Blog Retiring

The Sercadia Blog is retiring. It has been a pleasure to share my life and thoughts with you. Thank you to all those who have followed this site.

The Sercadia site will stay up, at least for awhile, but no new posts will be added and comments will no longer be possible.

I wish all my followers health and happiness.

Saying Goodbye to Vista

Vista is my beautiful 3/4 Saddlebred mare. She has lived with me for over thirty years. We’ve had so many wonderful times together, both in the saddle and out. So many happy memories.

Sadly, everything comes to an end and all that lives must die. Vista has reached an age and condition where she could pass at anytime. She has pain in her left front knee from an old injury that causes a permanent limp. Her muscle tone and fat are fading away.

I was concerned she would not make it through last winter. She did alright except she got cast (stuck lying down and couldn’t get up) and we had to turn her with ropes so she could get her feet under her to stand.

This has been a long, golden final summer for the good old mare. She seemed happy to spend the time with her pasture mate Maddie and even put on some decent weight although she isn’t that interested in eating anymore. She often prefers to doze in the sunshine while Maddie grazes.

I dug a grave for her beside the grave of my gelding Sirranon and my old dog Skipper. She will have good company. The vet will be out in a couple weeks to put the old gal to rest. Things won’t be the same without Vista. I hope Maddie knows what sort of hooves she now has to fill.

Late Summer Garden

Late summer and the vegetable garden is starting to wind down.  The wax beans are harvested, canned and the plants pulled up and fed to the horses.  The radishes are gone, as is the lettuce. The field pumpkins have reached full maturity and are waiting to be harvested.  The miniature pumpkins aren’t far behind.This year I only raised four tomato plants, thank goodness.  They are pumping out more fruit than I can eat.  Many are going in the freezer to make soup over the winter.  Fresh tomato salads with chunks of feta cheese, oregano, and basil use up many tomatoes and are so delicious.  Most of the gladiolus corms I planted this spring grew to splendid stalks of flowers that I’ve been enjoying in the garden and cut in the house.

The sunflowers are racing the frost to put out all their blooms.  It takes them so long to grow eight feet tall that they may lose some of their buds to the cold days quickly approaching.  We squeaked past the full moon without a frost and should make it frost-free to the end of the month.  Yesterday a cold front moved in and last night we got into the mid-40sF.  Fall is in the air!

I just harvested most of the indian corn.  The blue jays and crows were starting to make a dent in the crop.  There are just a few ears remaining to ripen in the patch.  I left up all the corn stalks to try and hide the slow maturers from the hungry birds.

The carrots are almost ready to pull and the sweet peppers have done well even though they were frosted in early June and got a big set-back.  The swiss chard produced a bounteous crop this year and still is pushing out leaves as fast as it can.  Luckily chickens and horses LOVE swiss chard because I’ve certainly had my fill for several months into the future!

The zinnia, glads and bachelor buttons add so much lovely color. They also attract butterflies, moths, and even hummingbirds that may visit vegetable flowers while they are in the garden.  So sad to think that in a month it will all be over and I’ll be putting the garden to bed for the winter.

Recumbent Trikes

Some of my first memories are of riding my trike.  I always loved pedaling around and getting places.  For years I’ve tried to ride a bicycle and never felt comfortable.  Yet I persevered because my dream is to go biking on the carriage trails at Acadia.  There is an extensive network of well maintained gravel roads that runs through some of the finest scenery on the East Coast.  Walking those trails is fun, but they go for so many miles that biking or horseback riding are the best ways to travel.

Last winter I got a mountain bike thinking I’d finally be able to ride the trails.  This spring I started riding the bike in the yard.  I’ve been on bikes and can make them go, yet little disasters always wait right around the corner.  I fell off the mountain bike several times and gave myself various small injuries including mild whiplash.  At that rate, I’d likely kill myself out on gravel and paved roadways.  I also did not like the way riding a bike put so much pressure on my shoulders.  A rotator cuff tear that is inoperable has left me with constant pain that biking made worse.  So I started thinking about a more stable, comfortable vehicle.  I remembered how much fun I had as a kid on my trike.

A little research revealed a whole new world of pedaling to me.  Recumbent tricycles!  They are easy to use.  It feels like sitting back in a cozy chair.  The gearing allows for easy climbing of steep hills.  Bents, as enthusiasts call them, zip along at speeds that rival bikes.  They have been banned from competitive bicycle racing because they go faster.  I’m not particularly interested in flying along, just want to get out and enjoy the scenery.

We found and purchased two Terra Trikes and they are great!  All that pedaling is wonderful, low impact exercise.  I’ve only gone about 40 miles yet my legs feel stronger and my weight is down.  After a ride I get very hungry, another sign that considerable energy is being expended.

My husband, Tim, and I are conditioning for our first trip to ride the Acadia trails.  There are several good places to ride in our area, including the Passy Rail Trail in Belfast, where the photos of us on the trikes were taken, the Augusta Rail Trail that runs for about 6 miles along the Kennebec River and is beautiful, and the mile-long roadway at the Quarry Rd. rec center just a few miles from us.  We cruise up and down the Quarry Rd. several times to build up the miles.  Next week we set out for Acadia!

Bean Season

Here are the last of the fresh beans for this year.  We had them for dinner tonight.  Summer is coming to an end when bean season is finished.  I love wax string beans, their yellow goodness is mellow and buttery.  It is hard to find organic canned wax beans in the grocery store so every year I grow and can as many as possible to enjoy over the winter months.

Last year was a good bean year, I still have five pints left over.  In the past month I added twenty-two more pints.  I feel like a squirrel, storing food away for winter.  The little rodent must feel the same sort of contentment as I do looking at a full larder.  It will be a long winter, but the summery goodness of wax beans can be enjoyed on the most icy night in February.  When I eat them I remember the hours I spent in the garden planting, weeding and picking through heat and biting insects and threatening thunder storms.  A little bit of summer on my fork.

New Baby Angora

Last evening Gem arrived at the farm.  She is a 12 wk old fawn colored angora.  If all goes well, she will replace my lovely chocolate doe, Ruby, who died while giving birth last month. Gem is a fiber mix angora meaning she is not purebred.  She is a combination of French and German with English.  Fiber mix angoras are bred to produce the highest quality hair coat for fiber production. 

Gem received her first haircut a couple days before I bought her, so she is looking a little rough.  Her fiber should grow to 6″ or more and be easy to remove by hand when she sheds.  This bunny should also get to be a good size with her German blood.  I’m hoping she will produce lots of nice fiber and maybe some babies one day!  She is a very personable little bunny.  Her nature is inquisitive and friendly.  She comes right up to people and enjoys being held and groomed.

This bunny came from a crowded home.  She was in a cage with her mother and five brothers and sisters.  Now she is in isolation and may be feeling a bit lonely.  I have been spending extra time with her which she seems to appreciate.  It is likely she was not fed many fresh greens in her short life.  I have been slowly introducing her to various grasses, clover, dandelion and plantain.  She gobbles it all up!  When introducing new foods, especially fresh greens, it is important to limit the quantities to avoid any digestive upset.

Gem received her first grooming session from me and was very calm throughout.  She had a few small mats behind her ears and on her feet that clipped and brushed out easily.  The baby bunny didn’t struggle at all.  She seemed to like the feel of the slicker brush.  After grooming she was returned to her pen where she immediately began washing herself.

I will have to be careful opening her cage door.  Gem is ready and waiting to venture out to explore!  Here she is trying to escape.

Gardens and Flowers in July

This has been a challenging year for plants on the farm.  We endured a month-long drought with barely a drop of rain.  Many days were hot with temperatures up into the 90sF.  When that weather finally broke, it was to violent thunderstorms and heavy rain.  We are now about 3 weeks post-drought and the plants are recovering. I had to stake and tie the sweet william stems after several storms beat them down.

During the drought I spent hours watering gardens and perennials to try and save some plants.  I gave up on the lawn.  Many areas dried up until the grass crunched under foot.  Those spots are beginning to green again.  The garden plants were growing very slowly even with all my watering.  It is amazing how quickly the gardens took off once the rains returned.

The hay crop will be poor due to no water when the best forage grass was trying to grow.  The timothy and brome grasses are stunted, hibernating or dead.  The clover fared better, but excess clover in the hay is not ideal.  Now the rain keeps coming so that hay can’t be cut.  Looks like hay will be expensive and in short supply this fall.

The rains came in time to save the day lilies and we are enjoying a beautiful display.  Other perennials such as phlox and mallow have taken off and are blooming well after wilting for weeks.  It seems that when there is a drought and the upper soil layers become dry, the watering I do for particular plants is better than nothing, but not enough.  The water is wicked away by the surrounding dry soil.  It would take so much water to make up the deficit that our well would be drained. We are lucky the well is 300 ft deep and doesn’t run dry.

I was particularly concerned with the welfare of the new perennials established last year and this spring, the purple bee balm, blazing star, coneflower and lavender.  They have all pulled through.I have not given up on growing lupine. It is a tricky plant to start. For several years I’ve been trying and have 3 established plants.  I sowed over 60 seeds this year and currently have 30 baby plants. They are waiting to be reset in larger pots.

Lupine likes sun, but also requires moisture. It does well in bright locations with deep, rich, drained soil and tolerates some shade, especially during the hottest part of the day. I’m hoping to establish a colony of lupine that will spread. If I can just get the little plants to live. Baby lupine are apparently delicious for birds and small mammals who like to snack at my nursery. I keep the babies on top of the cat’s outdoor run to discourage attacks. The vegetable garden also lagged during the drought, even with regular watering.  The corn did well and was hip high on the 4th of July.  It’s starting to tassel now.  The pumpkins were slow to start.  Now they are off and running! I planted field, pie and mini pumpkin varieties.  The drought seems to have affected the squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Their numbers are much lower than usual this year.Sunflowers volunteered and I allowed them to stay in the middle of the pumpkin patch. They are just starting to flower. I also planted sunflowers along the garden fence. These were badly affect by the dry conditions. Some have sprouted and are growing, but the volunteers are stealing the show.The rains set the wax beans growing into a veritable jungle. They have over-run their area and are pushing on the tomatoes. Soon I will start picking and canning beans. Bean season passes quickly, then the plants will be removed, opening space for tomatoes and pumpkins. The purple bean flowers are so pretty.This year I grew only 4 tomato plants. There are 3 of an early variety and one later Brandywine, a heritage beefsteak type. This is the second year for tomato cages. I’m very happy with the way they support the plants, protecting the fruit from maurading rodents. Sadly, just a couple days after I set out the tomatoes and peppers in early June, we were hit by an abnormally late frost. Many of the leaves on the plants were killed, though the stems remained. I left the plants to recover and they have, but the crop will be late and small. Peppers like cool, moist, and partial shade.  I put them near the south garden fence so there will be shade during the hot part of the day. I plant flowers like nasturtiums and zinnia in the garden for color and to attract pollinators. There are some nasturtiums around the peppers. Four bachelor buttons volunteered from last year’s crop.  I transplanted them to a corner near the radishes.  I also put in 25 gladiolus corms, some along the garden fence, some in my annual gardens.  I’m looking forward with anticipation to their lovely spikes of blooms.  This year I tried growing a long, mild cylinder radish with mixed results.  The nematodes have attacked the roots so that many are eaten before I can enjoy them.  A few have reached usable size and they are quite good.  I also planted head lettuce very thickly.  I’ve been harvesting the young plants as leaf lettuce, thinning to leave a few to form heads. My Mantis tiller went in the shop for repairs. When I got it back last week, I gave the garden a good tilling for weeds. It’s time to till again. All the rain is really encouraging the weeds. I’ve hand weeded around most of the plants and use the Mantis between the rows. The Rainbow chard and carrots are growing exuberantly, finally. For a while during the drought I was afraid they would die. A catnip plant grows at the end of the carrot row. Several catnips volunteered. I’ve been allowing them to mature then pulling them to collect lots of stems for drying. The flower garden by the house is graced with a lovely pot of red begonias that keeps exploding with color. These plants do not seem to appeal to slugs and snails. The pests are busy devouring many of my prettiest annual flowers just as quickly as they open.The baby fig tree has gone outside for the summer. It has 6 figs ripening. I wish they would get on with it, can hardly wait to eat fresh figs! The plant needs to be repotted, but I hesitate to disturb it until the fruit has matured.So, I’m happy to say we have survived the drought and are flourishing at the moment. The driest month of summer, August, has yet to arrive. I’m hoping we do not have to suffer another long spell without rain. Some of my plants may not make it through a second bout.

La Verna Preserve, Bristol, Maine

To beat the heat and humidity one day in mid-June, we escaped to the coast of Maine to a gem of a spot in Bristol called La Verna Preserve.  Situated on Muscongus Bay near Pemaquid, the area is filled with beautiful vistas of the ocean.

This preserve is comprised of 120 acres with 3600 feet of shoreline and 2.5 miles of hiking trails.  Much of the shore in this area is rugged rock with a fairly steep drop-off to the water.  I find the scenery breath taking. It reminds me of Acadia National Park. Many small islands dot the coast just off-shore.  Monhegan Island is not too far away, although it is not visible.  There is a nearby ferry service to that island of fishing fame.The trail to the shore goes through a woods grown up from pastures that existed more than a hundred years ago.  The stone walls that once bordered the old pasture lines are still standing deep in the forest.  In this area there was a hairy woodpecker nest.  The mother bird observed hikers from the trunk of a tall tree and her babies could be heard calling for food.

Several board walks and bridges protect the fragile ecosystem and make walking the trails more pleasant.  Areas of the forest are quite swampy with tiny brooks running through.  The bridge crosses a small stream where minnows shelter in the shade.The geology of this area of the Maine coast reveals a time of violent continental shift with volcanism that pushed magma up through the seabed.  The magma cooled to form granite and basalt, embedding gigantic slabs of metamorphic stone.  The dramatic slanting of the old seafloor testifies to the massive forces involved in forming our current topography.

Eons of wind, rain and surf have eroded the slate so that the many layers of the ancient seabed chip away like leaves from some giant history book.  Today we walk where volcanoes once flowed.

Because this place faces out to the open ocean, there is little protection from the force of gales.  The spruce and fir grow on top of solid rock in a thin layer of soil.  When they become too top heavy for the root systems to support, the huge trees are blown over to form tangled masses of dead trunks and branches.

This habitat is perfect for osprey who like to nest in high, open areas near water that provides fish for their offspring.  This mother osprey watches hikers carefully from her nest in the top of a dead tree in a blow-down area.

Wildflowers are abundant in La Verna.  These wild purple flag iris brighten the cliffs at the shore.
The trail turns away from the sea into cool tunnels beneath towering spruce and fir. The shady way is lined with wild blueberry and cranberry, bunchberry in flower and cinnamon fern forming spikes of fruiting bodies.
As a final surprise, a sunny forest glade hosts dozens of pink lady slipper orchids in full bloom. These are the perfect ending to a delightful hike through a special part of Maine.

Barn Swallow Update

Here are the baby birds I talked about on June 22.  They have feathered and left the nest.  I believe they started flying 2 days ago.  They soar around the barnyard with their parents learning to catch flying insects.  Mom and dad still feed them also.  They catch bugs and give them to the babies in mid-flight.  The young swallows go back to the barn with their parents to sleep at night.  I snapped these photos using the zoom lens and flash so the quality is not the best.  These little guys do not seem particularly bothered by my presence.  Maybe they remember just a little of how I saved their lives.

A Bird Tale

Every year barn swallows make their nests in the rafters of our barn.  Usually there are two pairs.  The first, and likely older, more experienced pair raised a nice brood in the nest they made several years ago, attached to a rafter about a foot below the ceiling.  The babies are grown and the family has left the area.  The second pair built their nest of mud, moss, chicken feathers and horse hair on a rafter so that it sat only six inches or so below the metal roof.

The last few days have been scorchers with temperatures in the mid-90sF.  On the second day of the heat wave, Friday, my husband found a baby swallow on the barn floor.  We got a ladder, I climbed up and put the little one back with its siblings.  I counted five or six babies without getting too close.  Their heads were drooping down out of the nest and they were panting.  It was so hot up under that roof with the midday sun blazing down.

The next day everyone was in the nest and seemed fine.  It was another very hot day and we went away to the lake.  That evening the nest was still full.  Then yesterday morning, with temperatures once again in the mid 90sF, I went to check and see if any babies had fallen from the nest.  Disaster.  I found three dead babies on the floor and two on death’s doorstep.  If there was a sixth one, I never saw it.  Apparently the little ones had thrown themselves from the nest because it was just too hot.  The parents were not around.

I gathered up the dead babies for burial, so sad.  They were already well feathered, maybe 10-12 days old.  The two living birds could not lift their heads or make a sound.  I took down the death nest, put it in an old stainless dog bowl, popped the babies in and carried them in the house.

One bird was more aware than the other.  I carefully opened both beaks and dribbled in water with a pipette.  The alert one drank right away.  The bad-off one made some weak swallowing motions, but much of the liquid dribbled back out.  By this time baby one was making little beeping sounds.  I covered the babies with some downy chicken feathers from the nest, put the bowl in a box to keep the birds warm and went in search of bugs.

Here on the farm, we have a plentiful supply of insects, especially the biting kind.  I quickly discovered that when you need to catch a bunch of bugs, they are easy to see, but hard to grab.  Finally I went out to where the horses were grazing.  Soon I had a good supply of deer flies, horse flies and face flies.

More than half-an-hour had elapsed since I’d left the babies.  They were more alert.  The stronger one was gaping its mouth for food as soon as it heard me.  The other one could at least lift its head.  To open the mouth of the weak bird, I very gently pressed on both corners of the beak until it opened wide enough to fit the pipette tip.  Soon it was swallowing well and I started feeding it insects, too.  I began playing parent bird, catching flying insects and pushing them in gaping mouths.  After a few mouthfuls, the little birds wriggled their hind ends over the edge of the nest to defecate.  Then I knew they were fully hydrated.

I caught several dozen bugs that were flying around the horses.  It took thirty minutes to get eight or ten insects.  Those patient horses saw so much of me they started ignoring me as I came across the field to them with my fish net for trapping flies and tin can for holding them.

Between hourly feedings, I left the babies to rest in their box.  As soon as they heard me coming, the babies would start in with their little beeping cries and mouths wide open for food.  All afternoon and evening through the ninety degree heat I caught and fed bugs.  I developed a true understanding of what parent barn swallows have to do.  By night time, both babies were quite strong and taking food and water well.  They only ate a few bugs and a sip of water at each feeding before falling fast asleep.  The cats were fascinated by the babies’ cries, of course.  Cary in particular wanted to see all about what was going on.

After it got dark and I couldn’t catch flies, I rehydrated some of the freeze-dried mealworms I keep for the chickens.  Dipping them in plain yogurt made them more nutritious, and the birds gobbled them right up.  Finally at 10:30 I tucked the babies away for the night.

This morning the little swallows were hungry at five and ate several good feedings of mealworms in yogurt chased down with water before nine o’clock.  They were both raising their heads and begging for food.  We had noticed the parent birds hanging around so I decided to try reintroducing the babies.  I made a little shelf on a rafter about two feet from the old nest site that was a foot below the ceiling with a wood board above it to protect from the hot roof.  Then I set the bowl with the nest on the rafter and duct taped it to the wood to make sure it was secure.

I hid around the corner, watching to see if the adults would find the babies.  They flew in the barn in no time.  As soon as the little ones heard their parents, they started beeping.  The chorus of warbles and chirps that came from the adults was a sound to warm any parent’s heart.  The swallows were so excited and overjoyed to hear their babies.  Quickly, they found the new nest spot.  They scoped it out carefully, then mama bird scooted in to see the babies, followed by papa.  What a racket!  They were one happy family.