Early Spring Emergence

Foggy April morning on Conary Cove. The sea returns to life in early spring.
Rockweed revived, the air becomes filled with the salty aroma of the ocean.

The arrival of spring is very quiet in Maine. It took me a couple of years to recognize and appreciate the swelling of catkins, the blossoming of fuzzy pussy willows and the blushing reds worn by deciduous forests as the red maple flowers start to bloom. The scent of the sea awakens the senses as the water warms and the rockweed is revived after a long winter freeze. Native flowers start to emerge, but we have to look very closely at the tiny leaves which emerge donned in purples and reds, camouflaged against the soil. This is the fourth year we have started growing our native plants from seed, and the first wave of plants are now established, sending out new tendrils of growth underground to fill in available space. Finally the plants are able to establish ground and deter weeds on their own! Last fall, new seeds were sown in the gaps created by a final weeding of the flower beds. As the first seeds start to germinate, we are mindful to keeping these areas of slow growing seedlings well weeded until they too gain a foothold. Spring snow will still occasionally blanket the earth, and the added moisture encourages these natives to burst forth in May despite the cold in April.

Crocus emerge in April, offering nourishment to early pollinators
Daffodils arrive with cheer as we wait for natives to emerge.
The blush of early spring; Red Maple blooms in the wet meadow.
Foxglove Beards-tongue (Penstemon digitalis) has maintained leaves over the winter that allows for the bursting forth of new leaves by the end of April
Marsh Marigold bursts forth out of the standing water around our well. This is one of the first plants established in our wet meadow as this area was too wet even for the aggressive timothy hay that was planted here years ago.
The quiet emergence of our native lupine is quite the contrast to the quick growing western variety that has become invasive in Maine.
Purple fronds of Jacob’s Ladder unfurl in the early spring sun.
The purple coloring of many plants, like this spotted bee balm, protect the tender leaves from the bright sun as they emerge.
Endangered Bloodroot starts to poke up their small heads between leaf litter. Established plants will emerge through leaves with no problem, so these areas should not be raked. Leaving leaf litter protects overwintering larvae. The leaves break down into a rich humus to invigorate the soil.
Curieux enjoys the new smells from a greening landscape, even when it snows.

Make way for Seedlings!

We are on lockdown in Maine as we try to ‘flatten the curve’ of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Early on, we recognized the broader impacts of food insecurity that is being faced now and will unfold over the short season in Maine. Over the winter, we grew lots of vegetables in the greenhouse and now it is time to harvest some for our kitchen and more to pass on to our local food pantry. We have made it our goal to share something fresh from the garden every week during food box distributions through the seasons. Last fall, the Blue Hill Garden Club under the leadership of Peter Leonard (Grandpa) started a new public garden on Tenney Hill in the town of Blue Hill. Little did we know just how important this new space will be in providing fresh nourishment for our neighbors. Working with the Downeast Gleaning Initiative, Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, we are not only growing food for free distribution to the members of our community in greatest need, we are developing a platform for education on seed saving. The run on seeds this season has sparked great interest in saving seeds. We are trying out several ways to share how to save seed, why it is important and provide a platform for exchange and preservation of seeds for future growing season. For now, we are clearing out the greenhouse to fill it with seedlings that will be planted in the public garden later in the spring.

Our lettuce is going to seed, which we will sow through the season in the public garden, and the kale flourishes with plenty of greens to share. Rosemary maintains her happy home and offers nutrient dense leaves to share as full branches in the food pantry. Herbs are like super food! Even with the simplest meal, they add flavor and (more importantly) a dose of nutrients that are found in these culinary plants that are closest to the wild. They store easily when dried too.
Watercress flourishes in the aquaponic bed and the chard has grown into a giant!
Pickled beets to be – taken out of the dirt to make way for seedlings
Various pumpkins and squash emerge
Seedlings stay cozy under a late April snow.
Brassicas and onions – perfect planting companions
A new set of greens are planted in the terraced beds.

2020 SEED engagements

March 19-22: Slow Fish in Durham, New Hampshire

March 29th:
SEED Swap & Scion Exchange
MOFGA Common Ground Education Center, 10am – 4pm
Installation of the SEED Sensorium & dispersal of Native Grasses
Join us for the 3rd year of installing the SEED Sensorium, pick up seed saving information and native grass seed to support habitat for pollinators. Find us in the alcove, next to the exchange.

April 4th:
Master Gardener Symposium: Gear Up for Gardening
Moore Center, 12:30 – 4:30-5pm
Creative Frameworks for SEED Dispersal ~ Lee Lee
Working at the intersection of art and ecology, Lee Lee will present her methodology in cultivating creative frameworks for public engagement around wild land restoration. Material will include cultivating networks of living SEED libraries, SEED Sensoria, HugelCULTURE and following seasonal rhythms to respond to specific attributes of place in culturally relevant ways. 
Other workshops include: Grow your best Veggies by Marjorie Poronto of the Master Gardeners Extension program, Grow your best raspberries by David Handley, UMaine, Biodiversity by Reeser Manley, Creating a community garden, Edible Millbridge, and Improving soils by Paul and Karen Volkhausen of Happytown Farm.

April 4th: Sweetgrass talk with Carol Dana
Part of the Blue Hill Heritage Trust’s winter lecture series

May 9th 1 – 3pm
Garden Day at the Blue Hill Heritage Trust
Learn what native seeds may be sown in spring and collect native grass seeds to take home and plant for pollinators. A workshop on composting will be presented by master gardener, Zabet NeuCollins.

May 23rd 9am – noon
Blue Hill Public Library Plant Sale
Find SEED under the apple tree as we disperse spring sown native grasses and wild mint along with sipping tea and drawing pollinators who benefit from these meadow plants

The above events cancelled or postponed due to COVID 19

May 23rd 2-4pm (rain date May 24)
Mapping the Labyrinth Meadow workshop at Tapley Farm
As a community, we will map out the geometric path that will be maintained at Tapley Farm in Brooksville as a collaboration between the Tent Project, the Open Air Arts Initiative and SEED :: disperse. The labyrinth will offer a platform on which to creatively explore our relationship with the meadow landscape. Challenging the dominant local mowing practice of severing this important part of local ecology, this event kicks off a series of workshops to educate people on how to maintain meadows in ways that best support the pollinator and bird communities that are essential to healthy natural systems.

May 30
Alewife Festival at Pierce Pond
Join the Penobscot Alewife Committee, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust & SEED to celebrate the maturing landscape around the restored fish ladder into Pierce Pond. Learn about the plants that make up shoreline communities and the network of life supported by them.

July 11 – 27th: SEED Barn Artist in Residence: moira williams
Learn more about moira’s walking based creative practice:
I-Park Kicks off Seventh Art Biennale in East Haddam

July 25th 2-4pm (rain date July 26)
Embodying the Landscape: Walking the Labyrinth
We invite the community to walk the labyrinth with intention as we explore the plant communities that make up the meadow at the Tapley Farm. We will speak of how important it is to hold off on mowing our meadows until November by paying attention to the teaming life that fills the maturing meadow. We will think about the localized movement of pollinators as they weave their way through the landscape and think about the shelter provided by tall grasses for seed dispersers who call the meadow home. Open source images of the network of life that abounds in meadows will be available for creative exploration through words, movement and drawing.

August 22nd 10a-4pm
Blue Hill Maritime Festival
Discover the colonial medicine chest and tea gardens at the Pendleton House with the establishment of a new SEED library dedicated to preserving these heirlooms brought to Maine from across the sea.

October 3rd 2-4pm (rain date October 4)
Meadow Restoration workshop at Tapley Farm
We will look at techniques for restoring meadows for the final event in the Labyrinth series in collaboration with the Tent Project and the Open Air Arts Initiative. Thinking about the transformation from flower to seed, we will look at the community of seed eating birds who are supported by mature meadows as they migrate south for the winter. We invite people to wait until November to mow so as not to disrupt this important food source for the birds. Autumn is the best time for planting plugs and we will share techniques on how to best introduce native plants to meadow environments to broaden the diversity of what is growing around us.

October 8-12th: Terra Madre

Seaside Goldenrod

Monarchs sip nectar from September blooms of Seaside Goldenrod to prepare for their long autumn migration. After several generations of Monarchs have made their way north to Maine, this last generation flies the entire return trip to the alpine forests of central Mexico, where they will over winter.

While Milkweed is essential food for Monarch caterpillars, a diversity of late blooming plants offer important nourishment for migrating monarchs. It’s important NOT to mow fields until much later in the season so the flowers may continue to offer nectar…and then seeds to migrating birds!

Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare

Bombus on Tansy
Bombus loves nectar from the button shaped yellow flowers of Tansy

Tansy was a part of the Acadian medicine chest and was considered necessary in a garden by the British. It is used to repel insects, particularly flies, and to guard against worms. Acadians used it internally to expel intestinal parasites, and in New England it was added to coffins to guard against the dead being consumed by worms. It was used this way so much in the colonies during the 19th century that it became associated with death. Bruised leaves were placed on meat to keep flies at bay, and it was kept strewn about in homes with dried elder leaves to repel other insects. Colonialists would wear it in their shoes to guard against insect born illnesses. It is said that infusions of the root, flowers or seed can be a strong antidote for gout. The Irish would bathe in infusions of tansy and salt to ease joint pain. Up until the 1940s, diluted tansy oil was added to fleabane & pennyroyal to make a popular insect repellent. More recently, Swedish scientists have found it fairly effective at repelling ticks. The leaves and flowers are toxic if consumed in large quantities.

In addition to the way settlers used the plant, indigenous populations found this herb to be effective in addressing a broad range of ailments. Pulverized blossoms & leaves were infused by Cheyenne to improve weakness & dizzyness. Chippewa found that a weak infusion aided earaches, and that the roots either brewed or chewed were effective against a sore throat. Many tribes used it against stomach disorders and fever reducers. Micmac and Malecite used it as a contraceptive and Cherokee would tie it around the waist of a pregnant woman to avoid miscarriage during pregnancy. The Shoshoni used it as a warm anaseptic wash and Ojibwe would include it in a blend of dried plants that was burned to attract deer.

Tansy had culinary uses that are not generally practiced today. Because of the toxicity, some people react to consuming even small amounts. New leaves emerging in spring were used as an herb to add to omelettes or puddings, and paired with caraway when making biscuits and ‘tansy cakes’. Today it is only known to make a particular type of blood pudding in Cork, Ireland. The flowers are cultivated for aesthetic purposes and may be used to make a yellow or green hued dye. It is still used as a companion plant for non-chemical pest control, demonstrated to be highly effective against the Colorado potato beetle. When planted alongside cucurbits like cucumbers, melons and squash, or with roses and berry plants, it repels pests like ants, cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles and squash bugs. Beekeepers will sometimes add dry tansy to the blends they use to smoke out beehives.

Sources: The Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens on the Acadia University campus, Nova Scotia, Wikipedia, A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M Grieve and Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E Moerman. Please note that material provided here is for informational purposes only and are not to be taken as recommendations for treatment.

Bagaduce Alewife Celebration


Join the Penobscot Alewife Committee, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries for the 2nd Annual Bagaduce Alewife Celebration!

Saturday, May 18th, 11am – 3pm
Pierce Pond in Penobscot


Learn about the native plant restoration work being done at Pierces with the SEED Barn & Blue Hill Heritage Trust.

Demonstrations on sowing native seeds, transplanting seedlings and providing habitat will compliment an art installation of cast paper butterflies. The public is invited to participate in this community restoration project by learning about the ecologies along the land water interface. Add your voice by composing messages to wildlife who use this passage, and bring home an assortment of native grass seeds to plant in your own yard!

Guided tours of future restoration locations will take place on on Parker Pond (9:30am)  and Walkers Pond (1pm)


Explore the Water!
Catch alewives to make observations, view a freshwater fish observation tank, taste smoked fish, and much more! There will even be a Virtual Reality set up so you can “swim with the fishes” through Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries!

For more information, please contact Blue Hill Heritage Trust at 374-5118 or info@bluehillheritagetrust.org

Participate in the Community Restoration of Pierce Pond through March by sowing native seeds specific to the river and lakeshore plant communities observed around Pierce Pond and gathered from the research in the Natural Landscapes of Maine guide published by the Maine Heritage Fund. Seeds are best sown at home, and we invite community members to establish some in their home gardens and sow some to share with the restoration project.



Great Maine Outdoor Weekend

Art is for the BIRDS!!

The Great Maine Outdoors Weekend encourages people to get outside! This year, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust is working with Lee Lee of the SEED Barn on a participatory sculpture that will be woven directly into the landscape in the Kingdom Woods Conservation Area. Part of the Open Air Arts Initiative, this arts workshop invites community members to collaborate on a sculpture that will provide winter shelter for birds, aesthetically integrating material from young oak trees that were recently cleared to preserve the heirloom blueberry field. Extending the flow of existing natural forms which stand prominently in the landscape, participants will weave the branches together, keeping in mind the space needed by bunnies to burrow and birds to flutter. In the process, contributors can explore ways we may integrate organic detritus offer winter protection for resident species in a way that piques visual interest. The Open-Air Arts Initiative is a collaboration between the SEED Barn, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Cynthia Winings Gallery. Its mission is to use nature to ignite creativity in the young people who live on or visit the Blue Hill Peninsula.

Drawing inspiration from the land immersed arts movement of the west, Lee Lee has been bringing a new kind of community arts practice to the Blue Hill Peninsula. Working with only materials found on site, she has invited the public to work together in weaving sculptures through the landscapes around the Blue Hill Peninsula. Through the spring, she collaborated with local students to build sculptural pollinator homes. As the season transitions into fall, she is working with the wider community on ways we may increase habitat for birds through the series birdSEED.

Sculpting branches that we trim out of the garden challenges the popular but somewhat misplaced notion that tidy yards are superior. In fact, tangles of woody brush are essential habitat for birds, small mammals as well as pollinators. Downeast Audubon director, Leslie Clapp describes ways we may creatively incorporate winter protection for resident birds into our domestic spheres at home; “Building brush piles is fun and you can be as creative as you wish.  Some look like tepees, some porcupines, others bee hives. You can plant vines which cover them for more interest.  Sometimes I put a base of logs (in log cabin style) and then weave the sticks in through the logs so they stand upright. The major thing is not to pack them too tightly so the critters can’t get in.  I keep adding to some year after year because they do break down.”

Complementing the weaving of thicket style shelter for the birds, ongoing seasonal workshops hosted by the SEED barn demonstrate how to ferment and sow fresh native stone fruit seeds. Native species like wild cherries, elderberry, mountain ash and an array of viburnum and dogwoods not only feed the birds but provide important nectar sources for pollinators in the early spring.  Because fruit is an inhibitor to seed germination, it needs to be cleaned off thoroughly; as if it has passed through the gut of a bird, bear or moose. The process of mimicking bird digestion is easily replicated at home by smashing a bunch of fruit to a pulp in a Ziploc bag. Over the course of about ten days, mashing the bag daily, the bubbles of fermentation form in the macerated fruit then settle. At this point, the seeds may be cleaned by immersing them in fresh water, massaging any remaining fruit off the seed, swirling the pulp in a bowl of water and pouring off the macerated fruit. Viable seeds will sink in the vortex of the swirl, while the fruit will be picked up by the current and easily poured off. These seeds cannot dry out, so need to be planted fresh. They may be stored immersed in vermiculite in the same plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator until the season shifts; then planted right before the ground freezes. 

Supported in part by a project grant from the Maine Arts Commission, birdSEED will continue the following week with a public workshop on taming invasive bittersweet and barberry at the Blue Hill Consolidated School on September 29th.

birdSEED: Explore! Outdoors

Image courtesy of Explore Outdoors!

Following the ecological rhythm of the seasons, SEED programs engage a network of schools and land stewards at the intersection of art and ecology to promote long term restoration. Building habitat for birds and pollinators through providing accessible platforms for community participation develops a sense of our relationships with the natural world, which we feel is essential to the effectiveness of conservation work. Drawing inspiration from the ancient art of weaving practiced in the area, we will gather in August to weave winter homes for birds and weave together native plant communities cultivated in the SEED network of steward gardens. In so doing, we weave together communities of people in the act of ecocultural restoration. In collaboration with Explore! Outdoors and the Blue Hill Public Library, we intend to create a woven sculpture immersed in the landscape of the SEED Barn meadow, using only materials found on site so that the works may disintegrate back into the landscape. The act of creating these woven structures allows us to think about traditional relationships with the land while exploring the animal species who could potentially use the shelter while overwintering nearby. Summer visitors are particularly encouraged to attend so they may return home to apply this method in more urban areas.

SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
Participants fill the moist meadow of the SEED Barn to gather materials to integrate into our habitat sculpture.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
The structure echoes the perpendicular lines between the fallen trunk, branches and ground, creating a framework into which were inserted small scale, nest like sculptures.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED nest
Nest inspired sculpture made of natural materials during the workshop.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
Nest forms woven on a larger scale in the meadow.
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED
SEED Barn Maine - birdSEED winter
The nest inspired sculpture settles into the landscape over the winter.

¡Pollinate! Artsweek at GSA

Pollinator sculpture hung from the trees

Broadening perceptions of HOME to include outdoor spaces beyond our walls helps cultivate an understanding of the interrelationships between humans and pollinators. As for humans, good homes for pollinators include plenty of food, safe access to water and shelter, and enough space to raise the next generation. Developing the awareness of what is available beyond our fencelines, we may fill in the gaps to support movement of pollinators through our own spheres. The movement of pollinators like bees, butterflies, beetles & moths is highly localized. During the spring we think about the ways that pollinators navigate our gardens, filling in gaps in bloom time with native flowers and ensure there is enough tufting grass to provide protection. In this workshop, students from the George Stevens Academy constructed pollinator homes out of hollow stems, drilled holes in dead wood and sculpted stacks of branches in the staghorn sumac grove above Wardwell Pasture during their Artsweek creative workshops. We used material from a tree that had needed to be cleared because of the proximity to the road by which it had fallen because we don’t like to disrupt in-tact ecologies by taking out materials that make up existing systems. Our tools included a drill, hacksaw, twine, hammer and a single nail. The sculptures persisted through the seasons, slowly melting back into the landscape over time.

Quiet stirrings of Spring

Pussy willow blossom

Spring arrives quietly in Maine. In lieu of colors that burst forth vibrantly in more southerly parts of the country, spring arrives through smells emerging from the sea, the softening of ground and a gentle ease as the freeze starts to thaw. Sap starts running as trees prepare to set forth their leaves, and there is a subtle shift in the palette of the landscape as the tips of branches bulge in buds and the first soft fuzzy blooms speckle the Pussy Willow trees. Providing essential nutrients for Bombus as they start to wake up from winter hibernation, the trees are considered keystone species in these northern woods. Surprisingly, the fuzzy grey nubbins are actually flowers. If you tear them open and put them under a microscope you will find they contain flaming fuschia and lime hidden within their furry coats. The closer we look to the plants outdoors, the more surprises we find in tiny bursts of life setting forth.

It is a time for planting seeds in the greenhouse! Vegetable seedlings start filling the terraces in their little pots. We also sow native bunching grasses to give them a strong start through the belated spring. We will then plant the grasses as plugs in the late spring and early summer to provide shelter for pollinators and late fall forage for migrating birds.

The greenhouse is warm despite late snow storms