Lavender is in bloom!

Lovely lavender is blooming here at Butternut Gardens LLC and you can pick some up at The Little White Flower Cottage on site here.  I grow three varieties and all smell heavenly. Guess who loves lavender as much as you do... bumblebees. They are all over this wonderful flower. With our bumblebee populations declining, I love knowing that I am growing something, which helps them. I ask you to please consider growing some lavender plants if you have space for them. Lavender prefers full sun and good drainage. You can add builder's sand to give better drainage. Also, lime will increase your soil's pH, which is also beneficial to lavender since it likes a bit more alkaline a soil than our soils are naturally. Beyond this, lavender is not tricky. You will enjoy the flowers, the gorgeous silvery grey foliage and the visiting bumblebees.

How well do your dahlias multi-task?

Are your dahlias good multi-taskers?  Of course they are!  Look at what they are doing above soil level -- lots of great foliage coming out and flower buds on the "to do" list. Now consider what is happening below soil level -- roots, roots, roots... Yes, your dahlias are GREAT at multi-tasking. 

As a flower farmer, I want this multi-tasking to continue SORT OF.  From now until frost I get a lot of requests for dahlia FLOWERS but not so many requests for "roots". As a result, I am out pinching my plants to push them into bloom and flower mode.  So, what is pinching? It is simply cutting off the tip of the growing shoot. As a result, the plant sends out two new shoots on the sides and just below this pinch point, and starts to put more interest in leaf and flower growth. Hurray. Success. In all actuality, the plant would get to the bloom stage without my doing a thing, but this gives me two potential flower stems instead of one at a low point on the main stalk. This helps ensure good sturdy flower stems as well. So, here at Butternut Gardens LLC, "Operation Dahlia Flower Production" is on the front burner and it won't be long now until you can pick up some amazing dahlia blooms here at The Little White Flower Cottage or at one of my wholesale customers. Why not give your dahlia plants a pinch as well?

When Pigs Fly....

 The Little White Flower Cottage here at Butternut Gardens is open for retail flower sales. Come by to pick up some fresh flowers right where they are grown. 

The Little White Flower Cottage here at Butternut Gardens is open for retail flower sales. Come by to pick up some fresh flowers right where they are grown. 

The Little White Flower Cottage at Butternut Gardens had its big day today as it opened for retail flower sales of my farm grown flowers. I loved showing off TLWFC to so many of my flower friends. Thank you to all for stopping by.

In case you couldn't make it today, you can try to beat the Nor'easter and stop by tomorrow - Saturday, May 13 between noon and 6 PM or come on by with Mom on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 14 between 10 AM and 4 PM. Maybe best to wait until Saturday, so Mom doesn't blow away?

Within this magical little cottage you will find amazing (don't mind if I say so) flowers keeping cool in their nice cool, temperature-controlled cooler. You don't know how happy this makes me. I hate, yes, strongly dislike, working so hard to grow awesome flowers and then not getting them to you in as cool a fashion as possible. So, cue the cooler. And cue the huge smile on my face! To think, I used to bring ice to put into the buckets at the farmer's markets! I know my flowers are super fresh when I cut them, but ninety-five degrees is 95 degrees, folks, and once that flower is cut 95 degrees is NOT ideal. Neither is wind.

Going forward, the Cottage might need a day off after Mother's Day weekend, just to rest up a bit. After that, you will be able to visit this magical little cottage whenever it is best for you. It will be open and full of flowers pretty long hours every day of the week. So, forget about racing to the Farmer's Market before it closes. Forget about having to drop the tennis racket, or pack up the beach gear to meet market hours. Take a casual little drive over to the cottage whenever it suits your schedule. The Little White Flower Cottage will be holding some sweet flowers just for you.

 Weathervane on top of the Butternut Gardens LLC barn near the Little White Flower Cottage.

Weathervane on top of the Butternut Gardens LLC barn near the Little White Flower Cottage.

Closing up for the night, after day 1, wasn't easy, but this flower farmer needs a bit of rest so it was, "Good night Little White Flower Cottage. Good night pig flying over the barn. Good night Moon." 

Tomorrow is another day.

 Mixed bouquets, straight bunches, and flowers in vases are all available.

Mixed bouquets, straight bunches, and flowers in vases are all available.

Tulips and Poppies for Spring

We have blast off, folks!  

As I am busy trying to get things set for retail sales at The Little White Flower Cottage here at Butternut Gardens, I am also working my "real job" of getting seedlings planted, and, yes, actually cutting flowers.  

Here are some of the goodies bursting into bloom right now.

Tulips are going to my local retail partners for the weekend! Some bright, and some more subtle. 

Slow Flowers movement continues to grow

 As it says, "Love a Farmer!"

As it says, "Love a Farmer!"

I am thrilled that Debra Prinzing invited Butternut Gardens to be part of her wonderful article on the local cut flower movement - or Slow Flowers movement - that is included in the recently-released issue of Southern Farm and Garden magazine. Debra is a major advocate for American flower farming and locally-grown flowers. For years, among other things, she has offered weekly podcasts related to the Field to Vase movement. Southern Farm and Garden is an absolutely gorgeous publication - one you want to read and view time and time again. It is available through subscription or at Barnes and Nobel stores. Please look for it.

TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF - JOIN ME!

 Chopped leaves forming a mulch for perennial beds at Butternut Gardens. Shagbark hickory is a main contributor, hence hickory nut hulls are part of the mix in this area of the farm.

Chopped leaves forming a mulch for perennial beds at Butternut Gardens. Shagbark hickory is a main contributor, hence hickory nut hulls are part of the mix in this area of the farm.

I live and farm in a suburban area where “lawn-scaping” is a major part of the surrounding neighborhood’s landscaping. That being said, come this time of year, the number of leaves, which falls astounds me. Other than the few that scoot into the inner confines of foundation plantings, most leaves are carted out of the neighborhood, and out of surrounding neighborhoods, to be deposited in the composting area of the town dump. There they are mixed with wood chips, grass clipping, and other ingredients, to create future mulch and compost mixtures. I grew up on 30 plus acres of beautiful property. Leaf storage was never a problem, and my family enjoyed many turns on the lawn mower naturally chopping up and mulching leaves on our lawn back into the ground.  Although I yearn for a larger parcel again, here I farm on my suburban lots making the best of every inch.  For a number of years, I too, having limited space for leaf storage, moved many leaves offsite. This year, I changed my ways, and I have to say, I am nearly giddy with this change. This year just about all of my leaves stayed right here for current and future use. To handle this year’s garden cleanup I implemented a four-step system using common homeowner equipment. I desperately want to share this methodology with you because I KNOW there are many others like me whose land and gardens could benefit from saving their leaves. 

 My go-to equipment for keeping my leaves on site: weed whacker, leaf blower, and hand mower.

My go-to equipment for keeping my leaves on site: weed whacker, leaf blower, and hand mower.

My first step of leaf clean up was to cut down leftover plant stems with my weed eater and create two separate piles of clippings. Stems from Phlox or other plants, which had any sort of mildew or unwanted disease condition were piled for removal. These I do not wish to retain on site. Stems in “clean” condition are being kept on site to be incorporated into future compost.  Using a weed eater with a metal cutting edge, rather than a string type trimmer, allowed me to easily cut thicker stems of perennials, such as Baptisia, Asters, and Peonies with one easy walk down the aisles.  I may very well do a second run down the aisles with hand clippers a bit later this season to remove any stem material closer to the plant crowns. 

With beds cleared of plant stems, I started up the leaf blower, gently steering leaves out of the beds and onto the grass pathways between the flowerbeds and onto the lawn more generally surrounding the beds. I also corralled leaves into a large pile on my paved driveway and into a couple of piles on site.

 Leaf mulch on perennial bed.

Leaf mulch on perennial bed.

Step three was to bring out the hand mower. By making repeated sweeps over the leaves in between the rows and also in a couple of piles, including the pile on the driveway, I soon created a much more compact and manageable leaf situation.  For step four I brought the leaf blower back to life.  For a second time I walked through the grass pathways between the garden beds, and with a very, very gentle touch, I blew some of the shredded leaves back into the beds, and left some on the grass. From the larger piles of shredded leaves, I carted wheelbarrows full to layer on top of some of the garden beds. Most exciting to me, I still have some good size piles of shredded leaves, which I will combine with all of the green cuttings I have during next year’s growing season, to help build next year’s compost. To this mixture I will also add the stems from the plants that I cut in step one, once I shred them, either with my lawnmower or small chipper. 

So, why did I bother to do all of this?  To me, leaves are like the magic of this world.  It NEVER made sense to me to remove bio-product, only to add bio-product in the form of mulch carted in during the spring.  Granted, my flower harvesting removes a certain amount of plant material, and thus requires some periodic amendment, but the gardens will be much closer to self-sufficient if I keep what grows here right where it belongs.  In the wooded areas of my childhood property, tree leaves fell and stayed. New trees grew and flourished with no fertilizers added. The system worked well! 

A leaf is a gold mine to my plants. Just think about it: a tree’s roots go a lot deeper into the soil than I could ever dig or “double dig” and all the minerals available to those roots have become available to the leaves, which are now sitting within range of the roots of Butternut Gardens’ future flowering plants. Yahoo! Another gain?  Mycohrhizae.  These root fungi, found in the soil, in leaf mould (partially decomposed leaves) and, hopefully, on my plants’ roots, are extremely beneficial to my plants. In undisturbed soils, these mycorhizzae send out stringy white runners for, in some cases, miles if the soil is not disturbed! This lets plants take up soil nutrients from a far greater area than they can take up in the limited areas in which their roots grow. In this plant/mycorhyzzae relationship, plants give a considerable amount of its manufactured carbohydrates to  mycorhizzae as a source of energy.  As leaves decompose, you may very well find white stringy material, which is part of the mycorhizzal system. Next year, as I noted above, I will attempt to incorporate some ofmy leftover leaves into various compost mixtures, which will find their ways to more of my annual plantings.

 Mulched leaves, and some which blew into my leaf mulch pile, and are not chopped up, showing fungal activity (white ares) starting to decompose the leaves. This leaf mould stage is one step in the decomposition process and is particularly beneficial to perennial plants, shrubs and trees.

Mulched leaves, and some which blew into my leaf mulch pile, and are not chopped up, showing fungal activity (white ares) starting to decompose the leaves. This leaf mould stage is one step in the decomposition process and is particularly beneficial to perennial plants, shrubs and trees.

Over the years, I have amended my soil with products brought in from offsite, and I might still have to do this a bit, but I can’t wait to see how fertile and fluffy my leaf-amended soil will be come spring, and I feel so great about knowing exactly what is going into my soil and having absolutely no fear that the amendments might contain residues I do not want in the gardens.  I hope you will consider saving your leaves next year and following my 4 easy steps for keeping leaves on site and helping your garden plants. Just remember to please wear eye protection/safety glasses, keep children, pets and other adults completely out of the way when you are using the noted machinery, and to wear ear protection.

 Compost, resulting from decomposition of organic material - leaves, grass, plant stems, kitchen waste, and more, is the next step for decomposing leaves, and a great soil amendment. I am saving piles of chopped up leaves for next spring and summer, so I can mix it with more green material and create valuable compost.

Compost, resulting from decomposition of organic material - leaves, grass, plant stems, kitchen waste, and more, is the next step for decomposing leaves, and a great soil amendment. I am saving piles of chopped up leaves for next spring and summer, so I can mix it with more green material and create valuable compost.

Compost Addition 3 copy.jpg

A compost/mulched product being incorporated into a new row.

LIVING IN, AND LOVING, THE OUTDOOR WORLD

 A crow soars overhead. This is not one of the "blackbirds" which this post discusses at its onstart.

A crow soars overhead. This is not one of the "blackbirds" which this post discusses at its onstart.

As I walked the garden rows, I suddenly saw in the sky what looked like leaves, swirling with the wind currents, swiftly falling and then just as swiftly being swept up before yielding again to a downward spiral in what I assumed to be their one magic “mass migration” from tree branch and twig to the awaiting ground. They were not leaves. In an instant the flock of black birds aligned itself so perfectly into a single coordinated pattern of flight. In another instant the group swooped down, turned wings sideways to soar upward again, and then with a more chaotic flap of landing wings settled onto the outstretched branches, now bare of leaves, of the shagbark hickory. With wings folded down, the noise commenced. Nearly piercing and yet, at the same time, with so many individuals contributing, it seemed more like a conglomerated humming. A background sound filling the sky. Chatter. Chatter. Chatter. I could only listen, deaf to its meaning, but knowing it surely meant something.

 

As I garden and farm I slip into the outdoor world daily. So often I must simply watch as an ignorant, but interested, bystander. I lament the times my work forces me to make a big impression on the soil and plants, when I must pull out old plants, which harbor insects or seeds, or when I must dig to plant, and disturb a toad’s familiar territory. I want so desperately to fit in and to not destroy. I find it such a difficult position in which to be, simply by being human.  Every day I try my best to be a good steward of our land and natural resources – animals, insects, plants, soil flora and fauna, water, air and mineral sources alike. It is my goal, always, to softly fold into the gentle arms of this earth, and leave a kiss, because, truly, I love that it shares so much with me every time I step outside.

Water Wisely

 

In a summer in which we are experiencing less than usual rainfall, I want to take a few moments to share some thoughts on watering. Butternut Gardens is located in a suburban neighborhood. Lawn and landscape irrigation systems abound and we have purchased water supply. I, too, have a lawn and landscape irrigation system in place on my home growing site, but not on my other growing site. The home irrigation system is rarely used here. In fact, I have used it only 3 times this growing season when plants looked truly in need. It might be because I grew up using a well that I treat water with a huge bit of respect. It might be my instinctively frugal nature that makes me appreciate a lot of the things many take for granted. Then again, it might be that I was a child of parents who lived through war years, which included rationing for the common good and I still believe in assisting the common good. Or it could be that as a child I watched reservoir levels hit highs and lows and I watched a river, which flowed by our house, too, reach floodwater highs and trickling lows. Just because it comes from a faucet doesn’t mean it doesn’t come from SOMEWHERE.

 Straw mulch goes over certain newly-transplanted seedlings to help reduce watering need. White frost cover sits atop another row, also helping to reduce water strain on new transplants.

Straw mulch goes over certain newly-transplanted seedlings to help reduce watering need. White frost cover sits atop another row, also helping to reduce water strain on new transplants.

 

In my mind, water is precious. While my plants are certainly important I generally confine my outdoor watering of plants to the following situations.  First, when I plant seedlings into the garden rows, I water. It is important to have soil, water and plant roots make contact rather than have plant roots in contact with air, which makes up part of the soil complex. Water helps settle the soil and allows for this contact. During the first few weeks after transplant I am very vigilant when it comes to protecting the seedlings from drying out. At this stage they are quite prone to drying out since their root system is still developing, and not very deep into the ground,  and first leaves are very tender. So, during this very sensitive timeframe I usually water very gently to keep the soil moist. I also take a few other steps to reduce watering needs. The first is I try to time planting to coincide with an imminent rain, but not a heavy rain, which would do more harm than good. I also routinely cover my newly planted out seedlings with white frost cover fabric. This fabric is great for keeping critters from eating seedlings or un-sprouted seeds (if I have placed multiple seeds in each plug) and also is invaluable at moderating soil temperature changes and soil moisture changes. I highly recommend this step when you plant out home seedlings.  In addition, I am a mulch fanatic both for weed control and for the sake of keeping my soil moist. 

 Spot watering of plants, which exhibit greater water stress is one of my watering techniques.

Spot watering of plants, which exhibit greater water stress is one of my watering techniques.

A second instance in which I will water is if we have not had rain for weeks on end and plants are in heavy growing stages. You may recall that we did not have water for 23 days straight earlier this season. We have had little water throughout this summer and are now about 9 inches below average for the year to date. I have not raced out to water. My mulches are doing a fantastic job in general. This has allowed me to water a total of three times on any large scale this year. I can’t say enough good things about mulching. One thing that helps me as a flower farmer, as opposed to strictly a gardener, is that I usually plant my plants closer to one another than I would in a garden setting. I want the plants to stretch out a bit to give me longer stems and I do a lot of cutting, which takes out volume and width. With a closer spacing of plants each individual plant benefits from a bit of shading around soil level.

 

Spot watering is a third category in my watering regimen. Certain plants, such as hydrangea, tend to wilt faster than others. If they are looking dry and wilted, I will water slowly and deeply. 

Finally, to help prolong the vase life of my cut flowers, I will pay special attention to plants from which I will soon be cutting.  A well-hydrated flower on a plant seems to make a better cut off the plant. So, if I am looking to cut Rudbeckia in another two days, or the Sweet Williams are almost ready, I will make sure they are well hydrated and will consider watering within 24 hours of cutting if they warrant it.

 Sometimes bringing out the hose is a winter task to keep the lovelies in the low tunnels well hydrated. Temperatures can climb quickly, even with sides slightly raised to vent.

Sometimes bringing out the hose is a winter task to keep the lovelies in the low tunnels well hydrated. Temperatures can climb quickly, even with sides slightly raised to vent.


If I grew more plants in high tunnels or low tunnels I would have to supply water in this situation as well because rainwater doesn’t make it through the plastic.  This is actually one reason I like to field grow my plants. I live in an area, which generally has plenty of water for outdoor growing. For this I am thankful. When I grow anemone and ranunculus in low tunnels I do have to supply water, sometimes even in the winter because the plastic tunnels keep the soil warm enough for the plants to continue growing, but also keep the soil dry. Other farmers have suggested kicking snow in from the sides of the tunnels. Even with last year’s extensive and extended snow cover I preferred to haul out the hose. No, it wasn’t fun, but I didn’t have to do it too many times. The miserable part is hauling the hose back in over the snow and making sure it is clear of water, which could freeze. So, if you think you want to be a flower farmer, just imagine hauling a hose out and back to the faucet in cold winter weather.