaxing, he pulled it up on screen and read it aloud. “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Leer. It was not one I had ever memorized but as he read the familiar lines, things caught my attention now, as an adult, differently than when I was a child.
When they“went to be married” they first sailed away “for a year and a day” – by which time in some old traditions they would already be wed. And then I wondered about the “bong tree” and wonder if some folks censor this line if reading to their kids of the new millennium, who might well have heard of a bong that does not grow on a tree. Nothaphoebe umbelliflora, is a tree in the laurel family that is commonly called (English) the bong tree. It is also called the yang bong tree (Thai) and grows in southeast Asia.

And after being married the next day, there is the question of that runcible spoon with which they ate “mince and slices of quince.” Most sources consider this one of Lear's many made up words, with which I concur, as the only reference to the term I can find prior to the 1800s – Lear published that poem in 1871 as part of his book Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets – is as it is applied to an antique spoon for sale online, dated to before 1800 by the current seller. Most entries associate the term with a modern tool known to those who frequent fast food establishments as the “spork.” I have long had a dislike for that allegedly multi-use piece of plastic "table ware" – to give it a term much more dignified that it is entitled, in my mind. But now, seeing them made from sterling, I might have to give the runcible spoon a nod.

Runcible Spoon - Fiddle Pattern
London 1839 by William Eaton
14.9cm long; 31g

And so went the random musings of a couple of old homesteaders after deciding the conditions outside were a bit too hot and humid for attacking the project of the day.

Now back to painting a custom hex and washing a pile of dishes – no runcibles involved.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Finally it is DONE

The story of the Resistance Hex, which took over 4 years to complete.

I first conceived and designed the first comp in early 2017. 




The building end was not prepped, painted and ready until early

September of 2019, when I put down the white background color. A couple of days later, I drew the design. 



Mid month, Sept 2019 I began applying the first colors, the green border and the outer blue star.

On the 25th of September, its outer blue star was complete, but then work stopped for some time. On Sept 27 I became very sick. For several weeks I did nothing and it took more than a year to recover more than a fragment of my previous health and energy. In retrospect, my doc agrees that I had many of the classic symptoms of Covid 19 (before it had been mentioned in the media) including not only the extreme fevers and shaking chills, but also dramatic changes to my ability to taste. I have never had a reliable sense of smell. 

By the time the end of March, 2021 came, I not only had energy back but the early spring allowed me to recommence, applying the color to the inner red star and the heart-shaped center for the body of the watchful wild turkey.

Then came the brown for the turkey's body and wings and finally, on April 13, 2021, the
black of the heads and necks, outline for the wings and tail. 

Today, April 15, 2021, I called the hex complete
after giving the black a second coat and painting both costs of all three colors for the resistor symbols.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Hope, and Spring, eventually!

 I used to love the blog format and then the real time interaction of social media seduced me, I guess. But I really want to keep this going so... once again... I am starting again. The tide seems to be flowing this way, as the "hex season" seems to be beginning once again. I had thought that perhaps, with the pandemic chaos of a year ago and many small businesses feeling the brunt of stay at home and social distancing orders, that this might be the time that would fade away. That did not happen and now, after what I have come to call the much appreciated winter slowdown, orders are beginning to roll in again.

In the rest of life, the flow seems to be right on schedule for many things. The hens are laying again. More warm (translation: above freezing, sunny and little wind) days and bouts of rain are happening more often, though still punctuated by days and nights of BRRR that require leaving the bathtub faucet dripping and make us thankful that the electric has stayed on to keep the barnyard water tubs liquid. 

two pups, Bella and Toby
Bella & Toby
Change is, as always, the only constant and this last fall brought us two new dogs, Bella and Toby, brother and sister from a friend's dog's litter. They are a challenge, a love and actually getting along with most of the cats. They were raised in a chicken-raising household, so they do not bother the fowl and they have been told who is boss by the sheep.

The first seeds have been put in soil blocks and under the lights.
winter lettuce under lights
Onions, red and brown, have joined the two parsley plants that I brought in from the garden last fall and the lettuce I seeded under the lights to supplement winter salads. The parsley have been happily cooperating with me as indoor plants thus far all winter, giving us fresh leaves for parsleyed potatoes thus far and showing no desire to give up the ghost. In fact, one of the plants is making its move to bolt, as is to be expected of a biennial plant. Those seeds will not be ripe in time to start indoors this year, though, and I have not had success with a self-replacing parsley bed here, like in some past gardens.

Sheep with their new,
almost complete shed.
Despite looking out at a snow covered garden and barn yard, the earlier rising of the sun is giving me spring-like vibes. I just hope I am up to doing the garden again this year. And that I remember to hunt down and bring in the other things that we do not grow in sufficient quantity, yet. I totally overlooked making and putting up applesauce this year and have been really missing it.

I also need to continue culling roosters, so I will check the weather for tomorrow before I do evening chores today and if it looks to be suitable, I will catch and confine two more roos. That should leave only one "extra". I will be checking their skin color and culling those with the Silkie gene for dark skin and flesh. I know Alli-roo is cool and think the other mostly white one is, as well... but all of the roosters with darker plumage will definitely get a good thorough inspection.

So, between hexen, sewing, spinning, getting the seeds started -- I deliberately put in my seed orders as soon as the catalogs were in hand, this year -- in December -- as a proactive response to the supply chain issues that have been plaguing everyone during the pandemic, and I am glad I did. I got all of the seeds and varieties that I needed to supplement my stash of saved and previous years left overs.

Here's to a hope for a good season!