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Carved Cherry Bowl - Progress Report - February 15, 2018

The bowl is beginning to look less like a piece of firewood. I have defined the rim shape and then carved out the bulk of the body using several curved gouges including the one in the photo.

looking like a bowl?
The next step was to refine the shape, aiming for about 1/4" thickness at this point. More, shallower gouge work then scraping and rough sanding. This piece of wood was freshly cut from a dead but standing tree last fall and it is still very damp; the scrapers and course sandpaper just kind of tear the moist fibers rather than shear them off.
Ready to mellow awhile ...

I have placed the bowl in a paper bag with a couple of handfuls of chips and will now let it slowly dry out for a while. This is the stage where if one tries to hurry the process you can expect to get severe checking (cracks) in the ends of the bowl. Now that it is relatively thin in cross section and safely 'in the bag' it will slowly reshape itself (curve inward a little) without damage. I'll check on the bowl periodically but expect it to be as long as two to three weeks before it  will be ready for final thinning to a little under 3/16", sanded and finished with pure tung oil.


First Bloom of the Season!  Happy Valentine's Day!
 Nasturtium in greenhouse


Carving time, again - February 8, 2018

I finally have most of my fall and early winter homestead projects completed so it is time to switch into Bowl Carver Guy mode. As a teenager I would drift off to sleep dreaming of someday having a modest carving shop in the Upper Peninsula. The shop I envisioned was in a old lumber camp pay shack that our family stayed in for the entire month of August every year from before I was born until I was in my 20's. A great place for a young person to run wild in the woods and dream crazy. The older Finnish gentleman who we stayed with at that camp put a spoke shave in my hands when I was 9 or 10 years old and along with a lot of support from my parents, started me along on this path.

Our shop here on the homestead is conveniently right in the front of the house, between the living area and attached greenhouse. Over the years I have carved a lot of spoons, over 1000, and many bowls. You can see some of the bowls here.

Here are a couple of photos of the beginnings of this new bowl.
Beginning the bowl
The wild black cherry log section on my carving bench.
The bark has been shaved off with a draw knife and the blank shaped to fit on my carving vice.

Phase two of the carving

Sue elegantly refers to the stage as the 'dead pig' mode. I have roughly marked where I want the feet of the bowl to be and used a wide, shallow gouge to get this far along. Next is flipping it over to establish the rim shape and carving the piece to that shape. Then Back over to feet up position to refine the underside. I've made a half-bushel of chips already; great for fire starting once they have dried.


carrots garden Jan 21

Carrots! - January 21, 2018

Above freezing, no wind, no precipitation -- a perfect day to take care of some mid-winter outdoor chores. We were both in and out all day enjoying just being outside. The carrots in the root cellar were almost out so the timing was good to resupply. It's a bit messy but fun to be digging in the dirt mid winter.  Under the snow the mulch and down a few inches was frozen, especially at the edge of the plot, but the carrots were fine - fresh and crisp. The mulch and snow had done their job. There are more carrots still in the ground to be dug in the spring. So I hope we have good snow cover all winter this year. Meantime, we'll enjoy the "new crop" freshly dug.  


Fingerweaving - January 16, 2018

The first fingerweaving I saw was at some rendezvous' we went to in the early 1990's. They were fun events, being surrounded by others who were interested and involved in making their own items of the era, which was right down our alley. I was intrigued by the fingerwoven sashes and garters some folks had so I got some yarn, sat down and figured out how to do it. My first sash was pretty wavy but it worked and I was hooked. I went on to make, and sell, many more over many years. Not many people do it any more. But at some point I went on to other things and fingerweaving was mostly set aside.

There are times, though, when I have need of something to work on in public, whether at a particular historical event or while working at the Lake Effect Art Gallery. Painting for me is a private affair (as in, don't expect any interaction with me when I'm painting!), and carving with its tools and chips is often not appropriate. But fingerweaving is. It's portable, compact, not messy, fairly easy to do with an audience, and usually interesting to folks who have never seen it. It is one of the "forgotten arts". So I still occasionally enjoy this craft-of-my-past. Since it's a now and then affair, and fingerweaving is a slow process (which is why loom weaving is so much more popular and common) my output is pretty few and far between. But today I finished a sash that has been in-progress for several years and it was fun to see the finished product, complete and ready for a fur trade era reenactor or native american dancer, or someone with an eye for something a little different!

 fingerwoven sash #29     fingerwoven sash #29

More info on the fingerweaving page (click here).


snowy january day

Snow! - January 15, 2018

Beautiful and wonderfully insulating -- 12" of new fluffy covering -- great for the house, the greenhouse, the garden, the orchard. And a good day to stay home and enjoy it, which we did.

I must say, though, that Lilli did not agree with our enthusiasm for the snow. She waited until absolutely the very last minute to make her trip out, with a fair amount of pacing and hemming and hawing (in a cat way) before making the blitz. Can't say as I blame her considering that the banks along the path are now over her head.


Dory cabin: dreaming & drawing  – January 12, 2018

Nearly every day I walk past the boat when going through the shop on yet another homestead project. I see it lying there, snug under its winter dust cover and stop to visualize how I might actually build the small sleeping cabin. The cabin length is pretty much determined by the distance from the aft seat frame to the pointy stern seat. The other night I took some time at the computer and came up with the image below. Although I have drawn the cabin with a wood look, my plan is to frame it up with lightweight spruce and cover it with polyester fabric like the rest of the boat to keep the above-gunwale weight down.

      Cabin drawing ...

A major concern is that any increase in height will increase the boat’s windage – that is; make it harder to row on windy days. One thought I’ve had, optimist that I am, is that the larger shape in the stern might make it easier to keep the boat headed into the wind. Kind of like dragging a small anchor would do.

It’s still a bit too cool (5 deg. F.) to make any sawdust out in the shop but I do enjoy working up these images to help visualize how the boat’s modifications might work out. Next is deciding whether to go with a centerboard, daggerboard or leeboard. I’m kind of leaning toward an off-center daggerboard to keep the hole in the bottom of the boat as small as possible and not block access in the center of the boat too much. I’ve a little more research to do on that.
 


backroom ceiling Cheers for a New Year!

May this year of 2018 be one of the best with all sorts of dreams come true. We had a good slide from old to new as our big end-of-year project was completed by the end of the year! The newly insulated ceiling is now a part of the house, the major post-clean-up finished, and we're very much enjoying the results (of both!).

lightbar end closeNew projects were begun immediately and while I went on to other things Steve began and finished one that has been waiting for its turn since winter and short days began -- a secondsoldering wires light bar LED light strip in the greenhouse. This one for over the bed that is against the house, giving those plants a boost, being on for a few hours morning and evening. And on the very cold, cloudy days when the insulating curtain and side panels are left in greenhouse bed light barplace for warmth the lights can be on all day, promoting growth of the green plants and allowing us more salad greens mid-winter. This was a great new year's project.

Steve is now on to making and installing some new drawers in the front shop, so some of the smaller dust catching tools which were on shelves can be stored away. Another step towards a more organized, and neater, house. Of course, as these things go, en route to finishing the drawers there were, and are, many other small projects that come up. Distractions some folks might call them. I just think they're a normal part of the homestead life. Happy 2018!



Ceiling Project Update - December 8, 2017

The front 2/3 of the house is done - ceiling panels removed, insulation added, panels reinstalled, house warmer. It's working! We've been using less firewood in spite of a colder than usual December thus far. Now we're working on the back third of the house which is taking longer since (1) this part didn't yet have the ceiling installed (or built) yet, (2) we apparently had a passion for angles when we built (and an aversion to square corners), (3) the shape of the house and the roof/ceiling is, one might say, quite 'custom', especially the back, which means a whole lot of measuring and re-measuring, fitting and re-fitting, and (4) every piece is different than theLilli in rafters last one; maybe similar but never the same. Plus Steve has done a lot of cleaning up of the wiring and lighting; re-routing, adding, subtracting, as we've gone along. But it is coming along, piece by piece, panel by panel, trim by trim. And it's looking good - brighter, cleaner, cheerier. And warmer! We like it and are looking forward to the finish line. Meantime, Lilli is taking the disruption of her domain in stride, calmly checking things out as furniture is moved, tools and dust scattered around, ladders everywhere. Here she is surveying the work from a high perch in the rafters, and likely not too happy about having her access to the top of the ceiling blocked off now, which has been a favorite place of hers to explore. 
 


Post by Steve Things that work #1 - Trailer Mover - 11/30/2017

This is the first of what I hope will become a series of projects that produced a tool or process that has worked for us. For some time I had wanted an easier way to move our two trailers around without endangering my back or having to hook them up to one vehicle or another.

I had seen a couple of possibilities on the Internet and got some ideas then headed out to the shop. Using an old, 1-7/8” hitch ball, some scrap steel (a piece of an old, large saw blade and a short piece of ” ID steel tube), our 40-year old hand truck and here’s what I came up with.

Trailer mover 1 Trailer mover 2 Trailer mover 3

The whole rig is based upon using that old hand truck without making any alterations to it. The unit’s backing plate (the saw blade part) slides down over the bottom of the hand truck’s base plate with the tube running on the top side. There is a large fender washer on a ” bolt that secures the bottom of the tube with a wing nut.

Building sequence:
  1) I brazed the shaft of the ball into the end of the steel tube.
  2) The backing plate was brazed onto the bottom flange of the ball, spaced out a bit more than the thickness of the hand trucks base plate.
  3) Two triangular gussets were brazed between the ball flange and backing plate to strengthen the unit.
  4) I drilled a ” hole through the lower end of the tube, just below the lower edge of the hand truck’s base plate.
  5) The fender washer was bent and shaped to fit the side of the tube.

Here is a drawing of the unit. Hopefully it will make some sense of the above.
     Trailer mover drawing

In use I slip the ball under and into the trailer coupler and lowering the handle of the hand truck to raise the tongue. I can then wheel the trailer around easily, parking it in a back corner of the garage or whatever. I have not tried to move any really heavy loads but this unit easily handles our 150 lb. boat on its trailer. This tool is especially handy when parking the trailers inside for the winter, stuffing one in a corner of the storage building and kind of nesting the other tightly beside it.
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Insulation Installation Milestone - November 24, 2017

Today the temperature rose to a balmy low 40’s and the ground is once again bare. The sky showed blue off and on throughout the day and we appreciated the natural sunlight as we worked to finish the last panels in the central area of the house. We made it! Before the last of the daylight disappeared. It felt so good to do a preliminary clean-up and put that part of the house temporarily back in order. The front 2/3’s of the house are cozier now with their new blankets of recycled denim insulation. Maybe it’s our imagination but I don’t think so. We’ve been able to bank the woodstove every night and most of the days when usually this time of year the stove is going on all but the sunniest of days (which are few and far between now until January) when the solar heating panels provide a good amount of heat as long as the sun is shining. It’s been a cold fall with this the first above freezing weather we’ve had in awhile.

Now we’ll take a few days off while I head to town to work at our local Lake Effect Art Gallery while Steve finishes the newest light additions in the living room, then a welcome fun day of dancing in Marquette. Monday we'll start on the back third of the house -- the part that doesn’t have any ceiling panels at all, yet. So that will be a little bigger project as we build and install the ceiling, but the new insulation will go up with the new panels and before the end of the year the entire house will be blanketed and warmer, even when we don’t have that thick natural blanket of white snow on the roof (which does a great job of insulating the house).
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The Boat Shop is ready! – November 24, 2017

One of the most common jokes among or about home-builders of boats concerns the guy who builds a boat in his basement or wherever, and can’t get it out without dismantling his house. So far we have managed to avoid that one.

   Dory on the Fishdam river   Dory in the shop - ready to emerge ...

Our dory is a little over 18 feet long, about 54” wide and weighs around 150 lbs. When it was time to get it out of the shop we just tipped it up on edge on an old blanket and dragged it out the door. A bit of a balancing act and nerve wracking, but it worked. Thinking ahead to future boat building projects including this winter’s modifications to the dory, I decided to create a nice, wide door on the east end of our shop.

   Shop door opening sequence

I re-framed the east wall, adding a new header and using some large gate hinges, turned that wall into a big bi-fold door. The opening width is about 60”. It takes less than a minute to release the sliding bolt that keeps the wall in place and gently push the door open.

Shop Notes: We have a good supply of firewood to heat the shop right outside the door. I have found that 55 – 60 degrees F. is a good working temperature for everything but epoxy work. Throw a couple of maple chunks into the stove and it gets up to 80 before you know it. We lived in this building for eight years while we were building our house so it is pretty well insulated. The stove is way too big for the space so I plan on reducing its effective size by piling some firebrick along either side inside the firebox. We can still drive in to our place; the snow forecast is light for at least a week, so I’ll have time to get the firebrick down without having to haul it in on the sled. We are enjoying this mild transition into winter.
 


  Thankfully Keeping Warm - November 23, 2017

full woodshedThis is one of those unromantic homestead projects that often doesn’t get a lot of attention or mention yet is a very important, and appreciated, part of our lives and fall activity. This year Steve did most of the firewood making by himself, with me occupied in the garden and orchard. I got in a bit of stacking but most years I’m the main hauler and stacker while Steve does the cutting and splitting so it seemed quite amazing to me to see the firewood piles grow withoutfirewood piles having been involved in the growing! But that’s how things work on the homestead. The woodshed is full and there is plenty of wood cut, split and stacked for next year as well, and possibly for the following year. When our ceiling insulation project is complete we’re hoping the firewood will last even longer. Don’t get me wrong, we like the fall firewood season (assuming it’s all done before the snow arrives), but it’s OK with both of us if we end up needing less. Meantime, the old Woodstock Soapstone woodstove has been keeping us all comfortable on these cold days.

Usually Thanksgiving is a time of appreciation for the harvest of food crops (and we are very thankful for that!) but the Thanksgiving meal wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without the fuel that cooks it. So we include our Thanks to the forests and sun that not only keep us warm but cook our food. Happy Thanksgiving to All! 
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Winter boat project - November 22, 2017

As Sue mentioned in a recent post I have been thinking ahead to this winter’s boat projects. Although any boat-related stuff will have to wait until the house insulation project is done, I have been thinking (dangerous) of a couple of possibilities. We did most of our boating last summer in the kayaks, only taking out the big boat a couple of times. It was a particularly windy summer and we often launched the kayaks either on a river or on the calmer side of nearby Indian Lake.

One idea that I’ve been thinking of for a while is to (1) add a sail, rudder and leeboard to the dory, and (2) add a small cabin to the boat for overnight, on-board camping. Here is my initial concept drawing of how the cabin might look on the boat.

Dory Drawing

Dave Gentry, who modified John Gardner’s version of William Henry Chamberlain’s gunning dory for the skin-on-frame construction of our boat says, “Note that the same factors that help make this a great rowing boat - light weight and a narrow bottom - combine to make this a very poor design for sailing. Weighing several hundred pounds less, she will have not have the initial stability of Mr. Gardner's gunning dory, which would have been tricky to sail, itself.” Our dory weighs about 150 lbs. empty. I respect Dave’s conservative comments but …

John C. Harris, designer of Chesapeake Light Craft’s 17’ ‘Northeaster Dory’, which by the way weighs about 100 lbs., says “Under sail the Northeaster Dory is fast, stiff, and close-winded. Given the narrow waterline, the hull is extremely easily driven and jumps up to speed in light air---the acceleration is really noticeable. Dory sailors comment on the surprising absence of wake, visible evidence of a low-resistance hull. But like all dories, the hull flares rapidly above the water, so stability comes on strong as the boat heels under sail.” It sounds like it might possibly be OK to sail our boat if I pay attention to some basic ‘physics of sailing’.

I plan on using light skin-on-frame construction for most of the cabin structure to keep the center of gravity of the boat as low as possible and perhaps adding up to 100 lbs. of ballast on the inside of the bottom. The sailing rig will be a balanced lug (65 – 75 sq. ft.) on a free standing hollow wood mast, with wood spars. Depending on how the boat heels I may add narrow side decks and cockpit coaming.
The cabin will be compact, starting right behind thwart aft of the solo rowing thwart, extending to the stern and will be about 80” long by a maximum of 50” wide and as low as is practical. I plan on having a coverable open slot roof deck most of the cabin’s length so a passenger can comfortably sit or lie in the stern. The slot will be closed by a sliding waterproof fabric cover.

All of these changes will be totally reversible leaving the boat in its current wonderful open rowing form if sailing it doesn’t work out. More details will emerge as I get on with making a full size cardboard and fabric mockup of the cabin. Stay tuned. Steve


More Insulation! - November 19, 2017

recycled denim batt insulationIt has been a rather cold fall with continuing precipitation, either rain or snow depending on the temperatures, which has inspired us to get at a project we have been thinking about for quite awhile -- adding insulation to our ceiling. We had decided to use recycled denim batt insulation and had purchased and stored 15 bales of it in the shop while we could still drive down. But Steve wanted to get the rowboat moved into the shop to work on (play with?) this winter, before the snow arrived in force, and there wasn't room for both. So this was an added incentive to get going on the insulating project. With weather outside not particularly inviting we rearranged the house so the living room could share its space with a 4'x8' workbench, gathered our tools and  materials and started in figuring out how we were going to do what we wanted. 

Two years ago we had put up a drop ceiling of panels we created out of light weight wood, covering up the interesting but dark and hard to clean rough sawn pine boards that are (were) both ceiling and roof, sturdy on top of the 4x12 rafters and 12x12 beams. This really brightened up the house and was surprisingly warmer with just the 8" air space. The front 2/3's of the house were done and though we had the wood for the back we just hadn't gotten to that area yet. It was time to stop storing that wood and get it put up! The two projects melded into one.

Steve laying out insullationWe started at the front of the house, un-installing the ceiling panels one by one, fine tuning anything that needed fine-tuning, laying out the denim batts on the panels, lifting them back up and nailing the trim/supports back in place. Steve had made and installed many LED light strips in the ceiling (which are really nice to have!) which added a fair bit of interesting fiddly work to the job but when each panel was done we celebrated as we imagined the less firewood we would have to cut/haul/stack/etc. each year. A very short celebration as we went on to the next one, not minding the work but anxious to get our house back in order and the dust cleared away. This is one of those hidden house improvements -- a lot of work that doesn't show when you're done! Well, you hope nothing shows. But knowing that insulation is up there makes the house immediately warmer.

installing panels around lightThe front third (kitchen and workshop) is done and we've started the office area, working our way across the living room. As with most projects of this kind, it gets easier as we figure out best ways. I'd like to say faster, too, and maybe it is, but there are enough "interesting fitting and finagling" with our very custom home-built home to keep us on a moderate track. But with a blustery cold world outside, a good CD playing inside and Lilli wandering through often to check out what we're doing with her world (thankfully she seems more interested than upset by all the messing around) we're satisfied with our progress across the upper world of our house.


  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.  Black Oxford apple

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 growing. 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!


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