Studio update 4.0

Today we have stairs to the second story! This is the view from the alpine garden looking east.

garden view

. . .and a better view of the new staircase.
front stairs

Looking down the stairs to the driveway and our gravel road, just as the crew from John Atkinson Builders is leaving. . .

drivewayHere’s the view into what will be my workspace. . . all that north light is will be nice to work under.

APo interiorThe south wall with sliding doors facing the house. . .

south wallAnd finally, the view out the big north wall window into the swamp. It will be wonderful to see this change with the seasons – I can’t wait for snow.

north wall

Studio update (let’s see, I think we’re up to 3.0!)

As an update on the 14′ x 20′ studio building project in the back yard – we have achieved window trim! And it’s beautiful.

window trim detail

These small casement windows will provide excellent ventilation. There are also large windows on the north wall, and newly installed glass sliding doors into the second floor. The crew had to take them apart to get them up there on the scaffolding – good news is that nobody died. Those sliders weigh a ton.

glass sliders

Here’s the first look into my space on the second floor (just before the doors went in). This is going to be a wonderful place to paint!

second floor interior

Still to do: battens, remaining trim, roof, and stairs on the exterior, first floor flooring and track lighting inside. Stay tuned. . .



Studio Update, 2.0

John Atkinson’s crew has been busy all week working on the studio under balmy blue October skies. They added square casement windows to R’s space on the first floor, and installed the front door.

studio construction front door

The water-table is pressure treated lumber and needs to stay unpainted for a year. The board and batten siding is stained “Colonial Gray” – there won’t be another trim color because the building is just too small for that much detail.

board and battenThe interior of the first floor. . .

studio interior. . . already looks more like a room with the door on! I came home yesterday and found that the big windows on the left had been installed – very nice, very huge. I guess I need another post here once I grab some photos during daylight. For now, a view down the driveway from earlier this week:

studio driveway


Studio construction update

Not a terrifically sexy title for blog post, but what can you do? The studio is a work-in-progress and a little messy at the moment, but the final product is going to be terrific. This is my favorite view – the opening for second floor sliding glass doors looking over the alpine garden.

amys room

The roof has been sheathed, insulated, and prepped for the metal covering. Window framing is in place to allow cutouts, and the windows themselves should arrive tomorrow. This is the view down the driveway.

view from the driveway

Slowly but surely. . .

studio south side


Work in progress – the Studio

Our studio is slowly taking shape down the hill in the swamp. The 14′ x 20′ frame was completed last week.

new studio 1

The large opening on the second floor front will frame the sliders that open on to my studio space via an outside staircase. Below is the door to R’s space on the first floor.

new studio front

Nice view out the first floor windows to the swamp. I’ll have one large window on that side, but wasn’t up for climbing the ladder to the second floor.

post and beam studio interior

And, for old time’s sake, a photo of the old studio before we tore it down and started this one in almost the same spot. 10 x 12, one story on posts, it served the purpose for a long time – now on to something new and much better insulated!

before picture

Changes in the garden

Sometimes gardening is very subtle, nothing a traveler on our gravel road might notice passing by. This weekend Billy Guess from Eagle Aboreculture came by and took down the 45′ double-trunked spruce that grew right in the middle of the garden, and people have been screeching to a halt in the middle of the road all day.

It was a beautiful tree, the last one standing from a stand of conifers between the house and road. It was so tall that I can’t really find any good pictures of its entire length, but this is the base rising up from the middle of garden.

spruce before


big spruce before

As much as we thought it was too nice to cut down with the original clearing (thanks, Richard!). it had become weakened by standing on its own. The ground turned soft during the rain storm last weekend and I watched as the whole plate of roots around the tree rose and fell with the wind. It would have taken out the wires and possibly the southwest corner of the house if it fell, so we called Billy and he brought his crew around on Friday.

big spruce down 1I wasn’t around to witness the work, but R. said it was amazing to see someone all the way at the top, cutting huge chunks of (very heavy) tree trunk and dropping them strategically around the yard. Not one plant was damaged, and I have a lot of plantings right around the base of that tree.

big spruce down 2The view from the house: I had no idea the size of the shadow this tree cast against the house and garden beds. We have a lot more sun at all times of day now!

big spruce down logs

Big, heavy pieces of tree stacked neatly and waiting to be used as foundation for new garden beds. Great results – thanks, Eagle!

Hive work – Spring is coming

Outside the coyotes that live on Frenchman’s Hill are hollering at the full moon. They’re so loud I can hear them down cellar where I’m painting hive bodies under shop lights. We’re all waiting for spring. . .

hive deeps or supers

I’m making some changes to my beekeeping practices in 2013.

1. 10 frames in 10 frame boxes. I used 9 frames for years – the idea is to make the boxes lighter and easier to heft. “Nine-frame” adherents insist that the bees don’t mind the variation in the bee space; the precise distance between structures that bees require for their comfort zone. This year my partner is interested in helping out so I won’t be lifting 120 wooden boxes full of bees and honey by myself, and my experience suggests that the bees DO mind the extra space, perhaps especially in our Northern climate.

2. Full-sized, or “deep” supers. Hive boxes come in three sizes: small ones specifically for the honey harvest and meant to be rotated out quickly during the nectar flows in spring and fall, medium boxes for longer term honey cropping and extra living space, and “deeps”, the largest size, meant to be the colony’s living space. I’ve been using only small and medium – again for ease of moving them around. Deeps can weigh >150 lbs fully loaded with bees, larvae, and food stores. Unfortunately, nuc boxes contain large frames, and transferring a “deep” size frame into a medium hive body requires stacking boxes to accommodate extra length. It’s not an elegant solution. This year I know in advance that I’m getting 2 nucs from Abnaki Apiaries in Skowhegan and have planned accordingly – 2 large supers painted “vanilla” and ready to go!

2. Stencils. You’ll notice that both the supers in the photo are the same color of exterior latex paint. I generally throw a few strips of duct tape on one of the hives to differentiate it to the bee population, but this year I’m going to be more purposeful and plan a decoration, perhaps a stencil? Or this. Wow, there’s a lot of choices out there – now I feel very inadequate about all those years of duct tape!


I dug a hole in the lower garden this weekend, and this is what I got.

Load 16 tons, and what do you get. . .

We moved here twenty years ago and started gardening as soon as we could fell some trees, but we have neighbors who have been at it almost twice as long. When I asked R.A.T. (who has beautiful gardens and fruit trees with C., his wife) what kind of soil I could expect to find on my lot he thought for a minute and said, “Sparky”. I had no idea what he meant but later that summer when I boot-heeled a spading fork into a future raised bed and nearly started a forest fire scraping the metal against the granite,  I got it. We don’t have dirt here, we have flint and tinder.

Yeah, good luck getting this one out.

I’ve hauled a lot of seaweed in the last twenty years – pickup truck loads of the stuff, first loose in the back of the truck and later packed into recycled contractor bags as I realized what the salt and sand did to my truck. Also leaves, sand, gravel, horse manure, bales and bales of hay, piles of pine needles, composted bio-soils, wood chips and lately, other people’s yard waste and branches as I’ve adapted to the practices of permaculture. I can actually grow things now but that doesn’t mean there’s any fewer rocks, large or small.

Extra large family size over compensating rock.

Rocks can occasionally be a positive element in the garden, especially in poor soil. I was weeding the strawberries during this last gasp of summer-in-November and found the plants had spread furiously under and around the rocks holding down the landscape fabric meant to suppress weeds. I stood there for a while and considered the situation. The strawberry plants loved those rocks, perhaps because they conserved moisture and regulated temperature changes? The landscape fabric certainly wasn’t doing anything to suppress weeds, and I have a lot of rocks. Why not make the plants happy? The strawberry bed went from this:

Argghhhh, mass strawberry attack.

to this:

Order out of chaos. Sweet, sweet order.

If nothing else, it will be easier to step into the middle of the bed to pick the fruit, and it can’t be any worse at weed suppression than the landscape fabric. Prettier too, and I find that counts for a lot in the garden.

Willow garden basket

Willow has become my favorite garden construction material. The willow retaining wall, or “withy”, that I put in 10 years ago has become a lush green wall that provides erosion control,  shelter from drying wind and cold air flow, and bird and insect habitat on the abrupt slope by the side of the house. I keep it pruned to 3′ – 4′ and what was originally a single file of uprights is now a twisted mass more branch than space with a caliper of 4″ on some of the foundation trunks. I came home too late to take photos tonight, but tomorrow is a day off and I’ll repost.

The withy is wonderful where it has enough space but I’ve been leery of starting one in the main garden. I need room around it to easily prune it back (I’m pretty wild with the big shears), and it gets big fast even in Maine. Then a few weeks back a friend showed me an old woodcut illustration of a garden with what looked like large baskets overflowing with herbs. The “pots” had been started as baskets made of green willow with the uprights staked into the dirt, and allowed to grow in place. It seemed like a great idea!

I cut enough basket willow to form the uprights for a semicircular “basket” backed up to a tree trunk. I try to cut the branches at an angle for ease of pushing them into the ground, and remember to orient them the way they were growing.

Then I wove the uprights into themselves to form the basket. I used string to tie them in place at first but as the weave gets thicker the ends stay where you put them. Then I lined it inside and out with mulch hay to cut down on weed competition.

I filled the inside of the basket with a layer of rotten firewood, bark, then hay, then soil, and planted my new flowering (and fruiting) quince. I hope the recumbent form of the shrub isn’t as overwhelmed as it might be by starting 2′ above ground level.

Now to wait for Spring, and “Crimson and Gold”.


Time for a product review: Tear-Aid Original Type A Tape.  Pluses and minuses here, before and after pictures of the project below.

Minus (sort of): Remember the scene from the Blues Brothers movie with Elwood and the aerosol can of epoxy? “This is strong stuff.”  Keep hair, clothing, fingers, pets, and tools out of the way because when they say “instant extreme bond” they’re not kidding. I managed not to fold it on itself or stick it to the stepladder but it was a near thing. I realize the product is supposed to be adhesive but really – this stuff is real world Katamari Damacy. And that’s only a problem because,

Minus: This product is expensive. Amazon lists a 3″ x 5′ roll for $24.95. I could have used twice that for this project, and really couldn’t afford to waste an inch.

Plus: There’s some good information available.  I read some reviews (bless you, Amazon) that suggested lining up the two sides before taping. I was dealing with a right angle tear in the hoop house cover that was being held open by tension on the rest of the structure and a windy day, so holding it together seemed like a good idea. After a lot of experimentation (duct tape in various configurations) I threaded a darning needle with fishing line and sewed it. I couldn’t exert enough pressure to pull the sides completely together, but the 1″ gap was uniform and all the pieces lined up, which was close enough for folk music.

Plus: Does what it says on the tin. After all the prep work the actual repair was fairly straightforward. I peeled the backing down about an inch (sticky!) and applied it just beyond the start of the tear. The tape adhered instantly and smoothly. I rubbed it down as much as possible (there was no way to get to the outside of the hoophouse roof to burnish it from the other side) and that was it.

Plus: The repair looks great. The tape is smooth, clear and, according to the box, non-yellowing. I have enough aging silver duct tape in my yard already, thank you.

I love gardening, every day is a new experience.

Before, and after – so far.