Real Estate

Aquinnah

July 22, Paul and Barbara Valenti sold a lot on Attaquin Way to Jennifer Butler and Kevin Sheehan for $442,500.

Chilmark

July 24, Stephen Carr Anderson sold Parcel 5 Quansoo Beach to Joshua A. Greenhill for $300,000.

Edgartown

July 22, Magda L. Fleckner and Jeremy Scott Wood, trustees of the Robin B. R. Wood Revocable Trust-2005 Family Trust, sold 42 Boulevard to Regula E. Todd for $635,000.

July 22, Catherine A. Hartley sold 4 Tower Lane to Juliet K. Mulinare, Joseph Mulinare, and Kathryn Shands for $425,000.

July 24, Robert C. Nevin sold 10 North Bog Rd. to Kevin J. Foran for $500,000.

Oak Bluffs

July 21, Michael M. and Patricia S. Roberts sold 59 Winemack St. to Jennifer Sanford, trustee of Jennifer Sanford Revocable Trust, for $940,000.

July 23, Martha A. Robinson, Ruth K. Hastings, Personal Representatives of the Estate of Walter J. Knapp, sold 1 Wood Duck Way to William D. Westman, Jr. and Wendy J. Westman for $540,000.

July 24, JD Oak Bluffs LLC sold 133 Wing Rd. to Long Pond Capital LLC for $490,000.

July 25, Mary Ann Heffernan, trustee of Summertime Trust, sold 47 Martha’s Park Rd. to Dawn M. Warsofsky for $490,000.

Tisbury

July 25, 412 State Road LLC sold 412 State Rd. to Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank for $2,600,000.

West Tisbury

July 24, the Internal Revenue Service sold 41 Courthouse Rd. to Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte for $252,000.

July 24, Rosemary Wittels, trustee of the Rosemary Wittels Trust-2005 sold 175 Oak Lane to Werner and Mary Kuhn for $243,000.

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The Martha’s Vineyard real estate market improved in 2013, but the advance over the year before was modest, and early signals from sales statistics for the first half of 2014 suggest that growth continues to be variable across market segments, leaving prospects for the rest of 2014 uncertain. A compilation of market statistics from LINK data, as well as data from MVTimes records and observations from brokers, all shown plainly in the accompanying graphs, make clear that the market collapse after 2007 led relentlessly to fewer annual sales and a collapse in for-sale inventories. The market found a bottom in 2009-2010 and has continued to potter along there since.

MVRealEstate Trans by Price for 2013

The stand still nature of market progress over time become is clear when one compares total sales in 2003, 566, with total sales last year, 502. That’s an 11 percent decline over the decade. Then, looking at the numbers comparing total sales for 2008, 314, and last year, 502, the change over six years was slightly greater than 60 percent. Together the two comparisons describe the steep and deep nature of the financial collapse, now familiarly known as the Great Recession, and the incomplete nature of the recovery.

At the same time, and to some degree mirroring the way the recovery has generously benefited the financial economy but been more niggardly about helping the real economy, one finds that the share of sales of property worth more than $1 million rose sharply between 2008, 87, and 2013, 144, although for property sold for more than $3 million, the difference between 2008 and 2013 has been negligible, 24 six years ago, 22 last year.

2014 Avvearge Sales Price

What the results for the first five months of 2014, compared with the first five months of 2013 show is that the year-over-year margins in these measures have narrowed, and the overall strength of the market last year has diminished in the first half of this year. In January 2014, 52 sales were recorded as against 20 in January last year. In May this year there were 46 completed transactions, exactly as many as were recorded in May 2013. In January this year, $54 million in sales took place as against $14 million in January last year, but in May, the year-to-year dollar comparison for the month found that $35 million in property changed hands in January this year, compared with $33 million in the same month a year ago. In January this year, the average sales price was $1 million, compared with just $676,000 in January a year ago. In May 2014, the average price was $759,000, compared with $724,000 in May 2013.

Interestingly, the share of total sales represented by transactions worth less than $1 million has declined over the decade since 2003, suggesting that the resources of buyers, as well as the sellers’ conclusions about the value of their properties, have increased. In 2003, when 566 transactions took place, 83 percent of those deals were for properties sold for less than $1 million. In 2008, the under-$1 million share was 72 percent, and in 2013 it was 71 percent.

In general terms, real estate insiders mostly call the 2013 performance of the market flat.

2014 Dollar Volume

The change in the inventory of property for sale flattened in 2013. Sales are little changed compared to sales in 2012. The dollar value of property sold in 2013 is barely greater than in 2012. The average value of sales didn’t change materially either. The Vineyard market may have held up better in the immediate aftermath of the 2007-2008 collapse and may have been slower to reach the bottom. Also, the bottom here has not been as catastrophic here as it has been in some other U.S. markets. But, the Vineyard market has not resumed its historically buoyant ways. Brokers say that buyers are plentiful and eager, but nervous about the country’s economic future, and they want their ideal vacation properties at ideally low prices. Inventories, historically high before the recession, declined rapidly as prices fell and buyers disappeared, but they have risen slowly as sellers return to what they see as a strengthening market.

The Chilmark market, historically characterized by high prices and low volume, has seen sales volume decline, along with prices. Chilmark recorded only 32 sales last year, 40 percent fewer than in 2012. The number of transactions recorded in Chilmark has historically been small, but the town has regularly been second only to Edgartown in dollar value of sales. In 2013, the value of its 32 sales dropped 50 percent compared with the year earlier results, to just $11 million.

2014 Median Sales Price

In wealthy, diverse Edgartown, 2013 results contrasted sharply with those of the small, rich up-Island town. Edgartown, vast geographically and its inventory spanning all market pricing segments, saw 2013  sales volume jump 15 percent compared with 2012. Dollar value for all sales rose 10 percent. In 2013, $233 million in real estate changed hands, compared with $40 million in Chilmark.

West Tisbury, $56 million, and Oak Bluffs, $59 million, saw total value of sales drop in 2013, compared with the year before. Tisbury recorded an astonishing 40 percent jump in the total value of sales, to $84 million, year over year.

2014 Number of Sales

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Almost without exception, since its founding in 1984, The Martha’s Vineyard Times has published an annual list of Vineyard real property values (VPV), and in recent years has made this data available online. For reasons sublime or pedestrian, the publication has always been a big hit. Not with everyone, mind you, but with most. Some readers consult VPV to find out what their neighbors’ houses and land have been assessed at, or the values of property owned by widely known seasonal residents. Some readers would rather the assessed values of their own houses were not listed, but they consult the list anyhow. But, however you approach this annual, comprehensive list, eagerly or bemusedly, and whether you are a year-round or seasonal property owner, you should know what Vineyard real estate is worth and how the towns compare.

The national increase in real estate values has not been uniform, and neither are the changes in value among the Island towns. Nationally, there are badly hurt regions, but there are also others where values have proven more durable and where prices are rising.

The six Vineyard towns have experienced virtually no increase in assessment values in the last few years. Using the most recent assessed values, those that were used to calculate tax bills for the 2015 fiscal year, taxable real estate in the six Island towns is worth $18.4 billion, up only six tenths of one percent over the values we reported last year. For fiscal 2010, total value was $19.03 billion, about 6.7 percent from the total value in the 2009 fiscal year in which the Great Recession began. So, after the initial shock, Vineyard real estate values have stabilized at diminished levels. This stabilization hints at better days to come, value-wise and an increase in the number of sales, year to date, is reason to think that the market may be improving. The volume of real estate sales for the first five months of 2014 increased over the same period last year from 115 to 198 but sales have not returned to the levels preceding the sharp decline that began in 2008, and the volume of properties for sale has stabilized.

Nevertheless, compared with real estate values elsewhere in the country, Island values held up during the housing bust and all but one of the six Vineyard towns have experienced modest increases in total value.

A look at average monthly median sales values for the first five months year over year finds that as of May, 2013, the median Island-wide value of closed sales was about $478,000. It rose in the same period in 2014 to $578,000. The average monthly selling price over the same period increased from $713,000 for the first five months of 2013 to $910,400 in 2014.

The assessed values we report in this edition of VPV, updated since the last edition was published a year ago, serve as the basis for property tax rates. The towns will use these values, updated by prices in actual sales, additions, remodels, new construction, and other factors to determine the tax base for the 2015 fiscal year, whose spending was determined at spring 2014 annual town meetings.

The combination of the swing in assessed values — modestly down and modestly up — during the downturn and the faltering recovery that the nation continues to experience, along with exceptionally low interest rates on municipal borrowing, plus determined efforts in most towns to rein in spending, has meant relatively stable tax rates over this difficult period. This is true, despite significant declines in state and federal revenue contributions.

Drastic changes in real estate values nationwide, and particularly in high flying parts of the country, don’t necessarily lead to corresponding calamity in small, desirable Martha’s Vineyard communities. For instance, Edgartown, worth $7.172 billion when we reported in last year, is worth $7.181 billion, roughly the same today. The county seat is the richest Island town. Oak Bluffs, $2.462 billion a year ago is slightly more at $2.522 billion. A total of about $281 million of Oak Bluffs real estate is tax exempt and not part of the tax rate calculation. That’s true for all of the tax-exempt properties in the six towns.

Chilmark, the richest of the up-Island towns and the second richest of all, is valued for the purpose of this report at $3.139 billion, slightly less than last year’s $3.144. West Tisbury, worth $2.353 billion last year, is now worth $2.354 billion. Tisbury’s real estate value, $2.432 billion when we last reported, is now $2.468 billion. Aquinnah real estate was assessed at $716 million last time, and is assessed at $732 million today.

Of course, not all the real estate in the six towns is taxable. Of the approximately $20 billion total value of property in the six Vineyard towns, roughly $1.9 billion, about 10 percent, is tax exempt, so that tax revenue lost to the six towns, based on the tax rates reported here, adds up to about $7 million. Edgartown has about 9 percent of its total value tax-exempt, West Tisbury, a whopping 20 percent, Oak Bluffs 10 percent, Tisbury seven percent, Aquinnah ten percent, and Chilmark about five percent. West Tisbury and Edgartown share ownership of the land occupied by the State Forest and the airport, which accounts for some of their large tax exempt totals.

How much a town’s real estate is worth is one measure of its borrowing ability, and that means whether new schools, emergency facilities buildings, or town halls may be financed. Vineyard towns, flush with real estate value, have built all of these municipal improvements in the last few years. Some of these projects have been undertaken in the teeth of the recession, and they have benefited from very low borrowing costs and typically favorable loan to value ratios, plus a historic caution about adding debt to town balance sheets.

Real estate values are also at the heart of home ownership, stimulating the Island’s largest industry. Typically, excluding the very depth of the recession, a little more than $500 million of Vineyard real estate changes hands in arm’s length transactions each year. Although that is a tiny fraction of total real estate value on the Island, about two percent, it is nevertheless a great deal of money, and it marks the starting point for a spiral of expenditures which contribute hugely to the Island economy. Architects, landscapers, and decorators, along with real estate brokers, lawyers, Island banks, builders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and excavators, all participate in the whirl of buying and selling that has real estate value at its core. The economic pressure on the real estate economy here has had some modest but measurably beneficial influence on the effort to create affordable housing here, lowering debt service, property values, and construction costs, but more powerfully the nation’s economic slowdown has diminished charitable giving for many important causes, including housing.

You should know that these values are more art than science. They are derived by examination of sales prices as they are revealed in house and property transactions recorded for your neighborhood at the Dukes County Registry of Deeds. As transaction values decline, so do assessed values. Market values affect neighborhood or like property assessed values for property that has not changed hands. These values, together with measurements of square footage of house and land, and quality of finish materials and workmanship, quality of views and waterfront are used to estimate value. Often, the location and nature of the land accounts for the largest part of total assessed value. Is it at the edge of the ocean, back from the edge but in view of the beach, in the woods, on a fashionable Edgartown street? All of these considerations affect the judgments of the assessors who visit each property before deciding on its value, and of course all of these characteristics are of significant influence.

But, because so little real estate changes hands each year, in 500 to 1,000 transactions, changes in assessed value, however carefully developed, rest upon a narrow base. And, if what smitten buyers pay for their dream houses or building sites — or, on the other hand, sharp pencil, bottom fishing buyers in this period of low values and increased inventory of property for sale  — is at the root of the calculation, then it is indeed an artful calculation. That’s why the annual list, for taxpayers and voters, is an important data resource.

To search for the latest property values online, click here for the MVT Property values database.

 

Aquinnah

July 14, Gennie Ruth Freeland sold a lot on Menemsha Pond to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission for $42,710.

Chilmark

July 17, Peter L. Falb sold lot 13, Black Point Beach to Lisa H. Kim and Eunu Chun for $307,000.

July 18, Gordon Gossage and Deborah Lotterman sold 36 Henry Hough Lane to Jon and Susan L. Weingarten for $915,000.

Edgartown

July 14, Ethan and Tracey Stead sold 4 Pamela’s Way to James J. and Barbara Camille Colantonio for $399,000.

July 18, Scout Harbor View Property 1 LLC sold Collins Cottage, Unit 21 Harbor View Suites Condo, 131 North Water St. to Nomora LLC for $713,500.

Oak Bluffs

July 14, Michael A. Vance and Judith D. Thomas-Vance sold 28 Towanticut Ave. to Seshagari Rao Mallampati for $345,000.

July 18, Stewart Robinson Kusinitz sold 8 Circuit Ave. Ext. Unit 5, Oak Bluffs Walk Condo to Lawrence Caccia for $90,000.

July 18, Zoe Neale sold 55 Samoset Ave. to Nopsaran Chaimattayompol and Stefanie Wong for $600,000.

Tisbury

July 18, Arthur P. Bergeron, trustee of the Robert Howard Corr Trust, sold 79 William St. to MV Land & Sea Inc. for $625,000.

Aquinnah

July 11, William R. Claytor Jr. as Personal Representative of the Estate of William Richard Claytor, a/k/a William R. Claytor and Kevin F. Robbins, a/k/a Kevin Frederick Robbins, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Beryl Edith Robbins, a/k/a Beryl E. Robbins, sold a lot on State Rd. to the Town of Aquinnah for $32,000.

Edgartown

July 10, Ann Bassett and Laurie J. Hall, Personal Representatives of the estate of Rosalie C. Bassett a/k/a Rosalie Crimmins Bassett, sold 78 Peases Point Way North to Sean E. Murphy, trustee of 78 Peases Point Way Nominee Trust, for $1,625,000.

Oak Bluffs

July 8, James H. Cooper and Deborah J. Cooper, trustees of the Michele J. Cooper 1996 Trust Agreement and the Alison B. Cooper 1996 Trust Agreement, each with a 50% interest, sold 4 Fresh Pond Rd. to Les and Dafna Krouk Gordon for $618,000.

July 8, Janet L. Morris sold 58 Simpson Ave. to Christine M. and Alan G. Reid for $550,000.

July 11, Thomas R. Gardos and Elizabeth H. Zimmermann sold 15 Wamsutta to Tal Kaissar for $725,000.

Tisbury

July 7, Mark S. George sold 206 Spring Hill Rd. to Robert M. and Lee-Ann Greco for $225,000.

July 9, Ana Lucia Silveira, trustee of the Ruth Silveira Living Trust, sold 342 Franklin St. to Carolyn B. Swain for $412,000.

July 11, Vineyard Nursing Association Inc. sold 29 Breakdown Lane to the Edgartown National Bank for $1,155,000.

West Tisbury

July 7, David M. and Tammy M. Ford sold 105 Pond Rd. to Mark K. and Julie H. Jones for $2,162,500.

Edgartown

June 30, Mary E. White sold 10 Witchwood Lane to Henry Udow and Regina Pitchon for $1,950,000.

June 30, J. Robert Andrews, Jr. and Maron M. Andrews sold 9 Fowler Ave. to Brian Purdy and Thomas J. Filomeno, trustees of the Winifred M. Purdy Revocable Trust, for $2,145,000.

July 1, Joseph M. and Dianna Barber sold 94 Herring Creek Rd. to William E. and Amy Moss Clark for $1,900,000.

Tisbury

July 2, Nancy Marginnis Davies and Ann Singer Van Haaren, trustees of the Davies Family Trust, sold 60 Harbor View Lane to Danielle Marie Burger for $630,000.

July 3, Linda S. Dalby, individually and as trustee of the Thompson Realty Trust, sold 550 Chappaquonsett Rd. to Walter G. Thompson for $1,21,091.

Multiple Towns

June 30, George H. Fisher, a/k/a George H. Fisher, Jr., sold a lot on Sailor’s Burying Ground Rd. and Road to Wapatequa to Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission for $925,000.

Aquinnah

June 26, Hamilton F. Cammann, trustee of Nickm Realty Trust sold a lot on Moshup Trail to Donald R. Silva for $300,000.

Chilmark

June 26, Great Rock Bight Limited Partnership, by its general partner Harris LLC, and by Kendall P. Harris, Manager of Harris LLC and Kendall P. Harris as trustee of the Great Field Nominee Trust, sold 14 and 37 Brickyard Rd. to Brickyard Fields LLC for $2,200,000.

Edgartown

June 23, Jeffrey S. Nolan, trustee of Nolan Family Irrevocable Trust of 2009, sold 96 South Summer St. to Alexandra MV LLC for $1,290,000.

June 24, Steven Marc Kaitz sold 8 Mockingbird Dr. to JMP Property Development LLC for $350,000.

June 24, Allen W. Wilson, Thomas R. Wilson and James F. Wilson, trustees of the Wilson Revocable Living Trust, and Ruth W. Bellizzi and Michael J. Bellizzi, trustees of the Bellizzi Family 1999 Realty Trust, sold 5 Mill Hill Farms Rd. to Mohamed Ali for $885,000.

June 25, the Town of Edgartown sold 1 Webquish Ave. to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission for $23,570.

June 26, Ann Heron sold a lot on Edgartown Great Pond to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission for $7,600.

June 26, Jayne M. Steidle, a/k/a Jayne M. Leaf, and Melissa R. Montesion, a/k/a Melissa Vasiliadis, sold 223 Upper Main St. to Jayne M. Leaf, a/k/a Jayne Steidle, for $259,626.55.

June 27, David T. and Stephanie T. Bell, n/k/a Stephanie Teller, sold 19 North St. to Matthew J. and Jean T. Walston for $660,000.

Oak Bluffs

June 23, Michael A. Freda sold 15 Linden Ave. to Valci T. and Katelyn Carvalho for $285,000.

June 24, Janet L. King, trustee of the Ritz Nominee Trust, sold 4 Circuit Ave. to BB&L LLC for $975,000.

June 26, Donna M. Fayad, Cynthia Syiek, and George J. Fayad Jr., individually and as Executors of estate of John A. Fayad, sold 31 Nunpaug St. to Richard Wojtczak for $171,000.

June 27, Jennifer L. Pye sold 42 Barnes Rd. to Marinko and Lauren E. Vukota for $350,000.

Tisbury

June 23, Aaron Beck sold 244 State Rd. to Paul J. Tines for $400,000.

June 24, William D. Rollnick sold 32 East Sound Lane to Michael and Patricia Roberts for $3,350,000.

June 24, Glenn Christopher Bachman and Larry A. Berren, trustees of the Beatrice B. Frantz Qtip 2005 Trust, and Duane Dale and Cheryl L. Shaw, trustees of the David H. Frantz Jr. Revocable Trust 1997, sold 186 Head of Pond Rd. to Edwin E. and Constance V.B. Hastings for $825,000.

June 26, Richard E. and Eleanor Gorsey sold 26 Sunnyside Ave. to Martin and Penny Schneider for $1,150,000.

June 27, Sanford and Sofya Nadelstein sold 255 Daggett Ave. to Lynn S. Porter and William Mackathi for $525,000.

West Tisbury

June 26, James A. Hart sold 56 Indian Hill Rd. to Beardog Trust LLC for $203,000.

June 26, Marilyn D. Leonard sold 123 Charles Neck Way to Derek and Bryn Mahoney for $240,000.

The Pedler house in West Tisbury is one of only one hundred certified passive homes in the US.

Daryl Owens, builder Farley Pedler and their daughter Kazmira at the kitchen counter/dining table of their new home. — Photo by Tony Omer

Certified passive is not a psychological condition. It is the highest energy efficient standard used in home building today, according to Farley Pedler, owner of Farley Built, Inc. (formerly Drews Cove Builders). In May, Mr. Pedler, his wife, Daryl Owens, and their twenty-month-old daughter, Kazmira, moved into a finely appointed 800-square-foot, certified passive home he built on Doctor Fisher Road in West Tisbury. The home is one of one hundred certified passive homes in the United States.

“I have built seven homes on Martha’s Vineyard in the last couple of years that use energy efficient design and construction elements that far exceed the building code requirements,” Mr. Pedler said. “But our house is more energy efficient than any of those.”

Few cost saving measures were used in the modern looking interior of the architect-designed house. Mr. Pedler said the house would cost over $400,000 if he hadn’t built the house himself. He said the energy efficient aspects of the house added about ten to fifteen percent to the total cost.

Farleykitchen4a.jpg
The Pedler’s new certified passive house has a fifteen foot high interior peak giving it a sense of being larger than its 800 square feet of floor space.

The Pedler house has a large multipurpose room that incorporates a living room, kitchen, and dining area with a half bath. There is an expanse of windows on the south side, facing a large yard of new grass and woods beyond. The bedroom is a separate room with a full bath that takes up about a third of the total floor space. There is a loft area above the bedroom. The mechanicals are in the full, partially finished basement along with laundry and storage areas.

The house uses a energy recovery ventilator that is connected to a geothermal system. Tubing buried around the perimeter of the house maintains a constant exchange of air with little heat loss, but also conditions the air by removing excess moisture. The heating requirements for the house, even in the dead of winter, are so minimal that a water source heat pump designed to heat a small boat was used.

Mr. Pedler said that he expects to incur only about $1,600 in total energy expenses per year in the new house, while the owner of a conventional built house its size could expect to spend at least $4,000.

The house is wired and plumbed for solar panels that Mr. Pedler said he plans to add in the future. The panels could produce more energy than the house uses, eliminating energy costs.

A passive energy efficient home is built to optimize heat gain in the winter by locating the building so that the windows allow the most amount of sunlight possible. It is super-insulated to retain that heat for as long as possible. In the summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, less sunlight hits the windows and an awning system will be used to block the sun and keep the building cool.

To be certified passive, a house must meet standards set by the non-profit Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), a national organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. “Only about 100 houses have been certified to date in the United States, and there are at least that many now under construction,” Michael Knezovich, PHIUS director of communications, told The Times.

Mr. Knezovich said PHIUS uses standards first developed in Germany, where thousands of houses have met the stringent requirements. They also use a German computer-modeling program to determine the design’s passive capabilities before construction begins.

Farleyloft2.jpg
The upstairs loft of the house.

In order to achieve the certified rating, Mr. Pedler was required to hire a PHIUS certified consultant who helped guide the process from design through construction, and a third party PHIUS certified inspector who made multiple inspections during the course of construction. The house plans had to meet minimum standards when cranked through the computer-modeling program. Four blower door tests, where a large exhaust fan is used to detect leaks, were conducted to test the efficiency of the construction at key points during construction.

Mr. Pedler hired an architect with certified passive design experience, Steven Baczek of Reading, who is now working on his fifth certified passive home design. Mr. Baczek told The Times, ”Mr. Pedler’s house is an energy efficient house on steroids.” He said there are four major areas of concern when designing passive homes that breed success or failure: the mechanical elements and materials, air sealing, windows and doors, and insulation.

Mr. Baczek said that meeting with the building team before the design is complete is an important step in getting everyone on the same page. “We try to keep our window of heat loss for the entire project to less than the size of a playing card. Any mistake during construction can open that window.” He said that he hopes his designs will not only help set a new standard for energy efficiency, but will produce homes that will still be relevant in 150 years.

Farleyexterior3.jpg
The house’s southern exposure has the most glass to increase the solar heat gain in the winter. The lower walls are 20 inches thick and filled with insulation.

The Pedler family wanted to buy land in Chilmark, where they rented for four years, but real estate in Chilmark was more than they could afford, so they settled on four plus acres just north of the West Tisbury school in West Tisbury. “Our new house will become our guest house when we win the lottery and build our big house,” Mr. Pedler said, half joking. He said for him, the new house is as much a learning exercise for the future main house as it is a place for them to live. He hopes to begin on the main house in a couple of years.

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The chickens scratch up everything outside the bricked-in herb gardens, weeding and fertilizing as they go. — Lily K. Morris

The huge oak that was the centerpiece of our Chappaquiddick front yard died from a gall wasp infestation a couple of years ago. The house was sited to be near this tree that was magnificent, even in its youth. It shaded our house and yard for 40 summers, and it held our children and friends’ children in its branches for the photos that show them growing older year by year. It was a hard loss to accept, but as a 17th century Japanese poet wrote: “The barn’s burnt down… now I can see the moon.” With the oak gone, our yard has entered a period of slow but exhilarating transformation.

The stump of the huge oak that once shaded the Chappaquiddick lawn.
The stump of the huge oak that once shaded the Chappaquiddick lawn.

The biggest change was the amount of sunlight filling the yard. Some plants seemed happy with this, like the lilacs and shad that had been shaded for years by the oak’s long reach. Much more sun fell on the vegetables growing in the fenced garden, but large patches of the grass and moss that made up our lawn started dying. It didn’t take long for things to look pretty shabby. I was still mourning the oak when a visit to Island gardener Pat Brown’s yard last summer got me thinking more creatively about ours. His front yard is filled with vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, and vines, making a pleasant and riotously vibrant jungle of vegetation between the driveway and the front steps. I realized that while I like a bit of lawn, vegetables are much more interesting, and I’d rather grow food.

Since we didn’t want to fence in the whole yard — to deal with the deer, and occasional goat escapees — I decided to try to plant things they don’t like to eat. I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a deer-proof plant, but from my years of gardening, I know there are some things they’re less likely to eat, for example, wild arugula, garlic, some herbs, and maybe raspberries. The challenge, though, was how to turn our sandy, rock-hard soil full of oak tree roots into a bed loose and fertile enough to plant anything.

Last July, I laid cardboard on the mostly dead grass next to the front wall of the house, between the chicken patio — so named because our chickens like to sun themselves there — and the front steps. I covered the cardboard with layers of hay from goat bedding and seaweed. Then I lay boards across it to keep the chickens from strewing it everywhere in their search for worms. By October, the soil was soft enough to dig up, and I transplanted herbs from my fenced garden. I surrounded each plant with old bricks to keep the chickens from digging it up. The chickens scratch up everything in between, weeding and fertilizing as they go.

Some plants in the old flower bed outside the fenced garden always get eaten by deer or rabbits, while others, like daffodils, are never bothered. In the fall, I moved the vulnerable plants inside the garden, and transferred a couple hundred daffodils to the edges of the yard, where I figured they could fend for themselves. In the newly freed up bed, I transplanted some raspberries suckers from the canes I’d dug  into a vegetable bed “temporarily” – about four years ago. I’m not sure if raspberries are on the deer’s list of likely edibles, but I’ll find out! Next to that bed, I laid some more layers of cardboard, hay, and seaweed, topped by dead oak branches for chicken protection, for future expansion. I cleaned out another old flower bed, added some compost, and planted garlic there. Next to it I added some more “lasagna” layers to widen it, too, after the cardboard and hay rots.

During this period of transformation, I heard about hugelkulture, a kind of raised bed made by piling up logs and other woody debris, and adding a layer of soil on top into which the plants are added. Permaculturists use it because its woody debris holds water and slowly releases nutrients over many years as the wood rots. It’s a good way to clean up the yard as well as add a growing bed without the work of digging. A good article on the Web is found at:  http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/many-benefits-hugelkultur.

I think it’s best to let the hugelkutlture pile settle for at least a few months, but I didn’t bother. Our yard had several piles of rotting logs from trees we’d taken down, and a pile of old fire wood from before we converted to a pellet stove. In the fall, I piled some of these up, added some goat bedding, dried stalks from the garden, and topped it with little dirt here and there. Into it I transplanted some gooseberries suckers, which are nice and thorny and so maybe deer-proof, a few poke and dandelion roots — weeds that I like to eat — and a couple of flowering bushes.

Unfortunately, our yard’s biggest crop in recent years has been voles. Last summer they ate every single green bean I planted, many tomatoes, potatoes, etc. Well, it seems that while I thought I’d built a hugelkulture mound, the voles were busy converting it into a vole condo. Tunnels appeared everywhere, and by spring, all the plants but the gooseberries were gone. Gardening is nothing if not full of disappointment and constant learning experiences!

In the spring, when I was ready to plant another hugelkulture bed that I’d made around the base of the big oak stump, I decided the plants needed to be vole-proof as well as deer and goat-proof. I have a small arugula business, so I was glad to have an extra area to put these plants that seem to be eaten only by humans. I transplanted about 50 from where they had seeded themselves in my fenced garden. They look happy enough so far.

Grass has its uses, such as at the edges of the yard where it can be mowed to limit the sassafras, honeysuckle, and bittersweet vines always invading from the surrounding woods. It’s also nice to walk on from one place to another, and to look at — where it’s growing really well. When I spent summers on Chappy as a kid, I don’t remember people having lawns. There was a little grass around the houses that got mowed at the beginning of the summer. Flower beds were rare, too. People were more interested in being at the beach or out on the water than taking care of a yard. That was before landscapers were doing the work. I like grass, but I see no reason to work at growing it where it clearly has decided it doesn’t want to grow — there are so many more interesting plants than grass!

Tina Miller's herbed potato salad. — Photo by Alison Shaw

Summer’s finally here, and after a very long winter (and spring.) spent warming ourselves and our food over hot stoves, it’s pretty nice to look forward to cool dishes we don’t have to cook. These are all great salads to make for company on the Vineyard. They can accompany anything — barbeque, luncheons, dinner for your family or just a treat for yourself.

quinoa.jpgQuinoa Salad with Black Beans, Corn and Edamame

Serves 8

You can be flexible with the dressing: if you don’t have cumin, just use chili powder or try adding a bit of cayenne for additional heat if you like it spicy. Dress the salad just before eating. The quinoa will absorb dressing as it sits, so you can add more lemon or lime juice as desired. This recipe makes enough for a crowd or can easily be cut in half. (Recipe from “Soups + Sides,” by Catherine Walthers.)

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed well and drained

2 1/4 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup frozen edamame beans, without the pod

Kernels from 2 ears fresh corn (approximately 1 cup)

1 cup canned black beans, rinsed in hot water

1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, and diced

1/2 to 1 cup cilantro leaves, washed well, spun dry and loosely chopped

Dressing:  6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon each chili powder and ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1.  Place the quinoa, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Bring  to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook on low for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Turn off heat and let rest for 10 minutes.  Fluff with fork, add to a large bowl and cool to room temperature.

2.  Bring another saucepan with water to a boil. Add edamame and boil for 2 minutes and then add corn, and continue boiling for 2 minutes longer. Drain the edamame and corn and run under cold water to stop the cooking and keep the color. Roast the red pepper. Add corn, edamame, red pepper and black beans to the quinoa.

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and salt. When ready to serve, pour dressing over quinoa and vegetables and toss  gently to combine all ingredients.  Add cilantro and mix gently. Taste and add more salt and citrus if necessary.  Serve at room temperature.

Herbed Potato Salad

Serves 6

New potatoes are just young potatoes — they’re harvested early and are small in size. They are very sweet and tender, and do not need peeling, which makes them perfect for potato salad. This salad is made with a Dijon vinaigrette, and is best when it’s served warm or at room temperature. (Recipe adapted from “Vineyard Harvest: A Year of Good Food on Martha’s Vineyard” by Tina Miller.)

2 pounds new potatoes, such as fingerling, red, and/or purple

Dijon Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, then add the chopped herbs.

2. Fill a large pot with cold water, add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes, until they are tender and can be easily pierced with a knife. Remove pot from heat; drain. Set potatoes aside and let them cool just enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Slice the warm potatoes in half and place them in a serving bowl. Gently toss with the vinaigrette before serving.

Summer Peach and Baby Kale Salad

salad-square.jpgServes 4

This 3-ingredient salad is nice for company, especially with flavorful juicy peaches. Baby kale is available weekly at the West Tisbury Farmers Market and at Cronig’s. The salad also features fresh mozzarella marinated in lemon, garlic and basil. The marinade/dressing, along with the mozzarella, is then poured over the baby kale and sliced peaches. Easy and delicious. (Recipe from “Kale, Glorious Kale” by Catherine Walthers, coming out in August.)

5 to 6 cups baby kale, long stems removed, rinsed and spun dry

1 large or 2 medium juicy, ripe peaches (or nectarines)

1 (8-ounce) container small, fresh mozzarella balls, cut in half or quarters

Lemon Basil Marinade/Dressing

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 pinches kosher salt and black pepper

6-8 basil leaves, cut into thin slices

Make the marinade/dressing in a medium bowl by combining the zest, lemon, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Add the basil and mozzarella and let sit for 10-15 minutes (longer is okay too).

Place the baby kale in a wide salad bowl. Just before serving, pour the mozzarella and all the marinade dressing onto the kale salad and toss gently with tongs. Peel and slice the peaches, fairly thinly. (Nectarines don’t usually need to be peeled.) Add to the salad, and serve immediately.

Catherine Walthers is a private chef and the author of “Raising the Salad Bar,” “Soups + Sides,” and the upcoming “Kale, Glorious Kale,” all with photographs by Alison Shaw.