Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ice Cream


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

51° and overcast this morning. The reds and pinks of the early morning sunrise have faded to gray, and slivers of light blue are beginning to show. Gail says "no rain today" but the morning just has that feel about it that we have become accustomed to. We have both been out once with Karl the Wonder Dog who heard neighbor Michelle and her dog Jelly and wanted a second walk. Dogs like to socialize too, even in early morning hours when people are still wiping sleep from their eyes and spilling coffee.

Yesterday was one of those days where everything kind of fell apart before it started. Gail and I loaded the car and truck and prepared to head for the nursery. I took a quick look at Gail's car and a rear tire was pancake like. We switched vehicles and I began changing the flat. I headed straight to the garage thinking this would be an easy fix but everyone else had morning troubles and the morning wait was 3 hours. I grabbed an appointment for tomorrow and will have a rear wheel bearing replaced at the same time. Got back to the nursery and found that worker bee Michael called and had to take a family car in that had morning problems too. By then it was 11 and the morning had been rearranged three times. That happens with everyone, not just gardeners.

I continue to replant the hosta display garden and will be down there working this morning. The hostas that survived the flood do not look good as they are coated with some gray film. I guess if I had ten feet of water from who knows where washing over me for hours upon hours, I wouldn't look all that good either. Big John is still flattened and the magnificent Bressingham Blue, Elegans and Bigfoot are not up to speed yet. This was supposed to be the year the garden would be promoted but I cannot in good faith even encourage customers and visitors to walk down and see something that needs so much attention. Just the same people go and return to say it doesn't look that mysterious after all. Eye of the beholder I think.

Summer is a time when I like a good creamy or a homemade ice cream in a sugar cone. I have been so busy I haven't had either. I think Gail and Alex have cheated on me a little and have stopped someplace but won't fess up. Bragg Farm Sugarhouse in East Montpelier has a very good maple creamy and Artesano in Groton has a handmade maple ice cream named Munson's Maple that is out of this world. Artesano makes some wonderful meads too but their ice creams get us through and will help you too. Recently they made batches of Strawberries and Cream and also Rhubarb, both with local produce. Small batches means the customer has to keep track of availability and sometimes their Facebook page tells what they're making. Sometimes it means you also have to drive right down or face possible disappointment because people like to brag about savoring the last cone or dish of an ice cream that will not reappear until next week or next season. Artesano is open Thursday through Sunday and also holiday Mondays so you have to temper your desire with a different schedule too.

As for hostas, there's a very nice small hosta named Ice Cream. It has nice color and grows well. It's good for a front-of-the-garden position and is likely to be something that a friend will ask for a piece of. Hosta are known as the friendship plant and a hosta or an unusual ice cream flavor can form a strong bond. I like hostas and ice cream!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Mrs Deer stood outside my office window looking in, chewing on a daylily leaf and swatting flies. Loons have been talking at the pond and reservoir since 4:00 and their conversations are loud. I have to get going!


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
At VFF we'll help you grow your green thumb--for free!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tractor Thoughts


Monday, June 27, 2011

7 AM has already slipped past me. I should be at the nursery by now but it was a rough night with charlie horses in both legs and expletives in abundance until almost midnight. This morning is foggier than yesterday but the sun is burning through as it rises above Peacham Pond and I know we will have a great day.

This summer has presented us with challenges almost every day. We are still picking up after the major flooding of May 26th-27th and the rain just continues as if we need more. I dumped the rain gauges yesterday and was not surprised or pleased with the latest measurements. I have two ground mounted gauges so that if a wandering critter or curious kid moves one upside down, I still have a chance of knowing what the accumulation was. Yesterday both gauges registered about 3.5 inches in the three days since I had dumped them. It has rained some part of almost every day or night for weeks and now I am hearing stories from loggers who cannot get into the woods either for fear of getting stuck. My friend Richard up at Water Tower Horse Farm (beautiful Tennessee Walking Horses) can only think about getting his first cutting of hay as the fields are too wet to put any equipment on. Sadly, he is not alone and I have no idea how farmers are going to feed stock with no feed this winter.

Yesterday Alex helped me pull the John Deere 320 Utility tractor out of the shed. We had pushed it in there last fall when I brought it home from the nursery, left it to sit for a few weeks and then couldn't get it started. I installed the battery, checked the fluids and heard it crank over with a strange noise. We pulled it up the hill to the yard and called my friend Mike.

Everyone needs a friend like Mike. I value him dearly because they don't make many people like him anymore. During a bunch of the year Mike is driving a cement truck or supervising a cement processing facility. Some days I think he spends the balance of his time fixing what I have broken. If he packs up and heads to Montana as I have heard him threaten before, I am in very big trouble.

I have no idea where Mike has learned everything he knows. He probably attended the School of Hard Knocks at some point, spent several years on a Navy submarine and owned his own tractor-trailer for several years of trans-American freight transport. He can still remember how to get into the freight depots of the major US cities and he can troubleshoot about anything mechanical with a skill that is mind boggling. He likes old things and I guess I am included in his list.

I found Mike standing in front of a log splitter, listening to music from his headset and splitting next year's wood. He makes no bones about not liking this job but he is a guy with a back-up plan for everything and firewood is the backup for his regular furnace. I explained my dilemma and Mike issued a half smile that arrived with a non verbal look that said "Yep, George has done it again!" We both knew I had just ruined his day but helping out is how he is built and he flipped the switch on the splitter and headed to his shop to pick up some tools.

Mike has a trouble shooting format that makes sense. He works from system to system, verifying operation and then working down to the problem area. When we got to the point where he had the tractor firing on one of two cylinders, he told me to chain it up for the trip down to his house where a complete shop would make the needed repair easier. As I pulled the old John Deere up the hill from our house, Mike messed with me a little, applying the brake to the JD and watching the little blue New Holland struggle and puff with 30 something inadequate horsepower. Even though I was wearing ear protection I could hear Mike laughing as I looked around and saw his big smile as my tractor wheels turned ruts in the dirt road but went nowhere.

Within minutes of arriving, the necessary tools were laid out and the value cover was off: two bent push rods which I was assured is a common problem. As I looked at all the parts I thought this was a major affair but quickly the rocker arm assembly was off and we were in the shop with me learning how to straighten some S-curves in the rods that shouldn't have been there.

The bigger problem came when only three of four valves was working. One was stuck tight. I learned a trick of pulling the appropriate spark plug and threading a piece of rope through the plug hole and into the engine and then hand cranking the engine to pop the valve. I was kind of glad no one was watching me feed rope into a gas engine but don't ever laugh at an experienced repairman. Learn the lessons well as books don't include lessons like these.

Within an hour the engine was putt-putting away in 2-banger John Deere fashion and Mike and I were both smiling. It's a sound that cannot be described unless you have experienced it before.
Engines like this one were built so the common farmer could trouble shoot and repair them in the field and keep farm chores going not matter what other challenges were faced. For me, it's hard to describe all I learned in a couple hours. Today I'll change the oil and grease everything up and before nightfall the back field will be cut clean. Right now Mike is someplace in Vermont driving or unloading or washing a cement mixer. And without any doubt on my part, I know he has shared with someone today the latest "You won't believe what George did yesterday" story. I don't care because it was a special time for me and I'm really lucky to have a friend who knows so much and is willing to share his knowledge with me. You could probably use a "Mike" too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a great day has just begun. Drive out to Vermont Flower Farm and visit with Gail a bit. She is just like Mike except that she knows flowers. Oh yes, thanks again Mike!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Visit today! We'll help you grow your green thumb!




Sunday, June 26, 2011

Foggy, Misty Morn

57° and foggy, misty, damp and quiet this morning. I am reminded of Carl Sandburg's Fog

The Fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then it moves on.


Our fog is lifting ever so slowly but off to the west, the clearing sky offers hope of a sunny day. That's good as I have already accomplished lots but have a long list for today.

I was at the nursery at 5 to drive the tractor home for chores that need to be done here. I would love a trailer so I could avoid the drive. Back in winter I felt that this would be the season for purchasing a trailer. Now that's but a dream as customers are few and far between and just paying the pre-season bills has become a chore. I really do not care what the economists say, Vermont is a mess and the country is even worse. Things were bad enough before all the natural disasters and there's little doubt that many more businesses will fail. I don't think we'll be one of those but some days recently it has taken a lot to open the gate not knowing if anyone will drive in. Just the same, you still see a smile from Gail and me when you stop by. We're like that. We don't give up.

Last night Gail left the nursery at almost 5:30 while I was hosing down the tractor and getting the mower deck set up for today's journey. Essentially we were closed but half the gate was still open. I heard a car stop at the gate and I waved "Come on in" not knowing who it was. We are often known as "givers of good directions" and weekends during the summer finds us helping out someone most every day.

This was a farm lady and some members of her family heading back St Johnsury way after a one day escape from the farm. Farmers don't get many days like this and when they do, they pack in as much as they can. After only a brief conversation I knew I liked her. She inquired how we got through the flood and we shared bad stories while describing our need to persist. She farms a 100 cow diary and I farm flowers but the work is still 24/7 and the rewards are impacted by weather and the economy. Flowers are seasonal for us and a great deal easier than dairy, goats, sheep or even beef farming.

Like many farms, this family relies on maple syrup production as part of its bottom line. The lady said that the crop was very good this year (State set a record of over 1 million gallons produced) but sales have been down. I hadn't given it much thought but when times are tough, even something like a gallon of syrup for home cooking, baked beans and pancakes, takes a back burner to fuel for the tractors and Gramma's medicine. The farmer described how the first cutting of hay, baled in those big white wrappers, went bobbing down the river during the flood. The remaining hay and corn fields were covered in silt and gravel and subsequent hay harvests meant wearing protective gear because of flying stones and dust. I commented that the governor's big deal about making Vermont McDonald's sell their breakfast pancakes with Vermont maple syrup still left most all sugar makers with a bad taste for the media hype that politicians love. I didn't expect an answer to my opinion but I got a smile that said it all. As the family drove away, I dropped my wave and wondered if Vermont politicians really know what it takes to run a business in today's world.

I finished with the tractor and began walking the final tour I take every night before I leave. Have to make sure no tools are left around, hoses are shut off, pump closed down, walkways clear, garden carts cleaned and ready for the next day. A new Siberian Iris on the front table had just opened and I tested my memory on the name. I kept wanting to say Lavender Mist but then remembered that Lavender Mist is the name for a Thalictrum I like. The iris was Pink Haze. I stared at its beauty but kept asking myself about the name. It really isn't pink at all. What do you think?

Gotta scoot!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail is telling me she's ready to leave. I have no choice but to get going as my truck is already at the nursery. As you're out and about today, stop by and say hello. Along the way you might notice that blackberries are in full bloom and suggest a good crop. Thimbleberries are just starting to bloom and although they aren't on my list to pick and eat, they have a nice color that some day I will paint. If you don't know them yet, check them out.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Monday, June 20, 2011

Case of The Missing Hostas


Monday, June 20, 2011

45.6° here on the mountain this morning. Another beautiful day as the sun rises above Peacham Pond and loons suggest I go for a morning paddle, not knowing how much I have to do today. Not even 6 yet but Gail has rustled together lunch and is packing the car. I have to get to Montpelier early for parts and some paint. As I sit here writing, Karl the Wonder Dog, fresh from his second walk since 4 AM, is bouncing a tennis ball off my foot, begging for the play partner I don't want to be this morning.

Yesterday I put one of the tillers back together, having removed and cleaned every part. The transmission was the last thing to fix and the entire exercise left me convinced that flood water--any water--can get into anything. I'm sure that passers by wondered why I was sitting by a tiller all day for a couple days in the sun but it had to happen. I need a new gasket and filters and then that first tiller should be running again.

Almost every day since the flood I have walked down the bank and through the hosta display garden. It seems that every time I walk there I notice more missing plants. Although I had all the plants labeled above and below ground, the flood took out the labels and many plants too. Some are so beat up that identification is still difficult and since I never completed a map of the garden as I built it, some of this will be difficult for me to figure out.



As I walked down the back path by the fence I lamented the tons of stay mat I had wheeled in for garden paths. The gray and black crushed granite looked so nice on the paths but now it was history with the paths returned to dirt and tree roots. As I walked along I noticed a yellowing stem sticking out of a pile of sticks. It was a hosta, identification unknown. Below it was another and then another and before I was done I had 6 hostas spread out in the sun. The roots looked fine but the leaves were shredded and challenged my limited hosta forensics more than I wished.


I stood and stretched for a minute and happened to be looking straight into a pile of sticks and grass caught in the Y of a tree about six feet off the ground. Another hosta, soil-less but not looking all that bad considering it had been sitting there for a couple weeks. I poked it down and added it to my collection. I have no hope of ever finding all that I lost but more will probably show up as the roots connect with the dirt and start growing again.

Way up top here is a photo of Frances Williams, pre-flood. I have noticed this hosta featured in a number of gardening magazines this year and personally I don't think it is the strongest choice. It seems to have a habit of fraying, browning leaf edges that look terrible by mid July. This year the bad weather has done them in a little in the gardens but those for sale in the shade house are selling well and look ok. Next picture down from the top is Ice Cream which is missing in action right now. There may be a couple left potted and for sale but I'm not sure. I like it for the front of the border or for lining out along pathways or gardens. Finally at the bottom is a favorite hosta I was growing on again and it's lost. It is named "Just So" and was originally from the west coast Briggs Nursery. Floods leave things "just so" and the gardener is left with pieces and new chores. I better get going on my list.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a tree swallow landed on the anemometer post and chirped good morning to me through the window. We're both enjoying a great day!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Buy local, help farmers through difficult times

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mid June Flowers


Sunday, June 19, 2011
Fathers Day

A beautiful morning here on the mountain. 45.6° and ever so quiet as the sun breaks through the tree tops and the blue of the sky welcomes a great day. Karl the Wonder Dog shot out of slumber at 4:30 and growled protective noises. By the time I rubbed sleep from my eyes he was in the front room perched on the couch and rumbling unhappy noises. I looked and looked but couldn't figure out what went by. I reheated leftover coffee and headed out, still in half-sleep, staggering a bit while being pulled by Karl's exuberance which I did not share. Very few birds welcomed us and we did not see any large wildlife. Maybe later.

The flowers in the gardens at the house are a sorry state of weediness but Gail and I simply can't keep two places looking good. Just the same the plants are healthy and the colors special this year with all the rain. The poppies are just finishing up here. We let them run through the weeds because when poppies pass for the season, their dormancy leaves brown, bushel basket sized holes in the landscape. I can see that some of them need to be cleaned up but it will probably be easier to so a good job spreading this year's seed in another month so the crop comes back nicely in a couple years.

I usually cut some poppies when the buds are just cracking with some color, then I sear the ends with a match and bring a few inside to enjoy. They are an enjoyment to look at but be sure to toss them the day before you think they are going by or you'll be picking up flower pieces for some time. If you have been stuck in an "orange poppy rut" for some time, buy a pack of white, raspberry or pink seeds. Oriental poppies are the large flowered poppies and they are perennials.


I notice that the Trollius Alabaster by the back door is now in bloom. They have been a mystery for Gail to grow and have not been quite as hardy as the yellows and oranges that we have grown for years. The toys in the picture up top get little or no use anymore but the surrounding trollius and few late tulips close out mid June with nice colors.

The Siberian irises are blooming nicely too as are the blue Scabiosas, various geraniums peonies and the yellow flags. More and more daylilies are popping and dots of color show everywhere. We are embarrassed by the weed situation in the daylily beds at the nursery this year but the rains that started in March have stayed with us ever too long.

I have to pack up the truck and get to the nursery now. Michael dug me about 50 new holes for replacement hostas in the display garden that got nailed by 10 feet of water going over the top. Yesterday I found 6 hostas that had been ripped out including First Mate that was hanging from an alder tree. Gail just bought that for me last year along with Empress Wu so they were special for other reasons.

Today is Fathers Day so if you are out and about stop by and see us. We still have some nice blueberry and raspberry bushes, grapes, one flat of strawberry plants and some nice shrubs for sale. The Ginkos and Witch Hazels are looking good as are the ninebarks and lilacs. The lilacs have finished blooming but they are strong and will flower well next year. Gail will be available to help and I'll likely be planting just down the hill. If you have courage, walk down and see what I am doing. I always like to meet new gardeners and take a break!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
At VFF we'll help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nice Shrubs!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Already heading for 7 AM and I cannot seem to shake off the Stanley Cup cobwebs. I have always loved watching hockey and admittedly spent a lot of time and money over the years with my son Adam who began playing at age 5. He played the sport on the rink and a couple times in the emergency room. The Bruins victory was special to me because I have been watching the goalie, Tim Thomas, since he first skated onto game ice at the University of Vermont. That seems like a long, long time ago, especially today, as Adam awaits the birth of his third son.


Yesterday's sunshine was special but customers were absent for most of the day. When the sun shines after a long period of rain, people have personal chores to tend to. The forecast looks good and we expect some visitors for Fathers Day weekend. Hope you can find time to get out too.

This is the second year we have sold shrubs and lilacs are included in the offering. They are especially good looking this year although they have about bloomed out at the nursery. Here at the house, the butterflies and honey bees are in their glory and the main bloom time has just started. The fragrance is noticeable as soon as you exit the car and people stop to ask the names and if we have any for sale.

5-6 years ago I bought Gail a lilac named Primrose. It was supposed to be pale yellow with a nice fragrance but it disappointed us as it turned out to be white and had only limited fragrance. Gail was bothered some and I was not pleased with the "special" price I paid for the wrong shrub. It's over six feet tall now and covered with white blooms but it will never be the one we wanted. When you think about the volume of product that each nursery puts out in a year, it is a miracle there are not more "white is not yellow" problems.

We are also selling hydrangeas again and they look great because of the weather. They are a way from blooming but the plants are thick and nice and even the newer Pink Diamonds that started only a month ago are putting out lots of new growth. Someplace in the hundreds of shrubs is my favorite hydrangea, White Moth. I need to find those today and be sure they are out where people cans see the name. Because of the widespread advertising by the big guys, customers ask for the pink and blue hydrangeas. We don't sell those yet because I haven't had the time to grow them here and insure they do well. Keeping them blooming the right color is not as important as making sure they will live through Vermont's changing winter-spring seasons. .....kind of analogous to the Knockout Roses that received so much publicity a couple-three years back. Great looking roses but they do not live in Vermont despite the zone classification or the hype.


Today is a work day for most but there's nothing wrong with taking a day off to enjoy sun after the spring we have experienced. If you can find some time for yourself, bring some friends and stop and see Gail today. She has some great flowers that will add some sparkle to your gardens. As for me, I'll probably be replacing more storm damaged fence, still trying to keep one step ahead of Mrs. Deer and the kids.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where three ravens are talking loudly as if everyone needs to be out and about by 7. Have to get going here!


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Growing Hardy Plants for Hardy Vermonters and Their Friends!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sedums


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A beautiful morning here on the mountain. The sun is pushing above the trees from Peacham Pond and accentuating the lush green leaves resulting from what has really been too much rain for spring planting. Yesterday morning the National Weather Service was blaring warnings for southern Vermont where up to 4" of rain was predicted but someplace between then and now I missed the news coverage of what happened. We have already been there more than once this spring and we continue to work through the consequences.

Some places, some towns, and many people can't seem to get a break with the weather no matter what. As I traveled to the nursery yesterday morning I noticed that the brand new sign at the corner of Routes 2 and 215 in Marshfield, a sign announcing a benefit tomorrow night for Cabot's repeated disasters, was run over by a car. There are skid marks leading straight to it. Sometimes what happens in the world just seems impossible but repetitions continue on. Lots of damage all around the area so help your neighbors as you can.



I have always liked anything that grows in among the rocks. I remember in the early 50's my Dad made a rock garden for my mother on top of an old barn foundation at our 1826 house. She planted portulaca everywhere and then plugged every variety of sedum and sempervivum she could find in among the layered stones. Thinking back on it, she really came up with quite a number of varieties in contrast to what's available today. The collection drew lots of "where'd you get that?s" because in Vermont in the early 50's, times were tough and people were thinking more about planting things to grow and raising animals to eat. Chickens for eggs and meat where much more popular than my mom's hens and chickens in the garden!



We have a good collection of sedums and a few different sempervivums at the nursery. I continue to work on a garden for our collection by the front fence. It still looks a little sparse but I am getting there. We'll get the potted plants moved up today or tomorrow and make the whole area more pleasant and visible. If you're out and about, stop by and see what's available.

If you head up towards Glover (remember Glover=Bread and Puppet Theater??) stop at my friend Kate Butler's place. Labour of Love Landscaping and check out Vermont's largest collection of sempervivums. If you do make it that far, don't forget to stop at Curriers Quality Market too. Curriers is one of those all purpose places with a real butcher, nice people, a sporting goods section and an incredible collection of taxidermy that makes you think you're in the woods. Give it all a try in Glover and stop and see Vermont Flower Farm while you're coming or going.


Gotta get going here. Hope I don't get side tracked during the rest of the day. Hens and chickens, Glover, Kate, taxidermy, real butchers--what a morning!


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
And more to see and read about at Facebook: Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And still growing hardy plants for hardy Vermonters and their friends!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Siberian Irises


Sunday, June 12, 2011

A dismal morning here on the mountain. The rain has stopped but the darkness grasps tight on everything as if pressuring the sun from rising above Peacham Pond. It will brighten soon and people will begin stirring in camps at the pond. As soon as the first campers head to town for Sunday papers, milk, and a loaf of bread, others will follow suit and activity will begin.

Gail took Karl the Wonder Dog for his walk this morning and I half expected a big animal report. It has been raining since yesterday morning and that slows down animal movement. As the air pressure rises and rains stop, wildlife moves but this morning Gail and Karl had nothing to talk about. I keep glancing to the left and out my office window into the grassy field but so far I haven't seen anything either.

Yesterday at the nursery I noticed that the Siberian irises have begun to open. When I see Siberian or Japanese irises I immediately think of a man who was really the world's best hybridizer for those flowers. He gardens in a different world now but Dr. Currier McEwen of my favorite Harpswell, Maine hybridized until almost age 100 and brought many beautiful flowers to us. He is well documented on the Internet because of his mix of flowers and medicine and it's worth a few minutes to read about his worldly contributions and learn about the flowers he introduced. He was a special person and no matter who visited him, he found time for conversation. Jean Potuchek of East Poland, Maine, writes an excellent New England garden blog Jean's Garden, and she has recently written about Siberian irises in her piece In Praise of Siberian Irises.

Already almost 6:30 and I have to get going here. Vermont State Parks are open for free visits today and with a handful of courage and a bottle of bug dope, I recommend a hike up Owl's Head in Groton State Forest. The rangers open the gate at the entrance at about 9 and you can drive a mile up the hill, park, and climb the granite stairs for about 10-15 minutes. The 10-15 minute variation depends on your huff and puff numbers as you climb the steps. I don't climb as fast as I used to. Give it a try!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa. Hope you'll click "Like" on the VFFG page.
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And remember, we are here to help you GROW your GREEN THUMB!



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Missed Opportunities


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Been sitting here reading for an hour. 55.9° on the thermometer but one look outside gives mental challenge to the reading. I know it's right but there is a thick gloominess hanging this morning with heavy, low clouds and notice of impending rain. The only movement I can detect is that of mosquitoes which are in abundance this year as never before.

Karl the Wonder Dog is disappointed with me. I have no courage to put on his leash and walk him down the road so I rely on Gail. She's not that enamored with me this time of day either as sleep sounds better to her than walking the dog and maintaining a watchful eye for large wildlife. Every day another report comes in of bear sitings and those serve as a reminder to be attentive even if seeds of sleep and unfinished dreams weigh heavy on the dog walker. I'll soon have courage again to be pulled around and Karl's morning walks will be with me on the other end of the leash. My leg is coming along nicely says the doc and I don't want to push progress into reverse.

I never thought I would miss the end of springtime so much. Here in this part of Vermont the time from the end of May until about the middle of June is wildflower time. I enjoy walks in the woods and around the kettle ponds so frequent here. But with crutches and a little limp when I discard them it's not all that handy to take pictures and kneel and bend.

I have always liked the various orchids that bloom in spring because they are so much larger than those that come later. The pink or white Moccasin-flowers like the yellow lady slipper pictured above are easy to find. I love to find the yellows and have been known to spend too much time laying on the ground waiting for an ant to come out for a picture. If you have examined one of the yellow flowers, you know what I mean. But late spring holds other treasures and the simple white bunchberries make me as happy as the three native trilliums, the flowers of the red, white or pink baneberries, clintonia, the blue-bead lilies, or Dutchman's Breeches. This was supposed to be the spring of hiking and picture taking but that's been postponed until next spring. You have time though and easy little hikes include nearby Kettle Pond or Osmore Pond within New Discovery Campground. Today would be a great day as the light rains will calm the black fly/mosquito's appetites and this weekend is get-in-the state-park-free time. Put an extra set of batteries in your camera case, pack a snack and don't say you'll think about it later. Wildflowers offer a narrow annual window and seeing them in their glory confirms a memory you won't forget.


Writing from the moutnain above Peacham Pond where Gail and Karl have returned safely, driven back by bugs says Gail. In the nearby larch tree, two ravens show disrespect for tired forest neighbors as they shout loudly in bird words I do not comprehend. Maybe they are reminding me to get going!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. Like us if you will.
Other gardening thoughts on Facebook at George Africa.
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Check your potatoes for potato beetles and their bright orange eggs on the undersides of the leaves. It's an especially bad year for them and "no leaves" means no potatoes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Like Lupines?


Friday, June 10, 2011

A pleasant 67° here at 9 AM. A slight breeze is willowing the tree leaves and the air is thick with humidity from yesterday's rains. Here in Marshfield we were spared the 4-5 inches that fell across central and southern Vermont yesterday, downing power lines and flooding once again. It's warm enough now that you can almost see the grass growing.

This time of year lupines are blooming everywhere. They are evident in gardens but also in fields along the roadways where they self seed freely. At the nursery I refuse to grow them even though people ask for them as soon as they see them someplace else. I have always enjoyed seeing them myself but when they pass, the foliage looks ratty and aphids, specific to the lupines but aphids just the same, are prominent.


Aphids are vectors of other problems and I don't like the thought of encouraging insects that might spread other diseases around. As such I try to suggest to customers unfamiliar with a close up view of mature lupines what they might see. From the perspective of a garden, lupines are analogous to Oriental poppies which leave you with a big hole of brown when they finish blooming. Give both of these some thought in terms of where you plant them and what you expect from them. As with humans, if the expectation is clear, the product is not disappointing.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Dan and the road crew are dumping crushed stone and grading the road for the first time since February. They have been working long hours trying to clean up after the storms of the 26th of May that wiped out five counties in Vermont. Climate change anyone? Maybe, maybe not.


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
At Vermont Flower Farm we'll help you GROW your GREEN THUMB!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Attack of the Wild Chervil


Monday, June 6, 2011

A beautiful morning here above Peacham Pond. Windless for a change as the sun pushes through the fog and steam rolls gently off the machine shed roof as last night's dew becomes this morning's humidity.

Gail is banging around, muttering here and there, loading the truck and trying to get out the door for the nursery. She is a trooper for putting up with me and clearly my broken leg was not what either of us thought would be a good way to start the summer. Last night when she had barely returned from a long day, I begged if she would take me for a brief ride so I could get away from here for a bit. Gail is Gail and off we went down George Jewett Road to Route 2. The Jewett Road is a mess and you need real care to keep away from the wash outs as the road width lessens. Out towards Hookerville, the impact of Mollys Falls Brook rising over ten feet is still obvious as you can spot tree limbs hanging out of trees along the brook and piles of grass and rushes stuck in the top of the brook alders. The temporary bridge at the start of Ennis Road was added after folks were stranded in there for 4 days. It looks odd as we are accustomed to the old wooden bridge that this time of year always has kid's bikes leaned against the rails, waiting for them to return by school bus at the end of the day. Only in Vermont!

We headed up Route 2 to the Cabot-Danville Road and Gail turned around as enough was enough for me. As we approached the flat before Goodrich's Sugar House, I could see a black form in the distance come out of the swamp on the right. I asked Gail to slow and the "black form" turned out to be a black bear intent on crossing the road but not willing to deal with our car or the sound of more vehicles from the west. The bear looked straight at me and plopped back into the swamp. We tried but couldn't locate it in the grass so don't know if it was a sow with a cub or two or a bear that was old enough this spring to get the word from Mom to leave her company and go it alone. Regardless, seeing wildlife like this lends a great feeling and a bigger admiration for Vermont, the real place to live!

Along the road it was apparent what a giant problem wild chervil has become in Vermont. It is carried by vehicles and wherever a seed drops, it turns invasive. The University of Vermont Extension Service wrote this piece about it eleven years ago and I doubt the author knew at the time what a giant problem it would become. Try this link: wild chervil

The picture up top is a bank at a neighbors where the chervil has overtaken what was a very nice perennial garden. Years back when Gail owned the property she hired a local guy to cut the chervil down with a weed whacker. A couple days after the job he was limping around with sorry looking legs having been splattered by the plant sap as he mowed down the chervil. Maybe not everyone is allergic to the plant but for him, the reaction was no different than that of poison ivy. Right now in Vermont you can see large patches of this plant along every road. We even have some near the front door this year that must have seeded in from the road. Another invasive to add to the list. Because people love white flowers, I offer a strong cautionary note that you should not pick "wild and white" unless you know what you are doing. A flat topped white flower may look like Queen Anne's Lace to you but this is too early for that to bloom in Vermont so what you pick may not be what you think. Be careful!


Any minute now one of my friends will call demanding to know if I'm laying flat with my leg elevated. I don't want to have to tell a story. It's a beautiful day out there this morning so if you can, get out for a walk. Wonder where the bear is walking now????


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Growing Hardy Plants For Hardy Vermonters and Their Friends!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Checking Honey Bees


Friday, June 3, 2011

66° with bright skies and a 4 mph wind. It's a good thing the wind is blowing because the continuous rain has given us a bumper crop of mosquitoes and black flies like we have not seen in years. Here at the house where I am marooned with this broken leg, we have always had a reputation of black fly season lasting until just after the July 4th holiday. In contrast, the nursery, even though it is close to the Winooski River, never has a bug problem because water usually does not puddle up there and the wind always blows. Everything on earth has a purpose but I am at a loss as to the benefit of black flies.

This morning my friend Michelle came up to help me check our honey bees. Michelle and Mike have gone in on this endeavor with me and it's nice to have partners. Michelle has no fear of bees and almost seems reluctant to need a bee suit before opening the hive. I'm a real neophyte and a suit between me and 4000 bees still seems quite nice!

As history, we bought the bees on Tuesday the 24th and set them up at the nursery that night at about 9:30. The night of the 26th over 6 inches of rain fell and by the morning of the 27th, the hive had been entirely under flood water and we thought everything was probably dead. With the help of my neighbor Kim, we screwed the hive together for transport and brought it here to the house. We headed it into the southern sky and hoped for the best. Each day the exiting and arriving worker bees seemed stronger but I still wasn't sure if the queen had survived or the hive was in the process of being requeened by the remaining bees. Today was the test.

We removed the roof, then the honey super and then the inner cover to the growing sound of disturbed bees. These bees are hybrids from three crosses made at Singing Cedars Apiaries in Orwell, Vermont and I have to say, they have nice personalities. There may be a few loose canons out there among the thousands of bees we have but all and all they are friendly and not prone to stinging.

I started with gloves, then found that trying to take pictures just didn't make it. I removed my gloves and despite plenty of bee company as we removed frame upon frame for inspection, not once did we get stung. Part of this I am told is just relaxing yourself and of course the personality of the bees is the other part. People place the blame on the queen and tell you "Be sure to get a queen with good personality" but except for giving a few laughs as you think about the suggestion, what you get and how you react are in the cards. If you question me, Google up "queens with good personality" and it will become more clear.

On the last frame we found the queen and that was a welcome sight. She had a long "to do" list so we slid the frame back and buttoned things up. The bees are making honey, the queen is laying more bees and the buzzing bee music sounded good to our ears. The bottom half of each frame had been lost to the flood waters and the bees had already retrained their thinking as if they had been through this before. They are a mystery but ever so much fun to watch. Here's a brief video to see some of what we saw.




video


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the warm sun makes me smile.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
At VFF we help you GROW your GREEN THUMB!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Lily Leaf Beetle Control


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

81° here after a high at 3 PM of 85.2°. The wind has been a steady 7 mph for half an hour now and the humidity is at 76%. We had a brief but intense thunder storm at 2 PM and a few rumbles since then. The national news reports serious storm considerations in Amherst and Northampton, Massachusetts.

Over the years Gail and I have grown thousands of lilium. That all came to an end four years ago as the lily leaf beetle got a foothold in Vermont and the time and expense for control were more than we wanted to contribute. Since that time, research at the University of Rhode Island has made some progress using parasitic wasps. When I first learned of this research perhaps six years ago I was encouraged by the benefit but discouraged by the fact that the parasitoids would not survive in zone 4 Vermont.

I'd like to refer lily lovers to a URI site that will help with some info on the success to date. If you have personal information or success with products or beneficials, please share with other gardeners. The site is forwarded to me by Lisa Tewksbury, URI Research Associate. As she points out, there are ongoing studies other lily growers may be interested in helping with.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where another t-storm is forming.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
At VFF we'll happily help you GROW your GREEN THUMB!