Winter Farmers’ Market

We just arrived home from the Winter Farmers’ Market in Rollingsford NH. It was an indescribable experience so I’ll say it mostly with pictures.

Days are growing longer by almost 3 minutes a day, one of the farmers told me. Did you know that winter greens thrive on these lengthening days? We found plenty of greens at the market, such as different kales, lettuces, bok choy, and beet greens. We found carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash galore. There were also rudabagas and beets.

The mother and daughter team selling at this booth were bee keepers and vegetable growers. It is mainly a one woman operation with help from her daughter when she is home from school. This farmer said she worked from 9 am to 9 pm harvesting vegetables yesterday. We bought her honey.

I didn’t expect so much meat to be available. They offered organic beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. Yes, mister gardener could not pass up the pork spare ribs and a few strip steaks.

Did you know that beans are one of the world’s oldest foods? I’d never seen such variety. Have you ever heard of Marfax, True Red Cranberry, or Yellow Eye beans? These beans are a lot fresher than the ones in the grocery store that could be years old.

Lengthening daylight also brings an abundance of eggs. Locally raised eggs are amazing, full of flavor and nutrition. The farmers were quick to tell me their chickens are treated humanely. I thought the colors of the eggs were gorgeous.

The eggs we ended up buying were quail eggs. This farmer raises 3 varieties of quail and was excited to talk about each. I wonder which one laid my eggs.

We evidenced cookies, doughnuts, granola (tasty samples). We could have had breakfast or lunch of cheeses, pastas, crepes, soup, milk, yogurt and a breakfast sandwich that looked hot and delicious. We settled on crepes…. savory with organic cheeses and herbs for mister gardener and, alas, Nutella for me.

There were many bread bakers and we love bread. We choose some whole wheat yeast rolls for dinner tonight.

Author Kathy Gunst was cooking up a storm and serving samples of several different recipes from her newest cookbook. Mister gardener loved the roasted root vegetable and lettuce salad but this bean dish was delicious, too.

“It’s an award winner,” the owner said as she handed us samples of her maple syrup. Couldn’t pass this up! Our bags were getting heavy: meats, cookbook, bread, honey, maple syrup (and candy), eggs.

Rugs, slippers, blankets, mittens, hand-dyed wool was all prepared by this happy farmer. She loves her craft and it shows.

Finally, we stopped to enjoy the music of MiKe & MiKe who now have Lily Hope sleeping through the entire show.  Mike Morris, guitarist and Heather Mike, fiddler, entertained the crowds with foot stomping high-energy folk music. What a treat!

Spring is around the corner… I hope.

While I was chopping ice off the walkway last week, a neighbor out for a stroll stopped to chat. The conversation turned to gardening. “Do you like bulbs?” she asked.  Hailing from the area of Brent and Beckys Bulbs in Ware Neck, VA, naturally I said yes. “Well, they’re planted all over this lawn,” she added. I looked around. I know they’re up and blooming in Virginia but not a one had broken through the ground here.

After she left, I tried to visualize a lawn full of blooms. That is difficult to do. But just trying to visualize tulips made me reflect on our small group that traveled with Brent and Becky to Holland in the spring of 2010 and our visit to the dazzling gardens of Keukenhof near Amsterdam. Oh, how much fun it would be if this lawn lit up with a rainbow of colors like we saw in Holland.

I posted some photos from that 2010 trip while traveling, but being in a bulb mood now, I’m posting a few more pictures today.

I’ll be checking the lawn in New Hampshire every day for signs of emerging bulbs. I’ll post a photo if it looks anything like Keukenhof Gardens.  Hurry up, spring!

In love with a bridge…

When a bridge is being repaired or replaced in Virginia, it’s been my experience that locals are unhappy, not over the loss or worry about the bridge, but over the blasted inconvenience. Not so for the 89-year old Memorial Bridge that spanned the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth NH and Kittery Maine. Built between 1920 and 1923, the bridge was dedicated to Americans who served our country during WWI. It supported traffic on foot, bike or vehicle without a toll. Folks around here were very attached to this bridge that served them faithfully for so many years and when it was closed to vehicle traffic in July of 2011 and pedestrians and cyclists in January of this year, it was emotional.

Portsmouth Memorial Bridge via Wikipedia

In October, locals staged a farewell party in a park at the foot of the bridge. Music, food, facepainting, games and more attracted a large crowd of young and old, including the mayor and governor, to say goodbye to a trusted old friend. On January 8, there was a walk, the final walk across the Memorial Bridge. Then the bridge closed.

Last week, crowds gathered on both shores to watch the 2-million pound center lift span disconnected, lifted and lowered onto a barge and floated out to sea, bound for a scrap yard somewhere.  Artists, camera buffs, television stations marked the occasion by jockeying for position for the best shot. The rest of the old bridge will be removed in the coming months with the replacement bridge to be completed by July of 2013.

My daughter was among those who witnessed the first stage of removal and sent the two photos below:

Section being lowered onto a barge

Tugboat

Meanwhile, when the dust and rust had settled, The Portsmouth Herald’s online publication, Seacoast Online, had a little fun with a photo of the gap in the bridge. They ran a great contest for the best “something” to fill the space with a $50 prize going to the winner.

Here are a few of the entries that are sure to break the somber mood locally and bring a smile:

Great Backyard Bird Count

For over a month, I’ve fed the birds in our new habitat. And they have had the best of food, my special blend that I’ve developed over the years. It took almost a week of feeding before the first little brown bird discovered the feeder. Since then I’ve attracted the most common birds found at feeders. I’m missing a few familiar friends… like the cardinals.  But I’m beginning to attract varieties of woodpeckers. I hear them more than I see them but they will dash in for a seed or two early in the morning.

I was excited to rise at dawn today for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Coffee in one hand, binoculars in the other, I settled into my comfortable chair where data form and paper waited. What I saw at the feeder caused me to slosh a bit of coffee from the mug.

Grackles. Common Grackles. Iridescent in the early morning light. Hundreds of them, in the birches, in the pines, in the air, in shrubs, swinging on the grackle-proof feeder, spilling seed on the ground where they came and went with abandon.

They don’t know this crazy lady yet so they swooped and soared and dined in utter bliss. It was hopeless. My 15-minute Backyard Bird Count was easy today. I will report 200 Common Grackles. Hope rises eternal. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Pass the Maple Syrup…

There are a lot of things we can live without but, along with air and water, pure maple syrup just happens to be on the ‘can’t live without’ list.  A maple syrup breakfast is always the first Welcome Home meal when offspring arrive for a visit and they know to let that warm liquid spill off the pancakes to mingle and compliment the savory foods… eggs, bacon or sausage. Ummmm….

But that’s not all. They might taste the cherished syrup again in baked beans, caramelized carrots, puddings, winter squash or a pork recipe, just to name a few. We do love it…. so much in fact, that our New England daughter and husband, who were married in Gloucester last June, chose Maine maple syrup for their wedding favors.And now we live smack in the middle of maple syrup country in New Hampshire where supplies are plentiful.  The New Hampshire industry produces nearly 90,000 gallons of the amber liquid. In addition, there’s a plethora of New Englanders who produce it just for their own tables.

The season usually begins in southern New Hampshire in late February and runs through mid-April, depending on weather conditions. Ideal conditions of night time temperatures in the low 20s and daytime temperatures warm to highs of 30s to low 40s cause the sap in frozen trees to flow through the tapped holes during the day.

Wikimedia image

This year the weather has the maple syrup producers worried. The winter has been milder than usual and needed snowfall is light. The sap is flowing early. Producers in southern New Hampshire are tapping their trees now amidst some fear that the production time may be cut short by an early spring. It may mean less maple syrup which will mean higher prices for consumers at the market. On the other hand, if the weather holds, it could be the longest season ever. Only Mother Nature knows for sure.

Icy!

Before we know the answers, we plan to visit one or two of the Sugar Houses that are close by in Strafford County and learn more about this ancient tradition that began long before the Europeans’ arrival. And to be safe, we just may purchase a reserve in case of a shortage because how could we exist with an inadequate supply?

Spring Harvest Maple Farm in Barrington New Hampshire provides maple syrup to some of our favorite breakfast restaurants

It’s a Grey Fox… not a Red

I’m not venturing out to garden, weed, or prune in our new frozen tundra this winter. The only outdoor activity I’m fully engaged in so far is feeding the songbirds. We have no trees near this house so instead of hanging feeders from limbs as I did in Virginia, I discovered a great Advanced Pole System at Wild Birds Unlimited to bring the birds closer.

The pole with attached auger is simply twisted into the ground about 24″ and additional poles are snapped onto this pole. The top of the pole is where you can get fancy or stay simple. This is what you could do:

I chose to stay simple with one squirrel baffle tube feeder until I saw how many birds would be tempted to dine with us. The small chickadee was the first to discover the feeder, followed by the tufted titmouse, hairy woodpecker, goldfinches, nuthatches, and the ground feeders, the juncos and other sparrows.

I’ve had the system for one week and the food is disappearing fast. Now I’m waiting for those birds I rarely or never see in the south, like the redpolls, the grosbeaks, the crossbills. I’m gearing up the the Great Backyard Bird Count of 2012 on February 17-20. I’ll count the birds around the feeder and the birds I see in the distance or simply flying over. With an extensive salt marsh vista, hawks are numerous, busy scouting for food over the grasses, gulls soar from the nearby rivers, and noisy Canada geese fill the skies.

With the noise at the feeder today, we attracted a new visitor.  What I thought was a Red Fox is really a Grey Fox. I’m sure his acute hearing alerted this visitor to see what all the ruckus was in his neighborhood. He stood very still on a sunny hillside where the snow has melted and just observed the bird activity at the feeder. After a moment, he turned tail and quietly disappeared over the hill into the white pines. There were no dining opportunities at our feeder on open ground.

Grey Fox

However…. should the fox be interested, there is a meal or two available if he is patient and quick. You see, not only the birds have found the feeder. We have one or two uninvited guest who are eating more than their fair share of my costly bird food. And, boy, are they FAT.