Here’s the thing about farmer and gardener bloggers: We have no time to blog during the growing season, which is of course when all the action happens. This is something I neglected to consider when I began this whole homesteading project. However, now that Maine’s woefully brief growing season is coming to an end, I will attempt to catch both you and myself up.
We turned the rest of the garden beds over and harvested the remainder of the chard and kale, our two crops that survived the first snowfall of the season. It was good to pull up roots, to lift the soil with pitchfork and with fingers, and to just get dirty again. I hadn’t really done any weeding since summer because all the plants were huge and thriving, so I realized I hadn’t really felt the earth for quite some time. Now the chickens are having a blast scratching around for seeds left ungerminated, stray weeds, and hearty worms.
Speaking of the chickens, here is a dozen of their beautiful tri-colored eggs. We got three eggs a day pretty regularly throughout the warmer months, then Mavis, our Barred Rock, stopped laying for two weeks when the temperature at night began to drop. She’s back on track now, but Millie, the Easter Egger, who can’t make any decisions for herself, had to copy Mavis and get all barren too, so she hasn’t laid in nearly a month. We read up on seasonal shifts in egg production, so we put a grow light in the coop on a timer so that they have light for fourteen hours a day from 6:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night. So far Lady and Mavis still only lay during the day, and they still go into the coop at sundown, so the light just makes them squint and wonder when it will be time to sleep. However, it has the added bonus of heat, and since the temperature regularly dips below freezing at night now, this is a good thing. Since we had a snowstorm last weekend, Nate also wrapped the run in plastic so that they can still go outside and be protected from the wind and snow. Then we realized that they couldn’t see out of the run anymore, so he cut two square holes in the plastic and put in plexiglass windows, one over the roost and one near the ground at beady-eye level. One amusing consequence of encasing them in translucent plastic all day is their courageous free-ranging feats. Today Lady climbed up the ladder of Alistair’s playset and nearly made it to the roof before Nate noticed her. She also flew onto the car, and Millie, always the follower, came too. Chicken poop is WAY harder to clean off a car than songbird poop.
This was our tremendous summer garden bounty before we left for vacation in July. We shared food from our garden with 11 other dear friends every night for a week, complemented by seafood from the ocean at our doorstep. I had high hopes of canning tomatoes for sauce, pickling cucumbers, and flash-freezing beans and greens, but so far we’ve just fermented a ton of stuff and dried our basil. Honestly, we ate like kings for five months, but there wasn’t really enough to save for the winter. This will be next year’s endeavor: grow more and save more.
Now we wait for the bitter cold and the abundant snow to blanket our little fifth-acre yard. We got a pellet stove installed back in October, and I have actually been enjoying the early nights in front of it. We haven’t had to turn on the oil heat once yet, and the quiet tink of dropping pellets is reassuring. We even pulled our dining room chairs in front of the stove this morning and ate breakfast there.
People, especially friends in warmer states, often ask me how I tolerate the long winters in Maine, and I tell them there is no other way than to just roll with the seasons and to be grateful for them all. Winter is a time to go in, reflect, and slow down. Yes, it’s long, but look at the rest of the year in Maine: the crisp, cool days of fall filled with gently descending leaves of every color are a gift. The muggy, slow, sandy days of summer by the ocean are a gift. The slow cascade of vibrant green and warm rain in spring are a gift. And so is the bright white of a fresh snowfall.