Dandelion Greens

My angora rabbits enjoy fresh greens.  In the winter here in Maine, fresh greens are usually acquired at the grocery store for a considerable price.  Last year I tried growing some greens for my bunnies by planting the tops of carrots, allowing the feathery leaves to grow then harvesting them.  This produced a few meals for the bunnies, but not in the abundance they crave.  This year I decided to try something different.

I captured several dandelions in the wild (dug them up in the garden) and planted them in a deep pot.  Dandelions have a long tap root, it can extend a foot into the ground on a very large plant.  I used a long, thin weed rooter to pop the plants out of the ground, preserving most of the length of the root.  These plants had already gone into hibernation mode, so it took a few days for them to wake up.  Here is how they looked soon after they were planted.

The dandelions think the house is springtime.  They have put on lots of leaves and several are showing flower buttons.  Now, if I can only keep the cats from sitting in the pot, these plants may provide some much appreciated nutritious greens for the rabbits this winter.

And a Porcupine in a Pear Tree

This would not make a great Christmas present, but it’s what you get here at Phoenix Farm:  a porcupine in a pear tree.  This little guy is quite young, still growing its big quills.  There have been several porcupines feeding on the fruit dropping from trees in our orchards.  Most of the critters stick to the apple trees.  This one is braver.  The pear trees are the closest to the house.  Pears must be really delicious for the porcupine to risk contact with humans and dogs to feast on the fruit.

Porcupines remind me of sloths.  They seem almost in slow motion most of the time.  Their eyesight is poor, as well.  It is no wonder so many dogs go to the vet to have quills removed.  The only defenses these animals have are quills and the ability to slowly climb trees.  Every time I take the dogs out in the orchard I have to check for porkies on the ground.  Often, there is one sitting and munching fruit.  I talk loudly, sometimes have to clap to be heard, and the rodent ambles to a tree then hauls itself ten to fifteen feet up where it sits and peeks down at intruders.

Here is the working end of the rodent, the back end and tail.  Porcupines lash their tails to implant quills.  Older porcupines have backs bristling with long whitish quills.  When I worked as a vet tech, I spent many hours removing quills from the mouths of hapless dogs.  Sometimes we’d see the same dogs two or three times in a row, and they still didn’t learn to leave the porkies alone.

So far this fall our dog Max has gotten a few quills in his nose while trying to smell a bristling rodent.  Luckily, they were easy for us to pull out. I’ve seen dogs with hundreds of quills embedded in their mouths.  They need to be put under anesthesia to remove the quills in a time consuming operation that can get quite expensive.  One vet I worked with used to joke that he kept a porcupine ranch and released a new batch whenever he needed extra cash flow.

If you have a fruit orchard and find piles of chewed up fruit chunks lying around, you have a porcupine at work.  How the rodents get any sort of nutrition out of their method of consuming fruit is beyond me.  They seem to just enjoy slicing the fruit into piles.  Maybe they are after the juice?  The fruit wasps (at right center above) appreciate the porcupine’s work.  The wasps have been gorging themselves on pears until they fall into stupors, too full to fly away.

This has been such a good fruit year that even after I’ve harvested all we need, there is still plenty on the trees and ground for the wildlife.  The fruit attracts deer, bears, coyotes, turkeys, various rodents and several species of song birds.  And I must not forget how my flock of chickens hurries to eat under the trees every day when they are released to free range.  The abundance is short-lived.  In a few weeks all the fallen fruit will be consumed.  It’s nice that I never have to rake drops in the orchard.


Apple Cake

Apple time is in full swing here at Phoenix Farm.  This is a very good apple year.  Many of the trees are loaded.  We picked some Cortland and King Luscious for baking.  These also are excellent fresh eating varieties.

In the photo above the Cortland are the smaller apples, there is one right in the center.  The larger ones are King Luscious.  The big Luscious on the right still has much of its natural waxy coating.  Our apples are organic, so they may not look as perfect as sprayed fruit.

Cortland is a popular apple, firm and sweet and good both for cooking or fresh.  King Luscious is less well known.  It is a giant of the apple world.  The fruit can grow to 10-12 ounces with one apple filling the hand.  A tree loaded with these huge apples is an amazing site.Luscious has a firm flesh with a crisp bite and a tart-sweet flavor.  It is a good keeping apple and performs well in pies and for apple sauce.  I often make fresh, warm apple sauce with these apples and a couple sweeter Cortland or Yellow Delicious to serve with roast pork.  This particular King Luscious apple below is big, weighing in at 8 oz and measuring 11″ in circumference. But it is somewhat flattened. The more rounded fruit can reach record size.

Nearly forty years ago I found this recipe for a moist, sweet apple treat in a horse magazine.  When apple season rolls around I like to bake it for eating warm from the oven or served cold as a quick breakfast.  It is somewhat like an apple version of a brownie, perhaps an apple blondie?  The cake is nice plain, frosted with drizzle icing, spread with butter when it is right out of the oven, served with honey or a complimentary jam or jelly.  It only required three of the five apples above to make this recipe!

Apple Cake

Pre-heat oven to 350F

About 1.5 lbs baking apples, to make 4 cups prepared apples

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup oil

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1.5 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Peel and core apples, chop to approx. 1/2″ cubes to make 4 cups.  Place in bowl and cover with the sugar, set aside.  In large mixing bowl, combine all but the nuts.  Stir to combine but do not overwork.  The batter will be firm.  Fold in the apples and sugar, and nuts if desired.  Spread in a greased 10″ x 13″ pan and bake for 45-50 mins until toothpick tests done.  Serve warm or chilled.


Killing Frost

Tonight we are supposed to get our first killing frost.  I hurried to harvest as much of the cold sensitive crops as possible.  Here are some beautiful rainbow chard leaves I picked today.  As I was cleaning them for dinner, I thought the colors were so pretty they should be shared.  Chard is a fairly hardy plant.  I hope to get at least one more harvest of these in October, if it doesn’t get too cold.  These even look nice in the kettle.  Sadly, much of the color is lost when the leaves are cooked.  As I write this I’m eating the chard with a little salt and butter.  So good!

The tomatoes did very well this year.  I rescued the last few that have hope of ripening.  A few green ones will go to the chickens.  They love tomatoes.  I got several large purple sweet peppers this summer.  These smaller ones managed to mature to the right color even if they aren’t very big.  The pumpkin crop was a disappointment.  The pie pumpkins and little decorative ones developed several fruits, but the large field pumpkins died.  Not sure what happened there.  Maybe the squash bugs killed them.  There was an abundance of bugs this year.

I also picked several bouquets of nasturtiums and marigolds.  Once touched by the frost, the lovely blooms will all wither.  I always miss my summer flower gardens when the season is over.  Next year I will try starting seeds indoors in the spring.  That should give me earlier flowers.


Early Eggs!

Here are the first eggs from my Silver Ameraucana pullets hatched 4/22/19.  The birds were 21 weeks old when they began laying.  Because there is a variation in the shell color between the eggs, I believe they were laid by two different birds.

Seeing these eggs in September is very exciting for me.  The silver color of Ameraucana chickens is notoriously slow to develop.  Last year the baby hens didn’t start laying until December.  They were 8 months old.  That is a long time to wait for new eggs, especially when you are paying to put the lights on in the coop at 4 am every day.  Hens need at least 12 hours of light to lay.  Here in Maine we get a lot less than that during the cold months.

Here are photos of some of the young hens.  I suspected the pullets might lay earlier than their mothers because their little brothers matured earlier than my past generations of Silvers.  Some baby cockerels started crowing at 3 months, well ahead of schedule.  When I found these eggs yesterday I was over the moon.  Finally, hens that start laying when they are supposed to.  Yay!

Donnell Pond Reserve, Hancock Co., ME








The Donnell Pond Maine Public Reserved Lands in Hancock County near Sullivan are part of over 15,000 acres of barely touched wilderness.  There are many walking and ATV trails through the forest and several mountains to enjoy in addition to crystal clear Donnell Pond.  Above are two views that comprise a near panorama of Schoodic Bay from Schoodic Beach on Donnell Pond.  On the right is the foot of Black Mt and on the left, the base of Schoodic Mt.  The beach is unbelievable, with coarse yellow sand that extends into the water as far as I could see.  Even with the cloud cover and chill of early September in the air, I was tempted to take a dip in the pond.

This year for our annual mini vacation, we decided to stay between Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Peninsula.  Our home away from home was a lovely Airbnb in Sullivan. The post and beam house was right on the ocean with a gorgeous view of the bay. This is the sunrise over Flanders Bay from our bedroom window.
The first day of our stay, we climbed 1049 ft Black Mountain. It’s a good thing the sky was overcast because the climb would have been too hot for us otherwise. As it was, we got fairly sweaty by the time we reached the top. The trail is moderately steep and sometimes crosses bare rock faces or scrambles over boulders. We started at Schoodic Beach, passed through a thick oak and pine woods, then began the ascent. The tree species changed to fir, spruce, maple and beech as we gained altitude.

Many of the beech on the mountainside are afflicted by Beech Bark Disease that has been destroying the species statewide. The trunks become riddled with cankerous sores until the trees are killed. A scale insect accidentally imported to Nova Scotia from Europe in the late 1800s has spread through most of the eastern seaboard.  The insect opens wounds on the trees which are then invaded by a fungus.  The fungus kills or severely weakens the tree.

It is so sad to see the stands of silvery-barked beech that once provided nuts for the wildlife now reduced to standing rotting wood.  I hope some of the trees develop natural immunity to this scourge before all the beech are lost just like the chestnuts.  There is evidence that certain beech trees do have immunity and over time these trees should become prevalent in the woods.

Nearing the summit, the forest changes again to include large fields of reindeer moss (a lichen) and other lichens and mosses.  This year these plants are doing particularly well due to the abundant rainfall.  Another plant to benefit from the excess moisture is the fungus.  Mushrooms popped up all along the trail.  The most abundant were bright yellow species.
This small dead maple leaf was surrounded by tiny white mushrooms. I’m not a fungi scholar so I don’t know the names of the various mushrooms, but I do like the great variety of their shapes and colors.  The forest floor was also covered with laurel and wild low bush blueberry and cranberry. I enjoyed a few late season berries, yum.

The summit provided spectacular views of the surrounding area and also a pleasant breeze off the ocean, welcomed by two perspiring hikers.  We somehow missed a connecting trail at the top that would have taken us over to a small mountain pond.  There is always next time to see that.  We descended through impressive cliffs made of slabs of granite.  In places the stones formed natural steps.  The trail back to our car was relatively flat and passed through a lowland boggy area.  Cedar, spruce and maple towered overhead.  Moss and mushrooms lined the way.

The Black Mt trail is only one of many in this reserve.  Next door to the Donnell Pond Unit (as the State Forestry Service calls it) is another unit, the Tunk Lake Reserved Lands with more mountains, streams and ponds.  This area of Maine is particularly beautiful.  It is also not heavily used.  The scenery is very similar to Acadia Park without all the crowds.  We did not encounter a single soul during the several hours we spent around Black Mt.  Passing through the reserved lands is Black Woods Road, a designated scenic bi-way linking the towns of Franklin and Cherryfield.  This drive along Rte. 182 is well worth the time.

There is even a ghost story associated with the highway.  Back at the turn of the last century, it is reputed that a newlywed couple were traversing the road at night.  Their horse was frightened and their wagon went off a long drop.  To this day there are reports of motorists at night encountering a woman in white standing in the road who disappears.  Although I’ve driven that way many times both during the day and after dark, I’ve never met the ghost.  I have seen many miles of old growth forest and idyllic waterways.


We did it!  We grew nectarines!  The first harvest is in.  Fifteen fruit.  They are delicious, tree ripened and juicy.  The flavor is reminiscent of peach combined with apricot, a touch of some sweet, fragrant flower and honey.  I had to toss out almost as many as I kept.  The bugs seem to really like nectarines, too.  Since I grow everything organically, I didn’t apply any sort of bug killer this year to see how well the tree would produce without any help.

The five-year-old baby nectarine tree set its first fruit this year.  It had an abundant crop.  In June after the tiny fruit were showing, I stripped more than half off the limbs.  Removing any fruit trying to grow toward the ends of the young limbs and thinning so no limb had a lot of fruit, I hoped to aid the tree in ripening a decent crop without putting too much strain on it.

The photo above was taken after I had harvested most of the fruit.  I made sure the heavy nectarines would all be supported around the central, stronger part of the tree.  The fruit only reached the size of large apricots.  I’m not sure if that is their normal size, or if they are small because there were still too many for the tree to handle.

I noticed early in the summer that some insect was biting the fruit and causing it to bleed.  Whatever did that didn’t leave any lasting impression.  There are no tunnels or misshapen places on the nectarines.  After the fruit was ripe, the bugs really closed in.  A small black beetle with yellow stripes busily chewed little holes.  The fruit wasps and fruit flies were quickly attracted to the open wounds.  While I was harvesting, a white admiral butterfly kept landing on the nectarines.  Butterflies like the juices of many fruits.  At least the deer don’t seem attracted to the tree.

Even with all the competition, we have a very satisfactory first result from this tree.  If we’re lucky, the tree with continue to thrive in our chilly, short season northern climate.  I’m hoping next year there will be enough fruit to make some nectarine jam.  Yum!