In The Evening….

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!

High Summer

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!

More Gathering

picture-3596More gathering of seeds happening here. What a selection. Each plant has a unique seed design….texture, shape, color, as well as specific propagation requirements. Such incredible diversity. Here are a few we collected most recently:picture-3597picture-3600

And Now?

Picture 147And 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 ~

Our Recent Days

Picture 1351There is quite a range of activity here at the nursery right now. Every day food is being brought in to be processed…..canned, pickled, or frozen. We’ve just harvested our first large crop of broccoli to be put into the freezer. Kale, chard, and snow peas are going in along with it. The summer squash and green beans are producing faster than we can pick them. Herbs and foraged plants are being collected for tea, or tinctures, and salves.

drying chamomile blossoms

drying chamomile blossoms

Chamomile blossoms are set aside to dry, and St. John’s Wort flowers have been picked to make a tincture with. Our WWOOFer Hannah has been enjoying our foraging excursions, she is quickly learning the botanical names of plants here at the nursery and the ones we collect from the fields and woods to make tinctures and salves with. I think she likes learning about the medicinal uses of the plants we grow and collect.
Adlumia fungosa

Adlumia fungosa

Corydalis lutea

Corydalis lutea

Myrrhis odorata ' Sweet Cicely'

Myrrhis odorata
‘ Sweet Cicely’

Rick has been collecting seed from the display beds, and plants like Adlumia fungosa, Corydalis lutea, and Myrrhis odorata are being potted up and put into the sales area. Picture 1341The sheep are being moved every two weeks or so for rotational grazing methods.Hannah has been spending a bit of time picking through this spring’s fleeces readying them for the next step…..washing.
And then there is the weeding, mowing, and daily maintenance around the place. We continue to advance on the studio project, the second floor being nailed in place soon. Boy, oh boy, our days are full! We do love every bit of it though and feel thankful for this good life we live. And as I’ve mentioned before, there’s always plenty of food!
Lunch.....homemade pizza with zucchini, garlic scape pesto, fresh tomato, and olives

Lunch…..homemade pizza with zucchini, garlic scape pesto, fresh tomato, and olives

Nearing The End Of June

Dysosma pleiantha

Dysosma pleiantha

Dysosma pleiantha flower

Dysosma pleiantha flower

Can we really be at the end of June? I guess so. Our world here in the summer, running the nursery, growing the gardens, keep us in a state of constant motion. Next thing you know, another month has gone by. It may seem that the flurry of work, all the chores to be tended to, give us no opportunity to stop and enjoy all that surrounds us. Yes, some days it feels like that. But often we practice being mindful of all the glorious wonders that surround us. The plants that we love. The animals that share our property. The woods and streams that offer up their own beauty without any hand from us. What I love most about choosing this life, this life that embraces the natural world, is the opportunity to take notice and celebrate every little wonder. I went out to look at the plant Dysosma pleiantha, it’s large plate like leaves with its very finely serrated edges. Underneath hangs its deep crimson flower. Well, this is all pretty amazing. Quite stunning. I’ll go back and look at this plant over and over again, it’s an intriguing plant. But then I travel over to the vegetable garden to pick some Swiss chard. It would be very tasty in the Sunday morning omelets we’re making. Well, my goodness, look at the beauty of this plant! Is it any less stunning? Not really. I almost hate to pick it, but I will. More will grow in its place. Going from the Dysosma pleanthum to the common but beautiful Rainbow Swiss chard reminds me of the glory of all plants. Food for body and soul.
Rainbow Swiss Chard

Rainbow Swiss Chard

Picture 1219

Amazed

Picture 998Yesterday I was planting another succession of lettuce and greens in the vegetable garden. We do this throughout the season to ensure an ongoing crop. There I was squatting down in the dirt, after having made another long furrow, and ready to carefully set each tiny seed in its place. Have you ever considered how tiny one lettuce seed is? How about carrot seeds? They’re so tiny they can be annoying. We all know that thinning carrots is a result of how tiny those seeds are, and how difficult it can be to space them far enough apart. Yes, I know you can buy the pelleted form, but I never do. Back to my lettuce planting. I looked carefully at one of the small oblong ‘Bronze Arrowhead Oakleaf’ seeds I was about to put into the ground. Wow! This one tiny seed is going to grow into one harvestable, edible , lettuce plant. This will feed us. This one plant will make a salad for someone. This one tiny seed will be covered with a bit of nutrient rich soil, patted down, watered, and will eventually crack open, sprout, and begin growing into food!!!!! I just want you all to know, I have been growing vegetables for over thirty years now (not counting my childhood farm and gardening years), and I am still in awe of a seed’s amazing and miraculous ability to germinate and grow into a plant. I love this feeling ( even after all these years) of being stunned, of being in awe, of being surprised, and also humbled, by this natural world. I love that after all of these years, as an adult woman with many, many, seasons of lettuce planting under her belt, that I can still be brought to my knees by the potential of a single seed. The power of seeds, truly amazing! Farming, being a grower of plants, may not bring you monetary richness, but it sure does offer up gratitude on a daily basis!

The Man Born to Farming

The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?
-Wendell Berry

This Morning At Fernwood Nursery

Cardamine glandulosa

Cardamine glandulosa

We are busy getting the nursery tidy and ready for customers on May 9th. Every morning, after looking over our chore list, we go out to discover what’s coming up in the gardens. The Hepaticas, Hellebore, Eranthis hyemalis, and Leucojum are all in bloom. Cardamine glandulosa is also in flower. This low growing plant spreads, forming loose clumps of purplish green foliage and a deeper purple flower. Quite lovely.
Cardamine glandulosa

Cardamine glandulosa

The woodland peonies are breaking ground. We love watching the transformation of these plants. They are truly attractive right through the season, from when they first come out of the ground, to their glorious blooms, and then right through to their highly ornamental seed pods in late summer, early fall. Both these plants will be available at the nursery this season, along with other garden treasures. It’s nice to be out in the gardens, wouldn’t you agree?
Paeonia veitchii

Paeonia veitchii

Picture 913

Seeds For The Season

IMG_0027We’ve just finished with our seed orders for the upcoming season. Folks often ask us which seed companies we buy seed from. As many of you know, the nursery end of our plant production is done on site. We propagate most of the woodland, native, and shade perennials ourselves. As you may remember from past posts,( 2nd seed post) seed collection is one form of propagation we use here. The seeds that we order from the companies I’ll be mentioning, are for the several large vegetable gardens we grow. We garden organically and feel very committed to purchasing seeds from companies that offer organic seed, open pollinated varieties, as well as a selection of heirloom varieties. Most importantly we want to support seed companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. As signers, companies pledge that they do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. As the seed industry is becoming dominated by large multinational corporations, sourcing safe seed from ethical and ecologically minded companies can be challenging. But good seed companies still exist, they are out there, and supporting them is important ( crucial, really) to the safety and health of all us, the environment, and the future of our food. Without listing the names of the ” multi -national giants” who are permeating the seed industry, we encourage gardeners and growers to do some research on the negative effects caused by GMO’s and treated seed. For example, neonicotinoids, an insecticide used by many of the large seed companies to coat their seeds, is absorbed into all parts of the plant, including the flowers. Residues build up in both pollen and nectar, and are extremely toxic to our bee population ( as well as all other pollinators), causing both paralysis and death. Who you buy your seed from is an important matter.IMG_0028
With all that said, here are the seed catalogs we primarily order from : Fedco Seed Company, http://www.fedcoseed.com, P.O, Box 520 Waterville, Maine, 04903 , ( 207) 426-0090
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, http://www.johnnyseeds.com, 955 Benton Ave. Winslow, Maine 04901 , (877) 564-6697
Seeds of Change, http://www.seedsofchange.com, P.O. Box 152 Spicer, MN. 56288 , (888) 762-7333
High Mowing Seeds, http://www.highmowingseeds.com, 76 Quarry Rd. Wolcott, Vermont 05680, (802) 472-6174
Territorial Seed Company, http://www.territorialseed.com, P.O.Box 158 Cottage Grove, OR 97424, (800) 626-0866
Turtle Tree Seed, http://www.turtletreeseed.org, 10 White Birch Rd. Copake,NY 12516, (518)329-3037
We buy the bulk of our seed order from Fedco and Johnny’s. Our favorite tomato variety, Martha Washington, is offered at Johnny’s. In addition to Fedco’s huge vegetable, tree, and cover crop offerings, I always buy my dye garden seeds from them and most everything else. They’re local and both great companies. We like Seeds of Change, Territorial, and High Mowing, and often find a few specific varieties that one or the other does not offer. My seed order with Seeds Of Change this year: Corno Di Toro pepper, Hutterite bean, Emerald Oak Lettuce, Tokyo Market Turnip, and Leonardo Radicchio. A small order, but very specific. I love to support Turtle Tree Seed company from upstate New York. They are a small bio-dynamic, open pollinated seed company that is doing great work to ensure the future of our seeds. Two things I will order from them ( for sure) is Phacellia, an annual that is native to California and Arizona, a great pollinator and used as a soil builder in Europe. The other is Silphium perfoliatum, also called Cup Plant, a native perennial from the mid west to the east coast, north into Canada. It grows 4-8 feet tall, with sprays of yellow flowers from July through September. It is also important to birds, butterflies, and bees.
There is so much conversation to be had regarding the future of our seed security. It is really worth reading up on and researching. It is truly worth the effort in knowing where your seed and plants come from. It can and does impact so much. Well, happy gardening…….not quite yet, we have to get through a few more snowstorms first! IMG_0033

Studio, Classes, Workshops!

Picture 290The studio that has been on our list to build is underway and will be completed and ready for late winter/ early spring classes. Over the last several years we have been offering classes here at the nursery and farm. Rick has taught many classes on native plants, plant propagation, and designing beds for shade. We’ve had workshops on building hypertufa vessels, dyeing and spinning wool, and soap making. We’ve taught people how to butcher their own chickens and cure and smoke bacon. Now we are wishing to expand the classes and workshops we offer. More classes on raising sheep, washing and dyeing wool, and spinning and felting. A workshop on fermentation, home canning, and sausage making, may be what’s offered. Imagine wanting to learn about homesteading skills, and knowing of a place to learn them. In addition, Rick will increase the amount of workshops being led on horticultural topics. A native plant walk and idtentification class. A talk on shade and woodland plants for the garden. A hands-on work shop on plant dividing. Just to name a few. We think the nursery and farm here are unique in many ways. The nursery is unusual with regards to the native and woodland plants ( shade and some sun loving plants, as well) we grow . Rick has been working with natives and woodland plants for well over thirty years. His knowledge and experience has always been a welcome help to customers who have questions or for those who want to learn the most they can about native and woodland plants. We have always been a rare find amongst plant enthusiasts. Though we actually have about 15 acres of land, we grow a tremendous amount of food on what would be considerd a small holding. We can see all of our gardens from the house. In addition we raise at least two pigs a year, 75-100 meat birds ( chickens ), lamb, and raise a substantial laying flock. Our three large organic gardens easily produce enough food for two to three families. We operate a greenhouse, a hoop house for an extended growing season, and several cold frames. What we buy for food is kept at a minimum on account of what we are able to raise and preserve. We feel that we are a good model for living sustainably on a somewhat small piece of land. Not everyone wants to own large 100 acre parcels of land, and knowing that you can provide for yourself on far less, can be helpful information. Also, we are firm believers that growing even a little bit of food on your own decreases your dependency on others to do it for you. We see our life here as a cycle of activity that allows us to be as self sufficient as possible. So, in order to accomplish this, we pay close attention to how we’re doing things. We are good soil stewards. We rotate crops. We pay attention to pollinators and how to avoid plant disease using organic methods. We keep our overhead low and try to always be efficient in our work. These are the types of skills we’d like to share. The new studio will be a place to offer more workshops and classes on all that we do here, from native plants to growing your own food, to learning about soil amendment or making your own soap. We’ll be keeping you posted on the progress and would love to hear any suggestions about classes folks might be interested in ( Sharon, if you’re reading , I have your ‘what to do with herbs’ class on the list). If you are interested in plants, take advantage of the knowledge and experience Rick has to offer, and suggest a class. By spring we will have a list of what’s being offered so far, so keep checking in. In the meantime, we’ll keep writing about life here at Fernwood.