Entries organized under Gardening

Plant Now for Flowers Next Year!

November 9, 2016

Contributed by HarryHarry closeup glasses

As the weather cools down, you may find yourself dreaming of NEXT year’s flower bouquets.

bouquet_june_486Now is the time to prepare for at least some of your future garden, because many plants, usually biennials (plants that have a two year life cycle), need a period of cold before they will bloom.

larkspur-row-farmagrostemma-farmPlants like Agrostemma (corn cockles), Bupleurum, bachelor buttons, larkspur, Nigella, Saponaria (soapwort), Scabiosa (pincushion flower) that bloom in early spring can be planted now by direct seed. (Though it may be too late in some areas –check with your local cooperative extension office.) Follow the directions provided on the seed packet or catalog for soil depth and exact timing (larkspur, for example won’t germinate if the soil is too warm).

snap-dark-pink-farm

Other biennials/perennials, like foxglove, Echinacea, snapdragons, lupine and Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), Dianthus (sweet William) and others should have been started as seed back in mid- to late summer, but if you can find starts (young plants) at your local nursery, now is the time to get them in.foxglove-farm-perennial-bed

 

Yet other flowers like cosmos, zinnia, sunflowers and many more are annuals and are planted in spring.  So dream on and make your plans for them in patience.

 

 

august-flower-fieldOr, if you would rather have Nature do your gardening for you in a ‘wilder’ setting, there are some native wildflowers with which you can assist.

cardinal-flowerI am having a hard time thinking of a brighter red naturally occurring in wild Nature than a Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) other than its namesake, a mature male Cardinal himself. The North American native Cardinal Flower grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9 in wet, poorly drained places, though they also grow in drier conditions. (Cornell University claims they may survive even in Zone 2!)

Cardinal Flower prefers full sun in cooler climates but needs part shade in the warmer part of its range. (They are very happy in the middle of our wet Zone 6 mountain meadow.)

To have your own intensely red insect attractant, collect the seed when the seed heads have matured (or purchase from a reputable seed source) and scatter the tiny seeds where you want them to establish. (Where you can easily see them, of course!) Scatter these seeds in late fall soon after they ripen or through early Spring since they also need to be “stratified” by cold to germinate. Do not cover them because, as with most tiny seeds, they need light to germinate.

Since Cardinal Flower is a short-lived perennial, let the plants reseed (which they should do naturally) to maintain the population.

joe-pye-yellow-swallowtailThe tall pink-lavender topped Joe-Pye Weed (there are several Eutrochium species) with its whorled leaves is native to Zones 4 through 9. Growing and germinating conditions for Joe-Pye Weed are similar to Cardinal Flower. You might want to plant these as more of a ‘backdrop’ since these plants can get quite tall.

 

great-blue-lobelia-fieldAnd Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is also native to Zones 2 through 9, from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains and blooms in late summer with the other two flowers above. Growing and germinating conditions are the same as above for this beautiful, though somewhat shorter, plant.

These three plants bloom in late summer (late July to  early September around here) when the bees need to be collecting nectar for winter honey stores and before the later Asters and Goldenrod begin blooming.

 

Get out there and beautify the future!

Deb, Harry, bee balmNature enthusiasts Harry LeBlanc and Deb Vail are at home in the forest hiking to reach beautiful vistas and searching for native plants in the southern Appalachians. They are co-founders of Grandparents of the Forest, an intimate business offering simple yet meaningful ways for children and their parents to connect to Nature for well-being and healing. They also make Sacred Forest® Flower Essences from the plants they encounter. They are former organic farmers and parents of 5 grown children.

The Growing Season Ends

September 13, 2016

Contributed by HarryHarry closeup glasses

Hopefully, you have had a successful garden this year and, literally, enjoyed the fruits of your labor.

If you have followed our Gardening with Children Guide, you will soon be finishing this year’s activities and harvesting the last veggies and enjoying and cutting the last flowers.

What now?

If your plants have finished producing, it is time to pull them out.   “Finished producing” means the plants are dead or dying or all the fruit is harvested and no more flowers are appearing promising more fruit. If they are healthy, you can put them in your compost.  If they are infested with pests or disease, it is best to remove them by putting them in a plastic bag, tying it closed and disposing of it.  If you don’t pull this year’s dead plants out, they may set and shed seed.  This is not a problem, but if you want to ‘rotate your crops’ you may have to deal with ‘weeds’ next year.

I tend to have dill and cilantro all over my garden every year.  A random marigold is a whimsical addition (and some marigolds deter nematodes).  This may be a blessing, not a problem, but some larger plants, like tomatoes and kale might end up crowding out the things you plant next year if left to their own devices.

open-bean-pods-gotfIf you intentionally let some of your crops go to seed, like the dill, cilantro, beans, calendula, sunflowers, etc. (see our Facebook posts on the subject), it should be about time to collect those seeds if you have not already.  Once the seeds are collected you can pull out the plants and add them to the compost.

We assume you have been weeding your garden, whether in the ground or in containers, all through the growing season to cut down on competition from ‘weeds’ for precious nutrients and water.  Even though your garden is finishing up, you should pull out and remove all ‘weeds’ that may have escaped notice.  If they are flowering or have seeds on them you should not put them in your compost.  Compost needs to get pretty hot to kill seeds.

 

“Nature abhors a vacuum.”  That means if some thing is not growing in a space, some other thing will arrive to fill it.  So bare soil will invite seeds blown or dropped in to germinate and root.

You can prevent this in a couple of different ways:

If you are growing in containers and they are small enough to easily move, put them some place where they are not exposed to rain and light.  Any weed seeds will be less likely to germinate over winter.

If you are growing in the ground you can:

1) Mulch the soil with three or four inches of grass clippings, shredded leaves, wood chips, straw, etc.  This will protect the soil from erosion and compaction.  It will protect the bacteria, earthworms and other denizens of the soil from the harsh extremes of winter.  It will also deny weed seeds light so any seeds that do germinate will die due to lack of light.  Those that do make it through the mulch will be easy to remove.  And as the mulch decomposes, it will add nutrients to the soil.

2) Grow a ‘cover crop’ like crimson clover, rye grain (not rye grass) or mustard.  This will do several things.  It will prevent erosion and compaction.  It will maintain the soil microbiology through winter.  And a legume like crimson clover will add Nitrogen to the soil; rye is “allelopathic” meaning it prevents other plants from growing, so it is a natural weed prevention; mustards kill or suppress diseases and pests.  (Many farmers plant all three for maximum over-winter benefit!  We used to do that on our farm.)  In the spring, you can either cut these to put them in your compost or chop them up (mow them down) and turn them into the soil to break down and add more organic matter to the soil.  If you do grow rye as a winter cover and turn it into your soil, wait two weeks before growing.  The allelopathy will dissipate by then.

3) If you are in a Hardiness Zone which is not too extreme, you can grow a cold tolerant crop into the winter!  If you start your winter crop early enough (now or earlier, depending on the crop and your location), you can be eating kale, carrots, beets, parsley, spinach, collards, lettuce, etc. for quite a while, maybe all the way to spring!  In our Zone 7 farm, we fed customers 10 months a year and ate from our fields all year round!

onionsIf you like garlic or onions and have the room, now is the time to plant some so it will be ready next year.  The onions in the photo at left are bunching onions.  We will pull them through the winter to add to recipes.  Notice the straw mulch to keep down weeds.

 

[If your containers are large or immobile, you can do these things to them also!]

 

Also, if you grow in the ground, now is a good time to have your soil tested.  If needed, agricultural lime applied now will have time to “sweeten” the soil for your next year’s garden.  The results of a soil test will tell you how much to use.

So, a little flurry of activity now as autumn advances will help give you a head start on spring – or you can continue enjoying produce for a while yet.

We hope this helps you continue to enjoy your garden and Nature.  Remember to explain to your young helpers what and why you are doing.  Don’t let good ‘teaching moments’ escape.

Deb, Harry, bee balmNature enthusiasts Harry LeBlanc and Deb Vail are at home in the forest hiking to reach beautiful vistas and searching for native plants in the southern Appalachians. They are co-founders of Grandparents of the Forest, an intimate business offering simple yet meaningful ways for children and their parents to connect to Nature for well-being and healing. They also make Sacred Forest® Flower Essences from the plants they encounter. They are former organic farmers and parents of 5 grown children.

Grow or Pick Your Own

June 27, 2016

Contributed by HarryHarry closeup glasses

Do you need something to do that is both fun and educational (and delicious)?

There is nothing better to teach an appreciation of the source of the food we eat, and the effort it takes to get that food to our table than a visit to a pick-your-own farm, berry patch or orchard.

P1110803We greatly miss the fresh blueberries we used to grow on our farm and have wanted to visit a blueberry farm down the road from us ever since we found out about it. We finally had the time and memory to go during blueberry season.

The berries were big and juicy and tasty. There were also plum, pear, peach and apple trees and currants – though only the currants were ready to harvest.P1110800

There were several varieties growing there. Some varieties ripen early, some later. This allows for a longer harvest and less fruit is likely to go un-harvested if it all ripens at once.

During your picking, ask the farmer how he or she takes care of the crop. Are the crops grown organically? How are the crops fertilized? How are they watered? Does she prune the plants? When and how? What varieties does she grow? Why? What special soil conditions do the crops need? What pests eat his crops and what does he do about it? (Our blueberry grower plays a loud series of bird alarm calls to keep several species of hungry birds away so people can eat them first! It seemed to be working since there were a lot of berries to pick.)P1110808

 

We also visited a local nursery. Not the kind with human babies; the kind with lots of plant babies. They had lots of tiny seedlings just starting and bigger plants ready to plant in a garden or put on a table.

You can learn how to start your own seeds, how to attract butterflies and more by talking to the people that own or work at a nursery.

There is SO much to learn from people who grow our food and help us grow our own food and make our home pretty.

 

Deb, Harry, bee balmNature enthusiasts Harry LeBlanc and Deb Vail are at home in the forest hiking to reach beautiful vistas and searching for native plants in the southern Appalachians. They are co-founders of Grandparents of the Forest, an intimate business offering simple yet meaningful ways for children and their parents to connect to Nature for well-being and healing. They also make Sacred Forest® Flower Essences from the plants they encounter. They are former organic farmers and parents of 5 grown children.

Happy Earth Day

April 22, 2016

Contributed by Deb

Happy Earth Day!

Today is a special day to honor the Earth and show our gratitude for her gifts to us by giving back something to the Earth.

We, at Grandparents of the Forest, celebrate ‘Earth Day’ every day in some small way in our home, around our home and in our neighborhood.  Helping your child understand and appreciate the beautiful gifts of the earth is the biggest ‘give back’ you can do for the earth and your children.  Stewardship starts with respect and gratitude!

We’d love to share with you some ideas of things you could do with your children, both outdoors and indoors to celebrate Nature on this occasion.  We really do understand that you might like to be outside adventuring and exploring or gardening with your children and yet, you may not have the time to do it.  We’re here to help you to bring the outdoors inside also!

First of all, this is a great time to plant a garden.  If you are here in our community, you have probably received our garden guide.  We fully understand that some of you may not be able to do a whole garden (we offered suggestions for container gardening in our guide) so here are two other growing ideas.

blueberryhand~ Blueberry bushes are wonderful plants that can be integrated into your landscaping.  They are beautiful when they bloom in the spring and in the fall the leaves turn a lovely red.  They attract pollinators so your children might have a chance to spot some bees and butterflies.  And, of course, there are a plethora of health benefits for all of us when we eat these beautiful treasures.  Did you know that they have the ability to increase our brain power!  Check with your local extension agent to find out the best varieties for your area.

If you do have the chance to watch insects visit blueberry flowers, notice that butterflies with their long hollow straw-like mouth, the proboscis, approach the flower from the mouth of the bell to suck the nectar.  Bumblebees cheat!  They do not have a proboscis; their mouth parts are much shorter.  They cut a slit in the side of the bell-shaped blossom and get the nectar through that slit in the flower wall.  Honeybees cheat even more!  They wait for the bumblebee to cut the access and then the honeybees use the new hole!  Check it out.  Look at blueberry flowers and you will notice many of them have a little slit near the flower stem.

Moonflowers~ Moonflowers!  Do you have a patio, deck or fence – anywhere at all that you can put a plant that will climb?  It should be sturdy, because the moonflower vine can get quite large.  Moonflowers are amazingly beautiful and will quickly become a perfect addition to your family’s treasured memories.  They are related to morning glories and produce huge white blooms that unwind with a twist. Each blossom blooms only for one night.  Yes, we said night – thus the name.

Watch and you will see the night-flying moths come visit them. The flowers themselves reflect the moonlight and almost seem to be a light source themselves.  They will bloom all the way till your first frost.  Truly, they are a most desired fairy flower.  Look for them at your local nursery or at the farmers’ market.

Another unusual characteristic of the moonflower is the seeds are white!  At least the ‘good’ ones are.  We have found if they turn brown they are not as viable.  Soak the seeds overnight.  This will crack the seed shell and help it germinate… if you wish to grow your moonflowers from seed.

Here are some ideas of things to do inside your home with your children ~

scavanger hunt basket~ Scavenger hunt!  Why not have one inside?  You can make it a ritual as well.  How about every Friday night or rainy day?

Here’s a reminder of how to play ~
•  Collect some things from nature and hide them through the house.
(Here are some ideas of things to collect – a pinecone, pretty rock, geode, interesting shaped stick, clump of moss, animal bone, vanilla bean, turtle shell, antler, seed head, milkweed pod, dried rose petals or a seashell.)
•  Make a list of the items for your child
•  Have your child find them and bring them to you or if you have more than one child, have them make a drawing or checkmark beside each item and write a description of where it is.
•  When all the items are found, share a special treat together as you talk about each item.
~ Sources!  Another indoor game is to name different things in nature – wood, glass, paper, brick, wool, cotton, etc. and then ask your child to find as many things made out of these items as possible throughout your home.

~ I spy!  To play this game, one person spies something and the other person guesses what they are looking at. Make it nature friendly ~ I spy something wooden.  I spy something made out of sand.  I spy something that came from a sheep.  I spy something that came from a plant.  I spy something made from tree bark…

Every time your child recognizes another thing from Nature that is in your home, she will begin to realize that her whole life is supported by Nature.  This knowledge is a beautiful gift to give and one that will change your child’s worldview.

Finally, we hope that you will also remind your child the earth is inside of her.  We are all made of the Earth through the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink.  We don’t have to go anywhere to find her.  The sun and water live inside of every cell in our bodies.  We can thank our bodies on Earth Day because we are part of the Earth!

We hope you enjoy these simple suggestions of things to do on Earth Day – and really – every day!

From our home to yours ~
Blessings, love and starlit nights…
Grandparents of the Forest
Deb and Harry

Deb, Harry, bee balmNature enthusiasts Harry LeBlanc and Deb Vail are at home in the forest hiking to reach beautiful vistas and searching for native plants in the southern Appalachians. They are co-founders of Grandparents of the Forest, an intimate business offering simple yet meaningful ways for children and their parents to connect to Nature for well-being and healing. They also make Sacred Forest® Flower Essences from the plants they encounter. They are former organic farmers and parents of 5 grown children.

Planting Asparagus

April 20, 2016

Contributed by HarryHarry closeup glasses

The asparagus crowns are in! Next spring we may taste; the following year we’ll eat a full meal! Yum.

P1090995While being serenaded by robins and red-wing blackbirds, ‘we’ dug a trench about 12 feet long by 12 inches wide by 8 inches deep (and had to extend it 3 more feet when we found our bundle of ten was a baker’s dozen). [Ha! Explain the origin of the probably archaic ‘baker’s dozen’ to your little ones.]

 

 

 

P1100025Next we shoveled about an inch layer of compost into the bottom of the trench and laid out the crowns like little octopi, the centers 12 inches apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1100027Then more compost, unloaded by Deb, and alternating layers of dirt and compost to fill the trench. Lastly a good watering.P1100039

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some instructions say to only fill the trench half-way until the spears are up. We are expecting rain (The remnants of the terrible deluge that hit Houston, TX?) and we did not want the trench to fill with water.  I wonder how important this half-filled trench step is?  I cannot remember if I did this to the last asparagus bed I planted, but it produced for more than 16 years.

P1100018

‘Help’ from Eomer.

The next step is to mulch the new asparagus bed, which should produce for at least 15 years, if we care for it properly.

The last step is to wait: for the crowns to put up this year’s ‘fern’ growth to rejuvenate the buried crowns, for summer, fall and winter to pass and for the first spears to emerge NEXT spring!

One question I have is this: in North Carolina, the Cooperative Extension Service information pamphlet provided the above depth for setting the crowns. But what about areas that have colder winters (like we do) or areas further north? Should the crowns be set deeper if it is more likely to freeze more deeply into the soil?

P1100028(By the way, very thankfully, there were few large ‘cobbles’ to remove from the new bed!  But a few definitely turned out to be ‘flagstones’.)

 

 

 

 

Deb, Harry, bee balmNature enthusiasts Harry LeBlanc and Deb Vail are at home in the forest hiking to reach beautiful vistas and searching for native plants in the southern Appalachians. They are co-founders of Grandparents of the Forest, an intimate business offering simple yet meaningful ways for children and their parents to connect to Nature for well-being and healing. They also make Sacred Forest® Flower Essences from the plants they encounter. They are former organic farmers and parents of 5 grown children.

Biodynamic Calendar

March 19, 2016

Contributed by HarryHarry closeup glasses

When we farmed, we began using Biodynamic methods in 2003 in addition to the organic methods to which we adhered.

In the early 1920s, some farmers in Europe were noticing negative changes in the general health of their crops, livestock and farms. Some of this decline was attributed to the new synthetic fertilizers being introduced after World War I. Some of the followers of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner asked him for help.   In a single series of lectures he presented in June 1924, he proposed a set of agricultural principals and philosophy, which were actually founded on ancient traditional farming wisdom. His followers took his suggestions, researched them, expanded them and applied them. His teachings are some of the basis of what we call ‘organic’ farming today and more specifically what is now ‘Biodynamic’ farming.

Senposai

A 42-inch wide Senposai collard plant!

 

One small aspect of Biodynamics is a calendar to guide much of our activities. We still use the Biodynamic calendar for our gardening. There are other aspects of Biodynamics, which we will discuss at a later time.

We cannot explain why planting a tomato seed on one day (a so-called “Fruit day”) produces a healthier, more productive plant than starting that seed on another day (like a “Leaf day”). But, our experience showed us it does. It sounds like magic – maybe it is. All we know is it worked for us. Our customers were very happy with our produce and flowers.

The Biodynamic calendar has nothing to do the Farmers’ Almanac, Old Farmer’s Almanac or other almanac calendars. The Biodynamic calendar is based on the astronomical zodiac and the moon and planets, not astrology. (Stella Natura is the calendar we use. The North American Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar is also available for North America.)

 

Basically, when the moon appears to pass ‘through’ constellations of the Ram (Aries), the Lion (Leo) and the Archer (Sagittarius) it is more favorable to work with plants we grow for their fruit. These are plants like tree fruits (apples, cherries, walnuts and avocados, etc.), legumes (beans, peas, etc.), cucurbits (cucumbers, melons, squash, etc.) the grains (corn, wheat, buckwheat, etc.), tomatoes, peppers and similar things. “Work with” means planting the seeds, transplanting seedlings, pruning, fertilizing, weeding and harvesting.

2-pound hakurai turnip

A 2-pound sweet, crisp Hakurai salad turnip!

As the moon passes through the Bull (Taurus), the Virgin (Virgo) and the Goat (Capricorn) it is preferable to work with plants whose ‘roots’ we want: carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, etc. Botanically, a potato is truly a stem and onions and garlic are actually leaves, but because they reside under the surface of the soil they are treated as roots.

There are similar periods for ‘leaf’ crops like lettuce, kale, chard, cabbage, etc. and yet other constellations influence ‘flower’ crops like all the ornamental and cut flowers and artichokes and broccoli (but not cauliflower, according to research, which is a ‘leaf’ crop – go figure).

In a 28-day lunar cycle, there will be 3 repetitions of Root, Flower, Leaf, and Fruit periods – in that specific order. Each period is a different length because the constellations are different sizes (unlike astrology): the Lion (Leo) Fruit period is 3 full days while the Crab (Cancer) Leaf period is about 30 hours.

 

When I first was learning about Biodynamic methods, it sounded like a lot of hooey and hocus-pocus. I was trained as a scientist not a magician or metaphysician. Well, scientists experiment. So I did. As my instructor passed on from his mentor, “Try it. You don’t have to believe it for it to work.” I tried it. It works. I still don’t understand how or why, but I believe it now.

 

Of course, planting and tending your plants on the ‘wrong’ day will not condemn them to debilitation and death, but why not give them every advantage you can.

 

It is time to garden!  Keep an eye on our FaceBook page, for updates on Biodynamic gardening. There are websites available that publish Biodynamic calendars online, (here is one, another and another) just don’t forget to translate the times to your location for the transitions from one period to the next.

 

Deb, Harry, bee balmNature enthusiasts Harry LeBlanc and Deb Vail are at home in the forest hiking to reach beautiful vistas and searching for native plants in the southern Appalachians. They are co-founders of Grandparents of the Forest, an intimate business offering simple yet meaningful ways for children and their parents to connect to Nature for well-being and healing. They also make Sacred Forest® Flower Essences from the plants they encounter. They are former organic farmers and parents of 5 grown children.