Island Updates

hurricane island

2015 Garden Update

April showers bring gardens to life on Hurricane!

This month marks our third year of growing food for the Center For Science and Leadership. Returning visitors and students will see both similarities and differences in our gardens from previous years.  

We are excited to be growing in straw bales for the second year in a row! Last year we had a blast experimenting with straw bale gardening and we especially loved using them as a teaching tool for our students. They provide a great lesson in compost and circular agricultural techniques, and have allowed us to grow a lot of food on Hurricane’s stubborn granite bedrock. This year we were able to get bales that have already started to decompose a bit from sitting out in a field all spring at Spear Farm and Greenhouse and in Warren, Maine. I’m interested to see how they play host to our vegetables compared to the bales that we used last year.

As I write this I am in the middle of the two-week process of conditioning the bales. Every day I soak the bales through with water (from our conveniently placed fire hose). Every other day I put a half-cup of fertilizer that is high in nitrogen on top of the bales, and continue to soak them through. This process gets the bales “cooking”, by breaking down the straw to start the decomposing process. In about a week they will start to smell sweet and hold moisture really well, and in two weeks they will be ready for planting!

The flower garden has Day Lilies, Sweet William, Echinacea, Bee Balm, and a beautiful Bleeding Heart coming up again this year. We planted Marigolds, Snap Dragons, Calendula, and two high bush blueberry plants in the flower garden, all in the hopes of inviting pollinators to this area of the island. The flower garden is one of my favorite spots on Hurricane. I love seeing bright colorful flowers peak over the old foundation wall that was once the bowling alley during the quarrying era. It’s a joy to see nature reclaim Hurricane’s old historical sites. 

Our volunteer Betsy Rich planted our flower, cucumber, and zucchini seedlings. These are happily sitting in front of the big windows in the mess hall catching as much solar heat as possible. We have also placed our two cold frames over the herbs in the herb garden since they are the most exposed to wind and cold ocean air down by the waterfront.

A big addition to our gardens this year is the expansion of the meadow garden. The students from our Botany program last year helped us turn the second half of the garden over and we covered it with tarp to kill off the weeds and grass. During a very productive volunteer day this past April we had three people help turn the whole garden over and start to form and rake beds. I decided to layer straw over the walking paths in hopes of suppressing weeds, fingers crossed it helps! We planted carrots, peas, kale, spinach, and head lettuces, the perennial rhubarb is as enthusiastic as ever, and the peony looks like it will bloom again this year!

For now we are playing the waiting game for all of our seeds to pop of out of the soil. Stay tuned for more garden updates!

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Volunteer Day: April 25

We kicked off our volunteer days on Hurricane Island for 2015 with a particularly early one, on Saturday April 25. The fact that our winter had been so long and snowy made it seem even earlier than it would on any other year. And as we walked the trails, getting reacquainted with the island we know and love, we did find many banks of snow remaining on Hurricane, and not only in the deep woods.

Fourteen volunteers, ages 7 to 85, joined seven staffers on Hurricane on this chilly morning, and we could actually see a few snowflakes in the air before we boarded M/V Equinox in Rockland, along with 18 bales for this year’s straw bale gardens just up from the Dining Hall. We had volunteers that had lived on Hurricane for years, and we had volunteers who had never set foot on Hurricane, but everyone was perfectly prepared for whatever mother nature delivered, and she delivered us a day perfect for the projects we had planned.

We didn’t have our floats in at the dock yet, so it was up the ladder at the dock for this group. The difference between getting to Hurricane so early in the season compared with, say, October, is so palpable, yet hard to define. Sure, the light is a little different in May with the solstice less than two months away, the vegetation is different, but if you kept constant all those little details—took the same number of people, chose a chilly October day with gray skies like this late April day, there is a psychic quality to the island that makes it just feel different. It’s as if the island itself has been hibernating, like the echoes of an entire season of students and visitors that are so fresh in October, so vibrant and ringing, have long faded away to winter’s quiet, contemplative state. There’s a hush to the island, and everyone senses that, so that we find ourselves almost tiptoeing and whispering.

We started our volunteer day out right: with a coffee break! and then mustered in the barn to hear about the day’s projects: oiling stall doors in the new showerhouse, clearing brush and cutting back branches from the perimeter trail, turning over the gardens in the Meadow, hauling straw bales up to the gardens, re-shingling a side of the infirmary, making repairs to the floats before they are put in for the season, clearing brush, and a new one: drilling holes in birch logs and hammering in plugs that contain mushroom spores. We’re going to grow oyster mushrooms!

Our new cook for 2015, Micah Conkling, prepared a wonderful, hearty meal for us. Jobs were swapped after lunch, and the weather continued to cooperate. It warmed up enough to remove parkas and hats. It was truly a wonderful day: we completed many projects, we explored and woke up the island, and new friends were made. 

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