Sunday, April 26, 2020

happy trails

 On one of our short walks along our road last Autumn,
Piper and I noticed a patch of Epigaea repens: trailing arbutus, or mayflower.
This is what a section of it looked like on 16 September 2019:

(You can left-click to embiggen all these images.)

This patch of arbutus does not have an easy life.
In early April, the plants looked like this:

I didn't know how early it might bloom
so we've walked that way often to check on it.

We had a fairly heavy snowstorm
shortly before these three pictures were taken,
on the 19th of April.
 The first shows the entire patch of arbutus,
on the slope in the right side of the photograph:

Something caught my eye.
Can you see it?

I put the camera on the ground for a closer view.

These delicate buds had been buried in snow one day earlier.

And six days later, yesterday:

This last picture is my favorite:

The little flowers peeping out from beneath tough, tattered leaves,
amongst a criss-cross tangle of pine needles and twigs,
finding a small beam of sunlight.

I hope you are also finding all the sunlight you need.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

free seeds

Years ago, a friend had a wooden bird feeder in the shape of a tray labelled "Free Seeds!" held by a cheerful cat. I thought of it last week when I was moving my bird feeders away from the spot where I've been enjoying them right next to my "working window," and into the small fenced-off Bird Safety Zone. In Winter, the spot by my window provided good protection from hawks amongst the hundreds of twiggy stems of Kerria japonica. But now that plants are just beginning to leaf out and the cats are spending many hours outdoors, the same shrubby quality of the Kerria becomes a liability to the birds, who may not see the cats coming. So, I've got the binocs out again and will be watching the feeders from a bit farther away.

long-distance action shot!

I still have two tiny suction-cup feeders stuck to porch windows, but only the boldest birds use them, and they are difficult to clean and fill, so they may soon come down in favor of window screens. But first I'm going to see if most of the birds will become comfortable using the feeders in the Safety Zone. With the trees not yet leafed out, that area probably feels dangerously exposed and many of the birds seem reluctant to make the transition. Time will tell.

We've had some interesting weather fluctuations lately.


Podophyllum peltatum - Mayapple

Sanguinaria canadensis - Bloodroot

And this afternoon it's raining. Heavily. Again.
Moxie, the gardening cat, has been helping me take down the yarn bean trellis and salvage the yarn for reuse this year, but we won't be doing more garden work today.

It seems a great many people who don't usually garden are planning to grow vegetables this year, which is great - I'm very happy to think more people are going to have their hands in soil and experience the thrill-ride that is gardening. But this unexpected increase in gardeners also means seed companies have been overwhelmed with orders and many have already sold out of some stock. Luckily, I already have most of my seed, saved from last year. But there are always a few special seeds or plants to order,  and even a month ago I was having trouble finding them. So my 2020 Gardens may be different from what I had planned, but that's fine - and in a way, it could be said every year.

One thing I will certainly plant this year is Candy Roaster squash.

Portrait: on the vine

In recent years I've experimented with planting Candy Roasters in various locations, in raised beds, in hills, amongst corn rows, and on arched stockpanel trellis. I liked the arches, and if I can manage to construct them, will add more this year.

Candy Roaster arch, 2019

"Free Seeds!" I have plenty of seed from my organically-grown 2019 Candy Roasters, and will be glad to send some to anyone who would like to plant them. Whether you are an Old Hand or a Brand New gardener, if you've got room for massive vines and a way to provide water in a dry season, why not give it a go? It's a winter squash, and needs to stay on the vine until Autumn frosts force a decision to bring them in, but then they keep for months and are excellent for baking, roasting (or course), soups, "pumpkin" pies or breads, all sorts of things.

So, if you would like some Candy Roaster seeds, drop me an email with your mailing address and I'll send some along. Don't be shy! I'd love to introduce more people to this squash, which I learned about several years ago from my blog-pal Tipper, over at Blind Pig and the Acorn. Forever grateful, Tipper!

Friday, April 17, 2020

thursday retrospective

from the ground, up.

the moment snow became hail

raspberry (beret)


more Sambucus

forsythia (yellow bells)

red maple

Friday morning dawned cold (22F) and sunny. More snow predicted tonight and tomorrow. In other news, the crockpot is full of organic turkey stew and "move hay, fill woodbox" are at the top of today's Extra Chores list.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

nearly wordless wednesday

can drinking catnip tea every day
beginning in early Spring
make the human body
inherently repellent to mosquitoes?

To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented research.
I shall report my results.


Monday, April 13, 2020


I follow a lot of art-related twitter accounts.
Museums and galleries, around the world.
People who post specific artists' work or periods of art.
And many, many artists.
I've "met" some wonderful artists - 
painters, sculptors, printmakers and woodworkers - 
on twitter.

And it's all good fun.

Recently the Royal Academy of Arts began posting cues for a "daily doodle" as a tiny respite to the ongoing pandemic grimness. The first one I saw was:

That made me laugh, so I looked around for a pen.
It took me longer to find the pen than to draw this ferret:

I don't see the RA cues every day, but today was:

This time, I welcomed a reason to focus for a little while.
That is one of the best things about Daily Markmaking in general:
while I'm doing it, I'm not doing anything else.

My attempt at the New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis). This is the native rabbit once common throughout much of New England, now rarely seen due to habitat loss. I'm not sure I've ever seen one. I'd have to be very close to tell the New England Cottontail from the Eastern Cottontail. That little black mark on this one's head, and the black edge on the ears? Two possible identifiers.

I hope you are finding ways to feel happy and productive amidst the very real danger the whole world is affected by at the moment. Do you have particular ideas to share in the comments?

Which reminds me...

numerous people have pointed out that the term "social distancing" was an unfortunate choice and I agree. It is inaccurate: we are required to be "physically distanced" but are very much able to be "socially engaged." Comptonia has long been a substantial part of my own social engagement. I'm very glad that you choose to make it a small part of yours.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

wednesday wittering

How is everyone getting on?
I hope those of you who don't have your own blogs will say hello in a comment from time to time. Ever since I tried to sort out that commenting glitch and in the process discovered that more than 1,300 people subscribe to Comptonia, I've been wondering who you all are and what you are up to. There couldn't be a better time to reach out a little bit and connect with friends on the internet, right?

blooming where we are planted

Is everyone taking care of themselves? Plenty of sleep? Eating well?
I've been craving fresh greens but resisting going to the grocery store. Suddenly I remembered how easy it is to sprout seeds. Funny how something that has been a habit winter after winter can just be completely forgotten. This winter I didn't dust off the sprouting jars at all.

But once I (finally) thought of it, a quick rummage produced a bag of organic mung beans. A couple of tablespoons of beans and some water, and in a couple of days there were plenty of fresh tasty sprouts for snacking, for adding to soup, and - a surprisingly successful experiment - folding into omelettes.

sprouts added to soup just before serving - warm and crunchy

A couple of weeks ago I signed up with Misfits Market for a bi-weekly delivery of a small box of organic veg and fruit. During the winter I'd considered trying such an arrangement for the pre-garden season, and when Staying Home For The Safety of Oneself And Others became the norm, that clinched it.

the top layer - fruit and more veg beneath

The first box arrived yesterday, and it brought both the fun of opening a mystery package and the challenge of using every item in the box before it can lose quality. Yesterday I had a lettuce and tomato salad for lunch - so simple, so good! - and roasted bok choy and carrots for supper. That's more fresh veg in one day than I'd had in the past two weeks.

salad again today - a treat

I like the company's mission statement, their ethos, their apparent passion for reducing food waste and providing access to affordable organic food to more people. But at the end of the day, it's the delivered product that matters. So...we'll see. After I've had another box or two - or three - I'll post a little review of my experience. Meanwhile, the company offers a referral discount code, so if anyone wants to try it, just let me know.

And of course, the other kind of harvest - cashmere - continues.
Slowly, slowly.

This evening I combed Lily of the Valley for the first time this year.
Lily is always one of the most difficult goats to work with. As I carefully, gently comb, talking quietly and offering treats, Lily chooses to sink to the floor of the barn like a hundred-pound pillow. She then stretches her neck to it's most uncomfortable-looking extreme, and twists her head around with an expression that suggests she knows death is imminent, and while she is resigned to her tragic fate she cannot help wondering "why?"


This picture is from yesterday's walk.

Piper is helping me check on a patch of trailing arbutus we noticed last Autumn. Epigaea repens, mayflower or trailing arbutus, is the "state flower" of Massachusetts.
Maybe this year we'll see it bloom.

I'll keep you posted.

Take care.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

thankful thursday

I hope you and yours are keeping well.

If you are able to stay home, I hope you feel "safe at home" not "stuck at home."
It is such a luxury to have the option.

If you are among the people working to keep people and animals healthy, supply chains functional, and everybody fed, thank you so much and please take good care of yourself.

I am thankful that all are well here.

The hens are providing organic eggs daily.

Eloise waiting for the Daily Apple.

The goats have enough good hay to take us through, with careful feeding, to first cutting. And a delivery from the feed store last week provided my usual Spring top-up of supplies, which my Occasional Helper very helpfully came by to put away for me. I've missed having him here lately, but we usually work together on projects and although he was willing to come, I could not justify the unnecessary risk. (To him, to me, to the world at large.)

However, unloading 50-pound sacks from a feed order is always a solo job, and the bonus since-you're-here task of shifting a dozen bales of hay out to the "distribution centers" saves me a heck of a lot of heavy lifting and dragging for a couple of weeks.

It's uncertain when I will have Occasional Help again,
but I'm certainly grateful for last week's visit.
And I'm not the only one:

 Violet, the eldest, tasting the new mineral mix.

Bud, the youngest, waiting his turn to taste the new mineral mix.

It's been quite cold lately, but unless it is raining,
Piper and I have been taking daily walks along our road.
It's a team sport.
I do the looking...

and Piper does the sniffing.


There have been many "firsts" in the past week.
The first wood frogs singing.
The first robin in the paddock, first pomegranate finch at the feeder.
And literally overnight, the goldfinches began to color up! One day all the finches at the feeder were the same muted green, and the very next day:


In other green and gold news:
the marsh marigolds are coming along:

I hope you are finding many things to feel thankful for these days.
It's a gift we give ourselves.