The heat seems to have subsided. I think we are all thankful. I know the gardens are thankful. I am not convinced that New Englanders, particularly northern New Englanders, are built for hot and humid weather. After a winter of 20 below and a snow that lasts until mid-April, we are often heard making reference to the ‘hot and hazy days of summer’. We make these comments as if we can’t wait for the near 100 degree days, as if we’ll all lie bare and prostrate into the beating sun and love it. This isn’t quite the reality or our response to the baking sun. Once those brutally hot days appear, once the thermometer readings travel into the nineties, we start moaning. We whine and then comment on places like Texas and Arizona, “how do they stand it”, we say. It scares us. It is way out of our comfort. We complain. Most people in Maine don’t have air conditioning. Most will still roll their windows down while driving to capture a breeze before they would ever consider turning on the AC. I’m not sure if our Subaru even has air conditioning. I know the old 1-ton dump truck we drive doesn’t, it has windows you actually have to roll up or down. Very old fashion.
Since the humidity has passed, Maine people are smiling more now. We have resumed the spring in our step. We’re back to our old selves.
So, yes, the days are shortening and the temperatures are cooling. The weather is tolerable. We still may get some Indian summer days when the temps rise, but they probably won’t be so oppressive. We’ll welcome the continuation of sunshine and gentle warmth. The worst of the heat is probably over so we’ll stop being babies and get back to facing our days without complaint. Afterall, we still have tomatoes to ripen and the eggplants wait for the deep heat to grow plump and turn that amazing hue of purple. The winter squash is relying on a long growing season to mature before harvest. The second cut of hay still needs cutting and days of good drying. And, we don’t have all of our firewood split and stacked into the woodshed yet. Yesterday, after collecting seed and working on propagation in the greenhouse, we did manage to haul some firewood as well. Cooler days will soon turn to colder days!
Certainly, everyone is familiar with the quote from Mark Twain, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
Luckily, this ‘wait a few minutes’ for the scorching heat to pass us by has come and we are feeling relief here in the northeast. Thank goodness!!
Don’t get me wrong, the landscape is lush with growth. A jungle of vines and stems and blooms that we manage to maintain. The vegetable gardens overflowing with food, all to be brought in and transformed into lunch or supper, the excess canned or frozen or dried. Right now (surprise, surprise!) we are hauling in that every season’s bounty of zucchini. Zucchini parmesan, zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini cake, zucchini fritters, a cheesy ham and tomato and zucchini torte. No, I’m not at my wits end with zucchini. I pass on the excess to neighbors before I get to the point of despair and luckily Zoe’s fiance is Italian and has a hearty appetite. One of the reasons we are happy she’s marrying him is because he eats a lot and he’s not at all picky. Such a good and helpul quailty to bring to our table! The tomatoes are ripening, the onions and leeks are looking great, cucumbers are producing in great numbers ( time to make pickles!), swiss chard, broccoli, and kale filling baskets ( soon we’ll be planting a late season crop of these). Sweet and hot peppers, beets, cabbages, and beans, all rolling in.
As I sweep through the gardens picking, gathering, collecting seed, I can’t help but notice the 8 cord of wood that needs splitting and stacking. It won’t be long, you know! We will make time, it will all get done, the cycle of this life now relies on a lifetime of familiar doing. I’ll quiet my inner ‘whirl’ and enjoy one task at a time, one step at a time. A good practice in mindfulness, in staying with the present. Truth be told, I honor this ‘one day at a time, one moment at a time’ philosophy but also know that as a farmer one has to anticipate the days and season ahead. Perhaps balance is a better practice for now. I’ll hone in on mindfulness in February when the snow is 3ft deep and the woodstove is cranking and when there is not much more to do than sit and read a good book!
Enjoy this last season of summer, friends…what is occupying your time in the gardens right now?
It doesn’t matter that after a long day of potting in the greenhouse we sat with cups of tea and looked out at this…We are confident that any emerging plants are hearty enough to weather a little snow falling on them. The ground is warming and many plants are now able to utilize the water that’s being absorbed into the ground. This snow will melt quickly and provide some extra moisture for their new and rapid growth. No worries. It is the potential frigid temperatures we worry about, especially after new growth has started.
As you can tell, our pup Lucky finds that the greenhouse (at 88 degrees) is the perfect place for an afternoon nap. I must admit, that deep warmth does feel awfully good! Some early greens are on hold for just a bit longer before being transplanted into the hoop house. Of course, my favorite early green, tatsoi, will be the first to sink its roots into the warm hoop house soil. I wrote a post about tatsoi last year and you can read about it here if you would like. I can’t wait to be harvesting our very first bunches of this nutrient-rich green. The best!
The onions are coming along and the peppers and tomatoes are developing their first ‘true’ leaves which will provide them with an ability to photosynthesize. As many of you know, the first little leaves to appear are cotyledons or ‘seed leaves’. These are actually part of the seed and they provide a food source for the sprouting seedling.
During this time of year, we use the greenhouse for potting some of the plants that will go into the nursery this season, for sowing seeds that have been in winter storage, and for starting vegetable seedlings. It’s filling fast! Its a precarious time of year. The snow may fall, we are still walking planks that we’ve set down along the paths to the woodshed and the studio to keep from sinking into mud, and on some days all of the windows and doors in the greenhouse must be opened to keep it from getting too hot! April really does have a flavor of at least two seasons mixed into one month! We are so looking forward to our doors opening in the first of May… yet another nursery season! So many great plant selections, old and new. Some great classes scheduled (check here) and some in the works and waiting to be posted. A really fun and skilled based class on mending clothes is scheduled for April 22nd. A fine young textile artist will be on site to teach both traditional and sashiko mending methods. I’ll post this class in the upcoming week! Until then, enjoy this lovely (and somewhat unpredictable) April!
We can not stress enough the importance and value of choosing to buy seed from companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. By doing so, you are supporting a company that cares about the integrity of seed diversity. You are also supporting the health and well being of the world’s food, its people, and its communities. There is an ample amount of information regarding the pitfalls of GMO seed and food made from GMO crops. Inform yourself, take a stand, and consider supporting those noble seed companies who are making the Safe Seed Pledge. Have fun scrolling down the list of seed companies who have taken this pledge. Check out what they have to offer, you may find just the variety of heirloom tomatoes you’ve been looking for or a new dry bean that you’ve never grown. And, if you read through the list and don’t see a seed company who you know has taken the Safe Seed Pledge, let us know…we’ll add them to the list!
THE SAFE SEED PLEDGE
“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.”
All Good Things Organic (SW)
Annie’s Heirloom Seeds
The Ark Institute
Backyard Beans and Grains Project
Baker Creek Seed Co. (MW)
Beauty Beyond Belief (BBB Seeds)
Diane’s Flower Seeds (she has veggies now, too)
Family Farmer’s Seed Co-op
Farm Direct Seed (Hobb’s Family Farm)
Fedco Seed Co.
Garden City Seeds
Heirlooms Evermore Seeds
High Mowing Seeds
Hudson Valley Seed Library
Growing Crazy Acres
Ed Hume Seeds
Johnni’s Selected Seed
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Knapp’s Fresh Vegies
Kusa Seed Society
Lake Valley Seeds
The Living Seed Company
Moonlight Micro Farm
Mountain Rose Herbs
My Patriot Supply
Native Seeds for the Arid Southwest
Natural Gardening Company
New Hope Seed Company
Nichol’s Garden Nursery
Organic Sanctuary (SE)
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Prairie Road Garden
Sand Hill Preservation Center
Seed for Security
Seeds Of Change
Siskiyou Seeds (NW)
Sow True (SE)
Sustainable Seed Co
Territorial Seed Company
Trees of Antiquity
Turtle Tree Seed
Underwood Garden Seeds
Vermont Wildflower Farm
White Harvest Seed
Wild Garden Seeds
Wood Prairie Farm (NE)
Canadian Seed Companies:
Annapolis Valley Heritage Seed Company
Full Circle Seeds
Greta’s Organic Garden
Heritage Harvest Seeds (ships to Canada only)
Salt Spring Seeds
Seeds of Victoria
Seeds Of Change
The Cottage Gardener
Garden Organic (UK)
Seed Site (Italy)
The Real Seed CatUK)
Not too late to order this book for Christmas!
A great book that helps us to understand the importance of bio-diversity within species. We may not always condsider the reason behind diversity and how it plays an essential role in our ecosystems.
Here’s a great article also by Doug Tallamy that makes the point:
Bringing Nature Home
Gardening for Life
Chances are, you have never thought of your garden — indeed, of all of the space on your property — as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.
If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that gardens are for beauty; they are a chance to express our artistic talents, to have fun with and relax in. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is taken by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status. But no one has taught us that we have forced the plants and animals that evolved in North America (our nation’s biodiversity) to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that biodiversity was happy somewhere out there “in nature;” in our local woodlot, or perhaps our state and national parks. We have heard nothing about the rate at which species are disappearing from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how vital biodiversity is for our own well-being.
We Have Taken It All
The population of the U.S., now over 300 million people, has doubled since most of us were kids and continues to grow by 8640 people per day. All of those additional souls, coupled with cheap gas, our love affair with the car, and our quest to own ever larger homes have fueled unprecedented development that continues to sprawl over 2 million additional acres per year (the size of Yellowstone National Park). The Chesapeake Bay watershed has lost 100 acres of forest each day since 1985. We have connected all of our developments with 4 million miles of roads, the paved surface is nearly five times the size of New Jersey. Somewhere along the way we decided to convert most of our living and working spaces into huge expanses of lawn. So far we have planted over 62,500 sq miles, some 40 million acres, in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area 8 times the size of New Jersey to within 1 inch and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done. And it’s not like those little woodlots and “open spaces” we have not paved over or manicured are pristine. Nearly all are second-growth forests that have been thoroughly invaded by alien plants like autumn olive, multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and Japanese honeysuckle. Over 3400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres of the U.S, and that area is expected to double in the next 5 years.
To nature lovers these are horrifying statistics. I stress them so that we can clearly understand the challenge before us. We have turned 54% of the lower 48 states into cities and suburbs, and 41% more into various forms of agriculture. That’s right: we humans have taken 95% of nature and made in unnatural. But does this matter? Are there consequences to turning so much land into the park-like settings humans enjoy? Absolutely, both for biodiversity and for us. Our fellow creatures need food and shelter to survive and reproduce and in too many places we have eliminated both. At least 40% of Delaware’s plant species are rare or extinct, and 41% of its forest birds no longer nest in the state. Over 800 plant and animal species are rare, threatened, or endangered in Pennsylvania and 150 have already disappeared entirely. Many of those that haven’t suffered local extinction are now too rare to perform their role in their ecosystem. These can be considered functionally extinct. The song birds that brighten spring mornings have been in decline since the 1960s, having lost 40% of their numbers so far. Birds that breed in meadows are in even more trouble. Once common species such as the northern bobwhite, eastern meadowlark, field sparrow, and grasshopper sparrow have declined 82%, 72%, 68%, and 65%, respectively, in total numbers, and are completely absent from many areas that used to support healthy populations.
Why We Need Biodiversity
For most of us, hearing such numbers triggers a passing sadness; but few people feel personally threatened by the loss of biodiversity. Here’s why you should. Biodiversity losses are a clear sign that our own life-support systems are failing. The ecosystems that support us – – that determine the carrying capacity of the earth and our local spaces – – are run by biodiversity. It is biodiversity that generates oxygen and clean water; that creates topsoil out of rock and buffers extreme weather events like droughts and floods; and that recycles the mountains of garbage we create every day. And now, with human induced climate change threatening the planet, it is biodiversity that will suck that carbon out of the air and sequester it in living plants if given half a chance. Humans cannot live as the only species on this planet because it is other species that create the ecosystem services essential to us. Every time we force a species to extinction we are encouraging our own demise. Despite the disdain with which we have treated it in the past, biodiversity is not optional.
Parks Are Not Enough
I am often asked why the habitats we have preserved within our park system are not enough to save most species from extinction. Years of research by evolutionary biologists have shown that the area required to sustain biodiversity is pretty much the same as the area required to generate it in the first place. The consequence of this simple relationship is profound. Since we have taken 95% of the U.S. from nature we can expect to lose 95% of the species that once lived here unless we learn how to share our living, working, and agricultural spaces with biodiversity. 95% of all plants and animals! Now there is a statistic that puts climate-change predictions of extinction to shame. And studies of habitat islands with known histories, such as Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal and Ashdown Forest in England, have so far shown these predictions to be accurate. Species are lost at the same proportion with which a habitat is reduced in size. The good news is that extinction takes awhile, so if we start sharing our landscapes with other living things, we should be able to save much of the biodiversity that still exists.
What will it take to give our local animals what they need to survive and reproduce on our properties? NATIVE PLANTS, and lots of them. This is a scientific fact deduced from thousands of studies about how energy moves through food webs. Here is the general reasoning. All animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. The group of animals most responsible for passing energy from plants to the animals that can’t eat plants is insects. This is what makes insects such vital components of healthy ecosystems. So many animals depend on insects for food (e.g., spiders, reptiles and amphibians, rodents, 96% of all terrestrial birds) that removing insects from an ecosystem spells its doom.
But that is exactly what we have tried to do in our suburban landscapes. For over a century we have favored ornamental landscape plants from China and Europe over those that evolved right here. If all plants were created equal, that would be fine. But every plant species protects its leaves with a species-specific mixture of nasty chemicals. With few exceptions, only insect species that have shared a long evolutionary history with a particular plant lineage have developed the physiological adaptations required to digest the chemicals in their host’s leaves. They have specialized over time to eat only the plants sharing those particular chemicals. When we present insects from Pennsylvania with plants that evolved on another continent, chances are those insects will be unable to eat them. We used to think this was good. Kill all insects before they eat our plants! But an insect that cannot eat part of a leaf cannot fulfill its role in the food web. We have planted Kousa dogwood, a species from China that supports no insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that supports 117 species of moths and butterflies alone. In hundreds of thousands of acres we have planted goldenraintree from China instead of one of our beautiful oaks and lost the chance to grow 532 species of caterpillars, all of them nutritious bird food. My research has shown that alien ornamentals support 29 times less biodiversity than do native ornamentals.
Your Garden Has a Function
In the past we didn’t designed gardens that play a critical ecological role in the landscape, but we must do so in the future if we hope to avoid a mass extinction from which humans are not likely to recover either. As quickly as possible we need to replace unnecessary lawn with densely planted woodlots that can serve as habitat for our local biodiversity. Homeowners can do this by planting the borders of their properties with native trees plants such as white oaks (Quercus alba), black willows (Salix nigra), red maples (Acer rubrum), green ashes (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), black walnuts (Juglans nigra), river birches (Betula nigra) and shagbark hickories (Carya ovata), under-planted with woodies like serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), hazelnut (Corylus americnus), blueberries (Vaccinium spp) . Our studies have shown that even modest increases in the native plant cover on suburban properties significantly increases the number and species of breeding birds, including birds of conservation concern. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save biodiversity from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great. All we need to do is plant native plants!
If I am lucky and can get myself indoors before dark, make a meal for dinner
(last night was baked winter squash stuffed with roasted garlic and cauliflower and then sprinkled with feta cheese…pretty yummy!), then get cleaned up and find a comfy chair to relax in before my eyes close, I’ll usually read or knit. Right now I am slowly progressing on a pair of baby leggings that should only take me two days to knit up but seem to be taking much longer. Hope that baby’s legs don’t grow too quickly! I am also reading an interesting book by Thor Hanson called, The Triumph Of Seeds, How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered The Plant kingdom And Shaped Human History. The reading of this book is most likely the reason I am falling short on my knitting project. I am always happy to read about seeds, to better understand their biology, and to consider their vital role in the world. I’m still fascinated by plants and their seeds….or should I say seeds and their plants? As Thor Hanson puts it ” seeds transcend that imaginary boundary we erect between the natural world and the human world, appearing so regularly in our daily lives, in so many forms, that we hardly recognize how utterly dependent we are upon them”. Right now, we are busy collecting seeds throughout the nursery for propagation. Every collection is unique, each seed designed specifically to encapsulate all of the characteristics and functions of that plant. We handle seeds daily, and still, I am fascinated by them. If you want to add a good read to your fall or winter reading list, consider Thor Hanson’s book. I think you’ll find it interesting and informative!
There is a brief window during the season when we experience a slight lull…in the gardens and in the nursery. It happens just after school lets out in late June and continues until the 4th of July weekend. We appreciate the small reprieve. The garden’s beds are planted, weeded, and looking great, the flow of customers is steady but not as busy as in May and June, there’s a calm before the ‘storm’ that the now ‘high summer’ brings. From here on in however, our pace picks up again. The nursery gets re-stocked with late season offerings and with plants that simply needed replacing from earlier sales. Now is the time we do most of our propagating for the next season, this involves collecting seed, taking cuttings, and dividing plants from the stock beds. The greenhouse is cloaked in shade cloth and a misting system gets set up ( in the greenhouse)to provide a constant and controlled amount of moisture. In the vegetable gardens, the bounty to be harvested and preserved is coming fast and furious….summer squash, cucumbers, kale, chard, greens, snow peas and shell peas, beets, and loads and loads of broccoli. Every meal is the essence of freshness, plates of homegrown chicken surrounded by steamed veggies and an extra large green salad. I begin to eye the squash patch with concern, a day of not picking could lead to one of those gigantic zucchinis or an overly bulbous yellow squash. Harvesting the squash patch becomes a secret competition between me and the cucurbits. I am determined to harvest each and everyone before I need the wheel barrow to haul them away. I’m determined to pick them when they’re small and incorporate them into meals before they roll to the back of the fridge and become wobbly. Right now I’m winning, we’re roasting squash, grilling squash, steaming squash, and using them in our favorite squash fritter recipe. So far so good. If you come for dinner more than once a week and think to yourself “squash, again?”, please don’t say it out-loud. I’m on a mission and only looking to feed ‘Team Squash’ while I’m at it. Be happy that your squash fritters include smoked Gouda and that your grilled squash wedges are peppered with a nice spicy dry rub. Eat and be happy.
It’s at this time we begin glancing forward to what’s ahead. Yes, we’ll still be harvesting and preserving well into September, our work at propagating will continue, mowing and weeding and moving sheep fence a constant until the leaves begin dropping, but there will also be firewood to bring in and hay to be gathered and stored, meat birds processed and sheep brought home. It’s not about not living in the moment or in the present (we always hope to manage this as well!), it’s about the cycle of the season and how our lives here are connected to the natural rhythms of time. We’re part of it and I like that. Well, it’s 6:30 a.m. and I must leave you now, my Patty Pan squash and Costata Romanesco zucchini have had well over 12 hours to gain inches and it’s time to rein them in!
And while out in the garden stalking the vegetable bounty….we sure are stopping to smell the flowers!
And now, most days, aside from the everyday garden chores, tending sheep, hauling in this year’s supply of firewood, and continuing to preserve a bounty of vegetables, we are busy collecting seed. Already looking to the future, already imagining the promise of another season, being grateful for that small parcel…the seed, that will make it all happen. Glory be!
How about a poem? I think yes, a good one from Mary Oliver….
What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.
Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.
~ “What Can I Say” from Swan by Mary Oliver ~