Posts Tagged ‘composting toilet’

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake

On Sunday August 10 my husband and I did a nostalgic loop hike to Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire.  I say “nostalgic” because we have done this hike many times, but the last time was probably at least ten years ago.  When our children were young we made many camping trips to the White Mountains, and almost always we stayed in the Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch.  It’s a fabulous location because it’s so close to so many amazing hikes in the White Mountains.  The campground, which is run by the Forest Service, is clean and modern, with a bath house with flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers.  There is a ranger information center which offers nature talks and walks and various activities that are kid- and family-centered.  The biggest downside is it’s popularity.  In high season in the summertime, the campground fills up very quickly and by the afternoon there are usually no sites available.    This is not a place for a quiet get-away, but kids  appreciate the many sights and sounds. and occasional commotion.

Our favorite site was always #67.  It abuts the Pemigawasset River (which is more like a stream) and is very large and level.  It was perfect for our pop-up camper, yet there was still plenty of room for a campfire, hanging wet towels on a hastily strung laundry line between the trees, and a picnic table and screen room (against the bugs).  It’s near a water tap for refilling canteens and washing dishes, not too far from the bathrooms (but not so close that you hear the door swinging shut in the middle of the night), and right next to the Pemigewasset Trail.  Because we’d always leave our home town on a Saturday night, we’d get to New Hampshire around 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and just our luck, that seemed to be when people would pull out of the campground and vacate their campsites.  It seemed that site #67 was just meant to be; despite the high demand we were able to claim it year after year.

During our stay there, we would always try different hikes, but the trek to Lonesome Lake was always on our annual bucket list.  It’s a short, steep hike – – by the time the kids complained that they couldn’t walk another step, they were there and soon forgot any expended efforts – and the beautiful, cold lake with stunning mountain views was an instant reward.

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In most of the boggy places, boards were placed over the trail so getting muddy was kept to a minimum.

In most of the boggy places, boards were placed over the trail so getting muddy was kept to a minimum.

 

 

 

Plus, the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) maintains a “hut” there, for hikers who wish to stay there overnight.

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Besides a night’s sleep on a rather basic bunk in dormitory-style bunkhouses, the “croo” (crew), made up of college students having a summer adventure working for the AMC, cooks hearty breakfast and dinner for the overnight guests (not kosher, obviously).

A partial view of Lonesome Lake Hut, which overlooks Lonsesome Lake and has beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains

A partial view of Lonesome Lake Hut, which overlooks Lonesome Lake and has beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains.  This picture is of some of the dorm-like accommodations.

 

From the inside of the dining hall, views overlook the lake

From the inside of the dining hall, views overlook the lake

Communal dining tables have beautiful views

Communal dining tables have beautiful views

A good overview of the main part of the hut, which shows the open kitchen and part of the dining hall.   The "croo" does all the cooking and organizing and ordering of supplies.

A good overview of the main part of the hut, which shows the open kitchen and part of the dining hall.
The “croo” does all the cooking and organizing and ordering of supplies.

 

The way food and other supplies get to the “hut” is a story in itself, since it’s on top of a mountain with no road access.  The “croo” members literally pack everything up the mountain – – huge crates weighing 40 – 80 lbs go on their backs in specially built packboards that turn these young people into human beasts of burden.  They deliver these supplies on a daily basis.

This is the specially-designed back-rack for carrying heavy crates of supplies by "croo" members  to the hut.

This is the specially-designed packboard for carrying heavy crates of supplies by “croo” members to the hut.

As I said, the hike up to Lonesome Lake is steep but short – – but there are other “huts” throughout the White Mountains in New Hampshire where the hikes can be 5 – 8 miles of pure ascent – – imagine carrying up to 80 lbs of supplies every single day, no matter what the weather!  Needless to say, the “croo” are in amazing physical shape by the end of summer when hut season ends.  The croo’s duties extend beyond deliveries – – they must cook, clean, and maintain the huts throughout the summer; they must be goodwill ambassadors for the Appalachian Mountain Club, welcoming to paying guests, and founts of information about hiking trails, wildlife, and any other questions visitors might have.  The pay is negligible (under $8/hr).  Yet the competition to be a “croo” member is stiff:  for every 6 – 16 yearly openings there are 150 – 200 applications!  Most “croo” members return to work the huts year after year during their college years, in the summer months.

The bugs were finally gone (hooray!) and the weather was gorgeous with a predicted high of 82.  We got to Lafayette Campground around 9 a.m. and set out for Lonesome Lake.  Although we did a great deal of huffing and puffing, we reached the lake and hut in good spirits.  Our dog was happy to cool off and take a nice, long drink in the clear water (but all water in the White Mountains, no matter how clean or pure it looks, should be filtered for human consumption due to the threat of the giardia parasite).

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We sat on the porch of the hut for a lunch of cheese and crackers, fruit and nuts.

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My spouse and our dog take a lunch break.

 

Before we continued onwards I decided to make use of the bathroom.

The bathroom at Lonesome Lake

The bathroom at Lonesome Lake

 

 

Now ordinarily I would not regale you with bathroom stories, but this one is worth talking about.  The Lonesome Lake bathroom is a large structure that houses both a women’s and men’s bathroom (toilets and sinks – – no showers) but what makes it unusual is that it’s a composting toilet system.  For the uninitiated, what that means is that it doesn’t use water and there is no flushing involved.  Yes, you are eliminating into a hole in the ground, which sounds gross, but unlike the typical outhouse, with composting toilets, there is NO bad smell, and the toilets themselves look like  everyday toilets similar to what you’d find in your own bathroom at home.  It’s especially amazing that it’s odorless, considering that on a peak weekend, the toilets could be used by 200 people per day!

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As a person who is extremely fastidious about washing my hands after I use the bathroom (and completely grossed out by the thought of so many people who don’t wash their hands!), I got a good chuckle from the specialized ‘no-touch” door handle installed on the exit doors.  Such a simple idea for a public restroom – – whoever thought of it is surely going to get rich!

A simple yet genius idea, but the fact that something like this is even necessary because some people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom, is more than I want to think about!

A simple yet genius idea, but the fact that something like this is even necessary because some people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, is more than I want to think about!

Another cool thing about the Lonesome Lake Hut’s bathroom was the fascinating story that was pasted to the side of the stall.  It tells the tale of mountain woman Emily Klug.  In the 1930s she traveled and hiked solo throughout the White Mountains.  Besides a small rucksack, she would carry several weeks  of supplies and everything she needed by rolling her skirt up around her middle and placing her possessions inside.
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Now that we were rested from our climb, we decided that rather than going back down the mountain the same way we’d come up, we’d take the Basin Cascades Trail down to the Basin, and from there go back to the campground via the Pemigewasset Trail, for a total loop hike of 6.5 miles.

More than 15 years ago, my husband, my older daughter, then a teenager, and I had hiked from Lonesome Lake to Cannon Mountain.  This is an extremely challenging hike due to a ridiculously steep climb.  At one point, the only way up is a metal rung ladder that one must climb up a steep rock ledge.    When we finally got to the summit of Cannon Mountain, we were situated right next to a disembarking ski gondola.  A tourist who had ridden the gondola up Cannon Mountain looked me up and down very carefully.

“Lady,” he said in a thick New York accent, “Did you just climb this mountain?”

“Yes!” I said, still feeling proud and excited by my accomplishment.

“Lady,” he said, “You need a psychiatrist!”

To which I answered, “This is what keeps me from needing a psychiatrist!”

Alas, we decided not to do the Cannon Mountain hike this time around:  we were feeling old and tired and not in good enough shape, plus we had our dog with us and couldn’t envision carrying him up the ladder to the top of the ledge.

Instead we started making our way down the Basin Cascades trail.  This is not a difficult trail, and in our case, it was all downhill; but for 75% of the time, one must navigate over boulders that become extremely tiresome for old knees and weak ankles.  I was really glad I had my hiking poles as well as hiking boots that gave me lots of balanace and support.

The bouder-strewn trail on the Basin-Cascades trail wasn't difficult, but it was tiresome stepping up and down over the rocks.

The bouder-strewn trail on the Basin-Cascades trail wasn’t difficult, but it was tiresome stepping up and down over the rocks.

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The trail has beautiful cascades and waterfalls at every turn.

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Kinsman Falls, along the Basin-Cascades Trail

 

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The Cascades, along the Basin-Cascades Trail in Franconia Notch

 

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The Basin is a series of pools and flumes carved out of the giant boulders by crystal-clear water.  It is easily accessible by car with a minimal amount of walking,and is a very popular tourist spot in the summer.

The Basin is a series of pools and flumes carved out of the giant boulders by crystal-clear water. It is easily accessible by car with a minimal amount of walking, and is a very popular tourist spot in the summer.

Unfortunately, due to a heavy storm in 2013, the bridge was out at one juncture and hadn’t yet been replaced (there were signs warning of this at the beginning of the hike).  Since it hadn’t rained in a few days, I wasn’t overly worried about a high water crossing and indeed, with our Goretex-lined (waterproof) hiking boots, the ankle-high water was not a problem with some careful rock-hopping (again the poles helped us with balance).

Shortly after we crossed and stopped for a drink of water, a 50-ish woman hiking alone came to the crossing but was not so lucky.  She took a small spill but the only injury she suffered was to her pride.

“I can’t believe I always fall when there are other people around.  It’s so embarrassing!” she said.

We assured her that the only important thing was that she wasn’t hurt.  We got to talking, and she had a most amazing story to tell.  Linda, or “Heartwood” as was her  “trail name,” was a thru-hiker. For the uninitiated, this is someone who chooses to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, without stopping.  “Heartwood” had been hiking since March, when she started in Georgia, and had walked 1,812 miles so far!  She had lost 40 lbs in the process and gone through 4 pairs of hiking boots.  She hoped to reach the end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 6 weeks’ time, for a total of 2, 168 miles hiked!

I asked her what she had done to train for this momentous hike.

“Nothing,” she claimed, “I just got up off the couch and decided to go!”  She told us it had been a life-transforming journey in so many ways.  Because she had been so out of shape, the beginning was “a killer.  I would get chest pains and think I was having a heart attack,” she said.  “But I never rushed it.  I see some younger guys on the trail and they do 25 – 35 miles a day.  I am taking it nice and slow, about 10 – 15 miles a day,” she said.   “And one of the things I’ve liked best is that I’ve met the most incredibly kind and generous people all along the way,” she added.  What an inspiring person!

We hoped we would see her again to find out more about her journey, so we offered to pick her up later in the week when she reached the Maine-NH border and the last point on the NH part of the trail.  We told her she could look forward to a hearty meal and hot shower before we’d drive her back to the trail head, so she took our information and said she would try to be in touch.  We said our goodbyes as she followed the white blaze (the Appalachian trail marker) and we followed the blue blaze in a different direction, down to the Basin.

We returned to Lafayette Campground via the gentle Pemigewasset Trail, where the composted pine needles made a nice cushion for my now-tired feet.

How fitting that the end of the trail took us directly past campsite #67, our old stomping grounds!  I took a picture so I could send it to our kids (who probably don’t have as fond childhood memories of camping as we do, since as adults their idea of “camping” is a 3 star hotel).

Our favorite campsite #67 at Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park.

Our favorite campsite #67 at Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park.

 

When we got home, we broke out the beer – – and the epsom salt.  There is nothing like a nice, hot,  long soak in the tub after a full day of hiking – – 6.5 miles total.  Woohoo!

P.S.  Sadly, late one night later in the week, we got the terrible news that our son’s father-in-law passed away in Detroit.  We left the very next day from Maine to drive to our hometown, so we could take care of our granddaughters while my son and daughter-in-law spent the week in Detroit  for the funeral and the initial period of mourning.  As we drove to our home town, we got a chipper call from Linda/”Heartwood,” the Appalachian Trail thru-hiker,  saying she would like to take us up on our offer to meet with her at the trailhead.  Unfortunately, due to the tragic circumstances, we explained apologetically that we were on our way out of Maine and would not be able to make good on our promise of a meal and hot shower and some companionship.  She was most gracious and understanding.

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Maine Wilderness (Rant)

In New Hampshire, there is a wonderful tourist destination called Lost River Gorge.  They’ve taken a magnificent gorge filled with flumes, waterfalls, and caves, and carved a pathway built with a complicated set of staircases and safety railings so people of all ages can explore this natural wonder.  It allows people who might never be exposed to nature a chance to discover nature’s joys and miracles.  But – – the horror! – – it’s “developed.” (You can see pictures from a previous blogpost here.)

The “holiness” of wilderness is often taken to extremes in Maine. You can see similar gorges and waterfalls not far from where I live, and I enjoy them tremendously.  But unless you have some serious safety equipment or 4WD, they aren’t easily accessible and few but the most avid and experienced hikers and climbers even know about them.  With today’s eco-correctness, development of natural areas like Lost River Gorge will never happen today.  I guess that’s the point – – restricting access to keep things pristine – – but ultimately I believe it to be self-defeating.  I believe that HaShem gave us a world of amazing wonders, and it was created for all of us to cherish, respect and enjoy.

This year I found out that the Forest Service intends to restrict access to my two most favorite nearby places:  Great Brook, and Virginia Lake.  Readers of this blog know how much I enjoy fishing and kayaking at Virginia Lake, and that will not change, but the beach there will soon be closed to campers and the so-called  dirt “access road” will be made inaccessible to anything but foot traffic.  Even walking the 1/2 mile to the beach will be difficult, however, since they will be removing the culverts, allowing the road to wash out and those persistent wild trees, brush, bushes and thorns to grow right in.  Essentially, if you have a family with young kids and are shlepping towels, sand pails, and a picnic lunch, you have your work cut out for you if you want to enjoy a day at the beach, because just getting there will be an ordeal. (You can view pictures of Virginia Lake from a previous blogpost here.)

The other place –  Great Brook – – is an amazing place to camp, and I took my grandchildren there this summer for an overnighter.  Great Brook has a series of clear, pristine pools, water-filled potholes, and waterfalls that make it ideal for cooling off on a hot day (in fact, before our house had plumbing or a drilled well, we used to go there to bathe!).  Salmon and wild brook trout spawn there in November.

4 grandsons were in the orange tent; my husband and I slept in the green tent

4 grandsons were in the orange tent; my husband and I slept in the grey tent

The kids loved building a fire.  Behind them is Great Brook, with its natural falls, pools, and flumes.

The kids loved building a campfire. Behind them is Great Brook, with its natural falls, pools, and flumes.

The huge swimming hole with its icy water.  My 8-year-old granddaughter was the only one brave enough to jump into the water, which even in August was freezing cold.

The huge swimming hole with its icy water. My 8-year-old granddaughter was the only one brave enough to jump into the water, which even in August was freezing cold.

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The pool is fed by a waterfall

Another beautiful section of Great Brook

Another beautiful section of Great Brook

There is no sign from the road or at either site telling you of their existence, or that there are campsites there (and the campsites are free of charge!)  – – it’s mostly a locals’ secret.  Consequently, you might see one other person using the area on a “busy” day.  That’s because the area is designated as “wilderness” – – so signs are a no-no and maintenance is minimal.  Eighty-five percent of the times I’ve visited, I’ve been the only one there.  Hardly a case for “overuse,” as the Forest Service claims.

So why does the Forest Service want to shut these places down by restricting use, even though it’s public land?  There are several reasons:  1.) the Forest Service hopes to do some major logging in the area,  to generate revenue from cut trees that will be sold for lumber; 2.) to clear 25 years of accumulating brush and fallen trees which are a forest fire hazard; 3.) to clear-cut some areas so new meadows will encourage  growth of beech and establish more moose-friendly habitat; and 4.) the other reason for limiting use – – much more unfortunate – – is that a few people have abused the campsites.

By “abuse” I mean the worst possible things:   trash left at campsites, as well as – – ick — the presence of human feces, which besides being unsightly and disgusting, is a health concern.

You see, these areas are “wild” – – so that means whatever you bring in, you must take out the resulting trash.  Also, there are no bathrooms – – so if you have to go, you need to dig a “cat hole” in the earth some 6″ deep with a small shovel and poop in the hole, and then cover and bury your poop.

I can guarantee that whomever did not treat the campsites with respect, were not locals.  Locals view the wilderness as their very own backyard, and they will not trash their own backyard.   The campsites will be as pristine, or more so, when they leave as when they first arrived.   Now, I don’t blame the rangers for being really, really mad.  It should never be the job of a ranger to clean up after someone’s dirty business.   So how to prevent this from happening in the future?  Is closing down the campsites really the answer?

I don’t believe that people who leave trash and feces at a campsite do so out of maliciousness, but rather, ignorance at best and laziness at worst.

But how can one educate in the wilderness?  Clear instructional signs would help; that addresses the ignorance part.  How many of you reading this had ever even heard of a “cat-hole” (or would want to!)?

But what about laziness?

Let’s face it.  There are going to be people who will, if the road is really bad or non-existent,  consider it to be too much trouble to pack out their trash when they return to their cars.  But there are solutions!

1.  Provide a bear-proof dumpster (but the Forest Service doesn’t want to pay for trash removal, even though the amount of trash generated on site would require only monthly service), or,

2. Improve rather than remove the dirt access road, so people could actually park their cars at the edge of the beach, and would be more inclined to put the trash into their nearby car, rather than being overwhelmed at the thought of walking  a .5 mile bushwhack back to the car  with their garbage.

3.  Provide a composting toilet at the site.  Unlike outhouses, which stink and require weekly emptying, a composting toilet does not smell and requires maintenance only 1x – 2x year.

Alas, the Forest Service’s interpretation is that the area is designated a “wilderness area” and therefore no signs, no composting toilets, no roads, and no dumpsters are allowed.  And since a few irresponsible people can’t take care of it properly, better to shut it down completely.

Another example of “wilderness area” short-sightedness:  climbing Speckled Mountain.  You can climb it from Rte 113 in Evans Notch, on the Maine-NH border.  But if you climb it from the side near my house, you are suddenly in “wilderness” (the Caribou-Speckled Mountain wilderness, to be exact) and suddenly trail signs and blazes on trees showing the way, disappear, and the trails themselves are poorly maintained, or not maintained at all.  If you are lucky you will see cairns (piles of stones) that mark the trail, left voluntarily and charitably by a previous hiker.  Apparently trail signage is thought to desecrate “wilderness.”  Does the forest service prefer spending scarce funds on costly rescue operations for lost hikers, rather than a few dabs of paint on a tree trunk to mark a trail?

Does this make sense?  Are we really ensuring an appreciation of wilderness for future generations by making it inaccessible – – and dangerous! – – to the average person, perhaps precluding them from the chance to experience what wilderness is?

While I am by no means an “expert” outdoorswoman (if I had to rate myself, it would be “advanced beginner”), I have, thankfully, acquired skills and knowledge that allow me to venture forth and explore and enjoy wild places that are basically off the usual maps.  It seems foolish and short-sighted to discount novices who are no less enthusiastic about experiencing the joys of the great outdoors, without giving them the tools and accessibility that will make it easier for them accomplish this.

There are going to be many people reading this post who will disagree with me about making wilderness more accessible to the public, especially life-long Mainers who are very protective of “their” outdoors.  By clicking on the highlighted items you can see some interesting links that discuss the Forest Service’s plans for my immediate area, known as the Albany South project,  as well as the strong feelings in the debate about keeping Maine’s wilderness wild.

Cranberries

For the past few years during autumn, I’ve noticed a sign just up the road from my house.   (“Up the road,” in rural Maine, as a friend from the city noted sardonically, is relative.  In my neck of the woods, that means 1 – 10 miles away.)

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I’ve gone to many u-pick farms over the years, harvesting apples, cherries, peaches, blueberries, pumpkins, peaches and beans, but picking cranberries, one of the United State’s few native plants, and almost exclusive to New England, would be a first.

Really, I should have been home stacking wood.  Since our sometimes-handyperson Bill felled more of our trees and chunked the logs into manageable pieces, my husband and I have been busy shlepping them into a pile so at a later date he can come and split them.  (By “manageable” I mean 10 – 30 lbs. per log.  The oak is a lot heavier than the pine or birch.)  Once split, the wood needs to be stacked in the woodshed so it can dry for an entire year before it becomes fuel for our woodstove.  (If you burn “green” wood without seasoning, it doesn’t burn very well, produces lots of creosote, and smokes heavily.)  But like unmade beds, dirty dishes in a sink, or laundry that needs to be folded and put away, that woodpile was not going anywhere and waiting a little longer was not going to hurt.

In the foreground are the cut logs we dragged in from our woods.  In the middle ground is a pile of split wood that needs to be stacked in the woodshed behind it.  That's our house on the left.

In the foreground are the cut logs we dragged in from our woods. In the middle ground is a pile of split wood that needs to be stacked in the woodshed behind it. That’s our house on the left.

I followed the sign down a dirt road and it led me to Woodward Cranberry Farm.

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I asked the owners, Rick and Linda Woodward, for a tour of their operation, and they graciously complied.

Linda (l) and Rick (r) Woodward

Linda (l) and Rick (r) Woodward

This is a good year for cranberries – their best ever.  The Woodwards expect to harvest 7,000 lbs of cranberries in 2013!  (Last year, one of their worst ever due to a late spring freeze, they harvested only 600 lbs.  Their average is 1200 – 3000 lbs. per year.)

“Wow, seven thousand pounds!  Are you going to sell to Ocean Spray?” I naively asked.

“Perish the thought!” said Rick.  The Woodwards are very proud of the fact that their cranberries have always been farmed organically (Ocean Spray uses insecticide) and that they supply local customers and small businesses (such as bakers, eateries and health food stores) in New England.

About 25 years ago, Rick, a contractor, and Linda, a dental hygienist for the Massachusetts prison system, were looking for a place where they could be weekend farmers and supplement their retirement.  Someone suggested cranberries, so they took a few university extension courses and they were hooked.  They bought land in Albany Township in western Maine adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest, cleared about 2 acres of trees in boggy ground, and started planting.

“We made tons of mistakes over the years,” said Linda, “but we have two major advantages:  my husband is good with his hands, and I am physically very strong!” she said.  Which is a good thing, because they do just about everything themselves, and that includes a lot of kneeling, bending, and lifting.

Their cranberries are certified organic and the Woodwards are members of MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association).  Birds control the harmful insect population; their 2-acre bog is bordered by many nesting boxes.

“Bluebirds,” says Linda.  “Swallows only eat the flying bugs but bluebirds eat them at the larval stage too.  We love bluebirds!”

Nesting boxes (left) edge the bog

Nesting boxes edge the bog (click to enlarge)

The gentlest, most thorough way to harvest the berries, albeit not necessarily the most efficient,  is by hand rather than machine.  Each picker is supplied with a kneeling pad to provide a cushion for one’s knees, along with a small bucket.  The cranberries actually grow on small, thin vines, and they share the space with moss and sandy soil.  Infringing tree saplings are vigilantly picked and discarded, lest they overtake the bog and threaten the crop.

A close-up of cranberries growing in their natural state

A close-up of cranberries growing in their natural state, close to the ground amid moss and sandy soil

Linda Woodward picking cranberries

Linda Woodward picking cranberries

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I had been under the impression that cranberries are always harvested from water, but the Woodwards prefer a dry-pick method since there is less likelihood of mold.  The bog is flooded when frost or snow is expected, however.  The water (or snow or frost) that ices over the ripe berries actually serves as a form of insulation against the severe cold, and make for a juicier berry.  The Woodwards dug a pond next to the bog, and built a pump house.  The pump transfers the water from the pond to the bog when needed, and then can pump the water out of the bog and back into the pond when drier conditions are called for.  Due to the standing water and surrounding woods, the blackflies and mosquitoes are prolific in springtime, but to my amazement the Woodwards were unfazed.

The pond the Woodwards constructed that is to the right of the bog.  At left is the pump house, which transfers the water from the pond to the bog and back again, as necessary.  To the immediate right of the pump house, also in red, is an outhouse with a composting toilet.

The pond the Woodwards constructed is to the right of the bog. At left is the pump house, which transfers the water from the pond to the bog and back again, as necessary. To the immediate right of the pump house, also in red, is an outhouse with a composting toilet.

The pumphouse (r) and the outhouse with composting toilet (l)

The pump-house (center) and the outhouse with composting toilet (l)

Once the cranberries are gathered it’s time to sort out the debris (more prevalent when machine harvested with a mechanical rake) which can include small vines, pebbles, moss and grass.  Mr. Woodward uses a winnower machine with a fan that blows the debris aside and puts the cranberries into crates.

Freshly gathered bushel of cranberries

Freshly gathered bushel of cranberries

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Rick Woodward pours cranberries into a winnower.

Linda was excited to show me their antique sorting machine.  It and much of their equipment, including their wooden crates (dated 1908) came from a farm museum that had closed its doors.  They continue to use the antique machines at Woodward Farm.

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The antique sorting machine that came from a museum and is still used by the Woodwards

The antique sorter searches for berries with the most bounce.  And bounce, they do!  (That’s why to the right in the above photos there is a screen in front of the ejection box.  It helps contain the berries from bouncing all over the barn.)  Those berries that are soft and not bouncy are considered “rejects” but are fine for sauce or juice, known as “utility grade.”

Antique crates, ca. 1908

Antique  wooden crates, ca. 1908

Originally the Woodwards slept in an RV on the property, but eventually they ordered a barn (“It came in a kit!” Linda said) which they assembled and built themselves.  They use part of the barn for their cranberry operation, and part of the barn, which they modernized and insulated, for living quarters.

barn

Sometimes when the barn gets too cold, Linda sorts by hand on this antique sorting belt, which is located in the part of the barn that serves as their living quarters.

Sometimes when the barn gets too cold, Linda sorts by hand on this antique sorting belt, which is located in the part of the barn that serves as their living quarters.

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Another view of the hand-sorting belt.

readyberries

These berries have been sorted and are ready to be juiced, baked, cooked or dried. They are full of anti-oxidants and are known to be helpful for UTIs (urinary tract infections) and prostrate troubles. The Woodwards are happy to share recipes using cranberries.

When Linda heard I enjoy juicing fruits and vegetables, she suggested I make my own fresh cranberry juice and then use the pulp to make fruit leather.  Cranberries are extremely tart, but I prefer not to use sugar.  I found that juicing cranberries with an apple made the perfect tart-sweet combination.  For the fruit leather, I added 1 tsp. stevia to the apple-cranberry pulp, along with a dash of cinnamon.

Cranberry-apple pulp on parchment paper, to be dried into fruit leather.

Cranberry-apple pulp on parchment paper, to be dried into fruit leather.

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My cran-apple fruit leather.

After a wonderful morning picking cranberries and learning so much, Linda Woodward put some cranberry vines into my hands.

“Try planting these rooted vines on your land, but make sure you cover them with sand if you want them to succeed,” she suggested.  “Maybe you’ll have your own cranberry crop!”

It is so nice to see people like the Woodwards – and there are many like them in their 60s, 70s and 80s  here in Maine — whose idea of retirement is not lying around doing nothing, but remaining physically active by choice as long as they are able, pursuing and enjoying a healthful lifestyle in a pristine and beautiful environment.  The hard-working and cheerful Woodwards were truly an inspiration to me, and gave me yet another unique Maine experience to share with others.

The Woodwards’ website:

http://www.woodwardcranberryfarm.net/woodwardsite/

An informative article about organic cranberry growing:

http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Summer2009/Cranberries/tabid/1194/Default.aspx

Reportage from a local newspaper:

http://www.advertiserdemocrat.com/community/story/025-42-com-2011cranberries-31-v-0