Tuesday, August 9, 2016

It's been quite a season for us  in terms of wildlife sightings. First, two turtles on one day and now, a snake. We see garter snakes infrequently and usually out on the wild, overgrown back corner of the property . Once, we even saw a group of newly hatched baby garter snakes there. This time, it was right in the middle of the garden.

We were cutting back plants in the long side border. Some of the later blooming lavenders needed the spent flowers removed. When I approached  the area, I saw some of the middle part of a snake entwined in the plant. He was sunning himself and although we couldn't see either the head or tail, he was about two inches wide. Based on that, John guessed he was between two and three feet long. We gave him a wide berth and did not trim off the flowers. He hung around awhile, but eventually slithered away and the spent flowers got trimmed.

The gardens perked up with the recent rain and slightly cooler temperatures. So I'm continuing to harvest herbs for drying and flowers for the shop. This is also the time of year I make dried wreaths and arrangements for the shop. It gives me a chance to work inside on hot days.

And believe it or not, I'm starting work on my plant orders for next spring! I have to order early to insure getting specific choices and it doesn't always work. Crop failure are two words  you don't like to hear in the plant business.

Also in August, I'm presenting a program on herbal topiaries for a west shore herb group. Topiaries always attract people's attention in the greenhouse. I guess it's the idea of a miniature tree that is so interesting. Also have a mother's group coming to the farm to learn about harvesting and preserving herbs.

The plant sale continues and all small plants, except bay, are half off. Late in the season is an excellent time to plant perennials so the roots have time to get established before winter sets in. We
are out of a number of varieties, but still have a good selection of perennial herbs and ornamentals.

More plants I like:

Verbena is an annual that has always reseeded in my garden, even after a severe winter. Flowers sit atop wiry stems about three feet tall. Although tall, they are a "see through" plant and can be planted in the front of a bed without blocking the view of plants behind them. Pretty pink-purple flat headed blooms attract butterflies and go throughout the summer.

Plumbago is a spreading perennial that is covered with blue, actually blue, flowers nearly all summer. Flowers described as blue are often really purple. One year, I went searching for truly blue flowers and found plumbago. Flowers are small, but prolific and a beautiful azure shade. Plumbago spreads easily, but is not invasive. It takes minimum care, but is late to emerge in the spring.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

John and I have adopted a dog day's schedule. We get up early, (early for John anyway) work outside  in the morning and stay in the air conditioning in the afternoon. The heat is stressful on the plants, too. If you're watering, do it early in the morning or in the evening, so the plants get the most benefit. Drought tolerant herbs like lavender, sage, thyme and rosemary need little supplemental water unless they were just planted. Concentrate on herbs like basil and mint, flowering ornamentals and vegetables which require more moisture.

I'm still harvesting for drying. We had a bumper crop of chamomile flowers this year. Chamomile is a relaxing tea, very popular as a bedtime drink. With herbs, generally the leaf has more flavor and fragrance than the flowers. Lavender and chamomile are two exceptions, and the flowers are used for tea and culinary purposes.

I'm also harvesting mints and culinary herbs like oregano, marjoram, thyme, anise hyssop and scented geraniums.I dry on large screened racks in a base John made. With the humid weather, it's hard to get them completely dry on the racks, so I finish them off in the dehydrator. Herbs must be completely dry before they are stored, so mold does not develop.

More plants I like: get

Baptisia or false indigo is a native perennial that develops into a large, shrub like plant between three and four feet tall and bushy,so give it room to grow. Blooming in early spring, with blue pea-like flowers and followed by interesting blue seedpods which I use in arrangements.

Nicotiana or flowering tobacco is an annual that reseeds readily. It has white, tubular flowers that are fragrant at night, so it's wonderful for a seating area where you relax in the evening. Night bloomers do so to attract pollinators, generally moths.

Coconut scented geranium has a trailing habit, which is unusual among scented geraniums . The flowers are purple and tiny, but the fragrance is definitely coconut. It's the only scented geranium that reseeds itself in my garden.

We have few annuals left, except for a new crop of basil and dill. We still have a good selection of perennials and they are buy two, get one free, mix and match. Our hours continue to be Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. And of course, the herb shop- with many herbal products is open in addition to the greenhouse.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Summer weather has definitely arrived. I must say, I'm not a big fan of hot and humid weather, probably  because so much of our work is outside. So John and I have been working outside for a couple hours in the morning before we retreat to the air conditioning.

One of the big jobs we did was taking care of the lavender plants. We always wait until the bees are done working  the flowers. Pollinators need all the help they can get and they certainly enjoy the blooms on lavender. They wait until the individual florets open before they go after the nectar. When they're done, we trim.

John cut off the spent flower stalks. Since perennial lavender is coming back from the root, seed production isn't necessary. Instead, the plant can put its energy into foliage growth. I did the trimming and shaping. After flowering  is the best time to shape the plant. Without trimming, plants can get sprawling and misshapen. I did not get a chance to trim all the lavenders in the spring, so some really needed a trim. They look much better now. One or two had to be cut back really hard. There is still plenty of time for them to push out new foliage so I'm hoping they recover. If not, they'll be replaced next year.

A customer asked me recently if she could still plant perennials.  You can plant them through mid to late September. As long as they have adequate time to get settled and established before the cold weather sets in, they'll be fine. They must be kept well watered for the first 10-14 days until they take hold. And it would be better to plant them in the evening when the temperatures are slightly cooler.

I've also started some topiaries. People are always fascinated by them. I guess it's the idea of a miniature tree that's intriguing. I use green myrtle and upright rosemary for the standards or tree forms and creeping rosemary for the wreath forms. They aren't difficult to do, but they do require patience. They size up rapidly in the greenhouse - it probably takes twice as long for them to grow as big at home. Maintenance is just a matter of regular trimming.

Our plant sale continues. Perennials will be reduced again next week and we still have a good selection. We're open five days a week- Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Stop by and check out the plants and also all the herbal products in our shop.

More plants I like:
Lime basil - It's basil with a citrus twist. Very good with chicken and fish. I love it on chicken salad. Also great with SW recipes. I use it in a black bean salad with corn and tomatoes. A little bit in a green salad is also nice.

Profusion zinnias - I always tell people these give you the most bang for your buck. About 15 inches tall in the ground, and covered with flowers from mid-summer till frost. And no mildew like some of the taller varieties. Apricot, orange, yellow, pink and white varieties. Also do well in containers.

Lungwort or pulmonaria- A wonderful part-shade plant. Blooms early in the spring with plentiful blue flowers. The attractive silvery green foliage lightens up shady areas throughout the rest of the season.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I had an interesting study in contrasts recently. Two customers came to the farm the same day. The first was a woman from Masonic Village. We get quite a few customers from Masonic. We chatted and I was shocked to learn she was 90 years old. Believe me, she looked at least a decade younger.

She talked about taking an art class at the Village. I asked if it was something she had done previously, and she said no, it was something new she decided to try. She was very enthusiastic about her new endeavor and I commented that you're never to old to learn.

Later that day, a nice young couple stopped by. They bought a few plants to make tea. She was very enthusiastic about making her own herbal tea, so I gave her a handout and we discussed the basics of making tea from herbs. I found it so interesting and really inspiring that no matter what your age, you can always learn something new if you have curiosity and the desire to learn. It encourages me to keep studying herbs and plants. I like the late Bertha Reppert's quote when someone asked her if she was an herbalist. She replied, "I am a student of herbs."

The other day, I was again asked why an annual vine wasn't growing. It was described as just "sitting there". Annual vines like hyacinth bean and moonflower are very slow starters. It takes them awhile to get established. They like a lot of water in the beginning - I water mine daily early on. Once the hot summer temperatures arrive, they take off. You can see the growth from one day to the next. So just patient. They are worth the wait.

Annual herbs should be established and you can begin harvesting them. Only remove about one third early on. When they have sized up, you can remove up to one half.

Our plant sale is ongoing. Annuals are half off and perennials are buy three, get one free - mix and match. We still have a good selection so think about filling in a spot in your garden or trying a new variety.

Plants I like:

     Reblooming perennials like Jupiter's beard or salvia "Blue Cloud". After blooming early in the season, cut them back hard and they will reward you with a second bloom later in the season.

     Late season bloomers like pineapple or Mexican bush sage. They flower late summer up till frost when not a lot is going on in the garden. Anemone is a late season bloomer for shade. It adds color in summer and fall, unlike most shade plants which flower in the spring.

    Basil- it's what summer smells like!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Recently, a customer stopped by and when I asked if he was interested in anything particular, he said he'd see what was available at the end of the season. I mentioned it seemed funny to hear "end of the season" since spring was so slow to get started this year. Spring seemed condensed into just a few weeks this year. With all the rain in May, it was impossible to plant until nearly the end of the month.

But there is still plenty of time to plant. Even annuals have over three months to grow. That's lots of time to size up and produce flowers or foliage for harvest. Perennials can be planted throughout the summer as long as they are kept well watered until they get established.

With that in mind, remember that our plant sale starts June 25. Annuals are half off and perennials are buy 3, get 1 free (mix and match.) It's a good opportunity to fill in any empty spaces or to try a new, interesting plant.

We haven't had any more unusual animal sightings. We've seen signs of a fox, but not the fox itself. There are lots of rabbits this year, and John said the fox might be hunting them.

Last week, I took advantage of the bounty of lavender and roses for harvest. Every day, I harvested lavender for bunches and made lavender wands and woven lavender hearts for sale in the shop. I gathered loads of pretty, two-toned petals from the apothecary rose. These are drying on a rack in the office closet and it smells divine to walk into the room. It reminds me of the shop. People always comment on the wonderful fragrance in the shop. I say if I could bottle it, it would be my best seller.

Otherwise, we're working on garden maintenance. Weeding of course, and cutting back. The fragrant dianthus are done blooming. We cut off all the spent flowers and the pretty blue-green foliage remains. I'm dead heading perennial Jupiter's beard to encourage more blooms. Same for annual orlaya, which has flowers like Queen Anne's lace. The orlaya reseeded itself in several spots. As biennial sweet William finishes up, I make sure to shake seed onto the ground for next year's flowers. I also gather seed from both orange and pink perennial poppies.

John's been a big help in the gardens this year. Things are looking good. Feel free to take a stroll when you stop by.

Monday, May 30, 2016

We recently had some wildlife experiences concerning turtles. On our morning walk, Lucy came across our resident box turtle in the wild back corner of the property. She was curious, but timid, so we just called her off and continued our walk. I'm happy he's still around.

Later that morning, she was in her yard and was barking a lot. She kept looking toward the garage. I thought a customer parked in the top driveway, but no one was there. Instead, I see a large snapping turtle walking through our yard. That's something we never saw before! John said this is the time they lay eggs and we thought she was going from one of the farm ponds nearby to the pond on the property behind us. John managed to get her into the wagon (snapping all the time) and drove her to the fence line and released her. That's a lot of turtles in one day!

We finally got basils planted in the gardens. I didn't feel we were late at all this year. In fact, I encouraged customers to wait until closer to Memorial Day to plant basil. It wants nighttime temperatures consistently in the 50s and we just arrived there recently. Along with peppers, basil likes warm weather, so it's hard to get a head start unless the weather cooperates.

Don't forget to keep newly planted herbs and flowers well watered until they are established.  Plants are most likely to fail when they're young. So , after planting, water daily for the first week if it's not raining. Give them a good soaking. For the second week, water every other day if it doesn't rain. After two weeks, they should be pretty well established. At that point, most herbs are fairly drought tolerant. Concentrate your watering on ornamentals and veggies.

Our gardens are looking nice since the weather has improved. When you stop by, feel free to stroll through. Plants are labelled so you can identify them and see many plants we sell in a garden setting.

One of my outdoor rosemary plants survived the winter, but had the center broken due to the heavy snowfall. I trimmed out most of the center, and it's filling in now. I don't think the damage will be noticeable in a month or so.

We had a group tour from the Rosemary House stop by last week. It was a nice group, and they seemed very happy with our selection of plants. Many of them toured the gardens. They were here just over an hour, s we had many sales in a short period of time. John was surprised at the hectic pace, but he kept up well.
So he's not exactly relaxing during retirement, but he sure is enjoying it.

It is so gratifying to hear the comments our customers make. So many people compliment the health and appearance of our plants. Recently, two new customers really made my day. One walked in the shop and declared, "This is my new favorite store!" The other was a young woman who walked around the shop and said, "It's just like Christmas." We do appreciate all the kind words.

I'm continuing to harvest perennial herbs like mints, tarragon, oregano, thyme and lemon balm along with rose petals. Don't forget to cut off lemon balm's small white flowers before it goes to seed, s it doesn't spread everywhere.

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!