summer reading list

Category : Art, Books, Farm, Nature, Plants
Date : July 5, 2018

Summer promises the great outdoors: time to explore new terrains or become more familiar with the world found on your doorstep.  As a primer to our summer exploration, we have been delving into ‘nature based’ reading.

on a colonial farm’s recommended summer reading list:

Carlos MagdalenaThe Plant Messiah:  Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species(New York:  Doubleday, 2017), pg. 6.

“I want to make the world aware of what plants do for us.  I want us to give plants a value and appreciate what they do. I want us to understand their importance for our survival and the survival of our families—our babies, grandparents, and future generations.  I want us to realize that without them we would die, and most living things on land in the air would die with us.  I want us to be enthused by the importance of conservation, to be fired with determination that we should never give up, even if there is only one plant left in the world.  I want us to understand the importance of plants so much that we are moved to do something about it.”

 

Diana Beresford-Kroeger, The Global Forest 40 Ways Trees Can Save Us, (New York:  Penguin Group, 2010), pg. 69.

“But art has a sister.  The sibling is science.  Art and science are of the same house, of the same family.  Art in all its forms opens the way for science, because art is the precursor to science in all things.  Art sounds the bell of change that leads to discovery, and science runs in to listen, to test, and to learn.  Art sometimes molds and other times reflects the thoughts of culture and then defines the tides of fashion.  Science follows in the wake of those tides and looks back at the great fetch of “why” to derive the question “how.”

“There is some time left. There is time for a different way of thinking in which man can rethread the needle and sew a life for the future. For if nature is destroyed, art will stand still and the creativity of science will follow suit. “

 

Tristan Gooley, The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, (New York:  The Experiment, 2010),  pg 3.

“Picking up one simple scent can take the mind on an extraordinary journey.  Sense and thought, observation and deduction, this two-step process is the key to transforming a walk from mind-numbing to synapse-tingling.  One cannot work without the other; the brain can build wondrous edifices in our mind but it requires the scaffold that our senses provide.”

 

 

Richard Powers, The Overstory, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018), pgs.  454-455.

‘ “Trees stand at the heart of ecology, and they must come to stand at the heart of human politics. Tagore said, Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven…..If we could see green, we’d see a thing that keeps getting more interesting the closer we get.  If we could see what green was doing, we’d never be lonely or bored.  If we could understand green, we’d learn how to grow all the food we need in layers three deep, on a third of the ground we need right now, with plants that protected one another from pests and stress. If we knew what green wanted, we wouldn’t have to chose between the Earth’s interests and ours.  They’d be the same.” ‘

 

Andrea Barnet,  Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall and Alice Waters Changed Our World(New York: Ecco, 2018), pg. 330.

“People ask how can I as one person can make a difference……But if we can start making considered choices in our everyday actions, the little things – what we buy, what we wear, if we think carefully about the consequences of these choices – how it was made, where did it come from, was it child slave labor, was it cruelty to animals, etc., then we can start making different choices. Small choices. But multiply these small choices by a hundred, a thousand, a million and then a billion and then you start to see a different kind of world.”  Jane Goodall.

 

I will be tucking wildflower, bird and trees guides into my bag this summer, along with newly handmade books to start mapping what I see, hear and smell around the farm.  Delving deeper into where I live and what lives around me, guided by the thought that all is connected, and that by our choices we can make a difference.

 

[Note:  Click on Author’s name for their website, including Carson, Jacobs, Goodall and Waters.]

 


“honey from a weed”

Category : Books, Farm, Kitchen, Nature
Date : January 15, 2018

“As Carl Wilkens wrote when we make something with our hands, it changes the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes the way we act.” (1)

To make something whole. What does that mean exactly? Does that mean to construct an object from start to finish, as one would carve a bowl from a burl? Or perhaps, to take a discarded or broken item and make it anew, to renew it? To find food, an entire meal, from items deemed ‘weeds’?

As a way to transition into this new year, I set my mind to reading and listening to works by writers and makers. Terry Tempest Williams has been reading me her book on the sacred lands of our National Parks, The Hour of the Land. Many artists have been telling me their ‘making history’ via the Make/Time podcast series. And Adam Federman revealed the life of Patience Gray to me in his new biography, Fasting and Feasting.

Patience Gray, author of the legendary cookbook Honey from a Weed, lived what one could term a spare life, for she and her partner Norman Mommens chose to live “…for more than thirty years in a remote corner of southern Italy–without electricity, modern plumbing, or telephone.” (2) Yet, their lives were rich for the food she gathered and cooked, and for the sculptures he carved from marble, and for the landscape in which they situated themselves.

Gray was quite concerned with the dangers of “consumerland” and wrote about integrating life and art together in her columns for the Observer. In her 1960 article, “Crafts from Obscurity,” she noted, “Can you be touched by the delicate pinks, mauves, magentas, poppy tones in woven hangings without first having seen rock roses, wild mallows, oleander, or cornfields ablaze with poppy, in a landscape of scrub and stone?…Once the outside world has broken in with its promise of Lambrettas and refrigerators and hire-purchase, the self-sufficiency of a village culture is finished.”(3)

What would Gray say to our ‘interconnected world’? Would she relish in the internet and one’s ability to glean information in an instant? It seems rather unlikely, especially as she alludes to these types of modern burdens in an interview on the BBC:

“Life has become burdensome, in a way, in its demands on people. And I can lead them to a bit of daydreaming, which is rather out of fashion now, isn’t it? You could say that I have sort of responded against the present time where I feel that nothing is sacred. It’s a counterpoint to that. Because things are sacred. That’s what I feel.” (4)

Gray wanted her readers to not only daydream but to gather food and sustenance for the mind and soul. “Living in the wild, it has often seemed that we are living on the margins of literacy. This led to reading the landscape and learning from people, that is to first hand experience.” (5)

Each year, I attempt to delve deeper into the landscape directly outside of our front door, not only by observing the seasonal differences, but by also using what is directly at hand for food, healing and dyeing. Over the next months, chapter by chapter, Patience Gray will be my guide to not only the realm of daydreaming, but to the logistics of making whole through our environs.

 

 

Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of the Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, (New York, Sarah Crichton Books, 2016), pg. 140 (1)

Adam Federman, Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray, (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017), Introduction(2), pg. 89 (3), pg. 304 (4.).

Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cycllades and Apulia, (New York: Harper and Row,1987), pg. 11. (5)

Note: Tune into the Make/Time podcast series.


in common

Category : Farm, Kitchen, Nature, Textiles
Date : July 31, 2017

Sometimes the most wildly different can be the most similar. What do the minimally elegant garments worn by Georgia O’Keeffe and the wildly exuberant clothes of the Counter Culture have in common? The clue may be found in the subtitle, “Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture.” Yes, the handmade. Both O’Keeffe and members of the Counter Culture movement used their hands to make their garments.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s hand sewn silk garments.

 

Recently I had the fortune of seeing Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum and Counter-Couture at the Museum of Art and Design. When one enters the first room of the O’Keeffe show, there are four white silk dresses, and upon examination, one may see the perfectly tiny, couture quality stitching. All made by O’Keeffe. Throughout her life, she continued to sew her own clothing. There is not much pattern found in the O’Keeffe clothing, mainly black and white and the occasional rainbow of color in her wrap dresses, yet the opposite rules for the counter-culture: pattern upon pattern, jubilant tie-dye, proliferating embroidered floral motifs, wildly textured crochet – vividly, abundantly they exploit the hand-sewn in their garments.

Garments on view in Counter-Couture

 

The Counter-Couture wall text states:

“The works on display reflect the ethos of a generation of makers and wearers who-against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement–rejected ideals of the American Dream, which they identified as rooted in consumerism and waste, social conformity in personal appearance and behavior, and a political establishment invested in maintaining the status quo. They embraced a vision of a new, homegrown civilization rooted in self-reliance, resistance to mass-market consumerism, an affirmative connection to nature, and forms of communal engagement to forge new relationships between self and Other.”

Step back. Look. Examine. And now ponder self-reliance.   In one of the exhibition videos, O’Keeffe talks about growing her own food and working hard to make a garden, so she would not have to undertake the long drive down the mountain to purchase food. We see her kneeling amidst the rows of food and picking lettuce, carefully placing it into a folded newspaper. Similarly, the Counter Culture was rooted in the Back-to-Land movement, growing their own food and living off the land, often residing in communes practicing “sustainable agriculture and permaculture, bartering, self-reliance and pacifism.”

Georgia O’Keeffe’s sewing kit

 

How did we go so wrongly awry from these self-reliant times in the 1960s and 1970s? Furthermore, how did we get so far from making and growing to boxes of sugar-laden cereals on the store shelves and cheap t-shirts bearing company logos made in sweat shops in other countries? More importantly, where can we go now for inspiration and guidance?

The newly formed Food and Fibers Project asks us to question where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and how we can better connect both fiber and food to the land. Their mission states, “There are so many intersections of food and fashion, from the soil that grows our food and fiber, to the plants we can both eat and dye textiles with, to the political acts of cooking our own food and mending our own clothes.”

Garments on view in Counter-Couture

 

Summer seems the ideal time to start on a new path, making ‘re-connections’ as Food and Fibers states. Shop at your local farmer’s market, filling your basket with greens and fruit for your next meal. Make a garment from organic cotton grown in the USA with a pattern from Alabama Chanin. Visit a sheep farm and purchase yarn to make a hat or pair of socks for cooler days to come. Fire up a dye pot from plants grown on the land and re-dye faded, stained clothes from your closet, rendering anew. Mend those blue jeans with the holes in the knees instead of purchasing a new pair.

Each and every time one contemplates a purchase, ask who made this, or where was it grown? The time to ponder and choose is now.

Quoted text from exhibition wall text of Counter-Couture Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, Museum of Art and Design. On view until August 20, 2017.

 


summertime, and the living is easy….

Category : Colonial, Farm
Date : June 29, 2016

Summer arrived early on the farm this year, with temperatures well into the nineties in late May and early June, and at this point we are at least 5 inches below normal rainfall. The heat and dryness make gardening a challenge. Mulch to the rescue! Not only does it tidy up the vegetable beds and keep weeds at bay, but the mulch saves us from watering so frequently and keeps the water in the soil for a longer time. More energy efficient all the way around.

We grow onions and garlic to store and eat over the winter months. Our other crops include beans, tomatoes, peas, lettuces, greens, squash, melons, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, rhubarb and asparagus, and many herbs for seasoning and healing. We also subscribe to a CSA, our beloved Indian Line Farm, but this year the farmer is on sabbatical, so I feel more pressure than usual to have good harvests. Some varmint or fowl ate my early peas, and thus we had none. Each morning, I venture out to the garden, with my fingers crossed that noting happened overnight and to check on progress. So far, we are harvesting lettuce, greens and herbs whilst awaiting the first tomatoes, peppers and beans.

During colonial days, the kitchen garden was always under the work domain of the woman. Men worked the larger fields with corn, grains and other crops, but women often toiled there too as additional labor was needed. What happened if rain caused your crops to rot; if bugs ate all of your greens and beans; or, if lack of rain caused the garden to wither and die? There was the possibility of trading with a neighbor, but if times were lean for all, then the family would have done without.

Chores abounded for all on the colonial homestead.

Ruth Belknap sums up her 1782 day in Dover, New Hampshire in this delightfully rhyming poem.

Up in the morning I must rise
Before I've time to rub my eyes.
With half-pin'd gown, unbuckled shoe,
I haste to milk my lowing cow.
But, Oh! It makes my heart to ake,
I have no bread till I can bake,
And then, alas! it makes me sputter,
For I must churn or have no butter.
The hogs with swill too I must serve;
For hogs must eat or men will starve.
Besides, my spouse can get no cloaths
Unless I much offend my nose.
For all that try it know it's true
There is no smell like colouring blue.
Then round the parish I must ride
And make enquiry far and wide
To find some girl that is a spinner,
Then hurry home to get my dinner.
All summer long I toil & sweat,
Blister my hands, and scold & fret.
And when the summer's work is o'er,
New toils arise from Autumn's store
Corn must be husk'd, and pork be kill'd,
The house with all confusion fill'd.
O could you see the grand display
Upon our annual butchering day,--
See me look like ten thousand sluts,
My kitchen spread with grease & guts,--
You'd lift your hands surpris'd, & swear
That Mother Trisket's self were there.

Ye starch'd up folks that live in town,
That lounge upon your beds till noon,
That never tire yourselves with work,
Unless with handling knife & fork,
Come, see the sweets of country life,
Display's in Parson B[elknap's] wife.

“Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives. Documents in Early American History,” edited by Carol Berkinand Leslie Horowitz, (Northwestern University Press, 1998), pgs. 93-97, 112-3.

Note: Tim Carman’s recent article in the Washington Post, “For some growers, farmer’s markets just aren’t what they used to be,” reveals some the issues farmer’s face at these markets. Go and buy from your local farmers at your weekly market.

Note: This Friday July 1, b(RE)ce garments [my repurposed eco dyed garments] will be on sale at the Sheffield Farmer’s Market along with local produce, plants, meats, cordials and other treats. Stop by and see us in our green 1965 VW Transporter Van. The SFM is located in the Old Parish Church parking lot, just off of Route 7 in ye olde town center. (Sheffield was incorporated in 1733).


earning and learning

Category : Farm
Date : March 21, 2016

Growing up, a jar of sourwood honey was a permanent fixture on our kitchen table. Maple syrup and sugar was exotic to us, and a rare, relished treat.

Since moving to the colonial farm, we observe maple sap lines that snake through woods, and galvanized buckets that gleam in the sun. This year, the maple harvest began earlier than usual, as reported by Paul Post in The New York Times. Maple farmers are hoping that the required conditions – warm days and cold nights – will continue, enabling them to harvest prior to the trees budding out. If the weather becomes consistently warm, the sap will stop running.

IMG_6544Each year, I ponder harvesting from our sugar bush and wonder if we are wasting nature’s sweet sap. So, when I saw Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Maple Sugar Book on the second-hand shelf, I snapped it up. The Nearings moved to the Green Mountains in Vermont and sought to make “an honest living”, and found that sugaring was the answer. Their wisely written book walks one through practical advice: how and when to harvest; methods of making syrup; and a business and marketing plan, right down to packaging and the dollars and cents of the enterprise.

In the final chapters, they elucidate a plan for living off the land in a mindful manner, and conclude with the following:

We have earned from maple and found a means of livelihood. We have also learned from maple. The occupation of sugaring has been a thorough-going education and broadened our contacts with life in its many aspects. The young Thoreau in his Journal wrote, “Had a dispute with father about the use of my making this sugar…He said it took me from my studies. I said I made it my study and felt as if I had been to a university.” A complete syrup and sugar maker comprises in himself a woodcutter, a forester, a botanist, an ecologist, a meteorologist, an agronomist, a chemist, a cook, an economist, and a merchant. Sugaring is an art, an education, and a maintenance. “May it long be the mission of the maple thus to sweeten the cup of life.”

Last year when maple buckets were advertised for sale in our local “Shopper’s Guide,” I did not call about them. Now, I am on the look out, knowing that there are many lessons to be learned.

Paul Post, “Maple Syrup Makers in New York Savor Aftertaste of a Mild Winter”, The New York Times, published on February 21, 2016 and accessed on March 2, 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/nyregion/maple-syrup-makers-in-new-york-savor-aftertaste-of-a-mild-winter.html

Helen and Scott Nearing, The Maple Sugar Book, Together with Remarks on Pioneering as a Way of Living in the Twentieth Century, (Schocken Books, New York, 1971), pgs. Xii, 246.

Note: for more information on Helen and Scott Nearing visit their Forest Farm in Harborside, Maine, http://goodlife.org


harnessing & harvesting

Category : Farm
Date : February 15, 2016

A few year’s back, M built us a hoop house for winter greens, using Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest as a general guide. With luck, this cold snap will not harm the lettuces, kales and other greens happily growing under the winter sun. Every time I open the hoop house door and step inside, the accumulated heat amazes me. Harnessing and harvesting seem to be two homesteader goals.

IMG_3688

Harvesting has already begun in West Yorkshire, UK for their annual Rhubarb Triangle Festival. Yes, I did say harvesting, dear reader. Rhubarb is grown in large darkened sheds, with

“…the only light [coming] from a couple of candles on sticks stuck casually between row upon row of vibrant red stalks fanning around us like a silent, motionless army. Despite appearances, it is actually growing so fast—an inch a day or more—that it’s apparently possible to hear the buds burst open with an audible pop.”

reports Julia Horton in the Financial Times.

IMG_3691

For two years the crops grow outside soaking up the glories of the sun in the form of carbohydrates. Then, the rhubarb is moved to the large heated sheds for winter harvest (this is done by candlelight to avoid any further photosynthesis). Farmers found that ‘forced’ rhubarb was much sweeter. According to Horton, at one point there were as many as 200 farmers sending out the sweet fruit to London via train on the “Rhubarb Express.”

Wouldn’t a pie made from one’s freshly harvested rhubarb taste divine on this winter’s day? I can only imagine and pine after a darkened shed for its growth. I’ll put that on M’s to-do list…

Notes:

Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb in Wakefield, Yorkshire from February 19-21, 2016.

Martin Parr exhibition, “The Rhubarb Triangle and Other Stores: Photographs” is currently on view at The Hepworth Wakefield until 12 June 2016.

Julia Horton, “Postcard from…Yorkshire,” FT Weekend, February 13-14, 2016, Life and Arts Section, pg. 6.


end of the year appeal

Category : Farm
Date : December 16, 2015

On the farm, we are busy pouring over catalogs of trees, seeds and weeds. Yes, that is correct: we are looking at weeds, on the advice of our beloved Fedco Seeds. In their 2016 Tree catalog, they are highlighting weeds and invite us to regard them through a different lens. After all, what is wrong with a yard dotted with dandelions for foraging honeybees? Or a meadow transformed by the tall spears of milkweed awaiting the monarch butterfly?  Perhaps you will want to enjoy some steamed nettles, rich in minerals, early in the spring?

IMG_4510

Of course, there are invasive weeds that we all contend with and seek to obliterate. On page 32 of the catalog, these ten plants (Asiatic Bittersweet, Autumn Olive, Bindweed, Galinsoga, Goutweed, Japanese Knotweed, Mulitflora Rose, Poison Ivy, Purple Loosestrife and Tartarian Honeysuckle) are identified with possible solutions to contain them.  “Mow and cut 3-6 times per season for 3-5 years to help slow down” is their recommendation for eliminating Multiflora Rose.

We intend to try out their “Orchard Companion” concept this spring, outlined on page 33. At the moment, our fruit trees are surrounded by grass, which necessitates mowing on a regular (though certainly not weekly) basis. Companion plants are not only beautiful to gaze upon, but beneficial to the trees and the environment, and they reduce our mowing requirements.

In their ‘Welcome Essay”,  John Bunker & Susan Kiralis make this appeal:

“We invite you to join us in seeing the world of weeds a little bit differently. The landscape need not be treated as a blank canvas for us to fill. Rather it can be a rich diverse weedy world we plunge into and join forces with. Collaboration and compromise are words we don’t hear so much anymore. The orchard and yard are great places to experiment with both.”

We link our arms with Fedco Seeds and appeal to homeowners, park officials, city planners, farmers, urban gardeners and anyone that digs in the dirt: let your beneficial weeds prosper in 2016.

For further reading, two newly published books are perfect for your wish list:

Hidden Natural Histories, Herbs The Secret Properties of 150 Plants by Kim Hurst (The University of Chicago Press, 2015). Information on many so-called weeds are within the covers of this book.

Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America, Third Edition by Steven Foster and James A. Duke (Houghton Miffilin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014). A nice sized paper back to easily slip into your pocket as you forage.


preserved

Category : Farm
Date : September 22, 2015

If you stop by the farm, most likely you will find us at the stove stirring big vats of plums or apples for jam and sauce. Our fruit trees are laden this year, and like all good homesteaders, we cannot let this bounty go to waste.

IMG_4091

Both my grandmother and mother preserved food both by canning and freezing. Eating the summer crops in the deep mid-winter was not only a pleasure but a necessity. When we moved from the suburbs to the tiny town of Delaplane in 1972, the back to the land movement was well under way. Ironically, as an adult, I never thought to ask my Dad if he was a follower of the Nearings or a reader of the Whole Earth Catalog. He did want us to learn how to work and to know the effort of labor related to the land.

Before we actually took possession of the house that June, he negotiated with the owner for us to re-claim the garden during the spring months. On Saturdays, as my suburb friends played, we loaded up the station wagon with tools and lunch and drove the hour and a half drive from Alexandria out to the farm nestled in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Eventually, seeds were planted and by the time we moved there in June, the garden was well underway.

During the summer months, we learned new chores—watering, weeding and finally harvesting. If I thought weeding was tedious in the hot southern sun, I certainly was not prepared for the hours spent picking produce and preparing it for canning jars. Standing over the work sink in the windowless basement seemed interminable. Then and there I swore never to have a garden. Ironically, one of the first items on our to-do list when we moved here was to establish a garden. Walking to the garden to gather sun-ripened tomatoes along with fistfuls of basil is one of life’s true pleasures. Preserving these crops is the next logical step; if not, we would squander the delicious food and waste the human effort put into growing them.

On the colonial farm, food preservation meant survival. Andrea Jones, Director of Programs and Visitor Experience at Accokeek Foundation, states that Americans living in the colonial era wouldn’t have wasted their food. “The Boltons would have valued every morsel of food, because it’s survival,” said Jones, who has seen food waste in this country increase by 50 percent in her lifetime. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how recent a problem it is.” ’

The Boltons, as historical interpreters, live on The Colonial Farm situated on the banks of the Potomac River on the grounds of the Accokeek Foundation. Visiting the Farm and Foundation is a perfect example of looking back to look forward, for one experiences the hardscrabble life of the farm family as well as the forward thinking of their Ecosystem Farm. This Saturday is a great day to visit The Colonial Farm and attend the Food for Thought Festival from noon to 5pm. The afternoon is filled with panels, demonstrations and information. Here is the link: http://accokeekfoundation.org/event/food-for-thought/

Andrea Jones comments from the article by Whitney Pipkin, “How will you make it through the winter?,” Bay Journal. Accessed on 9/22/15, http://www.bayjournal.com/article/how_will_you_make_it_through_the_winter.

 


by the week

Category : Farm
Date : July 31, 2015

Last week, we harvested the bulbous bulbs of garlic in our garden, and now they are laid out on old window screens to dry before cleaning and storing. Planting garlic in the fall is one of the easiest chores—each clove is put into its own 6-inch hole and, covered, and there they sit all winter long. The shoot emerges in the spring, the scape is harvested and made into pesto, and the bulb continues to grow. Finally, around the last week of July, (give or take a week), each bulb is coaxed gently from the earth.

Week by week the garden yields new treasures from the first peas, to asparagus and then to strawberries, and ramps up as the summer proceeds. Just as one harvests, one must tend the garden as well. Leaving the ground alone for too long provides an opportunity for weeds to settle in, thus depleting the soil, and causing extra work for the gardener. As you know, dear reader, I adore weeds, but not so much in the vegetable patch.

Around the Year in the Garden by Frederick Frye Rockwell (1884-1976) provides one with weekly guidance. “July: Fifth Week” is right on target with sage advice:

“As fast as a strip of ground is cleared, even if it is a but a single row, it should be sown to a cover crop to be spaded under next spring. Besides adding humus and making conditions favorable to the development of bacteria, there are several advantages in having a growing crop on the ground throughout the winter. Such a crop forages the lower layers of the soil for food that most of the vegetable plants cannot reach, and brings it to the surface; it captures remnants of plant food that would leach away during the winter, and holds them in storage until they are required again next summer.”

IMG_5281

He recommends both rye and vetch as green manures, as well as Essex rape and buckwheat.

“If bees are kept, or there are chickens to be fed, a small patch of buckwheat should be put in. For the honey bees, a few rows through the garden will answer. For mature grain it should be sown at once; for a winter mulch, sown with crimson clover, or for spading under this fall, it may be sown at any time during the next two or three weeks.”

Indeed, the rye seeds are in the ground along with a few rows of buckwheat for any foraging bees. Added to the chore list for the first week of August–order fall bulbs, both garlic and flowers, from Fedco.

Frederick Frye Rockwell, Around the Year in the Garden, (MacMillan Company, 1917), pgs. 189, 191.


new day, new year

Category : Farm
Date : January 2, 2015

Happy new day and year to all.

First a thank you to you, dear Reader for journeying along with me this year–I so appreciate your comments and feedback.

Time to sharpen one’s pencils, wipe the slate clean, sweep out the old and begin afresh on the first day of this new year.

Furthermore, make those resolutions and to-do lists. Superstition keeps me from revealing my resolutions, but I don’t mind sharing a few of the items on my to-do list.

——Start an embroidery sampler. Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches will be my guide. As she states, “Stitches are the “scales and exercises” of embroidery and a good working knowledge of these is the first essential foundation of the art.”

——Enhance the fodder for the bees and continue with our efforts to ensure that we have plants for them throughout the entire growing season. First off, plant a few witch hazel bushes.

——Plant a dye garden with woad, indigo, coreopsis, marigold, St. John’s Wort, just to name a few. Time to place that Fedco order.

——Conquer the indigo pot and fully understand the correlation between pH, temperature and fabric. Thankfully, I will use the pH chart and information from Gosta Sandberg, Indigo Textiles Technique and History (Lark Books, 1999), pp.126-127.

——Learn to make ink from natural materials, as well as make a quill pen and learn how to write with it. Search for a recipe for the ancient Oak-Gall ink.

——Venture forth to the research library in Pittsfield; locate and examine the probate records of the residents of our house.

IMG_2191

First on my list, though, is to dye the book covers and subsequently bind the books for my collaboration with the poet Dara Mandle and the non-profit Norte Maar. Tobacco Hour will be published in the Spring.

Time to stoke up the dye pot and get started.

All the best to you in 2015, dear Reader.

Mary Thomas, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches, (William Morrow, 1935), preface.

 


illuminations

Category : Farm
Date : December 5, 2014

Last week, snow fell as forecast. A heavy wet whiteness outlined every branch and covered every surface. Trees laden with dense snow could not bear the load, and fractured limbs blocked roadways and downed power lines. We experienced a power ‘interruption’, as our utility termed it, for 36 hours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Luckily dinner was on the table when the lights went out. The candles illuminated our plates (heaped with warm, soothing polenta and greens), but not much beyond that. Looking outside, I could no longer see the neighbor’s lights far in the distance. Our world was quickly shrouded in darkness.

Over the next day and a half, there was time to contemplate and consider, as we inhabited a world without electricity and modern conveniences and connections it affords. No heat or running water; these two became the most missed and needed. No stereo nor internet; while it was refreshing to step away from instant access, the quiet became more accentuated and appreciated. Our old-fashioned rotary phone, stationary at that, plugged in; no more walking and talking or otherwise multi-tasking.

Being inside a true colonial home, these hours allowed me time to contemplate the following:

Weather forecasting—What range of natural signs did our early inhabitants rely upon? Thickening clouds, changes in wind direction and speed, the moistening of air, the up-turning of leaves, or changes in the feel of one’s body? No NOAA weather advisories to harken a blizzard. Almanacs would serve as a reference, as well as handwritten daily weather diaries kept in some households.

Time telling—Perhaps they could not afford a clock, but the sun’s position relative to the western mountain range provided a constant reference–a large sundial, if you will. Furthermore, if they had a flock of chickens, the light sensitive rooster heralds the coming of dawn and gathers his hens in the coop at dusk.

Water—Where was the water source in relation to the keeping room? And how did they stop it from freezing? How much water did they take in knowing a storm was imminent, and how did they decide the duration in which they might not be able to access the water before conditions improved?

 Entertainments—Quiet descended on us, both outside and inside. M’s returning from feeding the chickens was announced by his beautiful whistling underscoring the stillness. No wonder Laura Ingall’s family rejoiced when Pa brought out his fiddle, breaking the silence and bringing in felicity. I wonder about what other entertainments they may have engaged in.

Chores—-All outdoor work was done in a timely manner and at the right hour of the day. One would take advantage of the natural light, for when darkness arrives without flashlights and headlamps, it would be onerous, if not impossible, to work. No wonder the harvest moon was so appreciated, not only allowing extra time and more illumination.

Light sourcingCandles and a few flashlights became more treasured on the second night of the ‘interruption.’ At first, I could barely discern what was in the bottom of the pot on the stove. Soon I grew accustomed to the dimness, and realized how hard it was to read, sew, knit, whittle, write or sew or do anything at night.

IMG_2028

I attempt to envisage what it was like to inhabit this house over 200 years ago, and being without power for an extended but certainly endurable period allowed me a glimpse into the quiet, strenuous past. It is often difficult to step out of the modern and try to feel and see days of yore. Visiting historic sites and reading well-written biographies or first hand accounts and history books gives one another peek into a past world, as often does a transporting film; one may be brought closer to this past, however, when one “loses” our modern conveniences, whether by choice or by circumstances.

NOTE: The harsh realities depicted in the new movie “The Homesman” offer a glimpse of unrelenting Nature and human striving. We are with Mary Bee Cutter, the heroine of the film, and her moral and physical dilemmas of the 19th century American prairie.


seasonal

Category : Farm
Date : November 5, 2014

Our beloved CSA comes to an end this week, at least for this season. Since June, we have made weekly pilgrimages to Indian Line Farm, which is situated in a verdant valley below the Taconic Mountain range. Once your feet hit the earth here, and you look up at the mountains, stress seems to wash away and your mouth begins to water as you glance at the current week’s offerings. Most of the produce is picked and ready for us, but we also go out into the field to pick green beans, cherry tomatoes and husk cherries, as well as stunning bouquets of flowers. At the farm, and then when we sit down at our dining room table, we give thanks to Elizabeth and her crew for their efforts.

Our summer subscription starts off with many delightful greens, and we eagerly await the almost ripe tomatoes grown in the long tunneled hoop house. We mark the season with the farm, embracing zucchinis and eggplants, and now we appreciate root vegetables and hardier greens.

Eating seasonal food in the season it is produced is nothing new, for prior to modern methods of canning and freezing, one either ate food directly from the garden or from the stored vegetables in the root cellar. Though one can purchase Asparagus officinalis and Fragaria x ananassa at the grocery and consume these all year along, we instead cherish the long fresh spikes of asparagus in May and the plump red strawberries in June.

my collection of Ambrose Heath books

my collection of Ambrose Heath books

Persephone Books has just published Ambrose Heath’s The Country Life Cookery Book with illustrations by Eric Ravilious. Heath (1891-1969), a much renowned British journalist, wrote over 70 cookbooks as well as countless newspaper columns on food. In his preface to this new edtion, Simon Hopkinson notes:

“Seasonal is simply how it was. Those of my grandparents’ generation, as well as that of Mr. Heath, knew nothing else other than, say, the purchase of a pound of leeks from the greengrocer in winter; followed by no leeks at all, all summer long……seasonal cookery writing is all the rage, now, but this was not always so. “

Already we look forward to next year’s progression of vegetables with Indian Line Farm, and for now, we will turn to our hoop house for winter greens and lettuces. Now on our trips to the grocers, I try hard not to eat out of season.

 The Persephone Biannually, No 16 Autumn/Winter 2014-15, pg.4

NOTE: Persephone Books publishes “reprints of neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers.” Each of their 110 books is a delight to hold in your hand with its elegant “dove-grey jacket, fabric endpaper” and matching bookmark. I adore those bookmarks and cherish them. If you are in London, a visit to their store at 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street is a must.

 


Website by Roundhex. Adapted from Workality Plus by Northeme. Powered by WordPress
@