Thursday, August 30, 2007

Great Busy-ness Returns

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Not quite 8 PM and it is very dark out. It tried to rain all afternoon and got hotter and hotter but only a brief offering of small drops fell....kind of like my dad used to say, "Not enough to wet the dust." He said this a lot when we lived on Church Hill Road in Woodstock because in those days nothing was used for dust control and the house sat about 20 feet from a dirt road, originally no wider than an International Harvester tractor or a single Ford truck.

We have begun to increase the tempo here at Vermont Flower Farm. It is time to begin the move to the new property. Last weekend Gail and Michelle and I got about 20 crates of daylilies dug and cleaned up for replanting. As of tonight I have two left in the B's and then will start with the C's. This is a difficult task as I really don't know when to get started. I made Gail a nice Excel sheet of all our stock but my work was based upon my knowledge of what plants Gail has and where they are. As example, I thought the C's would start with Catherine Neal but tonight Gail reminds me that there is Carefree Peach and 2 rows of Cedar Waxwing waiting outside my office. They are all nice daylilies but the point is I only want to plant them once---and in the correct order.

I had made 24- 50 foot by 10 to 12 foot plots. Our original thought was to plant one huge clump and then a number of rows in front so customers could see what the plant looked like as a mature specimen and then we'd dig out a smaller plant to sell them. When you're crawling around on your hands and knees you can't get much closer to the reality of your thoughts. After I planted about 10 plants worth the way Gail and I had planned it, I could see this was a foolish idea. If the intent of new gardens was to cut down on labor, then why was I planting huge clumps in the direct path of the rototiller? At some point soon I'll go back and fix those rows but right now I'm on a roll and all the new rows are dress-right-dress and they look quite good.

I had put on over 200 yards of manure in these plots and did a super job rototilling with the new tractor. Except the edges of the higher-on-the-hill plots, the tilling is superb and the plants should be monsters. The edge is a different story as the perimeter is where the clay starts and stops and that will affect how well the plants close to the borders grow.

For each row I dig a trench a foot deep. I put in 10-10-10, a couple inches of maple leaf mold from last year, a couple inches of manure, and some lime. I mix this thoroughly and then begin lining out the daylilies, one name per row.

Last night I hitched up the new gas operated water pump. My idea of what was supposed to happen and Gail's were quite different. I figured I would plumb it up the way I understood, put oil and gas in the 5 hp Honda engine, fill the pump with water and pull the cord. I figured I'd see water come out the hose end and I'd be on my way to the next project.

Gail came down to visit abut 5:30-6 and seemed like the rest of the kids on their first day of school. She was so happy there was water that she couldn't believe it. I got what I expected and that was the end of the story. Gail grabbed the hose and watered previous plantings and worked her way down to where I was planting. She was just overwhelmed by the fact that water could come out of a river, up a steep bank and across an entire elevated field to new rows of plants. It was apparent that she didn't think I could figure this out but since this worked so well she was free with kind comments and thank yous.

Next year when we have electricity, I'll go to a bigger pump and a different location but right now this is just fine. If any of you have questions about how I picked the pump, ask away. For what I wanted and what I was prepared to pay. I'm quite happy. Right now, some sleep without interruption would be nice. Think I'll give it a try.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's a quiet and calm 65 degrees out and a "not too nice" 78 and humid inside.

Kind gardening thoughts,

George Africa

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Planting Daylilies

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another Sunday and another week of summer has slipped away. Vermont summers are too short anyway but this one seems to be escaping because we have so many projects going on. A week from today Alex will be 15 years old. It seems like just yesterday that he and Gail came home from the hospital. It seems like centuries ago that we learned he was on the autism spectrum. Our gardening experiences and life experiences have changed a great deal in recent years and moving the gardens to Route 2 is another important part.

As I work on the new property, I continue to meet more and more people who just can't avoid the curiosity anymore. They have to stop and ask what's going on. These are people from all walks of life and not just local people but even folks on vacation in the area visiting their friends or staying at inns or bed and breakfasts. It always seems a little time consuming when I'm in the middle of a project but I've never had less than an enjoyable conversation and a nice smile at departure.

Yesterday I was standing on the ladder pulling the fence tight on the village side of the land. I almost fell off the ladder in surprise when a woman said "Nice fence, tell me about it." Route 2 was busy but she had one of those hybrid cars I think--the kind that are soundless in electric mode. When it was all over I recalled reading an article about how blind and visually impaired residents of New York City were complaining because they were crossing right in front of these cars because they couldn't hear them. I know exactly what they are saying as a neighbor has one and more than once I have almost turned around at the mailbox with a handful of mail to be run over by my own neighbor sliding in to retrieve his mail. Anyway, the woman had been watching my work since spring and was at odds with deer eating her garden. She wanted to know about the fence as it appeared to match her need to enjoy her gardens, not feed the deer.

Work is going well on Route 2 if a one man show is what you want to see. I still have about 20 yards of manure to spread, more gardens to rototill and some more fence to tighten but all in all we are very pleased with our progress. I have learned more than I thought about estimating job completion time and Thursday was a good example. I had purchased two 14 foot farm gates to install at the entry way from Route 2. We have to be able to close off the business when we aren't there and also prevent people from using the front of the entrance as a turn around which wouldn't be safe or legal. I also bought a couple 6 X6 X 8 foot timbers and screwed on a pressure treated plank on the interior sides for more support.

I figured I could have the job finished by about 1 PM. That meant measuring out the distances, centering the proposed gates, digging the holes, leveling the timbers and then pouring 4 bags of cement in each hole. For a variety of reasons I never thought of, the job finished up about the time the last local folks drove by after leaving work in Barre Montpelier. It was a long day. Projects are often like that but if they are done correctly, the dividend is there for time to come.

Gail and I have had long discussions about how and what to plant. Daylilies has been a big topic. We have well over 400 varieties but last night we narrowed the list down to a little over 300 varieties that we will move. We have ruled out those that don't sell knowing that how we will display and sell them at the new property may sell more or less of certain varieties. Our plan is to display a large, mature clump and then line out the plants that are for sale behind the display plant. Here on the hill we have always sold daylilies in gallon pots but we're going to grow them in the field under 24 hour drip irrigation. That means the whole concept changes. The purpose is to grow a larger plant while saving the cost of pots, soilless mix and labor. Olallies in South Newfane Vermont and many other big daylily nurseries do it this way and we'll try too. At the same time, all the daylilies will be in bloom longer and the display plants in close proximity to those for sale will show what the person is likely to have in their garden in a couple-three years.

I have started to prepare a 10 foot wide garden around the entire perimeter of the land. This will be a big garden and is a lot of work. In the roadside, western corner of the land, a three foot culvert crosses Route 2 and drops lots of water on the adjacent property at different times of the year. Some of the water leaches underground to ours and that corner is often damp. It will be an excellent place for all the bee balms, Siberian and Japanese irises and the water loving plants such as the ligularias and rodgersias.

The monardas are not Gail's favorites and she'll tell you that. She has been persistent that if we don't sell it, it shouldn't be on display at our new location. In contrast, I like plants which people don't have an opportunity to see around here. I think plants that are grown well, look a lot better than a catalog picture so why not do a little to show folks what else is out there. After many discussions, Gail has agreed to large (and I mean large) swathes of monardas in the lower corner to bring attention to the project. I'm happy she changed her thinking because many gardeners are looking for a plant to cover an unsightly area and bring color, bees and butterflies at the same time. I think you'll enjoy it too so keep an eye on that corner.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where last night's low was 41 degrees and today's high will only be in the mid sixties. Just the same the colors prevail and warm summer days will return soon. Daylily Days continue at VFF so stop by and see some great color and save $2 on any daylily and $1 on any hosta. Gail has specials squirreled away here and there and if you don't stop by you'll never know what bargains she has.

With August garden greetings, enjoy today!

George Africa

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Business Progress on Route 2

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Yesterday afternoon I was here at Vermont Flower Farm giving Gail a break from customer duties and shipping packages. She headed down to Marshfield Inn and Motel to see Tracy and Diana and see how last fall's planting of daylilies was maturing. She hadn't been gone long and a car drove in I wasn't familiar with. Two ladies got out and one looked at me and said "You must be George." It was more definitive than questioning and I almost wondered if I had gotten myself in trouble along the line and didn't remember.

"I'm glad to see that you are looking well.", one lady said. "I was worried about you." Now I have to say that it's nice to know that people care about you but for the life of me I couldn't figure out who this woman was. Then she explained. "We've never been here before, but we both read your two blogs and Vermont Gardens has been motionless for almost a month. The Vermont Gardener has been slow too and we wondered if you were ill or something happened."

I was immediately relieved to know that a blogless month had caused the concern and that I really hadn't done anything wrong save for forget to keep my readership posted on garden life in Marshfield. I apologized for the hiatus and emphasized there would be no promises for improvement as we were really entering a very busy time for us, not a gradual end to the summer business like most nurseries. The ladies laughed and said they figured as much but they do so enjoy reading what I write and miss it when I get out of sequence. We talked flowers for some time and then I gave them an orientation to the gardens. They finished their tour and shopping just before Gail returned, promising to return soon and volunteering that they would help with the move to Route 2 if it was not such a long way to the ground anymore. With that we all laughed and departed company, knowing for certain that we would meet again.

During the past month I have worked diligently here and at the new property. Michelle's friend Mark has been helping with the fence and as of yesterday all the 4X4X10 foot pressure treated posts were cemented in the ground, Alex's mandatory "Please give me a door to the river" gate has been framed and cemented in, and 1320 feet of fence has been hung, with 990 feet of it secured to the posts.

Hanging 7.5 foot fence the entire perimeter of a +4 acre parcel of land is no easy task, especially for one set of hands. I was really happy to have Mark say he could help and happier still that he didn't complain about lugging and mixing the two 80 pound bags of cement that went into every post hole. The posts are placed every 30 feet so this was no easy task and amounted to moving tons of material.

The Route 2 part of the job on the village side was the most difficult task because the holes had to be hand dug through stone laden road fill, thick grass and tree roots. To top it off this was on a hillside that at times would have made a billy goat replant its feet. Then there was the poison ivy along the Winooski River and the variety of weeds along the way which invited sneezes and itchy eyes. In one more day, this job will be finished, and I'm really thankful for that!!

The entry gate from Route 2 is left to install and I am still pondering the best approach. I have been watching travelers as they turn into the drive to reverse direction. There haven't been any accidents yet but just watching the antics makes me remind would-be business people to consider road access long before you decide to buy a piece of property for your new endeavor. In our case the Agency of Transportation was involved in picking the access road. This is mandatory in Vermont but would have been my choice anyway. The engineers choice and mine were the same. A speed limit sign that reads 50 mph doesn't necessarily mean people will slow down or use caution when they see vehicles turning. The ease with which cars can turn into your business and exit it has a lot to do with how successful you will be. I may ask the Transportation folks for a safety sign for traffic coming from the east so people understand traffic will be slowing at the crest of the hill for left hand turns.

Besides the fence I have been using the New Holland tractor to move large quantities of manure from a pile to the new flower beds. This is a giant pile of manure brought by large trucks from a popular and well known East Montpelier dairy farm. Since last fall the price went up 20% and I am really irritated by the gouging. Fuel certainly rose since last fall but 20% is a bit much by my book. They have the market cornered and they obviously know it too. I'll find a new supplier as soon as I can and I'll post the availability. Fall is a good time to obtain a pile of manure for next spring's planting.

Tomorrow I'll rototill everything a couple times, and then begin trucking compost I have at the flower farm. Within a couple weeks things should be ready to plant. We have some good planters lined up but how many thousand plants we can deal with before the soil temperature cools too much is yet another question. We'll keep you posted.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where August sunshine encourages kind thoughts and happy smiles.

George Africa