Thursday, March 29, 2007

Amphibian Spring Migration

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A bright afternoon here at Vermont Flower Farm. There's still too much snow to get off Route 2 and onto the new property to begin spring chores. It shouldn't be much longer though as the wind is dropping the snow quickly and drying up the open areas.

I just checked the thermometers here and it's 36 on the east side of the house and 62 on the west. The way the wind gusts are striking, I'm sure it feels colder than it reads. Outside my window a male pine siskin is bending sideways on a large mullein stalk as he tries to peck the remaining seed from a nearby Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'.

The snow will go quickly now and although it will probably return in a couple April storms, it's time to get on with spring. Historically the last couple weeks is the time when Vermont experienced big rain and snow storms and floods. Those were the times when lives and livestock were lost and many things floated down the river. Gail's mother remembers seeing a cow going down the Winooski River in 1936 and a weather channel from the Fairbanks Museum in St Johnsbury reminded us that last week in 1913 (Foggy on the recall on that date??) a whole log yard in White River washed south into the Connecticut River.

When the rains turn warm, other things begin to happen. Last evening Gail and Alex and I went to a terrific program at the Jaquith Library here in Marshfield. It was about the Amphibian Monitoring Program sponsored by the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier. Larry Clarfeld of the Nature Center brought salamander guests and presented a super show about salamanders, frogs and toads and their spring migrations.

Larry will present next week on April 3d at the Aldrich Public Library in Barre and April 5th at the Roxbury Free Library in Roxbury. Programs at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston and Maple Corners in Calais are being arranged. Next week's shows start at 7 PM and our family recommends you attend. If you have home schoolers in the house like we do, this is an excellent program to integrate. If your kids attend a school that isn't big on science (like one I know), this is a program that will challenge you out of your easy chair and into the outdoors. Further details are available at the Nature Center at 802-229-6206. This is a great program and you'll leave with excitment, lots of information and a new way to ribit-ribit. You might even want to participate in the monitoring program.

Yes, spring is here and soon we'll all be very busy. Yesterday morning at about 5 AM I spotted my first woodcock rising in front of the truck headlights like one of those verticle takeoff jets. It was a big one with a long bill very prominent even in the dull night light. Down the road close to RT 2 where I always see animals cross stood a most beautiful red fox. It leaped up over the right side of the road between two snowbanks and kind of hung in half levitated stillness as it's feet settled in the snow and it's eyes fixed on the headlights. It was bushy and alert and a harbinger for me of the day's tone.

This part of spring is a good time to take that last little rest as very soon the gardening chores will commence. If you live in central Vermont or close proximity, try to get to one of Larry's presentations. You'll come away with a better understanding of some very important parts of our environment which don't often get the attention they should.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where only millet seeds remain on the platform feeder, collected like steel filings moved into the corner by a strong magnet.....but really......just millet seeds waiting for the doves.

With spring wishes,
George Africa

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sugar Snow and Spring Thoughts

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday morning and already past 7 AM. I have been sitting here since 5 reorganizing some of last year's pictures and getting a better set up on my various hard drives for this year. Taking pictures is the easy part but screening what you took and naming them is time consuming. I am not a photographer and hardly can take a good picture but the world of digital was made for me. You can shoot yourself silly and most always pick something that catches attention.

I've been busy for a couple weeks now with some autism legislation in Montpelier. The Vermont budget is a mess and funding is less than likely now. Legislators who vote against dealing with this need now are shortsighted for sure and will get bit hard from behind when they look at it again. Vermont is one of only two states with a two year term for governor and this impacts on any legislation.

So after some interruptions I believe strongly in, I'm just now able to get back to spring planning. Although it snowed last night, the sugar snow confirms that spring is really here. There will be some more cold nights and an April storm of 8"-10"-12" of snow is not uncommon but whatever it amounts to, it won't last long. I keep looking up at the thermometer on the shelf above my desk. I feel badly that it didn't go low enough last night for a good sap run today. It got below 30 last night for less than an hour and has been above freezing since midnight. The maple trees needed a hard freeze to run well today but here on the mountain, it just didn't happen.

Gail has been checking over our inventory from last year against her new orders and every once in a while I ask a couple "Did you order.....???" questions and the piles of paper start flying and one way or another I receive an answer. People come to visit us now accompanied by Excel spreadsheets listing everything they have and fancy layouts from landscaping software to show where everything is planted, from color to height to bloom time. One person comes with two trees worth of paper downloads from the Internet to ask why our prices are what they are and can't we do better. Gardeners sure do come in a interesting variety don't they?

The plan for this spring is that I help Gail and her crew get everything planted for this season here at Peacham Pond Road. Nothing will change here excepting that there will be larger quantities of some items. I figure we'll start planting in about 3 weeks and should be done by the end of May, first week of June. From there, I'll do a quick rehash of the amount of firewood I have down and drying for next winter and then I'll begin work on the new property. Everyone has priorities! The perimeter fence goes up first and then I'll begin building a tool shed and planting the front display garden.

Gail is finalizing the design for the first display garden you'll see as you enter the new property. It will be 200 feet long by 10 feet wide. There will be a split rail fence the entire length and set about 7 feet in from the parking area. I want to get this planted first so it displays well next year when we are finally open for business there. Drawing fancy pictures is the easy part but turning clay soil into workable loam takes time.

I always ask myself why my springtime thoughts already give me the feeling that we're behind before we start but that's what happens to all gardeners when spring arrives. A list works well for us and we review it often and feel good when items can be crossed off. Life is complicated for everyone now days and this next couple years will be a real challenge for us. Visit us often, either by web or in person and lend kind words and happy smiles. We'll need lots of both!!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the mud is getting deep and the robins have arrived at our 1530 foot elevation, scratching some form of breakfast this morning from underneath the white pines.

Spring gardening wishes,

George Africa

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

9 Great Display Gardens, 9 Display Daytrips

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Already heading for 8 PM and the rain is pounding the standing seam roof. The thermometer was 51.8 just minutes ago and now it has dropped to 47.1. The piles of snow left by tired shovelers and the Chevy and the snowplow are now slouching into smoothed off mounds three quarters of their original size. My feelings are not hurt by the snow's departure but I know too well that it is false hope that in a week grass will show and spring will arrive.

Gail and I have been busy the past couple weeks and the two blogs have suffered. I was heartened to receive an e-mail asking if I was ill because my writing had diminished. It's not for lack of wanting to write but I have been writing to a different audience of late.

There are two pieces of legislation in Montpelier which are dear to Gail and me because they involve autism. There is such a lack of understanding of autism that we have been trying to help people improve their knowledge. All that takes time. I have written to the members of both the House and Senate Education Committees, all the bills' sponsors and then other key legislators I know.

Asking for support is an interesting concept and I cannot imagine what it's like even in a small state like Vermont to represent people and be obligated to open their email every morning or night. Clearly if you want to do a good job you have to ask questions and listen to answers. What I do not understand yet is committees seem so burdened by the large number of bills that they are less desirous of hearing from the people affected by the legislation. Yesterday one of the committees took testimony from a single person. I don't know him so I shouldn't comment but from my perspective he didn't have all the facts. This may have left the wrong impression with the people who must vote and it means self appointed lobbyists have to try to fill in the spaces that were question marks.

Here at Vermont Flower Farm I get to vote on things I like and I always hope that I make good decisions. You learn things when you operate a business and some things come by making mistakes. Color is a good example. Gail and I always offered flowers in colors we enjoyed. We soon learned that it's more important to offer what people want and will buy than what you want to see. We've changed the palette in recent years and it will certainly change every year from now on.

If you haven't been to Vermont Flower Farm before you will find that we're located on a dirt road in the middle of no where. Once you're here you'll probably be in awe and will return time and again, will tell your neighbors and bring your relatives. It's the "getting here" which is the challenge and that's why I added the Virtual Tours to our website years ago so folks could make the visit visually before they decided to make the trip. To see what I mean, go to and click on one of the Virtual Tour options.

Businesses use a lot of different tactics to get and keep customers. Gail figures that there's a three year turnover in customers meaning that a new customer today will probably make significant purchases for two more years. Then they will continue to revisit annually but will make smaller purchases in subsequent years. Since many customers are 40 years old and older, the timing to all this is important.

Advertising is very expensive so if you get a chance to appear in any publications, the opportunity brings big smiles. This past week the March-April Issue of Vermont Magazine hit the shelves with its Scenes of Spring addition. Vermont Flower Farm was real pleased to be one of the gardens featured in a very nice article by Kate Carter named 9 Display Daytrips. Kate offers a lead-in which says "Vermont's picture-perfect display gardens soon will be in bloom. Visit one or all of these to admire their outdoor artistry--and gather inspiration (and information) for your own artistic display"

Vermont Magazine is published bimonthly through the talents of Editor-in-Chief Joe Healy. Pick up a copy if you get a chance or try their website for additional information. The pictures are special ....just like Vermont.

And as for special, so is author and photographer Kate Carter. We've mentioned before how much we like Kate's book Wildflowers of Vermont. She has recently released another book to slip into another pocket before you head out for a nice walk. It's Shrubs and Vines of Vermont. When the snows melt and the temperatures warm, we'll do a little review for you. In the meantime stop at your favorite store and pick up your copy. Kate will be happy and so will you. As for me, I was in Borders in Burlington last week and I had my eye on the last copy in the Vermont section. A customer was reading it page by page and then put it back on the shelf. I reached to grab it up and she changed her mind and I was left Shrubs and Vineless. Hope you fare better!!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature is back down to 48.2 and the rain has let up.

Spring gardening wishes,

George Africa

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Garden Links

Saturday, March 10, 2007

4:40 PM and 40 degrees here on the hill. The warmest it's been for weeks. The rain started about an hour ago and continues falling lightly. The power company truck just went by so I am assuming the wind that preceeded the rain knocked a tree over on the main line. Our electricity comes down the hill from Route 232 but everyone below us receives theirs from Peacham and it comes up from the pond. I'm not into electricity and don't know if this makes sense but that's how it works here.

Today's picture is of some chain links I found one day while digging in the lower shade garden. I was making some holes for new hostas and my shovel made a clanging sound as the middle of my right foot dug deeply into the top of the shovel and reminded me of a pain I don't want to feel again. We call it the lower garden but it's really a garden within an old barn foundation. It's going to be difficult to replicate at the new site come spring because there are so many special stones involved. There's also quite an accumulation of leftover hardware common around old New England foundations. I have yet to find something really interesting but I have uncovered everything from the front grill from an old car to a tractor radiator to a couple buggy seats. There's a fairly large wagon seat coming to the surface ever so slowly and perhaps this will be the year I'll have to dig the perennials out of it and get it out of the walkway. Frost is a powerful force which does what it wants when it wants.

I just kind of tossed the large links on the corner of the foundation and they have only moved once in several years when a fairly small kid decided they needed to be rearranged. I rearranged his thinking about my garden and they haven't moved since.

As you look at the size of some of the stones which farmers have moved in Vermont, you have to be amazed. One stone in the headwall of our foundation is over 8 feet in width and who knows how deep. It's granite so it weights something like 165 pounds per cubic foot so it's really heavy. Chains like these were probably a part of getting it into place. Manpower, horses or oxen no doubt contributed too.

Links like these remind me of the sturdy garden links which build a fine Internet for us to enjoy. I am trying to add links to this blog as I find them so if you have any that you think I should include, please pass them along.

I stopped at the Cabot Store this afternoon and Aileen reminded me that there was no absence of snow at our new property. It's funny how quickly word gets out when you decide to start something new. She apparently watches what's happening there just as I watch the Winooski River now that we own a piece of property that adjoins it.

Wednesday afternoon on the way home from work I was as happy about what I saw by the river as I have been for some time. En route to Twinfield H.S. from Plainfield and in the field on the right just before the big red barn was a mature bald eagle pondering a dead deer. I almost reconfigured my truck when my eyes left the road which they shouldn't have. Another car was pulled off to the side confirming the importance of my sighting.

I wish my friend Eric from Massachusetts was around to witness this. He might want to tell me bald eagles don't eat deer but I didn't imply that....only said the eagle was sitting by the deer. I've seen eagles before but not in large numbers as they are just beginning to accept Vermont. I'm not sure why Vermont has been a hold out for them as the state has no native population unlike the rest of the country. I just wish that this summer I'll be able to see this same eagle sitting on the old butternut tree where I have seen a great blue heron and an osprey several times this summer. That would make our new land very special!

I have to get going here with a fish chowder I committed to making earlier today. The way the rain is falling now, it seems like a good meal for tonight.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sky is black and the power crew just headed back up the road.

George Africa

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Morning Warning: Vermont Flower Show

A beautiful morning and a reminder of a weekend change in weather. I'm busy here for a few days redoing a bathroom. Just the same I want to remind everyone that the Vermont Flower Show opens tomorrow at the Champlain Expo Center in Essex. Here's the website. This is an incredible show for a state this size and it's worth the visit. The theme this year is Walk on the Wild Side. All kinds of great events, lectures, displays.

I'll be sweating joints and playing with teflon tape but Gail and friends from the Marshfield Inn and Motel will be walking the garden paths and enjoying a tour away from the deep snows of Washington County. I hope that you'll join them sometime tomorrow through Sunday. The Vermont Professional Horticulturists Association does an incredible job!

With kind garden thoughts from the mountain above rock solid Peacham Pond,

George Africa

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mindful Hosta Plans

Thursday, March 1, 2005

5:45 PM and I just got off the phone with a person I cannot understand who told me that the problems I have been having with a Yahoo listserv are widespread and don't worry about it. It has occurred to me that I can't recall when in my life I first heard "They're working on it." but that is a phrase often exploited now. Hughes, our satellite broadband supplier, was chosen from a choice of one and I'd say they are about as good as any. Tonight I was transferred to their level three tech support where I was provided with a description of how my problems are being handled. If you know me personally, you alreay know how I got to level three and what my attitude is after hearing this absurd description of the problem. I guess if it involves a satellite 26,000 miles from here, there's not much I can do.

Gail and I have been mapping garden strategies for our new gardens on Route 2 and it's been a lot of fun. Everyone has their special way of doing this but Gail likes big sheets of paper devoid of restriction and lacking any formal scale. Sketch after sketch flows off her pencil and when she finishes I always make one of those "How'd you do that?" faces. This girl is good and she doesn't have any landscape academy initials after her name. If she did, she wouldn't use them anyway as they are pretentious to her---downright meaningless.

Last fall we rototilled some gardens in the main field and we have outlined what needs to be done this summer. We'll figure out a weed and grass erdication plan and then rototill the entire perimeter of the land. On the external face of that perimeter I'll install an extruded plastic fence for deer control. I haven't figured out how to deal with the Route 2 perimeter yet as I want it to look open and inviting to people but not deer.

I have already begun trimming dead trees along the Winooski River and under every bit of shade that remains, we'll plant hostas and their complimentary companions. Customers have grown to enjoy the lower shade garden here on Peacham Pond Road and it's compactness will be difficult to replicate in the first year or so by the river. A couple years back I saw a real nice presentation at Fieldstone Perennials in Maine and I'd like to use the same model. They prepared deep gardens parallel to stone walls and then planted hostas which as full grown specimens made any gardener stop in awe. With time, we can have that same large plant, widely spaced show. We'll move some of our larger hosta clumps and will plant 3-4-5 of other varieties to get some good clumps started. It still takes a good 3-4 years for this method to pan out but from that point on, growth is eyecatching.

Now that tax time is over for us, we'll take the sketches Gail prepares, check our inventories and then make metal markers for all the plants we intend to get in the ground next year. We use the markers available from EON or Paw Paw and then make weatherproof labels using clear Avery Labels printed on our old HP Laser printer. These stand up well for years. It eliminates any confusion later on if you have the plant stake ready at planting time. .....ask us if we learned this the hard way.

New gardens are just that and they'll require lots of compost and other amendments. We still don't know where all the physical energy wil come from to operate two locations at the same time. Gail has a crew that seems willing to keep coming back and that's a real nice feeling. If I stop for just a minute I can hear the laughter that comes from these gardeners who just keep plugging away in about any kind of weather because they enjoy each others company and they enjoy working with plants.

Right now I can smell a nice haddock dinner calling and that's something that shouldn't be delayed.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature is holding a steady 26.1 for the third hour now. This is putting us on notice that the storm is approaching. The plow is on the truck and there's a shovel by each door.

Garden planning wishes,

George Africa