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

Meadow Mandala

Meadow Mandala at the SEED Barn Maine
Thatcher Gray basks above the completed Meadow Mandala in the wet meadow alongside the SEED Barn.

Broadening perceptions of HOME to include outdoor spaces helps cultivate an understanding of the interrelationships between humans and wildlife. As for humans, good homes for wildlife include plenty of food, safe access to water and shelter, and enough space to raise the next generation. In this outdoor workshop, participants are invited to create an on-site, mandala inspired sculpture woven through the meadow landscape that will provide winter habitat for seed dispersers.

In the process, we learn how to work with natural materials in our own gardens to augment habitat for wildlife through winter months.

This is the final installment of the 2019 Open Air Arts Initiative Field Works, a collaboration between the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, Cynthia Winings Gallery & the SEED Barn. The culmination exhibition will take place at Parker Point the weekend of September 27-29.
https://www.facebook.com/events/596899880842603/

The SEED Barn is located at 53 Falls Bridge Road in Blue Hill Falls www.virtualvoices.org
http://www.openairarts.org/
https://bluehillheritagetrust.org/

Meadow Mandala at the SEED Barn Maine
Exploring different methods of working with materials on site, participants share ideas as the spiral form of the mandala is established
leaf chain
A leaf chain is woven with yarn and Norway maple leaves from the eradication of the invasive tree on another part of the property.
Leaf chain for the Meadow Mandala
Assembling the Meadow Mandala at the SEED Barn Maine
Working together to assemble the Meadow Mandala
Meadow Mandala at the SEED Barn Maine
The finished mandala
Meadow Mandala in winter. The structure persists into the winter and highlight the animal passages through the underbrush.
Mandala in Winter

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!

Sea Shanties & SEED Stories


Celebrating the new gardens designed and built by Lee Lee at the Pendleton House, they set the stage for a display of Haitian artworks and maritime paintings during first Blue Hill Maritime Heritage Festival. In consideration of the historic use of the building to house sailors who needed temporary housing between seafaring journeys, garden plants were chosen because they were considered important enough for early settlers to bring with them across the sea. The plant collection will comprise a collection of tea and medicinal plants tended in these early colonial ‘medicine chests’.

In tandem with exploring what plants arrived here, we are considering the severance of the landscape for the raw materials that became the foundations for colonialism. What systems were set in place that still exist today? What are the long term social impacts experienced by indigenous populations in the Penobscot region as well as the Caribbean and African regions? How is indigenous practice informing the healing of these lands?

Featuring custom painted Maritime Chests and Historical Signs by Robert Jarvis Leonard III, the garden installation included crafts from Indian Island by Penobscot linguist Carol Dana and a selection of Haitian sculptures that offer a poignant reflection of the backwaters of (im)mobilities. An interactive component will invite visitors to share stories of their own relationship with plants and migrations.

Through the festival, songs of the sea will be sung both in the gardens and along the sea across the street at Emerson park. Bring an instrument and join in this Cèilidh style gathering.



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

Hugel CULTURE demonstration

The first season at the SEED barn involved a lot of work taking down invasive plants and folding them back into the earth in a Hugelkultur fashion. Mid way through the season, the Blue Hill and Brooklin Garden Clubs visited the grounds in a demonstration on how we are using available materials to build Hugelkultures. Conversation on why it is important to address invasive plants ensued since many invasives are initially introduced as decorative garden plants. Bringing attention to the fact that many nurseries, especially in the big box stores, continue to sell invasive plants is important to know for avid gardeners.  Below, we see an example of a Hugelkultur bed in the second season as new plants become established. An introduction to the SEED Library offered members new ideas on what native plants could potentially be worked into the landscape. The tour ended with a description of how to tie in an aquaponic system into the small scale terracing approach developed by grandpa in the new greenhouse.

 

Aquaponics in the Greenhouse

Grandpa's greenhouse
Stacked beds support the aquaponics system installed in the greenhouse

The method of stacking growing beds to save space and add height within the green house was developed at the Distillery in Taos. Using a wire mesh to form the curved walls, Quick-crete is smoothed on to fill in the wall structures. The little walls are only buried a few inches, so the beds are connected underneath, allowing the roots of the plants to grow unconstrained. The walls serve not only as growing containers, but as a stepped buttress to support the weight of garden dirt across the top portions of the beds. The top level, seen here as under construction, is connected to the pond as a closed, aquaponics system. Filled with a growing medium, there is a pump that flushes water from the pond through the bed a couple of times a day. Bringing nutrients in the form of fish waste to the plants, their roots in turn filter the water clean for the fish before the water cascades back into the little pond. We have found that watercress abounds in this bed, offering nutrient dense greens through winter months. Raised beds on the right offer a comfortable work space, warmed by the sun in winter and offering a lovely view, overlooking the Mill Pond.

Thatcher Gray paints pollinators
Dreaming of spring: Thatcher Gray paints pollinators on the old painted floors of the 1835 farm house connected to the SEED Barn.

Preserving the Barn

When we purchased the 1835 house and barn built by John Cheever, the barn was sagging and at risk of needing to be torn down. The previous owners had poured a new foundation for the main house, but the barn was in sad shape. A big reason for buying this home was the barn space, so we felt it was worth saving. The lofty space is relatively cozy for a barn with a dramatic stone fireplace that had been added later. The way the wood was put together evidenced mastery of material expressed by the shipbuilder who constructed it. We also felt the space would be improved by playing more to the surrounding water, so we took measures to bring the outdoors in through large openings cut into the walls as set of three tall windows facing Conary Cove and four sets of French doors. The double glass doors open to the patio, a new front porch built as a formal entry, and the typical raised bed greenhouse designed by Peter Leonard (grandpa). Through her career of owning a boutique Denver Real Estate firm, Sonja Leonard Leonard (grandma) took on multiple renovations of old houses. She developed a refined sense of preserving the historic characteristics of a house, while updating the style of living to fit today’s taste and standards. As with other properties in Denver and Taos, we collaborated as a family to determine the interior architectural design as well as the finishes to make the cohesive space.

The wooden interior of the barn is rich with history, as if the antique planks of wood held the stories of generations of families who shared the space. We wanted to preserve the ancient wood, but we also wanted to extend the season in which we could comfortably use the space, so we framed the outside of the barn to add insulation. This allowed us to mount a set of solar panels on the south side, above the greenhouse. The greenhouse offers passive solar heat gain which warms the space through the colder seasons. While it’s not enough to dwell comfortably without extra heat from the renai, it certainly takes the edge off while leaving it cold enough to preserve the seeds we are working with as part of the SEED barn. We then shocked the community by choosing a soft, sea green color for the exterior. The response from our neighbors being, “We don’t paint barns green here.” Typically people don’t cut giant holes in their barn either, so we dismissed it as simply being from ‘away’.

We had a LOT of dirt from excavating around the perimeter of the barn. In order to provide a bit of protection from road noise, we stretched out the pile along the front of the house as the foundation of the garden intended to be a living seed library for native plants that would be used in restoration work around the peninsula. using the excavator to place the large stones that came out from under the original floor, a layer of ‘good’ dirt was delivered and spread over the fill to provide a nourishing hold for the new plants. The high clay content of soil from this land provide moisture even through dry seasons, so it is a nice balance to establish a new garden.

Preserving the SEED Barn in Blue Hill Falls village, Maine
Thatcher Gray and grandpa explore the excavated foundation.
The frame of grandpa’s greenhouse is visible to the left.
Pouring the new foundation to preserve the SEED Barn
New foundation set, the excavator pulls the excess dirt around the front of the property to establish a berm for our new garden.
Preserving the SEED Barn while redesigning the structure to invite the view inside.
Large holes cut into the cove-side wall invite the view of Conary Cove indoors
Interior view of the barn renovation
New floors being framed along with the large window and four sets of French Doors.
Disrupting the large expanse of lawn, a virtual desert for pollinators, and transforming it into a sculpted landscape to support wildlife.
Exterior framing allowed for the addition of insulation so that we could comfortably extend the seasons where we could actively use the barn.
Pushing foundation dirt along the front of the property and around what will become the site for a small fresh water pond.
Grandpa directs the sculpting of the berm, placing rocks as visual features and structural elements to the emergent garden.
A layer of ‘good’ dirt is spread over the fill.
Thatcher Gray shows off his creation. He decided to plant wild blueberries along this section of the berm, establishing a blueberry barren for a delicious treat!