Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!


It’s just 3:30 PM here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. I have been writing for a couple hours while Gail and Alex have sat quietly in the back room watching one episode after another of The Avengers, a British television series that aired from 1961-1969. Only once in a while has the welcomed silence been interrupted by excited conversation or the background spy-type music which crescendos with a single, piano note I do not know, striking loudly, hard and fast. They are enjoying the series which truly is a contrast to the Star Wars movie Rogue One which we will see together tomorrow afternoon. But all of this is about today, the last day of 2016, a year to remember.

Many thanks to each of you for all you have done for the three of us, for Karl the Wonder Dog and for our continuing efforts at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. During the year we have had nice conversations, kisses and hugs, emails, phone calls, cards and letters. We have had visitors from around the world and customers from around America. Our “family of friends” continues to grow.

2016 was the busiest and also the hottest summer on record for us. We experienced many, many days that broke 90°, a temperature that often caused Gail and Alex to head for an air conditioned room while I carried on at the flower farm. The summer was also dry and towards the last half of the summer I slipped down the river bank on a daily basis to check the water pump’s foot valve to make sure it was still in the water.  Drought ranged throughout the US and was prominent in Vermont where water wells went dry in many places and farmers lamented the first cutting of hay and questioned when and at times even “if” there would be a second cutting.

Despite the heat, customers helped us sell more plants than in previous years. As cooler weather arrived in late September, we began digging and dividing plants to prepare and pot for 2017. It was then that we had a clear perspective of how much had sold and how much had to be replaced. Gail began inventories and orders for 2017 and Alex and I began digging and dividing daylilies, hostas and a few other plants for next year. We built a new hydrangea display garden and we replaced the hosta display garden that was wiped out 5 years ago by Tropical Storm Irene.

As another year draws to a close, accept our thanks for the part you have played in our growth. It has been a wonderful experience to have been surrounded by so many positive people, and positive experiences. Yes, we regret the trucker who ran out of gas that we gassed up and got on his way, or the tires that we and neighbor Gerry changed for senior drivers in need; Yes, there was the young girl with tears whose parent’s car died in our driveway or the pickup with a blown engine that coasted to its end by the large pots of Love Lies Bleeding and zinnias.

Regardless of the troubles, each event ended in handshakes or embraces, hugs and smiles, bright, colorful and cheery like a bouquet of freshly picked flowers. Each reminded us that everyone one of us has special talents and we can all help each other in times of need. So in a world of tremendous challenge, share your positive thoughts, share your ideas, your plants or your plant knowledge. Help your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Say hello to the neighbor you don’t know but maybe want to know. Buy a plant, plant a plant. Grow a friendship, pay something forward. And come see us again next year! We'll be here to greet you!

Happy New Year!

George, Gail and Alex Africa

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Deer Populations. Lyme Disease and Daylilies!

Please note: A recent posting to two email listservs related to daylilies discussed a deer that was dispatched inside a person's home.  It was graphic and disturbed some people but it described what could and I guess actually happened.

Here are my thoughts about the deer population which is rising in Vermont. I enjoy gardening and grow and sell thousands of daylilies each year. Read on and share your thoughts.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Deer Populations, Lyme Disease & Daylilies!

Vermont has one of the most serious rates of Lyme Disease in the Lower 48. Some accounts say we have the worst problem but of course we only have 625,000 people in the entire state.  All the states have some incidence of Lyme but we have a big problem for a number of reasons. Hunting is no longer a favorite sport and although Fish and Wildlife do their best to control the herd,  too many deer exist, especially in the less rural areas. I once went to a deer management meeting and was late.  When I approached the Capital there were five deer on the front lawn eating a crab apple tree. I walked by them and they kept eating. Not good. I had an opportunity to vividly point out an example of our problem. Montpelier, Vermont is our capital city and it has the highest deer count per square mile of any town in the state.

The Lyme Disease issue is serious and really bothers me. The disease involves the life cycle of ticks and it includes the white tail deer and the white footed deer mouse. Deer in closer proximity to each other have more ticks and spread the disease more. There is no easy cure for the disease after it is established in a person,  and even establishing that you have contracted it is very difficult early on. The disease mimics lupus, MS and some other diseases and is just plain bad. Each year I meet dozens of people at the flower farm from other states and it seems odd that they get out of the car and ask “Do you have ticks?” and then go on to explain that they have already been treated 2-3 times or are currently being treated.

Other influencing factors include the fact that Vermont is first in the east for second homes. A large proportion of homes are owned by non-residents and many of these post their land against hunting. We have a terrible drug problem here so people post their properties in hopes that break ins and robberies will be less--it doesn't work but it does keep hunters away from land they probably used to hunt. Similarly, the state has experienced a very high amount of forest clear cutting which for 3-4 years takes habitat out of use. The resulting forage is good for the deer but in the interim the cutting disrupts habitat and forces deer to change their patterns of residence and travel for some time. That forces deer into and close to residential areas and gardeners like us see the impact as our daylilies and other favorites are eaten.

As you travel Vermont now, the Green Mountain State has more and more solar farms as opposed to dairy farms every week. It is astonishing. Active dairy farms numbered 12,000 before WW II, 10,000 after the war, and under 1000 now. Wow!10-12 small farms go out of business each month. The related solar farm issue is an entirely different debate but relative to deer, the farms have the same impact on them as clear cutting--they push deer into new areas where food is easier to come by.

Finally, there is the wild turkey population. Turkeys were reintroduced to Vermont in the late 70s and they have made a successful comeback. The population is now out of control and they are everywhere in huge numbers. Farmers hate them because they contaminate food supplies like corn and grasses that are stored in bunker silos that the turkeys feed at and contaminate daily.  Currently we have 22 wild turkeys that come to our bird feeders daily. They are not my friends either. They do eat ticks, they do carry some ticks, and they mess up the gardens.

Deer must be controlled but it is not easy. If you do nothing after reading my comments but mutter, learn about Lyme Disease and ticks. If you disagree with me, comment on your points. I welcome discussion. I also love daylilies and grow and sell enough each year to know that others like them too!

Be well.
Merry Christmas!

George Africa

Marshfield Vermont

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Tuesday, December 7, 2016

A snowy morning here on the mountain. Snow was supposed to commence at about 4 AM and it was on target. By 4:30 when I got going, there was an inch on the ground. It quickly went from snowing to "resting" and then started up again. As I write, we are approaching 2" and there's not much sign of change.

Back ten years ago when we decided to move the flower farm away from our house and down into the valley on Route 2, I started a blog named Vermont Gardens to provide ongoing insight into what Gail and I were doing to recreate a different gardening resource. I continued with that blog for three years and merged it in July 2009 with The Vermont Gardener. I also started a personal George Africa page on Facebook and worked hard to learn social media and be involved with the online gardening community. Over time, I added a business Facebook page named Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Today I am here to report that I am writing a monthly piece for a really neat little paper named The North Star Monthly which is available in print and with an accompanying online account. It originates from nearby Danville, Vermont. 

As you have probably noted if you have been looking for The Vermont Gardener (that's me!)  to write more, it just doesn't seem to happen. Part of that is because Gail and Alex and I just ended our best season ever and three people managing 4.5 acres of flowers is a bit much at times. Even though this sign hangs prominently on our office building, it has done little to help us with one of the many aspects of operating a flower farm that seem to deserve more attention than is physically possible. Weeding! are some articles I have written for North Star. That work will continue through 2017, this blog will continue and the writing on Facebook will continue. I try to have everything I write go out on my Twitter account (vtflowerfarm) too and I use hashtags that have worked for us before to share the word. I know that some people have bad feelings about Facebook but I go with things that work for us. The two FB pages have a base of 4000 and a readership that is much larger.....and ....not always, but in this case, free is good!

If you are interested in the brief but informative pieces (my opinion) I have written for The North Star Monthly, I'll post them here individually.  Read on, ask questions, make comments, and happy gardening wherever you garden!!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the snow falls as blue jays use their heads and beaks to push snow off the feeders to have breakfast. I get mental whiplash watching them but they get to eat. Be safe! It's slippery out there.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener