Tuesday, December 6, 2016

John and I would like to thank everyone who came out for our holiday open house. Our customers are so loyal! This time of year, there are so many things going on and such demands on people's time. We appreciate the fact that you made time to visit and support us.

The greenhouse and herb shop will be open Tuesday -Saturday from 9am to 5 pm through December 21. We still have plenty of gifts available in the shop, along with supplies and containers if you're making your own. We also have some potted culinary herbs for sale, along with live topiaries. Potted herbs are available only on December, so get them now if you want some fresh herbs to enjoy throughout the winter.

After a Christmas break, the herb shop will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9-5 beginning January 5.

Wishing you all happy herbal holidays!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

When customers purchase essential oils in the shop, they often inquire about making their own. My reply is always the same - you can do it, but it's more or less a curiosity. A case in point. Tina (of The Essential Herbal) and Maryanne (Lancaster County Soapworks) stopped by one day. We were doing some garden clean-up, and Tina asked if she could have the rose geraniums I just pulled out. She took a garbage bag full of foliage to distill. Out of that, she got 2-3 drops of essential oil. She did however, get a nice amount of hydrosol. This is the aromatic water produced as a by-product of the steam distillation of plant material. Though not as strong as essential oil, it is fragrant and useful. But you obviously need huge amounts of plant material to produce even a small amount of oil.

All our annuals, except snapdragons, are done. Some plants, like rosemary, need cooler nights to start flowering. Creeping rosemary blooms more readily, but my upright one which survived last winter outside, mostly intact, is now starting to bloom. Rosemary will take a lot of cold before it dies, so I'm hoping to see more flowers over the next few weeks.

On a walk with Lucy, I spotted this praying mantis egg sac in the wild area at the back of the property. We saw a number of mantises this year. One was quite large - one of the biggest I have seen. Also saw one in the side border when we were cleaning up. It was moving slowly in the cooler weather, but we nudged it along out of the cleanup area and it was fine.

About fifteen years ago, John's aunt gave me some saffron crocus bulbs from her plot. I was very excited. I had grown a few before at our old house, but this time I was anticipating a good crop. It was not to be. Voles ate them all and I got nothing. This fall, when John rototilled the garden, he must have unearthed a couple bulbs. Three appeared, produced flowers, and I was able to harvest about a dozen threads.  I saw a show once about harvesting saffron. It showed why it is so expensive - it is incredibly labor intensive. Women harvest the entire flower, then remove the three stigma each one produces. A huge pile shrinks down to a fraction of its size when it dries. Lucky it just takes a pinch for flavoring.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The change of seasons is always a time for transition. The weather changes (some years more slowly than others), work shifts from the gardens to indoor tasks, and I must adjust to 'empty greenhouse syndrome.'  After months of seeding, planting, watering and maintaining plants, I'm down to just a few flats of culinary herbs that we sell for winter windowsill gardening and topiaries. Instead of spending hours on plant maintenance daily, I'm down to a couple hours a week. In another couple months, I'll start seeding for spring and the crop will slowly rebuild.

It's also a good time to remind yourself that your houseplants and any tender perennials you winter over inside are moving from active growth into a more dormant period. So cut back on watering and fertilizing. Few plants need much fertilizer in the winter months. If you do, use a half strength dose.

Topiaries are one of those things that seem to have universal appeal. Grownups and kids alike are fascinated by miniature trees and plants shaped into a different form. It must be the combination of a familiar plant grown in an unusual way. I always tell people the main requirement for growing topiaries is patience. It takes time for them to size up. After they are formed, occasional trimming is the only necessity.

The fall/holiday newsletter will be coming out in a week or so. We do offer email newsletters, in addition to paper copies. If you would prefer your newsletter by email, let us know your name, mailing address and email address and we'll make the switch.

Toad Sr. has returned to his winter residence in the back corner of the greenhouse. He hasn't burrowed into the dirt yet to hibernate, but he seems quite comfortable lazing in his spot. I'm interested in seeing how many of the smaller toads we had this year find their way into the greenhouse for the winter.

Friday, October 21, 2016

With this lovely, warm weather, it's hard to believe that it's nearly the end of the growing season. I've watched the weather, so I know it's back to reality soon. But even cooler, sunny fall weather makes it a pleasure to be outside. I've been working outside sporadically, but since we haven't had a killing frost, it's more like summertime work - weeding and cutting back.

Some herbs look better than they have since much earlier in the season. My parsley always does better  in the fall. It does well in a cool, wet spring, then seems to decline in the heat and bounds back as cooler temperatures move in.

I have a second crop of beautiful dill foliage. This is from the seeds that dropped from the dill flowers earlier this summer. I love that sharp, tangy note that dill has and it's so good, particularly with fish dishes.

I have a large upright rosemary that wintered over outside (with some trimming.) But I also plant creeping rosemary. I like the way it spills over the edge of the bed and it flowers so readily with its pretty blue blossoms.

Besides outside work, I've been busy in the shop. It seems strange to do when it's been so warm, but I'm starting on holiday preparations. But I do like to wait until November to start decorating. I saw a holiday commercial this week - before Halloween! That's rushing the season, I think.

I'm also working on the fall newsletter. That will be coming out by mid-November and will have information on our holiday open house and many of the herbal gifts we have available for the holidays. Our selection of potted culinary herbs will be ready about the time the newsletter comes out.

In between working inside and out, I try to get around and enjoy and appreciate the flowers that are still blooming in the gardens.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

With the pleasant weather, we've been working on fall clean up. Cleaning in the gardens, plus cutting back perennials and removing spent annuals. If annuals still look good, I let them go until frost and enjoy them as long as I can. One big job was removing the shade cloths from the greenhouses. We put the dark fabric on in the late spring to reduce the amount of sunlight in the greenhouses. This makes it more comfortable for both plants and people during the summer. Then in the fall it comes off again. The next big job is burying stock plants in the garden to winter over.

For about the last month, goldfinches have been regularly coming and feeding on the seeds of the coneflowers on the garden. We have two big stands of echinacea which we do not cut back so birds can have the seeds. There used to be a pair that came regularly, but word must have gotten out because now there are at least six goldfinches that come to feed.

With the mild weather, many things in the garden still look attractive. Winter savory is blooming with small white flowers. Eucalyptus, with its blue-gray foliage looks great and I'll let it go until frost is in the forecast and then cut it and bring it in to dry. Many foliage plants, like santolina and germander look good. And the late blooming plants are hitting their prime.

Mexican bush sage gets tall and bushy and puts on quite a show with its fuzzy, purple flowers. The blooms dry well and tolerates some light frost. We have it in front of the greenhouse and it always draws comments from visitors.

And finally, our pineapple sage looks good after struggling during the hot, dry weather. Although it did not grow very tall this season, it is blooming nicely with lots of tubular, red flowers. You can freeze flowers in ice cubes to add to drinks. Or sprinkle a few flowers over a green salad. The flowers have a sweet, delicate taste.

For the next week, there's no prediction of frost. So get out and enjoy your garden while you can.

The herb shop is open Tuesday - Saturday from 9am to 5pm.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Success! After two years without hatching any monarch caterpillars in our garden, we finally had a good crop. I noticed our perennial swamp !milkweed was defoliated and I hoped it was because caterpillars were eating it. And sure enough, I saw half a dozen in one section of our pollinator garden.

I didn't check all the wild milkweed we have growing in the back corner of the yard. Hopefully,there are some more on that. I know our customers are very concerned about the fate of the monarchs and butterflies in general. For  two years, we have sold every monarch host plant we grew. People are definitely trying to make a difference, an I'm optimistic it will help.

Now that the season is coming to a close, our annual hyacinth bean vine is finally starting to look good. It just sat through much of the summer's heat and dryness. Now that it's cooling down and we got some rain, it has perked up. For awhile, I didn't think it would get any beans.  I can tell it's very late, since it has both flowers and beans at the same time. Like other beans, let the pods dry on the plant, before you harvest them for seeds for next year.

I'm wrapping up my harvesting and cleaning up the gardens. One task is to cut off the spent blossoms of garlic chives before they go to seed.

The summer blooming white flowers are very popular with pollinators and are edible. The seed heads start green, like the photo, and the seeds ripen to black. If not removed before they ripen, they will seed everywhere! It reminds me of people's complaints about lemon balm. Although a vigorous plant, lemon balm's tendency to spread is caused by the large amount of seeds it produces and broadcasts. Garlic chives is just as bad. So off with their heads!

Overall, I can't complain about the harvest this year. Some things were very productive, others not. John commented on how nice the snapdragons look as they start to rebloom. But the little gem marigolds, which usually look so nice in the fall, never took off this year. I cut back calendula, in hopes that it will bloom some more. It was not as productive as it generally is.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I had a good crop of swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on our remaining potted parsley plants. I watched as they munched their way through the foliage, and when it was all gone, I put the rue plants on the same flat and the caterpillars moved over and resumed feeding. Other plants in the same family, like fennel and dill are also host for swallowtail caterpillars. They will become yellow and black tiger or black swallowtail butterflies. Most caterpillars leave the host plant to form their chrysalis, often attaching to a branch or wooden form of some kind.

I was talking to a friend the other day and she said their sweet autumn clematis was in bud. Ours is in full bloom on the ends of the pergola. It always reminds !e of a fragrant white cloud when it blooms. Being native, it is exceedingly hardy. Although the flowers are smaller than many clematis varieties, it blooms in such profusion, as to produce a stunning show.  And the aroma is divine!

As I go through the gardens cutting back and cleaning up, I'm beginning to remove some annuals that have suffered with our hot, dry summer. It's early for me to do this, but things that looking poorly will not recover at this point. Some things are just plain late this season. Several customers talked to me about their hyacinth bean vines doing poorly. Mine has really just started to grow well in the last few weeks. It's flowering now, so if any beans develop, it will be a small number.

More plants I like:

Attar of rose geranium - My favorite rose geranium for scent. It's a lovely floral fragrance produced by its oil which is used in perfumery. Like other rose geraniums, it has clusters of small, pink flowers. It is wider than tall, and really behaves like a ground cover on the garden, although the plant is not winter hardy.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

It seems like we're having an improvement in the butterfly population this year. I'm definitely seeing more species of butterflies and an increase in the overall number compared to last year. Most of them are smaller types - darkwings, skippers and fritillaries, sulphers and whites. Right now, they're are happy with the flowers on hyssop, savory, catmint and lavender.

I've seen one monarch. I'm not sure if it's the only one, or if I'm seeing different ones each time. I hope there are several around. Milkweeds are the host plant for monarch caterpillars. In addition to common milkweed, there's perennial swamp milkweed with pink flowers and non-hardy scarlet milkweed with showy yellow to red-orange flowers. These are also nectar sources for the adult butterflies.

My topiary program went very well. I demonstrated techniques for both a standard or tree form and for a wreath form. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about trying one on their own. I always tell people that making a topiary isn't difficult, but you  must be patient, because it takes time for them to size up. And maintenance is easy. Just give them a haircut when they look shaggy.

If you're harvesting herbs in your garden, we're approaching the time when you want to stop large harvests from woody stemmed plants like sage, thyme and savory. You can certainly continue to clip for use in cooking, but I stop large harvests (up to one third of the plant) around Labor Day. These plants hold their foliage over the winter with the foliage providing protection for the crown of the plant, so you wan to let the bulk of it remain on the plant as it goes into winter.

One exception I make is for rosemary. Mine remains outside for the winter, so I never know if it will survive or not. I just cut it back as often as I wish and if it doesn't survive, I'll replant next spring.

Also be on the lookout for a new crop of reseeded cilantro. If you grew it this spring, and it flowered and went to seed when it got hot, it will often come back from seed that dropped at this time of year, as it begins to cool off. Remember, if you want things to reseed, you must allow flowers to die on the stalk. These will turn into seed heads. Shake the dry seeds onto the ground for reseeding.

Think about fall planting of perennials as temperatures cool down and rainfall increases. Fall planting allows for root systems to develop before winter sets in. Check out our remaining supply of half-price perennial herbs and flowering ornamentals.

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!

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.