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Category Archives: Agriculture
Previously published in Lancaster Farming.
The first time I turned the key on the 1980-something Kubota this spring, it started. The season was off to a good beginning. Turning over a four foot wide strip in the garden makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s good to look over my shoulder and see clean soil instead of a forest of inch tall weeds.
Steve had a load of aged manure delivered for me last fall. Manure – it’s what all the cool farm girls want, right? I’ve been moving a little bit at a time while I prepared the high tunnels for seedlings and seeds. The real fun began when I started prepping the garden. I’ve learned how to fill the bucket without pushing the pile over, how to jiggle it using the levers so I don’t lose any on the way to the garden, and how to dump it slowly onto the garden while backing up so that it’s evenly spread. If I leave a big pile rather than a few inches over the soil I spread it with the bucket. Not bad for the woman who was against getting a tractor until four years ago. I had no idea how much fun I was missing.
There were a few small boulders protruding from the lawn until we got the tractor. All but one is in a pile now, waiting to be relocated and used. The last boulder would require copious amounts of dynamite or a huge excavator. Steve will be mowing around that one for the rest of our lives.
The best crop in the garden is rocks, typical in Maine. I’ve filled the bucket many times and dumped them in a pile at the edge of the woods. I’d never be able to do that with a five gallon bucket. I probably can’t lift a five gallon bucket of rocks. The tines on the rototiller aren’t wearing down as fast now as they did when we first got the tractor.
Steve plows the driveway with the tractor each winter. Trading the blade for the bucket makes quick work of moving snow back to keep the driveway from closing in during a hard winter.
Choke cherry trees spread quickly if we don’t keep up with them yearly. The tractor’s bush hog takes care of new growth, and the bucket is helping us pull up the established trees. A chain wrapped around the base of the tree and attached to the bucket makes quick work of removing each tree. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot when I hear the roots ripping from the ground even though I haven’t put in much effort. Steve cut down a dozen ten foot tall trees in a spot we can’t get to with the tractor because of boulders. Rather than a chain, we’ll wrap a rope around the trees and use the tractor to pull them out to the brush pile.
The bush hog has been a lot of help in keeping the forest from creeping into the field. Red Twig dogwood is an invasive shrub taking over acres of unkempt fields. It’s easiest to see in winter when its bright red stems show against the white snow. Mowing it down a couple of times each year has kept it at the edge of the woods and out of our field. Wild raspberry and blackberry canes are kept contained to the edge of the woods with heavy duty mowing.
It’s just a tractor. This isn’t news to anyone. So what’s up with an entire column about a tractor? I’ve spent quite a bit of time on it this week and enjoyed the work. Something as simple as a beat up, old, dented, slightly rusty Kubota makes me smile. She isn’t pretty but Cranky, so named because she looks cranky after her “face” was dented by the previous owner, is a lot of fun.
Being limited to 100 dependable frost free days a year doesn’t allow for some of the pumpkin and squash varieties I love. I’m all about pumpkins—big, tiny, huge, warty, orange, white, or striped, if it’s a pumpkin I surely love it. Squash catch my eye with their lumps and bumps, smooth skin and deeply carved lobes. Both get bonus points for excellent flavor and long-term storage ability but I’ll grow most anything. If we don’t like a variety’s flavor or texture, the poultry will love it in the middle of winter.
It won’t be safe to plant seeds of non-hardy plants until the soil warms up and the danger of frost passes around the first of June. Trays of six packs sat the sill of the bay window to warm in the sun, on a shelf above my desk, and under grow lights where the soil stays a little warmer. It took a week for the starting medium to show a bump in its smooth surface, the first sign that a seed has germinating and is pushing its way up. It doesn’t take long once you see the bump. I noticed one in the evening and had a dozen seedlings the next morning. When they start in the morning they’re stretching toward the light by the end of the day. I have to shuffle trays to get them under lights so they don’t stretch too much and cause weak stems.
Most of us have probably heard “you can’t transplant vine plants.” You can as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
First, don’t start the seeds too early. I plant mine in six packs and individual pots three to four weeks prior to when I expect to transplant them into the garden. Seedlings that have no more than two sets of true leaves transplant better than older plants. Older plants are more susceptible to transplant shock.
Second, choose containers that are large enough to support root growth without the plants becoming root bound. I try to avoid moving the seedlings into larger pots before transplanting to the garden but it’s sometimes unavoidable. Use a container larger in width and depth than you expect to need. Loosen the soil gently and move the seedling without disturbing the soil around the roots.
Third, keep the seedlings under grow lights and outdoors as much as possible, or keep them in the dark. If they have inadequate lighting they’ll stretch toward the nearest light source, as plants do, and become leggy. Vine crops have very wet, somewhat fragile stems. Leggy stems are weaker than short, dense stems.
Prepare the soil before transplanting day. You’ll need rich soil to support the plants through maturity and might want to side dress later in the season. Mounds warm up faster than flat soil, as does IRT (infrared transmissible) mulch. Both options will give you a head start. IRT has the added benefit of blocking weeds.
Low tunnels will help you get an early start with vine crops. A low tunnel with greenhouse poly over IRT will give you two to three weeks of extra time if you set them up early to let the soil warm.
I’m growing all of my cucumbers in a high tunnel, clipped to strings to grow vertically, rather than outdoors. This year I’m adding a mix of crafters gourds and small pumpkins that will hang from the vines. Living in Maine with a short growing season doesn’t have to limit us to varieties that mature in less than 100 days.
Are you cooking out this weekend? Don’t forget to thank a farmer, or at least be truly thankful for the farmers, who grew and raised your food. Most of us would starve to death, literally, without farmers. Farmers feed our heroes but they aren’t thought of as heroes. Where would we be without fireman, EMTs, teachers, soldiers, doctors, truck drivers, and the rest of the people we depend on in our daily lives, if it weren’t for the farmers who provide our food.
Originally appeared in Quoddy Tides newspaper.
Maine Seed Suppliers
Are your seed catalogs coming in the mail yet? Mine are here! A lot of folks comment on how early catalogs arrive. After all, the ground is frozen and nobody’s going to be planting a garden for months. Why do we need catalogs so early?
I start leek and onion seeds in early February. The tomato, eggplant and pepper seeds for the seedlings going into the high tunnels in late April are started in late February. Farmers and some gardeners need their seeds early. Ordering early makes it easier to get the varieties you’d like to grow. I waited too long to order leeks and onions last year. Who knew there was an onion seed shortage last year? Me! But I didn’t find out until my order came back without those seeds. The leeks I wanted to grow were sold out and I had to settle for another variety.
Seeds can be ordered from Maine companies. Most of the seeds sold in the world come from one supplier, Monsanto. There are seed companies that offer seeds they’ve grown in their trial gardens and from growers right here in Maine.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion is Maine’s largest and best known seed company. Rob Johnson is in the process of selling Johnny’s to his employees. Johnny’s offers seeds, garden tools, books, seed starting supplies and more. They put a lot of time and effort into research and development of new hybrid varieties that suit our climate, taste good and produce well. Their 120 acre farm and trial gardens are open to the public at certain times. I visited their display at the Common Ground Fair in September and enjoyed talking with them. Mum and Great Grampa John, the people who taught me how to grow vegetables regardless of how much I protested, carried around the Johnny’s catalog until it was dog-eared and worn out. When I place an order online early in the morning it’s usually in my mailbox the next day.
Fedco Seeds is a co-op located in Clinton. They’ve spent 15 years building relationships with local seed growers. Their catalog is coded to clearly show where they purchased the seed. The catalog paper is recyclable newsprint but you won’t want to recycle it too soon. It’s full of information. It’s hard to beat Fedco’s prices, especially if you place a group order with friends. Group orders earn discounts based on order total. Don’t expect a quick turn around on your Fedco order. Ordering is limited to specific times of the year because most of the folks who work at Fedco are at home working on their farms and homesteads. Don’t wait to order until the last minute. It has always taken at least two weeks to get my order. You’ll want to keep this in mind and plan accordingly. Fedco offers heirloom, hybrid, open pollinated, organic and eco seeds. Eco is their label for non-certified organic seeds.
Pinetree Garden Seeds is located in New Gloucester. This company is a seed supplier. Pinetree purchases seeds from all around the world. One section in Pinetree’s catalog is devoted to container gardening, a method of growing that will work well in small yards. The number of seeds per packet is large enough to supply a home gardener without there being so many you’d have seeds to store for the following year.
Allen, Sterling and Lothrop’s website provides information needed to successfully plant your seeds. Directions for direct seeding (directly in the garden) and starting seeds inside are given for each seed they offer. The directions include how many seeds you should plant per inch and the correct planting depth. They also include yield amounts such as 28 pounds of beans or 60 pounds of beets (no wonder that basket seems so heavy) per bushel. Allen, Sterling and Lothrop is located in Falmouth. Ordering through their catalog and website is simple.
There are more seed companies in Maine. You can look for The Maine Potato Lady, Maine Seed Saver Exchange and at your local feed and hardware stores for more seed choices.
Next month I’ll give you suggestions on what to do with the winter squash and rutabagas put away for the winter. Mine will be showing signs of decay by the first of February.
The seedlings from seeds I started a few weeks ago are ready to be separated and moved to individual containers. These plants will be transplanted into a high tunnel next month with the possible exception of the leeks. They’ll probably go into a low tunnel outdoors. The plants are under grow lights during the day. I turn the lights on when I get up and off before going to bed. I’ll write a How-To as I work with the seedlings this afternoon.
A reprint from Lancaster Farming, 2012
Stonyvale Farm in Exeter, Maine, has been a family farm for five generations. The farm is home to approximately 1,000 cows that produce a lot of manure.
Up until recently, all that manure was used like manure is usually used on farms — that is, until brothers Adam and John Wintle and their cousin, Travis Fogler, came up with the idea of incorporating a manure digester into the farm operation.
They spent a year or more batting around the idea and formed Exeter Agri-Energy, a subsidiary of Stonyvale Farm, according to Sarah Wintle, communications and operations manager of Biogas Energy Partners, the development company that managed and administered the project.
Now, eight months after completing construction on the $5.2 million anaerobic digester — a first of its kind in Maine — they are using that manure to produce not only fertilizer and cow bedding, but also energy that they sell to the region’s power grid.
“It was a collective effort between people,” she said. “It took several years from start to finish.”
Biogas Energy Partners was created to handle the economic and regulatory processes involved with the project. Exeter Agri-Energy manages the hands-on daily activities associated with the digester.
Adam is the managing partner of BEP and John is the project and facilities manager for Exeter Agri-Energy. Travis is one of the owners of Stonyvale Inc. Like most farms, everyone pitches in where needed.
Once the construction process started, it came together quickly. The groundbreaking took place on Aug. 8, 2011.
“The right combination of people made it happen quickly,” Wintle said.
The project was financed, in part, with a loan from Farm Credit of Maine, along with $2.8 million in grants from USDA Rural Development and Efficiency Maine.
“The digester,” as it’s called, is two vessels doing the same thing. Each vessel holds 400,000 gallons of manure and organic waste. The digester was filled in November and commissioned in December.
The current mixture is approximately 75 percent manure and 25 percent organic waste. The contents of the digester are held at 104 F. It takes 15 to 25 days from when the contents are added until they’re extracted.
The digester is never emptied, Wintle said. Rather, it’s an ongoing process where finished product is extracted and raw material is added to maintain temperature. The bacterial and enzyme balances have to be maintained to keep the digester running its best.
“We had to learn how to avoid throwing off the biology as we add new organic matter to the digester,” Wintle said.
The contents are stirred as necessary.
The finished product is moved to a separator where the liquid is removed from the solid. The liquid is pumped to a manure pit and used as a fertilizer on the crops Stonyvale Farm grows for its cows. There isn’t as much manure odor in the fertilizer after digestion, something neighbors near the farm and fields appreciate.
The solid product is used by Stonyvale Farm as bedding for the cows. It has a larger, clumpier consistency than sawdust but is finer than wood chips.
Softer, more comfortable bedding is being evaluated in dairy farms around the country for milk production and the overall well-being of the cows.
“The farm is using the bedding with a couple of different milking groups, but because there are too many other variables involved, it’s impossible to attribute changes in milk production solely to the introduction of the new bedding,” Wintle said. “There is some indication that the bedding may be softer for the cows, but there is no way to tell, at least not without doing some type of scientific research, if it’s having a dramatic impact on the cows in any way.
“The stalls are raked every day. Any of the dirty bedding is raked into the aisle of the barn where it is cleared automatically by the aisle scraper,” she said. “All material cleared by the scraper, including used bedding and manure, is sent to a holding tank in advance of being sent to the digester.” No bedding goes to waste.
In addition to fertilizer and bedding, jobs were created. The anaerobic digester produces biogas, a combination of carbon dioxide and methane. The biogas is burned by a 16-cylinder, 1,500-horsepower engine which powers a generator.
The methane destruction at the plant is approximately equivalent to removing 3,000 passenger vehicles from the road per year. The generator produces enough heat to replace 22,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and 700 gallons of heating oil. That’s enough energy to power 800 homes and heat 300 houses.
The energy is sold to the power grid. Exeter Agri-Energy expects to sell 8,000 Class 1 renewable energy credits per year.
Exeter Agri-Energy is permitted to accept organic waste. The company wants to work with food processing companies, seafood processors, institutions and other large producers of organic wastes.
When to plant peas in zone….pick a number. Here’s an important rule to remember:
THIS is the information you need.
We’re going to assume for today’s How To that your soil has been prepped and ready to go. Peas are a cool weather crop so they can be planted early. There’s no need to wait until after the average last frost date. You can use a meat thermometer to check the soil temp.
- Start planting as soon as the soil temp warms to 45* as long as…
- …as long as the soil is well drained. If you can squeeze water out of the soil or it stays in a ball when you squeeze it, it’s too wet. Wait for it to drain.
- Plant each seed about 1″ deep and 2″ apart. Don’t fuss with measurements. Peas aren’t that fussy.
Don’t worry if there’s snow in the forecast. It don’t usually last long if the soil is already 45*. Multiple nights in the teens* can be hard on peas so I suggest covering them if possible.
I plant my fall peas in early July. The first expected frost is around the middle of September here. Frost won’t hurt them. Peas produce best in cool weather. The summer heat won’t hurt production as long as it’s starting to cool down at night by the time the pods are forming.
I’ve started a few seeds here and there but nothing remarkable. Steve brought in a 3.8 cu ft bale of ProMix for me yesterday (I have an arm in a sling, limited in what I’m supposed to do.) before he left for a snowmobile ride. My plan: fill all of the trays, pots and six packs I’d need, soak them and let them set while I sorted seeds, then get all of the seeds planted before he got home. Then I’d clean up the mess since I’m doing this in the kitchen rather than the roofless greenhouse (Thanks Nemo, you sucked.) and be ready to cook supper when he got home.
My accomplishment was sorted seeds and this:
One 1020 tray with 3/4″ of ProMix and two kinds of seeds. The ProMix, stored in the roofless greenhouse where no heat collects, was frozen solid. The bale is shrink wrapped with heavy plastic making the bale solid. It took two hours for the top of the bale to thaw. I planted Revolution bell peppers and Opalka paste tomatoes and called it good. I retreated to the couch to read. Steve brought the stand in this morning. I put cardboard down as an insulator underneath the heating pad.
The bale has thawed and ready to be used this morning. Steve is ice fishing on a new pond and I’m playing in the dirt…I mean I’m starting seeds. I have a long list of what I’m starting today but most of them will have only a few seeds. It’s too early to start them for outdoors planting as we’re still three months from the last average frost date. These seedlings will be transplanted into high tunnels in mid to late April, depending on the amount of sun we get and the temperatures.
Here’s the list and a little info on some of the varieties.
Opalka (paste tomato) and Revolution (bell pepper) are in one tray. I need more than a few of these plants, and they both benefit from a heating pad. The seedlings don’t look alike so I won’t confuse them. I can’t put two kinds of tomatoes in one tray; I screw up when I’m transplanting to six packs and mix them up every single time if I start them together. “A butterfly! ummm….what end of the tray did I pluck this from?”
Unless noted, seeds came from Fedco. For full disclosure, all seeds from Renee’s Garden were sent to me as a media package. They give me seeds, I write about them. I don’t give them my approval just because they were given to me. If I didn’t like them I’d say so.
- Bleu De Solaize Leek A lot of people start them in January or February. I don’t like cutting them back several times before transplanting outdoors. It will be late April or early May before they can be transplanted. I’ll direct seed in a high tunnel later this week and compare production at the end of the season. New to me.
- Little Jade. Baby Napa cabbage. ** Seeds from last year’s media kit.
- Diplomat broccoli *
- De Cicco broccoli (48 days, it will be out of the high tunnel before the hottest summer heat)
- Kolibri purple kohlrabi
- Shuko pac choi (A favorite for stir fry)
- Kale Mix (I’ll start more in the summer for fall transplanting into a high tunnel for the winter)
- Snow Crown cauliflower. Cauliflower is a little more tender than the other brassicas. It will be fine with the warmth of the tunnel, and will be out in about 50 days before it’s too hot inside. *
- Rhapsody butterhead lettuce. ** I’ll direct seed leaf lettuces later in the week. **
- Brush Stroke pansy. Pansies are some of my favorite flowers. I’ll move the seed tray to the high tunnel in a week or so. They prefer cool weather. New to me.
- Helen Mount Johnny Jump Up. Also being moved to the tunnel. I’ll randomly plant these around the homestead. They’re self-seeding perennials.
- Starlight echinacea ** Left from last year. I tried some, like them and used the last of the seed today.
- Cappuccino rudbeckia. ** Left from last year.
- Broadleaf Sage
- Greek Oregano **
- Lavender Hidcote **
- Lemon Balm
- Panorama Red Shades bee balm
- Bush Slicer cucumber. ** Great in containers. The first cucumbers I picked last year were these, grown in a hanging basket on the back porch.
- Astia Zucchini ** A bushy plant great for containers and small spaces.
- Super Bush tomato. **Another container plant. Super Bush survived three frosts last year. The leaves looked terrible in the morning and just fine by noon. Nice slicing tomato, determinate that maxed out at 3′ tall. The stems are thick and strong, needs little staking. I put one dowel in the container.
- Chianti Rose tomato. ** An heirloom. It’s a big “beef stake” type. It will be grown clipped to twine in the high tunnel. It maxes out at 7′ so I won’t be chasing it to the 13′ peek to drag it back down. New to me.
- Stupice tomato. ** Another heirloom. It is early, cold tolerant and great for containers. New to me.
- Juliet tomato. My garden wouldn’t be complete without Juliet. It’s the first tomato to ripen. Juliet is a grape. It’s excellent eaten alone, dehydrates well, and is my fantastic in sauce. I wish there were a large paste tomato that tasted exactly like Juliet. It’s wild, suckers like crazy and will grow to 20′ long in the high tunnel if I let it. It’s worth the work. I’ll climb the ladder to grab the top and bring it back down to clip to twine.
- Sunset Mix sweet peppers. ** Heirloom. “…elongated plump peppers are perfect for pizza, salads or roasting.”
- Early Jalepeno. I’m not a hot-food person…but I’m starting to appreciate it. I can eat a Jalepeno popper now. A few years ago I wouldn’t try one. I like these best when they’re red. The plants branch out and reach 4′ to 5′ tall in the tunnels. I have to stake them to keep them upright.
I didn’t start a lot of seeds today. They fit on two shelves on the plant rack. I’ll start the majority of the seeds on April 1. Direct seeding in the garden depends on the weather. The ground is usually dry enough by late April. Remember, when the package says “as soon as the soil can be worked” you should be planting those seeds. Soil that “can be worked” doesn’t drip water when squeezed in your hand. I’ll talk more about that later, and about seeds I plant while there’s still frost in the ground.
I’m going to give away some of my favorite seeds. I’ll have Juliet tomatoes, Ministro cucumbers (49 days to maturity!) and a few others. Watch for a blog about it later this week.
Here’s the 2013 Fedco Seeds order. I order the majority of my seeds from Fedco for several reasons.
- It’s a cooperative, not a conglomerate
- They buy from/support small seed growers, some of them Fedco staff
- Maine business: local starts at the beginning, not at the grocery store.
- Staff is wonderful. And funny. Helpful, informative and are folks who are just like me and maybe you
- Best prices I’ve ever seen, and I’ve looked at hundreds (some repeats, different years) of catalogs in the last 25 year
I’ll eventually move some of this list into new blog entries. One will be varieties that are new to me, seeds I’ll plant in February and March in the high tunnels, varieties I grow only in high tunnels, and who knows what else might cross my mind.
This isn’t a complete list of everything I’ll grow this year, it’s just the order from Fedco. I’ve ordered from Renee’s Garden (A media kit so I’ll be writing about that order, too.) and will order from Johnny’s (which is not owned by Monsanto). I have some seeds in stock.
204 – Provider Bush Green Bean
265 – Indy Gold Bush Wax Bean
577 – Fleet Bicolor Sweet Corn
680 – Painted Mountain Ornamental Corn
710 – Coral Shell Pea
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea
1234 – Cross Country Pickling Cucumber
1302 – Ministro Slicing Cucumber
1407 – Golden Arrow Zucchini
1504 – Saffron Summer Squash
1611 – Zeppelin Delicata Winter Squash
1633 – Eastern Rise Winter Squash
1655 – Blue Hubbard Winter Squash
1672 – Galeux dEysines Winter Squash
1687 – Waltham Butternut Winter Squash
1702 – Wee-B-Little Pumpkin
1710 – Diablo Pumpkin
1713 – Lumina Pumpkin
1716 – Jarrahdale Pumpkin
1718 – Winter Luxury Pumpkin
1719 – New England Pie Pumpkin
1727 – Rouge Vif d’Etampes Pumpkin
1740 – Cheese Pumpkin
2108 – Early Wonder Tall Top Beet
2310 – Harris Model Parsnip
2378 – Purple Top White Globe Turnip
2398 – Laurentian Rutabaga
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek
2447 – Whitewing Onion
2490 – Rossa di Milano Onion
2498 – Walla Walla Sweet Spanish Onion
2510 – Space Spinach
2728 – Red Salad Bowl Lettuce
2980 – Lettuce Mix
3220 – Tatsoi
3260 – Shuko Pac Choi
3303 – Tendergreen Broccoli
3338 – Falstaff Brussels Sprouts
3352 – Golden Acre Cabbage
3375 – Ruby Perfection Cabbage
3410 – Snow Crown Cauliflower
3469 – Kale Mix
3471 – Kolibri Kohlrabi
3764 – Early Jalapeno Hot Pepper
3837 – Revolution Sweet Pepper
4135 – Opalka Paste Tomato
4207 – Juliet Tomato
4418 – Genovese Basil
4530 – Bouquet Dill
5152 – Helen Mount Johnny-Jump-Up
5211 – Crackerjack Mix African Marigold
5305 – Brush Strokes Pansy
5355 – Carnation Rose Poppy
It started six days ago. It was the beginning of a week-long cold snap. I went to the barn and hen house at sunrise to take food and warm water to the ducks, chickens and turkeys. Everything was fine in both buildings.
Steve came inside in rush late in the morning. The kitchen door swung open and slammed the door handle into the side of the refrigerator. Something was wrong. “Hey Rob, when was the last time you checked on the chickens?” I told him. Three of the four silkies were dead and had been eaten. I really liked those birds, all hens. They were going to set on ring neck pheasant eggs for me this spring. I had plans. They served several purposes.
I first suspected a bobcat. There wasn’t much left to the carcasses to give me clues. A raccoon was a possibility. A warm spell had just ended and though early, they could be out for mating season. Raccoons rip head, leg or wing off while the bird is alive, and it’s a bloody mess. These wasn’t a drop of blood anywhere. I ruled that out. Skunks mate in winter but I didn’t think that was it. Skunks clean the meat off down to the bone, including the neck, neatly picked clean.
Did you think raccoons and skunks hibernated in fall and didn’t wake up til spring? They don’t. Even bears are awake in winter, in what’s called torpor. Sows are awake to give birth and raise cubs in the den. They give birth in Maine in January.
I was concerned about the kills being made in daylight. I’d been in the barn four hours earlier and everything was fine. Bobcat? They hunt during the day. I had another bobcat, a predator I don’t often have to deal with. I kept the barn doors closed until much later in the morning, let the dogs out on patrol one at a time to stretch out the time they could cover in the -25* wind chill, and checked on the birds several times during the day.
Tuesday morning, out early, birds watered and fed, I went back to the house. When it warmed up I took water to the barn to let the ducks have a bath. If they can’t bathe to stay clean they have a hard time staying warm. In this cold, it’s better for them to have a quick dip, shake off the water, preen and be clean and warm. I put a DuraFlex feed pan on top of some hay, filled it and let the ducks have their bath. It was Ava’s turn to guard the birds so she went out when I went back to the house.
About an hour later, Ava, panting hard and barking, came to the house to get me.I pulled on my boots, grabbed my coat and ran to the barn. Silence. That’s never good. The nervous ducks always quack when I enter the barn. The chickens weren’t clucking. All dead? My stomach turned. Had I lost all of these birds in a short time while Ava was outside? No barking? Nothing made sense.
I don’t know what happened but I assume she surprised the predator in the barn and chased it away. Three ducks were dead. One was was partially eaten and what remained of it had been hidden under a little hay. Two more were in a corner in the hay. One was missing its head, the other whole. Both had wounds to the neck. It was suggested online that it might be a weasel. I looked at the carcasses again. There weren’t the telltale bobcat scratches down their backs that are made when a cat swipes at its prey. Weasels kill their prey by biting the neck. Clearly it wasn’t an ermine (stout). An ermine that weighs two to six ounces doesn’t eat four pounds of duck or three pounds of chicken in one feeding. Fisher? Yes, probably a fisher. The bite marks on the necks, big enough to gorge on that much meat and brave enough to show up during the day; it made sense. I didn’t know if fishers killed more than they’d eat at once or if they bury food for later. I know now that they don’t.
I caught the three surviving chickens and three surviving ducks, crated them and moved them to the hen house. Introducing three terrified ducks to turkeys and chickens is tough. It’s hard on chickens, especially traumatized birds, but worse on the already nervous ducks. Two of the three ducks had scratches on their necks but if they died now, it would be from shock, not injury.
The chickens did alright. Buff and an orpington had a sparring match. Ava tried to keep them apart but they were hell-bent on fighting. Ava tugged at the orpington’s leg a few times without results. She became frustrated by the birds after 10 minutes, grabbed the orpington by the leg, dragged her out of the hen house and deposited her on a snowbank. End of fight. Five days later, the chicken is probably still wondering what happened. The ducks spent the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday in the crate. They started eating and drinking Wednesday afternoon, a good sign they’d survive.
The energy bar I gave the barn chickens was partially eaten Thursday. The predator was back.
(This has gotten long. I’ll continue tomorrow.)
I’m so on the ball this year that I’ve already placed my poultry order with Welp Hatchery. I order all of our birds through Welp. They’re dependable, customer service is excellent and they’re very reasonably priced. shipping is included in the price of the bird, no surprise at the check out. Last year I remembered that I’d forgotten to order meat chickens way late in the year. We butchered them on a very cold, windy last Sunday in October. We’re not doing that again. This year the Cornish Rock broilers will arrive the week of August 5 and be butchered October 6, before the cold sets in. We butcher on Sundays so that we don’t miss a Saturday of partridge hunting. The dates are in my datebook so I have no surprise call from the post office asking me to pick up chicks I’d forgotten about.
We’ll raise 25 Cornish Rock Broilers again, our standard order. I don’t raise them in a small pen with food and water, letting them eat themselves into heart and leg problems. They’ll be on grass and foraging for a lot of their food.
I’m looking forward to the first order that will arrive this year, 30 Buff Silkies. Silkies are a five-toed, black-skinned (think about that) bantam known for their ability to forage, become broody, and are both heat and cold hardy. They lay very small eggs but the finances make it work cracking three eggs instead of two. I’ll feed them very little from spring through fall. Being small, they don’t eat a lot in the winter. They’ll raise their replacements. The minimum order is 30 chicks. I don’t need that many but nobody was interested in splitting an order so I had to put more thought into it before I placed the order. They’re sold as straight run (common with bantams). Around half will be males. I’ll keep two or three friendly roosters and the hens. The remaining roosters will be offered for sale and those that aren’t wanted will be killed and frozen to be used as food for a friend’s goshawk. No waste.
The silkies I’ve had in the past have been very easy on the garden. They’re more interested in scratching for insects, grubs and weed seeds than eating the plants. I’ll use electro net to keep them in certain areas of the garden to help with weeding and fertilizing. They’ll live in the hen house and have a penned in yard but will be allowed to roam. They will eventually hatch and help raise ring neck pheasant for the freezer.
Now to finish another seed order.
Tom arrived at the homestead in the back of a station wagon. Two hens accompanied him on the trip from Virgina to Maine ten years ago last November. According to Pat, the friend who brought them to me from his homestead in Virginia, they caused a few funny looks at toll booths, convenience stores and rest areas. They were four months old, large enough to be seen walking around the blocked off, tarped back of the car.
Tom and the hens were the starter birds in a rafter of bourbon reds I’d be breeding for food. Tom was unusual from the start. He preferred the company of humans over other turkeys. Our calls of “Tom!” were answered by with a gobble. If he spotted a person he left the rafter and hurried to visit. He circled us, wings puffed out, tail fanned, snood and head bright blue, and making that funny rrrrrruuurrrrrrrr noise toms make. He wore off his wing tips dragging them on the ground as he strutted around trying to impress us.
I was working at my desk one day when Tom showed up at the window, gobbling and strutting. He did it for so long it became distracting so I moved. He circled the house, standing in front of each window, gobbling and strutting until he could find me. He figured out that people appear from the back door and he’d drum and strut there if he couldn’t find someone in a window. I’m a quick learner. It didn’t take me long to show up at the door to talk to him when he came calling.
Tom and Jake once scared a UPS delivery driver. They loved the rumble of the UPS truck. If they were loose in the yard they came running to the driveway as soon as they heard the truck coming. They couldn’t have cared less about the driver, they wanted to rumble with the truck. He wouldn’t get out of the truck until I went to the back porch and told him it was alright. He ran from the truck to hide behind me and watch in fascination while I explained what they were doing. He’d been bitten by a goose once and wasn’t taking chances on having to go back to the terminal to tell anyone he’d been bitten by a turkey.
Taylor came in from doing chores Wednesday evening to say there was a wounded turkey hiding behind the door inside the hen house. I knew it wasn’t going to be a minor problem when she followed me out the door. The turkey moved to the other end of the hen house and huddled in a corner. It was a tom. I looked the other tom over–Jake. The turkey in the corner was Tom.
His head was swollen and bloody, eye swollen almost shut. We looked for turkey tracks in the snow as signs of a fight with the wild turkeys. It’s the wrong time of year for the wild toms to be looking for a fight but Tom and Jake will defend their territory and hens. There were no tracks, no feathers, no blood. This wasn’t the work of the wild birds. He’d had some sort of accident. Swollen and bloody but not mortally wounded, I left him in the dark corner for the night.
I checked on Tom early the next morning, finding him when I pushed the door and tried to block it open for the day. He was face first in the corner where Taylor found him the night before. Bloodier and missing feathers on his back, he was a mess. This was no accident. He’d been attacked by Jake. I’ve had healthy birds in a flock gang up on a sick bird to prevent disease from spreading and knew what was happening.
Tucking his strong wings between my arm and side so he couldn’t hurt either of us, I picked Tom up. He relaxed against me while I carried him to clean straw, food and water in an empty stall in the barn. Henley called for him from the hen house all day. That night I moved her to the barn to keep him company for the night. When I opened the doors Friday morning she returned to the hen house.
I couldn’t find a mass or wound on him but I didn’t think going to get better. He barely moved all day Friday and became weaker. He had the warmth of January thaw on his side so I tucked some straw in around him and left him for the night. He didn’t seem to be suffering so I chose to let nature take its course.
This morning, still in the straw where I left him, Tom was dead. Not many turkeys live to be 10 1/2 years old. He had a good life and a peaceful death. You can’t ask for more than that.
Jan’s kids- or one of the reasons I can’t leave agriculture behind.
The phone rang at 9:05 Wednesday morning. It was Jan, a friend who lives three-quarters of a mile down the road. “Are you very busy today or do you have some time to help me?” I make time when Jan calls. When she calls for help I know she has a Nigerian Dwarf doe in labor and something might not be quite right. This time it wasn’t the doe that wasn’t quite right, or so we thought in the beginning, it was one of her bucks who’d decided to break out of his pen and cozy up to Yuki, a young doe who was pushing herself up to the fence that separated them. Misty was laboring, the buck was out and Yuki was a happy girl.
I arrived a few minutes later to see Misty in a bed of hay, blatting and pushing. The buck had been escorted back to his pen already and if Yuki smoked, there’d have been a cigarette balanced between her lips.
Misty had triplets and quads in the past and looked like she’d be doing it again.
Progress! There’s a foot. A big foot. The nose or other front foot come next followed by whichever wasn’t second in line.
Misty normally gives birth very early in the morning and Jan finds the kids clean and dry, nursing and bouncing around when she goes out to do chores. It wasn’t happening that easily this time. We sat talking about life and health and Talitha’s kids (check out that link) while Misty labored. We weren’t happy with the amount of work Misty has having to do for a little progress. I suggested we get her up to see if a new position might help. Nigerian Dwarfs are small even when pregnant so getting her up wasn’t hard. Jan tugged her off her side and with a little nudge Misty stood. <insert insides settling here> She didn’t stay up long and with the next push, we could see black. Ahhh…good…the nose.
Except it wasn’t.
Tips of noses do not have hair. Crap. The tail. Tails are supposed to come out last, not first. We jumped to action. I grabbed paper towels while Jan pushed foot and tail back in. It takes a lot for Jan to do anything but make sure the nose and mouth are clear so the newborn kid can breath. She’s there to enjoy the birth and give a loving pat but she’s not one to A) have weak stock that have to be assisted B) jump the gun and help until it’s clear the doe is in true distress beyond normal birthing. When Jan moves it’s with good reason. She’s been very, very particular about her goats, their sound bloodlines and making sure they give a respectable amount of milk without being irresponsibly bred to give more than they should, causing poor udders
Back to the action. I tore off paper towels while Jan pulled on a glove and did a little body-part rearranging. I grabbed my camera, Jan said “I’m going to pull” and before the camera could focus the kid was born.
It’s always a relief when you see the kid breath after a troubled labor. Jan checked its mouth and nose and rubbed its body vigorously with a Chux to stimulate breathing. “It’s a boy!” And he’s polled which means he naturally has no horns. Misty had horn buds and was disbudded when she was less than a week old. The buck, whose name I can’t remember, is polled.
I ripped off a few paper towels, grabbed another Chux and took pictures as kid #2 made its arrival into the hay. Another buck, also polled. Cleaning the first baby and hearing its calls helps stimulate the doe. It happens fast after the first kid’s birth.
Sandra arrived in time to see the second birth, a first for her.
That’s two. She looked like she’d have three. Oh yes! Here it comes. Misty was preoccupied with her newborns. Number three was delivered easily with little pushing.
Sandra made a gallon of molasses water for Misty while I went to the loft to get a bale of hay. Jan hustled about with the kids and cleaning up paper towels. We blanketed the walls of the pen Misty and the kids will spend a few days bonding. We have wind and below 0* temps coming for a few days. With a very deep bed of hay, the breeze blocked and snuggling they’ll be plenty warm. If necessary, Jan can turn on a heat lamp hung high above the pen when the temps hit their lowest.
Yuki, the doe in heat, looked in to see what the noise was all about. She stood for the buck so she’ll be in this pen kidding five months from now. She loves attention. I thought she was sniffing my hand for treats but she was looking for another petting instead. Jan spreads kidding out to keep fresh milk available most of the year.
An hour after the first kid was born, Misty and her kids were in their pen, she’d had a big drink of molasses water, the kids were not only dry and standing but walking, and all was well. The white kid on the right is the doe. The bucks are cute but she’s a really charmer. She’s also polled.
I do miss market farming at times, especially on days like yesterday when babies are born and seed catalogs sit on the edge of the table demanding my attention. I’ll never walk away from agriculture, and I have loose plans for a book in mind. As soon as I tend my poultry and shovel yesterday’s 5″ of snow I’ll sit down with paper and pen and start scribbling notes.
It’s started with a picture of a sign posted in a restaurant. The sign said “Today’s potatoes are from: Idaho.” The sign was Tweeted and the conversation started. I’ve been supplying restaurants with fresh vegetables for years. I assumed everyone in Maine knows locally grown foods are available to restaurants. Chefs know this, right? As it turns out, not all of them do. And not all Mainers are aware of our growing number of small farms, distribution and what we grow in this big state.
Someone commented that there should be a marketing program for locally grown food. I’ve been so involved in local food production for so long that I forgot that this is new to someone each and every day. Maine has a marketing program called Get Real Get Maine! The website is getrealmaine.com.
The first agricultural event of the year is the Maine Agricultural Trades Show. It’s held every January, this year the 8th through 10th. Admission is free. There are vendors to visit, workshops and speakers to attend and plenty to do all three days of the show. It’s a great place to learn about Maine’s agriculture in one spot.
You can farms and food produced in Maine broken down by zip code and county on the Get Real Get Maine! website. There’s more to the site than foods and farms. You can look for places to go bird watching and cross country skiing; for arts, crafts and music festivals and for workshops to attend. There’s a chocolatier in Lubec, raw milk is available in Perham and a self-service farmstand in Weld, and I know about these places because of Get Real Get Maine!
The farmers market page allows you to search for markets in the state and links to resources related to market farming. Information on using SNAP and WIC at markets, how to start a market, the permits needed to start a market and the state statues are listed there. You’ll also find a page for agricultural fairs and events held in Maine each year.
Searching for farms on Facebook is a good way to find Maine-grown and produced foods. Ask friends for suggestions and recommendations. A phone call to your cooperative extension or Soil & Water Conservation office will give you some ideas on where to find locally produced food.
Winter is a quieter time for non-livestock farmers. You might find farmers who would like to tell you about their operation. I always enjoyed hearing from people, especially when I could ask questions of them. It helped me to know what new vegetable or herb I might want to grow by knowing what potential customers are interested in buying.
Food production in Maine doesn’t happen just on land. We have lobster, clams, oysters, mussels, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and fish being managed and harvested off the coast. My Christmas Eve dinner came from the Atlantic Ocean. My father-in-law, Steve, hand picks oysters for a local restaurant. They buy only the best quality shells, those without barnacles. I’m not particular about shells, barnacles on the outside are ok with me. We ate oysters on the half shell, mussels grown on ropes in mussel farms, scallops and lobsters—all produced in the state. I had an interesting conversation about Dad, one I want to continue soon. He digs clams, and seeded (planted so to speak) 400,000 baby clams the week before Christmas. “I didn’t have to do it but I felt like it was something I should do.” We talked a little about oyster farming in Maine.
During the Twitter conversation I learned of Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm in Edgecomb. I spent 20 minutes on their website learning how oysters are produced. It’s an interesting process.
Getting locally produced foods into restaurants seems to be more complicated than I thought.
I’m going to make some contacts this week and find out what I can do to help close the information gap.
Understanding The USDA Hardiness Zones
by Robin Follette
Reprints by permission.
The USDA zones are too often misunderstood. As a result of the misunderstanding, they’re often misused. Let’s clear up the confusion.
The USDA zones break the United States into 11 individual zones. There is a 10° difference in zones. Each zone tells us the annual average coldest temperature in that area. Since the coldest temperature happens in the winter, zones have nothing to do with the crops you grow only in spring, summer or fall.
Zones don’t tell us when to expect our last spring frost or first fall frost. Those dates vary by several weeks throughout the zones. A colder zone than the one you’re in might have an earlier last frost date, allowing you to plant tender annuals earlier. The other zone has a lower average temperature in the winter but it warms up sooner in the spring.
Zones don’t tell us the length of daylight, the average high temperature, the number of days above a certain temperature, or what can be planted at any given time. We’ve given the USDA zones credit for information they don’t supply.
So when do we need to use zones? If you farm in warmer climates you need to know how much cold a plant must have. You won’t find citrus trees growing here in Maine because it’s too cold in winter. Even if they could survive our cold winters, frost would kill the blossoms in spring. Some fruit trees need a period of dormancy over the winter before they’ll blossom and produce again. If you’re in a zone that doesn’t get cold enough to provide this rest period you’ll have a harder time growing those fruits. The tree will most likely survive but not produce. We’re having this problem with apples in parts of New England this year. Our winter was so mild that many of the trees didn’t blossom this spring. It felt good to have 50° days in January and February but we’re paying the price for it now. Apple production on my farm this year will be disappointing. About half of my trees didn’t blossom at all. My cherry trees didn’t blossom well so there are few cherries on the trees.
If you’re growing perennials in a cold climate you need to know what zone those plants are hardy in, and in which zone you’re located. Perennial vegetables such as asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb are hardy enough to survive winter in some zones but not in others. I grow artichokes as an annual because they won’t survive at -25°F. We need to know what zones perennial herbs are hardy in. Perennial herbs in warmer climates are annuals in the colder climates. When you’re farming in the of warm and cold you can mulch some herbs heavily in the fall and get them through winter. Flower bulbs will survive very cold winters and break dormancy as soon as the soil starts to warm, sometimes before all of the snow is gone. If the same bulbs are planted in a warm zone the plant is likely to have a lot of foliage but poor flowering ability. Flower farmers pay close attention to zones for this reason.
There are 11 numbered zones that break down into lettered zones. They start at zone 1 and go to zone 11. Zones 2 through 10 are divided into a and b zones with 5° differences.
1 is Below -50° F
2a is -50° to -45° F
2b is -45° to -40° F
3a is -40° to -35° F
3b is -35° to -30° F
4a is -30° to -25° F
4b is -25° to -20° F
5a is -20° to -15° F
5b is -15° to -10° F
6a is -10° to -5° F
6b is -5° to 0° F
7a is 0° to 5° F
7b is 5° to 10° F
8a is 10° to 15° F
8b is 15° to 20° F
9a is 20° to 25° F
9b is 25° to 30° F
10a is 30° to 35° F
10b is 35° to 40° F
11 is Above 40°F
The USDA zone map doesn’t guarantee a definite average minimum temperature. Microclimates are small areas inside a zone that are a little warmer or cooler than the surrounding area. There are factors to take into consideration. Hills, valleys and windbreaks change the flow of air. A change in air flow can cause warmer or cooler air to be trapped in an area, or move out around that area. Buildings will absorb heat during the day and release it into the evening and night (radiant heat), keeping that small area a little warmer. If you’re unfamiliar with the microclimates in your area you should ask other local growers to share their information.
Originally published in Lancaster Farming after the 2012 show.
AUGUSTA, Maine — The 70th annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show was held Jan. 11-13 at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources hosts this show, free and open to the public, each year.
The Civic Center was packed with approximately 3,000 people Tuesday, a record for opening day, according to Seth Bradstreet, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture. Wednesday’s attendance was low because of a nor’easter. The exhibition floor closed at 4:30 p.m., rather than the usual 8 p.m., so that vendors could get back to their hotels and homes early. The lectures and meetings continued at their own discretion. The storm, however, didn’t lower overall attendance; 1,500 people visited the show on Thursday.
Forty committees, agencies and organizations involved in agriculture were at the show, and 108 exhibits were available. There was something for everyone of every age. Young adults from Maine Junior Angus Association staffed their exhibit. The Junior Boer Goat Breeders of Maine and New England Junior Hereford Association also had exhibits.
The aroma of sausages being cooked for samples from Luces Meats greeted visitors at the door. From meat to cheese, tomatoes to bread, and honey complete with live bees and a comb in a glass display, there were plenty of exhibits to make stomachs growl. Hannaford Bros, a grocery chain, displayed locally grown foods, including MOO Milk.
Blue Seal Feeds and Poulin Grain were available to discuss how their livestock feeds are made. A display of feeds used by Poulin Grain tested everyone’s knowledge. Alfalfa, corn, soybeans, wheat and oats were displayed in their whole and processed states. Sugar beet was shown in large pieces and a finer grind. It was up to visitors to name the item with photos of the plants in the field as clues. An unidentified woman stopped briefly, looked at the display and said, “That’s all part of knowing what you eat,” before walking away. Open 50-pound bags were displayed with the finished feeds.
Visitors could talk with representatives from Backyard Farms, located in Madison. They produce tomatoes hydroponically year-round in 42 acres of greenhouse. They provided a display of tomato plants with vines so long they wrapped around the display table several times. Visitors were able to see the plastic clips used to attach the vine to the string on which the plants grow.
The heavy equipment display was a favorite for young and old. Retired farmers talked about the differences in equipment in their day compared to today, while children climbed on tractors.
Workshops and meetings were held by many of the organizations at the show. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension partnered with Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association and The Kneading Conference to present a program on the Local Bread Wheat Project. Farmers and millers joined researchers on a trip to Denmark last fall to see organic grain production and milling. The participants and area bakers are part of The New England Local Bread Wheat Project in Maine and Vermont.
Training sessions were offered by Maine Board of Pesticides Control and Maine University Cooperative Extension. Each completed session was worth one credit toward specific recertifications.
Judy Blaisdell organizes the show for the Maine Department of Agriculture.
“There is a wealth of knowledge here,” she said. “This is the hub of sustainable agriculture in Maine.”
It’s one of my pet peeves. The irresponsible, potentially damaging rumors circulated by blogs, forums and emails listing the seed companies owned by Monsanto drive me nuts. They list Johnny’s Seeds, an employee-owned Maine business as being owned by Monsanto. Ouch. Territorial Seed Company is always on the list.
Erica at Northwest Edible Life (just started reading her blog, love it) explains how these rumors started and who owns what.
Facts matter. Please don’t help well-meaning but clueless folks cause damage.
My order for Johnny’s and Fedco are in the works. I’ve done the reading and circling in Johnny’s. l write about it soon. I’ll talk about what I’m ordering and what I’ll do with each item and why I chose the variety. The info I’ll provide falls in with my Word of the Year for 2013 (which I’ll post tomorrow).
A repost of the December 23, 2007. I was going to write about our annual tradition but since we didin’t go out to get a pruned wild tree this year, I have nothing to write! We bought our tree at Waite General Store this year because of the weather. We had a dusting of snow when we got up, then it quickly changed to freezing rain, then rain. I’m sure it’s more beautiful than one we’d have picked out. It looks like it grew in a straight row without other trees too close rather than in the wild. It’s a lovely tree but I’m sad that we didn’t get to pick it out and cut it ourselves.
We can decorate the tree tonight – Kristin’s home. Taylor really wanted to wait until we’re all together. We’ve been into town to pick up a few things for Christmas Eve. The girls are making chili for supper. Kristin makes it with black beans (I use kidney), chicken (I use hamburg), corn (I don’t use corn), and tomatoes (I use sauce). I can’t wait to try it!
Each year we trek out into the woods or go to a tree farm to cut our Christmas tree. It’s a long-standing family tradition. I’m a fuss budget about our tree. When I was a kid we went to my great grandfather’s house in Lincoln. We went into the woods and looked up. Dad never cut a tree that was less than 20′ tall. We weren’t planning to have a 20′ tall tree; we wanted just the top 6′. Mum thought they looked great until they were on the ground. Dad always cut a second and sometimes third tree. We chose between the best of the three. That’s not to say there were three good trees. We chose the best of the bad. Dad cut branches off the other tree(s) to take home. At home, he drilled holes in the trunks and crammed branches in. We proved that if you add enough garland and tinsel you can make Charlie Brown’s tree look like…Charlie Brown’s tree with a lot of garland and tinsel.
Our trees are seldom what I call perfect but they are always pretty. I’ve taught the girls to be fussy too. No holes, bare spots or wildly sticking out branches. It can’t be yellowing or losing needles. You can test the needles by grasping a branch firmly and pulling toward you. You shouldn’t have a lot of needles on your hand when you’re done.
Most importantly, we have a real tree.
- Real trees are grown by North American tree farmers or grow in forests. 85% of artificial trees are “Made in China.” We employ American and Canadian workers when we buy a real tree.
- Real trees clean the air we breath. An acre of Christmas trees cleans enough air for 18 people to breath easily every day by absorbing carbon dioxide. The production of artificial trees pollute the air we breath.
- Real trees are 100% natural and biodegradable. Many communities chip their trees for mulch. Trees break down on their own over time. Artificial trees are made of non-degradable materials that add more to landfills. They don’t last forever in your home but they do in the landfill. Our tree goes out to the birds after Christmas. We’ll tuck peanut butter and bird seed covered pine cones into the branches. When we had browsing livestock it went to them. I’m thinking about sinking the tree in our pond in the spring. Our rainbow trout don’t reproduce because something is missing in their environment. If the tree doesn’t create it, it will at least create protection and perhaps breeding ground for the other fish.
- Real trees are PVC and lead free. Artificial trees can contain both. We work to protect our children from lead yet bring it into the home with our tree.
- Real trees are carbon neutral. As they decompose they add back to the soil. Artificial trees contain plastic, a petroleum byproduct. They add pollution to the soil.
- Real trees provide wildlife habitat. Artificial trees don’t.
- Real trees are renewable and sustainable. Artificial trees aren’t either.
Steve will be home soon. The decorations are in the living room. We’ll turn on Christmas music, make hot chocolate and decorate the tree. There are already presents under the tree (including my grain mill).
At the end of the Thanksgiving weekend and beginning of the Christmas season, I have much to be thankful for.
It started with the makings of a Christmas wreath. It was 45* last Sunday afternoon. The air was still and the sky clear. I found a clean, empty grain bag in the shed and called to Ava, our English shepherd. “Let’s go tipping.” She, of course, knows nothing of tipping. She’s a dog. Ava is energetic and enthusiastic and will follow me anywhere. She’s a good companion in the woods. We walked to the back left corner of our open three acres of land, followed the grassy trail Steve keeps bush hogged, and onto another cleared trail. The second trail trail was made by a skidder in the winter of 1996/97 when our land, not ours at the time, was last logged. The ruts are deep and collect water, making small pools where wood frogs lay their eggs in the spring.
Ava explored while I walked from tree to tree, down the old rock wall that fell over long before we bought the land, snapping off the tips of balsam trees. I’m thankful for My Creative Diva’s interest in a how-to article on Christmas wreaths. This led me to thinking about the choice I made to give up market farming to pursue writing full time. It could have gone both ways, and thankfully it has gone well. I love what I do and I’ve had a good year. “Paying my dues,” is a phrase I’ve repeated many times in the past year. Without a college degree to prove my worth, I have to pay my dues. Mind you, I know a few college educated people holding writing degrees who can’t write a grocery list, but they’re worthy because they are educated. I’ve been paying my dues and I’m not for one second complaining. I’ve enjoyed the hard work.
Tipping is mindless work; snap the branch off in the right place with my right hand, pile tips on my left arm until I can’t balance them, place the pile on the ground. I go back to get them when I think I have enough to fill the grain bag. There’s a lot of peaceful time to think when I’m tipping.
I’m a little thankful that I miss being a market farmer. It means I enjoyed my work. I’m thankful that I still have two of the three high tunnels that I’ll continue to use to feed my family.
My land is nothing special, but at the same time, it is. I’m thankful that I can feed my family from my 45 acres. We have wild blackberries, raspberries and strawberries growing on our land. There aren’t a lot of any of them but I can make a batch of jam or jelly and eat the fruit fresh. The land supports cherry and apple trees that provide us with fruit, and apricot, peach and plum trees that will produce in a few years. I enjoy the wild mushrooms I pick each summer and fall. Snowshoe hare, partridge and bear give me opportunities to hunt on my own land. I can hunt for deer here but there are very few.
Even in dry years, my piece of land provides water. Natural springs dot a large portion of land close to the house. We can snowshoe to one particularly productive spring, lower a bucket through an opening in the four foot deep snow and pull up fresh, clean water. We’d melt snow first, but I’m thankful for the option.
A large medical bill nagged at us soon after we bought the land. Steve borrowed a skidder. Talk about something to be thankful for—friends who have skidders and generously let us use one when needed. I learned to drive a skidder during the cedar cut. I’m thankful I didn’t hurt myself or break anything. I did turn the skidder into a unicorn when I drove over a 10′ log that somehow, through a series of magical moves as far as I can tell, speared itself to the front of the skidder and stuck up at an angle. Steve thought I’d probably driven the skidder enough and took over. I agreed. He cut cedar trees, sold them to a local sawmill and paid the bill in full. Forty-two of our 45 acres are wooded. We can heat our home with wood from our woodlot if necessary.
The balsam I harvest comes from wild trees I managed to supply the tons of tips I used to make thousands of Christmas wreaths. It’s been a good source of income at the end of the growing season, and one I can fall back on at any time. The cedar and pine I tuck into wreaths and the cones from the white pine trees I decorate with also grow here.
I’m thankful for all I’ve learned about nature here. I’ve learned wildlife tracks, habitat and habits. Dead trees provide homes for three kinds of woodpeckers that I can watch when they start peeking out of the tree in preparation for leaving the nest.
For our family and friends, our careers, the food on our table, warmth in our home, clothes on our backs, my 10 year old reliable vehicle, and the freedoms we’ve chosen, I am thankful.
The second annual Maine Harvest Festival took place on November 10-11, 2012 in the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center. People lined up outside before the doors opened Sunday morning while the aroma of wood smoke from Pizza Pie on the Fly’s wood fired ovens and barbecue from Nostrano filled the air. Pizza Pie on the Fly offered pizza to eat there or take home later, after the show ended. Nostrano offered pulled pork, briskets, two kinds of ribs, smoked Atlantic salmon and a variety of sauces. Nostrano, translated from Italian to mean “local” and “ours” describes their fare well.
According to Judi Perkins, the festival’s organizer, attendance doubled from last year by Saturday. Admission is only $5. “It’s affordable so everyone can attend,” Perkins said. “They’re receptive to five dollars. People come mostly from northern, coast and central Maine, some from southern Maine, and I know some came from other New England states. Attendance was in the thousands but I don’t have the final count yet.” Aisles were wide to provide plenty of room to move through vendor booths and were still packed.
This is the second and last year the Maine Harvest Festival will take place in the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center. According to Perkins, “The Cross Insurance Center will open in the fall this year and we’ll be one of the first shows in the new facility next year. I haven’t seen it yet. The festival will be able to expand next year because of this new facility. It won’t get too big, though. It will stay with the focus being on customers and vendors.”
Education is a large part of the Maine Harvest Festival. All of the demo spots were filled with cooking demonstrations, each complete with samples for those who attended. “We’re always open to new ideas for demonstrations. If someone has a suggestion of what they’d like to see next year they should get in touch with me.” Abby Freethy, owner of Northwoods Gourmet Girl in Greenville explained what she was doing step-by-step as she cooked. The Civic Center smelled so good by the time she was half way through the demonstration that stomachs were growling. St. Joseph’s Healthcare provided food and nutrition education and served pumpkin risotto. From their vendor booth, they offered samples of pumpkin waffles.
Also included in education were Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council, Maine Departments of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Natural Resource & Conservation Service, the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Maine Alternative Agriculture Association and Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association.
Eastern Maine Community College’s demonstration included tea-sized appetizers, entrees and desserts using 100% Maine-grown ingredients.
“Education and relationships are important” said Perkins. “Vendors provided locally grown food to demonstrators.” Senator Susan Collins and Dana Moos, author of The Art of Breakfast cooked together while Senator Collins wore an apron made by custom apron vendor Yo Momma’s Apron Strings. Pairings served lunch made with local ingredients provided by farm vendors while Evergreen provided live music to add to the already warm ambiance of the day.
Ninety percent of last year’s vendors returned for the 2012 Festival. Judi Perkins expects to retain 90 or more percent of the vendors for next year. “They’re already talking about next year.”
The harvest doesn’t include just food. This year, nine fiber farms and artists were added to the roster. Hatie Clingerman of Downeast Fiber Farm raises rambouillet sheep. In addition to wool, she’s currently spinning poodle hair for a private customer.
Patricia Henner and her staff packed up a large portion of the items at Page Home & Farm Museum and moved it to the festival for the weekend. Displays such as a sap trough and other maple syrup equipment guided patrons from the door, down the hall and into the civic center. Photos of our farms of yesteryear lined the wall. Inside the Civic Center, spinning wheels for plant and animal fiber were on display. Looms were set up and ready to use with instruction from Henner and other volunteers. The corn shucker is a reminder of how much simpler the process has become for farmers on much larger equipment. “They started the spirit of the whole festival as you came in,” Judi Perkins said.
Six publishers suited to the harvest festival theme also attended as vendors. “The publishers were very happy with books sales,” said Perkins. “One of them sold more books here than a larger show elsewhere,” a good indication of Mainers’ love of cookbooks. Author Jennifer Wixson offered her book Hens and Chickens at her sister Cheryl Wixson’s booth, Chery Wixson’s Kitchen. Laurel Wixson, Cheryl’s daughter, served samples of foods created and cooked with Maine ingredients. “This butter is made from organic peaches and apples grown here in Maine,” Laurel said.
Brewers and wineries offered samples of their wares. Customers purchased bracelets that allowed four samples for $6 or eight samples for $10. While customers sampled, vendors gave advice on pairing their wines and beers with foods. “We had more wineries and brewers this year than last and expect more next year.
The $5 admission fee includes samples from many of the vendors. Candies, beef jerky and Soppressato, cow and goat cheeses, jams, jellies, sauces and desserts were available to everyone. I was pulled into Captain Mowatt’s by the samples served on tortilla chips.
Also included in the festival, Heart of Maine Symposium’s We Can Feed Maine: Why We Should and How We Go About It. John Jemison from University of Maine’s Orono campus spoke about the potential for much of Maine’s food being produced in state. Bob Neal, co-owner of The Turkey Farm along with wife Marilyn, spoke of the ability to raise enough poultry for the 1.3 million people who live in Maine. Large-scale organic production was explained by Meg Scott, owner of Nature’s Circle Farm, and Bob Burr of Blue Ribbon Farm spoke on year-found greens production. John O’Donnell of O’Donnell’s Farm covered heart-healthy grassfed beef.
Judi Perkins looks forward to next year’s Maine Harvest Festival and once again working with Mike Dwyer and his staff. She says they’ve been invaluable over the past two years as she put together the first and second of what’s certain to be a long-standing event.