Archive for the ‘Maine’ Category


May 14, 2013

alewifeSpring is alewife season in Maine.  No, it isn’t when we go hunting for the wives of ale-drinkers or -makers, it is when the alewives, a sea-going fish in the herring family, using their sense of smell, return to the freshwater lakes and ponds where they were spawned to themselves spawn. IMG_2985 Alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus), are fairly small fish of less than a foot in length, whose number used to be so great that bears would wade into streams to eat their fill as the millions of fish made their way upstream.  They have long been smoked and preserved for winter use, or harvested for lobster bait in Maine, but the damming of Maine’s rivers and streams for energy interrupted their passage and the number of alewives has plummeted in recent years.

Maine is working to restore the populations of alewives and other sea-running fish by dam removal aerialand the construction of fish ladders and passageways.  Even in the 12 years I’ve lived next to the Kennebec River, several dams have been removed, hastening the return of salmon and even sturgeon to the river.  Community groups, municipalities and state and federal agencies are working together to restore fish passageways and fish ladders across the state to keep the alewife and other sea-run fish from extinction.  IMG_3020

Sunday we took Dan’s mom to the historic Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder to see the alewives. The ladder allows the fish to pass from Great Salt Bay into the ladder, marked with a yellow arrow in the photo, and then upstream along the yellow line into Damariscotta Lake at the second arrow.

A coalition of local community groups has been working hard to restore the ladder and educate IMG_3028the public about the alewives and the role they play in the ecosystem.  It is an amazing, inspiring sight.  Thousands of fish fill the stream, swimming as one body, packed so closely together it is difficult to see them as individuals when you first look.  The new fish ladder is engineered to add oxygen the water and has 8 resting pools where the plucky fish can catch their breath, so to speak, before continuing.  Netting over the pools prevents eagles, osprey, seagulls and other birds from excessive snacking as the fish make their way up the ladder.  The fish IMG_3033ladder is abutted by homes on one side.  In the photo above you can see some of the resting pools looking down the ladder.  At the top of the fish ladder is a concrete dam.  The alewives fight their way through a small opening in the dam into Damariscotta Lake.  After all their struggles to return to the lake, they are met with hungry ducks and cormorants (as seen in the photo) eager to dine.   The alewives form large schools, and eventually move to quiet water to spawn.  After spawning, the fish return to the sea, IMG_3041traveling downstream tail first, much like they traveled upstream.  A female alewife might lay 60,000 to 100,000 eggs, but only a tiny fraction survive to adulthood.  It is truly an amazing journey.

(above aerial photo from the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration webpage, my graphics added)

Somerset Grist Mill

February 19, 2013

An antique but still functional Clipper grain cleaner


Lambke and the Austrian millstones

A couple of weeks ago, I was very fortunate to be able to lead a field trip to the Somerset Grist Mill.  The mill is located in an old Maine paper mill town on the mighty Kennebec River, Skowhegan.  To the outsider, Skowhegan may appear a bit downtrodden, but it is quickly becoming the bustling heart of the fledgling movement to restore Maine’s once vibrant grain economy to its former glory.  In 2007, grassroots organizer Amber Lambke helped organize the Kneading Conference, which drew bread-bakers, grain farmers and millers from a wide area to learn and talk about bread-baking, using local grains, and to examine how to revitalize the area’s once robust grain production.  The conference, which continues today, was hugely successful, and one of many great offshoots from it was Lambke’s and business partner Michael Scholz’s decision to purchase the former Somerset County Jail and reinvent it as a grist mill, farmers’ market site, and retail space.  After years of research, fundraising and construction, the mill began operating in September 2013.


Grain hopper for the pneumatic grain conveyance system

I had an image of an old-fashioned pokey complete with small barred cells, but the jail, constructed in 1863 (about the time Henbogle House was built), has been modernized over the years and was in continuous use as a jail until 2007 when a new facility opened.  One or two barred and concrete block cells-turned offices were visible, but the majority of the building reminded me more of an early 70s public school.  Walking down a narrow corridor, we came to a heavy door, and upon opening, could see the workings of the mill.


Looking down into the bagging area

At the heart of the operation are two wood-framed Austrian mill-stones, a pneumatic system used to move the grain through the milling process, a state of the art robotic grain dryer, and a 1930s Clipper grain cleaner.  Outside the building were grain silos linked to the hydraulic system.

Farmers deliver whole grains to the mill, where it is stored briefly before being moved to storage bins on the top floor, above the milling area.  When milling begins, the grain is gravity fed into the mill. Once ground and sorted, it is fed into the bottom floor for further sorting, bagging and shipping.


The pneumatic grain conveyor

Of course I could not resist the opportunity to try some of their products, so I purchased a bag of sifted wheat flour (which has some of the coarse bran sifted out) to try, and some oats.  I’ve made pizza and English muffins from the flour, and gave some to my friend Karen and she made pizza.  We agree, it is delicious and makes a very workable dough.  I’ve yet to try the oats but they are on the vacation week cooking agenda.

LC the adventurous chicken

January 30, 2012

LC, a hen from New Gloucester, Maine, has become a regular at the New Gloucester Village Market.  Since first wandering into the store one day, she has become a regular customer, and is now posing for ads and is regularly featured on the market’s Facebook page.  Perhaps I’ve found some work for my aging hen, Bea, who is not pulling her weight in the egg department?

I hope LC comes to no harm crossing the road on her way to the market.

No foolin’

April 1, 2011

It’s snowin’




April Foolishness

March 31, 2011

No, this is not a prank forecast.  Sob.

Winter’s not over ’til the last snowflake falls

March 22, 2011

About 4 inches of snowflake

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Melting commences

March 16, 2011


Last week we had a big storm move across the state.  Happily it was snow-melting rain, not more snow.  Coast Guard icebreaking ships moved up and into the Kennebec River to prevent flooding from ice dams, and when the storm passed and the rain ended, the snowpack was greatly reduced.  Now, cold nights and warm days mark the flood of sap that will become maple syrup and, incidentally, swell the dormant buds on the leaves as Spring arrives.

The path to the hoophouse and Henbogle Coop is free of snow, and the grass is greening up.  The giant piles of snow around the house are dwindling, and green can be seen in the hoophouse. Granted, not as much green as can be seen at Daphne’s house outside of Boston, or Villager’s Happy Acres in southern Indiana, but there is some green.

Unfortunately, the ground in front of the hoophouse door is heaved enough that I couldn’t get in the other day to take a photo, but there is green growth happening, and I need to get the door open to sow more seeds soon.  The garden (and my leeks) are still buried under feet of snow, but Spring is advancing, and very welcome.


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Jailhouse rock

November 23, 2010

Former jail readies for new role in community | The Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME.

A Skowhegan, Maine prison will become a gristmill grinding locally grown wheat and grains into flour.  Stone ground flour, anyone?  Love this!

In a muddle

June 2, 2010

Gourmet drumsticks pepper mills and now muddlers are being made in Newport, Maine by Vic Firth, former tympanist for the Boston Symphony.  Firth’s company started with drumsticks, then pepper mills, and has just added the muddler to the lineup.  The pepper mills and I presume the muddler are made from cherry or good Maine rock maple.  The pepper mills are widely available (I got mine at Goodwill, shh!) and the muddler is available online at Bargreens.  Sounds perfect for mixing up a cool mojito from your garden mint.

I found an entertaining mojito recipe at My Whim is Law, and the article about Vic Firth is in today’s Portland Press Herald.

Mild winters offer opportunity

May 13, 2010

Photo Maine Forest Service

The Portland Press Herald reported today that the Hemlock  Woolly Adelgid moved further up the coast during Maine’s mild winter, and an infestation was discovered in Harpswell.  This is not good news for Maine’s forest industries, as a severe infestation can kill a tree.  The Maine Forest Service will be treating the infected areas with multiple releases of lady beetles. The bad news continues with reports on a population explosion of the brown tail moth caterpillar in the midcoast area.

Photo Maine Forest Service

The caterpillar has toxic microscopic hairs which can cause a poison-ivy like rash or respiratory problems.  The moths, European invaders, benefited from the mild winter and early spring and the population has exploded.  Our best hope is that many of them starve as their early appearance deprived them of adequate forage.  While I love a mild winter, I’m not sure it is worth the springtime trauma!