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People that have chickens sometimes have the terrible problem of having too many eggs.

 

E.B. White bought 84 chicks for his salt-water farm, expecting to end up with a dozen; however, he was a better farmer than a psychic and he ended up with 81 hens, producing about 20 eggs each day. He described his wife trying to keep up with the production, making all kinds of egg dishes, including “…all sorts of rather soft, disagreeable desserts, the kind convalescents eat doggedly and without joy.”

 

What a terrible fate for an overabundance of eggs!

 

I don’t have chickens (yet), but I do have a lot of time on my hands because it is winter in Maine. So when I discovered a blog and related article about preserving eggs yolks in salt, I was delighted – both at the prospect of something nice to eat in the future, and an interesting project to explore. The blog is Practical Self Reliance, by Vermont homesteader Ashley Adamant.  She’s on the internet, Facebook, and Instagram.  Here’s a link to her article on preserving eggs:  https://practicalselfreliance.com/salt-cured-egg-yolks/.  I can’t recommend her work highly enough.  I took one of her projects: preserving yolks in salt, and this is what happened:

 

 

It seems that eggs yolks can be preserved for a future date, to be finely grated over any dish you would otherwise grate Parmesan cheese over. In addition to this being an intriguing taste to try, it presents an option for lactose-intolerant folks. If you preserve the yolks in a 50-50 mixture of salt and sugar, you have a grate-able substance for desserts – I’m thinking chocolate pudding, or the like.

 

Salt preserves egg yolks in the same way it preserves meat: it inhibits the growth some types of bacteria that would otherwise spoil the food.

 

Here’s how I spent an hour yesterday:

 

  1. I assembled my ingredients. I decided to preserve 3 yolks in salt, and 3 yolks in a 50-50 mixture of salt and sugar. I figured this would give me a few to give away to adventurous friends, and not too many to waste if it turns out I don’t have any adventurous friends.

 

Here’s a photo of my kitchen table, with everything ready to go:

 

Yolk_AssemblingItems

 

  1. I filled one plastic container with kosher salt, and the other with the 50-50 mixture, both to a depth of ½”. My research told me that I should not use table salt, as it contains additives, and anti-caking agents.

Yok_SaltInContainers

 

  1. I used the back of a spoon to make 3 shallow divots in each container, carefully separated 6 eggs, and slipped a yolk into each divot. You will see I failed with one yolk, breaking it. I’m going to give it a go, however, and see what happens. Life doesn’t always have to be in a circle, right?

 

Yolk_InDivots

 

  1. I covered the yolks with more of the stuff they were sitting in: all salt in the first, and the 50-50 mixture in the second, again to a depth of about ½”.

 

Yolk_CoveredInPreservative

 

  1. I labeled and dated each container. I will let them rest in the refrigerator and will take them out in one week, on March 13th. And then I will tell you what comes next!

 

Yolk_LabeledForFrige

If you have read my blog before, you know that I will tell you if I fail. I hope not to, because it is winter in Maine, and I try to limit my trips to the store. I like to do big shops and then burrow in. But as I do love to eat, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I make nasty tasting salt-preserved eggs and have to drive to get some Parmesan. I’ll live.

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…and it is still too early to start seeds. This is the Testing Time, when gardeners are short on patience and long on yearning. When the seed catalogs are dog-eared, the seed packets are in-hand, and the garden is still under the snow and ice.

This has been an especially icy winter here in Maine. We have had a series of snows, thaws, and refreezes, so that the driveway, the yard, and most importantly the path to the greenhouse is covered in a thick unyielding layer of ice.

I try not to despair.

Instead, I am thinking about a few new techniques I am going to try this season, and I hope to document them and share them with you here. First, I hope to have 5 varieties of climbing vines that will appear at the end of our driveway: the first thing visitors to our home and Husband’s gallery will see when they arrive.

Grandpa Ott’s morning glories for early in the day, and Moonflowers for late. Cypress’s white blossoms, Cardinal’s red blossoms, and the Black-eyed Susan vine with its yellow blooms should be a colorful display. I plan to under plant with enough basil to stock my freezer with pesto this winter, something I neglected to do last winter and regret at least once a week.

These vines will take all of the saplings and poles I currently have for vining plants. But I also hope to have 4 varieties of pole beans, and so I will need an additional 16 saplings – I’m going to need 36 in total. The beans will include Ideal Market green beans, and Calypso, Charlevoix kidney, and Good Mother Stallard’s dry shelling beans. I’m hoping the beans will discourage the deer that have been walking through my garden this winter.

This is the first year I’ve seen hoof prints in the snow, most annoyingly on paths I shoveled for myself and my dog Gordon. I did NOT shovel for the deer! I try not to be offended.

I’m going to position the bean poles right where the deer are entering the garden from the woods – hoping to disrupt their path so that they make other plans.

The other new technique I am going to try is planting potatoes in trashcans. The cans are layered with soil and the potato eyes. When the plant is 6” tall, I will add more soil, and so on, so that the plant grows up and up, and fills the can with potatoes as it grows. Harvest will consist of tipping the content of the can out and putting the potatoes up for storage. (Note to self: research how to store potatoes)

I selected a russet and a red variety from Johnny’s Selected Seeds here in Maine – and I am trying to be patient until they ship in early April.

While I dream of this:

Greenhouse_midspring

My garden currently looks like this:

WinterTree

Hopefully my next post will have photos of seeds being started, and photos of my seed packets – the only color in my wintery life right now — and I am clinging to those packets as if my life depended on them. Because sometimes it feels like it does.

 

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1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

 

Or, if you are looking at my garden:

 

In the beginning the garden was without form, and void; and brown-ness was upon the face of everything.

 

Springtime in Maine. It takes so very long to arrive. It is discouraging to some. To gardeners, it just means the anticipation builds to a fever, where every tiny bit of green is heralded with hysteria.

 

This blog is the official “Before” series of photos. As the season progresses, I will update you with photos of plants emerging, blossoms opening, and a whole lot of hysteria happening. (Something to look forward to, yes?) Here we go:

 

This is a view of my garden, taken from the back deck. Brown, brown, everywhere. For now. Coming soon: the blues of hyssop and delphinium, the purples and pinks of poppies, multi-colored roses, lavender, Asiatic lilies, liatris, butterfly weed, and more.

 

Overview_Garden

 

These are two of my raised beds. The soil level has dropped over the last few years. There’s a layer of chopped leaves on top, and I will be adding some compost to that, but I also plan to buy some topsoil and dress the top of the four beds. These raised beds are for vegetables. This year: zephyr summer squash, sun gold tomatoes, kale, chard, and lettuce.

 

Raised_Beds

 

There is an area of the garden that used to be a tractor path to the lower level of a barn. Two walls of the foundation remain, and the path is mostly intact, but the rest has fallen prey to sumac trees (Husband calls them Devil Trees, because you cannot kill them), and tall weeds. I call this area the Trash Garden, but this year, I will be planting a baptisia and approximately 80 borage seedlings. It will be blue, it will be beautiful, and it will be filled with bees.

 

TrashSlope

 

I am currently enrolled in Bee School, thinking ahead to 2019. If I decide to set up a hive, it will go here:

 

WhereBeesMightGo

 

In-between my structured garden and the raised bed garden is Wildflower Alley. Actually, it’s Weed Alley, but I have aspirations. Here is where buttercups currently emerge, and I actually plan to leave them right there. They are lovely and bloom a good long time:

 

Before_Buttercups

 

Here is the main area of Weed Alley:

 

WeedAlley

 

Here is a garden my daughter planted last year. Mostly annuals. I’m pulling them out and planting wild bergamot this year:

 

Justines_Garden

 

Here is the entrance to Weed Alley, which currently has 5 mint plants and a few lupines in place. Planned additions: rue, lemon balm, and an extension of the herb garden, with Siberian chives, Good King Henry, basil, parsley, and dill.

 

Mints_Lupines_Area

 

This is a view of our orchard, currently under assault by brown tail moths. An arborist is coming in a few weeks to eradicate the nests. I will document this.

 

Orchard_Close

 

This is the Studio Garden, right outside of Husband’s teaching studio. I’ve since taken down the dead stalks, opening the space for the planted blue globe echinops, wild bergamot, lupines, and phlox to come back.

 

Before_StudioGarden

 

And this is the driveway edition of the Studio Garden, underneath the gallery windows. Coming soon: columbine, astilbe, and ferns.

 

StudioDriveway_Garden

 

This is only the beginning. Every week I hope to share photos that are much more interesting to look at! There will be a lot going on out there this year. And even though the hysteria that signals the approach of spring is consuming me now, I’m also feeling the solace that my garden brings.

 

Reaching for my overalls and feeling happy.

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This President’s weekend didn’t find me entertaining/hiding from vacationing college students or high school students. I was not elbow-deep in spackle from the winter home reno project. (I should have been, but I wasn’t.) Instead, I found myself with no necessary tasks on the Sunday of President’s weekend, and so I minced across the ice-skating rink formerly known as Driveway, got into the car with imprudently dressed Husband (sneakers for the snow and ice?), and we drove to South Bristol.

Every Sunday of President’s Weekend, the Thompson Ice house has its annual ice harvesting. The ice on the pond is cut into blocks of ice 12” thick, about 2×3’, and according to one of the men pushing the blocks up a ramp, about 250-300 pounds. As the event begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 4, I suspect that the ice blocks weigh 250 pounds in the morning, and weigh 300+ pounds at the end of the day! The ice is stacked into the ice house, with sawdust and hay above and below, “to the depth of a tyne.”

This was a commercial enterprise from 1826 until 1985. The building was deemed unsafe, but rather than sell the business on the open market, the house, property, pond, and dam were designated as a museum to preserve traditional ice harvesting. And visitors every year are grateful for this gift.

We arrived late morning, on one of those spectacular Maine days, when the white snow and blue sky compete for attention:

Landscape_Horiz

Here is the scene that greeted us: a motorized saw cutting grid lines into the ice, recently freed rectangles of ice floating free, and delighted visitors.

FloatRectPeopleSnowSpray

One of the young ones trying his hand at manually sawing the ice into blocks:

BoySaws_Still

The grid lines are precise:

Grid_Scored

A close-up of a floating block of ice:

Close_FloatingBlock

And of the floating rectangles:

FloatingRectangles

The first area of the pond to be carved into ice is the chute that leads to the ramp that leads to the ice house. Lining the chute are happy volunteers, mostly the kids, who man the long tools to encourage the blocks to float towards the ramp:

HappyBoy_IceChute

When the ice blocks touch the ramp, they are guided onto a simple wooden frame that guides them up out of the water and onto the ramp:

1GuideIceBlockOntoRamp

The block moves up the ramp until the floor of the ramp drops away,

2BlockGoesUpRamp

and the block tips forward and down, and slides into the ice house:

3BlockDropsOntoSlide

There is a gang of young men in cleated boots that greet the ice block with loud oofs and hollers, and they guide the block into its new home. When the day ends, the ice house will be filled to the rafters with enormous blocks of ice.

Then what? The ice is sold by the block or chipped, and a good bit of it supplies an ice cream party for the community in July. Good deal!

SaleSign

There was a small shed with a movie playing that described the history of the ice house, Thompson Ice House coffee mugs and sweatshirts were for sale, as were hot dogs and baked beans. I opted for the beans, and held the hot cup of amazingly sugary beans in my hands … I watched the ice chips fly into the air, listened to the dropped “r’s” of my neighbahs, and appreciated where I live.

 

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Maine is a joy in the summer. But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter.”

Paul Theroux, American novelist (1941- )

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Oh, my heart. What a long, long 12 weeks it has been, with only the seed catalogs to cool the fever. I can finally start seeds now without feeling foolish. I have started two varieties of seeds in my office, and I am prepping the greenhouse to receive the first seed trays of the season on March 5. That tick-tick-tick you hear is not a clock. It’s my heart, ticking away all of the non-gardening moments in my life.

One positive accomplishment this winter was deciding on a name for my garden. I won’t erect a plaque or a signpost. But I will know my garden’s name in my heart, and because you are reading this post, you will know as well. My garden is “Solace.”

So, welcome! Welcome to my place of quiet, of blossoms and weeds, birdsong, bees, some food plants, all connected with winding paths and lots and lots of Maine rocks.

Let me share a few things: First, a few pages from my garden journal, my inelegant heap of scribbles, plans, and drawings. You’ll see designs for a formal herb garden that won’t be built until 2018, earliest, lists of what I want to plant this year, and where. Cross-outs.  Pages x’d out with an elegant “Nope!” in the margin. And lists. There will always be lists. In order, please find Research, Resources, and Who Goes Where:

book_crossouts

book_sources

book_roughmap

book_herbgarden

My garden is enormous and growing. My age is growing too. So my annual goal is to plant more perennials.  🙂  This year, my garden will see the first appearance of perennials I planted late last fall: 3 kinds of decorative alliums, 3 kinds of decorative grasses, and a summersweet bush.

This year the Perennial Roster includes purchased plants and purchased seeds. They are:

Plants: butterfly weed, cardinal flower, liatris

Purchased Seeds: hollyhocks, butterfly weed (Hedging my bets. If the plants don’t take, hopefully the seeds will!)

My potting bench is actually in my office — it’s where I work during the long Maine winters. Husband built it for me, and it is made even more beautiful by items made by friends, and little plastic farm animals (love the piglets, especially):

mypottingbench

Here is a photo of the first two seed varieties I started in my office, verbena bonariensis and butterfly weed:

seedtrays_full

seedtrays_close

I have a large rocky area between two cultivated areas in my garden. There are some lupines there, but mostly that space grows cranky grass plants and rocks. I call it “Weed Alley.” But I have plans for this space, and am working to change its name to “Wildflower Alley.” So the Perennial Roster also includes:

Harvested Seeds: teasel, wild monarda, queen Anne’s lace, lupine, milkweed, asters, blue globe echinops, echinacea (2 varieties), rudbeckia (2 varieties)

Annuals are the instant-gratification of gardening. These ephemeral beauties are also workhorses. They only get one shot at producing next year’s players, and so they are quick to germinate, quick to flower, and hardy as all get-out. I love them.

The Annual Seeds are:

Flowers: celosia (2 varieties), verbena, zinnia (2 varieties), tithonia, sweet Annie, fennel (2 varieties), mammoth dill (for looks)

Food: 5 varieties of squash, 2 varieties of pole beans, 5 varieties of lettuce, 3 varieties of so-trendy micro-greens, parsley, basil, dill (for eating), kale, broccoli, tomatoes

I bought my seeds from three sources this year. Because seeds are my favorite part of gardening, and because I think the packets are lovely, I’m sharing sample packets with you:

packets_fedcoseeds

packets_johnnysseeds

packets_seedsaversseeds

It is so irritating to have to wait. All of our Survive-the-Maine-Winter-by-Doing-Home-Reno-Projects are wearing on me. I’m done with drop cloths. I want to be outside.

I hold on to March 5: the day I put seed trays out in the greenhouse. Remember that. March 5. March 5.

I’m coming for you.

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Weigh-Off day dawned overcast and damp, and it didn’t matter a bit. The volunteer pumpkin growers filled the area quickly, the tent was buzzing with trophies, paperwork, Pumpkinfest swag-for-sale, and the monitors that would display the pumpkins’ weights, and the forklifts were at the ready.

Myrtle waited patiently, resting on her green tarp that we used to lift her into MH’s trailer.

myrtlewaitsonpallet

 

The trophies waited patiently:

trophies

 

The scales waited patiently:

clearscale

 

Some late arrivals came in pickups, and we were treated to the first view of the harnesses that would be used all morning long to lift the monsters.

another-pumpkin-arrives

harnessnewentrant

This event was run beautifully. I know, I seem to say that about every Maine event I attend (like the Common Ground Fair), but it’s true – these folks know what they’re doing. The event was conducted with professionalism, speed, and a flair for entertainment value.

And so it began. Bill Clark, of Clark Farms, was the Emcee, the Master of Ceremonies, the Guy with the Mic.

billclark

 

The forklifts started their ballet, moving one pumpkin on its pallet near to a scale, while the second forklift hoisted a just-weighed pumpkin off the other scale to be moved to the waiting area.

The forklifts started with the smallest pumpkins first, so that the anticipation of the Big Winner could build. (See what I mean about entertainment value?!)   And the smaller pumpkins were harnessed and lifted by hand onto the scales to be weighed.

whitepumponforklift

movewhitepumpbyhand

 

There was a Youth Division, and an Adult Division in this Volunteer Grower Weigh-Off. While I’m sure many of the kids had adult help in growing their pumpkins, they had clearly assumed ownership of the pumpkins, and their delight was palpable.

childwinner

 

MH, and all of Team Myrtle, was proud to see that Myrtle was the first of the pumpkins too big to be lifted by hand. The loops on her harness were slipped over the tines of the forklift, and she was lifted by machine from her pallet to the scale

Here is a photo of proud MH the Grower:

MH_DisplaysWeight.JPG

 

As the day progressed, and the pumpkins increased in weight, the forklifts exited and the green tractor appeared. The winner of the day had a monster fruit, weighing in at 1,711.5 pounds.

volunteerwinner

 

Fun fact: White pumpkins tend to weigh more than the orange pumpkins….hmm, something to remember for next year when selecting a seedling!

It was a wonderful day. And the news about how Myrtle would participate in the Pumpkinfest was another happy surprise: Myrtle will not be carved or painted for display in the town. No, this girl is going sailing in the river! She will become a boat in the Regatta on Sunday!

We are all looking forward to seeing whether Myrtle becomes a paddleboat or a motorboat, and just how sea-worthy she is! Stay tuned….

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Harvesting – it is always bittersweet. One moment a fruit you nurtured throughout its life is vibrant and still connected to the Earth. Taking in water and nutrients. Growing.  And the next moment, its lifeline is cut, the vine is severed, and so begins another phase of its existence, and for plants, this means the beginning of its demise.

All of this make me a bit weepy: Children going off to kindergarten, a daughter or son driving away to their first apartment, a pumpkin going to get weighed.

This post will be long on photos and short on captions and commentary. There is so much to show, and as tomorrow is the big Weigh-Off, another post is in the Offing, as it were. I will tell you what’s going on, briefly, and let the photos mostly speak for themselves!

MH the Grower, wife Kathleen, and Two Lifters of Heavy (sounds better than Two Heavy Lifters. I guess I’m sensitive after months of being consumed with Myrtle’s weight.), were due at high noon today. MacKenzie waited.

1_macwaits

As did Myrtle.

1_myrtlewait

MH the Grower had it all planned.  A trailer hitched to his truck. Inside, a pallet, or “skid” with a large piece of pink foam insulation board for Myrtle to rest upon, and a large piece of foam to cushion her on the ride from my garden to Pinkham’s Plantation and Garden Nursery.

1_thecar_trailerarrive

The plan was to roll the trailer as close as possible to Myrtle, lift her in, and hitch the trailer to the truck.  But one question needed to be answered.  Once Myrtle was loaded into the trailer, would those present be strong enough to roll the trailer out of the garden and close enough to the truck to be hitched?

MH decided there was only one way to find out: Place several humans in the trailer and see if MH and my Husband were still able to roll the trailer.  I suppose I, MH’s wife, and my daughter could have been mightily offended at being regarded as “just weight”, but because it took three of US to weigh one Myrtle, it seemed acceptable. We participated with good cheer:

2_testingwithweights_best

The trailer was rolled in:

2_MoveTrailerIn.JPG

We moved Mac away:

2_macinway

The trailer was moved into position:

2_rollingtrailernearmyrtle

And rocks were placed under the hitch to balance against Myrtle’s great weight.

2_levelingwithrocks

It was time.  MH used his knife to cut the vine 10 feet away from Myrtle’s stem.  This would allow her to continue to drink water overnight before the weigh-in.  My job, when it came to actually lifting her, would be to keep the vine in position so that it didn’t snap off.  MH also snipped off a few straggling vines to avoid the main vine being compromised or tugged in any way.  A few photos to show this:

3_massivestem_closeup

3_theknifeinhand

3_cuttingtenfeetout

4_MHTrimsSnaggyVines.JPG

The tarp was put into t position.  The idea was to roll the tarp up against one side of Myrtle, roll her onto it, pull the tarp through to the other side of her, and roll her back.  I held the vine, hoping I could keep it intact.

4_ArrangeTarp2.JPG

4_AmyHoldsVine.JPG

MH, my Husband and the Lifters of Heavy rolled Myrtle from side to side, maneuvering the tarp under her. Kathleen volunteered to support the leveling rocks at the other end of the trailer.

5_BeginLift.JPG

5_Lift2.JPG

5_lift3

5_lift4

5_Lift5.JPG

5_lift6

5_lift7

5_lift8

I wish you could have heard the audio of that effort.  The puffing, the groans, were earned.  That pumpkin was So Heavy.

And after that enormous effort, the crew posed:

6_thecrewposes

I was happy to hold the vine, reluctant to relinquish it:

7_happytoholdvine

And the tiny little blue pad that had so bravely protected Growing Myrtle from the damp earth was now alone, with no job, no crushing weight above its head.  I think I heard a tiny little sigh of relief.

7_LonelyPad.JPG

And Myrtle was safely in the trailer.  Time to go to Pinkham’s!

7_myrtleintrailer

The road was smooth, and MH, my daughter, Myrtle and I arrived a Pinkham’s one day before the official weigh-off.  MH guessed correctly that the Nursery men would be grateful to have some of the entries arrive early.  Apparently, tomorrow morning will be quite chaotic.  Here is Myrtle as she arrived, foam cushion in place:

8_MyrtleArrivesAtPinkhams.JPG

A few earlier arrivals greeted us:

8_earlierarrivals

MH took the enormous jug was water and alfalfa “tea” that Myrtle will sip overnight to keep her strength, and her weight, up:

8_MH_TakesOutJuice.JPG

As we waited for the forklift, I noticed the sponsor’s sign (Sysco, a food corporation) on a tent — inside, the scales, tables, equipment and furniture for tomorrow’s event:

8_syscosponsors

And here came the forklift:

9_forkliftapproachestrailer

The next photos show the forklift picking Myrtle up and moving her into place, next to the Earlier Bird pumpkins:

9_ForkliftInserts.JPG

9_forklift_lifts1

9_Forklift_Lifts2.JPG

9_ForkliftMovesBack.JPG

9_forkliftpositions

9_myrtleisdown

And just like your second-grade class photo, with all those happy youngsters lined up for the camera, Myrtle was in place:

10_MyrtleInPlace.JPG

MH the Grower and Bill Clark, of Clark’s Farm (co-producer of Pumpkinfest along with Pinkham’s) chatted about cantelope “webbing” on pumpkins, shape and genetics, and other pumpkin-pertinent points:

10_mhbillclarkchat

It was time for Myrtle to be labeled.  I wish I could say she was graced with a silver plaque,but it was really just gray duct tape.

10_billclarkapplieslabel

11_label

And so this Harvest Day ended.  Myrtle was in place, and the pallets for tomorrow’s arrivals were stacked and ready.

12_palettesstacked

My daughter and I will join MH and his family at Pinkham’s tomorrow at 10 for the Volunteer Grower Weigh-Off.

Any bets of Myrtle’s final weight?  My husband and I independently came up with 403 pounds and 402 pounds, respectively.  From our lips to the Great Pumpkin’s ears.

I will report.  Stay tuned.

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”

— William Blake, English poet (1757 – 1827)

 

APPRECIATING:

“Clark Farms is family owned and operated. We provide fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Jefferson, as well as local eggs, jams, jellies, pickles and award winning pies.”

Pinkham Plantation: “Our local nursery in Damariscotta, Maine has the gardening products and, sometimes more importantly, the growing advice you need to develop and maintain a lush, fruitful landscape. We’re familiar with the local Maine soil conditions and growing challenges and offer solutions to help you grow the best garden possible.”

 

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Pumpkinfest #9: Closing In

Tick, tick, tick, says the clock. Myrtle is in her final days of packing on the pounds.

MH the Grower, and lowly (literally) assistant me, measured and estimated her weight for the last unofficial time. The next time Myrtle is weighed it will be on the official scale of the Weigh-Off at Pinkham’s Nursery on Saturday, October 1st.

MH came over to visit the big girl (the PUMPKIN, ahem), and measure her:

mh-measures

 

I helped:

mh_amy_measure

 

Enough suspense! Her estimated weight was 343 pounds!

Since that day, the overnight temperatures have yielded light frost on two nights, and Myrtle’s UV-shielding umbrella was exchanged for a thick Mover’s quilt.

I am expecting MH, two heavy lifters from his lab, and a gaggle of onlookers on Friday to separate Myrtle from the earth, lift her into a cushioned trailer, and drive her off to the next phase of her life.

And of course, the entire weigh-off will be photographed and shared, as will Myrtle’s official weight. In the meantime, I will appreciate my final days with this youngster in my garden. Life is all about moving on, isn’t it? I’m tearing-up already.

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

Dear Great Pumpkin,
I am looking forward to your arrival on Halloween night. I hope you will bring me lots of presents.
Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you.
Sincerely,
Linus Van Pelt

P.S. If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

APPRECIATING:

“The official Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) weigh-off is the State of Maine’s largest weigh-off, featuring the jaw-dropping TOTAL PURSE OF $10,000, is sponsored by Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta™!
Sponsor: Sysco – Northern New England
The official Weigh-off, sanctioned by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC), is open to all growers, whether adults or children (between 8 and 16 years old).
Volunteer growers may chose to enter their pumpkins in EITHER the $10,000 official GPC weigh-off, OR the Volunteer Growers weigh-off (which is held the prior day), if they prefer.
Pumpkin drop-off for the GPC-sanctioned weigh-off is between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and the weigh-off begins promptly at 10 a.m.
An official Damariscotta Pumpkinfest™ Weigh-Off Entry Form must accompany each pumpkin. View Official Rules.
In addition, each pumpkin must be accompanied by a Grower Information Sheet in order to provide interesting background & growing details.
The top 3 prize-winning pumpkins in the official GPC Weigh-off must remain on-site for display in Damariscotta during the duration of Damariscotta Pumpkinfest™.”

 

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Vinalhaven: A Love Letter

Husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary by spending 30 hours on the island of Vinalhaven. That might seem a poor return, one hour for each year, but one reason we’ve been together for 30 years is our shared enthusiasm for modest moments and for adventure. Vinalhaven was as charming as any modest adventurer could want. All good.

We sailed out of Rockland on a sturdy ferry, and after an hour and 15 minutes, arrived in Vinalhaven. The two towns were explained thoroughly by their harbors. Rockland was filled with elegant sailboats and yachts:

rockland_boats

 

Vinalhaven’s harbor was filled with lobster boats. We had arrived at a place where hard work is done:

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Vinalhaven is home to artist Robert Indiana (of “LOVE” logo fame), and one (count it) AirBnB rental where we spent the night. There were three very nice restaurants in the town, and because it was post-Labor Day (by 1 day), every single one of them was closed. Yes, I had made a reservation at one, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to the chef becoming ill, and our only option (as our rental did not have a kitchen) was to go to the local bar. As our host put it, “You’ll get some local color!” No kidding. Not the much-anticipated elegant dinner out I was dreaming of, but again, we’d made it 30 years by rolling with all of the dips and dives Life throws at us, so it seemed appropriate to start the next 30 by rolling once again.

You’ll see from the text in ”Appreciating” that the population of Vinalhaven island is small. The town itself is even smaller, and there are so many ways to define “small town” when talking about a place to live and work. The dictionary says the term “small town” can mean “of or concerning the regions outside the capital city of a country, especially when regarded as unsophisticated or narrow-minded.”

I accept that definition, but I don’t like it much. Thornton Wilder’s small town was a place where people showed every side of their humanity, and everyone was the better for it. I like that better. It also seems to apply to Vinalhaven, based on my vast experience of 30 hours.

I loved the beauty of the island, taking two lovely hikes to see water, woods, and birds, and I loved the Humanity of the small town as demonstrated by posted signs and by items in the local newspaper. I will share these with you, as I believe they will best explain why we enjoyed our 30 hours there so very much, and why we plan to go back – this time with a car! If we’d honeymooned there, I wouldn’t have blinked at carrying a backpack for two days, but remember, my back is now 30 years older, and I have learned to appreciate the value of a car seat and a pack-free back.

Here we go. First up, SIGNS.

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sign_bottlessign_business_wifisign_lockupsign_savvy

There were lovely scenes to photograph on the island and I took several. Husband, who was taking photos for future paintings, took over 450. (One reason our budget and consequently our marriage has lasted 30 years is the invention of the digital camera.)

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And now for copy from “The Wind”, the local paper that is published weekly. It offers a glimpse into Island life – the lingo, the cherished events, the hazards, and the ridiculous moments that a close community shares.

First, Vinalhaven residents are not immune to the hazards posed by careless drivers. Here is an apology, and a plea that made me sad:

“LAWN SALES: Sorry for canceling earlier lawn sales. I was rear-ended on the Philbrook as I exited my truck, hurting my back and smashing my bumper a couple of weeks ago.”

“Please tell me who hit my white Cadillac on the 18th, 1st boat leaving Rockland. A black SUV was seen on camera. It’s my only car for the rest of my life. Please call…”

 

Insider Tip: On Vinalhaven, the flea market is called “the Flea.” And apparently you have to go there yourself to see who is selling. Great marketing ploy! “Who’s selling? You have to find out for yourself!”:

“FLEA MARKET: Some of us will be at the Flea this Saturday…”

 

No community is immune from “That Guy.” The guy that takes advantage, acts badly, and explains it away with a smile:

“OBSERVER: A wonderful pair of long time seasonal residents graciously hosts a little gathering for friends each Labor Day as an expression of their appreciation for this place….One thing or another interfered with my being able to arrive in time to enjoy the happy hour but I did pull in just in time to hear the invitation to lunch and so —I’m aggressive when I’m hungry – headed directly to the buffet, first in line in front of others who had waited patiently for the invitation to partake. Having settled in with a plate piled high, I was prepared to enjoy it and the company of others for a while but then my watch alarm went off reminding me that I was to meet the ferry in ten minutes and so I wolfed down lunch and bolted. I do want to be invited back next year and so this note of explanation and appreciation.”

 

Vinalhaven is populated by humans, who as a species are known to make threats, including those that could be described as holding a gun to your head:

“7 Guns in 7 Days” Raffle to benefit the Vinalhaven Veterans Memorial Fund: Unless we sell 300 tickets by September 15th, we will be forced to end this raffle…”

 

This one is both thoughtful and ridiculous:

“!!! A PRODUCT RECALL !!! : Because of a proofing error, 2017 ICMS calendars are being replaced and reissued. (Days and dates for June, 2017 are out of sync, and we can’t have brides and grooms showing up on the wrong day).”

 

When you do business on a small island, every customer counts. Hence this Above-and-Beyond offer from a popular restaurant to provide passage across a natural barrier:

“NEBO LODGE: Need a ride from VH? We can help. Call us for dinner reservations and we will gladly arrange a round-trip ride across the Thoroughfare for you.”

 

A perfect pun for a community surrounded by salt water:

“BENEFIT DANCE…Featuring the “Six Foot Swells”

 

A candid moment from one innkeeper, and an incident worthy of a movie. Also, I love the idea that the local nuisance wildlife includes minks. You can’t make this stuff up:

“THE OBSERVER: …As many have pointed out, I am not quite as focused as I once was. Thus it was that a recent prospective guest received a confusing and somewhat troubling e mail confirmation and called for an explanation. It seems my note to the cleaning crew, asking that they clean up a distressing mess lift by a mink that had snuck in to a room through an open deck door, instead became an e mail confirming a reservation for later in the summer. The e mail read “We look forward to seeing you…Please clean up the little pile of waste just inside the deck door before you do anything else.”

 

Vinalhaven folks are honest:

“Mooring Money: Someone has a ‘rental’ mooring abreast the Evelyn J. It’s been used for a couple of days but there is no indication of where rental $ should be left or sent so we collected what we thought was fair and have it at the Tidewater.”

 

And, hands down, this is my favorite entry. This was a long list of thank-yous to the locals for helping out at a wedding, but I’ve included my two “bests”. I love a place so small and modest that only two music stands made a genuine difference, and….who is this OTHER guy?!

“The Evans family at Roberts Harbor wish to thank all who helped make the wedding of Jane…and Adam…a special day…The Union Church which loaned two music stands. To the bearded man who guided out-of-towners to the wedding at Charlotte’s field…”

 

Vinalhaven: The island were people work, pitch-in, offer, and ask. The island populated by fishermen, musicians, and mysterious bearded men. The island where minks leave messes, and local color is a good thing.

We’re going back.

 

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“Lake Wobegon, the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.”

— Garrison Keillor, American author, storyteller, humorist (1942- )

 

APPRECIATING

“Vinalhaven Island lies twelve miles off the coast of Maine, and is the state’s largest off-shore community. It is known for its striking natural beauty and for being home to one of the world’s largest lobster fishing fleets. We have a year-round population of about 1200 people, and welcome many more from around the world in the summer months…. Lobster fishing and related support activities make up roughly half of the island’s economy; in addition to commercial fishermen and women, we are builders, musicians, plumbers, teachers, shopkeepers, electricians, innkeepers, artists, writers, mechanics, realtors, restauranteurs, boat builders, ferry captains, architects, administrators, conservationists, and more.

http://www.vinalhaven.org

 

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Watching a giant pumpkin gain weight for a competition is akin to watching a pregnant woman put on weight to nurture a brainy healthy child. It is so satisfying to witness, especially when it is not you that is tipping the scales.

I guess I should say it is a guilty pleasure, watching another woman put on weight, but it’s not. I have no guilt. Myrtle is my favorite girl these days, putting on inches, putting on pounds, turning her increasingly ponderous back(side) to the Righteous Dieters of the World. I’m loving every bit of this event: the enormous bottles of liquid food poured liberally over the Mother Vine, the soft cushion of blue foam placed tenderly between her southern regions and the dark earth…that disappeared the very next day by the drooping of those joyful love handles, and the steadily increasing reach of Myrtle’s shadow.

It is so much fun to cheer for increase rather than decrease. It feels more optimistic. It feels like…victory.

So, let’s update you on two events in the Growing of Myrtle: What she is eating, and how she is measured.

EATING:

Alfalfa tea is the trusted tool of MH the grower. Apparently this member of the pea family is considered a powerhouse of nutrients. It has many benefits, including these as listed by the website “yearningandlearning”:

BENEFITS OF USING ALFALFA

1. Good Source of Minerals

Alfalfa is a good source of nitrogen, along with several other minerals including phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, boron, iron, and zinc.

2. Builds Organic Matter

Its high nitrogen content helps other organic material to decompose. Organic matter also helps to prevent compaction, acts like a sponge and holds moisture in the soil, improves soil structure, and helps to prevent erosion.

3. Feeds Microorganisms

The microorganisms in your soil love alfalfa because of the protein, amino acids, fiber and sugars in its stalk – items they need to thrive.

4. Stimulates Growth

Alfalfa contains triacontanol, a hormone that stimulates the growth of plant roots, enhances photosynthesis, and increases beneficial microbes that help to suppress many soil-borne diseases.

5. Fixes Nitrogen

Alfalfa actually takes nitrogen from the air and holds it as nodules on its roots, a process called “nitrogen fixing”.

6. Stimulates Compost

When added to your compost pile, alfalfa acts as a stimulator. It decomposes rapidly, creating heat that helps the rest of your compost to decompose.

7. Controls Harmful Nematodes

A study in Italy showed that alfalfa pellets significantly reduced infestation of root-knot nematode on tomato plants, and cyst nematode on carrots.

8. Provides Drought Resistance

Because of alfalfa’s sponge-like ability to absorb and hold moisture, it helps plants grown in that soil to be more resistant to periods of low rain.

9. Is a Dynamic Accumulator

Alfalfa roots reach down into the sub-soil up to 8 feet, bringing valuable hard-to-reach nutrients up to the soil surface where they are stored in the leaves of the plant. Using the cut alfalfa in your garden and compost adds these nutrients to the upper layers of your soil where other garden plants can use them.

10. Is a Great Cover Crop

Also known as “green manure”, cover crops are generally planted in the fall and then dug into the soil in the spring to improve soil.

 

Where to Buy Alfalfa

Bales of alfalfa and pellets can generally be found at feed supply stores such as Tractor Supply.

 

Here is a photo of MH the Grower using his mix of alfalfa tea:

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And here is a recipe for alfalfa tea, from the same website as above:

ALFALFA TEA

32 gallon trash can
10 cups alfalfa pellets
1 cup Epsom salts
1 cup fish emulsion

Add the pellets to the trash can. Fill trash can with water. Stir. Cover trash can tightly with lid. For the next three days stir “tea” several times a day in order to dissolve the pellets. Keep covered. On the third day add Epsom salts and fish emulsion. It is ready to use on any vegetable, plant, tree, or bush.  You can omit the Epsom salts and fish emulsion, and the results will be good but not as spectacular.

When all the “tea” is used, there will be enough pellet residue in the bottom of the trash can that you again fill the trash can with water and make more “tea”.

 

If you are still not convinced by the kudos from “yearningandlearning” and the American Rose Society, “davesgarden” claims the tea also benefits the growth of orchids, roses, delphiniums, and irises.

 

MEASURING:

The wonderfully supportive folks of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest supply regular tips and advice to their volunteer growers. As midcoast Maine is currently suffering a drought, a recent email missive encouraged the growers to “Water, water, water!”

Another encouragement was to measure the pumpkin by two different methods and then estimate the current weight. This is what is known as “creating incentive.” Whatever your goal, it can be encouraging to see how you’re doing. Here are the two methods of measuring giant pumpkins that were offered – both of which MH employed:

Method #1: Measure the circumference of the fruit by running a tape measure around the girth, parallel to the ground. Find the measured inches in a table that the Pumpkinfest provided to find the corresponding estimated weight.

Method #2: Take the circumference measurement, and add to that the number of inches from a side-to-side reading and an end-to-end reading. To measure from side-to-side, a tape measure is held on the ground vertically below the side of the fruit, at its middle, stretched across the pumpkin and over to the other side. To measure from end-to-end, a tape measure is stretched vertically up the stem end, along the surface over the top of the fruit and down to the ground vertically below the blossom end.

Growers were cautioned not to run the tape under the fruit, but instead to run it vertically down to the ground from the furthest extending point.

So, the first step was to remove the shading umbrella and the floating row cover so the measurement could be taken.

3_Uncover

MH the Grower took a long look at Myrtle. His guess? “Over 300 pounds!”

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The measurements were taken:

Circumference: 103”

Side-to-side: 57”

End-to-end: 65”

Totaling 225

 

By Method #2, the estimated weight was 241 pounds.

By Method #1, the estimated weight was 286 pounds!  (SO CLOSE!)

As anyone who has ever despaired when stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office knows, there are weights you believe and weights you don’t. Both MH and I believe the correct estimated weight of Myrtle is 286 pounds. I mean, just look at her. She is within 3 pounds of his all-time record, and there are still 4.5 weeks of growing left to go.

Clearly these measurements dictate how MH the Grower will continue to raise this pumpkin. The decision about his behavior? He’s going to keep on keeping on.

This bodes well for both Myrtle and MH. They are bound for Glory.

 

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“If a measurement matters at all, it is because it must have some conceivable effect on decisions and behaviour. If we can’t identify a decision that could be affected by a proposed measurement and how it could change those decisions, then the measurement simply has no value.”

― Douglas W. Hubbard, author, “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business”

 

APPRECIATING:

“Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a member of the pea or legume family and is native to western Asia and eastern Mediterranean regions. The first record of alfalfa was in a book written by the Emperor of China in 2939 BC. The Greeks cultivated alfalfa starting around 500 BC for animal food and for some medicinal applications. Arab tribes named the plant “alfalfa”, which means “father of all foods”. Now alfalfa is widely grown and provides an important food source for many animals including horses, cows, rabbits and other domestic animals.”

— The American Rose Society, http://www.rose.org

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