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 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 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.