PumpkinFest 2015

It’s that time of year again, when the streets of Damariscotta are filled with parents, children, and giant decorated pumpkins!  It is a crowded, noisy, cheerful celebration of autumn, and I just love it!

Here are a few photos of the pumpkins on Main Street.  Note:  This is just a cross-section — there were pumpkins on side streets and in far-flung corners of town that I just didn’t have time to get to.  But this selection will give you an idea of what everyone in town enjoyed!

Sometimes the art was more about assembly than painting or carving. This is a lobster rendered in pumpkins.

Sometimes the art was more about assembly than painting or carving. This is a lobster rendered in pumpkins.

Over the rainbow, or over the pumpkin?!

Over the rainbow, or over the pumpkin?!

A minion atop a crowded phone booth. Baffling message but interesting concept.

A minion atop a crowded phone booth. Baffling message but interesting concept.

One of my favorites this year: a hermit crab.

One of my favorites this year: a hermit crab.

Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo.

An ice cream cone outside the local soda fountain.

An ice cream cone outside the local soda fountain.

Another one of my favorites: a chickadee!

Another one of my favorites: a chickadee!

A Halloween witch?

A Halloween witch?


Glen Chadbourne, of Stephen King-bookjacket fame, had a little baby crawling into his pumpkin this year -- suitably creepy!

Glen Chadbourne, of Stephen King-bookjacket fame, had a little baby crawling into his pumpkin this year — suitably creepy!

My vote for Best Pumpkin this year.

My vote for Best Pumpkin this year.

Mother Goose: The cow jumped over the moon!

Mother Goose: The cow jumped over the moon!



A spider atop the flowers.

A spider atop the flowers.

Carved alewives, overlooking the Damariscotta River.

Carved alewives, overlooking the Damariscotta River.



A lobster purse complete with zipper!

A lobster purse complete with zipper!

Swimming seals!

Swimming seals!





I’m looking forward to next year.  I’m hoping to be one of the Volunteer Growers, contributing my own giant pumpkin to the cause, and….possibly working with Husband on crafting our own pumpkin for the festival? Stay tuned!


“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

— Henry David Thoreau

It is a world of imagination, where dreams come true. Where you appreciate the past, look forward to tomorrow, and fill your life with color, form, and fantasy.

Disneyland?   Nope. This magic kingdom is the annual Fedco Tree Sale in Clinton, Maine. If you’re a gardener, this event makes Disneyland pale. Yes, it is that good. Here is how I spent my day in Disneyland – I mean, in the Fedco warehouse:

It started with my placing an order for perennials in the last dark months of 2014. I ordered two roses, 6 yarrow, 3 echinacea, 10 liatris, 6 hollyhocks, 3 lavenders, and 6 butterfly weed. This was a separate order from the seed order I’d placed with Fedco a few weeks earlier. The seeds came to my local food co-op, as they offered their members the opportunity to place a group order and so receive a discount. The idea that a $1.50 packet of seeds required a further discount was almost laughable – but I have learned that Maine and its businesses often surprise me in the nicest way. So I accepted the additional discount with this group order and sent up yet another silent “thank you” to Fedco.

This perennial order was not part of the group order. I could have had the plants shipped to me, but I knew I wouldn’t be ready to put them in the ground for the April delivery. I opted to drive 70 minutes to Clinton to pick them up at the warehouse. What a happy choice that turned out to be!

The day before our planned trip, I received a call from a woman in the warehouse. She wanted to remind me that my order was ready for pick-up, and that I could only come that Friday or Saturday. I said I was counting the minutes until Friday morning, and she laughed. The morning of the pick-up, my GPS wrestled with me, and told me that despite the address on my order pick-up form, the warehouse was NOT in Waterville. Husband suspected it was in Clinton. I called the warehouse to ask if that was true. It was. I told the woman on the phone that I would be there at 10:58. (GPS is nothing if not precise) She laughed. It seems that everyone that works for Fedco is happy.

I had a pleasant drive with Husband on that sunny cool Friday morning in May. As we exited the highway, I saw the blue warehouse, with the huge “SALE” sign out front. We were waved into the parking lot by this gentleman. Sorry kids, but he was much more appealing to me than Mickey. He works for Fedco, and so naturally he was happy:


We pulled into the parking lot…


…,and entered Disneyland for Gardeners. The air was cold in the warehouse and it smelled like wood and green leaves. The first sight was of wheelbarrows filled with damp sawdust, customers waiting patiently holding bare-root fruit trees, and workers wrapping those trees in the sawdust and clear plastic. (And note the milk jug “scoops” in the sawdust — Fedco uses milk jugs creatively. Read on to learn more.) The reason for the long line of customers: the fruit trees were offered at 2 for the price of 1.


Now THIS is a shopping aisle that speaks to me:


There were several areas for shopping. The first was the open warehouse with trees, roses, and shrubs. There was an interior room with small tables and small boxes filled with treasure. One table held tea, garlic, oils, and smudge sticks — hyssop and sage wound with bright string.


Even the signage in this room was true Fedco: The illustration was happy! Who needs Minnie Mouse? I had this gal:


I found medicinal herbs that I’d only read about and have never seen, such as black cohosh, and plants that frequently appear in literature, such as Solomon’s Seal:


Asclepias incarnata? You are indeed the personification of milkweed:


An outside area had more perennials, and yet another use for milk jugs:


Despite having already placed an order for roses and perennials, Husband encouraged me to go into their greenhouse, and I emerged with 4 hot pepper plants for him, and three varieties of thyme for me.

Back into the warehouse, we found grape vines, and Husband immediately made plans for the stand of Nuisance Sumacs (I have just made that an official variety) in our yard. I think he dreams of being a vintner.


I picked up my order, feeling like I’d taken every ride at Disneyland without waiting in any long lines, feeling like I’d emerged from a gift shop with something way better than a Tinker Bell necklace, and feeling once again that I much preferred the company of Mainers to that of really really big stuffed animals. I was happy.

On the way out, we saw this beautiful wreath on the wall. Made of plant labels and a plastic wrap bow, it was the sign pointing me to my own personal World of Tomorrow – a bountiful garden filled with blooms, pollinators, and charmed visitors. I’m working on making it the Happiest Place on Earth. Thank you (again!), Fedco.



“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

–Plaque above the bridge as you enter the Main Street of Disneyland

Oh, how I wish this WERE a fable. But it’s not. It’s a true story of yet another victim of the winter of 2014-15. The story goes like this:

The former owner of our house was quite a gardener. She planted lovely perennials, trees, and shrubs, and very few of them were to my liking. (But to be fair, she didn’t plant them for me.) I am living with most of her choices because I do recognize her skill, and the health and vigor of the plants. This includes two dwarf Japanese maples (acer palmatum) that flank the driveway-side of our house.

These two trees met the winter in a similar way: healthy and fully clothed in bark. But sometime, during a dark winter night before the first blizzard, a porcupine (erethizon doratum) started snacking on the bark of one tree. When the snow receded, the extent of the damage became clear. And I now know why this critter’s Latin name is so apt. “Erethizon doratum”? Your translated name is “quill pig” and that’s about how I’m feeling towards you right now.


The one maple tree that survived unchewed:


And the stripped maple tree that was far enough from the doorway to escape our notice so that the cowardly rodent could pig-out:


Here is a close-up of a chewed branch. Note the teeth marks:


Am I upset? You betcha. But perhaps not for the reason you imagine. Husband is very very upset that we have lost a beautiful tree. Me? Not about that. Remember, this wasn’t my favorite inherited planting. I’m more upset that we have a porcupine close to our house and to our two dogs.

I am not alone in my dismay about these prickly beasts. They have been referenced by comedians, poets, and Communist leaders alike, and all seem to agree: These are tough customers. Two more quotes to accompany my “Words from Others” widget:

“If you start throwing hedgehogs under me, I shall throw a couple of porcupines under you.”

  • Nikita Khrushchev (Russian politician, 1894-1971)

“The porcupine, whom one must handle gloved, may be respected, but never loved.”

  • Arthur Guiterman (American writer and poet, 1871-1943)

Lest you think that I am a heartless, unfeeling porcupine hater, I will share two facts with you that prove that even porcupines are creatures that a mother could love (a Quill Pig mother, I mean).

Fact #1: Baby porcupines are called “porcupettes.” (awww)

Fact #2: A baby porcupine’s quills are ready to use 20 minutes after they are born. (It is that 20-minute delay that earns them a mother’s love.)

The snow has finally retreated, and the full extent of this winter’s damage is known. I’m hoping this is the last hurrah for our porcupine neighbor. If I have to write a blog about rushing our dogs to the vet in the middle of the night for Quill Removal, you can bet I will not be including any cute facts about these little prickly pigs at the end of that post.


“I’m a little hoarse tonight. I’ve been living in Chicago for the past two months, and you know how it is, yelling for help on the way home every night. Things are so tough in Chicago that at Easter time, for bunnies, the little kids use porcupines.”

— Fred Allen, (Comedian, 1894-1956)

Thank you, Robert Lewis Stevenson.

I embarked on a grand experiment of testing the viability of 9 varieties of highly coveted seeds by using the damp-paper-towel method, and failed. Utterly. While I suspect the fault lies both with the seeds as well as my ham-handed efforts, it was a sobering event. Nothing like abject failure to make that mirror you look in every morning crystal clear. (Although Mr. Stevenson’s remarks have tempered my humiliation with a weency bit of pride for having at least made the attempt.)

I was gifted last fall with 9 baggies of seeds, collected by Generous Friend from her garden. I was delighted, and when I looked at the varieties, I was ecstatic. Some folks covet designer brand clothing, gourmet cookware, gems, or cars. Not me. I saw the package labeled “Salmon Coneflower” and was elated. How much did I want those plants? A lot more than a car, and that’s the truth.

I was a bit concerned when Generous Friend confessed she had collected the seeds when they were wet. My understanding is that is a no-no – the moisture encourages mold – but I was still game. The seeds waited in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator all winter, and I recently took them out, followed instructions found on the Internet for the paper-towel method of testing their viability, and began the attempt. Here is what happened:

I collected my materials. The seeds, baggies, a cookie sheet on which to rest the seed-laden baggies, bleach, a shot glass (for measuring, promise) water, sieve, and a bowl:


Oh. And a diet coke:


The idea is simple: Place some seeds between sheets of dampened paper towels, put the damp towel in a baggie, and watch for 10-14 days. At the end of that time, count how many seeds have sprouted. If you are testing 10 and 8 seeds germinate, then 80% of your seeds are viable. If only 2 germinate, and you still really want to use those seeds, you’d better plan to plant a LOT of seeds to make sure you get enough plants.

Do you really need to see the process of changing dry paper towels to damp ones? No, I’m certain you don’t. However, I took the photos, so here they are:

First, I soaked 9 sheets of paper towel and draped them over a rack in the sink:


As needed, I wrung out each towel and brought it over to my worktable to place my seeds:



The next step was a cautionary one: dip the seeds in a mild water-bleach solution to kill any mold on them. I quickly replaced my large-mesh sieve with a more delicate one. I was in danger of losing the bitty seeds to the bottom of the bleach bowl:


The seeds I was most eager the germinate, the salmon-colored coneflowers, were of course in the bag showing the most humidity:


I was undeterred. I shredded the seed head on a dry paper towel, and prepared to count out the 25 seeds I’d decided to germinate for each variety.



Then I arranged the seeds on the damp paper towel, in neat rows. Easier to count and keep track of that way, I reasoned:


Here is a damp paper towel, loaded with 25 seeds ready for the bag. Note that I put the seeds on one half of the towel, so I could fold the other half over the seeds:


I folded the towel and slid it into a baggie. Each baggie was labeled, and as instructed, I left a small gap in the seal so that the seeds had some ventilation:




And then I placed the cookie sheet in a warm place, covered it so that the seeds were kept in the dark, and checked the seeds every day so that I wasn’t kept in the dark. After 14 days, I had a very puny result: 1 rudbeckia seed germinated and 1 bee balm seed germinated.  How good is your eyesight?  I promise you, there is a seed germinating in each of the photos below.



Am I discouraged? A bit. Am I defeated? Nope. Am I still grateful to Generous Friend? You bet! My plan now is to plant my garden, and leave some clear welcoming soil for the remaining seeds. I will plant them, and give them a shot. Who knows?

Perhaps these seeds were the DIY variety, the ones not eager to accept a helping hand, the ones that wanted to launch on their own. Maybe Generous Neighbor had given me 9 baggies of Teenagers. You never know.

Mr. Stevenson declares that I should evaluate myself by the seeds I plant and not by the harvest I reaped. By that measure, I did well. I’ll take that assessment, thank you.


“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

― Robert Louis Stevenson, author (1850-1894)

My 8 x 8′ Dream

When Husband and I decided to move to Maine, I was thrilled in every way. Beautiful scenery, lower cost of living, the pervasive atmosphere of New England common sense, seafood, and best of all, no humidity. And as Husband is an artist, our move to a lively arts community in midcoast Maine made all the sense in the world. However, friends and family were worried about my potential for happiness here, for one reason alone: the shorter growing season. As an avid gardener, it was assumed that my moving from Zone 6 to Zone 5 would break my heart.

Not a chance. First, I am a four-season gardener. I plant, I grow, I preserve, and I press flowers. I do a lot of reading about gardening. So a growing season that was truncated on both ends held no regret. We were moving to a town with a climate tempered by the ocean, and as I am particularly fond of hardy herbs and rugged roses, everything I wanted to grow was acclimated to the zone. So, I anticipated zero impact on my gardening activities.

Husband loves to indulge this passion. And so, despite our being on a strict we-just-moved budget, he presented me with an incredible gift for Mother’s Day: a greenhouse!

And not just any greenhouse. It was a Grandio Elite, with a “premium package.” (Intrigued?! Check out: http://www.grandiogreenhouses.com/

I held the brochure in my hands, and looked through the instructions for assembly. It was to be a beautiful structure of wavy corrugated walls, two windows that opened and closed on their own according to the temperature, and dark green metal framing. I was looking at 8 x 8’ of glory: planting seeds in the early spring, growing summer tomatoes safe from insects, reading in a dry warm place in the winter or during a rain storm, and I was looking at a room of my own. (Virginia Woolf never had it so good. In fact, if she’d had a greenhouse, I suspect she might have had a happier ending.)

The journey from a set of instructions to a finished structure took time, as it was just Husband doing the majority of the work, and me doing the toting, holding, and providing both inspiration and lunch, but it was always time well spent.

Here is what happened:


It started at the bottom, as most worthwhile enterprises do. The foundation was a big task, and as Husband is meticulous, this took a bit of time. He dug down 15 inches, laid one cubic yard of gravel (over 2,800 pounds) in the foundation and up to grade around the four 8 x 8’s of treated lumber. That bed of gravel, and those level sturdy beams were a beautiful sight.


Husband, an artist as well as a craftsman, used 6 cement blocks reclaimed from the overgrown garden out front to create a patio for the greenhouse. Ultimate purpose: a base for two garden chairs that we will use to gaze both inside the greenhouse and out to the flowering beds.

And so, the base had a foundation that was loose and porous, and a patio that was solid and sturdy. Once again, I was struck by the analogies between gardening and true love. While Husband and I have had our moments of shifting gravel, we always seem to find those nice solid places to rest and regroup.

Here is photo of me actually doing something more concrete than providing inspiration: I am screwing the base of the greenhouse to the timber foundation.


Base laid, it was time to start on the assembly of the front wall.



Somehow, seeing the walls come together made this all real for me. The instructions couldn’t have been simpler, and even though the number of pieces was daunting, the labeling was good, and we just took it slowly.

One piece at time! Here is the peak of the front wall:


This shows the front wall resting on the lush weeds. These weeds will, hopefully, be replaced by a bed of daisies and a border of winter savory, lady’s mantle, and hyssop edging the lovely rock ledges in the garden.


Husband has the front wall in place. MacKenzie, the gentle girl, is sniffing for deer beyond the rock wall.


And – with the front and back walls in place, the day came to an end. The afternoon light in my garden is lovely, in every season.



Here comes the roof! Braces installed, coffee cup perpetually in the foreground, and ladders at the ready.


Which is prettier: that deep blue Maine sky, or those roof panels?


Here come the windows. I confess I never dreamed my greenhouse would include windows that opened and closed on their own. Luxury! With two home businesses to run, and an enormous house to keep up, in addition to my two dogs, three kids, and large garden, having something take care of itself is…luxury.


The eastern window – opens!


As does the western window! Another good day comes to an end.



With the greenhouse completed, I spent a lot of time going in and out of the building, and smiling a LOT.


My beautiful greenhouse, in the setting sun. I have such plans for you!



One happy construction day ended with me photographing the setting sun through the corrugated walls. The wavy view makes it look like I’m a much better photographer than I actually am. Bonus!


Bonus #2: As soon as the walls were up, I moved a potted clematis indoors. The warmer climate inside encouraged the vine to bloom. I had my first blossom in the autumn! Double bonus!


And, a few weeks after the greenhouse was completed, Husband presented me with a birthday gift to go along with my Mother’s Day gift: A seed-starting table. Double decker, and a triple bonus!


I have ordered my seeds for the spring, and I am eagerly looking forward to starting them inside my greenhouse. I visit the greenhouse almost every day – shoveling through the drifts of snow to reach it, and I have always found the temperature warmer and the air moister than that outside. The dogs always accompany me in, and then look puzzled. “Why don’t we go back outside to play?” they seem to say. “There’s nothing here.”

I answer them, “That’s what you think. Just wait….”


“Who loves a garden loves a greenhouse too.”

– William Cowper, English poet, 1731-1800

Common Ground, 2014

“It’s an event like no other.” Agreed. It is a place where rural life is celebrated, and where three days aren’t nearly enough to see everything.

It’s a place where no one over 30 dyes their hair, and so salt & pepper are suddenly not just condiments. It is a place where people under 30 frequently do dye their hair, to colors not natural to man. Kool-Aid red, peacock blue, and eggplant purple are much more common than, say, blonde highlights.

It is a place where the livestock is often enormous, the food portions are generous, and no bottled water is sold. (Yes, they’re making a point.) The event is organized seamlessly, perfectly, thoughtfully – outside of Disneyland, I’ve never seen the like. Drinking stations where you can fill your own water bottle are plentiful, as are hand-washing stations, toilets, and parking spaces. All of these things combine to create an atmosphere of peace and calm. What more could anyone possibly want?

How about a quiet walk to the entrance, described by one sign-making wag as a “10 minute walk of wooded bliss”? It looked like this:


Then look over the program. There are approximately 150 presentations/demonstrations/talks given EACH DAY, over the course of three days. What are you interested in? Farming/Gardening? Livestock? Cooking/Herbs/Health? Environment/Community/Education? Traditional Arts/Fiber & Fleece?

Here are a few of the better titles from the categories above:

Weave Like It’s 1699
Basic Dowsing
Getting Your Goats
Old Tales of the Maine Woods
When the Horse Says, “I am not leaving”

You get the idea. With the exception of “Basic Dowsing”, the presentations I attended were a little more mainstream. Beekeeping, heritage apples, medicinal herbs, gardening for birds and wildlife. And as for the dowsing course, I may or may not write about it. I came home with two brass dowsing rods and a complete inability to explain what I experienced in that class. I am still unsettled.

Let me show you some of the wonders of the fair. Of course, there was the lovely 2014 poster, which highlighted medicinal herbs, all of which I have grown except for stinging nettle. I remedied that (ha) by buying some nettle tea.


There was the expected Exhibition Hall with proudly displayed vegetables and flowers from local farmers, including the “Judges’ Award” perfect leek:




There were incredible crafts, including swags of switchgrass, lovely baskets, and items made from felted wool, such as this whimsical mask:


And there were the animals:


Including piglets, with a generous offer to name the 6 mulefoot hog piglets. My suggestions added to the Name Jar? Tallulah and Walter.



There were the tents housing crafts, political agendas, and the offerings of companies large and small. One of my three favorite companies was there, the glorious Fedco:


There were the heritage apples on display, presented after attending a talk on heritage apples, and a discussion of how to find and offer scions (cuttings) of rare apple varieties:



And then, of course, there were the people. Every flavor and style imaginable. Here are a few photos. The first shows the tenacity of the fair-goers despite the rainy blustery weather on Sunday. Crowded into a tent, with only their legs in view. Their heads were, I am certain, deeply engaged in the presentation.


Then there was the total stranger who wore a t-shirt that I found so compelling that I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he’d mind if I took a photo of the back of his shirt. It said:


The front of his shirt said “Camp Wellstone”, as in the late Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota.

And finally, to end my day, this photo of what one fair-goer used as a bumper for his truck. Because, after all, why not do for yourself, take care of yourself, and be creative – if you can? Only in Maine.


I came home with three scarlet runner bean seeds (Jack never had magic beans like these), my dowsing rods, tea, presents, heaps of business cards and brochures, and a desire to research the background of Switchel – an old-fashioned haying drink that was offered at one booth. A concoction of water, vinegar, maple syrup, and ginger, it was as bright, delicious, and surprising as the fair itself.

I’m going back. I just wish I didn’t have to wait a whole year.

“If you’ve ever been to the Fair, you know — and if you haven’t been, anyone who has will tell you — it’s an event like no other, that brings together so many people from so many walks of life, all in the spirit of celebrating the rural and agricultural traditions of Maine.”

–from the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) home page, describing the Common Ground Country Fair

Oh, Maine, how do I love thee? Let me count the signs.

Most signs are practical, sturdy bits of information. We’re Open. We have an ATM machine. We will inspect your car. Other signs show the personality of the author, and pre-date social media. It used to be that wit was local. Now with Facebook and Twitter, and whatever new technology is lurking on tomorrow’s horizon, wit is shared with the universe. Most of it isn’t worthy. There are pearls out there, but they are few and far between. The tsunami of humor on social media makes me appreciate a good bit of signage even more.

I’ve kept a photo album for years of signs that were so funny I had to pull the car over and photograph them. It’s a good collection. “Lawless for District Attorney” (Cape Cod), “Used Furniture and Tropical Fish” (Martinsburg, WV), “No Parking Except for Bob” (Kent, CT), to name a few.

Maine is nothing if not funny. I appreciate this state so very much, because its humor is wry and witty. I’ve been pulling to the side of the road ever since we moved to Damariscotta, and I thought I’d share the collection, so far.

It’s clear: You are welcome here as long you mind your manners:


Three signs from a harbor-side restaurant, with instructions, cautions, and graphic red ink:




This sign is a menu at a wonderful pub, once again making the point that if your family hadn’t settled in by 1604, you’re “from away”:


Here’s one with a nod towards tourists’ expectations:


Here are two signs from the glorious Common Ground Festival, agricultural fair and source of Maine food, practical ideas, and wit:



A sign that truth is often charming:


Evidence that those only lucky enough to be in Maine during the summer, long for it all year:


Truth in Advertising — no promises made that cannot be kept, so don’t arrive too early:


And finally, three signs that tell you where you are. Sort of:


And my favorite for last. What I wouldn’t give to have this be my address:


I keep my camera with me at all time now. Maine is just that good.

“Wit is educated insolence.”


Worm Wrangling 101

How did you spend YOUR Sunday afternoon? I spent mine in a room with about 30 “children” (ages 5-85), one instructor, and hundreds of worms.

The worms (eisenia fetida, or “red wigglers” for the less lofty) have become my garden partners. I will feed them scraps from my kitchen, keep them warm and contained, and they will produce castings that will feed my plants. I think this is a very good deal.

I took a class on raising worms from F.A.R.M.S. – Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools. These folks offer classes in gardening, cooking, healthy living, and as if that weren’t enough, offer free movies about food and farming every Friday night. The age range of students in that classroom was astounding, and a testament to the interesting and important work they do. Check out their website: http://www.mefarms.org/

In addition to information about what they’re up to, the site includes recipes and an interesting blog.

This class is useful at any time of the year, but is particularly poignant when offered to Mainers at the end of a very long winter, when spring is still many weeks away. (Mainers know that the calendar is a cruel mistress. What she says is virtually never what you get. So, March 20th is labeled the first day of spring? It is to laugh.) But thanks to my worm wrangling class, I can actually start on my garden, even when I shouldn’t start my seedlings until mid-April and I shouldn’t set my seedlings out until Memorial Day. No matter. The worms and I have plans.

It begins with humble ingredients:
— a plastic bin with air holes on all sides (including the bottom),
— a lid for that plastic bin (to keep the worms in. Yes, apparently they will wander if allowed),
— shredded bedding made of paper, coconut fiber, or woods chips (anything that holds moisture and allows the worms to burrow)
— a little grit, water, and organic food
— worms!

Here are a few photos from my happy Sunday. I’ve known about vermicomposting (using worms to transform kitchen scraps into compost) for years, but this was my first hands-on experience. It was a lovely reason to get my hands dirty.

First up: Filling my bin with shredded paper. The instructor confessed that she had just shredded mountains of bills, and brought them to class. One of the benefits, I’m sure of having a class scheduled close to April 15th:


Next step: enough water to make the paper spongy but not wet. This was a delicate operation, and I confess I needed a rag to clean up the water that leaked out of the bottom of my bin. Yet another example of “More Enthusiasm Than Skill” (the name I’ve chosen for my autobiography, if I ever get around to writing it).


Worms need grit to help them grind up their food. We were offered cups of garden limestone to sprinkle over the bedding.


The instructor had brought in a large bin filled with worm castings and worms. We were given sieves to tap the castings into round balls that were then easily scooped into Baggies to save for our gardens. The worms were left exposed and were easily picked up and dropped into our bins.

The instructor’s large bin was also available to the class for additional wrangling. One young girl was so thrilled at being allowed to collect worms that she offered to get mine for me. Of course I said yes!


And this is what my hand-selected worms looked like in my newly made bin today:


My big compost bin is not yet set up in my garden, because I’m not sure where the beds will be laid out. And every time I’ve tossed coffee grounds and eggshells into the trash, I’ve cringed at the waste and lost potential. But now, thanks to my red wiggler pals, my kitchen scraps have a new home and a new purpose in life.

I think I’m gonna need a bigger bin.

“I used to say that one ton of worms could eat one ton of garbage. I was always thinking big like that. Then I found out that Seattle had distributed four thousand worm bins. I did some figuring and realized that worked out to ten tons of garbage going into worm bins. That’s when I realized—it’s happening!”

— Mary Appelhof, American biologist (1936-2005) — worm composting activist and author of “Worms Eat My Garbage”

This Endless Winter

It is always darkest before the dawn, and it is always leanest before spring. These are the hungry months, when the cold and dark aren’t brightened by holiday lights and high spirits. It’s a tough time of year for body and soul. And oh, this endless, relentless winter! The winter of 2014 has frozen our smiles and smothered our spirits with deep snowdrifts, ice, and storm after storm. Even in Maine, people are shaking their heads in disbelief.

After yet another long dog walk, struggling over ice-crusted, snow-covered fields, I came in once again blind from the glare, and feeling as barren and icy inside as the world was outside. I was so hungry. It was time to eat.

I appreciate how the whiteness of the world outside is offset by the deep vibrant colors of winter vegetables. Their deep oranges, reds, and greens announce their nutritional value. These are not the foods of warm sunny days, loaded with water and crunch. These are the foods that pack a wallop, that help a body burn energy brightly enough to carry it through a day of high physical stress. What would you choose to eat before shoveling a snow-swallowed driveway? A salad with a fresh peach? Maybe, if you were in a very optimistic mood – unlikely after 4 months of winter. A much better start would be a lunch of hot carrot soup topped with toasted almonds. And a slab (no limp, puny slice today!) of good bread, heavy with grains.

I trust Mother Nature, so I believe that eating what is available locally will give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs on that day, at that moment. Mother Nature offers me beets, not peaches, on a March afternoon in Maine. I’m going to listen to her.

Actually, I’m going to listen to Barbara Damrosch. Her latest book, “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook”, has a recipe that includes baked beets. Here, reprinted with her permission, is a part of that recipe: instructions for baking two medium-sized beets.

— Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
— Trim the beets so that just a bit of stem remains. You can leave the tails (the thin roots) on. Scrub the beets and let them dry. Do not peel them.
– Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and place them in a small casserole or ovenproof pot. Cover, and bake for 3 hours (4 hours if you are using large beets, 2 for small ones).
— Remove the beets from the casserole and unwrap the foil. Set them aside to cool for about 5 minutes. Then trim off the stems and tails, and peel off the skin.

The result: delicious baked beets to eat warm with butter, salt, and pepper, or perhaps coarsely chopped over a bowl of cooked grains. Beets are in season now, they are what your body needs, and they are delicious. Baking them preserves every single vitamin you will need to shovel that driveway!

I encourage you to buy her marvelous book – the perfect gift for a gardener that likes to cook – and visit her website: http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/


Nuts are another source of energy for these tenacious, frozen days. I love this recipe for Sweet and Spicy Almonds from chef Carroll Peregrinelli. They are the perfect appetizer to serve guests, the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of hot soup for lunch, the perfect snack to slip inside your mitten for those long walks with the dogs in the snowy woods.

Reprinted with Ms. Peregrinelli’s permission:

Sweet and Spicy Almonds

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Yield: Makes 2 Cups
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• —-
• 1 egg white
• 1 tablespoon water
• 10 ounces whole, skin-on, raw almonds
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line a sided baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside. In a large resealable plastic food storage bag, add first set of ingredients. Seal bag and shake. Set aside. Mix egg white and water in medium bowl. Add almonds. Stir. Drain almonds. Add drained almonds to resealable bag. Seal bag and shake. Spread almonds in single layer on prepared baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Reduce heat to 200 degrees. Stir almonds in pan and return to oven. Bake for an additional 30 minutes. Leave in pan to cool on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. May also be frozen.

Check out her website, http://baking.about.com/, for other wonderful recipes and tips.

Try the carrot soup recipe from “The Moosewood Cookbook” by Mollie Katzen. She offers, as always, variations to try. My favorite is to thin the soup with buttermilk, season it with thyme, marjoram, and basil, and top it with toasted almonds. Served steaming hot, this soup will comfort you and sustain you on a dark winter’s day. Its bright orange looks like a bowlful of sun.

“The New Vegetarian Epicure,” by Anna Thomas, touts the advantages of roasting vegetables.


Roasting vegetables is easy, requiring you to turn them only once or twice while they cook. Remember, you don’t need the watery, crunchy brightness of summer vegetables now. You need vegetables cooked down to their essence, with their texture slightly chewy, and the sugars caramelized within. Think about it: Are YOU watery, crunchy, and bright this March?! I’m guessing not – and I’m also guessing that those that love you would describe you as deeply sweet, perhaps even slightly chewy (in a good way, of course). Tossed with a bit of olive oil, a little salt, and then roasted, vegetables like parsnips, potatoes, and even green beans become the star of any meal. Would I begin my day with a boiled egg and some roasted vegetables? If that day were starting off at minus 19 degrees, the answer would be a robust Yes!

“The Silver Palate Cookbook,” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins has a knockout recipe for a beet and apple puree that, depending on the emotional stability of your guests, will cause either a sensation or complete panic. The beets are roasted, and the peeled apples are sautéed with onions. Puree the whole mess, and the result is a thick, fuchsia-colored puree that is delicious hot (or cold, but save that presentation for August). Paired with a roast at your winter table, it is the most unusual of side dishes, nutritious, and beautiful.

Eat well! Take every winter’s day as an opportunity to cook and eat something that makes you say “YUM.” Season everything with savory herbs. Serve everything very hot. If you’re busy looking forward to three deeply satisfying meals every day, spring will come before you know it. Time to wake up those napping dogs, and take a walk outside in the snow – you will beat back the Hungry Months, and leave the winter of 2014 where it belongs: in the distant past.

“I’ll make her a pudding, and a pudding she’ll like, too….Many a one has been comforted in their sorrow by seeing a good dish come upon the table.”

–Elizabeth Gaskell, British novelist (1810 – 1865 ), from her novel “Cranford”

A Faithful Reader asked for photos of my actual field illustrated in the sketch posted in my last entry. As you wish!

(Please note that you can click on these photos to bring up a larger image, where the detail is clearer.)

Here is another photo of the garden sketch, a little closer:


This shows the main flower garden, with three tiny circles marked with X’s, the shady area to the right, and the rock ledges in the back of the sketch. At the bottom right is the curved area at the front of the garden. I will match these areas with photos. The area to the left that is destined for sunflowers and herbs is not in any photos, because I only recently decided to plant this area as well. It is hard to exercise restraint when the subject is gardening.

First, this is the area that forms the flower garden. A rock wall in front, a large cleared field, and a rock wall in the back. The Plan calls for 9 flower beds to go here:


Next, the reality behind the three circled X’s: These are iron spikes anchored in rocks, that were part of the horse farm, once upon a time. This view looks back at our house, with the barn and the screened porch, and Gordon the Gentlemanly Mutt on patrol:


Finally, this is the shady area of the garden, where I plan to plant forget-me-not, bleeding heart, coral bells, astilbe, and other shade-tolerant plants. On the sketch, this area is to the right, under the poofy circles that represent trees:


I just ordered a “soiless” mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds to start my seedlings indoors, so the 2014 Gardening Season has started. I will photograph the Great Soil-Cube And Seed Planting event very soon.

I will be posting more detailed photos as the snow clears, and I get my hands dirty once again. Now that I know what the Plan is, I can better illustrate the steps and share the triumphs and defeats with you!

“In garden arrangement, as in all other kinds of decorative work, one has not only to acquire a knowledge of what to do, but also to gain some wisdom in perceiving what it is well to let alone.”

— Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist, garden designer (1843-1932)