The sun, the vibrant blue sky, the mild temperature, and the subtle breeze were just calling me to the woods this morning after chores. With just my barn coat and gloves as extra winter clothing I ventured off to be among the trees and fields out behind our small farm to start the new year of 2017 right. The only things I thought about was what I was seeing and feeling. All the bookwork, scheduling, orders, cleaning, and more cleaning were left in the house with the door shut. I would not let them follow me in body or spirit. The nippy breeze cleared my head and the bright sun warmed my soul and this is what I saw:
So, into this new year I will remember and I hope you will too, to take the time to enjoy, be thankful for, and open to the simple yet complex beauty that is a vital part of our world. Happy New Year.
“How do you make it up your driveway in the winter?” is a common question asked by folks when they visit our nursery for the first time. My initial answer is “I try not to go anywhere,” followed by “Raymond keeps it pretty passable.” They are both true. Yes, I am an introvert by nature so having some good snowy days gives me a perfect excuse to stay hunkered down and work on my seed orders, plant scheduling, much neglected blogging, soap making and a walk through the woods. Even though the nursery is closed during the winter there is a lot of prep work that goes on to get ready for Spring.
Last year the winter was so mild and there were not the days of snow like we have had this year, so the hunkered down feeling was missing. I also had to come down off the hill more than ever before and though I was thankful for a clear driveway I sorely missed the days of working at my desk or in the greenhouses as the flakes were swirling down. These recent snow filled days have made me realize that I missed them for a reason, I need them to help me recharge, regroup, and refresh. I can’t do that if I am not here surrounded by what I love to do.
I always have plenty to do and wintery days are perfect for reflecting on what plants worked last year what didn’t. They are also perfect for thinking up new avenues for the greenhouse to take and products to make. Those long walks in the woods keep the brain functioning and positive.
So, I hope 2017 finds you surrounded by what you love to do and that these snowy days help you to recharge, regroup, and refresh.
Have you ever had the intense urge to pull weeds? I mean where your hands start jerking and you can smell the soil as you finally rip out that humungo weed, roots and all, that has been interrupting your perfect row of beans and bugging the crap out of you for the last few weeks. I have this serious urge and it is driving me crazy. But there is no row of beans or humungo weed and there is little I can do about this urge because IT IS JANUARY and RAINING AGAIN! Raymond suggested I go down to the big greenhouse and pull the weeds that erupted during our balmy fall and I should and will but it is just not the same. Can you hear the whining? Sorry.
I’m in limbo. It’s too early to start seeds. I’m sick of cleaning. My stock plants are all repotted. Weeding we already discussed. So today I started downloading pictures of all the new perennials I will be growing this year. Maybe it will help. Once I have all of them on file I will start updating our website which is fun but a lot of seatwork (and nibbling which leads to my attached seat getting bigger). As I was choosing what pictures to use my eyes started being drawn to other things in the photos; cloud formations in the vivid blue sky, a house in the background with a nice porch, how neatly the garden was edged. There were even a few sneaky little weeds in some of the pictures that I just wanted to rip out but once again I am thwarted by things beyond my control. I do have to admit as much as that nervy weed bugs me I am consoled knowing that even those I admire have weeds. It’s okay to have weeds because if the weeds won’t grow neither will the plants that you plant. Photo courtesy of Walter's Gardens.
What has really caught my attention as I have become severely distracted from my task at hand (downloading the flower pictures, remember) are the daylily photos. They are soooo staged that they are almost gaudy. The pictures don’t represent how daylilies actually look in the garden. They are set up to look like they are in a bouquet which is fine if you only want it to last a day, they are ‘daylilies’ after all. Some of the combinations are sweet but some are, well, decide for yourself…
For now these pictures are all I have until June or so. I shouldn't complain. After all it was these pictures (along with the written descriptions of course) that lured me into buying them.
Back to work. I made a list of all that I want to get done today and so far I have only downloaded perennial pictures. I am still hoping to make a batch of soap, put together an order for pots and soil, organize my plant scheduling notebook, put together a plant list for a design Amelia and I are working on, line up judges for the goat shows at the Washington County Fair, and make egg salad. Oh, and of course post this blog. Until next time- think Spring!
January 4, 2016
My mother called me today to let me know that a friend of ours had died last night from a heart attack. She was just a few months younger than me. We went to school together, were in the same 4-H group, and we would commiserate about being self-employed. Each Spring she would buy like 6 salad burnet plants. She loved them. Her death is bothering me. She was tough, strong and good hearted. This should not have happened to her. I guess it doesn’t matter how tough and strong and good hearted a person is, shit happens but it doesn’t make it right.
After learning about Angie’s death, I figured I better stop thinking about doing things and do them.
So, here it goes, my daily/weekly journal blog of what is happening here in the woods at Woodland Gardens from farm to greenhouse to home or one could say the good, the bad, and the ugly depending on the day.
We are coming off of an incredibly mild fall and first part of the winter but today bitter cold reality set in with frozen water buckets and a skin cracking north wind. Most of the ice is knocked out of the goats’ water buckets by smacking them (the buckets that is) against the tree by the side of the barn. I just have to aim right so any water in the middle doesn’t leave me in a coating of instant ice. But today is nothing compared to last winter when 15 degrees was the norm for weeks on end. The goats, fowl, horses, and cow can handle one night of bitter cold all snuggled in the barns with their friends. I’m just glad the extended forecast calls for milder temps.
So, aside from the frozen water buckets, my day consisted of making two loaves of sourdough bread, a batch of pizza dough, and cleaning. The bread is fun but the cleaning not so much but I have been in the right frame of mind for it, meaning I’m throwing stuff out. I cannot believe the number of catalogs that accumulate. Really, do we need to keep the Gempler catalog from 2014 and how many Johnny Seed catalogs do I need for one year?
As I have been wallowing through piles of catalogs, articles to read, and bills to pay, Raymond has been tearing the front end of the tractor apart. One leak on one side led to another leak on the other side which turned out to be a bigger problem than he thought. Bigger fixing and bigger money. I am so fortunate that he is capable of fixing it, at least I think he can and that it is January because he is using my greenhouse as a machinery shop. In another month we would be fighting over who gets to use the greenhouses. So he can use them now but by the end of the month….
Some of my best thinking happens when my hands and knees are in the soil. This fall Mother Nature has given me extended time to think and reflect. As I have been hastily planting perennials during the unthinkable month of November, I have been reflecting on the year in the garden and on the farm. First of all, I am so thankful for the mild weather so I can keep planting in the gardens (though I know this will end sooner or later) but the longer I can have my garden therapy the better for everyone. So, as I have been on my planting frenzy and Thanksgiving on my mind, I thought I would share with you a few garden related thankfuls.
I am thankful for the resiliency of Johnny Jump Ups and Foxgloves. I was afraid my ruthless weeding had finally decimated the colonies of Johnny Jump Ups that use to be in my perennial garden. In fact, overhauling the garden last Fall and this Spring may have actually stirred up some dormant seeds of those sweet faced Violas because low and behold a few tidy little plants are appearing and blossoming!
As for the Foxgloves, I am both thankful and amazed as to where the young plants showed up. In hopes of putting siding on the house and a new garden design, we ripped out all the overgrown shrubs along the front of the house. This was in June. Then life got busy and the ripping out of shrubs was as far as we got. (A whole other potential blog.) Like the Johnny Jump Ups, there must have been a bunch of dormant seeds of Foxglove in that freshly churned up soil just waiting for the light of day and boy did they germinate. The amazing part is that there has not been Foxgloves in that garden for over twenty years! I love ‘em.
Especially, I am so truly thankful for all of your support that enables me to keep sharing my gardens, greenhouses, experience, and knowledge. Thank you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
As I write this we are receiving yet another 4-8 inches of snow for the second time this week. Though Monday's storm dumped on us twice as much, so I should be grateful at 8". In a recent Facebook post I stated how I would rather be weeding than shoveling snow. At least with weeds I don't have to worry about them collapsing any of the greenhouses or buildings.
So my snow days consist of shoveling around the greenhouses and pulling the snow off of the tops with a long handled broom. This chore is mundane and a pain in the neck, back, and elsewhere but at times quite comical in a warped humor sort of way. Such as with Monday's snow. I was shoveling along the edge of the big greenhouse and was about half way to the end, taking a break, admiring the large snow bank I was making running parallel to the greenhouse but also thinking that I would need to get the long handled broom to pull the 15 or so inches of snow off the top. As I was admiring and procrastinating I heard a slight moan and shh sound. I looked up to the greenhouse roof to see those 15 or so inches of snow sliding right towards me. Oh crap! The majority of the roof side of snow was coming my way and I couldn't move fast enough. Greenhouse Snow Avalanche! I held the snow shovel above my head so in case I was buried alive Eliza could find me after she stopped laughing. Yes, she witnessed the whole scary event. The worst part was I had to re-dig to get out.
Unfortunately Monday's experience was not my first with the Abominable Snow Monster. In 2011 we were getting dumped on with snow every 3-4 days much like this year. One storm blessed us with over 20" of snow along with wind. The roof at the lower end of the big greenhouse had about 3 feet of snow drifted on it. At 5'3" standing up straight, I really didn't know how I was going to get that off. At the time there was no way to heat the greenhouse either. So I came up with the brilliant idea to use the step ladder. Can you see where this might be going? Yup, the ladder idea didn't work out so well. Luckily I landed in about 3' of snow. Unfortunately landing in the 3' of snow was easier than getting out of it. I did have some foresight and left a post-it note for the girls to come down to the greenhouse once they were finished with chores. Just in case.
These storms have left me thinking of potential headlines for the Post Star and the evening news "Greenhouse Snow Slide Buries Woman" or "Woman Wallows in Snow to Save Greenhouse."
All joking aside, these snow levels are a serious threat to greenhouse operations. During Buffalo's bombardment of 7' of snow a large greenhouse complex collapsed. The owner said it was like a domino effect, once one house started going they all went. The cuttings and young plants they had started could be seen amongst the broken pipes, ripped plastic, and piles of snow.
There are some challenges Mother Nature throws at us that we can not foresee, prepare for, or have control over such as hail but that’s another story. While the snow flies, I know what needs to be done and will do whatever it takes to beat that Abominable Snow Monster away from my greenhouses!
Why do we grow the plants we do? That is the question running through my mind as I search through seed catalogs trying to decide what plants I should grow for 2015. We all get lured by the luscious pictures of vegetables and bountiful blooms of new varieties as seen in the catalogs that fill the mailbox. But what about those plants we grow every year no matter how much they want to take over the garden or how finicky they may be, or from the business standpoint, those plants I think should have sold (because I love them of course) but just took up greenhouse space and water. Why, why, why?
Sentimentality, that's why. I give the legitimate reasons of fragrance, hardiness, disease resistance, length of bloom, flavor, or they're good sellers as to what plants make 'The List' but deep down inside certain plants have special meaning to me and I just have to grow them. Dianthus is one particular flower that lives up to all these reasons but one, they don't hardly move from the greenhouse bench unless it is to go in my garden. I have grown Dianthus 'Super Parfait Series' since I first grew them at Ashwood Nursery over twenty years ago. Back then though they were just Dianthus 'Parfait Series' and customers loved the fragrant, perky pink and white washed blooms, and how indestructible they were. I fell in love with them too and dotted the edge of the garden along the walkway to the house with them and Sweet Alyssum every year. I would have to deadhead both once during the summer, then they bloomed until the freezing temperatures came. Light frosts didn't phase either one and some years the Dianthus would winter over, added bonus! The walkway to the house has changed along with the garden. The area is no longer conducive for Dianthus as a border to greet visitors. These changes and even the sad realization that if I was a real cold hearted business person I should cut Dianthus from 'The List' but I won't. Why? Sentimental reasons, they remind me of a time of starting a home, a family, and all the hopes and dreams that go along with starting.
Another sentimental plant for me are foxgloves because they were my first perennial crop at SUNY Cobleskill even though they are a biennial not a perennial. I let them pop up wherever they choose because I know they never stay in the same place. The year we celebrated my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary I was able to cut enough foxgloves from the gardens and woodline to make two magnificent arrangements with them.
The list goes on; bearded iris because my mother had a garden full of them. While my sister, brother, and I waited for the bus my mother would cut bouquets of the fragile flowers for us to take to our teachers. She would wrap the stems in a damp paper towel then a piece of aluminum foil and send us on our way.
The original variegated hosta that I have growing under the clematis will never be a big seller and I really don't even care for hostas because they are deer candy but I will always keep that one plant. It came into my possession a bit scrupulously. You see when Raymond and I were dating we would pass by this old abandoned house on this dead end dirt road and ...one day we noticed the hosta growing in amongst the weeds and overgrown lawn and next thing we knew it was in the back of the truck. That's how it happened really, sort of, but it went to a good home and the house is no longer there. So all is good.
Every year I try to grow peas. I love peas. Their delicate tendrils, flowers, and their glaucous blue green rounded leaves. I love hearing the popping of the pod as I open it to eat the little round gems inside. Each year though the harvest is slim or like last year nonexistent but I keep trying because I love them.
So, I will keep Dianthus on 'The List' along with Nicotiana for it's evening fragrance even though by the time it lands in my garden it is a bit lanky, Verbena bonariensis because it is so tall I can see it from my desk when I'm daydreaming instead of bookkeeping, and I will plant two rows of peas this year and not feel guilty one bit. I believe it is okay to be sentimental when it comes to gardening because it's a way for special memories to keep growing. What memories are you growing in your garden?
January 3, 2015
It may be January with snow and freezing rain in the forecast but Spring is geared up in my mind. You see I try to refrain myself until after the holidays to let loose on getting ready for Spring. Although, I do get a temporary fix on my plant addiction in October by ordering the bare root perennials and the plugs that I can't start from seed. I order early to get the best selection, really I do, really.
So, getting ready for Spring consists of a variety of tasks, some mundane, some brain taxing, some creative, and some just plain old hard work. No matter how mundane or taxing or labor intensive these tasks might be, completing them always leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and one step closer to Spring (if only in my mind.)
I'm a list maker and each day I make a list of what I want to accomplish. On today's list the big three things were cleaning out an empty pen down in the lower barn (kidding season will soon be here and we’ll need all the extra room we can get), making mozzarella, and sorting through my seeds to see what I am out of. I use to put all the things that needed to get done on my list but realized some days I only got the chores done and meals made. That was too depressing so the everyday things are left off the list.
I started my day getting the kitchen wood stove fired up to cook breakfast on. I have it down to a science; two half pieces of newspaper wadded up loosely, 3 pieces of kindling laid crosswise, another half sheet of wadded newspaper, 3 more pieces of kindling, then a small piece of wood. I close all the dampers until I light the papers then I open the bottom damper, then the middle, then the stove pipe damper. I also only use the black and white portions of the paper, colored newsprint smolders something fierce. By opening the dampers this way the cold air doesn’t have a chance to come down the stovepipe and push the smoke back into the house. Occasionally I still smoke the house up if the air pressure is wrong or the stove is really cold but it happens a lot less.
On weekends I try to make a decent breakfast for everyone then we head out to do chores, unless of course the goats or cow are being milked twice a day then that comes first no matter what. Right now though the goats are dry and working on growing babies and Prize (Amelia’s Jersey cow) is only being milked in the evening, so mornings are a bit relaxed if only temporarily. Once everyone was fed, humans and animals, I decided to start cleaning that pen out- remember the list. I thought an hour at the most and I would have it done, especially with Amelia’s help. This was at 8:30. We finished at 11:30,ugh. There was a lot more you know what in there than it looked but it’s done. As always we swore we would not let it pile up again and swore at the way we designed the barn. It is so much easier when Raymond can drive the tractor in the pen and scoop out the mess.
Once I got my second wind and a short nap, I made mozzarella cheese - the next item on my to do list. I use Ricki Carroll’s recipe for 30 Minute Mozzarella from her book Home Cheese Making. It takes me more like an hour to make but I’m slow. The cheese is incredibly smooth and wicked easy to make. While I had the cheese book out I thumbed through the soft cheese section and decided to try making Fromage Blanc with Prize’s milk. I’ve made it with goat milk but never thought about making it with cow milk. It was a ‘dah’ moment but like I said I’m slow sometimes.
So back to my list, the 3rd big thing I wanted to accomplish was sorting through my seeds. This has been on my list all week and once again I got side tracked and didn’t get that far. I will put it at the top of tomorrow’s list. The weather sounds perfect for sorting through seed packets and catalogs; rain / ice. Even though I didn’t accomplish all that was on my list, I did accomplish something I have been thinking about for over a year- starting this blog. I hope you enjoyed it and let me know what you think.