Too much of a good thing. . .

. . .was too much for the woven fabric cover on the hoop house. Saturday’s storm included rain and the weight opened a huge rip between two bays. Fortunately, the metal ribs are undamaged and another cover will be easy to come by.

My family gave me the hoop house 12 years ago on Valentine’s Day. I ordered it from an outfit called “Cover-It”, now evidently defunct. They made amazing portable structures: airplane hangers, hospitals for war zones in Afghanistan, portable prisons, and hobby greenhouses. My 12′  x 12′ x 9′ structure shipped on the same truck as one of the hospitals headed for Bangor International Airport and the Middle East.

The company was based somewhere in Florida. When I talked to the guy about delivery there were children laughing in the background, road noises and dogs barking. I told him we lived on an island in Maine and he asked; “What ocean?”. I answered that it was the Atlantic Ocean, the same ocean that he saw in Florida. He said; “What? No! It can’t be,” and I never managed to convince him that it was.

I’ll order a new tarp next week, but we’ll have to wait until spring, or at least until the snow melts down to ground level, to put it on. This is the hoop house in happier times, filled with begonias and a Brown Turkey fig.

Wild life

Today I took a walk along the carriage trails in Acadia National Park toward Witch’s Hole and the Breakneck Ponds. The park is a good place to observe nature in action, and I saw two peregrine falcons, a predaceous diving beetle (late in the season, but the swamp is still warm), a white-tail buck (very common in the park, where there is no hunting), countless red squirrels and six beavers. The first lodge pond is very close to the Eagle Lake Rd. – the dam is only 15′ from the highway. I saw a beaver couple here, the “v” of their swim across the pond is to the right of the lodge.

I walked farther down the carriage road to the first of the Breakneck Ponds, and found a recent “chew”. Here the beaver has felled a poplar and a carried the tree off for construction purposes.

And this is why beavers can be hazardous to your health – I’m glad it wasn’t windy.

Further down the carriage road the park has been forced to intervene. Beavers have dropped a fairly large birch tree across the road and the park crew has chainsawed it into manageable pieces.

At the last lodge I visited there were two beavers cruising the deep water in front of this impressive dam. Evidently they don’t take weekends off.


Earlier this week R. came home from the village and reported it gone. Whole blocks, down by the waterfront; the confused jumble of decrepit housing wiped clean with some alt-Photoshop tool. A large hotel is planned, very clean and bright until a few decades of the local weather sets its teeth in it, and then the cedar siding and glass will peel back and fade like the little houses before. It will take a while, but I’m looking forward to it.

This is the back yard of the houses that faced West St. and the harbor, taken from the municipal parking lot. Not a very typical description of pricey real estate, but these little shacks were much too dear to stand.

Raspberries Redux

Seventeen years ago raspberries were the first permanent planting in our garden. Our land has been harvested for spruce and pine, cleared for pigs and burned over, but it has never been farmed. When I planted those first berry bushes I moved rocks and dug through deep deposits of yellow clay, lined the holes with seaweed and horse bedding from the stable up the street, mulched the new stalks with salt hay and waited. Turns out that raspberries will put up with a lot of abuse. There were late springs, early winters, droughty summers, deer, birds and weeds but most summers I picked raspberries by the gallon.  The yield increased in 2006 when I began keeping bees, disguising the decline of bushes that had been producing well in poor soil and without weed control. 2009 was a terrible year in the garden, nothing did well, and while I thought about replacing the now 15 year old plants, I didn’t have a plan.

Now, I have a plan. Last week I dug over the beds, removing the old plants and uprooting the alpine strawberries and miner’s spinach that had become a thick ground cover. Today I dug out rough squares to use as planting areas for the new canes come spring, and covered the plot with landscape fabric.

I removed most of the decent soil and will use it next spring, after subzero temperatures have killed most of the weeds. I’m using my new favorite building material – firewood from the bottom of last year’s stack – to station the landscape fabric and mold it to the holes.

I bought two bushes last year, variety “Killarney”, and transplanted them to the new bed this afternoon. This fall I plan to purchase “Anne”, an ever-bearing yellow, “Royalty Purple” and “Prelude”, and early fruiting red. Raspberry plants are sold bare-root in bundles of 10 or 5 canes, depending on the variety. I plant them in hills, so will divide the shipment up by the size of the holes I’ve dug.

And finally, where is my matched team of Morgans when I need them?

The chicken question

Last week R. made dinner from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Since then we’ve been through Chicken Provencal and Chicken with Mushrooms. And Port. And heavy cream. These dishes are superb, but would be much improved by a sturdier, less rarefied meat than the side-by-side pink skinless cutlets from the grocery. Then I caught him studying up for Roast Chicken and Chicken with Herbs and began think about raising our own birds in self defense.

Black Orpington

I read about the various breeds of chickens, their relative cold hardiness, size, adaptability. I got side-tracked by chicken coops – I’m an old hand at the Internets, but the amount of information on housing poultry is a little overwhelming. Then I found out that Egglu makes beehives. Very, very expensive beehives, but there went another half an hour. From there I went to butchering chickens, brining chicken and the general consensus that I’ll need a bigger freezer. Smoking, “jarring” and salting poultry look like activities for after one retires and has whole days to devote to a production line that can’t be interrupted without a considerable risk of food borne pathogens.

The more I think about it, the farther “raising our own meat birds” moves down on the list of available projects. Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds raises chickens according to “pastured poultry” methods; they’re close enough to MDI to be considered local agriculture and their prices compare favorably with the local grocery chain considering the value-added. I’d need a stout coop to fend off the local wildlife: fox, raccoon, bald eagle, the occasional black bear and our neighborhood pack of coyotes – but what I really need is a woodshed. And a garage. And a studio. A chicken from a well-run, local poultry operation is looking better and better.

It will be April before the Ellsworth Feed and Seed has its next live bird shipment – chickens! turkeys! quail!, ducks! – and we’ll see what happens then.

Big Rock redux

Last month our neighbors gifted us with a Significant Rock. It came on a Big Boom Truck – possibly the biggest vehicle to ever climb up our gravel road and I’ll stop with the capital letters now. The rock  has a rather formal placement exactly perpendicular to the front of the house and lined up with one of the window bays. People have actually stopped their cars in the road and commented on it. Then they go on to mention the garden, and their garden back home, and then inquire after lobster, and really, it takes an awesome rock to stop tourists in their pursuit of local seafood. This weekend our neighbors called; “Did our rock want a life partner?”. Of course we said “Yes!”.

K’s boom truck showed up on Sunday afternoon in the pouring rain. I was on my third pair of shoes and already soaking wet, so a little more water wasn’t a problem.

Now reach into the truck. . .

And pull out a rock. . .

And confab on the placement. Because it’s not going anywhere after that webbing comes off.

A beautiful rock, nestled in blueberries. Note the worked edge – this might have been part of a foundation for a Bar Harbor “cottage” lost in the Great Fire. Now it resides with us, forever or until boom truck do us part.

New rock

Our neighbors across the road are moving. They’ve been wonderful neighbors and we’ll miss them, but as it happens their new home is only 10 minutes away. I don’t get out much, but I think I can still manage to visit. And they’ve promised to come back to Trick or Treat.

Like many households, they are distributing some of their belongings before they move. Unlike lots of folks, they have rocks. Big rocks, all over the lower driveway and they are taking some with them to the new place, and they gave one to us. It is a thing of beauty – 6′ x 2′ by 2′, grey with a few lichen spots and partly cut. S. told me the Japanese term for part smooth/part natural surface, and I’ve forgotten it already. Fortunately, you don’t need to know the word to appreciate the effect.

The New Rock sits partially across the straight-line access to the house, in line with the south window bay. The driveway used to come right up to the house – or rather, the front yard was an empty stretch of fill from nearby Lamoine that one could drive over.  Somehow that open avenue has remained even as the space was populated with peach and pear trees, vegetable beds and a hoop house. This is a “before” photo of the front of the house.

This is the big truck that picked up the stone and dropped it (carefully) here. That’s a big truck.

Here’s the after photo with the stone in place. Rock solid, as they say.

Potato cage match

Every year I try a new way to grow potatoes. Maine is justly famous for the huge tracts of land, mostly in The County, dedicated to the potato harvest. Aroostook County schools are scheduled around the harvest – one of the last holdouts of agriculture over curriculum in the US, and there are “potato bucks” and enough tuber-related traditions up there to fill several books. My Uncle Cyp tells the story of his younger brother held by his ankles down through the door of the potato cellar, gathering dinner from the great piles stored beneath the house. But Northern Maine has soil for big fields, where the seed potatoes are planted and harvested with huge machines and hand-sorted on conveyor belts. Here on the island I need to conserve space and dirt is scarce, especially for what is esentially a root crop doing its best business in the dark and deep. Enter the potato box.

The boxes are constructed of pine 2 x 4 x 8’s (cut in half as a 2 x 4 x 4′) and 2 x 6 x 10’s cut into 2′ lengths – very economical. I’ve fastened the bottom two boards in place. I’ll fill it halfway up with soil (6″ or thereabouts), plant the seed potatoes and then fill to the top board. I’ll probably throw some mulch or landscape fabric over the top. When the plants have grown out of that much soil, the next layer of boards go on, soil is added (not to cover more than 2/3 of the plant at one time), and so forth until the top board goes on and you just let the plants spill out the top. At harvest, one bottom board is removed and the oldest potatoes harvested first.

This method seems to be a good use of soil and appropriate plant habitat – and I like the option of an early, partial harvest. There’s nothing better than new potatoes in late August, yet that’s way too early to dig up a whole plant. I have lumber cut for another four boxes to accommodate plantings of: All Blue, Dark Red Norland, Salem and Nicola.  Proof will be had in a creamy leek and potato gratin along about Labor Day.

Meanwhile, it has been a beautiful Spring. Woad is blooming in the door yard, with red columbine and blue Chinese forget-me-not.

Technical difficulties. . .

This blog is broken, sadly. The only problem is with uploading images, but of course I’m all about the images. We’ll be taking down the site later  today and putting something back up and quite possibly no one will be the wiser. On the other hand, this might be a new and unrecognizable entity by Monday and it’s only fair to leave a message.

I memorize a poem each season, using the time I spend commuting to work and the conference calls and meetings to which I go, but am not expected to contribute past putting out the occasional fire.  My choice for Winter 2010 seems strangely appropriate, so I’m leaving it here as a placeholder. “You, if any open this writing. . .”

Epistle to be Left in the Earth

…It is colder now
there are many stars
we are drifting
North by the Great Bear
the leaves are falling
The water is stone in the scooped rock
to southward
Red sun grey air
the crows are
Slow on their crooked wings
the jays have left us

Long since we passed the flares of Orion
Each man believes in his heart he will die
Many have written last thoughts and last letters
None know if our deaths are now or forever
None know if this wandering earth will be found

We lie down and the snow covers our garments
I pray you
you (if any open this writing)
Make in your mouths the words that were our names
I will tell you all we have learned
I will tell you everything

The earth is round
there are springs under the orchards
The loam cuts with a blunt knife
beware of
Elms in thunder
the lights in the sky are stars
We think they do not see
we think also
The trees do not know nor the leaves of the grasses hear us
The birds too are ignorant
do not listen
Do not stand at dark in the open windows
We before you have heard this
they are voices
They are not words at all but the wind rising
Also noone among us has seen God
(… We have thought often
the flaws of sun in the late and driving weather
pointed to one tree but it was not so.)
As for the nights I warn you the nights are dangerous
The wind changes at night and the dreams come

It is very cold
there are strange stars near Arcturus
Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky

Archibald MacLeish

Beautiful nuisance

This afternoon I walked up the road to the neighbors to buy a dozen eggs. It is a lovely day even now that the sun is low; well above freezing with little wind and enough dirt showing through the ice that the road is passable even without my cleats. I was on my way down Rat’s long drive with the eggs tucked securely under my arm when a very pregnant doe burst out from a spruce thicket and nearly gave us both heart attacks. We both made very girly screams, too – deer actually make a lot of noise when they’re not being stealthy.

She was awkward running, her legs splayed out and not neatly tucked under her body as they might have been in another season. Lean everywhere except her abdomen,  she was close enough that I could see lumps of head and rump under her hide when she stretched out to run. I walked home looking at the tracks that in the snowbanks that line the road, wondering if I could pick her’s out from all the rest by their peculiar spacing. There were certainly a lot of hoof prints, and she’ll probably make two more tiny sets in a few weeks.

I’ve been thinking about how to protect the new garden space created when we cut down the trees between the house and the road last fall. There are no real barriers there – no hedges or fence – but the local deer haven’t yet changed their habitual route that skirts where the forest used to be. It would be a good idea to enclose the space with a fence before they notice the shortcut.

The easiest and cheapest way to enclose a random space against most of our local predators is an electric fence. We don’t have woodchucks – not enough cleared land with soil to allow burrows – and rabbits are picked off by raptors before there are enough of them to cause a problem, so this fence will be geared toward deer. A one-wire fence with an A/C energizer should do the trick. Conventional wisdom used to be that baiting the fence worked best – the deer came forward and touched the green apple scented bait cap (and the charged wire) with its nose and learned not to go there. Recent tests show that it is actually more efficient to use repellent on cloth flags hanging from the wire. The deer tend to check the strange item and then to associate the repellent with the shock – making the repellent more useful on unfenced areas too. There have been stories about bears being attracted to the green apple and peanut butter lures, so there’s another reason to go with repellent rather than bait. This fence won’t do anything to a bear.

I use Premiere 1 Supplies for my fencing needs. I’m very happy with the Quick-Net and solar powered battery Kube that protects the lower garden. For this application, though, I’m going with an A/C Kube because I’m close enough to an outlet in the house to run conduit out to the fence. Add in some Intellirope, a variety of insulators for t-posts, trees and stakes, some rope connectors, a few spring gates  and a bag of 20 fiber rods and I’ll have a good chance of bringing lettuce seedlings to maturity. I am enclosing approximately 300 (linear) feet at a cost of @ $200.00. Factoring in the fairly long life expectancy of the equipment (10 years) over the amount of deer repellent, labor and lost productivity and I think this works out to a good deal.  Here’s the work sheet. More pictures to follow as the equipment arrives and is installed!