Apple Trees and Rodents

For the last few days I’ve been busy painting fruit trees before the cold weather arrives.  I bought 18 cans of flat white latex spray paint, a sizable investment.  My fingers got sore from all the spraying.  Most of the trees in the orchard got a coat of paint from the ground up at least 2 ft on the trunk, the average snow depth.

Painting the trunks is supposed to deter the ravages of rodents who crawl through the snow and gnaw on the trees for sustenance during the winter.  Last winter we had a glut of rodents and they killed several adult trees by chewing the bark off the roots, and girdled a bunch more.  This past spring I made bridge grafts over the worse rodent attacks to try and save the trees.  During the summer many of the grafts seemed to take hold.  They are full and robust.  The grafts that failed are shriveled.  The tree below has several healthy grafts.

To protect my work and, hopefully, the trees, I gave them all a good coat of paint.  Rodents are rumored to not chew on trunks covered with paint.  White paint is used because it reflects the winter sunlight, preventing the build-up of excess heat that can damage the bark.  After all this money and effort, my fingers are crossed that the paint does its job.  If not, we may need to say goodbye to our apple orchard.  The majority of the original trees have died over the years, many killed by rodents.  I hope we can save the hundred or so remaining trees.

 

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Town of Sandwich, Kent, UK

My daughter and I just returned from a twelve-day trip to England to visit my mother, who has lived in the UK for about thirty years.  Usually the trip involves tours of local attractions.  This year we went to the town of Sandwich, located near the English Channel between Margate and Dover.  At one time Sandwich was one of the greatest ports in England and is still one of the five Cinque Ports designated by the Crown to protect the coast.

Sandwich is renowned for containing some of the most complete sections of medieval town.  Tourism to view the antiquities began in the 1700s and has not abated.  We stayed at the King’s Arms, an inn built in 1580 on Strand Street.  At that time the street fronted the Stour River.  Since then so much silting-in of the waterway has occurred that there are houses with large backyards on the river side of the street.  The inn was originally called the Queen’s Arms and named for Elizabeth I who visited Sandwich.  The name was changed in 1687, during the reign of James II.

The inn is a charming and largely original structure.  Features such as the cheerful common room with its giant fireplace, huge exposed wooden beams throughout, narrow, steep staircases, and door clearances under six feet high are all proof of this house’s nearly 450 year history.  Our room was number three and our window was the middle one with the orange glow above the parked car on the right side of the first photo.  The elderly single glazed window was quite drafty.  Luckily the weather was warm during our stay.  We had a large, comfortable room with a fireplace that has been closed up.  The included full English breakfast was very good.  The psychic in me is certain residuals of long-gone lives still remain in our room and in the entire building.

Many of the streets in Sandwich are like the one above.  It is single lane, yet accommodates two-way traffic.  Medieval buildings crowd close, their jetties overhanging the sidewalks.  The lane above, Church Street, runs between the King’s Arms and St. Mary’s Church to intersect with Strand Street.  Walking along the streets can be challenging as the traffic is sometimes heavy and the sidewalks are narrow or non-existent.  Many are roughly paved with cobbles.

Sandwich has a long history.  It began as a small settlement on an island in a large, deep harbor.  In AD 43 the Romans established Rutupiae (Richborough) on this harbor.  The population of the area rapidly expanded as the army used Rutupiae for their base in the conquest of Britain.  Sandwich, once known as Lundenwic, stood near the harbor entrance to the wide, deep, important Wantsum shipping channel that ran all the way to London from the sea.  Massive storms with tidal wave surges deposited so much silt with major flooding that the harbor was partially filled in, leaving Richborough high and dry and making Lundenwic the new port town.  After the Romans left, and the Saxons were invaded by Danes, the name was changed to Sandwic, meaning sandy town.  Over time the name morphed into Sandwich.

In the 900s, the town moved to higher ground as continued silting formed a peninsula from the original island.  The channel remained deep enough for large ships.  By the eleventh century Sandwich had become a major English port with a large population and great wealth.  In the middle of that century it was designated a Cinqueport with obligations to provided armed sailing vessels and fighting men for the king in times of war.  In return Sandwich received money from surrounding towns to help with the arming of vessels and men, and privileged trade with the continent free from customs and tolls.

Ever at odds with England, France staged several raids on Sandwich.  In 1217, they burned much of the town.  A toll ferry carried traffic across to Thanet until a bridge was built.  A version of it stands today.  The structure was originally a drawbridge but was rebuilt as the current single lane swing bridge.  Traffic approaches the bridge through the Barbican or David’s (Davis) Gate (photo above.)  The town had been granted the right to have its own municipal court as a cinqueport privilege.  A Guild Hall with a court room was constructed in 1359 that still stands today.  The town had a mayor and all the eligible men of voting age participated in town business including serving on juries.

The Great Storm of 1287 brought a devastating tidal wave storm surge carrying so much silt that the harbor was filled in.  The river remained deep enough for good sized ships to navigate so Sandwich continued as a port two miles inland from the sea.  A wide place in the river called Sandwich Haven provided safe docking for trade ships.  The French attacked several more times including in 1457 when the mayor was killed.  Since that time all the mayors of Sandwich wear black robes of office to signify mourning.  In the 1450s the king became so concerned about attacks by the French that he ordered the town better fortified.  More and higher walls were built and stronger gates.

The end of Sandwich’s days as a port city occurred in the late 1550s when Pope Paul IV lost a large ship. It sank right at the mouth of Sandwich Haven.  Soon silt and sand built up around the wreck effectively stopping up the entrance to Sandwich for large trading vessels.  Attempts to cut a deeper passage failed.

In the 1560s, craftspeople escaping religious persecution in Flanders and France came to England.  Queen Elizabeth granted the refugees licenses to set up shops and manufacture in different parts of England.  Several groups of Dutch weavers moved to Sandwich and began manufacturing broadcloth using wool produced in Kent.  They employed small vessels to carry their goods out to markets.  This created a boom for the Sandwich area.  The photo above is of the Sandwich Weavers building where the Dutch sheltered when they arrived in the area.  Over time many of these weavers became wealthy.

The Dutch influence in Sandwich can also be seen in architecture, ditches, drainage works and farm fields.  Because the area was once part of the sea, it is low, flat and damp.  The Dutch had experience with such conditions.  They drained fields to create farmland and grew crops such as grains, carrots and celery in the sandy soil.  A ditch called the Delf (Old English for ditch) and connected sluices were added in an attempt to bring better water to the town.  It was notorious for unhealthful conditions due to fouled drinking water.  Today the sluices can still be seen, stagnant water filled with duck weed and looking like tiny canals standing below street level in front of homes.  The Delf did not improve conditions as people continued to foul the open waterways and contract illnesses.  An attempt to pump in clean water failed in the 1620s.  The town didn’t have reliable clean drinking water until the late 1800s.

Prosperity brought by the Dutch began to fade in the early 1600s when King James I set up a company of merchants and granted them sole rights to trade in Europe.  With its commercial life strangled, Sandwich faded as a port for anything but the superior crops produced in the area, including its famed carrots.  Poverty became a problem for the locals until tourism began to restore some employment.  The town drew visitors to its quaint, narrow streets and blocks of antique houses.

The fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague (1718-1792) is fabled to have eaten meals made of slices of meat between pieces of bread while gambling in the Guild Hall around 1762.  The sandwich is named for him.  In 1759 Thomas Paine lived for about a year on New Street in a small brick house.  He had settled in Sandwich after marrying.  His wife died a year after the marriage.  He later departed for the American colonies and found fame there as a patriot.

Today Sandwich has much to offer visitors.  Experience the adventure of staying in a medieval inn, take a leisurely stroll on the walkways by the Quay, enjoy a meal in one of the many fine establishments, amble through the ancient streets or hike along a segment of the well kept Coast Path which passes through town on its way around the entire southeastern seaboard.  Sandwich has something for everyone.

 

 

 

Inversion Table

Here I am trying my new inversion table.  For those who don’t know, the apparatus holds your body by the ankles while you hang upside down.  This is meant to stretch the spine.  The model I have is the latest base model Teeter HangUps, although I do not endorse any particular product.  I found the barely used table locally for half the new price.

For years I’ve suffered with body pain.  My upper back was injured in a car accident, tearing a rotator cuff in a place so deep it cannot be reached for a repair operation.  The injury has caused me constant pain for twenty years.  My lower back was fine until pregnancy.  Something was moved out of place and has never been the same.  The lower back sometimes goes out, making it difficult to straighten.  There is a lot of pain.  My hip was injured in a winter fall.  I slipped on ice and my body landed with the front side of my hip hitting a concrete block.  Since then that side of my pelvis aches after moderate walking, climbing, etc.

I take NSAID pain relievers only when I have an acute issue such as a muscle spasm.  Otherwise I deal with the pain mostly by ignoring it.  A Theracane and self-administered trigger point therapy is helpful in reducing muscles spasms and alleviating pain.  For several years I visited a chiropractor, but found the continual trips for short visits didn’t address the issues for long.  I had to return every few weeks for another adjustment.  It almost felt like a racket.  I have also used four massage therapists and an occupational therapist over the years with minimal results.

Often I wondered if stretching my spine by hanging upside down might provide some relief.  The idea was:  straighten the spine and stretch the space between the vertebral discs with gentle traction provided by my body weight and it might put things back where they belonged.

Finally, after several years of thinking about it, I took the big step of splurging $150 on an inversion table.  The ankles are firmly clamped, then you use your body weight to control the degree of inversion.  The table will allow a body to hang completely upside down, 90 degrees.  So far I’ve gone to around 85 degrees.  I try to use the table at least every day, sometimes two or three times in a day.  The instructions recommend repeated daily use.  It only takes a couple minutes each time.

What a difference already!  I’ve been using the table about one and a-half months.  Immediately I felt my pelvis stretch and almost pop.  It seemed that something was evened out in the bones.  Since then there has been no pain with exercise.  I can hike all I want and the pelvis doesn’t hurt.  The lower and upper back also have improved.  I have less sore days and decreased intensity of pain.  With continued use, I hope to see even more improvement.

An added benefit I’ve found is that the table is helping to strengthen my core.  It allows a type of sit up to be performed that doesn’t put any pressure on the spine.  Using the stomach muscles to pull up against gravity is an excellent workout.

The biggest advantage is that the time spent on the table is minimal.  Just a few minutes per use.  As you can see by my face in the photo, the blood all goes to the head.  Not a terribly comfortable position for extended periods.  Because one of my legs seems to be slightly shorter than the other, there is more strain on one ankle.  Also, the stress on both ankles cannot be overlooked.  Since I’ve been going to nearly 90 degrees, I’ve been wearing pants and socks to pad my ankles.  This does help significantly.  Luckily, benefits are achieved through sessions of short duration so the discomforts I’ve mentioned are not unbearable.

Overall, I give an inversion table designed like mine two thumbs up.  It has really helped me!

And Another New Bunny!

Three days ago I brought this handsome boy home to Phoenix Farm.  His name is Garnet and he is a 7-month-old chestnut agouti angora.  I particularly love his big eyes.  Garnet was raised in Blue Hill, ME, about 1.5 hour drive east from us.  Yet, surprise, surprise!  His background has some of the same rabbitry as my current does.  I believe his father is from the same breeder as my senior doe, a place down in southwestern ME, a two hour drive for us in a different direction!  Oh well.  They are not closely related.  He should make a fine buck for my rabbitry.

Garnet is a real snuggle bunny.  Males tend to like being held and fussed over more than females.  Since he was a favorite of the lady who raised him, Garnet likely received lots of attention.  He is also very interested in his girlfriends.  I think they will make some lovely babies in the spring.

The agouti color is the wild pattern.  Each hair has bands of color, just like a whitetail deer’s hair.  Garnet is banded with cream, gray, and a bright chestnut red.  In the photo below you can see the banding of the long hairs and also the red tips of the new coat coming in under the first fiber the rabbit grew.  He is starting to shed his first coat and I will be harvesting him soon.  The color of an angora rabbit is told by the face.  The wild type pattern is quite visible on Garnet’s face.

When agouti fiber is spun, the yarn has a pretty variegated appearance that many people like to use.  I’m hoping Garnet will produce some adorable agouti babies.

 

Meet Ruby

Meet the newest member of the Phoenix Farm rabbitry, Ruby, a chocolate angora doe.  She was born here on the farm at the end of April.  Although she is not yet six months old, she is the same size as her mother and her fiber coat is lush and long.  The hairs are up to seven inches long!  When this baby is full grown she could well produce hairs to eight or nine inches in length!  Below is Ruby with some of her siblings in June.

Ruby was named by my granddaughters.  I think the name fits perfectly.  She is a gem of a bunny!  Her parentage is mostly French angora with English, German and Giant mixed in.  The ears and face show her ancestry as French angoras tend to have very little long fiber in those areas.  The German and Giant in her contribute to her large size.  Bigger rabbits produce more and longer fiber.

I have just started harvesting her first shedding of fiber.  Our rabbits are hand pulled, a process that does not cause the rabbit any discomfort since only the mature, loose hairs are removed.  When she is done harvesting, her coat will be about two inches long instead of the current six to seven inches.  She feels like a big fluff ball, all fur covering a much smaller bunny body underneath.  The fiber is excellent quality with a superior length, lovely cream color shading to brown and grayish-brown at the tips, with a good crimp.  I know it will spin up into gorgeous yarn!

Ruby shares an over-sized, comfortable cage with her mom, Moonstone.  Frequently they come out to hop around the barn.  Moonstone loves to dig holes!  Mother and child really enjoy being together and I will try to house them in this manner for companionship.  It is harder to keep angoras in groups because the constant rubbing together of their coats creates mats.  They will require more frequent grooming.  It is the least I can do for bunnies who are so generous with their fiber.

Maine Eats

When people travel, they often like to sample the authentic flavors of the places they visit.  Well, you can’t find a more authentic Maine establishment than Karen’s Hideaway on Rte. 27 in Boothbay.

Conveniently located for tourists right on a main artery to the ocean and all the coast has to offer, don’t blink or you might miss it!  After Shore Hills Campground, keep watch on the left.  Karen’s food trailer is across the road from Adams Pond and parked next to the Maineiac Fresh Seafood shop.  This is where she gets the ingredients for many of her delicious offerings.

We found Karen’s a couple years ago when we were hungry after a long walk on the ocean-side trails that abound on Cape Newagen, also called the Boothbay, Peninsula.  Being an epicurean adventurer, I’m always ready to try a new place to eat.  My husband Tim’s motto is “I can get a hamburger anywhere.”  We were both very pleasantly surprised at the amazing food served up by this humble kitchen.

You know the seafood is going to be super fresh.  It is caught daily and brought over to the lunch wagon from next door.  I ordered the crab melt basket and Tim got the burger basket.  If you ever go to Karen’s don’t make this same mistake unless you are extremely hungry–lost in the woods for a week hungry.  The baskets are served with an overflowing heap of the best french fries around.  They are thick, crispy outside, and soft inside with no trace of oiliness.  I can’t believe we managed to eat all those fries except once you start, you just can’t stop.

Tim’s cheeseburger was comprised of 12 oz of fresh ground beef on a big, soft bun.  He put it all away!  My crab melt was made with two pieces of Texas toast from the grill, stuffed with an obscenely generous amount of fresh crab barely held together with mayo, and topped with melted swiss and American cheese.  When I’m feeling really adventuresome I get the crab melt with bacon, lettuce and tomato, so yummy!  The fries in the photo below are just a small portion of the total provided.

On the side are served a choice of Karen’s pineapple coleslaw ( I usually skip the coleslaw, but not this one, it’s divine!) or her loaded baked potato salad.  I can’t find enough descriptors to do justice to the deliciousness of the spud salad!  It is filled with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon with hints of real baked potato in the skin and sour cream.  Since Tim doesn’t like anything with mayo on it, I get both the sides, yay for me!

You place the order at the window with Karen, a gregarious lady with a ready laugh and sharp Maine wit.  When we told Karen our trip to Boothbay was an anniversary celebration, she confided that she and her husband had been married even longer than our 35 years.  I suspect her husband runs the seafood shop.  Ordering is done from a laminated menu.  Be careful to specify whether or not you want a basket or you will be inundated with fries!  One basket meal provides plenty of fries for two.

While the food cooks, patrons enjoy the authentic Maine atmosphere up back behind the trailer where several tables with umbrellas are arranged in a small clearing in the woods.  A resident chipmunk will keep you company.  Note the proximity of one table to the portable outhouse, dining at its finest for the tough Maine natives who happen by.  The wall of a nearby shed has been painted with a scene from the Boothbay coast, it’s almost like eating right at the shore.  When your number is called, your meals are presented on a tray for ease of transport back to the picnic table.

After such a satisfying repast, we are usually ready to hit one final hike before heading home.  On our last visit we enjoyed a stroll on the Cross River Preserve trails and were rewarded with this view of the Cross River.

Monarch Chrysalises

This morning I was stacking wood from a large pile that was split during the summer. The pile was about five feet high before I started, and fifteen feet wide, at least.  It is made up mostly of oak and apple wood that has aged for a year.  I was just working along, grabbing pieces of firewood and stacking them in neat rows on top of pallets, when I turned over a stick of wood and nearly crushed a monarch butterfly chrysalis.

All summer I’ve been scouring milkweed plants in search of monarch caterpillars, eggs and chrysalises.  I’ve had plenty of luck with finding the caterpillars, but no eggs or pupae.  So I was greatly surprised to find this green case just lying in the woodpile!  Dumb luck saved the insect from destruction.  At any moment the stick of wood could have rolled or been jammed into other hunks of wood.

I checked the chrysalis carefully and found no evidence of damage.  Since the woodpile is not a safe place for baby caterpillars, I wedged the stick of wood in the branches of a crabapple tree.  There the butterfly will be out danger and protected from rain.  Then I returned to stacking wood, thinking what an unusual find I’d just made.

About ten minutes later it happened all over again!  I came much closer to squishing the second chrysalis.  Just a whim of fate lay between life and destruction for the baby caterpillar as I grabbed several sticks of wood and tossed them together to make an armload.  Once again I checked the pupa and found no damage.  So I carried the second over to join its brother in the crabapple.

Both caterpillars chose to pupate in close proximity within the woodpile.  For the rest of the morning I used greater care when moving the wood, especially in that area.  No more monarchs were found.  As I finish stacking the pile, I will be on the lookout for any more silly monarchs!

This species truly has the most beautiful chrysalis.  It really looks like metallic gold dotted around the ends.  Why nature expends energy to create a beautiful exoskeleton for a pupating insect is beyond me.  It must serve some evolutionary advantage or it wouldn’t exist.

The caterpillars in these chrysalises are still in the early stages of metamorphosis.  They need ten to fifteen days to change, depending on the weather.  The warmer it is, the quicker they develop.  Temperatures are forecast for the 60sF-70sF during the day and no cooler than the mid-40sF at night for the next ten days.  The baby insects should be able to grow.  They will need to move out of this region quickly and head south.  The frosts are on the way!

To form the chrysalis, a fully grown caterpillar seeks out a sheltered spot and hangs upside down by its two hind-most legs.  It spins a small anchor of silk to keep it hanging securely.  Then it sheds its skin to reveal the green exoskeleton.  As the butterfly develops, the chrysalis will turn transparent and the lovely colors of the monarch wings will be visible within.  Here is an adult monarch I saw recently in a butterfly garden on Mt. Desert Island.

I’m hoping the insects continue to develop and I’m able to get some photos of the transparent stage and of the emergence of the butterfly.  I’ve read they emerge mid-morning on a warm day.  So, I will keep a close eye on these baby butterflies.