Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Another Heath Fair is Past

I spent a lot of time working, one way and another, in the Friends of the Heath Free Public Library Book tent. This book sale and raffle is our big fund raiser of the year.

The Book Tent is a good place to read, and eat homemade pie a la mode, and to visit. But there is a lot to see at the Fair.

Food preservation is a hot topic in the general culture these days, but canning is a traditional Heath skill.

The Exhibit Hall is full of wonderful entries, artistic, agricultural,  and natural history. This ball gown made of egg crates welcomed visitors to the Hall.

There was only one entry is the perfect breakfast category, but no question that it would be a prize winner any time.

My garlic guru naturally won first prize. Mine looked almost as good.

The Heath School was only one of several organizations that put up big exhibits. The garden is doing beautifully.

Of course, we wanted to see the grandsons’ exhibits.  Anthony won a First for his duct tape mosaic.

His brother Drew won Third for his Not So Perfect House Sculpture. I think he’s been taking notes while staying at our house.

There are lots of things to DO at the Fair. Blueberry and whipped cream eating contests, Firemen’s BBQ to eat, a ladies skillet toss, gymkanas, ox  and horse pulls, tractor pull, too.  Tricia went down to the new barn building. This year they had a goat show for the first time. This goat was not entered.

At the Historical Society’s barn master weaver Sue Gruen was showing us all how to weave. Rory caught on fast.

His brother Tynan was equally quick to learn.

I took a turn, too.

There are several parades over the course of the Fair including the  Oxen Parade, and an antique tractor parade. This was the final ‘big’ parade which included a couple of floats, fancy old cars, fire engines and more tractors. Most of these tractors are still in use and remind us that although the dairy farms are gone, fields are being tended for hay, sunflowers, and corn. We treasure our agricultural history . . .

and look forward to a new generation carrying on.

Signature Quilt

The Ladies Aid exhibit in the Hall featured another important historical artifact.  One of the ladies found a half made signature quilt in the back of a closet. Not her closet. The signature quilt had been started many years ago, and included the signatures of a generation that has passed. They decided to finish the quilt adding their own signatures. What a treasure this quilt is.  A treasure that reflects the richness of our life here in Heath. We are blessed.


Faster and Faster

The Holiday Weekend started for me on Friday afternoon when I visited the Heath School’s Garden Day. The classes have been working before now, of course, but on Garden Day, the whole day is given over to planting, weeding, mulching – and learning.  I am impressed with their energy, which I expected, but also with the quality of the child-sized tools they are using.  Many hands make light work was certainly the motto on Friday.

You may wonder what is with all the stones and stone -like things in  the Shed Bed, but you have to remember that the Shed Bed is right next to the hen house and for the past couple of months the chickens have considered this their personal Lido for taking dust baths.  First I kept the chickens in the hen house today. Then I finished weeding and edging, dug in some nice rotted manure and lime, and planted the little annual salvias that edge this bed every year. This is the way I fudge not being able to grow a lavender hedge.

You can’t really tell, but I also put tiny annual dianthus along the west edge of the Lawn Grove, as well as nine cosmos seedlings.  The big task was planting the weeping cherry that I bought at Home Depot.  I hope that was a wise decision.  It’s been watered and mulched with wood chips. You can see a small hardy azalea blooming on the far side of the grove.  Lots of weeding.

Guan Yin Mian

The garden is progressing faster and faster.  Everytime I turn around something new has come into bloom.  This tree peony is so lovely. The translation of the name is Guan Yin’s Face.  Guan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion and surely hers is the most beautiful of faces.

Boule de Neige and Rangoon have been slowly opening, but with temperatures in the 80s for two days they came into full bloom in the shady bed next to the Cottage Ornee.

Last year I found this rhodie forgotten and languishing in the weeds at the edge of the ‘orchard.’  I dug it up and this time I transplanted it properly, “Keep it simple, just a dimple,” as my rhododendron expert says. I think it is Calsap. What a lovely surprise to have it survive and put out new growth and bloom!

The lilacs are blooming and perfuming the air.  We even spent some time enjoying the beauty and fragrance of the garden: we opened the Cottage officially and entertained two friends who we see all too infrequently.  A perfect weekend.

Earth Day 2011

Greenfield Farmer's Market

On this Earth Day I don’t want to lecture about what we all should be doing to protect the environment. I want to celebrate some of the actions I know about in my community that are being done right now, many of which will grow.

I am thrilled with the school gardens that are being planted, tended and harvested. They not only supply food, but many lessons that connect with work in the classroom.  Heath school has had its garden for several years, but other schools also have gardens. I just learned that Mohawk Trail District Nutrition Director Elizabeth Buxton’s dream is for every school in the District to have its own garden. Buckland Shelburne Elementary will set up its garden on April 30.

I rejoice in the number of small farms that have started up in the last few years, making their produce available through their own farmstands, the farmer’s markets and local supermarkets.  Monday evening I am going to be at the Greenfield Community College Down Town campus at 6:30 to hear three Farm-hers, Deb Habib of Seeds of Solidarity in Orange, Sorrel Hatch of Upinngil Farm in Gill, and and Caroline Pam of the Kitchen Garden in Sunderland talk about their life and farms.

I give thanks that CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) is helping farmers and helping us find more and more local food all year round.

I applaud every time I see solar panels, or windmills as I drive along my country roads.

Of course I have my own part to play. We’ve tightened the house, got a new heating system, use FCLs, carry canvas shopping bags with us, bundle our errands to save gas, grow some of our own food and we are about to plant a windbreak that will help save on our  heating bills.

What do you celebrate in your area?  Do you have an energy saving project coming up?

Leave a comment on my Give Away post and maybe you will win Starter Vegetable Gardens. Deadline is midnight tonight.

Heath School Gardens

Over at Garden Rant Mary Gray’s guest rant bewailed the state of many school grounds, all concrete and lawn. I am very familiar with the school grounds that she describes, but I feel fortunate that the children in our small town have a very different school experience.

Heath Elementary School wellhead

The Heath Elementary School, which opened in 1996, was built in a pasture surrounded by woodland. When the school bus pulls off the dirt road onto the driveway it passes a path that leads to the school’s wellhead. This area is well used for science study, with information about the importance of clean water, and how it is kept clean.

Heath School Entry

The children debark they welcomed by perennials on either side of the entrance.

Heath School Playing Fields

The school and its grounds are held in the embrace of a woodland, where science can be studied, and the beauties of nature can inspire art classes. Perhaps inspire a poem or essay or two as well.

Heath School Meadow

The meadow fills the circular drive where buses and cars drive up to, and then away from the entry. Right now it looks all neat having just been given a back to school trim, but in the spring it is a hazy blue meadow of lupines, followed by a bouquet of summer wildflowers.

Heath School Vegetable Garden

The newest addition to the school landscape is the vegetable garden, punctuated by some bright annuals. This has been producing for three or four years now and the soil gets better every year.  There are some apple trees, too. I’d like to be able to tell you that the kids enjoy some of those vegetables at lunch but I am sure, absolutely sure, that they would never break the law which forbids this kind of activity. Isn’t the law interesting? There might be another lesson there.

This school with its gardens doesn’t come about just because it is a small school out in the country. It takes devoted and energetic parents who volunteer time, labor and money, and creative teachers who find a hundred ways to integrate the garden and the landscape into the Mass Curriculum Frameworks.  Heath is pretty lucky!


Ted Watt has worked with the children of the Heath Elementary School for years, teaching them about the land and the world they live in. One of the blessings of the school landscape is a woodland where the childrren have studied the seasons and phases of life of many woodland creatures and plants.

On their most recent exploration of the woods they  found – drumroll please – a truffle. I know nothing about truffles, except that they are a kind of underground fungi, but I usually think of them being found by truffle digging pigs in the Perigord region of France.

Heath is no Perigord, and Ted is no pig, but somehow, he found a truffle, ‘the diamond of the kitchen’, so prized for haute cuisine.  I haven’t talked to him, but I wonder who takes possession of this rare culinary delight. Ted? The school cafeteria? Will the kids soon be lunching on risotto with leeks, shiitake mushrooms and truffles?

Heath School Garden

Carin Burnes and Virginia Gary

Carin Burnes and Virginia Gary

             ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

             How does your garden grow?

            With silver bells and cockleshells,

            And pretty maids all in a row.’


            Illustrations of this familiar nursery rhyme tend to show proper young ladies in beribboned batiste holding colorful watering cans with clean hands, but while the students at the Heath Elementary School do all they can to make their garden grow, there is no sign of batiste.

            Real modern children favor denim and t-shirts and hands dirty with planting, weeding and harvesting.

            Five years ago Carin and Chris Burnes, who with their children are avid organic gardeners, started a Garden Club at the school. This was essentially an extra-curricular activity, but two years ago, Virginia Gary, a teacher, saw how gardening could be integrated into the curriculum. Many parents feared their children would not be interested, but since there is as much fun as learning in the garden those fears were unfounded.

            Gary explained the ways the garden fits into the standard curriculum. The theme for all the kindergarten children is Explore; there is everything to explore in the garden.

            Gary teaches one of the Primary classes this year (Heath School combines ages in some classes) and the science curriculum focuses on Life Cycles. She said last spring students planted pole beans with beans they had saved from the previous year’s crop. That was a concrete example of complete life cycle.

            Third and fourth graders study plants. Where better than in a garden?

            It is a challenge to find a garden hook in the fifth and sixth grade curriculum, but this year they will be doing soil testing and studying the implications, as well as helping spread wood chip mulch around the perimeter of the garden in every gardener’s never ending battle against weeds.

            Each classroom accepts responsibility for a section of the garden. The kindergarteners got the biggest plants – Hubbard squash!

 Jorie McCloud’s class grew the native American Three Sisters, corn, squash and beans, but with a twist. Instead of sweet corn McCloud grew broom corn. These older children combine their garden work with what they learned at Old Sturbridge Village about brooms. They will make their own broom and research the capabilities of the brooms they find in their own homes.

When it was all planted the garden included all the usual veggies.

            It took some community help to start the garden in the spring. Mike Smead rototilled and Dominic Musacchio, Shelburne Farm and Garden, and Avery’s General Store donated seeds and plants. David Gott of the Benson Place blueberry farm worked with the older students on pruning the school’s fruit trees.

            All the students spend some time in the garden every week.  Working with the cold frames provide extra excitement because the glass sections are not hinged and need to be lifted and laid on the grass. And what enjoys that warm space under the glass after it has been in the sun for a while? Snakes!

            “Yes,” Gary sighed, “everyone loves snakes. And catching crickets. And watching caterpillars. I am hoping we can plant a butterfly and hummingbird garden so we can attract even more birds and butterflies.

            “Thinning the carrots is not so much fun. Still, one child got so carried away with thinning, we had to replant that section. It’s all learning,” Gary said.

            The garden was tended during the summer by families who took responsibility for a week or two.  Some families spent a lot of time in the garden together. Families were also welcome to harvest the produce as it came in.

            Now that school is in session produce has turned up in cafeteria lunches. The children loved digging up the potatoes and washing them. And eating them, However, the big stuffed baked potatoes were not from the garden. Even though the youngest students had dug and washed their own small potatoes, they had trouble grasping the concept that the big potatoes did not come from their own garden.

            Teachers and students continue to learn, as I have, that work in the garden leads down many paths, history, math, writing, art and music.  They measure and map the garden, keep journals of the garden’s progress, study how plants like potatoes originated in the New World, are transplanted to Europe, become diseased and send thousands of Irish immigrants to the United States to escape the great Potato Famine. This is a whole different aspect of the ‘Columbian Exchange’, the movement of plants both east and west across the Atlantic.

            They look at the mysterious zucchini-pumpkin cross and talk about pollinators, pollination, and hybridization.

            “We want to feed the school,” Gary said. “That is one of our goals.”  To that end they are planning ways to improve the garden. “We need a shed. Right now it takes nearly half a period just to bring the wheelbarrow and tools to the garden. We want to make raised beds which would make it easier for the students, and keep the soil from compacting.”  Grants are being written. All donations are welcome.

            “Inch by inch, row by row,” this garden is growing, as are the gardeners. They grow in their understanding of the soil, in their appreciation of the bounty they can help produce, in the discovery of where they fit, and how they affect the natural systems of our planet. That is a full curriculum.  ###




In early June I visited the Heath School for Garden Day. The kindergarteners were going to plant sunflowers around their sand pile. They dug a trench but needed bags of top soil. Heavy bags. The girls were just as strong and devoted to duty as the boys.


The sunflowers grew all summer, as best they could this cold wet summer. Another lesson in the garden, but the kindergarteners were perfectly happy.          


      Between the Rows   October 10, 2009