Homestead Report 34: January 9, 2019

Kindest greetings, friends, neighbors, family, and followers!

I thought I’d call in the new year by reviewing my photos from the second half of last year and setting a few goals for 2019. Doing so just helped me remember that the world is very colorful compared to what I am currently accustomed to seeing. It is funny how that surprises me every winter.

The late summer and fall is a time of great abundance. The garden seemed to burst at the seams.

I spent a lot of time this late summer preserving food. Now we have a full freezer, a full pantry, a full list, and a full belly. I’m not a fan of the green tomato salsa, but the tomato-peach salsa is amazing, the regular tomato is pretty good, and so is the tomatillo. We have enough tomato sauce and salsa to make it to next July or August when there will hopefully be tomatoes again. We have too many jars of sweet-hot pickled peppers (my five Hungarian Hot Wax pepper plants outdid themselves, unlike the neighboring bell peppers).  We’re in good shape for pickles, jams, applesauce, peaches, and grape juice. Low on dilly beans, since the rabbits ate practically all the bean plants to the ground while we were in Canada.

In wildlife news, we had the great misfortune of a weasel finding our chicken coop just before the holidays. To make matters worse, it was while we were travelling, so our next-door neighbors had to deal with most of the carnage. However, we have the great good fortune of having of many fantastic neighbors, so we called on another to rescue our remaining hens by taking the girls down the mountain to their coop. Upon our return, we discovered a little weasel nest in a hidden corner of our coop, with lots of scat and a round weasel-sized impression on top of a mouse nest. Needless to say, we have shored up all the holes in the coop (adding rocks and concrete at ground level and hardware cloth around the eaves). An attempt to trap the beast has so far yielded two red-backed voles and an eastern cottontail, which we released. The hens are home and safe, but we have not yet dared to let them into their run. Instead, we’ve been taking them on escorted walks to scratch in the gardens. 

Way before being preoccupied with weasels, we enjoyed a robin nesting on our porch in June. Turkeys walked through the yard in August. A squirrel played in the chicken run in September.

A friendly porcupine hangs out in the yard regularly, mumbling under Charley’s window and munching branches. It seems to enjoy hemlock and elm especially. I’ve been trying to decide if our place needs a name for several years now, especially when I go to the farmer’s market. I’m beginning to think that the porcupine deserves to be featured. Perhaps “Contented Porcupine Farm” or “Mumbling Porcupine Farm”. Maybe one of you has a better idea. Do share.

Aside from wildlife visitors, we have had some human house guests, including my parents, my sister, my friend Patricia, and a whole lovely boisterous houseful of families making music and eating just before the new year. Plus, Charley and I took our annual birthday trip to the cranberry bogs. And as always, the weather was glorious.

And now for the goals:

Garden goals: cover, protect, support. I’m no fan of border walls, but in the garden, good fences do make good neighbors. I like admiring the wildlife without being angry that the rabbits destroyed my bean crop. Solid fences and row covers will be my friends this year. And I really need to give those grapes a trellis.

Life goals: Value my time by setting boundaries in volunteerism. Notice the abundance. Verbalize the gratitude. Expand the joy.

Travel Log: Michigan and Canada for fun and research

Charley and I just returned home from a two-and-a-half week long trip to Michigan and Canada in which we visited family and friends, looked for leaf mines (of course), and attended the Lepidopterists’ Society annual meeting in Ottawa. The meeting was the impetus for the trip and Michigan was “on the way.”

Our first stop was to visit our friend Eric LoPresti (who encouraged us to go to California last year, as I detailed here). Just a few miles east of East Lansing, he took us to a nice riverside park with abundant leaf mines, and veritable flocks of lovely Ebony Jewelwing damselflies.

On a tight schedule, we continued west to meet up with my parents at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area campground–a place my family used to vacation when I was in elementary school, but we hadn’t returned to since. Mosquitoes were abundant, but there was a nice breeze from the lake, interesting hikes into the Nordhouse dunes, and opportunity for refreshing swims in Lake Michigan.

After two days of hiking, swimming, cooking, and visiting, my parents had to drive home and Charley and I headed to Ludington to meet up with Charley’s mom, sister, neice, nephew, aunt and uncle. We enjoyed sailing with them aboard the Tiny Island, and kayaking with the kids. Cordelia even spotted a bryozoan colony in the lake, and we all got to take a look (sadly, no photo, but it looked like Pectinatella magnifica, pictured here).  Perhaps my favorite activity was building sandcastles with the kids.

Before the 4th of July, Charley and I left for the calm of the upper peninsula. First stop, dispersed camping at East Lake (well, after checking out some cool limestone “sea stacks” and buying very affordable wild rice).

Not our favorite camping for a variety of reasons including large numbers of biting flies, fishermen who hung out quite near our campsite, etc… BUT, we found nepticulid (tiny moth) leaf mines on a bulrush that were of great interest.

We did some sightseeing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, enjoying the scenery, flowers, waterfalls, and I even took a numbing plunge into icy Lake Superior to escape the stable flies.

Heading north into Ontario, we began to experience biting flies in earnest! I resorted to wearing a headnet for moments of reprieve. The moth enthusiasts pictured below were impressively intrepid as we ventured into Algonquin Provincial Park.

The final portion of our trip was several days attending the Lepidopterists’ Society annual meeting. This was our first, and it was fascinating. Talks ranged from phylogenies of various moth groups, to caterpillar communication, to using CRISPR to alter butterfly wing patterns, to gynandromorphs (individuals with both male and female gonads and coloration), to butterfly surveys and conservation, to… you guessed it, leaf mines!

Arriving home, we discovered healthy, happy chickens (many thanks to neighbors who cared for them), a garden that looks like a jungle ravaged by rabbits, and a sad mulberry tree that a bear ripped in half to get at the berries.

I’ll leave you with these cool insects from Parc des Rapides-Deschênes, Quebec: a mayfly and a caddisfly.

Homestead Report 33: May 21, 2018

What a difference a month makes! Now flowers and leafy trees abound. I’ve been so busy the last two weeks that I forgot to take any pictures. Therefore, the photos here are all from the first week of April or earlier.

On April 28, Charley and I took a little hike to a waterfall on Mount Toby. I was loving the Trailing arbutus (or mayflower, the Massachusetts state flower), and seeing the first trillium and hepatica of the season.

Closer to home, on May 1 we checked out our local beaver pond and discovered heaps of snow fleas congregating on stumps of beaver-cut trees. These were covered with sap coming up from the roots of the trees. I’m not sure what the snow fleas were up to, but they were on multiple stumps, and it seemed like perhaps they were attracted to the moisture.

In early spring I just can’t get enough of the spring ephemeral wildflowers.  We’ve planted a bunch on the east side of our house, where they seem to be thriving–and spreading. Now, May 21, the phlox, dwarf ginseng, and waterleaf are also blooming.

We’ve been delighted that our plum trees really went to town blooming this spring for the first time. Now, fingers crossed that we might actually get to eat a plum… And we should, since a huge variety of native bees, wasps and flies were busily visiting the flowers every time I put my head anywhere near the tree.

Since we are no longer using fire wood, it seemed like a good time to get some more. Our neighbor delivered 3 cords of wood, backing up across our crazy yard without even squashing one flower, and when Charley asked if he could dump it “as close to the shed as possible, without crushing this daffodil” that is exactly what we got. Thanks, Northwoods Forest Products! Now we just have to finish stacking it…

We’ve also been enjoying the garden a lot. This time of year is all about salads and asparagus and rhubarb.

This morning I noticed that our first strawberry is starting to turn red (in the hoop house); the rest are blooming.  On May 18, I spent all day planting things– tomatoes, broccoli, onions (I know, it’s late for onions), leeks, beans. I’m experimenting with leaving more “weeds” and trying hard not to agitate the soil as I plant. Despite all I’ve been learning about soil microbes and what they need to be healthy, it’s still really difficult to train myself not to want to “prepare” a bed like I grew up doing. Charley mowed some of the meadowy parts of our yard that haven’t been mowed for a year, and I used the grass as mulch around my new seedlings. At this point, most bugs that were overwintering in dead stems should have emerged, so it seems an okay time to mow.

Most of our violets are purple, or white, or white with a few purple streaks coming out of the center. But these are speckled! They’re in the the “blueberry barrens” area up by the hedge.

Homestead Report 32: April 20, 2018

What a tough month! I’m overwhelmed at every level. When I watch the news, the deep dishonestly, corruption, and incompetence at the national level blows me away. At a local level, I find that my role on the selectboard is leaving me feeling drained. And then there is the fact that it keeps on snowing! I finally planted peas anyway (April 18, in the warm sunshine).


Lower garden with pea trellis yesterday morning.

I am normally anxious to start planting seeds in early March, but this year it just seemed too early. Finally I got some seeds in pots on April 7… the bulk of the tomatoes, peppers, and flowers. They just sat there in the cold for a week and half until I stuck the flats under the woodstove; now they are starting to sprout, since we’re still having regular fires.  I had started a few tomatoes and broccoli to test seed about a month earlier, and they’re under grow lights now.

The flowering orchids have brought me joy, and about a week ago a begonia that my mom gave us started blooming too.

Outside, crocus! Every year I am so grateful for these first cheery little guys. So brave.

And the spring beauties are up (I’ve seen a few blooms elsewhere, but the ones in our yard are feeling shy). Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is blooming, as are the female flowers of our cultivated hazelnuts. The male catkins still haven’t released pollen, so we’re hoping the female flowers can hang on for a while longer in order to make nuts.

Winter wonderland? April 19.


Homestead Report 31: March 20, 2018

Today might be the first day of spring, but we still have about a foot of snow on the ground with the possibility of more to come tomorrow.

Yesterday we took a walk down to the old quarry to visit the local porcupine neighborhood and see who else was ambling around in the past week.

Turns out, in addition to porcupines steadily walking on well-beaten paths, a bobcat bounded around the quarry, daintily made its way across the snow crust, toes splayed wide like snowshoes, and meandered through the blackberry thickets in our woods.

And for a real treat, we found otter slide tracks around the edge of the beaver pond, complete with scat made of fish scales.

In garden news, not much is happening. We have lettuce and spinach growing under lights inside. In the hoop house, the voles happily ate all of the greens and even some of the tops of the leeks. Some chickweed is coming in… hopefully they don’t devour it all too!

The houseplants are feeling the longer days though.

Homestead Report 30: Feb 4, 2018

It was all going so nicely until it started raining tonight! Will tomorrow reveal ice-coated twigs, or slush?

We’ve barely gotten outside, but sometimes the cold just helps us be productive; Charley is working on his leafminer book (and you, too, could become a patron and obtain a copy of the first edition). Meanwhile, I have been identifying arthropods that fell in pitfall traps. And… we both took a trip to New York to learn how to dissect moth genitalia. Fascinating! Difficult. And essential for describing new species.

So, as soon as we get a new microscope and practice a whole lot more, we’ll be in business!

Okay, now on to the yard: There are greens in the hoophouse. Not a lot, but I imagine in a few weeks we might have enough to pick a salad.

There have been tons of turkeys in the yard. Here are some tracks where they’ve made canyons through the snow.

The beaver pond is very nice to visit too. We’ve seen fox and coyote tracks down there.

It feels good to go outside every day to greet the hens, and admire the snow, and leave our tracks among the animals’; and it feels good to come in and cozy up to the microscope.


Homestead Report 29: Ushering in the new year

It’s a new year, and that brings reflection on the past and planning for the future.  Actually, it’s just so darn cold that it’s hard to stay outside long, which leaves a little more time than usual for contemplation.

I spent the last days of the year drooling my way through the Fedco seed catalog, but managed to keep this year’s order under $70, with only a few wildcard “just for fun” varieties and an adequate supply of the old standbys. I also sorted my saved seed and went through older packets to see what is still good from previous years.

I’ve vowed to do a better job of succession planting this year. I tend to get very excited about the first round, and then forget to plant again until a little too late. I’m working on adding notes to my calendar to re-plant various crops so they aren’t neglected.

I actually did a decent job of getting the greens going in the hoop house in time for winter, but with a week of sub-zero temperatures, I haven’t even gotten up the nerve to open the door to see if anything is still alive. And that’s in part because the patterns of ice on the door are so beautiful.

I’m also hoping to be a more consistent vendor at the farmers’ market. The last two years I’ve been a regular for the early months, then dropped off as my schedule becomes complicated, my crops look less perfect, and I strive to preserve food for the winter in my spare time. The motivation to be a vendor is not about income (though I hope to at least pay for my seed order), and more about being a part of the community, and providing delicious, healthy food to people. Sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it to spend all morning packing up my veggies and trek into town to sit in the sun for three hours just to bring home $50. But those are the days when I need to remember the friendships I’m nurturing and the joy of handing over my food to someone who’ll go home and enjoy eating it.

And that will keep me as busy as the beavers who’ve moved in next door.  But I like being busy. I like growing food. Action, nutrition, and dirt under my fingernails keep me from feeling overwhelmed and depressed.

Actually, another goal this year is to really believe in the possibility of a better future for our world. Lately, reading the news has gotten me down. Every struggle just seems so exhausting, overwhelming, unwinnable, damaging. But then I look around, and see myself surrounded by truly good people, people who are kind and funny and work hard and care about justice. I see beautiful forests and tangled thickets that give me delicious berries to eat year after year. I see a world worth fighting for.


I’m learning to be brave. My father told me that one of his and my mom’s goals in raising my sister and me was to help us believe that we could do anything, be anything, fix anything. They succeeded. I believe that together, as a community of people who care, we can fix the problems I see in our society. It’ll take team work, time, sunshine, water, and back-breaking effort, but we can grow a better world. We must.

Part of that, I believe, is being in love with and in awe of the world we have. It’s time for me to let the beauty of ice crystals take my breath away, the miracle of bird wings to make me stop in my tracks, and my sweetie’s excitement about a parasitic wasp’s life history become mine. The wonder will give reason and energy for the difficult work of activism.

Homestead Report 28: Harvest accomplished

Once again, much more time has passed than I intended to allow between posts. Oh well.

We’ve had our first frost on Oct 17, our first fire on Nov 1, and our first light snow on Nov 9 (I think). Today I finally got the rain barrels drained and the hoses in the shed. The chainsaw is at least mostly functional, and we’re cutting a little bit of wood for 2018/19. It’s starting to feel like winter.

On Oct 22, we held our first Cider Party, in the tradition of my parents’ annual Fall Party. It was a blast… about 30 friends/ family came over; we pressed 8 gallons of cider, had a delicious potluck, some rockin’ music, and just great company and fun.  The kids discovered the inspiration for velcro.

Just before our party we had our septic system pumped and used it as an excuse to finally fix the odd topography of the area where the septic lids are. When a new tank was installed before we moved in, no one graded the area, so what should have been a path wasn’t. We leveled the path, covered the lids, and planted strawberries on the slope.

This fall was exceptionally warm and pleasant. We had monarchs and bees nectaring through the second week of October. Some people said the leaf color was a let-down, but I found the foliage to be quite gorgeous.

Our first two frosts were mild enough that a sheet over the raspberries meant we still had fruit. Basically, only the tomatoes and ground cherries were killed. Then, a few weeks later, as we headed into the low 20s overnight on November 9th, we picked the last of the eggplants, peppers, lettuce, leeks, squash, some Brussels sprouts, turnips, green beans, fennel, cilantro. Lots salvaged. The several small leeks I left in the ground are severely damaged now; perhaps they’ll resprout in the spring. Hopefully the last of the Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage will last a bit longer outside.

In the hoop house, the Swiss chard has melted into a dark green/ brown soup. The lettuce and spinach, under an additional row cover, looks healthy, if not likely to grow much for a while. We have a vole or something that delights in munching the broccoli and other young plants in the hoop house. I don’t have the heart to trap it, though we may be left with no winter greens.

Last night we shelled all of the black and kidney beans. I’d picked some of them just before that really cold night, and the pods were wet. Some mold, but not much loss. There must be about a gallon of dried black beans. Fewer kidneys and limas. The night before last I shucked the popcorn. This also sat inside, in husks, for almost two weeks before I got around to dealing with it. Again, some mold, but not too much seriously damaged. It’s drying in pans by the fire.

On Nov 4th, we celebrated Charley’s birthday by presenting at the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative conference (where we met six years ago).

I’m just so grateful that I have a garden to escape to when it feels like my heart is going to explode from the stress of trying to be a well-informed American citizen. I am a little afraid of the winter, when I don’t spend as much time with soil under my fingernails.

On another note, here’s a beautiful ichneumon wasp ovipositing in some unsuspecting stem borer in a marsh elder on Nantucket.




Homestead Report 27: another belated installment in a busy summer season

This is the time of year when I glory in bringing in the harvest. It never ceases to amaze that a tiny seed, given rain, sun, soil, and a little love, will grow into a great vigorous plant that miraculously produces big, juicy, delicious fruits that feed us until we can’t bear to eat any more.

We’re overrun with luscious fruit!! Over 55 peaches eaten fresh in just about 2 weeks of gluttonous delight! Everbearing strawberries are still producing. Tiny blueberry bushes loaded with berries. Raspberries dropping off the canes (but covered with horrid fruit flies). Watermelon, cantaloupe…

Vegetables are doing well too, for the most part. I’m swamped with produce to put up for the winter.

But I say “for the most part” because the tomatoes now have late blight. It’s horrible. The fruits get gross blisters and the whole plants wither and die.

My parents visited and we fixed the hoophouse that partially collapsed in the snow last winter. This fix makes me feel much more confident that we will survive the next big snowstorm without further damage, plus we can now walk through the central aisle without dodging boards.

I’ve also been working on our high porch railing, in part to keep all of our friends’ kiddos safe from a second story drop-off; previously the railing basically functioned as a ladder.


The flowers are nice too…

Our hugelkultur bed succeeded in growing pumpkins and tomatoes, despite the fact that it is essentially still a pile of logs, sawdust, and grass clippings.

A few hen turkeys along with their mixed-age young like to journey through our yard frequently, eating grass seed and dust-bathing in the potato patch.

We found this gray tree frog resting on a grape leaf.


Homestead Report 26: July 16, 2017

Somehow I took over 700 photos in the last month and didn’t post any of them… leaving me a bit overwhelmed as I sort through them now. It’s the glorious growing season and we’ve been BUSY as bees (or beetles, bugs, flies, moths, or any of the other creatures visiting the flowers these days).

At the beginning of the month, we were swamped in strawberries. This season we picked over 40 quarts of strawberries. I sold about 25 quarts at the farmers market. I also froze 2 gallons, made 3 batches of jam, gave away several quarts, and made a raw pie for the 4th of July.  They were tremendously abundant, and then abruptly done around July 8th.

Next up are black raspberries, blueberries, red currants, and chokeberries. All of our black raspberries are “wild,” but we’ve been encouraging them by beating back the blackberries in the edgy parts of our yard and woods. We’ve been picking them since the strawberries quit. We have about 10 highbush blueberry plants of different varieties. A few of them are producing berries, though they’re all just a few feet tall. I think we’ve eaten about 10 berries so far. The white cultivar of the red currant under our solar panel is loaded, and so far the birds haven’t found them–same with a feral red currant we stumbled upon in the woods. We also found a patch of purple chokeberries up on the Crag with abundant berries.  Quite delicious after a climb up there.

The partridgeberry is blooming. You can see the paired blossoms, which make a single fruit with two “nozzles” evident in last year’s berry in the upper right. The cranberries seem happy in our yard too, even though it isn’t a bog.

Speaking of bogs… I’ve had the opportunity to accompany Charley to work a few times recently, and lucky for me, that means admiring the carnivorous plants and insects (and non carnivorous things too) that live in bogs and shrub swamps.

Insects are everywhere! And it is awesome! Here’s a selection. The captions will tell you what things are.

Milkweed is a favorite not just of monarch butterflies; but also of ants, bees, flies, and moths that are nectaring on the blossoms right now. Also present are the characteristically orange and black milkweed feeders (bugs that eat milkweed leaves have various strategies to survive the toxic latex; they often become distasteful, making the warning coloration effective).

One of my favorite plants is meadowsweet (Spiraea alba). The bugs are loving it right now too.

On our most recent walk I noticed this adorable jumping spider.

Also, a spider filled this acorn cap with silk. Perhaps it is an egg sack?


We’ve been seeing a young porcupine around (as well as a bigger one, sometimes).

And there are other rodents of unusual size around, too! The old beaver pond on our neighbor’s property has new activity! A dam!

Our motion camera caught this young fox and its parent (I think) as well as a fawn.

The chamomile is going crazy. Lots of flower picking/ drying for tea.

Carrots! 3.7 pounds of them, harvested yesterday.

carrots (Napoli and Yaya)

And so on.