What an impossible project this one on Vinalhaven Island seemed. The building was sitting on a pile of rubble among ledge. The rubble rocks had been brought in to build a road and work pad for the construction. All of the native sod had been stripped out and piled up in big chunks around the property.
It’s true, a number of times during the planning and design phase of this, not to mention the installation, I despaired. How to settle this building on the top of a pile of rock back into the landscape. After much hard work, and not a little material, both soil and plants, I think we are getting there. All of the plants — once established — should handle the dry conditions on the top of the mountain, and many of them are the same plants growing there already.
Doug Gammon brought his excavator out and spent three days cleaning the site and restoring it to something closer to the original terrain. He scraped up yards of excess rock and filled the odd pit on the site, moved boulders around, found gravel to help with grading the site, brought in loam and began giving us a place that could support plants.
Wes Reed set a small patio, steps, landing stones, a small retaining wall and stepping stones, all with local granite.
Miraculously we managed to get over to the island on the first ferry each day we took the truck out packed with material.
On planting day Carla, Lil, Chrystal, Alex, Ethan and Pat joined in and at the end of the day the place was starting to look very different. Now, all we need to do is keep watering until everything is established. Fingers crossed.
This gallery contains 3 photos.
Three rugs from this winter’s work left the gallery this weekend. Quite astonishing to have sold three on our opening weekend. This Icicle Rug is a reminder of the winter past. The Joy rug, another little one, is just that. And then this Long Cove rug, one of the larger ones from this winter, and […]
There is a new requirement (as of April 1 of this year) in the state of Maine that agricultural producers who sell more than $1000 of produce must be licensed by the Maine Board of Pesticide Control. It does’t matter if you use only organic practices, the size of your operation, anything. You have to take and pass a basic test on all levels and sorts of pesticides to be licensed. I did not want to do this. The only pesticide I use is Bt, which is approved for organic production, and I use it very sparingly, mainly when the tomato hornworms start munching the tomatoes or towards the end of the brassica season when I need to take row covers off the broccoli and I have those little green caterpillars to contend with. Beyond that, all of my controls are cultural or mechanical. Lots of hand weeding and picking off potato beetles, for instance.
So it was with great reluctance and resistance that I took this test. I got the manual that the Board of Pesticide Control provides and worked through all 197 pages of it, along with the review questions at the end of each chapter. So much of the manual covered things I am very against, and it only re-enforced my resistance to pesticide use. I mean really, when those who apply the chemicals to our food must suit up in disposable coveralls, boots, face guards, breathing apparatus, gloves. Think about it. Do we want to eat that food? Can we really control the stuff and keep it from leaching into the water. Oi. But I had to learn enough to pass this exam. Those around me for the last month endured my complaints about having to know about calculating calibrating a boom sprayer, a device I’ve never seen and have no chance of ever using here. I was wading into foreign territory.
I laboriously read each chapter in the manual, answered the questions at the end of the chapters, looked up the correct answers, and then Julie started drilling me on all of those questions. I had those 350 or so questions memorized. Two weeks ago I went to the Extension Office in Warren and took the test of 100 questions. To pass I had to get 80 percent correct. Was I disappointed to find that the test itself was not selected from the questions I had memorized. They were different questions. Eek. I figured that I got 15 wrong, three I wasn’t sure of my answers, so for the past two weeks I was worried that I wouldn’t pass the test and would have to do it again. And again. And again.
But yesterday I got the notice that I passed. With a 93. I figure it was a good thing many of the ones I thought I got wrong were true-false questions so I had a 50-50 chance of getting them right and the odds went my way. So today I will send in my $15 and application for the license, good for three years. And to avoid re-taking the test over the next three years I have to get three continuing education credits approved by the BPC. I hope there are some MOFGA courses that I can take that will at least be relevant. Because there is relevant information here, and I do pay attention to insect damage, pathogens that harm the crops, deer and voles, weed pressure. I just want to figure out ways to deal with these that have little to do with synthetic pesticides and herbicides.
Bruce the cat has been keeping vigil this Spring. Now that it is getting warmer he is out much of the day, and to get out of the snow and wet as much as to survey the territory I think, he perches on the posts that are still waiting for the railings I intend to make someday. The snow is receding except for some stubborn piles and in all the shady spots. And the mud that follows the snow is indeed here.
Bruce is a fairly hefty cat but clearly light on his feet. I’m amazed at how he seems to levitate up to the post, and he sits on this 4″x4″ surface for hours. I think the tail helps with holding on and securing the perch. All of the cats have been going out lately, and I spy them around the property, sitting on rocks, in the few bare areas, listening, looking, pouncing. Consequently, variously rodent pieces are showing up here and there in the usual places. Life is returning to normal.
I even was able to get out and start pruning the pleached apples. I’m late on this this year, but only recently has the snow receded from the lower branches. Additionally, the buds have just started swelling. The snow has gone away even more now, and I’ll shortly be getting out the ladder to address the tops of the apples. Then the next order of pruning will be all of the snow and ice damage on trees and shrubs. Major pruning tasks ahead.
But wasn’t it disappointing on Thursday when we woke to see close to six inches of new snow. Just when things seemed to be going in the right direction. Of course, being a Spring snow, it was followed by a day of rain, and now we simply have more mud. Ah, spring.
The clivia in the house, though, are at peak bring bloom.
Ten pounds of seed ginger arrived from Biker Dude, of Puna Organics in Hawaii. I like that the box said “keep from the cold” as it leaned up against the outside door with temperatures just below freezing. But not to worry. The ginger was fine.
This will be the fourth year I’ve presprouted and grown baby ginger. The taste is delicately wonderful. Last year I had my best crop ever, and have high hopes for this year’s. Though this is a different variety. I’m trying ‘Hawaiian Yellow.” We’ll see.
The trick with getting baby ginger in our climate — and we do not have a long enough season to get anything other than baby — is pre-sprouting it when it arrives in March and then growing it on in a warm environment, such as in our unheated hoop houses.
So the first step is the pre-sprouting. I’ve been using coir, which is coconut fibers, as a sprouting medium, a sterile growing medium that will keep the ginger pieces covered and moist. The coir comes in compressed bricks that soak in water and reconstitute. So preparing the coir is a fun, wet and soupy process.
The ginger doesn’t need any soil or nutrients to get going, just even heat and moisture. In a few weeks the first little green shoots will push up, and with luck, in time all the pieces will start growing, sending out small roots and tall shoots. I have to remember that this does take time. Last year I was anxious that nothing was going to happen as it seemed to just sit there. Until the day when growth started in all the trays.
I have five trays this year, enough to fill up about one-and-a-half sides of a hoophouse. As I rotate the crops around, this year they ginger will be returning to the upper hoophouse where it was four years ago. Isn’t that an optimistic statement. All three hoophouses collapsed under the weight of snow this year. And with the persistent snow cover — we still have at least 18″ of hard snow out there and much more in many places — and cold temperatures, I have no idea when I will be able to take them down and reconstruct them. Good thing pre-sprouting takes time.
By the way, the mighty fig goddess is leafing out and even has a few figs in the background. She did poorly last year after her rough re-location from the old greenhouse to this one, but shows every sign of a full and vigorous recovery.
Meanwhile the rest of the greenhouse is filling up. Alliums, artichokes, celeriac and a slew of flowers for the cutting garden are covering almost every surface. I start peppers and eggplants along with more flowers and lettuce seedlings next week. Then every inch will be covered.
Winter continues to hold on. Rather tenaciously, given the -17 temperature this morning and the deep covering of snow everywhere. Some places we just have three feet, some places five, and then don’t even think about the huge mountains lining the parking areas and the drive through the nursery area. Nonetheless, before the last little (5 inches) snow I waded to the witch hazel and snipped a few branches to bring in the house for forcing. For the record, this time last year the witch hazel was blooming out in the woods, not just in the house.
I wonder how long we will have this deep snow pack with us. How long until it melts, and what sort of messy prolonged mud season will we have.
There is a mythic quality to this winter: Long, deep, time out of time, winds, sea smoke, beauty, difficulty, cold, confinement. We have spent this time planning, hooking, knitting, listening to some terrific audiobooks. Painting, drawing, planning some more. Oh, and shoveling. Lots of that. And jump starting dead batteries. And hauling in wood.
And yet, the sun continues it’s movement; days are getting longer. In response I am indeed starting seeds in the greenhouse. Microgreens and early seedlings: alliums, artichokes, celeriac, rudbeckia, asclepias, old friends and new experiments.
I’ve also been doing battle with rodents seeking refuge in the greenhouse. So far three down: one drowned in a water barrel (it’s own fault), one I trapped with a pot and returned to the wild (far, far away) and one killed with a traditional mousetrap baited with peanut butter. (But the photo was too gross to post.)
I’ve done a lot of shoveling this week. In one week we have had three major snow storms. And wind, which means there has been drifting. I have to shovel a path out to the chicken coop and greenhouse each storm, and each trough (which become luge runs for the poodles) fills back in with each storm. Winter stoutness exercise.
The chicken coops are cleared. Of course the feed is in the truck, not in the feed shed, so that means walking it in along with the water. So far, so good with the chicks, but they are getting bored.
The hoop houses are still standing. Yay! But I have to say I’m not sure how much more pressure the pvc pipes holding up the plastic can take. We’ll have a chance to find out as more !!?! snow is forecast for this coming week, though perhaps not a foot or more at one time.
There are scenes of incredible beauty everywhere, from tiny snow covered details to large sweeping vistas. And shoveling I heard birds singing and the wind rustling. I found fox footprints on the top of the snow, and vole tunnels that my shovel broke into. This morning was a good one. But there is a lot of snow out there.
This week’s lesson seems to be that each finished painting — if any are ever finished since I’ve noticed that I see ways to improve and tweak and change everything I’ve done — is the result of at least three paintings.
I had an idea of painting the simple beauty of trees surrounded by snow, and pulled out a photo from last winter in the woods between the house and the nursery area, looking toward Angie’s fields. I looked hard at the photo, at the color of the shadows in the snow, the snow in sun, the trees with subtle variations, the distance that starts to get hazy. I started on the trees and kept with several until it was clear I was way way off on the colors. They started reading as insipid brown things, and in truth they are grey with colors.
So start over on the trees. Make them quite grey, even black in the darkest shadows, with lighter highlights. Better, but still off. The background was way too flat, everything felt wooden. I find I try to replicate what I see and head to details at the expense of the feeling of the piece, which I think is why one paints rather than photographs. How does it feel. Well, this felt too wooden and flat, not with the calm sparkle the scene holds in my mind. And I think that blue on the shadows in the woods is too dark, the yellow spots looking like a dog had been visiting the area.
I also realized that the highlights on the trees had to echo the highlights in the snow: it’s the same color of the sunlight, just on a different surface.
So take three is where I am resting on this piece. Better, more complex background, more energy in the tree trunks, a change in the color of the snow. More sparkle. Not exactly like the photo. But that’s not the point. Just one of those winter vignettes that makes me happy. I expect today (snow has just started) the woods will return to something like this state.
I had a few paintings I’ve done on this adventure in painting that I began to realize I hated and didn’t even want to try to paint over them and make something of them. So this week also had an adventure in scraping down old paintings and then painting them over with opaque white so I can re-use the canvas.
This winter I decided to teach myself to oil paint. I’ve never painted really. There was the flirtation with oils when I was nine or ten years old. Just because someone gave me a set of oil paints. I hated what I did then, so decided to stick with drawing. And in Design Fundamentals in college I dabbled in a bit of color theory, mixing acrylics. But that’s it. I’m not even the one who paints the walls in the house.
I just wanted to do something for fun, and to mix up my thinking, a bit, see what I could learn. So I started with simple shapes, a set of student paints, and a pad of treated paper. A pumpkin on a pillar. Okay. A bit raw, and bright, but I started. On to painting on canvas.
I tried a set of small sea smoke paintings. Wow. What a difference painting on canvas makes. Nope, not interested in going back to the treated paper. And I tried some glazes in these, to tone down the bright colors a bit and try to get all of the lights of the morning sea and sky. Abstract and not abstract, but playing with color.
I found I was really enjoying how long the oils take to dry, how easily the colors blend and change. Mixing colors on the pallet, on the canvas. Wicked cool.
Next stop: vegetable portraits, something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I think I want to paint landscapes (go figure), but I was also thinking that focusing on single subjects would give me a chance to focus and figure out how to control the paint, paying attention to details, experimenting with different styles. Though I keep getting into details.
I did try to get loose and impressionistic on the squash painting. And the artichoke was very clear and crisp until I added a bright red glaze that toned it down. I kind of like the look. Probably I am overdoing that red glaze. But oh well, at least I am seeing what it can do.
What I am learning is that painting is sculpting with light, paying attention to shadows and highlights, changes in colors, subtle and bold. Very different from drawing. Very. And very forgiving.
So learning to paint has become a bit of a consuming passion most mornings this winter. Each time I spend any time with the paint I learn something new. As I am painting in the greenhouse, there will be an end to this diversion, once I start filling the place with seedlings. I figure I have at least six weeks before I have to move on, so until then, I’m having fun sculpting with light.
We have a landscaping job in Tenants Harbor that has been a long time in the planning process. We were able to get started on some earthwork and some planting this Fall. And now, Jason Turnbull and friends, of Inca Stone Work, are pressing on with some of the rock work for the project. They will work around snow and rain and freezing temperatures as long as they can.
We have been receiving large flat natural granite pieces from Rockport Granite. These slabs, from a quarry in Swanville most of them, will become the patio area. Jason has also been gathering granite for the walls from The Pasture Quarry in St. George.
We also are using steps cut from the same granite as the patio stones. Rockport Granite delivered these, and Jason is working to have them all in place this year, before the ground freezes up. This set of steps will have walls on both sides, going up to a level grassed terrace.
All told, we have five sets of steps to fit in place. Two are in. Our hope is to get the patio and the steps set before winter sets in. Though the foundations for the walls are in place, and Jason has transported enough wall rock to begin working. So if we have a warmish open winter, I expect he’ll be at work. Otherwise he will finish as soon as he can in the spring.
The first of the patio slabs are coming together. We will be leaving generous spaces between the stones, and creating a number of planting pockets at intersections and close to the buildings. My hope is that when this is finished and planted it will look almost like natural ledge with plants growing in crevices. There will also be a shade structure on the patio, so Jason is working around spaces for eight posts (marked here by the little red flag). I am expecting to plant vines around some of the bases of these posts.
By the way, this was a very cold day, and in the winter the sun disappears quickly from this east side of the house. These guys were troopers, fitting, cutting, chiseling stones.