Mainely Living

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thoughts of Spring

While many gardeners elsewhere are eagerly breaking earth, coaxing perennials back to wakefulness and plotting the planting of peas on St. Patrick's day, here in Maine I am seeing the coming of spring in the lengthening day and the first above-freezing days and nights of the season. And in the rain, which is helping to melt the former skating rink also known as the dooryard.

My collaborator began planting this week and I will continue this weekend, with more onions and leeks, and a few more lettuces for the uber early indoor kitchen garden.

I love the soil blocks thus far. Oh, watering is an issue -- they DO dry out much more quickly than the soil in plastic containers -- and the spray attachment on the sink is a bit too coarse, even at a bare dribble, to keep them happy. The first sets of blocks have had a bad habit of running together, and therefore the plants roots are not getting "air pruned" as per request. BUT on the other hand, the size of the small, 3/4 inch blocks forces me to plant at a reasonable density so this is not as much of an issue as otherwise.

And we do have a watering wand on the list for soon.

The chickens have picked up their laying schedule; we now get at least half a dozen from the hens and occasionally two a day from the ducks; duck #2 must be coming on line (or actually more likely they have also picked up frequency ). I have ads up on several bulletin boards (physical in the area, and virtual online) to sell eggs. Fingers crossed.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Towards a Greening of the Garden

Now, at first thought, gardening IS green, isn't it? After all, stuff grows, and to grow requires chlorophyll which IS green... And in the modern sense of "green" we do seek to garden in harmony with the earth, using "organic" principles, avoiding strictly chemical fertilizers in favor of compost and manure and the meals made from bone and blood. We pick off bugs, or very judiciously use water with a bit of soap or diatoms.

...BUT like many gardeners and growers, we had become accustomed to the ubiquitous plastic pot and six-pack, and the plastic flat which group these smaller containers on the greenhouse benches. Now, unlike some growers, we always washed, sterilized and reused all these plastic containers until they were well beyond use. Even when one or two of the cells of the thin six-pack material would break or degrade, I saved the units and would nest two of them with broken cells overlapping complete ones until the bitter end.

Yes, I know there are other planting containers... peat pots and others made from cow pies and such. Their main drawback, the higher price, took them out of contention especially when coupled with their designed single use.

This year I decided to invest in the infrastructure to begin moving away from all that -- to avoid the whole container issue almost entirely -- by planting in soil blocks. I suspect that any plants I sell will need to have their 2" or 4" block placed into a pot for the customer, though I am hoping to introduce the more environmentally aware customers to the old-fashioned way of buying transplants. Back before the advent of the plastic pot, greenhouse growers used wooden boxes to grow their transplants and would carefully remove the plants you had selected from the box with trowel and fingers, and wrap them carefully in newspaper for their trip home. If the larger soil blocks hold up as well as the smaller ones that were just "potted up" yesterday, I should be able to do this easily, or even to plop the selected plant blocks down into recycled cardboard "flats" in which stores get a variety of beverages.

But back to the blocks...

The soil block making tools can be manufactured at home; there are a variety of plans on the Internet for such contraptions. I chose, however, to buy metal ones from Johnny's Selected Seeds. I got three sizes; the mini block maker for starting most seeds (3/4" blocks) and the 2" and 4" sizes most often used for "potting up" as the seedlings grow but also useful for the larger seeds of squash, melons, etc. I did a lot of reading on the Internet, as well as talking to folks who had used the block makers, to try to learn the ins and outs. I learned that not all soil mixes work and that there was no consensus on whether the ProMix that I have on hand was good. I also learned that the wetness of the soil used to make the blocks is very important.

The soil needs to be SOGGY! This is bound to be counter-intuitive for anyone who has experience planting in flats or other pots. Notice not only drips, but an actual stream of water falling from the handful of potting mix as I squeeze it. If water does not squish out the top of the block maker as you push it down into the potting mix, the blocks will fall apart.

Next you load the blocker. I have talked to people who use a plastering trowel to scoop up the mix and force it into the block maker. I chose to put my tub of potting soil on a chair and to push my tool into the mix, repeatedly and with force. Having the work surface down low makes it easier to put more "oomph" into it. Squish as much potting mix into your block maker as you can; you cannot overload it!

Make sure you scrape the excess off the bottom of the block maker. Some folks run it along the edge of their soil tub. I scrape it with my hand.

Then place the blocker into the container that will hold your blocks. I still have some plastic flats, so I am using them at present. Push down the block maker, squeeze the handle to release the blocks and lift. Sometimes a very slight shake is necessary to release the blocks from the tool.

Voila! you have a set of soil blocks! Continue until your container is filled. You can put each set of blocks close to the previous ones; the blocks do not need much space at all between them.

One of the benefits, for me, to using the mini blocks is that they prevent me from planting my seeds too close together! I have a bad habit, when seeding flats, to over plant. The seedlings emerge too close together, get leggy. Transplanting them into six-packs is hard on me and on the plants, too.

There is a trick to getting just one, or at most two seeds into each tiny block. I will admit that this process takes a bit of patience, but it also makes your seed go much farther! All you need is something to hold a bit of water and a toothpick.

Just a bit of wet and the toothpick will pick up a tiny individual seed.

Usually touching the seed to the block will leave it there. At most, you will need to brush or rotate the toothpick a bit to leave the seed behind. The hardest part, when doing tiny dark seeds, can be remembering where you are in the sea of blocks!

I cover the seeded tray with a sheet of saran wrap to keep them moist until the seedlings begin to emerge. You will need to be very vigilant in keeping the blocks moist! This may be the biggest challenge to using soil blocks. Because they are surrounded by air on 5 of their 6 sides, they dry out very quickly. You will need a gentle mist to water them, or your sink spray attachment just barely turned on. Until the seedlings get some roots to help keep the blocks together, it is easy to damage the block structure by too hard a spray.

These are the 2" blocks, which were made with 3/4" holes in the center to accommodate the tiny blocks. These herb seedlings have been potted up to the larger size blocks and will grow here for some time. Depending on how they grow and where they will end up, these blocks may go directly into our garden, or onto the sales tables at our markets, or they may get potted up once again to be sold as herbs in 4" pots later in the season.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Out of sorts

I am very out of sorts this evening. Work went well, it was a typically slow Monday night despite the snow. But I came home ready to paint on the hex signs in process and was unable to find one of the colors I needed.

I thought I had it --a light green that I had taken to the Mall to paint during the filming of the interview. I know I had it then, in the basket but Gods alone know where it is now. The color I thought was right to touch up that sign was way too dark. And the looking for it sent me off along a path of great frustration.

I moved much of my painting and spiritual stuff out of the back "craft" room so I could still work while we had a roomie and, well, there is just not enough room in this trailer -- nor native organization at the end of market season -- to make this work easily and well... especially not with the publicity and orders generated by it. There is painting stuff, garden stuff, and just plain living stuff EVERYWHERE.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I am neither a clean nor a neat freak.. but the current chaos is beyond coping with and made more so because I have no idea how or when it will come back into order again.

I am NOT moving back into the back room until we have replace the flooring, and possibly some of the floor as well. Dog pee.. from Coffee before she was completely house broken and Tonka of late, mean replacing the flooring is necessary. I want a hard surface.. wood most likely. And that costs money and takes time both of which are in short supply at present.

Of course, in a more perfect world, we would have got the "ready for winter" chores done.. the chicken tractors would be built and one for the ducks, the tractors would be ready to plow snow and the new snow wheels and tires would be on the car. And little stuff, like the seasonal clothing shuffle, would be complete. The garden stuff would have been moved to the garage and would be in order, ready to come back in with the start of indoor planting season next year. But much of that garden stuff -- still in fall chaos -- is in the house. My winter coats are still in the garage, and out of season hats are still in the house.

And I have this lump of crud in my throat that can't swallow, won't hack up and makes me feel like I cannot properly swallow at all. Hopefully this tea I am drinking will help that.

And tomorrow when I pick up the colors I need to complete the indoor hex I am working on (colors I did NOT have) I will pick up another bottle of the missing color and give thanks that these paints are inexpensive. I'll mail off one order and when I get home I'll cut blanks for the next two and somehow find places to work on them in the living room, despite the dog hair.

And I know that eventually things will get into order -- and a better order than they were in.

Friday, December 3, 2010

getting on with it

For the past few months we have had a roommate -- an internet friend who had been planning for some time to move to Maine. Her time in PA came to an end with the rental of her home there, as she hoped to stave off foreclosure (I do not think it worked) and though she had made a recon trip here to look for property and work, nothing had quite fallen into place when she needed to move.

So we offered her space, if needed and agreed to let her horses graze on our back land, if she supplied the needed fencing and temporary housing, if necessary. I had high hopes, since she had a job offer before she arrived and had seen several properties of interest on her recon mission, that she would be settled soon. She initially decided to take her goats and chickens and stay with another friend but that fell through quickly and soon she and all the critters were here.

She got two part time jobs, but other monies that she was counting on failed to materialize and she didn't have her truck (another long story) so she ended up rather behind the curve and for various reasons seemed unable to get ahead of it quickly enough. The horses refused to behave -- repeatedly breaking or escaping from the electric fence which we supplied (she sent only a bit of wire and 6 posts!) and she was just to scattered with work, looking for a place, not having a vehicle (she used our car for a month or more) to get housing up for any of the critters. Eventually animal control and the state become involved and the animals were taken. At that point she became very withdrawn.

Now, some weeks later, she has moved on to live with other friends from her work, The truck that she bought here -- when we got to the point that our farm truck needed to be taken off the road for the winter and we needed to reclain our car) seems to have issues and these friends apparently have the time, money and willingness to cart her back and forth to her jobs and to her cabin up north. She plans to live primitively in a one room cabin with no amenities. Were I 20 years younger, and without dependents (4 legged, as she has, 2 legged as I had) I can imagine doing something similar... but not with an unreliable gas hog of a truck and a job many miles away. I wish her luck and God Speed...

But we are now beginning to get our lives back on track again. Her chaotic energy was very disruptive and her need for "help" (which often sounded and looked more like :"do this for me" ) put some serious kinks in our stated plans to get ready for winter. The garden did not get totally plowed, our yard is full of pallets, gathered for both our projects and for her use while here, to make temporary housing for critters. The blades and snowblower for the little tractors have not been worked on, the chicken tractors are seriously behind schedule (maybe ONE will be done soon) and on top of it all , here we are in the Holiday season with gifts to make for the grandkids and many orders for hex signs coming in thanks to the publicity from the White House tree story... and the season, of course.

But we will carry on and thrive.

The winter lettuce in the kitchen garden is growing under lights , the stuff for making the kids presents is at hand and time will be found.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Maine to Represent PA on White House Tree!

My work was selected recently to represent the state of Pennsylvania on the White House Christmas tree. This Double Creator's star hex sign binds the blessing of prosperity.

Many other designs are available on my web site,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The turning of the seasons

I know it is not a "recognized" holiday, not a quarter or cross quarter point... but the turn has made itself known here in the past few days and the garden bounty is pouring out, and I have a few moments today to spare so I am cooking a wonderful meal, using mostly stuff grown here and processed here, augmented by deer meat -- a gift from a new friend -- and a few boughten ingredients... and lifting one of the "last of the season" bottles of Sam Adams Summer Ale in toast.

That brewery has wonderful seasonal beers, and while their Octoberfest brew began arriving on shelves late last month, and while I know Octoberfest is actually celebrated in September, I will reserve that brew to toast the equinox in a few weeks. Meanwhile, the summer brew and the bounty of the late summer garden, are on tap today.

My second planting of beans started coming on strong last week, and yesterday I picked a shy bushel from HALF of the plants -- put by in the freezer for the winter -- with the remainder waiting for market on Thursday. My tomato crop has been poor (overrun with weeds and lack of water) but I processed a large bowl of the fruit into sauce for a coworker, augmenting it with my meager harvest, overripe fruit left from my partners offerings at market and the shared offerings of another coworker, so as to be able to split the sauce. I have a bag of early apples -- a "late summer" fuiit that says "fall" to me -- and some are in the salad tonight. A "mess" of green beans and zucchini lasagne (the veggie fills in for the pasta in an otherwise fairly traditional recipe with meat) round out the menu.

I guess this is why my spiritual practice is largely solitary... my celebrations, rituals, workings are prompted more by "when Spirit moves me" than by clock or calendar. This makes total sense to me, since the very genesis of my current path was the promptings of the world around me when I lived very close to nature and beyond the power lines. There were no books at all, no meetings with others, no human teacher ... until much later, after my practice had taken root.

I feel propelled to get the garden put to bed and the outside work done by the end of October. I feel the call to work inside (both inside myself and inside the house) that will follow. And, simultaneously, my mind springs ahead to the return of the growing season with the watermelon seeds drying on my counter, and thoughts of how the gardens will be laid out and planted next year. And so it continues.

But tonight, I give thanks... to the Powers That Be and to the Land upon which I stand for their nurturing and guidance.

So be it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A few moments of reflection

I have a few moments, between an after-town-errands client meeting and supper (which is cooking in the oven) to reflect in this space.

So here are a few random thoughts:

I am glad to have had a week of "one market Thursdays" but we are trying to get into a relatively new market that needs veggie vendors. The only hangup at this point is their requirement for insurance, which we do not carry and have not yet been able to obtain. The underwriters are still contemplating... The vendor who encouraged us to apply has agreed with my suggestion that we might sign a waiver... but what the business owner, who hosts the market, will say is anyone's guess. Perhaps we will find out this week, but I am not planning to attend this week, but rather to visit a greenhouse that I found on my way to the once-a-year market that I attended last Saturday. they have a good selection of herbs and I still need some plants to fill in the gaps.

The gardens are struggling. My partner has discovered that her strength apparently lies in starting plants and tha she had neither the heart nor land to plant a true market garden. She will continue to share her excess, but market produce will not be her focus. I knew that water would be my ongoing issue in dry years (like this one) as well as the damnable runner grass. My tomato crop is pretty much nil, the peppers got too hot at the outset and are now not setting fruit, the cabbages (which do lousy at market anyway) are getting eaten and the beans lag... It is a learning year (my mantra...)

I need to rework the shopping cart on my hex web site, but am at least most of the way along to moving a new client from Homestead (and her own work on the website) to our servers and my services. Several hex signs have been ordered despite the broken shopping cart.

Despite my comfort level with my solitary work spiritually, I am actually looking forward to being able to attend a few new and full moon fires that are being held by one of the therapists with the wellness center where I get my massage... only a few miles from here. Who knows what will come of it, but I will be a positive thing I am sure.

Now supper calls, and for once I am going to eat BEFORE DARK and hopefully head to bed --and needed sleep -- as darkness descends. Sleep has been har