Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanks and Thanksgiving

Friday, November 23, 2007

19 degrees here on the hill this morning, a noticeable difference to yesterday's heavy rains and low forties temperatures. By 4:30 PM when folks were tossing back and forth in soft chairs fending off post dinner sleepiness, the temperature outside began to drop and as it did, Vermont Flower Farm and much of the east was enveloped in deepening fog. Right now fluffy snowflakes drift slowly to earth on a fairly clear morning. Deer hunters have been driving by for more than an hour now trying to get courage enough to park and advance into the woods for one of the last days of this year's rifle deer season. It will be cold and crunchy out there and the footing will be uneasy much of the way as a glaze has formed on the snow from last night's quick freeze.

Here in America, Thanksgiving and the week or two before represents one of the most well publicized food preparation times of the year. At our house there is such an abundance of different foods that sleep comes too easy in late afternoon. This year was marked by the first year in my memory that creamed onions and mince meat pie were absent from the table. I can't say why exactly but as eyes scanned over already heaping plates, the call went out as "Are the onions still in the kitchen?" which they weren't.

Alex as only Alex can do gave his run down of the fact that most of our food wasn't even present at the first Thanksgiving. He always has to tell about three foot long lobsters and other shellfish that the first folks really didn't care for and typically tossed to the pigs. After his run down of deer and ducks and guinea hens and root crops we usually try to get on with festivities and dig in.

Although the mince meat pie was absent this year, outside contributions included a beautiful pumpkin cheese cake and a pecan pie with an old fashioned crust recipe in which you add boiling water to the ingredients and roll quickly. I'm not so sure about my interest in returning to the land of lard and rolling pins but the pumpkin cheesecake is something that was special. Elizabeth from East Montpelier put this beauty together and the swirls of sweet pumpkin mix nicely with the cheese and crust contrast. I have already requested the recipe. It had to be good as Gail's mother, now well on route to age 91, asked for a second piece and then proceeded to scrape the flowers off the plate in hopes I guess of securing a third piece. Thanksgiving was quiet, peaceful, nice and we are thankful for all that we have.

On the gardening scene, Gail continues to prepare plant orders from her collection of wholesale catalogs and draw garden design pictures for new gardens at the new property. I am working away at five cords of logs, already blocked but needing to be split and stacked for winter 2008 and 2009. The job is progressing well and is more rewarding each time I look at the price of oil. In the minimal free time I have left, I am teaching myself Dreamweaver CS3 so I can finally do our less than stellar website over with cascading style sheets and pictures which boot large and clear for everyone. I have not become familiar enough with the new software to be able to predict when I'll approach the site or when it might be close to done but if someone knocked on the door right now and wanted to trade plants for web time, I guarantee a deal would be cut. I smile at each little accomplishment and love what new software can do but sometimes my mind seems to bunny hop over important directions and I have to read and reread before I can make things work correctly. Guess that's why there are gaggles of designers waiting for levels of frustration to convert to pleas of "Can you please help?"

As you work your way through pots and pans and dishes today, and as left overs work their way into smaller and smaller containers, reflect for a minute that despite talk of economic woes, the year has been fine and your gardens were a success. And as fall snows grow into winter snowdrifts, consider next year's gardens and consider the Plant A Row for the Hungry program. It was started in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association of America. Everyone in American didn't have the Thanksgiving you may have had.

This doesn't have to be a big endeavor, in fact it doesn't even have to be a full row of anything. Just consider growing something next year to give to a friend in need, a senior on a budget, a food shelf in your area. It's a difference you can make in the course of your regular gardening and you can feel really good about doing it.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where red and also white breasted nuthatches are this morning's frequent visitors.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Inside and Out It's White

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Just passing 8:30 PM and the temperature is only a couple degrees warmer at 17 than it was at daybreak. It was a nice day even though the afternoon sun came and went and by 3:30 the temperature dropped quickly. Gail and Alex and I were ready to retreat to the house by then as we had tired of moving firewood around. Gail likes a stockpile of kindling and logs in the cellar so if she doesn't feel well or the weather is bad, she can stay inside while keeping the Vermont Castings Vigilant stocked.

As the wood made its way through the basement door, up the bulkhead steps and almost to the twin metal doors, Alex commented that the Vermont method would be to leave the pile where it was until it was used up--this despite the fact the whole house would be colder with the door open. He always likes to compare what he thinks people do with what we do and the thought made him laugh. He was less than pleased when I reminded him the job continued in the cellar and the door would be closed when the job was finished. Despite his protests he worked quickly with Gail and the day's chores ended.

Gardeners don't usually retreat to the confines of their house without some form of gardening entertainment during the winter months. Although we have always had some collection of houseplants, the numbers have dropped considerably in recent years as other responsibilities have increased. One plant that always makes me pleased is Eucharis grandiflorum, the Amazon Lily. I don't remember where we purchased this one but probably at either Claussen's Florist and Greenhouse in Colchester or Jerome The Florist in Barre. Gail worked at both places during her florist days and having a good selection of dependable, easy to care for houseplants was high on her list. She always felt a good plant, a well written care tag, a nice ribbon and a greeting card made for one of the nicest gifts going. Of course, she was correct in her thinking. The Amazon Lily is a beautiful plant which will flower several times each year. It always flowers for us around Thanksgiving time and the flowers themselves draw lots of attention. I have read that the plant is poisonous so use care around kids and pets but give it a try. It blooms for a long time and the show is incredible.

If you're out and about tomorrow, don't forget some flowers for the Thanksgiving table. Cut flowers or potted plants are readily available and they sure add something special. If you can find Eucharis grandiflorum, buy two!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the wood stove feels good as Karl snores loudly from the rug in front of it.

With kind gardening thoughts,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Final Clean Up

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Already almost 8:30 PM and yet it seems as if I barely started the day a couple hours ago. I just walked Karl the wonder dog to quiet his restlessness. The slice of moon and half a sky of stars barely lights up the snow but I know he heard the deer coming through the woods and into the lower field to look for apples. Karl's ears are the best but his bark is annoying when I can't figure out what he sees. If it's not Gail, Alex or me, it is danger in his mind until he's had a good look-see.

It's 21 degrees out now and this is the most tranquil it has been in three days. It's either been raining buckets or snowing and blowing. The quiet is nice. And I am back to my thoughts about gardening at Vermont Flower Farm even though the ground is blanketed for the first time with 3 inches of snow.

When the hours of sunlight drop below 10 hours per day, farmers have to work faster to get outside work done. That's true here too. There are always a few things that do not get done before the snow and cold have slowed even the energetic to a halt. While some things slow down, other elements of time speed along unfettered by personal desires.

The bowl of apples pictured above was gifted last Sunday morning by our friend Eric from Massachusetts. I can't believe it's been a week already! Eric has a seasonal camp in Groton and he escapes city life for Vermont every chance he gets. This time of year the desire to get away is cautioned by dropping temperatures and thoughts of how to keep the wood stove going in a camp that is just that--an insulation-free camp. Eric has various records of "last weekend of the year to visit", "first day of the spring to visit" and "weekends I should have gone but didn't". Last week when we parted company he spoke of the possibility of coming for Thanksgiving. Gail welcomed him to join us for dinner but we all knew the weather would call the shots.

The Honeycrisp apples by the way are one I was not familiar with before Eric brought us a bag. They are terrific! They are crunchy, juicy and have a real nice aroma. The flesh is not colored like the Beacon apples Harold and Leila brought us a while back but it makes no matter as the taste is super! I've been told they are a Macoun cross of sorts and that explains the crispness that translates to a hard, noisy bite. If I hadn't told Alex to leave them alone until I got a picture, you'd be looking at a shot of the pottery bowl on the placemat.

During the past couple weeks I have been picking up here and at the new property, planting more fence posts, installing two gates, and configuring a new computer. I am pleased that everything is going well. A less than special project is putting up a piece of snow fence along the walk from the house to the vehicles. I don't like this job, never did, never will. Each year the fence reminds me of myself as it gets older and rustier and some of the cedar just falls apart. I can always think of why we probably won't need it this year but I always trust my experience and put it up no matter how cold it is on the day I pick. Yesterday the fence got from storage to as far as the walk. Perhaps tomorrow it will be erect by nightfall. It never turns out straight but it always slows down the snow from drifting over the walkway. Last year it looked like wasted effort until mid January when the snow that began to fall forgot to stop until late April.

A few days back I got the shade cloth off the shade house that we use to keep some of the hostas out of the sun. I purchased this pipe shade house from Rimol Company in Hooksett, NH a couple years back. Putting it up was a memory but it has been a dream since. The cloth weighs almost nothing and there are about 80 elastic ties that hold it onto the pipes. It takes longer to get the ladders ready than it does to do the job.

At the end of the growing season we line up all the perennials, in this case hostas, and cover them first with an insulating blanket we purchased from Griffin Greenhouse and then with 6 mil construction poly and old tires. The tires are for wind control on the plastic and they work well.

We also put 2 foot sections of 2" PVC pipe within the rows of potted plants. Each pipe gets a couple-three ounces of D-con for rodent control. Voles are the big concern as they don't hibernate but at various times chipmunks, mice and moles can be destructive too.

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple hours getting the shade cloth off the south side and the roof of this wooden shade house. I built this a few years back so we would have a place to get miniature hostas off the ground. They are always potted in small pots, say one and 2 quart size, so having them at waist level made more sense. I never cemented the uprights in the ground because I figured that sooner or later it would have to be moved. It has some interesting curves to it now but it served the purpose well this year as it helped us move about 3000 hostas from our place to someone else's house. The Rimol pipe house will come apart with a set of allen wrenches and a crescent wrench but this house will take some work. For now they are both uncovered and no matter how deep the snow gets, they will continue to stand tall as spring approaches.

The list gets whittled down a little at a time. I began on the wood pile today after cleaning up the tractor. This year's wood has been drying for well over a year but the wood I have blocked and ready to split is for next year and maybe even into 2009. The Honda engine on the splitter took three pulls to start this time which isn't bad for an engine that has been sitting for a year.

As I walked around the gardens this afternoon, I looked up at a birdhouse I built four years ago. Birdhouses are a gardener's winter work. I always build a few when I get antsy for spring. Right now I am thinking about the last few chores and a few weeks rest. Our gardens are lots of work but we enjoy them. We know you enjoy yours too!

Good gardening thoughts,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Saturday, November 03, 2007

November Chill

Saturday, November 3, 2007

I woke early this morning after hoping for over an hour that the arthritis in my right hip would fade. It didn't, so I got up and began my Saturday ritual. The house had cooled off last night as the fire in the Vermont Castings Vigilant wood stove was less than vigilant through the wee hours. Two trips to the wood pile, crumpled newspaper and two matches later things have begun to come around.

It was 23 degrees last night, absent of wind, with skies dotted with clouds and stars. The hurricane off the East coast may change things today. This morning things are calm and no amount of coaxing got Karl the wonder dog to think about joining me for a quick walk. I went down the road and into the lower hosta garden where the wooden bench was solitary reminder to the crowds who visited that garden this summer. I was embarrassed by the presentation this year with weeds and a multitude of maple seedlings everywhere but there was little I could do. My energy was diverted to a new piece of property and brighter beginnings for next spring.

The leaves of the birches, poplars and beeches hold firm and offer color. My eyes glanced towards the corner of the foundation wall where 'Hadspen Blue' Tokudama flavocircinalis', nigrescens and 'Striptease' hostas usually provide color. The wall was strong and firm but the colored plantings lay flat from several hard frosts. It's a nice granite wall and it looks fine to me at any time of year. If Robert Frost could join me, I'm sure he'd have some words to share. Gail just gave me a copy of a compilation of his works dating from 1916--more winter's work--perhaps I can find some words about foundations.

I wandered towards the standing stones which have reminded several visitors of the Seven Sisters. They are still just nice stones to me and I have encircled them with epimediums which have really grown this past season. This is a flower which will continue to gain popularity and probably price. It's still worth the expense. You should consider it in your garden if you haven't yet.

The deer have topped off about every hosta but for some reason have left Summer Music, Daybreak, City Lights and August Moon. Some nice seed pods remain on some sports of Summer Music which came in a tray of tissue cultured plants a couple years back. Obviously the person doing the culling wasn't perceptive enough that day. Actually I'm pleased with the find as these are big plants, rapid growers and I think they have some potential. I may name them 'Off Key' at some point in the future. Time always permits lots of fun thoughts but fewer completions.

As I headed up the back path to the house, the blue jays began scolding me for not filling the feeder yet. All that remained was a block of suet, enclosed in an onion sack and tied to the flat of the platform feeder. The ravens, Vermont's stealth bombers of the woods and fields, coast in and try to grab the suet but so far it has held firm and provided caloric warmth for our smaller feathered buddies.

It will be a cold morning but I have more leaves to rake, more wood to cut.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where early morning car traffic results from Youth Day when young hunters get a crack at deer before the competition of the regular season. Some parents have forgotten the fact that good hunting starts when you get out of the truck or car.

Fall gardening encouragement,

George Africa