Wednesday, August 26, 2015

ENJOYING THE FOUR SEASONS

Last time, I wrote about how much I enjoyed a four season climate.  I also really enjoy the transition from one season into the next.  It's a combination of savoring the last of the departing season and anticipating the pleasures of the one to come.  Right now, I'm trying to relish each moment of summer remaining as it dwindles down.  The warmth of the air, the fragrance of fresh herbs in the garden and I'm eating all the fresh produce I can get my hands on.  At this time of year, I often think how nice it would be to have homegrown local fruits and vegetables year-round.  But I also wonder if it would seem such a delightful treat if we could get our hands on fresh produce at any time.

At the same time I'm appreciating the last bits of summer (like scraping all the ice cream from the bottom of the bowl) I'm anticipating the soon-to-come attributes of fall.  Some cool mornings, I can feel a slight tang in the air that I know will turn into the crisp coolness of fall mornings.  A couple times I've looked up to see small flocks of geese flying overhead.  Our lovely paperback birch has dropped a lot of leaves.  I'm sure it's from the dryness.  Generally, the leaves turn yellow in the fall.  These were dry and brown.  But it made for an enjoyable shuffle through the carpet of fallen leaves under the birch tree.  Unlike the white-barked river birch, this variety has tan, exfoliating (or peeling) bark which looks particularly attractive in the winter when the tree is bare of leaves.  It's also more tolerant of our hot, humid summers than river birches are.

Another sign of the impending arrival of fall--our goldfinch pair has started dining daily at the big stand of coneflower in front of the greenhouse.  Sometimes there are more than two, but a pair always come in together to enjoy the bountiful crop of seeds.  Sometimes, they fly back to the bee and butterfly garden to survey the area from a piece of decorative fencing or to splash in the birdbath.  Guess that's a pretty good day if you're a goldfinch.

I happened to be looking out the back door one day in time to see a giant bird flying over.  It was so low that it was easy to see it was a blue heron--I could even see it's feet hanging down as it flew over.  I thought it was going to land in the neighbor's above-ground pool, but it landed right at the edge of our wild, overgrown area.  It landed and immediately folded in its wings, making a very narrow silhouette.  It spent some time resting and walked around awhile.  I did not see it leave.  I've seen a heron flying over several times this year, so perhaps he lives in the area.

We still have a few perennials left for fall planting.  And the shop is fully stocked with our herbal products.  We are open Tuesday - Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through December.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

YUMMY SUMMER !!

I am definitely a four-seasoner.  I like distinct seasons and the transition from one to another.  Lately, I've been thinking about all the summer things I enjoy.  First of all is food.  I love going outside and picking fresh herbs to use in my cooking--I do this almost daily in season.  I guess for summer, basil is my favorite herb.  Regular basil--the genovese type goes well with all kinds of summer veggies, plus vinaigrettes, pasta dishes and Italian/tomato dishes.  I also like the fresh basil-citrus flavor of lime basil--good on chicken, fish and southwestern dishes.  And cinnamon basil on fresh fruit--yum!

I realize I gauge summer by the fruit that's in season--starting with strawberries and apricots.  Then our wild black raspberries and sour cherries.  I love bing cherries which have a relatively short season and blueberries which have a nice long season.  Now I'm obsessed with two of my favorites--cantaloupe and fresh peaches.  I think the smell of ripe peaches is just divine.  I make cantaloupe soup--actually a smoothie, by combining 8 oz. plain yogurt, a medium-sized melon, cubed and a splash of orange juice in the blender.  Cool, refreshing and delicious.

And of course, there are fresh vegetables from the garden in summer.  Our sugar peas lasted two months this year!  We've had loads of green and wax beans and a few tomatoes--enough for a few BLT's so far.  We don't grow corn, but we've been getting  delicious  bi-color  corn  at our local amish farm.

Other summer enjoyments--the loud, distinctive sound of cicadas, lightning bugs at night, tree frogs and the sweet, sweet fragrance of honeysuckle.

I had another sighting of our resident box turtle.  I've seen him (her?) three or four times over the years.  I'm sure it's the same one because he's beautifully marked--bright orange on his legs and shell.  He lives in the back corner of the property--the wet, wild, thick area.  I only saw him this time because he was crossing the grassy area next to the woods.  I'm glad to see he's doing well.

I've definitely seen more honeybees as the summer progressed, although not like I used to see.  They've been very busy between the thyme when it flowered and all the clover in our yard.  Had several monarch butterfly sightings--but only one at a time, so I don't know if it's a lone one.  Swallowtails--black and tiger--seem plentiful and lots of smaller varieties are around.

I read something recently which regarded planting butterfly bushes in a negative light.  The logic was that since they are not host plants, they are less worthy.  Host plants are those that provide a food source for caterpillars before they become butterflies.  There's no doubt that host plants are vitally important in attracting butterflies to your garden.  But just  as the immature caterpillar needs a food source, so do adult butterflies.  And I must say that for sheer numbers, and certainly for variety of species, it's hard to beat butterfly bushes.  Ours are loaded with butterflies, large, medium and small.    My plan is always to provide variety in plants--host plants and nectar sources--and let the butterflies choose their favorites.

Plants I'm harvesting and drying--basils, tarragon, mints, chamomile flowers, calendula, savory, statice, gomphrena, orlaya (queen anne's lace substitute) and craspedia (petal-less yellow globes).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

SUMMER GARDENING ADVENTURES

Gardening is not for the faint of heart.  There are always conditions, sometimes extreme, that you must deal with.  My sister recently told me, when they returned home from a trip, much of their vegetable garden was shredded from a hailstorm.  Although most things will recover, it's a pitiful sight to see.  We've been busy here--we've gotten plenty of rain but no damaging winds with all the storms rolling through.  High winds can snap or even flatten plants quickly.  And of course the extremes of rainfall.  Too little and you spend so much time watering.  Yet the plants never seem to respond as they do to a good, soaking rain.  Too much rain, all at once, can doom newly set in plants.  New plants, without a fully developed root system, simply cannot absorb a large quantity of water in a short time. Our main "extreme" concern this season seems to be a bumper crop of rabbits.  It's been several years since I remember seeing this many baby bunnies.  We have so much clover in our yard that generally, it seems to satisfy them.  I would expect to see feeding on parsley, but so far, not much.  We did stop planting parsley in the outer gardens, because it always did get munched off.  But two plants they must love are pincushion flower and Jupiter's beard.  Pincushion flower has very dark, almost black flowers, sprinkled with white dots, so it really does resemble a pincushion.  Jupiter's beard has rosy-pink flowers and is a reliably reblooming perennial.  Both have been chomped off multiple times!  At least they saved me the effort of cutting back the Jupiter's beard after its first bloom.
 
So gardening teaches us flexibility--to roll with the punches and adapt to changing conditions. And it also teaches us patience.  I've talked to many customers over the years who complain their annual vines "aren't doing anything." Moonflower, fragrant, white, night-blooming morning glory, mina or firecracker vine, with sprays of red, orange and yellow tubular flowers, and hyacinth bean with purple pea-like flowers and showy, shiny purple pods are all annual vines.  Having only one season to complete their life cycle, you'd think they'd get off to a quick start.  But they don't.  They are very slow growing in the beginning and they want lots of water.  It's almost impossible to give them too much water early on, until they really get established.  At some point, the tide turns.  Then, you can see each day how much they've grown from the previous day.
 
One flower I've been harvesting and drying lately is one of our new selections this year--orlaya.  It's an annual, with lacy, white flowers similar to queen anne's lace, but without the weediness of that plant.  It's a bright, clear white and is a  great filler for cut flowers.  I think the dried ones will work well in the same capacity for wreaths and arrangements. Like many other annuals, the more you cut and deadhead, the more it blooms.  Same for gomphrena or globe amaranth, with papery clover-like flowers.  I'm harvesting the red 'Strawberry Fields' variety now.  I particularly like it for decorating at the holidays as the red color holds well.  The mixed purple, pink and white gomphrena come a bit later.
 
Our hydrangea recovered and are blooming profusely in various shades of blue.  If I would cut the blooms now, they would just shrivel up--I think due to the high moisture content.  So I wait until late August or September, and when the flowers begin to feel papery on the stalk, cut them and dry them standing in a vase.  Then they hold their shape and dry thoroughly.
 
A small selection of annuals and a pretty good selection of perennials remains during our plant sale.  And prices are great!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

ROLLING RIGHT ALONG!!

Summer rolls on--now we're in July.  June just sped by.  Maybe that's because, with all the rain, I spent a good part of the month outside weeding the gardens.  Seems like we'd get everything cleaned up, then we'd get a big rain and instantly, the weeds were back.  We were lucky here, in that we got the rain, but not the high winds.  With all the moisture, the newly planted annuals are well established.  I've pinched back basils a couple times and the plants have branched out well.  Pinching back produces a compact plant with lots of foliage--exactly what you want with basils.
 
Since everything is growing so well, I've been doing a lot of harvesting.  I'm drying culinary herbs--like oregano, savory, thyme, mints, lemon verbena.  I air dry these in bunches or on my screened racks.  With the humid weather, it's hard to get them completely dry, since they reabsorb moisture from the air.   When they're nearly dry, I finish them off in the dehydrator, so they are completely dry before storing them.  I've harvested a good crop of chamomile flowers.  The dried flowers are a popular item in the shop--makes a great, relaxing bedtime tea.
 
I've been harvesting flowers for drying, too.  Yellow yarrow is just finishing up.  It dries so easily and the golden color is a wonderful addition to dried wreaths and arrangements.  Also harvested the striped, balloon-like seedpods of nigella or love-in-a-mist.  The blue, white or pink flowers are followed by the seedpods, which contain dozens and dozens of seeds in each pod.  I dry bunches, remove more and leave just a few to reseed.  Otherwise, I'd have a forest of them!
 
Good news on the honeybee front.  I've been seeing more then one at a time, but nowhere near the numbers I used to see.  Recently, they've been working the annuals blooming in the greenhouse.  And I'm starting to see more butterflies--lots of skippers, some fritillarys, red admirals and a couple commas.  Should have a bumper crop of swallowtail butterflies this year.  Had caterpillars on parsley and dill in several locations in the garden.
 
Our plant sale is on-going.  We're out of a number of varieties, but still have a good selection of perennials.  There's still plenty of time for planting and for them to establish themselves before the end of the season.  After July 4, perennials will be 33% off.  Plus, you get a free basil plant with your purchase!
 
Don't forget to cut back blooming perennials when they're done flowering to encourage growth of new, clean foliage. Also, if you want to cut back lavender for better shaping of your plants, this is the time to do it.  Other tasks include saving seed as the seedheads mature and making sure biennials drop seed.  They will produce new foliage this year and allow continuing flowering next season. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A CAUTIONARY TALE

Some people came to the farm one day.  They said they had an herbal business and were interested in seeing what we had to offer.  I explained that we were strictly a retail business and did not do wholesale.  They were completely perplexed and had blank looks on their faces.  I was quite amazed that someone who had a  business did not know the difference between wholesale and retail.  Although they might deal in the same product (like plants) the models for wholesale and retail are quite different. 
 
Retail suits me just fine.  I grow 99% of the plants I sell.  We sell to the public.  People come to the farm (or our stand at Landis Valley Herb Faire.)  I get to talk to loads of nice, like-minded people about plants.  I make suggestions  based on their needs and sites.  I recommend uses for plants they may be interested in.  I show them a particular plant and how it performs in the garden.  It's a wonderful job and I love it.
 
I do buy 10-12 flats of plants from an excellent wholesaler in Dillsburg.  They are generally things I need just a small quantity of that I can't grow from seed.  And we buy items wholesale for the shop--soaps, lotions, spritzes, roll-ons, etc. from Tina & Maryanne, aka 'The Twisted Sisters' who do only wholesale business--selling to other businesses rather than the general public.
 
Back to the visitors.  I asked what their business was.  One said they had taken a course from 'Person X' and they were now an herbalist.  I'm always suspicious of people who call themselves herbalists--because it really is a meaningless term.  There are without a doubt well-known, nationally and internationally recognized authorities in herbs.  They could certainly call themselves herbalists, but it's  probably not fair to them since anyone can take a course and make the same claim.  Again, some very respected people teach excellent courses that would be a great basis for an herbal education.  I did not know, nor had ever heard of, 'Person X' who had taught this visitor.  I asked some people, much more versed in the herbal education field and they had not heard of 'Person X'.  Perhaps they are legit, perhaps not.  Certainly, there are excellent herbal courses available; some no doubt, are scams.  If you are going to take advice from someone on products that you will apply to yourself or ingest, please make certain they are well qualified to offer that advice.  When people ask me if I'm an herbalist, I always reply as the late, great Bertha Reppert (a true herbalist) did--"I am a student of herbs."
 
 
 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

THOUGHTS OF SPRING!!

Ah, spring--with the up and down roller coaster ride of uncertain weather.  First, we bake with unseasonably hot and humid weather so early in the season. Then the winds shift, cool air comes off the ocean and we're parked under a system that releases rain at regular intervals over several days.  The thing I find striking is how often during this spring season, that we've had temperature fluctuations of 20-25 degrees on two successive days.  That's a huge change for a 24 hour period.  We were very lucky here in escaping the severe weather--high winds and hail during the recent batch of wet weather.  We got the rain (the upside) without the downside.

After the hot, dry start to the season, things really appreciate the replenishing rain.  I can see that recently planted herbs and flowers have taken hold after the soaking rain.  Established plants burst forth with flowers after sitting unhappily under the hot sun.  There are some real beauties in the garden right now. The several types of roses I grow have all popped out beautiful fragrant flowers. In perfect timing with the roses, part-shade loving lady's mantle has produced its spikes of yellowish-green flowers.  I do dry lady's mantle flowers, but my favorite use is as a very attractive filler for cut flowers--particularly roses.   Two of my best reblooming perennials--catmint and jupiter's beard are in their first bloom.  Catmint edges the bed in front of the greenhouse. With it's vertical, spikey, purple flowers, many people think it's lavender until closer inspection.  Jupiter's beard has a rosy-pink flat headed flower.,  When blooming has finished and the bees are done with it, I'll cut them back hard.  First, new foliage pushes out and later in the season, I'll be rewarded with a second bloom for both.

Tall, pinky-white valerian is in bloom, along with the many colors of sweet william--wine red, salmon, pink, white, bi-color pink and white--interspersed with roses, jupiter's beard and snaps in the victorian garden--what a show!  Sweet williams are biennial dianthus.  Only foliage the first year--no flowers till year 2.  I let flowers die on the stalk and make sure to shake the seed down.  They are very reliable reseeders.  Magenta pink rose campion are just starting to bloom along with the sturdy stalks of clary sage.

Several varieties of thyme are blooming in the gardens and thyme walk.  Usually, they are worked heavily by honeybees.  Unfortunately, I have seen only two honeybees so far this season.  That's pitiful, considering the numbers (dozens and dozens) we used to see.  I was glad to read that the federal government is finally putting resources and manpower into the problem of the rapidly disappearing honeybee population.  Everyone who likes to eat should be concerned about the dwindling numbers of these important pollinators.

Spring rains have brought color and lushness to the gardens.  But they've slowed down gardening tasks.  Weeding will be much easier when the rain stops.  Additional watering is unnecessary.  But I'm anxious to harvest both roses and lavender for drying.  They'll have to dry out thoroughly before the harvest can proceed.  And the culinary herbs I've harvested and have drying on screens can't be finished off and stored until it stops raining and they dry out completely.  Ah, spring!


 





Sunday, March 22, 2015

GREEN TIPS SHOWING !!

It's been a slow transition from winter to spring.   I always feel that way when I have to trudge supplies through the snow, or break off planting to shovel snow.  Very hopeful the shovelling is done until next winter.  All it takes is a few sunny days and the little plants in the greenhouse really perk up, even if the outside temps are chilly.  I check things in the morning and when I come back in the afternoon, I swear some of the plants have grown.  Everything is still small, especially the varieties I grow from seed.  Each year, I have to discourage people from buying tiny, newly transplanted seedlings.  A few weeks in the greenhouse is all they need.  And of course, the greenhouse environment is much more conducive to good growth than a windowsill in the house.  But what a nice quality that people want to take a baby plant and nurture it to maturity.  One time I told customers, "You can't take home a puppy or kitten when it's a week old."  They laughed and came back in a couple weeks when the plant matured.

Once the snow melted, I made a quick survey of the gardens.  Overall, things don't look too bad.  I don't think damage will be as widespread as after the record 2013-14 winter with both cold and heavier snowfall than this winter.  But the extended cold in February has probably damaged some plants and certainly delayed the start of spring for others.  There were pretty, scalloped green leaves on cucumber-flavored salad burnet when the snow melted.  I thought thymes looked surprisingly good after two months of snow cover.  Lavenders are a mixed bag.  Some, even on the prevailing wind side of the yard, actually looked good.  Others look battered down by the snow.  Don't make any decisions on the health (or survival) of plants at this point.  With lavenders, I always wait til new growth start to emerge before I decide on how hard to prune them.  Generally, I remove as little as possible--just dead and damaged parts.  Last year, after the very harsh winter, I wound up cutting back about half my plants very hard--just above new growth at the base of the plant.  Althnough it reduced its first flowering, the plants survived and filled in quite well.

No signs of survival on any of my outside rosemarys.  As I repeated many times last year--rosemary is not designed for sub-zero temperatures--even the hardier varieties.  I think this will be two years in a row that I have to replant outside rosemarys.

Although it's still chilly, on nice days you can begin cleaning up debris, leaves, etc. in your gardens and beds.  Another early spring chore is cutting back butterfly bushes--the ideal time is mid-March until mid-April.  It will be interesting to see how they fared this year.  Last year, we had to cut back to ground level.  Only the roots survived--everything above ground died.  And many people lost the bushes entirely.  Hopefully, it won't be as bad this year.