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!

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!

Plans for 2021

This is Year 3 of Gwen’s Greens, LLC, and I plan to make it a memorable one! I can’t do it alone of course — it’s my Farm Shares that make it possible, so thank you everyone who has joined Gwen’s Greens for 2021!

What I CAN do is plan well and use my assets wisely. This means I need to use my space well, manage my time, and continue to learn all I can about this kind of business.

S P A C E

Tilling the Soil by Chiot’s Run; CC license.

Here’s some progress

I added a 30′ x 90′ growing space this year. The area is marked, soil tilled, grass removed, and we will be covering it shortly — so it doesn’t become a weed forest. This Fall, we’ll come back to it and add compost, till it up some more and put it to bed for the winter. In spring of 2022 I’ll have a ton of flowers blooming in this space up by the entrance to our property! Drive-by’s will get a boost of flower-power and I’m dreaming of a Flower Stand where I can put out bouquets and bunches for folks to drop by and pick up.

T I M E

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Summer Days

I’m blocking out mornings for garden-work, and evenings for deliveries. This gives me the middle day to work at my job and make sure the house and animals are cared for. If it looks like the hours in the day won’t stretch this far, I’ll adjust. Anyone interested in some garden work?

L E A R N I N G

“Learn Key” by Got Credit is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Always growing

Learning also means growing — and I’m promising myself (and you) that I will keep at it. Growth in my knowledge of organic plant and soil care, the needs of my community, and sustainable practices for this business. If left to my own brain-power, I can make things too complicated (over-thinking is one of my weaknesses). My focus will be on simplicity and working smart.

Thank you so much for your support!

Soil Blocking

Last spring, I transformed our dining room into a seed-starting project. We scooted between folding tables and chairs to get to the table to eat, and I had all my seed-starting supplies stacked here-and-there on half of the dining room table. Not the best scenario! I made a note to improve the process for 2021.

And then I discovered Lisa Mason Ziegler, of Instagram fame (I am just one of the 28,000 folks who watch her posts about her flower farm in Virginia).

She was talking about soil blocking and I was curious. So, I opened her website at gardenersworkshopfarm.com and read all I could about it. I learned that soil blocking would cost me a little bit to get started (tools), but promised to be easy, save time, take up less space than my cell trays, and make the transplanting process into the garden gentle on my baby plants.

I ordered the 1” and 2” soil blockers from gardenersworkshopfarm.com, and just a few months later, I saw Lynsey from Muddy Acres Flower Farm post a video on Instagram of her soil blocking project. It looked so easy-peasy! I couldn’t wait to get started on my own.

In April all we can do is dream and scheme about gardening where I live in Michigan. On April Fools Day this year it snowed! But it didn’t last long and last week I pulled out my new soil blocker tools, opened the bag of soil I had saved for this project, and got to work planting tomatoes and snapdragons.

I cleared a space on the kitchen counter and put soil in a 9×12 baking dish (it seemed the right depth and size). I added water until I could squeeze a handful of soil and get some water to drip out. It only took a few tries with the soil blocking tool to learn what was too dry, what was too wet, and what was just right.

I stamped the soil blocks onto a plastic tray and then opened my first pack of seeds!

Each soil block had an indention in the top, so I dropped a seed (or two) into each. And just like that I had started my Black Krim tomatoes.

I had my operation set up on the counter for less than an hour, and then put everything away, including my starts on just one-half of one folding table in the sunny spot of the dining room. The dining room table is actually clear this year!

I can’t wait to show you how they grow and transplant into my garden beds!

Getting Started

In my first season of Gwen’s Greens, LLC, I set out to do everything “the right way.” It was Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden that infused me with the inspiration and motivation to make my garden into a business; so, I followed Erin Benzakein’s recommendations 100%.

  • I bought the landscape fabric and made a template to burn holes for each plant
  • I ordered seeds from Floret and planted them exactly how the package instructed

And I was successful!

When it came to starting seeds indoors, I relied on our family’s experience gardening over the past 20 years and did a lot of searches on Google. I was most intrigued by @nctomatoman on YouTube and ordered his book: Epic Tomatoes. I modeled after Craig’s seed starting process and even tried planting in grow bags like he does on his driveway! He got me started on a journey of staking and pruning tomatoes. I had no idea how this would increase my yields!

Attributed to Gwen Hersha for Gwen's Greens, LLC

I share this with you, because it’s important to note that following an expert’s guidelines and advice has been incredibly valuable for me. I won’t share all the web links and books I reviewed and even patterned some of my practices after, that didn’t lead to success. And here’s why: not every good idea will work for you (it didn’t for me). But continually reading and following gardeners online and in your community will help you determine your own process and save you time by avoiding years of trial and error. As you research, you will uncover experts or true “sages” to model after, like Erin and Craig are for me.

This year I’ve discovered Lisa Mason Ziegler who shares her insights and resources on @gardenersworkshopfarm on Instagram. And she has introduced me (and her 27.7K followers) to soil blocking!

As soon as 2021 rolled around, I ordered some soil blocking tools and this week I am going to try them out! I can’t wait to share what I find out with this new process. It promises to be easy, take up a fraction of the space that typical cell trays do, and gentle on those seedlings I will transplant to their homes in the outside soil.

I may be late coming to the party! Have you tried soil blocking? What have you learned?

Microgreens

What do you know about microgreens? Well, first off, they are beautiful.

But not only that, they are incredibly nutritious. Infinite-Harvest, an indoor vertical farm in Colorado, describes their benefits in a manner that will probably get you excited!

  • full of protein and dietary fiber
  • sources of Vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene
  • nutritionally dense compared to their full-grown vegetable
  • packed with Potassium, Phosphorus, Manganese, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Calcium, Copper…
  • elevates the flavor atop soups, sandwiches, salads, and dips
Image used with permission from pixahive with a creative commons license.

Because microgreens are the seedlings of plants that we eat (think: spinach, radishes, peas), they contain every nutrient needed for the full plant to develop and thrive. This means that microgreens will have substantially more nutritional value than the plants they can grow into.

Eat spinach leaves? Microgreens have 2-3.5 times more nutrients than mature spinach leaves.

Retrieved from: Microgreens benefits @ InfiniteHarvest.com

Gwen’s Greens will be sending you microgreens throughout the 2021 season. Some of our favorites are pea shoots, arugula, broccoli, cilantro, amaranth, radish, and sunflower shoots. High-end markets supply packages of microgreens for $6-10 dollars a package. With your Gwen’s Greens Farm Share, we will add microgreens to your delivery several times over the season.

Get ready to eat fresh and nutritious!

The New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin — Stuffed!

Today we see pumpkins at farm markets and grocery stores — even piled on flat-bed trailers in parking lots — and we make sure to buy (at least) one to decorate our front porches. These pumpkins are bred to be lightweight and hollow (so we don’t have to scoop out so many seeds when we carve them), and if you’ve tried cooking one to make a pie, it just doesn’t work out so well.

Enter the Pie Pumpkin!

Traditionally, folks roasted or baked pie pumpkins, scooped out the sweet and creamy flesh and made desserts (like the famous pie of course) and savory dishes (like soup).

Years ago, a friend gave me a fantastic baked pumpkin recipe. I thought I’d share that recipe with you, and inspire you to search for even more ways to use the delicious pie pumpkin!

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

Wash the outside of a pie pumpkin (the smaller the pumpkin, the faster it will cook through); carve a lid in the top (leaving the stem as a handle) and scoop the seeds and string-i-ness out.

Rub the inside of the pumpkin liberally with butter (the more the buetter).

Now, pour 1/4 – 1/3 c of brown sugar into the pumpkin and spread it around in the butter coating.

Mix dry stuffing mix (pepperidge farms works well – or you can make your own) with 1 lb. of browned ground sausage (still hot). The mixture will have some wetness to it, but if it is mostly dry, then add some hot water until you are able to “mold” the mixture in your hand.

Next, scoop the stuffing into the pumpkin, put the lid on, and set it on a cookie sheet. Then place it in a preheated 325-350-degree oven for 30 minutes to an hour (until it shrinks and feels soft to touch). Take it out of the oven and let it cool down with the lid on.

While it’s still warm, take the lid off, and with a rigid spoon, start stirring inside the pumpkin — making sure to scrape the cooked pumpkin off the sides so it combines with the stuffing mixture.

Then serve the whole pumpkin on a pretty platter!