Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Walkin', Tossin', Gatherin'

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

As I drove down Route 2 towards home and Marshfield tonight, my eye caught Gail's car and then Gail out in the daylilies, spade fork in hand, weeding the second of the 22 plots I got planted with daylilies. I slowed down way in advance of the turn because folks returning home after work are not always as cautious as they should be. I pulled up alongside our car and noticed Alex stretched back in the passenger seat reading his H.P. Lovecraft stories and recovering from his very unfavorable experience of weeding with Gail. Karl the wonder dog was no where to be seen which probably meant he was sound asleep when Gail and Alex left the house and it wasn't worth the trouble waking him.

Already it's been almost two months since I began transplanting daylilies. They look good for the time they have been in the ground and have set in quite well for the winter. Planting in the fall is a good thing but as you work into mid October in Vermont, you need to use care and watch the soil temperature fall. Below 50 degrees and I don't think it's prudent to transplant daylilies because that is a signal that temperatures will fall quickly and soon. This morning was our second hard freeze, this time 22 degrees. I suppose if you wanted to plant and mulch or plant in known micro climates it would be fine but for us, planting for the first time in an open field, caution is the word.

In addition, to a major planting effort, we have made other accomplishments. I have patched up the fence where moose have walked right through. This didn't please me either time but there is no stopping a moose. This time of year there is mating season to contend with when moose are on the move, a controlled moose season is under way, archery season for deer just ended and rifle season is beginning. This puts thousands of hunters into the woods causing moose and deer to move where they may not have gone before. The fence has done well for deer control but stopping moose was already a known factor. In the next couple weeks we'll start work on the gates to Route 2 and the last piece of fence along the Winooski River. I intentionally left that open after watching animal movement there last year. Observations found deer, bear, moose and coyote all using the same corridor.

I made contact with Green Mountain Power and know that the power pole will cost $1200. That is a spring project that I will schedule in February so we are locked in before things get busy for the power company. We also have agreed to a building which we will use for a "pack and ship, sales area, office, take-a-break, get-out-of-the-weather, store equipment, warm up/cool off room".

When we were thinking about buying a prefab building from The Carriage Shed near the VA Hospital in White River, we had a contractor doing a bathroom over here at the house. He's a great person and a super contractor and he knows his stuff. He said he was familiar with the product and he couldn't build the same thing much cheaper if at all. That made us look more seriously at options. This picture isn't what we'll be getting for about $9000 delivered but it should help you visualize where we're at.

We will have a 12 X 28 foot building with the run-in part on the right as this picture shows. "Run-in" is the open area set up in a horse barn style building for animals to come in out of the weather, eat, drink, sleep etc. That's where we'll do pack and ship for Internet sales and all local sales. On the left interior wall of that room will be a full wall and a traditional door and storm door. I'm planning the door where customers and visitors won't be trying to get in, looking for whatever customers and visitors always look for. When I think about how important this is, I always remember the time three years ago when I walked into our house and a lady was wandering around. I asked if I could help and she said she thought our house was a gift shop. Gail will surely be happy not to give up her house anymore.

So you have a more complete concept, the two barn doors pictured to the left of the run-in will be replaced by windows and on the left end there will be another window. I really wanted the four foot overhang shown in this picture but that was going to add another$3400 to the price. The building is built on pressure treated 6 X 6's and is delivered on a tilt bed /flat bed trailer so it can be placed where you want it. It's also moveable if it needs to be relocated. These are all positives to me so if the business for some reason failed, was disbanded, was sold, there would be many options for using the land without having to deal with a building. When I plan a business, I always have contingencies and I recommend any business owner think into the future as much as possible.

Once in place we'll have to install underground electric from the pole. I'll put in 200 amp service with a breaker box in the interior room and circuits for the water pump, general lighting, the computer and technology equipment, and a circuit for any cooking/refrigerating equipment.
During the summer we have had many, many curious visitors and a number of those asked if we had considered solar power. Although we have not studied solar, it is on our list of things to explore this winter. If any readers are knowledgeable about an application such as this one, we'd be pleased to hear your advice.

The building will have to be insulated and next summer it will have a pretty rustic look inside as there's too little time to get everything done to finished quality. We'll get it stained on the outside and I want to get gutters on both sides to get the rain away form the building. During the second year the rain water and water from the plant wash sinks will be diverted to an adjacent rain garden--but that's a story for another time. In the middle of a five acre field a 12 X 28 foot building will look small but it will serve as an energy warehouse for some fine gardens and a business of growing. Let us know if you have questions about the plan. Suggestions are just that "suggestions", but we always like to hear them.

After trying to get Alex to give up Lovecraft and get back to work, I scooted home to change and get back to help Gail. We worked until the sun was fading, picked up all the hose and irrigation equipment we no longer needed and headed home. For two people, we have accomplished a lot this summer while operating our nursery and with me going to work at a regular job every day. Gail has been great to juggle so many things and still keep the nursery and Internet business in operation. Passers-by encourage us to keep it up and about every day, like yesterday at 5:30 AM at the gas station, I met another person who introduced themselves and offered thanks and encouragement....thanks for keeping a piece of Vermont in agriculture.

When I returned home there was just enough time for a quick walk in the gardens. Fall is a time when I try to keep getting one more picture of our gardens filed away in my memory bank for winter. I'm one of those gardeners who can't keep from picking seed heads, tossing seeds around and trying to locate those flowers which just keep blooming. Seeds that I think have promise for next year might even end up in a Mason jar for dry storage. Last week I found another bloom of the daylily 'Miss Amelia'. This walk found me with a hand full of heuchera leaves, batchelors buttons, rose companion, dried astilbe scapes and rudbeckia and echinachea seed heads. The trollius are sparse compared to their summer offering but the fact that they rebloom now is enough for me.

If you have a chance during the next few weeks, pick a warm day and walk your gardens too. Walkin', tossin', and gatherin' are part of gardening.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where small blocks of ice lay coldly on the ground near empty buckets no longer filled with warm colored flowers. The season "Fall" holds tight.

Gardening wishes;

George Africa

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Year Has Passed

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Great good mornings to you from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the loons call, in competition with the harsh voices of two crows sitting in an adjacent white pine. It's 31 degrees and the dark clouds don't seem to be moving much. Yesterday was a good day to get some planting done because today is supposed to be wet with snow showers in higher elevations. We are at 1500 feet so I don't think we'll see the white stuff quite yet.

It's been almost a year since I decided to start this blog as an offshoot to The Vermont Gardener
Now at 3770 hits I guess I may have roped the interest of a few, although I know some subscribers have opted out. One person wrote me personally and said they liked the blog but thought there would be a lot more information on starting a nursery business. That was my plan and still is, but lacking a dependable day stretcher, there are fundamentals to building a business which have to be done. In a geographic area like Vermont, an outside business is at the mercy of the weather and that reprioritizes things for gardeners despite what they had planned.

For those still impatient with me, I want to cite a good resource which might help while you wait for me to pull things together. I've mentioned it before because I was going to write the same sort of book myself except that the task never elevated itself to the top of my "to-do" list. The book is titled So You Want To Start A Nursery written by Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. What the book points out is that you need a well thought out plan and you need to follow it. Gail and I have a very good plan for moving our nursery and we are following it almost to the letter. What we don't have is a lot of spare capital so the "doing things yourself" part takes more time. Here are some examples.

Yesterday we scheduled the day to plant the western border garden. It is 408 feet long and I have prepared a ten foot width with the tractor mounted rototiller. For reference, the fence posts in the pictures are 30 feet apart. Half this width maintains high moisture because water feeds down the mountain across Route 2. The soil is clay loam but stones are almost nonexistent and save for the need for more organic material, it will grow plants well. Our plan was to plant things that complimented each other and could also handle full sun and high moisture.

We loaded the Chevy until it wouldn't hold any more plants and away we went. With a few minor changes, Gail's design worked well. I wanted to leave 18" along the grass so I could run the small Troy Built rototiller and keep the grass from encroaching. This entire area (previous to our purchase) was originally planted with White Dutch Clover to feed the deer and break up the clay. As we know, clover has a way of spreading and my plan was to keep it out of the gardens in subsequent years.

The transplanting went well until we got to the Astilboides tabularis and the Darmera. These plants had been in 1 gallon pots for two years and had expanded their root systems to the point they wouldn't come free of the pots without splitting them down the sides. 150-180 pots later we were finished but the "big pot problem" added another hour and a quarter to the project. Today we'll get back there and plant the corner with a variety of bee balms and hopefully

get started on a full season "yellow garden" with helenium, various rudbeckias, heliopsis and daylilies.

Monday night when Alex and I were returning from Burlington, the traffic halted at about the entrance to our property. A quarter mile down the road, a car had sheared off a power pole. Speed has a way of messing up your day if you're not careful but the accident reminded me I needed to call Green Mountain Power and get a price on a power pole. I called on Tuesday and found that I could mount the meter on the pole and the installation would cost $1200. The stipulation was that the company truck could set the pole from the highway. Although that's not a concern, I asked for a physical site inspection since the bank is steep there and the pole has to be high enough to match the pole on the opposite side of the road. The line has to be high enough to avoid the highest trucks.

The delivery and placement of stones for the daylily display garden almost two weeks ago was another positive accomplishment but it modified how many daylilies I could get into the ground before this week's temperatures dropped too low. With the stones in place, I had to spray the entire garden area with Round Up. 9000 square feet isn't that large in the world of plants but when you're spraying with a backpack sprayer it gets big real fast. Looking back on all the issues related to ground prep, I should have budgeted for a trailer for the tractor and a 50 gallon electric sprayer with a boom sprayer. Small business plans should not contain too many "should haves" but a few are not uncommon.

With the stone in place, Gail can start the actual garden design. She has been carrying around thoughts for some time but without the large stones in place, she was reluctant to proceed. That's just how Gail works. This week the design will take shape and we'll visit some nurseries and look at trees and shrubs on our list of possibilities. We'd like to get the trees planted before the snow arrives and that looks possible.

Growing a gardening business is an exciting job. A good plan and a pocket full of money help. Gail and I are the tortoises of the garden movement but in the end Vermont Flower Farm will have a nice new home and more than ever before, you'll want to visit.

Best wishes,

The Vermont Gardener

Friday, October 05, 2007

Moose versus The Fence

Friday, October 5, 2007

Another beautiful day in Vermont. The sun is rising through the maples, the blue jays are annoyed by the empty feeder and I can hear loons flying overhead en route to the pond. The weather will change beginning Sunday but until then, things are fine.

I just want to give an update on the deer fence I installed. This was 7.5 foot extruded plastic fence from Italy named Tenex. I mounted it on 4 X 4 X10 foot pressure treated posts after running a piece of 17 gauge electric fence wire through the top row. As a means of preventing deer from entering the gardens, it is great. I still have a few places that I have to secure the bottom better where the fields roll up and down but pretty much the only way deer are entering the gardens is through the main entrance. As soon as I finish this week with the daylilies, the 2 14 foot gates will go up and the place will be closed in.

The moose situation is different and this past week a large moose came across Route 2 and took out a 30 foot section of fence, ran across the field and went right through another section and on into the Winooski River. This is the type thing you know will happen but hope it doesn't. People with horses in their pastures can often relate stories of seeing a moosing dragging half a mile of electric fence across a montain top. There's not much that will stop a moose and this time of year it's mating season and they are on the move. Later on in the fall the moose head to mountain tops to spend the winter while deer head to lower areas. Any time now I could see more moose damage but since they are travelers, they don't return every day. They also don't eat anything I have planted.

The moose in the picture was on the Lanesboro Road the other night. The following morning I saw a yearling bull walking down the road to Owls Head. These will be the first of many sightings over the next few weeks. Moose and deer are part of gardening in Vermont.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where red, yellow and orange maple leaves float gently to earth.

Garden greetings!

George Africa

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Planting Rocks, Making Gardens

Thursday, October 4, 2007

New England continues to have fine autumn weather and Vermont is no exception. This has allowed us to make good progress on our new property and reach the goals we had set for this year. We intended to get all the daylilies moved and as of last night I had planted through the"P's" so we are on target for what has been a tremendous job. One of the difficulties is estimating the time to complete something you have never done before. We've only missed our timeline on the daylilies by about a week and a half and the weather has made up for our miscalculation. What I really missed on was how long it would take to install the perimeter fence around 5 acres but that came at a time when we had more time to play with.

As soon as we finish with the daylilies, there are a number of plants going along the western fence in large groupings. These are plants such as ligularia, cimicifuga, astilboides tabularis, different monardas, rudbeckias, darmeras, rodgersias and aruncus. They are less picky about establishing good root systems before the soil temperature falls below 50 degrees and they will transplant well.

The front display garden will follow that planting. It's started but a long way from completion. It will be ten feet wide by 200 feet long and will serve as a buffer to the parking lot. My intent is to get the ground prepared and the split rail fence installed before the snow flies. That's a bigger task than it seems because the first 50 feet is solid clay and has to be excavated a foot down, spread with gypsum and then back filled with a mix of aged manure, peat moss and top soil. I'll be bouncing around on the tractor with the rototiller, clawing an inch at a time deeper into the clay but in time that will come together.

Gail and I had discussed a display garden to parallel Route 2 so passers-by could see a fine display. We had discussed a garden 120 feet long by about 75 wide which would start at the end of the parking lot and work it's way to the western fence. The vision included a walk way linking to the western fence-side garden and then continuing around the entire perimeter. Good gardeners need visions and we have a lot of them.

One of the great things about a small Vermont town is you get to know a lot of folks and you find out that you sometimes have similar interests. Years back we met Jean and Brien Ducharme. Jean was the town clerk for years and Brien owned a logging business that had historical roots in his family. Jean and Brien both liked plants and one year they appeared to help us with spring planting and they have been coming back ever since.

I had heard that Brien had just completed a big rip-rapping job on a piece of the Winooski River west of our land. The rocks were from a local contractor who wanted to open up an area. I asked Brien if he had some time to move some rocks to our property for a display garden and his recent retirement made the response easier. What I didn't know was that Brien had his truck up for sale and it could be sold at any time.

Monday afternoon when Gail and I had just started setting up the water pump, Brien appeared. He was ready to move the rocks because the truck sold and would be moving to a new owner in the next couple days. We had already lined out the garden with rebar stakes and string and marked each rock placement with colored marking flags. I had also used Round Up where every stone would sit. We walked the proposed garden so Brien knew what we were doing and away he went for the first load.

I love to see craftsmen work and when I heard the roar of "Rollin Thunda", the logging truck, coming down Route 2, I knew the next few minutes would be a treat. Brien pulled into the drive and we had a quick discussion about unloading. I would have driven the truck right into the field but Brien cautioned that the field was soft in places and backing in means being able to drive out. Another lesson learned. He backed to the end of the field and then climbed the ladder to begin off loading.

It's fun for me to watch a person work the controls of a big rig and so flawlessly place giant pieces of material which weigh thousands of pounds on a dime in one smooth motion. Brien is no different. One after another the giant boulders, a couple like small Volkswagens, came off and went into place.

For some stones, Brien would use the pinchers to dig a quick hole in the sod and then he'd plant the stone, firmly placing it in upright fashion so it wouldn't move with winter's freeze-thaw cycles.

The first load come off quickly and our "Chief Financial Officer", Gail, made a spontaneous decision that another load was needed. An hour and a half later we were admiring the finished project and Brien was pulling up onto Route 2, just a little late for Jean's dinner party for 16. I have to say that I appreciated the efficiency of the project but mostly I liked the fact that Brien committed to helping and he didn't forget. Vermonter's are like that and a commitment means a commitment completed.

Standing around giving direction and confirmation was the easy part of this project. The difficult part will be the planting. Gail will be responsible for designing the placement of trees and shrubs, walkways and garden benches. She'll also figure out the planting scheme. In part this will become a certified American Hemerocallis Display Garden so it will contain clumps of everything we sell and and some we collect but don't sell. In a couple years it will be a beautiful garden that will stop traffic on Route 2. Right now it also stops traffic, like the cement contractor foreman who stopped yesterday to say "I drive this road every day to Springfield or Ludlow. What exactly are you doing and what are all those stones?"

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a beautiful day is in the making as two young blue jays talk to me through the office window.

Garden wishes,

George Africa