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  a Reminder of Winter to Come - November 11, 2017

The earlier snow had melted and we had a number of beautiful outdoor days to finish outdoor chores and cut/split/stack more firewood. But it's been a bit chilly lately, dropping to 10deer in snow deg. a few nights ago. But the woodstoves are keeping us plenty warm. Then the snow returned and our focus has turned indoors for a time. Today was a bit more than a little hint of winter though when a snowy blustery day kept us at home and off the roads, and away from our favorite polka dance in Ishpeming. We have about 8" of snow now. It is common to have an early snow in November so it's not too surprising. Forecasts are for warmer weather this coming week so I expect it will soon melt. But it was a beautiful picture outdoors once again and this young deer came munching along the back window to top it off, calmly eating snow topped blackberry leaves.

Welcome to November - November 4, 2017

November snow in treesWith temperatures mostly in the low 20's to upper 30's now, sunshine in short supply, and plenty of moisture, it appears we're heading into a usual November weather-wise. After several years of unusually mild falls it's rather comforting to be back to 'normal', if there is such a thing. Being November and the upper Midwest we know it could turn colder, or warmer, or wetter, or drier, and it likely will, but the days aren't going to get any longer for two months so we might as well get used to it and appreciate the beauty as it appears. And we do! This morning was a great sight to wake up to - this is the view from the house roof looking north (and also out our back windows).


Lake Effect Art Gallery Mini-Grand Re-Opening - October 28, 2017

Our local Art Gallery, which is part of the local non-profit Lake Effect Community Arts (which we've been involved in from the beginning) started six years ago with little money, a group of local artists, and a generous landlord at Traders Point in Manistique. Happily sales grew every year and it's been a success with a great array of really nice local art and craft (and yes, I am prejudiced! But, truly, the artwork is exceptional.). But our wonderful landlords "retired" and sold their antique shop and our building so it's been a year of looking for a place to rent, buy or build. But now, after a monumental amount of work by a dedicated Gallery Board (and spouses and friends), an old space downtown was transformed into a wonderful new space and Art Gallery. We celebrated with a Mini-Grand Re-Opening, with snacks, live music (guess who) and good friends. I think most everyone is amazed at the outcome, and happy to be once again settled. So if you find yourself in or near Manistique, stop in 212 S. Cedar Street (downtown) and enjoy a really nice local Art Gallery! Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 11:00-5:00, run entirely by volunteers. More info at www.lakeeffectarts.org/gallery


LEAG ReOpening Day          Sue & Steve at LEAG


Bonifas Arts Center - A Look at the Permanent Collection Exhibit - Gallery Walk - October 26, 2017

In 2005 I painted a watercolor especially for the Bonifas Arts Center's annual fundraiser auction. I don't remember now the theme of the auction but it inspired the painting, which I donated to the Bonifas. Instead of putting it in the auction, however, they chose instead to keep it for their permanent collection. But I didn't know this. Forward twelve years. I got a note that a painting of mine was to be in their "Look at the Permanent Collection" exhibit in October, which was a honor and I was happy about. Art goes to sleep when stored in a closet. It's always nice to have it out and able to interact with people. I assumed the painting to be displayed would  be my "Cranes - Hope" which the Bonifas staff had chosen for a purchase award at a show some years ago.

"Blue Bird" watercolor by sue Robishaw


So it was quite a surprise when I walked into the Gallery and saw instead my (creatively named) "Blue Bird" painting! It was right next to a painting by one of my favorite (and sadly no longer alive) people from the area 'art world' - the very creative Jerry McKee. It was a bit disconcerting to have my piece displayed with so many well known and accomplished local artists, but after I settled into the Gallery Walk talk and got used to the painting being there, I had to admit it looked comfortable and fitting next to the wild and memorable Anaconda painting of Jerry's.


It was also interesting to see what the curator, ceramic artist Scott Leipski, had chosen for the exhibit and hear his take on many of the pieces. Especially since, being fairly new to the area, he didn't know any of the artists but chose the work because of the art itself. But a number of the folks attending the talk did know the artists (most of whom are now deceased) and had some fun stories to tell. It was an enjoyable evening, not only because of the artwork but because we got to see and talk to many people we hadn't seen in awhile since we've been focusing more closer to home and hadn't been at the Bonifas as much as we used to be. This exhibit is over Oct. 31 but they have promised to do more exhibits from their permanent collection which I look forward to.


Greenhouse Comes Alive! - October 23, 2017

greenhouse bed Oct.With gale force winds, rain, then frosts and freezes in the 20's, it was time to move plants into the greenhouse. I don't think they minded, and we love to have the greenhouse come alive with an instant garden right outside the shop window. Some full size plants are dug from the garden (kale and parsley) to add to our meals through the winter. I also brought in most of the sweet pepper (Red Belgium) plants since there are still many ripening fruit. Frosts came early and ripening was later this year. They seem to be settling in nicely. Many flats were planted with lettuce and spinach a month or two earlier and have been growing well, waiting in the garden for the move west into a warmer climate for the winter. I'll still be harvesting lettuce and spinach from the garden (protected ingreenhouse bench October cold frames now) until things get covered in snow. But later these flat plants will provide salad greens all winter. A few flowers (marigold, calendula, nasturtium) brighten up the mix, and I'll soon plant a handful of daffodil bulbs for late winter cheer. So we're happily all nestled into our cozy valley and enjoying the change from yellow-gold-red leaves in the trees to a carpet of the same on the ground. We'd still like a few more days of "good" weather for last minute out door chores (always!) but the wood shed is full and the garden almost ready for winter so we can enjoy the weather whatever it does.

Brrrr! - October 16, 2017

Forecast was for low 30's but when we got home from the Trenary dance it had "that" feel to it so I covered the few things left in the garden with blankets -- ripening peppers in cold frames, greens in the garden and those in flats awaiting the big fall move to the greenhouse -- just in case. Good thing I did. I certainly hadn't expected a very chilly, frosty 23 degrees this morning. This is the temp out in the orchard but even at the house it was 29 degrees. Yep, U.P. fall is here. Beautiful sunny weather with lows in the 40's and highs around 60 forecast for the coming week, so the blankets get stored away once again. The next cold spell will likely be the move to the greenhouse for the winter. Meantime, both plants and us are thoroughly enjoying and appreciating this beautiful autumn world.


Life is Good, and so is Fall - October 14, 2017

red maple over houseToday it feels like fall has begun. The forecast for last night was 36 deg, but we woke up to a nice 28 degree frost. This isn’t a big problem, or surprise really. We’ve been getting periodic frosts since the first of September and the garden is in fall mode. Maybe it is the colors -- it looks like autumn. The change has been gentle but steady, with still a lot of green, but this morning the large red maple behind the house was in full red orange glory. It’s the kind of day that just makes one sigh with pleasure and appreciation for being here to experience this. Well, every day tends to feel like that to us but today has a particular sweet-tart flavor that says Fall is here.


Frostbite! - October 11, 2017

Frostbite apple cutFrostbite applesThis hardy little apple from the University of Minnesota breeding farm has the unique history of being one the breeders didn't think was worth releasing, even though it had proven to be very hardy, saying "it doesn't even taste like an apple". A chance seedling that would have gone by the wayside had it not been for apple guru John Bunker (of Fedco Seeds & Trees fame). He managed to get cuttings and grafted onto a tree. When it fruited he he thought it was a great and unusual tasting apple that deserved to live. He finally convinced Univ. Minn. to release it in 2008, which they did under the name Frostbite. 

Our Frostbite tree came from Fedco in 2015, and we had to move it this spring to make way for the new orchard fence. To my great surprise the little tree blossomed this year! It really was too early for such a young tree to fruit and I expected the blossoms to abort anyway, but just in case I removed all but 3. I just couldn't take them all off. Then the end of June I walked by and noticed three tiny fruitlets. Usually I have to wait 5-10 years for new trees to fruit but this little two year old was living up to its reputation as hardy, productive, reliable and most certainly precocious.

As the fruits grew I put a plastic apple decoy in the top to discourage bird tasting. Every time I walked into the orchard I looked to that far corner to make sure the apples were still there. Two were quite small and dropped early; not unexpected, and not ripe (but that didn't stop me from eating them!). Frostbite is a small apple, lunchbox or snacking size, and I really wanted the lone apple to get to a ripe mature age. But I didn't know when that would be. All of my trees get a lot of attention but probably none as much as this apple. Then one day, Sept. 24, I looked. No apple. Hopefully, I made my way through the orchard to the tree, and there it was, safe and sound on the ground. A beautiful small orb.

Ok, maybe one has to grow their own fruit to know and understand the excitement of a "first fruit". After all, I had two other trees fully loaded with nice apples. But I had read so much about the uniqueness of this one I was anxious to taste it. But this is a storage type apple and often they need to set awhile before being at its best. I put it on the counter and admired it for almost 2 weeks. I couldn't wait any longer. Today I cut it, took my pictures, and had my first taste (saving some for Steve, of course). Mmmm. Well, it is a very good apple. We both like it. Crisp, juicy, firm skin. It doesn't have the intense flavor others have reported but it definitely has a unique 'grape juice' touch to it. Left to mellow longer it likely would have had more flavor but that's rather hard to do with just one apple. It has been said it sometimes takes a tree up to five bearing years to settle in to its best taste. If that's the case we have some very good years ahead! Can't wait for this tree to grow and produce more.

Cider Time - October 9, 2017

pressing ciderIt's been quite a few years since we've had extra apples to make cider but finally this year our Dudley tree came through with a great harvest. We ate them fresh, I dried them, I made sauce, and I saved out the smalls and damaged ones for cider. Today was the perfect cool fall day for pressing. We didn't have a lot compared to previous years of many bushels of apples to press but were very happy to get what we did. And it was very good - sweet and thick. Much sweeter than I expected from the Dudley's as they are more tart than sweet eaten fresh. We drank some and I canned the rest. We prefer sweet over fermented cider, though I often will let it go for a few days to get a bit of a zing to it before canning. Next time though I'm going to save out more apples for cider. I had forgotten how good it is.

Surprise Raspberries - October 4, 2017

Prelude raspberry OctoberWe had a reasonable raspberry harvest this year; nothing special but enough to snack on and make raspberry vinegar for pickles. Several of the varieties will blossom and set fruit in the fall (which the bees love at this time of year of few blossoms) but seldom mature the fruit before freeze. Last year was the first time and it was a rare warm fall, and the bluejays were plentiful so I got only a few, eating them underripe before the birds got them. But this year has been a cool to cold fall with frosts starting the first of Sept., lots of rain and many freezes. So although I knew the Prelude raspberries had late blossoms, with attentive bees to match, I didn't expect ripe fruit. But today I was walking by the raspberries and there, almost in my face, was this beautiful, large, healthy, ripe raspberry! With many more coming on. And few bluejays around. What a treat. And I enjoyed it thoroughly! I'll share the later ones with Steve.

Better Than Expected Harvest - October 3, 2017

Black Oxford apple treeI harvested my Black Oxford apples today. I knew there were apples on the tree but I didn't think there were many and made a note to thin more next year as it appeared most of the apples were on the small size. The BlOx's are a subtle apple, darker with a slight bloom, not large and bright like neighbor Dudley, though they shine up to a special glow. A few damaged fruits had dropped so I figured it might be time. I wanted to pick them early at the just barely ripe or slightly before stage so they will store well. These are to be our fall/early winter fresh eating apples . Last year we ate the last one of our small first, bird damaged harvest the end of November. This would be the second harvest and I was hoping for more this time. We hadn't had any bluejays partying in our apples this year, for which I was very thankful. 

I got my cloth bag, hung it around my neck for picking into, hauled out the ladder, a basket for the good apples, a large bucket for the semi-good for cider, and a smaller one for the compost apples. Then I really looked at the apples on the tree. Hey, there are quite a few apples here! And they look much better than I had thought, previously only glancing at the tree as I went by and seeing only small fruit. I was wrong. I settled into picking, most of them within reach from the ground. One by one I picked nice apples, nice sized, healthy, amazed and admiring each one, carefully placing them in the bag, then transferring them to the basket. It was a beautiful day to pick beautiful apples and I took my time, enjoying every minute of it and every apple I picked. It seems I'm too often in a hurry to get a job done and on to something else, but not this time. I'm learning to enjoy the moments. Black Oxford apples

When I was done I had 17# of almost all nice apples, mostly of medium size. It wasn't a maximum harvest but it was certainly respectable, almost twice last year's. Very few had insect or skin damage. Only a handful went into the compost pile, and none for the cider bucket. I left a dozen or so small apples on the tree for later off-the-tree snacking. There isn't much fresh fruit to nibble on when in the garden/orchard this time of year . BlOx's are fairly hard and crisp at this point with just a hint of sweet, little to no tart, on the dry side but enough juice to be pleasant. In a month or so they'll be sweeter and less firm. I really like them but Steve prefers a juicier apple. Unfortunately, we won't have any juicier apples later since the Dudley's, our only other apple of any volume this year, don't keep long, maybe a month before getting soft. Our root cellar isn't very cold yet but I'm hoping the BlOx's will keep well anyway. Meantime, I sure appreciate this second year of harvest of almost a half bushel of well admired and appreciated apples.

Once More Strawberries - October 2, 2017

Old North Sea strawberries OctoberMany years ago, maybe twenty, I got some strawberry plants from a Seed Savers Exchange member that they called "Old North Sea". It was an old variety, grows close to the ground with its fruit low, safer from birds and cold. A real nice sweet everbearer of variable size it's been my main variety all these years. The summer crop was light this year, but much appreciated. With the constant rain from spring into September many plants had 'humidity challenges'. With the strawberries it was leaf spot and the ONS plants looked the worse for wear in that area. So I didn't expect much if any of a fall crop.

But as so often happens, I don't give growing things enough credit for their ability to take care of things on their own. In later August I noticed some very nice ripe strawberries. And about every week since I was picking a small basket of some of the nicest fruit of the season! Every time I'd think that would probably be the last; I'd eat some fresh, cook the rest and mix it with the applesauce we have every morning for breakfast (with oatmeal) and we'd appreciate anew the added flavor of the strawberries. Then another week and there they would be -- more ripe berries. The harvest is getting smaller but the appreciation is getting larger! And I think we'll be getting a few more in spite of some very cold freezing nights. This is truly a hardy soul of the old north sea.

Grape Harvest - October 1, 2017

grapes in basketsWith such a rainy summer and many frosts in September I wasn't sure we'd get ripe grapes this year. But by covering the vines with a very large tarp when the cold snaps hit to keep them from freezing they managed a respectable maturity and crop after all. Since it appears the cold/cool weather will continue, along with more rain, I harvested them today and was happy with the yields. This is their second year of fruiting in this new spot and it appears they are much happier here with more sun, better air circulation, and slightly higher ground. I ended up with 20 pints of grape juice which is pretty good from 4 young vines.

The grapes were healthy and beautiful. They are fun to harvest, one bunch at a time, cutting them off and laying them carefully, and admiringly, in the basket. Popping one or two in my mouth now and then. But two things were missing this year. One was the aroma of ripe grapes. It's quite distinctive and something I was used to when I harvest. But it wasn't there. Maybe because the grapes were just barely ripe, no overripe or split berries. Maybe it was the weather, cool and damp as it has been. And along with that there were no yellow jackets. Usually, I'm very conscious of their presence, carefully putting my hand on a grape cluster to make sure I don't inadvertently handle a yellow jacket along with the grapes. Now I admit it was easier that they were missing but it was disconcerting and I'd rather have them there. They love grapes as much as I do. But we've had very few wasps/hornets around this year. I missed them, and certainly hope it's a temporary situation.
I have four vines fruiting and two more just planted this year. That is all I have room for in this space and that really is plenty of grapes for us. But it's hard not to keep looking for new varieties to try! I guess it helps that there are so few grapes that will mature in our climate.
Bluebell - is the largest and sweetest of the current crowd, when it matures, which it barely did this year. But it is such a great grape when we do have that rare long, hot (relatively speaking) season that I keep the vine and it keeps doing it's best. It is the closest I have to an 'fresh eating' grape and I sample it regularly as soon as it colors up, waiting for it to sweeten up as well. It didn't quite make it to peak ripeness this year but it came close. And at 10# was the top producer and made decent juice.
King of the North - is a grape I've grown for quite awhile, transplanting it from the old plot where it had a hard time ripening. It is very vigorous! I had to really keep on top of it with summer pruning to keep it in its allotted space. I'm sure it would prefer to have more wire to itself but this grower prefers to have more varieties so they each have to make do with less. Actually, I had planned to dig this one out after harvest. It's a small concord type, tending to get some black rot, barely ripening. It came to the new spot only because I had it and didn't have anything else to put there yet. I figured to replace it. But this year it made a good stand to prove itself, with a 7# harvest, only a touch of black rot (pruned off early), and good juice! He gets to stay, at least for now. But I do think he might be happier with someone who has more space.
Marquette - is a younger vine with small purple berries, which surprised me last year (it's first small harvest) with a sweet taste as soon as it was fully colored (most grapes are several weeks or more off from peak ripeness/sweetness when they first color up). This year's harvest of 6# was good for its second year and I'm still happy with it, but the flavor was milder, likely due to the weather (last fall was unusually warm) and the bunches not as full. Again, likely due to weather during pollination. It has also proved to be a vigorous grower. My decision to plant my vines at 6 ft apart is keeping me busy with summer pruning. But it does allow me to grow more varieties in a smaller space.
Prairie Star - is a petite gentle grape. A white (really more light golden hue when ripe) gem amongst its rowdy purple companions. It's grapes and bunches are small and I do hope it produces more as it ages (this is only the second year for grapes), giving me only 1#. But for the small vine it is it did well and it is a really nice mildly sweet grape, very pleasant to eat fresh, which means it loses quite a few grapes to the vineyard manager before final harvest.
Two varieties were added as well -- Brianna and Somerset Red Seedless. Both grew well and it appears Brianna is another very vigorous vine. I'd be happy if it were a little less enthusiastic about growing! But hopefully it will be as enthusiastic about fruiting when the time comes. Somerset is one I'm really hoping will like it here as it has gotten very high marks for excellence from other growers in northern areas, though maybe not quite as cold as here. And it is a true seedless eating grape! The vine also appears to be of moderate vigor which sure would be nice. Can't wait for these two to have fruit, though it will be a few more years yet.
Overall it was a surprisingly decent year for the grapes and vines, making it through a challenging wet season in pretty good shape. Let's hope next year is a little bit drier!

Apples! - September 28, 2017

applesAs you may have noticed, I do love my fruit! And I think apples are some of the most interesting and amazing -- for the beauty, their variety, their adaptability, their ability to make so many creatures of the world happy with their fruit, and their foliage. Almost every year those growing on our land feed us well. Here are the ones that provided for us this year, along with a scattering of other wild trees. Here is the best excuse for growing your own.

A Growing Organic Orchard - September 27, 2017

orchard corridors Sept.My orchard certainly would be considered “organic” since I don’t use any chemical sprays or synthetic fertilizers, but I also consider it organic in its layout. Although I’m happy to have more or less straight rows in the garden, which is laid out in a rectangular form, the orchard has grown into a much more flexible, winding shape which I’m finding we both enjoy a lot. Some of it happened by chance, some by purpose, some I’m working now to fit into a flowing form that will be easier to manage. The orchard is small enough to easily walk to any part (about one acre inside the fence) (though it is already growing beyond the fence!). But my method of management is to have mown paths along either side of the fruiting/flowering corridors of trees, bushes, and plants, leavingorchard corridor paths bushes areas of natural vegetation between. It’s been an interesting challenge fitting the haphazard parts into a practical mowing pattern, in, out, and around in a pleasing manner without going over the same ground twice. I think I’ve spent more time figuring this out than I have deciding what to plant or graft next! But it’s been a fun puzzle which will change as the trees and bushes grow, hopefully into an even more pleasing meander. It’s certainly not what one would call a landscaped area; it is definitely more casual, but with purpose. And even though many of the trees and bushes are small yet, it is a pleasure to walk along the roughly mown paths imagining what it will be like when they are full grown. I like this much better than mowing the entire orchard floor, and I think it is healthier for all.

Bees in the Hellenium - September 22, 2017

Growing fruit seems to naturally make one more aware of the many pollinators we depend on to get that fruit. Although I often lump them all together for convenience under the label "bees" I know there are many different insects that fill out the pollinator category. And we're blessed with a wide population here. It's an amazing experience to stand and watch and listen to a popular blossoming plant full of so many different sizes, shapes, types of pollinators. And it just seems fitting that as I add fruit trees that I want them to visit and pollinate I should also add other blossoming plants for their pleasure, especially those that bloom early and late when necture is sparse. So that's what I've been doing, for their enjoyment and mine, too. This year I planted some Hellenium seed early in the greenhouse, transplanting the little plants out to the border bed of the garden and a few to the nursery bed since they seemed rather small and in need to grow a year or two in a gentler spot than out in the orchard grounds.

Hellenium flowers and beesThey grew without much attention from me until one day I realized the plants were large and bushy, healthy and getting ready to bloom. Mmm, not as delicate as I had thought! Then in mid September suddenly (it seemed) there was this beautiful plant simply loaded with yellow flowers and BEES - lots of bees. I hadn't expected such a display of bright blooms from this simple hardy perennial. And every time I went by there were bees. When the frosts came the flowers kept on. In October when there were few flowers left elsewhere, the Helleniums were still there for the bees (and me). The 23 degree freeze did touch them, though they are simply looking rather tired not dead. But there is still the lone bee now and then getting a last minute nectar treat. What a nice and much appreciated surprise for us all.  

ORCHARD - Beacon Apple - September 17-2017

Beacon appleHurray! We once again have apples from our two old Beacon trees (the ones for almost forty years we thought to be Prairie Spys). It wasn't a big harvest, two apples from each tree, but these are the first after we had cut back the trees to rejuvenate and bring them down in size. Now I know there will be more in future years and we're very happy about that. The trees are looking good, and so were the apples.

Stacey Pear Surprise - September 15, 2017

Stacey Pear fruitI have a beautiful healthy moderate sized 14 year old Stacey pear that has given me a few small fruit since age six. The last two years a bumper harvest of 22 to 36 pears! That’s individuals, not pounds. The fruit have all been small, more or less “pear” shaped. This year had just a handful of blossoms and at some point I noticed 2 “usual shaped” small pears. I picked them too early the end of August but appreciated the little fruits nonetheless. Then a few weeks later I happened to see one more. But this one was larger, and to my surprise, round. I picked it Sept. 9 -- a very nice 2” x 2 1/4" fruit. I looked online at the few photos I could fine of Stacey pears. Some showed the pear shape I’d gotten before, but a few showed round fruit like my latest (including Fedco which is where I’d purchased the tree).

I don’t know if it’s usual to have the two shapes on a tree but I’m hoping my tree decides to continue with the larger (relatively speaking) round fruit, and in the future a larger harvest. We ate the pear today and it was very good. This is what keeps me planting and caring for my fruit trees.

The Big Ride! - September 12, 2017

Steve on Lightening recumbentSteve's annual "Ride His Age" day trip came off successfully. He picks a nice day with low to moderate winds in the few weeks after his birthday to make his ride -- this year 73 miles, a nice ride he reports. He leaves from home but we meet at a restaurant at the end for a celebratory dinner. The miles don't always come out exact so this time he ended up with 75 miles; a couple to carry over to next year? He said he did consider going for 100 but figured he would leave that for something to look forward to when he reaches that age! Besides, he was getting hungry.

Pear Faith - September 11, 2017

L'Anse pear graft growingMost of the 30 grafts we did in May grew which is nice. A few I figure the scions were not good to begin with (lesson learned to really look at the scion before grafting, not after, to make sure it’s alive!). A few we thought were pretty iffy and it would be a miracle if they grew -- a very small diameter scion grafted with a simple splice graft (there wasn’t enough wood for a whip-and-tongue graft) onto a similarly very small rootstock or shoot. But to my surprise these took and are grew. Then there are a few that I don’t know why they didn’t grow any leaves from their buds as the scion is still alive (small scratch with a knife shows green cambium). We’ll see; there have been reports from others about scions popping the next spring. Hope so! There is a lot of variety in the growth between them all, of course, so many different variables, but the rest show anywhere from just a few small leaves to more than a foot of growth. I love walking around cheering them all on. But one in particular is exciting to me -- the L’Anse pear.

Last September we were at a polka dance in L’Anse and a young couple brought in a wonderful basket of beautiful medium-small pears for the snack table. My experience with pears was pretty much limited to occasional canned ones and a few of our first small Stacey & Summercrisp pears. Not expecting much, but very happy to have something other than sugar snacks, both Steve and I took one. Then I took a bite. Wow! I had no idea pears could be that good. Nicely sweet, smooth, great texture. Immediately I went back to the table for another one.

L'anse pearsOf course I wanted to know more about the pears. But this was a large lively noisy polka party and the young couple had their three young children with them to manage so in-depth conversation just wasn’t going to happen. But I found out that the trees were “old” (inherited when they bought the house), were well known in the area for decades of good fruit, were wonderfully prolific, and they didn’t know the variety. Later, by quieter email, I got a promise for scions and more information. Their trees are growing near the south shore of Lake Superior.

I searched online and asked around, trying to put a variety label on these pears. The current owners shared this information with me:
     “This type I believe is either a Forelle pear or a Tyson pear. Many of the flavor characteristics remind me of the Tyson description, however the blushing seems to give it away to a Forelle. Perhaps it is neither of these. They typically come mid August - 1st week of September [we had them Sept. 17]. ... the blossoms I think they are pink. Very sweet, hints of cinnamon and other spicy flavors. ... fully matured pear trees are quite old -- I estimate that they were planted in the 1940's - 1950's.”

This chance encounter opened up a whole new world to me. There just aren’t that many pears growing in our area (yet!). Suddenly I wanted to plant more. I got 5 Ussuriensis Siberian (very hardy) rootstocks planted early spring and we grafted onto four of them -- the above pear onto two, plus a Patton and a Sauvignac (both old varieties). Then since we had extra scion pieces left we grafted two L’Anse pears, a Patton and a Sauvignac onto shoots of our very large old seedling chokepear. Neither Sauvignacs grew, and one of the rootstocks with a L’Anse graft died, but the other L’Anse pears and the Pattons have done well. It’s a long wait for fruit, and these little shoots have to make it through their first winter still, then the many years after that, but I’m feeling positive about them. We may never know the real identity of the L’Anse pears but that won’t stop us in the least from enjoying them thoroughly when they arrive finally on our homestead.

Wild Cherry Wine at Fur & FeatherFun Fur & Feather - September 9, 2017

The third and final "Fur & Feather" sale and swap in Trenary was a special treat for us. In addition to being another beautiful day with interesting animals (and people) around, our friend and super bass player Tom Caron joined us for the event. We had fun and he added a wonderful touch to our music.  

Beautiful Drying Day - September 2, 2017

drying corn kernalsWe've had a real nice sweet corn crop this year and I've dried several good batches. Today the last large harvest went in the dryer. There are still some ears out there, mostly smalls and seconds, so we'll have a few more good meals and one more dried batch. We love sweet corn fresh but the season is rather short so most of my corn is preserved for later eating. And my favorite way to store it is dried.

I harvest it as one does for fresh eating: husk and steam the ears (about 10 minutes), cut the kernals off the cob, then spread on the dryer screen and out in the solar dryer it goes. This requires several good sunny days to get it properly dried so it's sometimes a challenge to get it all coordinated between ripeness, weather, and our schedule (will I be home at the right time).  If it gets a good drying day then it can wait inside on the holding racks for a day or two before going back out. But there have been years when the weather just didn't cooperate and I had to dry the harvest inside on the cookstove. It works but takes a lot more attention to keep from burning it. But this year I've managed to hit the right days at the right time and the jars of beautiful dried kernals are multiplying, dried in our much appreciated solar food dryer.

The dried corn smells wonderful when you open the jar, and is easy to cook. Just cover with water, soak a bit then simmer for a short time. It comes out very near to fresh tasting! I also toss some in winter soups. But probably the way I use it the most is to include a handful when cooking rice. It adds both flavor and visual appeal. 

A Cool Start - September 1, 2017

applesauce on the cookstoveSeptember jumped in with a 30 degree frost last night, but no rain! Since we've not had more than 3 days without rain all spring and summer a day without precipitation, even a cool one, is welcome. It seemed just the day to make a big pot of applesauce courtesy of our prolific Dudley apple tree. Cooking it on the cookstove warmed us up as well. A nice welcome to September!

Decoy Apples - August 21, 2017

apple with decoysAwhile ago I read about someone who painted small stone red and put them among his ripening strawberries with the idea that birds would peck the stones, find them inedible, and go elsewhere, leaving his strawberries alone. It worked for him. So last year when a flock of bluejays made significant inroads into my apple crop, that idea came to mind and I decided to do that on a larger apple-size scale the next year. Meantime I kept an eye out for plastic fruit at the thrift stores, stocking up for the coming season.

Summer came and I painted any of those of my plastic fruit, or round apple like objects, that weren’t already red and attached wire hangers. When my real apples started ripening I hung plenty of red decoys in the trees (all thse “red apples” in the photo). I really didn’t want to share my good apples with the birds. They have plenty of crab apples to eat.

Did it work? Well, I only had a little incidental bird pecks in a few apples so I could say yes, it worked well. But, to be honest, I also didn’t notice any more than one bluejay around, which was unusual in itself (we do usually have more). We did have a flock of robins but they appeared to be more interested in the bumper Autumn Olive crop. But for whatever reason, I am very happy to have avoided any bird damage this year, and next year I will again hang my bright decoys in the ripening apple trees.

'Extra, Extra' at the Trenary Fur & Feather Swap - June 24, 2017Fur & Feather poster

WCW at Fur & Feather 2017"Wild Cherry Wine" (Steve, I, and Sharon Vierk) once again joined the Fur & Feather Swap and Sale to play music for the participants and visitors (and animals!). And it was again a beautiful day and fun time. But there was an extra distraction this time as a photographer/videographer and writer from the Detroit Free Press showed up to do a piece on the Fur & Feather. They were busy the entire 3 hrs with the tools of their trade capturing the event with words and pictures. Which they later pared down to a few minute video. Not an easy feat! But this is something they do often, and they truly enjoy coming to the U.P.. The video highlighted the stories of the people selling and swapping their animals, and the impetus behind this long running event, but the musicians did get a little spot in the limelight by providing the background music for the video, recorded at the event. Thanks to the Freep guys, John Carlisle (writer) and Ryan Garza (videographer) for a job well done. Here is a link to the video on the Detroit Free Press website:


Orchard - Grafts Popped! - June 16, 2017

grafted scion growthThe most exciting point in grafting, to me, is that moment when one finally sees growth in a scion's bud(s), and you know there's a very good chance that your graft was successful. Many amateur grafters admit they check their grafts often (weekly? daily? hourly?!) for that little bit of green emerging from a bud that holds such wonderful promise. It could be a week, or two, or four, sometimes longer before that magical event occurs but it is a great cause for celebration, even if (and probably best if) only the birds and bees see the jump and shout of joy that happens upon that discovery. It has been three weeks since we grafted and 2/3 of our grafts show green growth now, from a little bit to significant leafing. Some others are close (buds swelling), others are holding out, not committing to growth yet. But there is still time. Our unusual (very unusual!) hot (to us) (days near 80) first half of June, with PLENTY of rain, making everything grow with unbounded enthusiasm has likely helped our scions grow faster than usual. Later I'll start dreaming of the fruit that these little trees will someday produce, but for now it is enough that they have decided to grow.

In the photo above it is the part above the wrap that is the scion growing (a Patten pear). The growth below the wrap is the rootstock growth. Those shoots will be pruned off later when I'm sure the scion is firmly attached and growing as part of the rootstock.

Post by Steve  Kayak is ready for the water...  - 6/6/2017

Mobjack Bay KayakOur Mobjack Bay Greenland-style kayak is done and sitting on the trailer, ready to head for the lake or river. This build went much more quickly than either of our two other skin-on-frame boat building projects. Spring is a busy time here on the homestead so it is all the more amazing to me that the boat is done. And the boat-shop is empty. I'll write more after we have a chance to see how the boat handles on the water. Here's a link to the building process. Next up, the shop is empty, after all, maybe a skin-on-frame rowing/sailing camp cruiser. Maybe let the dust settle in the shop and just go boating in the boats we already have.

ORCHARD - Grafts Done! - May 26, 2017

Patton pear graftThe weather came through with temps in the 60's and a mostly sunny day for our Grafting Day. We had 26 grafts to do, the most we've ever done in one year -- apples, plums, pears, cherries -- and it went well. Steve does the knife work (all whip and tongue grafts except for a few very thin scions where there simply wasn't enough wood so we did a simple splice graft). Then I do my best to hold them carefully in place while wrapping first with a slightly stretchy Parafilm tape, then with regular rubber electrical splicing tape. The W&T technique really helps hold the two pieces together with the thin layers of cambium lined up (scion with the rootstock) while wrapping. The tape keeps the two firmly together until the graft calluses, fusing the scion to the rootstock on its way to being a new tree. I realize you need a good imagination to see how I could be excited about the stick in the photo! But that is a Patten pear scion (just a piece of last years growth cut from a Patten tree) grafted to a Ussuriensis pear (very hardy) rootstock. Some time in the future we will be eating tasty pears from a full size tree that started as this little stick. I have an old photo of a Patten Pear growing at the Chatham Experiment station in 1945 (back when they had an experimental orchard). Patten is a cross from the Univ. Minnesota introduced in 1922. 

waxing scionsIf you look closely in the photo above you can see the scion piece looks a little odd. One trick towards successful grafting is to keep the scion from drying out before the graft calluses (and is then attached, connected and growing on the rootstock's root system). We don't have the problem with that here that they do in drier and windier areas, and didn't cover our scions (except for the top cut tip) the first five years of grafting and we've had very good success rates. But I want to give our grafts the best chance so at the recommendation of more experienced grafters I decided to cover the scions. Last year I wrapped the scions in Parafilm as we grafted. That worked well but was a little chancy as it's easy to wiggle the scion out of alignment (though we had excellent success rates last year, too).

This year I decided to try dipping the scions beforehand in melted wax as recommended by a number of folks on the Growing Fruit forum. I found a wide mouth plastic insulated 'thermos' at the thrift store, shaved maybe an inch of beeswax and old candle wax into it, filled it with boiling hot water and organized my scions on the table. It was fun and reminded me of early years when we used to make dozens of dipped candles for our use (now we have dozens of LED lights all over the house!). It didn't take long before I had a table covered with well waxed little sticks of wood; all labeled and ready to go back into their triple plastic bags and back in the root cellar until time to graft. The little colored clips on the scions in the photo are quilting/sewing/craft clips to attach the labels. It's too easy to get the scions mixed up! They worked well and were easy to remove and re-attach as we grafted pieces of the scions in the field.

I liked the wax method. It was easy, spread out the work a little, and didn't interfere with the grafting. The buds pop right through the Parafilm or wax when they start growing. Grafting is a lot of faith, quite a bit of skill, and a whole lot of magic!



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