Seaweed harvest

Today I went to Beach Road Beach to gather seaweed for the garden. BRB is a utility drop in Seawall where the cables stretch across the channel to Little Cranberry and Islesboro. The beach faces into the prevailing wind and parallel to the current so occasionally huge rafts of seaweed pile up during storms, only to be washed away again at the next moon tide. And it’s a beautiful place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Winter seaweed is friable – naturally freeze-dried by the weather – and therefore easier to pick up and cart off than ripe, wet summer kelp. There are fewer people and their dogs leaving messes on the beach, less trash in the water, and a lot fewer mosquitoes too, so I often go down to Seawall over the course of March and April and load up 6 large garbage bags per trip. You don’t need a pick-up truck – the 20 year old sedan will do fine as long as it’s a Volvo with plenty of ground clearance and studded tires.

It was 35 degrees and blowing a small craft warning this afternoon, but there was plenty of seaweed and I had the place all to myself. I might have to go back tomorrow. . .


Snow has been falling for thirty hours now. Not very hard, and not much is piling up on the March-thawed ground, but still – thirty hours! Not much to do about it but post a picture, and a poem by Margaret Atwood. Ms. Atwood is from Canada and knows a thing or two about March. Or February.


by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Fedco seed order, conclusion

All hail the Fedco seed order, finally. It took forever to work this out for 2011. Sometimes (actually every year since 1986  when we got married, bought a house, and I started gardening for real) I’ve had seeds started in the cellar before the end of February. Working smarter now, not harder? Time will tell, like it always does with gardening.

I held off long enough that Fedco was already out of Hopi Dye Sunflowers, which sound fascinating and will perhaps inspire me to get this done earlier in 2012. Here is the complete list with sporadic descriptions lifted from the Fedco online catalog:

204 – Provider Bush Green Bean ( A=2 oz)
247 – Masai Bush Haricots Verts ( A=1/2oz)
297 – Multicolored Pole Bean Mix ( A=1/2oz)
337 – Maine Sunset Bean ( A=2oz)
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz)
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz)
916 – Oka Muskmelon ( A=1/16oz)
1059 – Arava Cantaloupe OG ( A=1g)
1388 – Painted Serpent Cucumber ( A=1/16oz)
Cucumis melo var. flexuosus Bite into the snake that doesn’t bite back. Also known as Armenian Cucumber or Snake Melon, native to Armenia and brought to Italy in the fifteenth century. William Woys Weaver says “this is one of the oldest of our heirlooms, yet one of the most neglected by our gardeners,” often relegated to exhibition rather than esculentus. Yet its flavor surpasses that of cucumbers, excelling in salads and stir fries without bitterness or burps. Slender slightly fuzzy flexuous fruits delicately coil like a serpent with alternate light and dark green stripes. Culture like the melon it is, starting indoors in individual pots and transplanting into a low tunnel. Will grow up to 30″ but best eaten at 8–18″. Straighter if trellised. I could never get it to grow well on my Central Maine clay, but it loved my sandy Colrain, MA, soil and was a prolific producer in the hot dry summer. First ripe fruit was July 26.

1457 – Costata Romanesca Zucchini OG ( A=1/8oz)
1605 – Carnival Acorn Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz)
1719 – New England Pie Pumpkin ( A=1/4oz)
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz)
2092 – Nelson Carrot ( A=1g)
2093 – Yaya Carrot OG ( A=1g)
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz)
2257 – Zlata Radish ( A=1g) A new color in summer radishes! These shimmery yellow medium-sized beauties from Poland starred in our MA trial. Crunchy and crispy white interiors, spicy but not overwhelming, good fresh and even better braised. Did not bolt or split and held quality even in all the June 2009 rains. Perfect for bunching.
2376 – Gold Ball Turnip ( A=1/8oz)
2411 – King Sieg Leek OG ( A=1/16oz)
2512 – Olympia Spinach ( A=1/4oz)
2803 – Tom Thumb Lettuce ( A=2g)
2805 – Bronze Mignonette Lettuce ( A=2g)
2859 – Majestic Red Lettuce ( A=1g)
2919 – Pablo Lettuce ( A=1g) Open-pollinated. Pablo bears a superficial resemblance to a red iceberg with much the same allure, but is a batavian, not a crisphead. Its larger plants form loose heads of beautiful upright rosettes surrounded by wide wavy-edged flat leaves. Bronze coloration on the outside leaves contrasts strongly with the green interiors lending a striking metallic sheen. Very sweet and mild with some bitterness in the ribs, slow-growing and extremely heat resistant.
2983 – DeLuxe Lettuce Mix ( A=1g)
2992 – Mesclun ( A=1g)
2993 – Greens Mix OG ( A=1g)
3192 – Broad-Leaved Sorrel ( A=1/16 oz)
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( A=1/16oz) Open-pollinated. Brassica rapa (pekinensis group) With Maruba you get four vegetables in one. The loose round vibrant chartreuse leaves provide a mild piquant mustardy flavor while the flat white stems impart a juicy crisp pac choy taste. High-end chefs like to use the blossoms. Market grower Scott Howell finds the flavor more subtle and complex than that of other greens and cuts Maruba small for his mesclun. Fairly bolt tolerant, so plant after the early spring flea beetle invasion subsides.
3221 – Tatsoi ( A=1/16oz)
3326 – Broccoli Blend ( A=0.5g)
3327 – Piracicaba ( A=2g)
3380 – Frigga Savoy Cabbage
3466 – Rainbow Lacinato Kale OG
4060 – Paul Robeson Tomato OG ( A=0.2g) Open-pollinated. Ind. This Russian heirloom was named in honor of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) who befriended the Soviet Union. Athlete (15 varsity letters at Rutgers!), actor (played Othello in the longest-running Shakespearian production in Broadway history!), singer (world famous for his vibrant baritone renditions of Negro spirituals), orator, cultural scholar and linguist (fluent in at least 15 languages!), Robeson was an outspoken crusader for racial equality and social justice. Revered by the left, reviled by the right, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era and beyond, harassed by the FBI, his passport revoked for eight years, his career stifled. He died broken and almost forgotten, his life a testament to lost opportunities in twentieth-century American history. His namesake tomato has developed almost a cult following among seed savers, 12 of whom are listed in the Yearbook. The maroon-brick 6–12 oz. oblate often bi-lobed fruits with dark green shoulders come closest in flavor to Black Krim, but can claim their own distinctive sweet smoky taste. A sandwich tomato with a tang, an extraordinary tomato for an extraordinary man.
4119 – Peacevine Cherry Tomato OG ( A=0.2g)
4149 – Heirloom Tomato Mix OG ( A=0.2g) You’d love to be adventurous and try them all but you haven’t space for that many tomato plants? Or can’t make up your mind which ones to select? Here’s the solution: Skip the fuss and leave the choosing to us! We’ll mix together a bunch of varieties (all organically grown seed) in one packet. You’ll get different colors, sizes, shapes and flavors. All you’ll need is an open mind, a good sense of observation, unjaded taste buds and acute deductive faculties. Then you can figure out which ones you like and order them by name next year.
4207 – Juliet Tomato ( A=0.2g)
4418 – Genovese Basil ( A=2g)
4470 – Thai Basil ( A=0.5g)
5005 – Carpet of Snow Alyssum ( A=0.5g)
5141 – Sensation Mix Cosmos ( A=1.4g)
5460 – Torch Mexican Sunflower ( A=0.2g)
5467 – Benarys Giants Scarlet Coated Zinnia ( A=0.2g)
5470 – Cactus Bright Jewel Mix Zinnia ( A=1g)
5491 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( A=0.5g)
5502 – Dyers Broom ( A=0.2g)
5504 – Dyers Coreopsis Mix ( A=0.3g)
6137 – Summer Sun Heliopsis ( A=1g)
6333 – Beneficials Mix ( B=7g)

It is snowing, sleeting and occasionally pouring rain with thunder and lightening out there right now, but soon, this –


Wednesday was a snow day. My office was closed, schools were closed, State offices. The gas station at the One-Stop was open but only because that’s a point of pride for those particular “WE NEVER CLOSE” folks. Someone skidded into one of the pumps; not hard enough to cause an explosion but there’s enough damage that it’s being held together with duct tape so perhaps closing would have been a good idea, but whatever. I had the whole day off and to celebrate we rearranged the furniture.

We built our house in 1993.  That’s the royal “we”; my partner swung the hammer, laid pipe and ran conduit while I kept us fed and out from underfoot. We moved in over Easter weekend in 1994 and then took several trips south to Portland to retrieve furniture from a storage locker. The television, kitchen table, mattresses and what-all went in piecemeal and wherever they landed, there they stayed. We haven’t changed the layout of what is essentially one large first floor room with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor for fifteen years and it was time for a change.

I don’t have any recent “before” pictures, but this is what the south end of the house looked like when we moved in.

Yesterday’s reconfiguring of the room went well. We exchanged enough pieces that we could get the rug up, vacuumed and turned around, we dusted and teased out the snarl of wires behind the rack of computer paraphernalia, and threw out four big bags of garbage. I went in to work the next day and talked about the changes; “The sofa looks really nice in the new living room area!”,  and that’s where this post comes in. People who have been to dinner at my house have never noticed that we had a sofa.

It’s a whale of a thing, our sofa – truly. Long enough to lie down on, ornate and covered with green and striped horsehair upholstery with the tufted back and geegaws, I would not have thought you could miss it. Or the chandelier, which also got me blank looks. “You have a chandelier?”.

I hereby admit that our previous floor plan (I can’t call it interior design) was deeply flawed if there was enough stuff in the way to hide furniture of this magnitude in only 600 square feet (minus the stairwell). And I feel compelled to provide pictures of the new arrangement even though there is no proof, I guess, that I didn’t go out and purchase these things after the fact. You’ll just have to come over for dinner again and see if the sofa looks familiar.

I found I couldn’t take a picture of the chandelier (36″ in diameter, stained glass waterlily pattern) without dusting it, which is going to have to wait until I finish this batch of cinnamon chili cupcakes with chipoltle ganache for the Town Hill Chili Fest tomorrow night. Until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

New work

It’s snowing. Snow has been falling continuously since noon and is predicted to continue until late tomorrow night with accumulations of a foot or more. When I was in college in Philadelphia I met a woman who had only recently left her home in Tallahassee and had only seen snow in pictures. She had assumed each six-pointed snowflake to be the size of a dinner plate (just like they appeared in the encyclopedia) otherwise how would they pile up into drifts of ten feet or more in Buffalo? She was very disappointed the first time it snowed in Philly and the small, tired piles on the sidewalks never resolved themselves into crystals visible to the naked eye.

It has been a blessing these past few weeks to be working on images from the summer months while the wood stove sends warmth up the stairwell to my upper room. Trudy would have liked this drawing, I think, and been impressed with sheer multitude of tiny flakes outside.

(First) Snow Becoming Light by Morning

In case you sit across from the meteorologist tonight,
and in case the dim light over the booth in the bar still shines
almost planetary on your large, smooth, winter-softened
forehead, in case all of the day—its woods and play, its fire—
has stayed on your beard, and will stay through the slight
drift of mouth, the slackening of even your heart’s muscle—
. . . well. I am filled with snow. There’s nothing to do now
but wait.
Jill Osier

Prospect, ME

Tonight I drove across the Verona Island Bridge, past Fort Knox and out to the Prospect Community Hall for the Tri-County Beekeepers Association Annual Meeting and Pot Luck.  First order of business was to honor Genevieve for her 20 years work as our treasurer with a carrot cake from Frank’s. You’re a Honey!

Speaker for the evening was Tony Jadczak, the Maine State Apiarist. Tony’s talk was centered around 2010 weather: the warm, early spring followed by a terrific summer honey crop, then a drought setting in for July and August and a dearth of honey this fall. A long dry summer means no goldenrod, and that means the bees eat their winter stores early. In 2009 we had one of the coldest, rainiest summers on record but the rain stopped in early September and the vegetation was lush. Hives put on a lot of honey and the bounty carried many weaker hives, and even some wild colonies, through a very mild winter. Tony took us through the consequences of “reinfestation pressure” and predictions for 2011, touched on new virus research and the ever increasing threat of mites, and talked about the people all over Maine who make their living (and their kids tuition) by the bees.

While I was there I noticed that renovations to the Prospect Community Hall continue. Sometimes I think every building in Maine is a product of retrofitting: the Hall has three layers of ceiling, two front doors (leading directly to the shoulder of Rt 1A) and a new bathroom.

I miss the old bathroom with its irregular toilet and the sheet of polished steel as a mirror, but the flowers are a nice touch.

Like the beekeepers, the Hall is ever-changing in an effort to keep up with the times; to be useful and purposeful and bug free as much as possible.

Battened down

I’ve tied the hoop house doors together using thin hemp twine that will swell and tighten as it soaks up the rain, moved the house plants that summer out of doors inside, gathered up all the Tyvek so that floating row covers don’t whip around the neighborhood and put big rocks on the plastic Adirondack chairs. Tonight we’re under an areal flood and high wind watch for 4 to 5 inches of rain and 40 mph sustained winds with 68 mph gusts. There’s a storm warning for the Gulf of Maine with 5′ seas and the locals have been beaching boats all day. We’re fully stocked with flashlights and toilet paper because the big storms are never the hurricanes – the worst weather is always associated with the unnamed storms that come with warnings but don’t make history.

I toured the garden with the camera one last time before the storm wipes everything straight to winter. This year the sweet peas bloomed all summer long but I don’t expect they will survive the wind and rain tonight.

Thanks to the bees, the melon vines are starting fruit they won’t finish – cute though, and maybe destined to be a still life composition.

The vines look thin, but the pumpkins and hubbard squash are still maturing and will stay out till November, growing thick hides and increasing their sugar content.

The Clamdigger

The “Fisherman’s Voice” has an article by Lee Wilbur about our friend and neighbor, Richard A. (Rat) Taylor;

Richard is perhaps the historical epitome of what we like to feel Maine people are made of—people who have made their living with hard work, no nonsense, and a healthy dose of ingenuity.

Here’s a link to part 1 in August, and part 2 in the September issue. It’s a good read about what it’s like to make your living with your hands in this century or any other – clamdigging hasn’t changed all that much. I did a post about Rat’s presence on our road, including his sign,  last year. This year the sign is bigger and better and I’m hoping it’s a trend.

Fluke of Earl

We spent yesterday preparing for Hurricane Earl and are not at all disappointed to report  that it was unnecessary. The rain started in earnest at 3:00 a.m. and stopped completely around noon. The rain gauge registered almost 3″, which is a lot of rain in 9 hours, but the wind was mild and with such dry conditions this August the water soaked in and disappeared almost immediately.

While we were closing up the greenhouse and moving piles of branches an anonymous neighbor dressed the Social Capital Owl for the occasion. We really like the goggles.