Entries organized under Spring

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.

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 Mothers Day

May 8, 2016

Contributed by Deb

Happy Mother’s Day!

fiddleheadsThe tradition of celebrating May Day began with a Roman Festival that honored Flora, the Goddess of Flowers and Bride of the West Wind?  Other early cultures also celebrated the beginning of summer near this date ~ for instance the second half of the Celtic Calendar began on May 1st, otherwise called Beltane, which they considered the first day of summer.  Celebrations would include wild dancing from sunrise all the way through the night with festivities that included spring tonics, flowers and feasting!  Left over food would be buried or left as an offering to the ‘fairy’.  This is the time to celebrate the Great Mother of all ~ Mother Earth.

Dancing in the open air without any worries is truly an entryway to the summer energy of bounty and bright cheer.  Plants are at their fullest expression of new life as they explode into the warm air, brighter days and soft rains.  Welcome to the blessings of summer, dear friends!  We hope you’ll take your children dancing on this special day!
Perhaps you’d like to dance around a maypole this year or do some research and resurrect spring traditions from your own heritage.

It is no surprise that the modern commercialized celebration of the Mother, in the form of Mother’s Day, comes at the beginning of this fertile time!  This year, Deb’s mother will be ninety years old, so indeed it is a special year for us.  Her mom is so healthy and vibrant that she still volunteers at the local hospital and takes care of the home she and deb’s Dad built in 1950.  She says the secret to her good health is a daily crossword puzzle as well as devotions, being outside ever day and using her exercise bike whenever she watches TV.  She still makes quilts – this year completing a special quilt for each of her 7 grandchildren.

Because this is our favorite season and in honor of this time of the Mother, we wanted to let you know about a few special things we are offering:

Ginger, Wild SF 900x900First let us remind you for the whole month of May, we will be sending packets of milkweed seeds with every order from our Grandparents of the Forest Apothecary Shop and we’ll include growing instructions, and information about milkweed and monarch butterflies.

As part of our Mothers Day celebration, nominate a special mother, your own or someone who has touched your life, by posting about her on our Facebook page, here.  Pausing to remember the life giving energy of motherhood connects us to both our children and to nature.

And just to let you know, we added a new and unique service.  Deb is making unique custom blends of flower essences as gifts for loved ones. You can read more about it here.

Enjoy this beautiful time of the year, dear friends.  Take your child into the gardens and forests and keep your eyes open for the budding of life and mystery.

Bounteous blessings to you and yours,
Your 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.

Repeating Spring

April 27, 2016

Contributed by HarryHarry closeup glasses

I hiked with one of our daughters this past weekend. P1100129

There was an area way up on the mountain, probably about 5,000 feet elevation were there were Spring Beauties and Trout Lilies galore. While we have hundreds of them in the woods above our house, there were Billions, if not Trillions, of them in this one large area along the trail!
‘Our’ Spring Beauties in the forest behind our home were done, but these were right at their peak!

P1100114
It reinforced for me how variable, adaptable and fluid Nature is and how someone could experience the same Spring conditions over and over and over again in a few weeks.
We could have gone down the mountain to the ‘flatlands’ to see these flowers a few weeks before they bloomed near our home. Seen them again a little higher up the mountain, again here at home and again higher up (like along that trail) yet elsewhere.
I see postings that proclaim dogwoods and redbuds bloomed weeks ago elsewhere while ours are just reaching their glory.
Our strawberries are just blooming here while they are already harvesting them at our old farm.

It’s like having a Replay button. Do you have friends or family that live further north or south or at lower or higher elevations you can visit to see Spring more than once?

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.

Signs of Spring!

March 12, 2016

Contributed by NicolasNicolas Graybear

We took advantage of a perfectly beautiful day to walk up our mountain to check on the progress of Spring.

One mission of our walk was to find the first wildflower of the season. We didn’t find it… yet. But… There are lots of tiny little plants peaking out through the leaf litter of the forest floor.

The coolest things we found were in or next to water.  In the next hollow over from ours, someone long ago built a little pond fairly high on the mountainside to catch water from a nice little stream coming off the mountain. After the water settles in the pond for a while, it leaves and tumbles down the slope, joining other streams, which join other streams, which join a river. All that water eventually finds its way to the Gulf of Mexico. (We are on the western side of the Eastern Continental Divide.)

We did find two other evidences of Spring.

frog egg mass

Think a deep-throated “Charump!” Or maybe it should be a higher pitched “Ribbet!”

Right! We saw some frogs swimming and jumping in the pond. They hid from us under the leaves and mud, so we could not identify them. (You would hide, too, if you saw something 100 times bigger than you coming towards your home!) But they left a huge mass of something that tells us they are there even if we had not seen them jump and swim.

Can you tell what is in the picture?

Of course!  Frog eggs!  You can see the big embryo in each transparent egg.  In a short time, we should be able to see a tiny tadpole wiggling in each egg.  This pond will be FULL of tadpoles soon!  If we had sat down and been very still and quiet, I bet the frogs would have come up and sang for us.

The other thing we saw, while not rare, is seldom noticed and recognized:

liverwort&moss

This plant that looks like lizard skin is a ‘liverwort’ (a bryophyte).  It is a ‘lower plant’, more primitive than ferns and mosses (some of which you can see poking out between the thallus (not a leaf or stem, but a ‘body’) of the liverwort. This plant has no stem, leaves, flowers, seeds or ‘veins’. Instead of seeds it has spores.

This primitive liverwort should not be confused with the spring wildflower liverwort (Hepatica), which will bloom in about a month.

We found one more thing near this liverwort and moss.

Do you recognize these?

cocoons&moss

 

I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure they are little insect cocoons. They could be insect eggs, but I don’t think so. IN either case, they have been here all winter waiting for warm weather to arrive so they can emerge.

Even though it may still be cool where you live, go out and see what ‘signs of spring’ you can find.

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.