Sunday, November 11, 2007

Picking Up The Pieces

Sunday, November 11, 2007

19 degrees this morning and a reminder to how long I have been away from on-line conversations. The 50 degree nights have passed and the snow flurries we have already seen will intensify soon. The weather folks have predicted below-normal cold for December and that might well translate to more snow than we saw last year in early winter.

There's something nice about not having to plow or shovel snow in January but one consequence to that is red voles, the creatures that do not hibernate. Last year they ran around eating special shrubs and plants and giving the gardeners at Vermont Flower Farm bad feelings.

Gail, Alex and I have been busy since the end of October picking up the nursery and continuing to work the new land. People tell us almost every day that they are amazed what we have accomplished with almost no outside help. It has meant sacrificing a few fun things but we're proud!

Building a new business requires a good plan and to be good it should have time lines that are realistic. There's a need to build in a little flexibility too, especially in the horticulture business where Mother Nature can affect a schedule with one storm. Part of our plan was to construct a 10 foot by 200 foot garden plot to border the parking area. Gail and I thought and thought, scribbled pictures, drove in rebar stakes, set up orange marking flags, rolled out fluorescent survey tape and then did it all over again several times. We wanted to try to understand traffic flow turning off Route 2 and into our proposed parking lot. At the same time Gail was (still is) obsessed with where the building will go come May 2008.

It's not the 12,000 vehicles that drive by every day that's a concern, as a business is lucky to snag 1% of what drives by. That's something I learned from the direct marketing business. What is critical is the vehicles that turn in and how safely they are parking, exiting for a look-see, filling their vehicles and leaving. Businesses have to contend with delivery trucks including tractor trailers, landscapers vehicles and giant RVs dragging additional vehicles in tow. My dad always said "Measure twice, cut once." and Gail and I did this exercise over and over. It looks workable as long as there isn't a combination of large vehicles coming and going at the same time. If you're thinking about a business location, give a bunch of thought to this traffic component and where cars will park.

Our plan was to have a garden ten feet deep with a split rail fence three feet in from the back. That would allow 7 feet in front of the fence to plant, would add some dimension to the front and would provide seasonal color that would slow down traffic from the highway and be striking to potential customers as they exited the highway for a visit.

I knew the top of the hill was the most incredible clay I had ever seen. A year ago when I hired Kevin Hudson to do the initial rototilling, it became clear where the clay started and where it stopped. I knew this new garden would be no different but until I cut into the sod and got down a foot or so, how extensive the clay was remained a question.

As it turned out, I had to excavate about 2.5 feet deep for over half the length to get down far enough to be assured that when I back filled with organic material I'd have a good garden composition for planting trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs. If there is anything more difficult to work than clay, let me know. This wasn't just any clay, this was the special stuff, the stuff that makes potters cry with happiness when they find a source with a tall "Free--Take All" sign stuck in the middle. This isn't just potters clay, this is outdoor oven-building clay like the oven they made this summer at Wellspring Farm down the road a bit in Marshfield. It has all kinds of potential.

Working this stuff with the tractor is not easy and I found myself saying some nasty things, especially after hours and hours of going back and forth. It is elastic and it sticks to the tractor bucket, refuses to drop off, fills the tire cleats so you spin a lot and cakes onto the front axle refusing to relax its firm grip. It's not that nice unless you are a potter or maybe a geologist--my opinion. The picture above is a chunk that I let dry out for a day. It weighs a good ten pounds. It's special clay and here's why.

I guess "special" is relative and maybe this clay is no more special than the next deposit but it is to me because I never knew what a concretion was. This clay is full of concretions. This summer Mark and I had just finished putting up fence and we were standing around the truck as he waited for Michelle to arrive. He picked up a concretion thinking it was a coin. As we looked around, we found more and more. I had no idea what they were and I kept asking people for a name. Then one day when I was working on the Winooski River project, I asked my friend Emma if she knew the name. She did but she didn't. Along came another George--this time a geologist, and he offered up "concretion" without a nano-thought. From the river bank above, a school teacher volunteer quickly shouted out her love for concretions and I climbed up and gave her one. That was the start of my love for concretions.

These are small compared to some and this area has a bunch of clay banks of with concretions of various sizes. None are as big as the one that is 1.5 meters on Wikipedia. Take a look yourself at and you'll see what I mean.

I have read that concretions are the "buttons" found at Button Bay State Park in Ferrisburg on Lake Champlain. They aren't as easy to find now but probably as the waves move in and out, some become visible...kind of like finding sand dollars at the ocean 30 years ago. Anyway, these little geological wonders spark the imagination.

Walking the gardens in fall highlights pieces, leftovers, discards, some out of place, some just cast off. It's part of operating a business. The pieces of metal on the granite block in the first picture are pieces pushed up by winter freeze-thaw cycles. I like to straighten things up in the fall as I pick up the pieces. You can too!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a barred owl has decided 256 Peacham Pond Road is a good place to hunt. He's in a white birch right now, looking at a merganser on the trout pond.

Fall gardening wishes and kind business thoughts for whatever you are contemplating.

George Africa

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