Sunday, May 15, 2016

We completed another Landis Valley Herb Faire under conditions that were less than ideal. It rained on Friday and it rained hard most of the day, with two brief breaks. In spite of that, diehard plant shoppers came out looking for their favorites. We were quite busy in the morning, but people didn't dawdle- they got what they wanted and went home to dry out. By the end of the day, the grounds were a muddy mess. Saturday was a much nicer day, although still a little muddy getting around.

One thing I noticed, we still had stock left on Saturday of some varieties that usually sell out on Friday, like cilantro, dill, tarragon and white sage. Many customers who come to the farm stopped by to say hello, although most save their shopping for a visit to the farm. It's always great to see our LV regulars, although it took me awhile to recognize most folks since they were draped in ponchos, wearing hats or hoods and holding umbrellas. Many thanks to all who came out. Gardeners are an intrepid bunch!

Customers have been coming to the farm too, even on rainy days. I think it makes us all feel better to see signs of spring, especially when the weather doesn't cooperate. Also, if you have your plants, you can run out and plant them when the weather breaks.  I've been cautioning everyone not to plant basil in the ground yet. I know we're past our usual last frost date, but basil likes nighttime temperatures consistently in the 50s, and we're not there yet his year. Tonight's lows are predicted to be in the mid-30s, and basil will not like that at all.

We're planting other annuals this week, but I'm watching the trends in the weather. By the end of the week, I'll know if it's safe to put basil in next week.

It's been a struggle to plant this spring, since it's been so wet. We did one round of planting hardy herbs and John finally got beans planted last week. No tomatoes in yet, and peppers are like basil- they want warm temperatures to be happy.

I harvested a bunch of perennial herbs- mints, oregano, tarragon and thyme, along with some basil tops that I cut back to encourage the plants to branch out. Everything is still on the drying screens. With the wet weather, they reabsorb moisture from the air and are not dry enough to store. Storing herbs before they're thoroughly dry can produce mold, which means the herbs must be discarded.

John's retirement is going really well. He has no problem keeping busy, but at least he has a lot more time to get everything accomplished. And boy, is it nice having a helper this time of year! He handles things like restocking the plants and of course, waits on customers. The other day, I came into the greenhouse just in time to hear him explain to a customer how to pinch back basil to get it to branch out and become full. An extra pair of hands really lightens the workload.

If you haven't visited yet, please do. We have lots of plants left and it's still early in the season. People are saying they're behind in planting, but this year you can blame it all on the weather!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Thanks to everyone who came out to our open house. We had a great turnout. Folks are so complimentary about the appearance and health of our plants, our wide selection and how good the shop smells! Several customers congratulated John on his retirement which really tickled him. It's great having him here to help. An extra pair of hands makes the work go much faster.

Several people asked me if I'm ready for Landis Valley.  Not yet, it I'm working on it. It's a tremendous amount of preparation, but it's nice for us as we see returning customers there each year, too. And it introduces us to people in the area who are not familiar with the farm. The Herb Faire is on Friday and Saturday May 6&7 from 9am to 5pm. John will be here at home, so the farm is open our regular hours 9-5 both days. Stop by and visit us.

In front of the greenhouse, we have a big patch of old-fashioned clove pinks with a delicious spicy sweet fragrance. They are budded up and will bloom soon when the sun returns. Today I noticed a round, clear patch in them. At first, I thought Lucy had been rooting around. On closer inspection, I saw it was a rabit's nest. I'm surprised the bunny didn't choose the thyme walk, which has better cover. At least the babies can appreciate the wonderful smell.  Now we must keep Lucy away.

On a dry morning, I harvested some early herbs for drying. Lovely tarragon, oregano, catnip, thyme and some mints. These herbaceous plants can be cut back one third to one half and will recover quickly.

Mother's Day is generally considered our last frost date. You can plan to start planning annuals then. However, I recommend waiting longer to put basil in the ground. It likes nighttime temperatures consistently in the 50's and we're not there yet. Be patient- if it's not warm enough, the basil will soit and sulk till it warms up.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

What a start to spring! As I'm writing this, it's snowing. Forsythia, redbud, and daffodils all blooming and covered with snow. This morning, as we walked the dog, John asked if this would hurt plants in the gardens. Since it's just perennials that are up, the answer is no. And actually, it's cold temps rather than snow that does damage. Even with lows in the 20s, the plants' roots are well insulated underground. I did have to discourage people from planting last weekend. Annuals and even perennials that haven't been hardened off aren't likely to survive a hard freeze. The people with major problems are orchardists with fruit trees blooming. Not much you can do there, unfortunately.

The greenhouse is full and things look really nice. I haven't moved the perennials outside yet and the extra week or so has things really growing and sizing up. Hoping for moderating weather this week.

Even though it doesn't seem like spring, I can tell how the season is moving along. This week, I seeded my last batch of plants. I start with the first batch right after the holidays and the numbers gradually increase through March and then slow down into April. There aren't many flats of seedlings waiting to be planted anymore. The only perennials left to divide are two late varieties so planting will soon be done.

Someone mentioned Landis Valley recently and that's only a month away! The next thing we're preparing for is our spring open house which is Friday and Saturday April 22 and 23 from 9 to 5. All our plants are in stock then and the shop is full of fragrant body care products, dried herbs and spices, garden items and books, unusual gifts and lots more. We hope you can stop by and visit.

Last week a couple stopped by to look at plants and ask a few questions. The wife mentioned that her husband had retired the week before. I said, "So did mine." I called John over from his work outside and they had fun comparing notes. Both had plenty to keep them busy.

It's nice having a helper. John's getting a lot of outside work done (at least before the snow.) Plus, he's doing things like tagging plants that frees me up to do more planting.

Both greenhouse toads have decided to go back into hibernation until winter is really done.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Spring prep is in full swing here at the farm. The greenhouse is really filling up with herbs, perennials and the first annuals that have been potted. I enjoy looking back at the end of the day and seeing how much work I've gotten done. The other thing that amazes me is how quickly things can grow when we have nice, sunny weather. From one day to the next, the difference can be striking.

Of course, a few nice days doesn't mean the cold weather is entirely done. Two weeks ago, a lady stopped by to look at plants.
I told her it was too early to plant and she seemed surprised.  I told her it could still get quite cold at night and we had nighttime temperatures in the twenties right after that.

I watch the nighttime temperatures to decide when to move the perennials outside. It's best if temps stay above freezing, although we use row covers if it dips slightly below freezing. A customer that drives by frequently told me that's how she knows the greenhouse will soon open- when we put the skids down outside the greenhouse. That was accomplished yesterday. If the weather stays moderate, maybe things will get moved out next week. The greenhouse officially opens April 1. Then our spring hours begin-Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 5pm and Wednesday evenings until 7pm.

The other big news here at the farm is that John is retiring from his job at Hersheypark after 36 years at the end of March. So you'll see him around a lot more when you visit. And of course, it means I'll have a full-time helper. He's learned a lot over the past 18 years, so he should be very helpful.

If you have butterfly bushes, now is the time to cut them back and fairly hard, too. They will grow back quickly and bloom on sturdier stems which makes the flowers look better instead of being lanky. On nice days, get out and do general clean-up and weeding. Then your beds will be ready at planting time. If you do containers, dispose of the old potting soil and clean the containers so they're ready to go.

Our gardens look like they survived the winter pretty well. Lavender plants look good, after suffering through several bad winters. Most of my outdoor rosemary plants are alive, although they all have brown winter-kill at the top of the branches. Some have branches broken off from the weight of all the snow. I'll cut them back and hope they shape up, literally. They get so big by the end of the season that you often can't tell they started off rather misshapen. I always like to give things a chance.

Our two greenhouse toads are getting more active. Toad SR.comes out and basks in the sun. Toad Jr. is pretty lively. He moves from spot to spot and jumps out of the way if I get too close. Hopefully, he'll get used to the activity like SR. has done.

Upcoming- greenhouse opens April 1 and spring open house Friday and Saturday April 22 & 23.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spring is coming!

Even though winter won't quite let go, it's spring here at the farm. All the starter plants have arrived, so I'm busy in the greenhouse transplanting. As the early crops of seedlings mature, they are also transplanted. The greenhouse is quickly filling up. I love seeing the tiny plants grow into big, beautiful herbs and flowers.

I'm amazed at how specific plants are even when they're small.
The other day,  I was cleaning up lemon verbena starts prior to planting. The sweet, lemony smell was just as apparent on those seedlings as on a full grown plant in the garden in August. On warm days in the greenhouse, especially after watering it's filled with wonderful herbal scents combined with a warm, earthy smell.  Yummy!

Our original greenhouse toad has been emerging from he dirt on nice days. He (or she) comes out and basks in he sun. He reminds me of those angry bird pictures. He looks like he just emerged from his long winter's nap and is none too happy about it. Grumpy toad face. I haven't seen toad junior. I don't know if he's still hibernating or if he moved on.

Just a reminder-the herb shop is open three days a week in March-Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 to 5. The greenhouse reopens on April 1 and then we begin our spring hours which are Tuesday-Saturday 9am to 5pm and Wednesday evenings until 7pm.

I'm also working on the spring newsletter which will be out in mid-March. You can reach about our new plant selections, a popular native perennial and an article on edible flowers.

At the beginning of this spring season, I'm determined to pay attention and enjoy it all. I hope it won't just rush by before I know it. We'll see how successful I am.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

We were lucky in that we had no problems with the giant snowstorm, except for lots of shovelling to get snow away from the greenhouses. It was a long day. A lot has melted, but much of the yard still has several inches left. It was so deep that Lucy had to stay on the paths we made for about a week, and she didn't like that. She had a hard time getting to places with the interesting smells.

When we  could get around, I went up to a shrub for a close look at a bird's nest. It was made entirely of twigs but was very neatly constructed. Nothing slap-dash about it at all. Then I noticed a praying mantis egg sac on the bush. I looked around and counted five on that shrub and more in the area. We should have a good crop of praying mantises this year.

Signs of spring-the number of flats of seedlings in the basement is increasing. They are so interesting. Swamp milkweed with its flat seeds attached to the top of the seedlings, tiny lavender plants with full-grown fragrance and blue flax with delicately textured foliage.  Our order of soil and pots will be delivered soon. That to me is a sure sign of spring-work will start in the greenhouse soon.

I'm also working on the new plant list. That always gets me dreaming of planting, plant combinations and visions of lush summer gardens.

Today when I went in the greenhouse, I discovered toad junior. This is obviously not the regular greenhouse toad because he's much smaller. He was out of the dirt, but still looked pretty sleepy. Regular greenhouse toad was hibernating in the back corner as usual, so maybe this is an offspring. Has to be better than hibernating outside.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Another New Year

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays. We had a great time and John used his two weeks off to practice being retired. He seems to have it down pat.

I do not remember such an unseasonably warm December for ages. We actually had a white rose that bloomed in December. On New Years Day I told John look at that- we had calendula that were still blooming- a first! Haven't had any flowers blooming on  January 1 before. Of course, as soon as the cold weather arrived they got zapped, but it was still a sight to see! Up to the cold snap,  I still had plenty of fresh herbs in the garden- parsley, oregano, rosemary, chives, thyme- all the basics except for basil which went at the first frost. I don't think I ever such a choice of fresh  herbs while preparing Christmas dinner.

We'd  like to thank everyone who visited the farm for holiday shopping. Our open house was well attended and we know that there is much competition for people's time and attention, especially at the holidays. We also had a number of new customers, so thanks for talking up the farm.

I always say that January is my slow time, and I'm enjoying some free time, but that doesn't mean there's no work to do. I have started my first batch of seeds- early perennials like coneflower and blue flax and the lavender varieties I can start from seed and also pansies. They have all germinated and are under lights in the basement. I always feel that spring has started when I have the first batch of plants going. Also working on pre-spring tasks like cleaning in the greenhouse and shop,  ordering plant  tags and preparing spring orders. It certainly is pleasant working in the greenhouse on a sunny winter day. As long as the sun is shining, the temperature will go up to 90 degrees. It's like going to Florida.

This time of year, the shop is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9am to5pm. Winter is a great time for projects and we have high quality supplies along with essential oils and containers for your herbal projects. Maybe you have time to curl up with a gardening book or the newest issue of The Essential Herbal magazine. We have a fine selection of herbal gifts for any occasion.