Any interest in what I sound like speaking? Laughing? I’m familiar with what my voice sounds like through a recording but had never heard myself laugh until last month, when I had a wonderful time participating in the Productivity Alchemy podcast with host Kevin Sonney. We talked bees and art, gardens and dayjobs, and how those things fit together. I also had a chance to honor some of the people and philosophies that I love and aspire to. I can recommend the podcast as a well-produced window onto the lives of working people, and hey, here’s a link to December. Thank you, Kevin!
The working title for my series of paintings in 2020 is “In the Garden” and will highlight the many and varied creatures that live and visit the space outside my studio.
I’ve been working to improve habitats for creatures in and around the garden beds. Amphibians, reptiles, and songbirds are all at risk worldwide and I have the advantage of excellent raw material in two acres of freshwater marsh and a harsh climate that resists invasives and favors native species. I have compositions planned to include our three local frog species: grey, tree, and spring peeper, multiple woodpeckers, the ducks and geese that stop here on their way through the spring and fall migrations, and the domestics that wander through on a lovely summer morning, like my neighbor’s Black Leghorn rooster, below.
This piece started with an underpainting of large tonal areas – a new technique for me this year. The underlying structure allows more freedom in the top layer to depict the complicated surfaces and textures of the creatures that will join the flowers in future paintings. Onward to “Roses with Goldfinch” in the studio!
In the photo below you’ll notice a heap of garden refuse (the hugel) in back of a trench dug below grade planted with kale and bok choi varieties (the waffle).
Hügelkultur is a composting process using raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, and improves the insect and bacterial life of the beds around the hugel. Building several hugels around the garden makes a handy depository for the constant outflow of pruning and weeding debris, making it much easier to “compost in place”. I use the top and sides of the pile to stash plants that need a temporary home; clumps of daylilies that needed separating, unexpected plum seedlings, and the like. The top of the pile dries out in my very arid Downeast summer weather so I don’t plant vine crops or flowers there, although many people recommend the practice. Someday, when I have more water available perhaps that will be an option!
The hugel is paired with a waffle bed. Waffles are the opposite of raised beds and are built by removing soil in a small area, replacing and augmenting the best soil available, and then planting below grade. This practice has been used since ancient times in arid climates to preserve water and soil, and to shade roots and seedlings as they develop. The combination of the hugel acting as a windbreak, moisture reservoir, and beneficial critter refuge with the waffle offering fertile soil, bottom shade, and slower evaporation, is hard to beat.
The hugel/waffle combination can be quite small and still provide a significant benefit. Here a small hugel on a slope is planted with Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens). Note that this plant is generally considered a weed for it’s prolific seed production but is also a good drought proof pollination plant. The trenched waffle bed upslope is planted with onion sets, and the small, deep waffles below are planted with tomatoes. Both sides benefit from the hugel providing water diversion and storage and wind protection.
Here a small hugel planted with chives borders a waffle planted with greens: kale, Australian yellow lettuce, spinach, and lettuce var. Pablo.
Early May might not be early spring where you are, it’s not even early for Maine, some years. This year we’re still in the grip of winter long past the usual garden landmarks. I couldn’t plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day because of all the snow and when the drifts finally washed away under cold rains a few weeks ago I put them in south facing beds where they’re still sulking, under ground.
Pruning is a good task for days when I should not be planting seedlings out no matter how tempting the noon day sun. This is a wild apple planted from seed that my toddler son found in Acadia National Park. I probably would have let it grow for sentimental reasons, but it produces bushels of good-sized tart crabs, dark red skinned with snow white flesh, that are excellent for roasting and canning. It is extremely vigorous and growing on its own roots so when I let it go for a year it puts up a thicket around the main trunk. The whole pruning job took about an hour and resulted in a pile of thorny branches bigger than the remaining tree – sign of a job well done!
I planted out four kale varieties and baby bok choi in a bed that grew potatoes last year. Brassicas are a great cleanser for soil that may have picked up potato-related bugs and virus issues. These are right out of the seedlings trays in the cellar, grown under shop lights. I covered them with a layer of floating row cover and they should be fine during the next few days of cold rain and wind.
The bergenia by the corner of the house is always a good bet for first paintable flower of the year. The plant has large leathery leaves that overwinter. The common name “Pigsqueak” comes from the sound made by rubbing two leaves together.
It’s minus four degrees F in the garden today, the high temperature at noon was five above. I worry about the bees in their wooden boxes, the shallow roots of the strawberries under their blanket of snow, and the kinglets huddled together at the very top of the spruce tree singing like tiny tea kettles in the still air. Meanwhile, the gardener sits all snug in the Morris chair by the wood stove and plots next summer’s garden, row by row.
This is our seed order from Fedco, Maine’s premiere garden co-op, for summer 2018:
204A – Provider Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
210A – Strike Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
230A – Jade Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
We ordered more green beans this year and are committed to irrigating them for a better crop through the drought months of July and August. My general rule is to build in drought proofing, rather than add water, but we’re going to make an exception for this crop in 2018 and see what happens. Enough surplus to freeze, dry, and pickle green beans over what we eat for meals will be proof to go forward.
658A – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
818A – Oregon Giant Snow Peas ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
927A – Mayor Canary Melon ( A=0.4g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
1382A – Super Zagross Beit Alpha Cucumbers ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
1606A – Sweet REBA OG Acorn Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
1633A – Eastern Rise Buttercup/Kabocha Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
2058A – Red Cored Chantenay Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
2063A – Yellowstone Carrots ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
2073A – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
More carrot varieties, and more root crops overall, reflect 2017’s success with building waffle beds – beds that are recessed below the general garden soil level. We added more compost and soil amendments into these very discreet areas and they were sustainable with very little rainfall, resulting in much better crops.
2121A – Red Ace OG Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
2485A – Rossa Lunga di Tropea Red Onions ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2510A – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
2539B – Oceanside Spinach ( B=1/2oz ) 1 x $3.30 = $3.30
2766A – Australian Yellow OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2879A – Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
2905A – Cardinale OG Batavian Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.10 = $2.10
2984A – Freedom Lettuce Gene-Pool OG Lettuce Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
3020A – Astro OG Arugula ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3063A – Très Fine Maraîchère Olesh OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3075A – Speckled Friz Chickendiva OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
3099A – Sea Kale Sea Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3216A – Lady Murasaki Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3217A – Garnet Giant Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3260A – Shuko Pac Choy ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3309A – Green Super Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3322A – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
3327A – Piracicaba Non-Heading Broccoli ( A=2g ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3334A – Hestia Brussels Sprouts ( A=0.25g ) 1 x $3.00 = $3.00
3451A – Beedys Camden OG Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3459A – Darkibor Kale ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3834A – Early Jalapeño Hot Peppers ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4031A – Aosta Valley OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
4225A – Mountain Magic Tomatoes ( A=10 seeds ) 1 x $3.90 = $3.90
2017 was the year of fifty-five tomato plants. I hadn’t really planned to do that but it was a glorious harvest of sauce, paste, chutney, jam, and fragrant piles of fruit dried in the wood fired oven. I imagine I will have enough tomato “product” to last well into 2018 so I’m not looking for that result again right away. One package each of two varieties, Aosta and Mountain Magic, should provide a dependable, tasty, and not overwhelming crop in 2018.
4418A – Genovese Basil Basil ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4518A – Santo OG Cilantro ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4899A – Blazing Stars Blazing Stars ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5035A – Sensation Mix Cosmos Cosmos ( A=1.4g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5411A – Gentian Sage Salvias ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
5423A – Northern Sea Oats OG Northern Sea Oats ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5620A – Black Knight Sweet Peas ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
5731A – State Fair Mix Zinnias ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
Subtotal: = $85.40
This is my inspiration for still life painting from the garden next year – look at the Sea Oats!
In October we had the invasion of crab apples (and fruit flies) in the studio, wind storms with power outages, and revelations about drapery and the role of drawing in painting thanks to a dear friend lending me her copy of Modern Prints and Drawings by Paul Sachs.
Now it has turned November and we have quince in progress, 24 x 18, oil on panel.
With last night’s full moon we left the cold, wet Spring for full-on 90 degree sun and westerly winds at 20 knots – suddenly it’s summer. The garden will change rapidly now as the plants soak up more than 16 hours of sunlight a day. Here goes an attempt to catch up!
I started this post just after the Strawberry Full Moon on June 9. Then I went outside to harvest some green onions and lettuce and the garden pulled me under. I’ve been planting green beans and throwing hay on the potatoes, putting in the second crop of peas and wrapping tree tape and Tanglefoot on the fruit trees. Today I have a few minutes on a rainy Saturday morning and will perhaps get this post published before the Buck Moon on July 9!
Ripening strawberries, var Sparkle. We netted the plants against rodents this year but the goshawks in the nearby Kittredge Forest Preserve are doing their part to keep the red squirrel population in check.
The tree peony in full bloom – a huge draw with the early morning honeybees.
Dwarf Sour Cherry tree “Carmine Jewel”, will grow to about 7′ and about as wide, good for keeping the fruit in easy reach. I hate to pick from a ladder! Some growers report harvesting 20 – 30 lbs of fruit from one tree so there’s really no need to go bigger. This one is developing a nice trunk and is loaded with fruit.
Baby Seckel pears will be ripe in late September. The white splotches on the leaves are left after spraying with Surround CP, a white clay in suspension that forms a barrier against pests.
Baby peaches on the Garnet Beauty peach tree. The bees did good work this year.
The view out the front door facing south, with a new bed (beets and carrots) and of course the fixtures of every Maine garden: giant spruce trees and an electric fence charger!
Here’s to fitting in a post before the Sturgeon Moon on August 7th!
I very much wanted to title this piece “Mrs. M. and the Cherry Tree That Desperately Needs Pruning” but that sounded too much like the next Harry Potter novel.
This is a study for a larger painting, but we have to get our model time in when we can (especially during blackfly season).
Ivory Black on panel, 24 x 24
It’s 38 degrees F and raining steadily, all the more reason to stay indoors with the Fedco seed catalog reading about late season tomatoes and South American grain crops. This year, with tax and shipping, I spent about $75 on seeds – which should allow me to just break even with the cost of shopping for the same stuff at the grocery store. That’s not including any price break for quality or the convenience of picking dinner just outside the door, but equally does not allow for the sweat equity of labor, management, and cursing the inevitable August drought.
I have a weakness for odd plants that are shy and difficult to grow and every year Fedco lists new challenges. Ramps, for instance, are so fascinating I’m including the entire description from the catalog:
Allium tricoccum (6-18 months) Open-pollinated. Sometimes called Wild Leeks. Their delectable pungent flavor, a mix of garlic and onion, speaks to their wild nature, and satisfies our long wait. Not a good germinator; expect less than 50%. The name Chicago was probably derived from shikaakwa, the native Miami-Illinois people’s word for ramps, which grew in profusion along the rivers in that area. Ramps are a native perennial of deciduous forests, growing best in cool shady areas with damp rich soil high in organic matter and calcium. Because this is a wild plant, seed planted in the spring will germinate that spring if conditions are right; if not, it may germinate the next spring. Mark your patches well and provide protection from predation. Once a bulb is formed, the new leaves emerge in early spring, before the tree canopy develops; by late spring leaves die back and a flower stalk emerges. Photosynthetic period and the harvest window is limited to these few weeks. Once established, ramps grow in close communities, strongly rooted just beneath the soil surface. Harvest carefully with a sharp knife, cutting plants just above the roots. Disturb the roots as little as possible and your ramps will likely come back. Chefs who demand the roots attached are contributing to the over-harvesting problem.
Be sure to check out the links to Sea Kale and Tarwi, and patronize your local seed-saving organization or agricultural co-op – they’re doing the good work for all of us.
210A – Strike Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
658A – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.60 = $2.60
818A – Oregon Giant Snow Peas ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
927A – Mayor Canary Melon ( A=0.4g ) 1 x $3.40 = $3.40
1047A – Verona Watermelons ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
1234A – Cross Country Pickling Cucumbers ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
1411A – Black Zucchini Zucchini ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
1504A – Saffron Yellow Summer Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
1630A – Uncle Davids Dakota Dessert OG Buttercup/Kabocha Winter Squash ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
1718A – Winter Luxury OG Pumpkins ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2028A – Coral Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2073A – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
2156A – Cylindra Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2182A – Detroit Dark Red Short Top Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2433A – Ramps Onions and Leeks ( A=1g ) 1 x $3.50 = $3.50
2719A – Bronze Arrowhead OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2786A – Red Tinged Winter OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
2787A – De Morges Braun OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2803A – Tom Thumb Butterhead Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2879A – Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
3021A – Ice-Bred OG Arugula ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
3099A – Sea Kale Sea Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3204A – Green Lance Green Lance ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3223A – Yokatta-Na Yokatta-Na ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3260A – Shuko Pac Choy ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
3311A – Green King Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3313A – Bay Meadows Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
3380A – Frigga Cabbages ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3451A – Beedys Camden OG Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3469A – Kale Mix Kale ( A=2g ) 2 x $1.70 = $3.40
4083A – Weisnichts Ukrainian OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
4117A – Principe Borghese Cherry Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4296A – Pasta Paste Tomatoes ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
4314A – Tarwi Lupinus ( A=2g ) 1 x $2.60 = $2.60
4414A – Sweet Basil Basil ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4588A – Lemon Balm Lemon Balm ( A=0.3g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4692A – Blue Vervain OG Blue Vervain ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
4836A – Carnival Amaranths ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
5351A – Ziar Breadseed OG Poppies ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5411B – Gentian Sage Salvias ( B=0.3g ) 1 x $3.30 = $3.30
5611A – Perennial Sweet Pea Sweet Peas ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40