Archives

Common Ground Fair

dsc08710

On the train to the Fair!

Every year for the last forty years the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc. (MOFGA) has held the Common Ground Country Fair.  It occurs on the third weekend after Labor Day in Unity, Maine. I have attended several times, most recently with my daughter and two grandchildren.

This fair attracts over 20,000 people per day on its three-day, long weekend run.  The place can get quite crowded, especially the food areas at lunchtime.  Organic growers from all over the state attend to compete, display and sell their produce, livestock and wares.DSC08724.JPG

Compared to most fairs, the Common Ground is more like a very old-time agricultural fair.  There are no loud rides, carnies, sideshows, horse races, professional tractor or horse pulling competitions and NO cotton candy (sigh.)  The trash is guarded by garbage police and separated into cans for regular waste, composting and recycling.  There is no litter.

Arriving at the fair is an adventure in itself, as you may take an old-fashioned train with brightly painted cars to reach the fairground.  The train runs regularly all day, shuttling people back and forth from parking areas to the fair.  Even with the train service, the road leading to the fair is backed up for miles in traffic jams.  The crowd seems to take the highway authorities by surprise every year, leading to very slow going if you try to travel anywhere near the fair.dsc08713

You can find wonderful displays of organically grown vegetables and fruit in the competition barn, several sheds of draft horses, oxen, dairy cattle and goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and alpacas.  The draft animals do compete in amateur pulling contests.  One barn is devoted to rabbits and another to poultry.  The fiber people have a tent full of their produce arrayed for the salivating droves of spinners and weavers moving through.  There is always a woman demonstrating the use of a spinning wheel by taking the fiber directly from an angora rabbit resting in her lap.DSC08736.JPG

Other large sales tents house arts and crafts with basket weavers, jewelers, wood, glass, stone and metal workers, paper making and hand-operated printing presses, cloth and clothing making, beading, leather work, etc, etc.  Several tents are dedicated to fresh produce and seeds, and several more to representatives from various political factions, movements and technology companies important to organic farmers.  A few tents are set aside for daily talks put on by authorities on the many facets of organic living and farming.  There is even a display of working equipment operated with direct solar power to cook food.dsc08747

The aspects that stand out most for me are the general quiet atmosphere, the wide, grassy spaces that are available for people to use, and the sorts of people who attend.  Dozens of fair-goers sprawl on lawns and in open areas, eating, drinking, talking, listening to speakers and even playing musical instruments and singing.  Some of these people are barefoot or clothed in brightly colored wraps of cloth and other bohemian outfits and hairstyles.  Amish people mingle with the crowd, denizens of the large Amish community that has sprung up around the Unity area in the last decade or so.DSC08735.JPG

The grounds are furnished with several permanent gardens to display organic farming methods.  You can walk through small fields of corn, squash, beans, root vegetables, cruciferous and leaf crops and herb and flower gardens.  On one side of the fairgrounds is a large amphitheater for live music and performances with high earthen sides for seating.  Dozens of children grab pieces of discarded cardboard boxes from vendors and slide down the steep slopes.dsc08741

The attractions are eclectic.  One may take a walk through a quiet forest into a glade set aside for poetry reading by Maine’s poet laureate.  Farther into the woods, children who are members of a local wilderness group display their resourcefulness with outdoor skills, camping and fire-starting for any to watch.  Near the amphitheater is an old-fashioned strength competition using a heavy hammer to try and ring the bell at the top of a pole.

Unusual foods are vended.  Offerings such as lamb, falafal, curries, tofu just-about-anything-you-can-imagine, vegetarian foods, whole wheat pizza, teas, hot cider, pie cones, and fresh seafood bring lines of diners.  Not the usual fair fare!  There is a bow to regular American tastes with stands serving hamburgers and fries, popcorn, Italian sausage and ice cream.  The longest line was at the fresh roast coffee vendor’s stand.

Many love the sheep dog demonstrations.  Several dogs perform their tasks using a small flock of sheep and even a gaggle of geese, to the delight of a large audience.  The children are drawn to the livestock pens because most farms in attendance allow people to talk to and pet the animals.dsc08730dsc08725

The young ones also have a large area all to themselves filled with delightful activities.  Twice a day any child may don a costume and participate in the Children’s Parade around the fairgrounds.  In addition to children, the parade features Morris dancers, stilt-walkers and mummers wearing large papier-mache animal head masks.dsc08718

The day always flies by with so much to see and do.  Soon it is time to rush and catch the train for the ride back to the car.  With any luck the shuttle is running close to schedule.  Everyone leaves tired but happy.  This year’s fair hosted over 60,000 visitors in one long weekend.  I hope this extravaganza of folk and country fun continues for many years to come.

 

Advertisements

Garden Bounty

g1

After weeks of drought, we finally got rain yesterday.  There is more rain forecast for today, so exciting!  It is very frustrating to watch thunderstorms go around or evaporate before they reach us.  The poor plants were suffering.  I had to water several times to keep the garden going.  The effort was worth it because we have a bountiful supply of vegetables.

I’ve been eating beet greens, have made some pickled beets and plan to make more soon.  There is plenty of lettuce for salads and sandwiches.  The wax bean harvest is in full swing.  So far I’ve canned ten pints of beans.  More beans are waiting for processing.g3

Growing the sweet peppers closer together in partial shade has really paid off.  The plants are big, full and heavy with fruit.  I got the first pepper last evening.  They are supposed to be red bells, but are delicious when still green as well.  I love peppers on pizza and there’s nothing like fresh pepper right from the garden for supper!  As can be seen, my half of the pizza is veggie.g4

The tomato jungle is not as thick as some years due to the drought.  There are still plenty of tomatoes being produced.  These are so sweet.  Sometimes I make a meal just from one big tomato with some salad dressing.g2

The bonus flowers that I grow along the fence in the vegetable garden are blooming beautifully.  It is lovely to cut a few for a fresh arrangement on the dining table.  The bright colors of the zinnias remind me of candy.   g5

Return to the Garden

g1.jpg

It’s been a couple weeks. let’s check in at the vegetable garden.  I have been busily weeding, training vines, picking bugs, thinning rows and hoeing up the dirt around the bases of plants.  The weather has been quite warm with many days in the mid-eighties to nineties F.  Scattered thunder showers have provided adequate water.  Everything in the garden is growing with abandon.g2

Miniature pumpkin vines in the foreground and field pumpkins in the back.  Little fruit are already setting.

g3

This humid, hot weather is corn’s favorite growing condition.  If you watch carefully, you can see the indian corn get taller!

g4

A sunflower, winter acorn squash, red sweet peppers, beets and a row of carrots along the fence.  I have harvested loads of beet greens, eaten much and given more away to friends and relatives.  I even made some pickled beets!

The peppers are very happy this year.  Last year they mostly failed.  This time I planted them closer together, about 8″ apart.  They are in the shade of the corn for much of the morning and have the beets nearby for humidity.  Peppers like moisture and partial shade.  Several plants have good-sized fruit.  I may eat one now and not wait for it to turn red!

g7

The bush wax beans are in full bloom.  I expect to find beans waiting to be picked any day.

g9

The first tomato, right on schedule.  Think I’ll pick it for my salad today, before some slug or mouse can chew a hole in it.

g10

Lettuce, anyone?  This is head lettuce.  I let it grow close together and thin as I need lettuce until just a few large plants are left to make heads.

g8

Bachelor buttons, marigolds and zinnias to brighten the garden and provide cut flowers.  The Japanese beetles were devouring the zinnias.  Finally I dusted them with insecticide and the plants have started to bloom.  No bugs bother the marigolds, they have natural insecticides to keep pests away.

g11.jpg

Morning on the Farm

h3

It’s a beautiful July morning, sunny with a bit of a breeze.  The dew is still on the grass.  Time to do the farm chores.  When I step out the door, snapdragons and a heliotrope greet me.  The blue flowers have a wonderful, sweet fragrance.

h10

Otto and Holly tag along.  They love to follow me everywhere.

h12

The fig tree has four good-sized fruit with many more small ones on the way.  Time to give this tree some fertilizer to help ripen the crop before frost.

h7

My new yard centerpiece, impatiens on a log.  They actually sit on the septic tank clean-out cover, marking it so nothing heavy (like a tractor or horse) goes across it.

h6

Day lilies and bee balm brighten the garden beneath the crabapple tree.

h5

Vista and Maddie, hard at work mowing the orchard.  Cheap laborers who love their job.

h13

Kai and Cary are out enjoying a little morning sun before their major nap of the day.

h4

The black raspberries are ripening!  Time to make some jelly.

h8

Black-eyed Susans make a lovely wildflower accent beside the iris bed.

h9

The recent rain has spurred the garden to exuberant growth, both vegetables and weeds.

hi

Finally made it to the barn!  The first and third chick hatch eat together peacefully.  The second hatch is too busy catching bugs and hasn’t responded to the breakfast call yet.

h2

Little guys and big sisters share the water dish.

h11

Someone else would like to have breakfast with the chickens.  Two chipmunks live in our barn.  They were being pretty decent little guys until one decided to chew the nozzle off a gas can.  Not sure what the attraction was, hydrocarbons?  Maybe it’s time to bring home a Barn Friend cat from the Humane Society to send the chipmunks packing?

With all the distractions, it’s a wonder I ever get the barn chores finished!

 

 

Garden Tour

g1

Today’s cool temperature and fine mist is a welcome change from drought conditions and day after day in the 90s.  Last night we had a thunderstorm with heavy rains.  I can almost feel the plants breathing a deep sigh of relief at the much needed water.

g2Despite the adverse conditions, the vegetable garden is doing well.  The indian corn was knee high on the Fourth of July, so we’re right on schedule there.  A few days ago I beat the weeds back with the mantis.  Still need to rake the loosened weeds and throw them out.  Also need to weed right around the plants again.  I did that about two weeks ago.  Weeds don’t seem fazed by drought.

g4

The red sweet peppers are doing much better than last year.  I planted them closer together and am trying to make sure to give them plenty of water.  They are all beginning to bloom.  The beets are ready to be thinned for the greens.  Can hardly wait for a steaming bowl full flavored with salt and butter, yum!g3

Carrots are ready to be thinned as well.  I already thinned the pumpkins and squash.  They have out-grown the threat of squash bugs and cucumber beetles sucking the juices dry.  I think it was a hard year for those bug pests, I didn’t see hardly any.  Could be they don’t like very dry conditions.g6

The tomatoes are blooming and some have several small fruit forming already.  Can’t wait to harvest my first tomatoes!  These Early Girls usually have fruit ready by the end of July.  We’ll see how they do.  The lack of rain may have slowed them down.  I watered three times, but I suspect tomatoes like even more moisture.g7

The wax bush beans are beginning to flower.  Once flowers show up, watch out!  There will be beans to harvest in no time.  I still have about a dozen cans of beans left from last summer.  That’s ok, never too many beans.g5g8

I planted head lettuce that is ready to be thinned and also beds of marigolds, zinnias and bachelor buttons.  One bachelor button plant volunteered from last year and has lots of pretty mauve flowers already.  Always enjoy a little color in the vegetable garden.g10

The sunflowers struggled a bit, but are now growing well.  Most are about a foot tall.  Once they get this big, they begin to shoot toward the sky, nearly doubling in size every week until they reach six to seven feet.  They will be covered with bunches of small blooms that later form black oil seeds for the birds.g9

So, everything is growing right along here in the garden.  Am hoping the rain returns more frequently so I don’t have to water too much. We’ll check back in a couple weeks to see how things are going.

Sweet William

s3.jpg

Several years ago I sowed some red Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) seeds in my flower garden.  I have loved this flowers for as long as I remember.  It smells wonderful and holds its bloom for a long time.

The plant is listed as a biennial or weak perennial.  I think in my garden it is a strong perennial!  It is a member of the carnation family and the fragrance to me is a mix of nutmeg and honey.s2

Every year since I seeded it, the plants have grown and spread.  They do not completely die back in the winter, but keep a low growth of dark green leaves that spring up again each summer.  From just a couple stalks with red flowers the Sweet William has increased to take over half the garden.

I’m not sure how the new colors developed, maybe from the seeds of the original red plants.  Now I have fuchsia flowers with pink centers and fringe and one lovely stalk of salmon colored petals.  In the fall when the seed heads form, I help spread the seeds around, hoping for an ever widening patch of Sweet William.s1

Garden’s In

g1.jpg

After much weed pulling, tilling and fence installation, the garden was ready to plant last week.  It took two days to get all the seeds in the earth.  The weather has been so dry for so long that the dirt was like talcum powder.  I watered after planting to give the seeds a start.

The weather forecast was for rain over the past weekend and through most of this week.  Happily, we finally got a good soaking yesterday afternoon and overnight.  It poured!  Now the sprouts will start to pop up.

g2It is time to set the last of the plants in the garden:  the tomato and red pepper seedlings.  These came from a greenhouse last week and have been hardening off outside in the shade, preparing for the harsh conditions in the full sun and open air.  The tomatoes already have flowers!  The variety is Early Girl, a nice medium-sized tomato that is very early.  Usually I get my first fruit by mid-late July.  Yum, can hardly wait for that juicy, home-grown taste!