Saturday, March 19, 2011

Redwinged Blackbirds and the end of winter

This morning was amazing!
It is Saturday and all the chores that are sometimes carried out by Adam and other people who work here are all mine for the weekend.
And so....I walk out to feed the animals and get to be alone, something that does not happen a lot here at the farm.
Incredibly it has snowed in the early morning.  It was 50 something yesterday and sunny and today the earth has been covered with white.  This is rare.  Usually winter winds down in a rather ungraceful fashion.  Mounds of dirty snow, lots of mud and beaten down shrubs and grasses.  Things that you forgot to put away in the fall begin to appear and the amount of work facing us seems insurmountable.
But this year we have one last beautiful morning, clean and white and filled with warmth and the spring sounds of birds.
The lovely thing is the sound of the birds.  Foolish things that they are, they simply continue with their spring songs even though it looks like winter to me.
I am a bird lover and no time is better to listen to them then in the early spring when they are out there looking for their mates.  They sing and sing continually and I sometimes am in awe that a lot of people don't notice.
I mean really!  The red winged blackbirds arrive each spring and I have a contest with a friend about who hears them first.  (we actually get nervous when we hear them....the winter is over and we will be crazy busy until December) They were here this year on March 12th and now are in full voice up in the trees.  Hundreds of them!
How can you not notice?  It is deafening once you let yourself listen.
This is a good time to think about how you plant your yards and properties to enable you to protect and provide nesting places and food for all the migrations that pass through and all the birds that stay and help keep our insects in check and spread seeds and for heavens sake.....fill our outdoors with music. You can still see the 'bones' of your gardens and plan for what you need and what you missed this winter. Shrubs like red twigged dogwoods and willows and paper barked maples.  

Enough....I am going to prepare for this evening's dusk performance of the American Woodcock!  I love this bird! He flies up in the sky at dusk and does a dance to entice his mate and the sound is truly the sound of spring.
My favorite new website is  If you click on this you will hear the Woodcock and if you search the site you can learn to identify a lot of other songs.
Such fun.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tom's of Maine Veggie Post

Hello everyone,

I was lucky enough to be invited to post on the Tom's of Maine blog recently, and i wanted to share with you what i submitted. As you know Tom's prides itself on being a environmentally conscious company, and, since it was founded in Maine, is somewhat of a standard for small businesses like Blackrock. It was an honor to guest post on their blog.
They asked me to write a post on spring startup of our vegetable gardens, and with help from the staff here, I produced the following little advice column. Naturally, there's much more to talk about, but questions and comments are what this blog is all about, so feel free to contact Blackrock for more answers and discussion.
Here it is:

Vegetable Preparations at Blackrock Farm

The skating rink that was once the driveway to the greenhouses at
Blackrock Farm has largely melted away, we’ve set the clocks forward
and we are beginning to prepare for spring in earnest. Every time I
walk into the office Kevin (our vegetable guy) and Helene (the owner)
are discussing types of radishes, planning space usage of the fields,
discussing crop rotations or hammering out any other of the myriad of
things that need to be figured before the frost leaves the ground.
With the advent of the third greenhouse being used for winter
vegetable growing there are calls to restaurants to be made, community
supported agriculture programs to discuss and, in our freer moments,
summer barbeque menus to plan.
However, all these grand plans must start small and, in a way, we
start the garden anew every year. While our experience grows with
each passing season there are aspects of the vegetable garden that we
must restart each year with the coming of spring, just like any
gardener starting a plot at home.
The first and perhaps most important step is the contacting of our
local cooperative extension for soil testing. After submitting a soil
sample and a short wait these scientists tell us everything we need to
know about the makeup of our soil, which give us a better
understanding of what soil amendments we need to add in order to start
the season with a strong foundation. Blackrock recommends that anyone
starting a vegetable garden submit their soil to be tested and remain
mindful of an organic approach to amending the space, as well as a
change in approach, if necessary, to pest management that excludes
The garden is then thoughtfully plotted, allowing for the rotation of
crops, which means somewhat new plan must be created each year.
Changing the location of your plants, even within a small garden plot,
is necessary because different plants supply and deplete different
nutrients, and attract different opportunistic insects. Rotating your
crops means keeping harmful bugs off balance and allowing the soil in
your garden to perform different tasks. For instance, the planting of
peas fixes nitrogen levels in soil; meanwhile, tomatoes are very heavy
feeders, so flip flopping the spaces you use for peas and tomatoes is
one of our most important rotations.
We select our seeds from reputable dealers like Johnny’s or Fedco, and
even now we have to read the packets to ensure a timely harvest. It
takes a lot of planning, but the results are well worth it. There is
a peace of mind that comes with knowing the vegetables you are eating
come to your table without pesticides, and I know I have gained a
healthy respect for just how much food can come from a small piece of
land with just a little bit of attention. But most of all, the
vegetables are far more delicious than any you can buy at the
supermarket, and because you just picked them, as fresh as can be.
For more answers to any questions you might have I would highly
recommend visiting a location near you that produces vegetables
organically and on a small scale. For instance, Blackrock Farm here
in Kennebunkport, Maine will be conducting several vegetable growing
seminars this year in an attempt to reach out to the local community
through shared learning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


It’s about this time of the season when I start to really get distracted with my daydreaming. Yesterday, as I stood next to Dee the horse protecting her from Grace, the freezing rain beginning to soak through my jacket and the mixture of melt and manure seeping through my boots my thoughts were on the first tee of Dutch Elm golf course. I’ve put my cigar down and am taking practice swings with The Big Dog, looking down the fairway and feeling the heat of the sun on my shoulders. My hands are cracked and sore from Friday’s work, stained with compost and stone dust over and over so that no amount of scrubbing gets them clean. The garish, somewhat ill-fitting polo I wear unbuttoned and with no undershirt. The triangle of white skin it reveals on my chest looks ridiculous.

Other times its Sunday evening, the farm has been closed for a few hours, and I’m walking in bare feet down through the shrubs and trees to check their water levels on my way to the rows of lettuce and herbs out in the main vegetable garden. Insects buzz in the air. You can see the beams of the setting sun in the dust that is kicked up by my father’s car as he drives up the driveway.

I’ve been thinking this way a lot these days, but I guess I’m happy to have these thoughts and memories to escape to when winter becomes too tiresome.