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Growing: A practice in hope

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

Audrey Hepburn

I am continually amazed at the process of growing things.

May is just plain hard work

Getting beds prepared — sketching out plans — remembering what is where — and pulling those tiny “harmless-looking-weed-sprouts.” There’s not a lot of encouragement at the end of the day. So I rely on HOPE. Believing what I can’t see (yet) will come to be.

Prepping the garden
JUNE COMES WITH FIRST BLOOMS

First blooms show up on annuals and happy plants now have leaves and first buds. I make adjustments to the beds — add stakes, start pinching first buds, and savor the single blooms that splash color around. But mostly I still hold on to HOPE. It’s going to be something soon! Really! (I tell myself).

Ageratum was a first for me this year
July bursts through

It is rather sudden. One morning I wake up to see sunflowers, bright and beautiful snapdragons, roses, lilies, cosmos, zinnias, hydrangea! It’s so rewarding to just sit and watch it soak up the rain and sunshine. It is still hard work — those weeds continue to spread (especially the ones I ignored in June). I lose track of staking every plant, and wish I would have spread the netting out sooner. But HOPE came through! Everything is showing up like planned — or maybe even better.

July flower shares

Growing is a practice in HAVING HOPE. And once July shows up, I’m reminded of the importance to plan and work hard, even when I can’t see the outcome.

This picture of faith – believing in things I cannot actually see – embracing HOPE for the good things to come – is how I have been thinking about growing lately. And I’m grateful for the whole amazing process.

Birdsong woke me up.

One morning in late April, I woke up to birdsong. I’d never heard that melody before and it lifted me out of sleep and onto the front porch to see where it was coming from!

It’s safe to say that Spring has arrived on our little farm in southwest Michigan. We continue to have a few worries — overnight temperatures might still dip into the 30’s — and 80 degree days might rough up the new transplants. But we take each day as it comes and do what we can to get every plant safely in a nutrient-rich environment. Growing is a risky business.

Hurrying

I’ve been “hurrying” to get tomato seedlings into pots, letting dahlia tubers face a sunshiny window, decide what gets put in the planting beds (this year we have over 50), and move soil and compost around so that every bed gets a refresh!

Okay, there’s probably more than that to the hurrying, but you get the idea.

Waiting

The waiting can be scary — when 500 flower plugs arrive in trays and it’s too cold to get them in the ground, for instance. I’ve been waiting to divide the dahlia clumps because I’m new at the whole process and I want to take the time to think it through carefully.

Doing

For a few weeks now we have left “hurry up and wait” behind us and started making things happen. There is a new chives bed, greens and lettuce are in, and we keep shooing the hens out of the strawberry beds. We have a lot of planting, direct seeding, and irrigation to set up. When June arrives we will be in full growing mode — and it will be time to share!

Shares

This year I will be delivering to 20 shareholders! The first veggies will be asparagus and rhubarb, spinach, kale, arugula, and lettuces. Herbs will be ready, and flowers will start to bud and bloom. We have a healthy flock of hens who love scrounging for bugs and worms in the cool of the evening. And we will have plenty fresh eggs.

Enjoy the birdsong, warm days, refreshing rains, and growing things!

Celebrate Green

“Even in winter it shall be green in my heart.” ~ Frederic Chopin

What a beautiful quote from one of my favorite composers! I love Chopin’s pieces for the piano that are moody and dramatic. So imagine my delight when I found these words and the resolve they imply. I feel the same. Green is in my heart – it is hope and beauty and assurance of things to come (sooner than later). Maybe “faith” is “green” as well.

This week St. Patrick’s Day marched into our thoughts. All shades of green appeared in stores with T-shirts, cards, hats, and shiny accessories to pin on our clothes. Last evening, in the grocery store, I spotted a dozen green roses in a bunch; and I was instantly inspired to bring them home and celebrate.

Today I’m watching it rain outside as I soak up the arrangement on the coffee table. We had sunny and warm weather over the past 3 days and our to-do-lists were all about preparing new beds, starting seeds, laying down weed barrier fabric, and setting up the grow lights in the basement. Green will be here very soon. This is Day 3 of the first soil blocks on trays under lights — and when the first sprout peeks out — another round of celebrating will be in order.

What will you do today to celebrate Green?

I’ll Take Everything Please.

Any gardeners out there?

Have you seen Johnny’s Selected Seeds 2022 Catalog? WOW. The front cover and images on every page will have you submitting your resignation letter and becoming a full-time farmer next week! Mine arrived a few days ago and I was afraid to open it because I knew I would want it all! Please.

Johnny’s is a standard of quality for organic growers, backyard to crop-size. You can order a packet or a pound of seed (that’s a lot). Some of my other favorite sources for organic seed are:

If you usually put in some vegetable plants around your home – in pots or in the ground – I suggest you buy organic and heirloom seed (if you don’t already)! Why not grow the very best flavors, colors, and nutrients? I’ve found that the germination rate (how often a seed actually sprouts and produces a plant) is usually higher than standard seed packets for sale in big-box stores.

Well, I made it through Johnny’s Seed catalog this afternoon. I circled my favorites and folded some pages, but before I make an order, I promised myself I would spread out my seed stash on the dining room table and see what I already have.

I plan to start with vegetables and list them in order of seed-starting-date. Some will need to be direct-sown; I’ll have to wait for the soil outside to warm up enough to help them germinate. But others will get an early start in soil-blocks and trays on a sunny table indoor with heat mats. The trick for me will be doing the math and making a schedule for when and how many seeds to start. Maybe I’ll print a big calendar and just fill in the boxes!

Next, I’ll unpack the flower seeds and decide if I have enough (there will never be enough). Truth is, I just can’t justify buying more flower seeds this year!

What do you plan on growing this year? Will you choose to go with organic seed?

Getting Ready

Because I live in Michigan, I never thought I’d say that January was a favorite month of the year! But January 2022 has been wonderful. It’s been really cold outside; but warm and cozy inside. I’m grateful for that.

I’ve had time and energy to dream and plan and get ready for adventure!

Dreaming

For those of you who plant gardens, you know that seed catalogs start jamming the mailbox in January! I’ve spent several hours turning those bright colorful pages and trying to tamper down my urge to buy everything!

I did have a budget for roses — and it was great fun putting that order in. We will be adding 18 rose bushes to the five that we worked with last year. I just can’t wait!

I also had a budget for Dairy Doo; that’s the best compost available to purchase that I know of in my little spot in the world. We’re getting started with our own composting venture (now that we have a tractor), but this spring and summer our soil is going to be loaded with all the right nutrients for strong root-building and vigorous blooming.

Planning

After all the catalog-browsing and web-searching, it was time to sit down and plan my growing beds. This is the hard part for me. I need big paper, pencils with erasers, books, the internet, my Google Drive, my memory, a list of my purchases, oh-my-goodness! And I didn’t mention a calculator yet….the math helps….how many snapdragons will fit in the 6’x100′ bed?

Facing my fears

That’s another thing I’ve done in January. I’ve tried to balance my plans with the healthy realization that the actual growing is not up to me. I can put the necessary pieces together, but the growing depends on so many things completely outside my control. And that brings a little bit of fear into my heart! And it keeps me humble!

Every season is a growing season (plants and knowledge). Let’s just say, I’m up for the adventure! Here are the sources I leaned on this month:

Winter Beauty

I recently decided on a “brand promise” for Gwen’s Greens. This was not an easy decision to make! The challenge to find a few key words to describe the who, what, and why of this business was real, but after several weeks and conversations with best friends of this business I landed on this:

growing goodness and beauty

When thinking about Gwen’s Greens, it is tempting to lock myself into a season — specifically the growing season — but this farm has a lot to offer in every season of the year!

The view on my morning walk around the property in December

There are berries, colored leaves, twisted twigs, and fluffy seed pods. Not to mention the green pine, cedar, and fir branches with new, crispy pinecones.

This year I am delivering Christmas cards to my customers with doorknob swags, and I plan to make this a Gwen’s Greens tradition.

Doorknob swags for Gwen’s Greens customers

Even in this winter season, the beauty is amazing. Some mornings the berries are coated with icy droplets, and bare tree branches look as if they were dipped in syrupy icicles. Sometimes a light fluffy layer of snow lands in the crevices of pinecones and twigs, bushes and flower petals that are still hanging on from fall.

Goodness and beauty keep our thoughts in perspective, and heal our weary minds and bodies. We can find goodness and beauty everywhere — when we look for it. And it’s my pleasure to share it with you.

Merry Christmas!

2021 Dahlias

In 2021 we introduced our first dahlia project. We ordered tubers from a variety of dahlia growers and sprouted and planted 40 dahlia tubers. The result was incredible beauty and lots of lessons!

What we learned

  • how important it is to stake the plants
  • how easy it is for scratching hens to dig down to the tuber level
  • the noticeable difference a pile of compost makes to the plant
  • and the amazing production of bloom after bloom in August, September and October!

See our success

It was a great season!

Stop and Pause

When was the last time you stopped to smell a rose?  The famous quote that you are hearing in your mind right now, is attributed to golfer Walter Hagen, in the 1950’s. He wrote in his book, The Walter Hagen Story, that “you’re only here for a short visit.” If you are reading this, and you are over 30 years old, you know that time flies, and that without stopping to pause and look around at the beauty in front of our noses, we will miss it!

Chicago Peace Rose

I purchased a Chicago Peace Rose bush this spring and it is delightful! Now, with new rose bushes pushing out blooms, I can bend over and smell the roses!

As soon as the weather began to warm here in Michigan, I started taking a daily walk around the perimeter of our property and snapping pictures of growth. First there were buds, then the tiniest leaves. Every walk was a discovery and delivered a burst of hope!

The pandemic has shown most of us the true value of pausing and stopping for a spell—even if we don’t know how long the spell will last. As things begin opening in our state, and in the nation, my prayer is that we never forget the little things that delighted us when we were still.

I’m thinking about new pets, new hobbies, online cooking classes, special delivery meals, family Zoom calls, reorganized pantries, new landscaping, reading, gasoline savings, good old fashioned greeting cards and letters in the mailbox, puzzles on the table, and creative meals with a few ingredients.

Ahh… let’s not forget to stop and smell the roses.

Note: I added 5 rose bushes to my flower farm this spring. I planned to wait until Fall and have roses in 2022, but I happened upon some strong and healthy bushes in the greenhouse at Kryst Farm Market and couldn’t resist. And I purchased 5 bare roots from David Austin Roses to put in this fall. Can’t wait to share the blooms!

May is gone

The month of May was a busy one for me! The spring semester winds down (think: final grades, faculty meetings and commencement), and the ground starts warming up! All those dreams and ideas that germinated in the winter are about to become real!

May was a confusing stretch of time for gardening this year where I live in Michigan. We had warm days and then cold days — sunshine and early plantings, then freezing temperatures that wiped them out. It was the most stressful time of waiting-it-out that I can remember. I told myself to stay focused on plans and preparations, and practice being still. Turns out, waiting was good for me.

When the day came for me to pick up my trays of organic seedlings that Willow Garden Organic Farms started for me, I was ready to go! I had a little setback with the basil, but it recovered and is now going strong. And the arugula, spinach, swiss chard, kale, and cilantro just soaked it all up and g r e w.

The word “resilience” is used pretty often in the world right now — and I’m learning from the garden — that plants are incredibly resilient, they strive to thrive, and given the time and conditions they need, they can survive and even g r o w. There must be a lesson for me there.

May brought not very many showers (we had drought conditions), but lots of weed barrier cloth, some new hoses, a start with drip tape irrigation (yay!), a start on my cutting rose garden, and those dreamy dahlia tubers, sprouts, planting, and now healthy plants! A new focus on our hens (they stopped laying for several weeks) and plans to give them free rein of the garden to snack on bugs and weeds. I do hope they don’t peck on the summer squash….

Even with all the waiting, today May is a blur. It came and it went. With early mornings, late nights, days of being still, and days of being busy. It’s all a part of the growing process, because June follows with some of the fruit of it all.

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate–bringing forth food from the earth.

Psalm 104:14

Dreaming of Dahlias

Dahlias are a hot commodity among flower farmers! When a farm advertises a “tuber sale” thousands (or even more) click on the link and place an order. And it’s not the price that is the deciding factor on a purchase — it’s the variety. For example, EVERYONE wants a Cafe Au Lait tuber (one isn’t enough, actually).

Established flower farmers post videos and images of the dahlia farming process. And honestly, it is intoxicating to watch! In a cut flower group that I’m a member of on Facebook, someone asked: “I bought 10 dahlia tubers….should I buy more?” The responses were overwhelmingly yes! You can’t have too many! Members started replying with statements like these:

Ten is nothing. Did you even TRY to shop?

Ten? You need to buy another 10-20…Go big.

Please say you forgot a couple of zeros – did you mean 10 or 1000? Welcome to your addiction!

Dahlia math is like chicken math. You say you’re going to get 10, look at 20, and come home with 40.

I bought probably 1500 this year. They are an investment. It’s a good addiction!

For 2 years now I have grown a few dahlia plants. But this year I’m making an effort to add dahlias to the garden plot. I will have about 30 plants this year and I can’t wait to show you the amazing blooms!

Another great thing about dahlia farming, is the promise of duplication (each plant grows a handful (or more) tubers that can be saved and cultivated the next year. If done well, my 30-something patch will promise 100+ in 2022.

Wish me luck!