Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sunshine and Sunflowers

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The makings of another great day here on the hill. It's 35 degrees out right now, still and quiet. I've been up since about 4 when the moonshine was bright enough to confuse a tired gardener who really should have slept a bit longer. This will be another fine autumn day just the same.

The contrast today is that the ground doesn't have patches of white from thick but spotty frost. As I headed for Waterbury yesterday, many properties along the way were dotted with parts of a massive patchwork quilt of sheets and towels, tarps and old shower curtains, grain sacks and recycled construction poly. The freeze was severe in some places, ending all gardening for this year while in other places the threat was only that. Forecasters now predict 5 consecutive days with no threat of frost so we'll enjoy the annual flowers a bit longer. Despite a below freezing temperature here, some things are history, others were untouched.

Each night now as I return from my "other" world of work, I stop at the nursery and work until about 7. That's when the mosquitoes begin to bite and the sun goes into hiding. Last night the sun was dropping faster than I could get started but even an hour's worth of work helps with the giant fall clean up. One of the projects is pulling the sunflowers.

Sunflowers are a neat crop and again this year we bought seeds from the commercial side of Johnnys Selected Seeds in Maine. The sunflower varieties are extensive as you can tell by the rows we planted. Alex has begun to help pull those that have gone by while Gail avoids the project as if it doesn't have to happen. To stand tall, sunflowers grab the earth with a tenacity that challenges the strongest of us. Sometimes you end up with a broken stalk but if you're lucky, it's the entire plant that breaks loose and you can pound off the dirt, lop off the seed head for drying and move the balance onto a long term recycle pile.

As the sunflowers dry naturally, the pistels on each seed in the head will drop off and the seeds will begin to cure. As we cut them, we rub off the extras to get to the seeds which then dry faster in the sun.

Some sunflowers show their maturity by dropping their heads as if in embarrassment and cure from there. You wouldn't think a flower would look away from you but some of these do.

Over the next couple days we'll pull all these plants. We'll keep the good seed heads for the feeders here on the hill and leave the rest along the river bank for the birds. River buffer zones are important to wildlife and the seeds will be welcomed meals to a variety of birds and animals.

This year we should have 250 pounds of seed when all is done. Since 50 pounds bags now exceed $26, the left overs from our cut flower sales will help with our budget. The birds, squirrels, mice and chipmunks should be happy too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog just convinced Gail he could wait no longer and off they went on a morning walk.

Best autumn gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Empty Bench

Friday, September 12, 2008

It's a dark morning here on the mountain. The thermometer reads 52 degrees with a slight wind and a dampness that walked with Karl the Wonder Dog and me as we headed down the woods trail. Although the weather folks say rain by late today, I can only hope for that prediction as I have a long list of things to do and rain-free until 5 would make it easier.

Gail just headed to the statehouse in Montpelier for a speaker on autism that she wanted to hear. Autism prevails in our family so we try to learn every resource, hear every new methodology possible. Gail is a like sponge with this information and she always remembers the appropriate time to share it with a new friend who just received a diagnosis in their family and knowns not where to turn. No matter what my schedule, I am quick to modify my day so she can attend. Just thinking about this reminds me that I have to update our Autism page on the Vermont Flower Farm website. We have lots of new resources since I last looked.

If you happened to read The Vermont Gardener yesterday, my post Gardening Respite described our trip to Maine and my walk through the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. No matter where I travel, I always meet gardeners and they are always quick to develop relationships and share information.

As I walked the refuge trails, I came down the path to stop number three where I have met the same man for the past two years. As I approached this time, the bench upon which he always sat was empty. I had an immediate feeling of sadness for a man I had come to know only on a couple brief visits.

Two years ago, same week, same time, I met the man sitting on the bench looking out to the marsh. As we talked we shared that we both came to Maine the same time of year and had been doing so for some years. The man was a Korean War vet and he had lung cancer. He was positive about his treatment but I could tell that the absence of his wife who had recently passed was an additional burden. He said walking the refuge gave him a sort of refuge from daily life and it brought back memories of the two of them walking the trail together.

Last year we got into a gardening discussion. He shared that he was a vegetable gardener and I said I was too busy with flowers to even plant a row of lettuce or a single tomato. At the end of our talk, we both said we'd follow each other's advice and try growing something different. He said he's look for me again, and God willing we'd meet. We shook hands and parted, me for the car, him still watching the marsh.

As I gave up waiting and headed down the path, my mind processed all the reasons he wasn't there this year. I missed our conversation but I know sometime we will meet again.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where damp eyes run even for gardeners.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener