Archive for September, 2007

Midnight on the water

September 30, 2007

[note: Midnight on the water is the name of a fiddle tune, a waltz by Luke Thomasson.]

Ela (a friend from college) turned 32 this last weekend, and to celebrate she invited a bunch of folks to camp out on an island in Squam Lake, about an hour from where I live. Alexis was at the hospital and couldn’t make it, and I had a bunch of things to take care of on Sunday, but the weather looked good so I decided to join them for the day on Saturday. There were ten other people, and everyone else was canoeing, but the forecast was for a nice breeze, so I took the sixteen foot lapstrake dory that Joshua and I built some years ago. When I arrived at the put-in there was a ripping northerly breeze with whitecaps on the lake. There’s a nice little boat ramp and a canoe/kayak rental concession at the Squam Lakes Association, with a shallow inlet that opens out into the south shore of the lake near the west end. We loaded some firewood and food in the dory, and I rowed out to the opening, dropped in the rudder, and raised the sail. Since I was single-handing, I sailed her with just the main, so she had a bit more weather helm than usual, but nothing ridiculous. The canoes followed me out, and together we headed upwind for the far side of the lake. I tacked and jibed in among the other boats in the lighter breeze as we worked our way towards the island, about two miles distant, then we headed out across a short stretch of open water to the lake. At one point I passed a line to one of the canoes and pulled them for part of the downwind run, and then I fell behind as the wind slackened in a slot between the island and its neighbor.

The island was perhaps 10 acres with three or four campsites on it, and everyone pitched camp; then we basked in the sun for a while. The wind was still good, so I took three others out for a sail around a neighboring island; with the jib raised we moved along nicely, pounding through the whitecaps on the upwind leg and driving powerfully on a broad reach. On towards sunset the wind was abating and I knew the moon would be bright, so I stuck around for dinner, cider, and conversation. At some point I realized that everyone around the fire was married – one of those moments when the vague mental finger pointing at the timeline of life shifts noticeably to the right. Ela was the person who lent me a spare fiddle, five or six years ago when I was first interested in learning, and we both brought instruments, so we scraped out some jigs, reels, and waltzes together by the campfire, another occasion to realize how far things have come.

The moon rose, and the fire died down a bit, and it was time to go, so I studied the lake chart, packed up my fiddle, and bid farewell. I raised the sail and lashed it up to the mast with the mainsheet, and rowed out northward, through the gap between the islands, and back into the wind, which had come a bit westerly and moderated to a comfortable level. Campfires flickered on the islands, the moon sparkled on the lake surface, and Chocorua rose up to the northwest. Once clear of the islands I pointed upwind, unshipped the oars, and loosed the sail, paying off briefly on the port tack. I had picked out landmarks at dusk; a headland on the south shore and a hill just west of the landing point, and I could make out the hill but not the headland. With the moon I could make out the direction of the ripples on the water, and with that and the wind on my cheek I kept her full and tried to sense the speed of the boat by the sound and the bubbles passing over the stern. As soon as I had my way I came about and headed eastward, aided by a buoy with a strobe about a mile distant. The wind was cool and the stars made it seem cooler, but the challenge of sailing in the dark kept me warm enough. A few puffs had me up on the windward rail, but nothing that made me doubt my sanity or think of slacking the sheet. After some time on the starboard tack I could make out the loom of the headland – I could see that I would not make it on that tack, which meant the wind had shifted further westerly. I was about even with the strobe by then, so I took a board out into the middle of the lake toward the light, and soon I could make out the small island that it marked. Another couple of tacks took me further along the shore, with the island and the light well astern. The wind which had held nicely to that point fell away to the point where it was difficult to tell if I was pinching, and it was after eleven, so rather than beat around in the dying breeze I bound up the main again with the help of my headlamp, unshipped the rudder and raised the board, and rowed toward the gap in the trees that marked the inlet.

The wind died away to nothing, and I ghosted in between the rocks into flat water. The lily pads guided me along the channel to the ramp, where I winched the dory back onto the trailer and headed for home, arriving a bit after 1 AM. The day could not have been more perfect, with friends, food, music, and an incredible moonlight sail – one of those times that bring the thrill of life close up in the chest.

Bedded Down

September 24, 2007

Some friends came up to Five Islands from Boston for the weekend, and we made great progress on the orchard. On Saturday, Brandon, Sharon, and I gathered rocks and roots from the surface of the orchard, and extracted one substantial boulder about three feet long and the shape of a potato. The weather was overcast and misty, but pleasant enough. We then leveled things out and spread the lime, greensand, and rock phosphate, harrowed it in, and dragged it flat with the chain drag I built last weekend. My grandfather’s old spreader worked great for the sand and phosphate, but the little agitator in the bottom wasn’t capable of breaking up the compacted lime powder in the box, so we ended up spreading all 2000 lbs by hand, which was tiring but not as bad as you might think. Definitely need to think about better equipment to do liming.

Alea brought some friends up Friday night and they went to the CommonGround fair on Saturday, and four stayed to help on Sunday. It was a picture-perfect fall day, with clear skies, bright sun, and a fresh northwesterly breeze. Some of the maples were just starting to turn colors. Before breakfast I filled a trailer with rotted goat manure from the barn, and the crew schlepped another round of rocks and roots off the plot while a couple of us laid out the trees, rows 30 feet apart and 28′ spacing in the rows. One place had to be left out because of a ledge outcrop, and the corresponding tree was relocated to a more suitable spot, but otherwise the layout appears reasonable. Once we had a stake in the ground for each tree, we piled goat manure around each stake, and then folks took tractor, trailer, and buckets down to the shore and gathered up about 200 gallons of seaweed. Meanwhile, I spread a bag of Fedco “fall tree prep” organic amendment mix on each pile of manure. After a pause for lunch and some hard cider (Farnum Hill Summer Cider – carbonated, very slightly sweet, really pleasant stuff – since we are pretty much tapped out of last year’s production), the seaweed went over top of the piles.  I went lightly over the soil one more time with the harrow, then folks took turns running the hand-cranked broadcast seeder to spread rye/vetch mix and inoculant powder over the plot. One more pass with the chain drag and the orchard was bedded down for the winter. Hopefully we get some showers this coming week to get the seeds going.

Next up: I eyeballed post locations for an electric fence to keep the deer out, and concluded that a few more trees will need to come down before the fence goes up; that goes on the list for fall/winter. There are a bunch of tractor maintenance items that need attending to, and of course there’s clearing for the maples along the stone wall down the hill to the shore. I’ll need to get the fence up for the deer as soon as possible, both to preserve the cover crop and to get the critters habituated to it before the trees go in.

Thanks to everyone who helped out; the orchard is coming along very well.

Turning in the PVO

September 20, 2007

AC was on call for her surgery rotation, but there was a lot to do to get the orchard ready for winter, so I blitzed up to Maine last weekend with the larger of the two dogs and set to work.

  • I moved the 2000lb of dolomitic limestone and 200lb each of greensand and phosphate rock up to the orchard site and tarped them over.
  • I pulled my grandfather’s old lime spreader out of the pole barn and rehabilitated it.  This primarily involved worrying the flow control gate slide mechanism to work the rust out of the bearings and get the cable working again.
  • I used the Kubota with the spring-tooth harrow to break up the moosemaple root clods that were left in the northeast corner by the excavator last spring, and carried the roots to the edge of the orchard by hand
  • I also gathered up a lot of small rocks by hand, and twitched one giant rock out using the tractor bucket.  I exposed a couple more that didn’t want to come out by tractor.
  • I used some old truck tire chains to make a heavy chain drag to smooth the soil
  • I hooked up the double-bottom plow and turned over the entire orchard.  I had been worried that the plow would bog on the many roots left in the ground, or the shear pins would break when I hit rocks, but to my delight it worked quite well.  It was surprisingly satisfying to see the area of broken ground spread across the orchard site, until I reached the far edge, and took a couple passes around the perimeter to break up roots of the nearby trees.
  • I then hooked up the disk harrow, with a 12″ chunk of 4′ maple firewood as ballast, and harrowed the site across the furrows to smooth it out.
  • I used the chain drag to smooth the soil to get it ready for the lime spreader
  • The Kubota battery seemed to be on its last legs, and the  small Mitsubishi tractor wouldn’t start at all, so I took measurements for new batteries
  • I unpacked the 11 boxes containing 20 bags of tree prep mix, 50 pounds of fall cover crop, and tree protector spirals
  • I put the spirals on the trees in the orchard; there are a few spares for some of the other random trees around the place
  • On my way out I got a couple of bags of tomatoes out of my grandparents’ garden; I ground these up at home and cooked them down into 6 pints of good thick sauce

Fall Schtuff Ordered

September 5, 2007

This morning I ordered 2000 lbs of dolomitic lime, 250 lbs each of rock phosphate and greensand (organic P and K sources respectively), 20 bags of Fedco fall tree prep (for the spots where the trees will go), 50 lbs of winter rye/hairy vetch mix plus inoculant, and enough tree spirals to keep the mice off the trunks till spring. There was a bit of an issue regarding shipping; I would have ordered everything from Fedco, but they do heavy orders by truck shipping, and semis can’t make it down the North End Road. So, I ordered the mix and seeds from them, to be delivered by UPS (several hundred pounds at 15c per, not cheap, but that’s what I get for living 4 hours away), and ordered the lime and minerals from a local ag supply/hardware place (gotta put in a plug for Ames Supply in Wiscasset; they agreed to hand offload 2500lbs of bags when I said the only guy there was 87 years old). So, the next moves are:

  • Bushhog down the oats and vetch that we planted this spring
  • Break up and drag off remaining hummocks of roots from the spring
  • Plow or harrow in summer cover crop
  • Spread lime, phosphate, and greensand
  • Harrow minerals into top few inches of soil
  • Broadcast winter cover seed and inoculant
  • Cover seed with bedspring or hand-rake
  • Lay out tree locations; identify ledge outcrops
  • Mound compost, fall tree mix, seaweed, and wood chips on planting spots
  • Put spiral wraps around tree trunks
  • Cut around roots to prepare trees for transplant in the spring

September in the Upper Valley

September 2, 2007

In any normal year we’d have gone to Maine for the annual lobster cookout and chipboat race in Cundy’s Harbor, but Alexis is on Surgery and I’ve been busy as well, so we stayed close to home. The weather was beautiful this weekend – clear and 70s with a fresh northwesterly breeze.

Our tiny garden is only about 400 square feet, but it continues to deliver nicely; despite my best efforts the zucchini plants keep hiding baseball bats under the leaves – too bad we haven’t any chickens or pigs to take care of them. The one batch of corn did well but came and went in a week or so; I hope to plant more next year with staggered harvest times. Yesterday I harvested about 3 gallons of broccoli heads, cut them up, and froze about 6 plump quarts – the freezer compartment of our fridge is stuffed to the gills. I planted just one small patch of basil but it just won’t quit; today I picked about 2 gallons of leaves and made three batches of pesto, also frozen. The tomatoes are producing but they took their time about it despite rank growth; I’m wondering if perhaps the 2~3″ of horse manure I tilled in was too much for them. It was great for the eggplants and peppers, zukes, and pattypan squash. There are still a few beets left in the ground; they’ve passed baseball on the way to watermelon, and I’ll probably end up pickling them or something. Yesterday I harvested four nice little pie pumpkins from the one hill I planted; next year I should do half as much summer squash and three times as many pumpkins.

I’m still hoping to get a chance to plow in the oats and vetch on the new orchard this month, spread some lime, and seed it down with winter rye; gotta move quickly or it will be cider season already. I’m planning to call Fedco this week to see if they can deliver some lime and rock phosphate to my grandparents in Maine.

As for cider, I stopped by Poverty Lane on September 1st, which was their opening day, to see how things are shaping up. They only had Gingergold and Paulared apples and Clapp’s pears, but I bought a bag of the pears, which I liked last year, and one of the Gingergold, which tasted pretty good. The Paulareds were tart without much sweetness or flavor to set them off. But, it won’t be long before we’re picking heirloom cider apples there, and pressing out cider year 3.  We’re hoping to make some hardware improvements as well; I’d like to finish the pedal-powered grinder we started tinkering with last year, and widen the grates on the press a bit to reduce their tendency to flop around during pressing.