Archive | September 2014

Bird of Paradise Plant Update

bI just repotted my baby bird of paradise plant and thought it would be a good time to do an update and see how things have been progressing.  I bought the plant in February and it has been thriving.  When it arrived, the little tropical baby had seven tiny leaves and was about 12″ tall.  Now it has eight leaves, most of those are new growth, and is 21″ tall.

The root system on bird of paradise plants is extensive.  The thick, white roots resemble snakes.  They coil around the inside of the pot and crawl out through the drainage holes.  Using the power of hydraulics, the roots slowly break apart any pot that holds them.

In the above photo, the plant stands in its new pot with the old one beside it.  The root space is doubled. The roots take up about two-thirds of the area of the new pot.  Within six months, if all goes well, the roots will start groping out the bottom of the pot again.  Bird of paradise plants usually bloom in late summer. This baby is still too young for flowers.  They sometimes need as long as seven years of growth to bloom. Somehow, I think this plant will flower before then, it has very exuberant growth and seems determined to grow up quickly.


Roadside Farm Stand


There, I’ve got my little roadside farm stand of excess garden produce all set up and open for business.  So far, one sale.  It is a very nice day with temperatures in the 80s.  Most people are not likely to be thinking about buying fall decorations.

I’ll open the stand up on decent weather days when I’m around and once there is a chill in the air, more customers should stop.  Most years the farm stand is fairly profitable.  The pumpkins for Halloween carving and the dried corn stalks are always the most popular.  I only have a few of each so it won’t take too long to sell out.  There are so many extra gourds that most of those will probably go to the horses and chickens. They seem to enjoy eating them.

Best Bunny Time Ever!





Now that the garden is almost harvested and they really can’t do any harm, I let the angora bunnies romp around inside the fenced area.  It must be bunny’s best time ever!

The garden is 24 ft by 36 ft with a two foot tall lattice fence that sets up on a berm around the edge.  A perfect place to let bunnies get some exercise.  Today, three of my does, Gem, Citrine and Alabaster are enjoying the freedom. Alabaster snuffled around in the dirt and got her nose all messy.

b3These rabbits are pretty excited about having so much room to run and so many places to explore.  They barely stop to nibble grass, dandelions and other stray weeds, or even the left-over carrot tops that dropped here and there.  Too much to explore, no time for eating!  Citrine decided to try digging a hole, there is so much dirt, it’s hard to resist scrabbling in it.b1



The dirt is also cool and a lovely place to stretch out a belly. Gem has been hunting around under the Jerusalem artichokes and picked up a bunch of dried leaves on her coat.  Plenty of work for me to groom the bunnies out after their fun.b6

The angora rabbits can’t run for long distances, they get overheated.  In the garden they take time to just relax and enjoy a place with no wire walls or floor.

All the rabbits have had a chance to run in the garden.  A couple days ago, my old buck, Jasper, who is nine, visited with my granddaughter Lia while I pulled the carrots.


Lia and Jasper


w2w1The annual struggle to complete the woodpile has so far resulted in a stack of about half the fuel we need for the winter.  We burn through six cords of firewood, heating our 1700 sq ft house entirely with wood.  We only use the backup electric heat if the temperatures dip very low or if we will be away for an extended period.

Good firewood has been allowed to dry, also called cure or season, for a good year prior to burning.  Most years we are able to do that.  This past year, the lumberjack (my husband) suffered from more than the usual amount of back pain and was not able to get as much wood on the ground as normal.  Also, the long, cold spring forced us to burn several cords of wood we intended for this year.  We have been cutting mostly ash which burns even when wet.  The ash has had a chance to dry anywhere from three to ten months at this point.

Wet ash will burn with a lot of hissing of escaping steam and not produce as much heat as dry wood.  To get the temperature up in our high efficiency wood stove, we must add a few dry pieces of wood with each load of ash.  The best ready supply of dry wood is dead elm trees.  The poor elms rarely have a chance to get large or old due to the continuing presence of Dutch Elm Disease.  The fungal infection kills elms within a year, filling their fluid transport systems with thick hyphae growth.  Because elm wood is dense and tough, dead trees can remain standing for many years.  After a couple years, the wood is quite dry.

I scout around for dead elms.  The driest ones have begun to shed their bark.  Loggers call dead trees widow makers because the vibrations of sawing them can cause branches overhead to rattle loose and drop on the wood cutter.  Luckily, with elm, the wood is so tough that widow makers aren’t a problem until a dead tree has stood for many years.  We knock down the trees, strip off any remaining bark and split them up with our commercial size hydraulic wood splitter.  The dry, tough wood is very hard to split by hand. Just one good piece of dry elm will bring the temperature in the burn chamber up enough to vaporize the moisture in five or six pieces of half-cured wood.


First Autumn Harvest


The autumn harvest has begun!  I found eleven big field pumpkins in the garden this year, lots of small Jack-Be-Little pumpkins, several winter squash, and a great yield of indian corn.  Some of the squashes and corn are still ripening, phase two of the harvest will be in a few days.  The gourds are very plentiful.  h3I won’t know how many grew until I can get onto gourd mountain after the first frost kills back the leaves.  The strange hybrid crosses between squashes, gourds and pumpkins are providing plenty of excitement with their unusual shapes and colors.  h2All are gourds, meaning inedible, except the large flattish orange ones near the pumpkins in the photos may be good to eat.  I think they are a cross between pumpkins and winter squash.

The tomato jungle is still producing and I must pick tomatoes again.  A frost can not come too soon for the tomatoes as far as I’m concerned!  Also, it is time to pull the carrots.  Think I’ll have my 2-year-old granddaughter, Lia, help me with them tomorrow.  She loves to see the carrots come out of the ground.

Feeding the Chickens


Follow me, chickens

I train all my chickens to come when I call them.  A loud clucking sound like the noise chickens make to tell each other there is something tasty to eat, combined with a high-pitched call of ‘chicken, chicken,’ tells the young birds it’s time to get their scratch grains.  The chickens are so accustomed to having their morning treat of mixed cracked corn and whole oat grains that they hang around outside the house after they wake up, waiting for the human to appear.  There are always plenty of poultry feed and free range pickings available, but the scratch grain must be so delectable that chickens will wait patiently for hours to get it.


Running ahead to the barn, obviously very hungry for scratch grains

As soon as I appear at the door, chickens come running.  They follow me in a long line down to the barn and stand around watching me expectantly until I get the marvelous treat out of the grain bin for them.  On days when my granddaughter Lia visits, she very much enjoys helping feed the chickens.  The young birds trail after her now, too, since they have seen her dishing out the precious scratch feed.  We spread the grain on the concrete floors of an old section of the barn that I’m tearing down.


Nom, nom, scratch feed!

Lia is only two-and-a-half, but she has quickly picked up how to take handfuls of grain and scatter it around for the birds to eat.  Then we like to stand back and watch them.  I take this opportunity to count the chickens, assure everyone looks healthy, and make decisions about sorting them for future breeding or sale.  The hand feeding helps to tame the animals, making them more interested in humans, more trusting and less prone to panic.  Some of the birds are so friendly they will let me approach and gently scoop them up.  They also shadow me during other times of the day and talk to me in their funny chicken language. Perhaps trying to convince me to hand out more scratch grain.c4

September Garden


Garden with second hatch (June 3) of Ameraucana chicks.

The Harvest moon has passed without a frost and the garden is still booming in September.  The fence has worked well so far this year.  No chickens or other undesirables in the garden.  Above, the 15 young chickens from the second hatch run by the garden with no thought of the juicy tomatoes and squash inside.

g10g8Things are beginning to wind down, the bean harvest is finally over.  I pulled the plants yesterday. We have 19 pints of wax beans put up for winter.  As I uprooted the bean plants I also weeded, and the area looks nice and neat.g11g7  My horses enjoy bean plants and were happy to provide their unique composting services. While the string beans produce one major harvest, and several smaller ones, they continue to bloom up until frost.  If left in the garden, enough beans for a meal form every week.  The winter squash plants are visible on the side of the photo to the right. They are nearly ready to pick.

g13g5Bachelor buttons are about done for the year. They were so pretty. The Jerusalem artichokes are in full bloom.  The heads of flowers are so heavy they weigh the tall plants down, causing them to lean.  Maybe I will proved them some support next year.  The sunflowers also are finally in bloom.  I lost one tall plant to high winds, snapped off at the base, so I have three plants.  All are yellow.  I was hoping for some orange or burgundy.  Oh well.

g3g4Indian corn has ripened and is now ready to harvest.  The husks of the ears are drying and shrinking back from the tops of the cobs.  Unfortunately this exposes the corn to hungry birds and insects so I must pick all the ears soon.

g12The tomato jungle continues to pump out fruit.  I can not keep up with production.  Many go to the chickens and horses, but that’s ok.  We have plenty of tomatoes in the freezer and all the fresh ones I can eat and give away to unsuspecting friends.  Most years I mulch the entire tomato patch with lawn clippings.  I never managed to finish the job this year.  The mulch is good for keeping dirt off the fruit and weeds down, so next year I will try harder to get this chore done on time.

g2The carrots have recovered from their second thinning and are growing nicely.  Harvest time is right around the corner for them.

g14Also ready for harvest are the pumpkins. We have 9 large field pumpkins, many tiny Jack-Be-Little pumpkins, but no pie pumpkins.  Those apparently failed this year.  The gourds on the mountain look to be a plentiful harvest.  I may have to open a little roadside stand on one fine weekend in October to unload some of the excess squashes and Indian corn.  We live on a high traffic road.  On a warm, sunny fall day sales can be brisk.g9

Preserving Tomatoes


Those eleven small tomato plants I lovingly placed in the ground back in late May are giving me the biggest harvest I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve grown tomatoes forever.  The fruit just won’t stop.  So far I’ve put 18 quarts up.  The photo above is of the latest picking setting on my standard-sized cook range. Most of the fruit are Early Girl, they are bright orange-red with some yellow patches from sunburn.  The larger, pinkish-orange, irregularly shaped tomatoes are Brandywines.

t3Brandywine tomatoes can get huge.  Here is a shot of my largest one to date.  It is over 6″ across.  There are several more as big or bigger still ripening.  Brandywines are very sweet, delicious fresh eating and also good in cooking.  They do not keep well once ripe and are prone to splitting.  The giant tomato in my hand mostly filled a quart freezer bag all by itself.

Many people like to turn their tomato harvest into sauces, but I prefer to keep my options open by freezing the quartered fruit.  I place the tomatoes in boiling water for just a couple minutes to loosen the skins. Then I drop them in cold water, let them cool a bit, strip off the skin and remove the core.  I cut them in quarters to go in quart freezer bags.  These keep well in the freezer.  I’ve used frozen tomatoes three years old with no ill effects.  Frozen tomatoes can be made into soup, sauce, added to chili, or a way I like, heated, drained, seasoned with basil and oregano and served over thin spaghetti with some black olives and parmesan.

t2When the skies are gray and a snowstorm threatens, I warm up by putting a quart or two of frozen tomatoes in a stock pot and making a big batch of beef or lamb and barley soup.  Perfect for driving the cold from your bones.  Here’s a recipe for a small batch of my soup.

Lamb and Barley Soup

1 qt frozen tomato quarters                                     3 medium carrots

4-5 qts water                                                              3 stalks celery

2-3 lamb shoulder blade steaks                             1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach

1 cup dried pearl barley                                            1/2 tsp onion powder

basil, thyme, oregano, black pepper, marjoram to taste (I use about 1/4-1/2 tsp each)

celery salt to taste (1 tsp or a little more)

Place tomatoes, barley and lamb in an 8 qt saucepan, add water, salt and spices, cover and bring to a gentle boil.  Simmer, covered, for 15 mins. stirring occasionally.  Add carrots and celery that have been cut to 1/2″ pieces and spinach.  Add water as necessary to keep the level above the ingredients.  Simmer, stirring once in awhile, 10-15 mins or until carrots and celery are tender.  Remove lamb steaks from pot, cut the meat from the bone, cut the meat into bite-sized chunks and return to pot.  Stir and let meat warm for five minutes.  Soup is now ready to serve.  Add salt as necessary to individual servings, this helps reduce the total amount of sodium in the soup.  Other vegetables can be substituted or added, according to taste. String beans or corn make great additions.

Lower Hadlock Pond at Acadia National Park


Panorama of Lower Hadlock Pond

Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island here on the coast of Maine is my favorite place.  Every year I have to visit, usually two or three times.  Right after Labor Day, when the tourists have mostly left and the weather is still summer-like, we head over to Acadia to camp out for a couple days.  Each trip I try to find something new to see.  Although I’ve been going to Acadia since I was a child, there are still many places in the park that I haven’t visited.  This year we found Lower Hadlock Pond, a lovely gem hidden in the woods just a few hundred yards from busy Rte. 198, a little north of Northeast Harbor.a2

A well-maintained hiking trail circles the pond.  The trail starts at the road, across from Upper Hadlock Pond.  Both these bodies of water are reservoirs for the town of Northeast Harbor, no swimming or pets allowed.
a6The path follows a stone-strewn brook that runs from the upper pond, under the road, through a cedar marsh, over huge slabs of granite, then down to the lower pond.  In the damp areas, elevated boardwalks have been built.  There are also several rough-hewn cedar bridges.  At the far end of Lower Hadlock Pond is an old earth and stone dam, a unique engineering feat worthy of notice on its own.a3a5

The pristine pond has crystal clear water with a bed of granite boulders. Mountains surround the pond and a forest of old growth fir, spruce, maple, oak and pine ranges right to the water’s edge.  On the walk in from the road, a length of about 1/3 mile, the brook beside the trail catches glimmers from stray sunbeams penetrating the dense tree cover.
a1 As it passes through pools and over stones, the stream keeps up a steady water music.  Just before reaching the pond, the brook flows over a floor of granite and basalt, a massive outcrop of solid lava from an ancient volcanic flow.a4  The waterway quickly drops about fifty feet to the level of the pond.  In the spring when water is plentiful, this flow must be an impressive waterfall.

A trek around the entire pond takes a couple hours with time off to admire the many views.  Fish are plentiful.  Loons dive the waters and bald eagles circle overhead searching for any hapless trout that might swim too near the surface.

A second path allows entrance to the Lower Hadlock trail just across the road from an impressive stone gate house.  Those preferring to forego the hike along the brook can use this access.