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Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Michael Van Valkenburgh

Designing a Garden by Michael Van Valkenburgh

In 2013 I attended the opening of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was a sunny September day and Museum Director Anne Hawley and landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh were on hand to explain how the garden came to be.

It was certainly not the Monk’s Garden that I had seen a few years earlier. The day I saw that space I could not understand why it was called any kind of garden. I admit it was a gray day, late in the fall, but all I could see was an empty enclosed space with a lawn and a magnificent katsura tree. Not much of a garden. It seems that Isabella Stewart Gardner herself could never achieve a garden that pleased her in that space.

Happily in 2013 there was a grove of trees, underplantings, paths, and places to sit alone or with companions. The katsura and a saucer magnolia remained and were joined by many paperbark maples, gray birches, Japanese stewartia and Hetz Wintergreen arborvitae. The low growing underplanting featured ajuga, ferns, hellebores, hostas, periwinkle as well as the promised foliage of lilies, daylilies, and daffodils. There was a quiet magic in the grove that made up the Monk’s Garden.

Before they started construction Anne Hawley told Van Valkenburgh about the new addition and entryway to the Museum, and the view of the garden space from new social space in the building, as well as the galleries. The view of the garden came from many directions. She wanted visitors to experience the garden from inside the museum as well as strolling through the garden.

On opening day Van Valkenburgh spoke to the assembled press about his approach. He concluded by saying that that he always remembers the advice given him by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner. “Make as many gardens as you can.” After we strolled in the dappled shade of the garden we saw that he truly understood the intimacy and solitude that a small garden can provide.

Now Van Valkenburgh has written Designing a Garden (Monacelli Press $40.) with many stunning photographs describing how this garden was created. The photographs capture the woodland with its textured underplantings in every season.

Monk's Garden

Ariel View of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Garnder Museum

But to begin, Van Valkenburgh looked at the space, 52 feet wide and 150 feet long and thought how he would create a space where people could wander. “I had a hunch that the answer might be found in the shape of the paths. By signaling where to go, the notion of a path drives the experience of the garden.”

If you have a path you must have pavers. I found myself fascinated by all the decisions regarding the paths, and every other element. After I wandered through the garden, feeling almost solitary, and felt the rise and fall of the path I could see the difficulties of laying it out. When reading the book I remembered Van Valkenburgh’s answer to a man in the audience. “Well, there was a lot of build and design going on.” I realized that phrase meant not everything was organized at the beginning.

Path at Monk's Garden

Construction of path at Monk;’s Garden

The book describes the creation of the swirling design of the path. Decisions had to be made about materials, and the pattern. Schist and black manganese pavers were chosen reflecting the sun and shade created.

In his book Van Valkenburgh describes his thoughts about building the path and said, “My design process requires a kind of creative optimism – I have to believe that a solution is out there while realizing that the way to a final goal is open ended.”

Once the paths were laid down it was time for the plants. “The first time I stood in the emptiness of the Monk’s Garden site, with its imposing walls and the katsura tree spreading overhead, I imagined a thicket of small trees filling the space with movement and a sense of mystery,” he said. I certainly felt the mystery when I walked the garden.

In addition to being a brilliant designer, knowledgeable about materials and effects, Van Valkenburgh is a brilliant writer, painting pictures of the garden, and hinting at the responses to this captivating space.

My friend Peter Beck was a student at Cornell University at the same time as Van Valkenburgh. They became friends because Peter was taking design classes that were not officially available to Van Valkenburgh. Peter said design was not much thought of in those days. It was all about materials, and plant names, not how to use either. “Michael bemoaned the lack of design history and theory in his program,” Peter said. “However simply by thinking about design and engaging (with architecture students) in long, late night discussions about design theory and history, Michael was clearly providing his own education while at Cornell.”

Peter’s words made clear to me that from the beginning Van Valkenburgh’s thoughts were always about the responses to the gardens and park spaces he would design.

Van Valkenburgh was successful in creating a garden that delights everyone  who enters. He also left us with thoughts about what we might consider in our own gardens. ###

Between the Rows   October 19, 2019

John Barry and His Own Arboretum


John Barry's path to his arboretum

John Barry left this avenue of conifers when his Christmas Tree farm ended

John Barry grew up in Boston, met and married his wife Pat in Boston, and worked in Boston, but he says he never saw foliage until he was 30 years old. It was not until he and Pat took a vacation in Gill that his love affair with trees began.

After the two of them came to Gill on vacation and found it to be beautiful and quiet, they bought and built on five acres of clear land in 1973. Then the came the day when the city seemed too noisy and dirty, and they moved to Gill full time.

The Christmas Tree Farm Came First

Barry worked in insurance but for 20 years he also had a Christmas tree farm. Remnants of those Christmas trees still stand.  Then the Barry children grew up, went to college and moved away. “I sold the last of the Christmas trees at a church sale.  I loved growing and shearing the Christmas trees, but I hated cutting them down,” he said.

He had enjoyed the visitors who came to cut down their own trees, like the man who arrived with four sled dogs, and a sled, to experience the way they did things in the old days.

With new room on his acreage Barry began planting many other kinds of trees, creating his own arboretum, his own museum of trees. He took me on a tour beginning with the Seven Son Flower. One of these grows on the Bridge of Flowers, but I never seemed to be on the Bridge when it was blooming.  That is understandable when Barry explained that this tree blooms after Labor Day, “no matter when Labor day falls.” he said. “The blossoms are white and the Monarch butterflies love them. Then the white petals fall off and the calyx turns crimson. Many people then think that the tree blooms twice.”

We walked past a large Norway spruce, and a concolor fir. Concolor means two colors, a name that suits this fir because it is not true green and seems to have a white dusting. “It grows very slowly,” Barry said.

Chestnut Trees

Chestnuts on back-bred tree

These chestnuts grow on a back-bred tree, which should be immune from blight

Then we arrived at three chestnut trees that were not affected by the blight that has decimated American chestnut trees. Barry explained that until about 1900 eastern United States had billions of beautiful chestnut trees. It was the predominant tree of our forests. The nuts fed wildlife and farm animals during the winter. The beautiful wood was used for everything from fence posts to fine furniture. It was an essential tree.

Then Chinese chestnut trees were imported. Chinese trees carried the blight Cryphonectria parasitica but were immune. Ultimately  almost all American chestnut trees died.

Nowadays chestnut trees are being back-bred to create trees that are immune. Many people are working on this problem. The hope is to get the trees to be 98 percent American and only 2 percent Chinese. Barry’s trees are looking healthy and he has hopes that they will stay that way.

Metaseqoia

Metaseqoia was discovered growing in China in 1941

The Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia, was thought to be extinct

We continued walking and came to a Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. This tree was thought to be extinct until it was discovered growing in a spot in the Szechwan province of China in 1941 by a Chinese forester. Seeds made their way to the United States in 1947 after the war. This tree is not known to grow naturally in any other place but now it grows in arboreteums and personal gardens in zones 4-8 in slightly acid soil. It also likes wet sites.

Barry planted his tree about 15 years and it has grown rapidly. Like the larch tree, the Dawn Redwood’s needles turn yellow in the autumn and then fall off.

Nearby is a young gingko tree. This tree is also native to China and grows in zones 4-9 here. The gingko is interesting for its fan shaped leaves that turn gold in the fall. And then one night, when it has been cold, all the leaves will drop at once. We had gingko trees in Heath. We enjoyed waking up one morning to see our ginkgos in the center of a golden circles

Barry and I continued our walk, past large hydrangeas and a beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. Beautyberry has small pink/purple flowers in the spring and very unusual, and beautiful violet berries in the fall.

Shrubs have a place in Barry’s arboretum. He is also a man who likes to experiment. He took me to two rows of small hydrangeas which he said are becoming very popular. They are more suitable for small gardens and urban neighborhoods.

He has planted eight small paniculata hydrangeas including the Diamond Rouge which will grow to 4-5 feet tall. The flowers will begin in shades of white, but become pink and finally a rosy red. Paniculata hydrangeas bloom on new wood and can be pruned in winter or early spring.

There is always work to do in the arboreteum but he does sometimes sit out among the trees, resting and enjoying them. He told me that one day he was sitting down “when just six or eight feet from me a bobcat popped out. He moved right beside me, and then left. Another time a bobcat walked only four feet away. He didn’t see me at first, but then he did the Michael Jackson moonwalk, and walked away. I did notice that there was no sign of chipmunks or squirrels in that area.”

John and Pat Barry in t heir arboretum

John and Pat Barry in their arboretum

As we finished our walk I could not help thinking of  the British gardener and landscape architect, Russell Page. In his memoir, Education of a Gardener, he said, “To plant trees is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.”  I think he is right and I thank John Barry for his arboretum.

Between the Rows  October 12, 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – October 15, 2019

Boltonia and Zinnias

Boltonia and zinnias with hidden snapdragons, marigolds and cosmos on Bloom Day

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day on this beautiful autumnal day if full of flowers, but night time temperatures, 45 degrees at 6 am, remind us that autumn can be a very short season. The flower bed above was created after all the perennials, and my beautiful weeping cherry drowned in the rains and garden flooding last fall, and  in the spring. These annuals were just a stopgap while I rethought the space, but I have loved looking at all these colorful flowers from my kitchen window, above the counter where I spend a fair amount of time. I may very well recreate it next year.

Asters

Asters – here and there. Don’t ask me what kind, Not much more than 12 inches tall.

Alma Potchke aster

Alma Potchke. a tall brilliant aster for cheer and a long season

Sheffies

Sheffies or Sheffield Daisies just Starting to Bloom.  Talk about late season bloomers.

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose

Roses are scattered here and there including the Drift roses, The Fairy and others, but I will only show my favorites. I am always surprised at the number of roses still blooming on Bloom Day.

Kordes Polar Express rose

Kordes Polar Express survived after a transplanting adventure

Folksinger rose

Buck Folksinger rose, very hardy, beautiful shades of white/pink/peach. Very mysterious.

There are a few other bloomers, a wine red yarrow, coreopsis,  a deep blue Centaurea montana and a surprising creamy white foxglove.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens who created Bloom Day so we can all see what is blooming over our great land.

Late Season Flowers – Color and Butterflies in My Garden

Boltonia and Zinnias

Late Season Flowers  –  Boltonia and zinnias – view from my window

How many late season flowers are there? We gardeners are always happy in the spring when our first snowdrops or daffodils open their blossoms. The year of bloom has begun! Many of us wonder how long we can keep the garden blooming through September and October. I have found there are many possibilities.

Zinnias are an amazing annual blooming through  the fall season. They come in many forms from singles, with just one row of petals, then semi-double with two rows of petals with a visible center. I think the beautiful Profusion zinnias fall into that class. These zinnias give bees a good landing space as they fly in to collect pollen and honey. There is also the double flowered zinnia where the center is not visible, and the cactus variety with petals that curl toward the underside.

Butterflies and bees love all zinnias. Zinnias will bloom until hard frost, providing pollen and honey for bees and other insects as well as butterflies for a long period. They also provide a long season of bouquets for the gardener.

Sneezeweed

Helenium autumnale

Helenium autumnale, also known as sneezeweed, is a perennial and late season flower. I have a clump of sunny yellow helenium which should bloom well into October. There are many varieties like bright yellow Mariachi, red and yellow Mardi Gras, and deep red Salsa. Helenium likes full sun, and happily for me it also likes rich damp soils. I can provide good compost, and our garden site is definitely classed as damp.

Sheffield daisies are members of the chrysanthemum family. They have pink petals around a golden center. They bloom until hard frost. Sheffies are about 18-24 inches high, but they are languid and tend to sprawl. They are vigorous, need full sun, tolerate drought, and bring absolute delight. I love my sheffies. And so do the butterflies. These are the latest bloomers in my garden.

Alma Potchke

Alma Potchke aster – knocked over a bit in the rain

Boltonia is the opposite of the languid sheffies. Boltonia, also known as false aster, has small daisy-like white petals around a yellow center. One of its great advantages is that this five foot plant is very sturdy and does not blow over easily. It needs full sun. If its location is too shady or the soil is too rich and damp, it will get a little floppy.

Asters will bloom well into October. Tall lavender aster Frikartii and rosy Alma Potchke are two familiar asters that will grow about three feet tall. Stokes aster Peachie’s Pick has a blossom like a large blue cornflower on shorter strong stems.  It likes sun, but not damp or dense soil.

If you have a good sunny spot physostogia, otherwise known as obedient plant, will continue blooming well into October. Obedient plant has spikes of flowers in pink or white that can reach two feet tall.

All of these perennials (and others) benefit from being pinched back in early June.  Pinching off a main stem early in t he season will encourage the plant to make new stems. Plants will have a fuller shape and more flowers.

Very different kinds of late bloomer are the sedums. Autumn Joy with its ever-darkening red velvet flower heads started the trend some years ago. Autumn Joy is just under two feet tall, with nearly as wide a spread. Nowadays there are many more varieties including the 18 inch purple-pink Neon, 12 inch pink Crystal Pink, and tall 30 inch Thunderhead with deep rose red flowers and dark foliage.

There are other ways of putting color in the autumnal garden. I have a red winterberry and a golden winterberry that are just brilliant under the sunny skies of autumn. They don’t need full sun, but these swamp plants do like a damp or wet spot.

In the sunniest parts of my garden I still have coreopsis, turtlehead, black eyed susans, and a deep red yarrow still blooming. I treasure every one.

Monarch and zinnia

Monarch butterfly on Zinnia. One of many Monarchs on many zinnias

We cheer our spring crocus blossoms, but some of us cheer on our autumn crocuses. American Meadows and Brent and Becky Bulbs are two companies that sell  autumn blooming crocus and colchicum. These have to be planted in the summer. There have been many autumns when I suddenly look at my fall garden and realize that once again I gave it no thought in the summer. No mid-summer thought, no autumn crocus. Again. However, I did finally plant several autumn crocus bulbs in my Heath garden.

Once you have planted autumn crocus bulbs in early August, you will never have to give them another thought. The autumn crocus produces foliage during the summer, and then disappears. I was always shocked when I walked out to the border next to my house in Heath and saw large crocuses thrusting their heads through my poorly weeded garden. I had forgotten all about them. Year after year.

I have put a marker on my new 2020 calendar from the Umass Extension Service. This beautiful and helpful calendar gives daily gardening tips and leaves room for my own notes like “Order autumn crocus bulbs on July 15.” The cost of the calendar is $14 and there is free shipping if you order before November 1. Log on to http://ag.umass.edu/landscape/publications-resources/umass-extensions-garden-calendar and give yourself an early Christmas present.###

 

Seed Library at Greenfield Community College – Seeds and Garden Book

Tony Reiber and Hope Schneider

Tony Reiber and Hope Schneider

What is a Seed Library? We all know what a library is. A place where we can find and take away non-fiction books about the world, fiction books about worlds we imagine and picture books to delight our eyes. But I never heard of a seed library and could not imagine where one would find such a thing.

But recently I went to the Greenfield Community College Nahman-Watson Library, and there, right near an entry door, I saw shelves filled with garden books, a small cabinet and a sign that said SEED LIBRARY. I looked closely and saw that there were little labeled seed packets in each drawer of the cabinet. A sign said the seeds were free, but you had to check them out at the circulation desk.

Curioser and curioser!

Fortunately, not long after my first introduction to the Seed Library I met Hope Schneider, newly retired, after being a GCC librarian for many years. Schneider was happy to tell me about the birth of the GCC Seed Library.

In 2015, Library Director Deb Chown heard about this idea and thought it would be a great connection to the nearby Science department. Creating a seed library is not as easy as it sounds.

First you have to get a little money. Chown and Tony Reiber, who runs the greenhouse and is the Soil Instructor, wrote a grant for $500 to get some ‘seed’ money. Schneider did enjoy the little play on words. Money was needed to buy seed envelopes, the cabinet to hold them, write instruction sheets, and some publicity.

Chown worked with CWMars to add all the seeds to the system inventory. Since there is no way that those particular seeds can be returned CWMars automatically checks all seeds back in on October 1. All seed libraries hope that when the plants, flowers or vegetables, have gone to seed, the seed library members will harvest those new seeds, and return some to the seed library.

“The biggest problem is getting people to bring seeds back. “We’d also love to get heirloom seeds, seeds that came from someone in the family or have a story, and the seeds of native plants,” Schneider said.

I suspect the problem with having people return the seeds is because their crop failed and they don’t have seeds, or because they forgot, or because they are not confident they can prepare and store seeds properly.

People have been saving seeds and passing them on for centuries but seed stores did not exist. Not until the Watervliet, New York Shakers started to package seeds and sell them.

Map of the Outdoor Learning Lab

The map of the Outdoor Learning Lab

After admiring the shelves of garden and plant books, Schneider and I then met up with Tony Reiber. Over the past few years he has been working with students to plant an array of gardens. Planting and learning about plants and what they need is part of that project. Another aspect is that plantings have been designed to attract pollinators that are important part to our ecosystem.

We walked along the long wildflower garden which was planted in June of 2017. With help from students plugs of 21 varieties of wildflowers were planted. Many plugs were from Nasami Farm. I couldn’t identify all 21 varieties.

We were there to look at the seeds ripening on those plants. Some will find their way into the Seed Library Cabinet.

At this time of the year many plants are making seeds. Many of us, like me, don’t usually pay that much attention to seeds, and we are really missing something.

GCC Wildflower meadow

27 wildflower to serve pollinators

Some seeds are large. Think of sunflowers, flowering sweet peas, nasturtiums, zinnias and marigolds. Others are very tiny like cardinal flowers, and jewel weed. I have to tell you that Schneider and I were having a grand time pinching the jewel weed seed case making it pop open and shoot out the seed as the case curls up.

Whether the seeds are big or small, the important thing to know about saving seeds is knowing that they are non-GMO or hybrid seeds. Plants that have been genetically modified, or are created by crossing one variety with another. Seeds from those seeds will not come true the second year. A seed saver should save open pollinated seed. Any heirloom seed, one that has been grown for generations, will be an open pollinated seed.

It is now possible to start by buying open-pollinated seed all neatly packaged up and sold in many stores. More and more seed companies are specializing in open-pollinated varieties including Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Fedco Seeds. The Seed Savers Exchange grows seeds in Decorah, Iowa and sells them. They also have a a large catalog for members that include heirloom seeds from other members.

We can save many seeds from our own gardens, but they do need to be cared for to live through the winter and be viable in the spring. Reiber said there were some general things to remember. Some seeds need to be kept dry and cold, kept in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator. Other seeds need moisture and can be stored in a plastic bag with damp vermiculite.

A book like The Seed Garden: Art and Practice of Seed Saving published by the Seed Savers Exchange gives very specific directions.  You can check out the book at the GCC Seed Library. Anyone can get a GCC library card, and take out seeds and informational books.

GCC Geology Walk

One way to get up to the Learning Lab is to stroll up the Geology Walk

Between the Rows   September 29, 2019

John Zon Community Center Community Garden

Martin Anderton at the John Zon Community Center Community Garden

Martin Anderton and Princess at the John Zon Community Center Community Garden

The Pleasant Street Community Garden provided garden plots for over 20 people until that whole site was razed a few years ago. Davis Street School, the surrounding paving and the gardens all disappeared. There was great mourning, but last year the John Zon Community Center was completed. Hedges and trees were planted, and a Meadow Garden was planted by volunteers, but there were no Community Gardens.

One could imagine that the Community Garden was just sleeping, because there was a Working Group of gardeners at work preparing the garden space. I spoke to Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kliener who had joined the remnants of the community gardeners who were thinking about how the it would return to life. “It was an unhappy time for the community gardeners. We had to be patient,” she said.

Rabbi Andrea told me that she came to this project to do her rabbi work and find her place in the regional food system. “To reach out to the broader community and the ‘old’ community gardeners we held a community walk. We visited neighborhood gardens to see how people could garden in small spaces,” she said.

I was on that walk and we not only saw small gardens, we saw new gardeners who were finding their way with seeds and weeds and bugs.

Rabbi Andrea and the Working Group of gardeners kept things moving last year. The garden plot is approximately 180 feet long and 40 feet wide. The soil in back of the Zon Center was very poor, and not ready to be gardened. Instead, soil amendments were added.

This year the soil improvement work continued. “With advice from the UMass Extension Service and NOFA (Northern Organic Farmers Association) we planted rye, but had to cut it down before it went to seed. We also planted clover, vetch, peas, oats, and sorghum,” Rabbi Andrea said.

Interior of Chicken coop

Interior of the coop Anderton built of recycled materials

Now those special crops have to be incorporated into the soil to improve it. Martin Anderton replied to a notice in the Zon Center about the need for a wheelchair accessible flower bed. Building the raised bed was his first contact with the Zon Center and he did build a beautiful raised bed. When he heard about the Community Garden he spoke to Rabbi Andrea. He explained that he rented out chickens and ducks that could help with soil improvement.

This was certainly a unique project. Anderton built a moveable coop from salvaged materials. When I spoke to him the coop with its electrified fencing had been in place for a week. By the time you read this the coop will have been settled in the next section for a week. It is amazing how much scratching and eating of clover and other plants five ducks and four chickens can do. Not to mention the amount of manure the birds can produce.

“Fresh animal manure introduces beneficial microbes and bacteria directly into the soil,” Anderton said. “Manure can also be composted with other materials, of course, but having both is very good.”

Anderton explained that he does have a business named Homestead Habitats. He rents ducks and chickens to people for a variety of reasons. Some people are testing whether they really want to raise fowl. Some people don’t want to keep fowl through the winter. He also sells fowl, sometimes as chicks, and sometimes as pullets because people find it difficult to care for tiny chicks. He will also build a shelter or coop for the birds.

Dorothea Sotiros is the Treasurer of the Working Group that meets and makes decisions about what happens next. There is a shed and tools next to the garden space. Most of the items in the shed were used by the earlier community gardeners.

Sotiros said that about five people have signed up for garden plots. There is room for more. “We are also welcoming community groups to claim a plot,” she said. “You could garden in a plot with a friend, or an organization like the Recover Project might like to take advantage of this opportunity. Inmates of the County Jail used to work at the earlier garden.”

Ducks at the John Zon Community Garden

Ducks have an extra advantage over chickens, digging into the soil with their beaks

Now a workshop is being planned, possibly for mid-October. There will be a talk, but there will also be a practical element. The plan is to cover the whole community garden space with cardboard and then cover the cardboard with mulch. In the spring the garden will be ready for planting.

The cardboard-mulch system is sometimes called Lasagna Gardening. I have used it myself in my new Greenfield garden. This method will kill the weeds. In the spring gardeners will move aside the mulch and find the cardboard has disintegrated and disappeared. What is left is wonderful soil, and worms, ready for planting. It seems like magic. I can attest to the reliability of this system. And I will tell you that worms love cardboard.

Watch for an announcement about the date of this workshop. I will be sure to include it in my column.###

Between the Row   September 21, 2019

Climate Change Rally Right in Greenfield – September 20, 2019

Just Not Cool!

Just Not Cool – Our fifth grade friend protested at the Climate Change Rally

The Climate Change Rally in Greenfield brought many children, inspired by young Greta Thunmberg, to the Greenfield Common on Friday, September 20. The Children and the Adults were all protesting. Our climate is dangerously changing and there are protests this day all around the globe.

Fifth graders’ Mother protests

Protestors of every age

If not us

If not us

Change the Laws

Students from local schools protested

Students from local schools protested

High School Students

Some Students went to Boston to participate in the Youth Climate Strike

Students Protesting Climate Change – There is no Planet B

Students protesting Climate Change

Young and old Protest

What can we all do?  Vote!  Learn about ways you can stop global warming.

We can’t leave it all up to Greta.

Industrial Hemp Uses

Cousins Debbie, Tammy and Heidi in their hemp field

Everybody is talking about hemp. When we recently attended a family gathering in Vermont we talked to three of my young cousins, Heidi, Tammy, and Debby who had planted hemp. A change in the Vermont laws now makes it legal to plant hemp. Four hundred and fifty or so farms are now doing just that. Dairy farming is not as profitable as it was, and hemp is now in demand. Please remember, industrial hemp does not contain THC, the compound in marijuana that makes you get high.

My cousins got their start with a friend who gave them about 1900 baby cannabis plants in the spring. They had rototilled one and a half fertile acres of the old family farm. Then they set to planting in early May. There had been rain and their soil had good drainage.

The plants were very tiny with a tiny root base. They said each of them used a teaspoon for putting them in the ground. My cousins have day jobs and so it took three weekends to get them all planted, carefully providing at least six feet of space between each plant which can reach a height of eight feet.

Closeup of hemp plant

Closeup of hemp plant in Vermont

There is more to raising hemp than getting tiny plants in the ground. At some point the hemp plants will decide if they want to be male or female. They have no gender when the seeds sprout unless they have been feminized. My cousins did invest in paying for enough femininized hemp to fill two rows.

I got in touch with Professor Heather Darby at the University of Vermont and she explained feminizing. “Young plants are sprayed with colloidal silver, and this triggers them to produce “male flowers” that only produce female pollen. Hence, if this crosses with the female flowers you should end up with female seeds,” she said in an email.

Professor Darby said she did not know of any Vermont production companies that treated hemp for anything other than CBD oil.

My cousins did know it is only the female buds that can make CBD oil which has medicinal uses.  All male buds have to be removed. If the male buds are allowed to open and spread their pollen, the male pollen will infect all the females and ruin them – no CBD oil.

This is a real learning experience for them – and many others in Vermont and other states.

Last week I was on my way through Buckland to Goshen and was stunned to see three big fields of hemp plants. I used to buy great corn from a farm on Route 112, and corn is still available. However, two fields on either side of the farmhouse, and a third field  surrounding the Wilder Homestead are filled with industrial hemp plants. This is a much more serious operation, than my cousins have. It is an indication of the increasing interest in hemp.

Hemp field in Buckland

Hemp field in Buckland

For myself, I am interested in hemp being grown for more reasons than CBD oil. It is the fibers of the plant that can be used in many ways, for textiles, paper, insulation, biodegradable plastics, and bio-fuel to name a few. Forbes Magazine said 25,000 products can be made from hemp.

Industrial hemp has an environmental benefit in that it can be grown in every state of our nation. In addition last December President Trump signed a Farm Bill that removes hemp from the Controlled Substances list, and redefines it as an agricultural product.

Cotton requires southern weather, more water, more fertilizer and pesticides per acre than hemp. Hemp requires much less water, grows very quickly and uses minimal soil nutrients. Hemp roots aerate the soil, leaving it rich for future crops. It can produce 1500 pounds of fiber per acre, whereas cotton will only produce 500 pounds per acre!

Since growing marijuana and industrial hemp has been illegal since 1937 there is a lag in how quickly production machines can be put in place. This is particularly true for hemp because people have forgotten its advantages, However change is coming.

Carl Lehrburg of PureHemp Technology in Fort Lupton, Colorado said “Most of the hemp plant is underutilized and wasted today in the U.S.” His company is developing traditional hemp stalk processing equipment that separates long and short fibers from the tough stem for processing into pulp, sugars and lignins, a process called “decorticating.” Processing hemp in the CCR (countercurrent reactor) results in the production of pulp as one product, and the extract liquor is further refined into lignin and sugar co-products. I like to think his company is only one among many.

Hemp fiber can be a little scratchy but it is often used with other fibers like cotton. Some companies like Patagonia are using hemp with other fibers like cotton and polyester.  Levi Strauss and Company, has a new line of Outerknown clothing made of what they call cottonized’ hemp, another combination of hemp and cotton.

Hemp has only been legal for a couple of years, but already there are 115 licensed growers and processors in Massachusetts. I can almost see the hemp clothes I want.

Between the Rows   September 14, 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – September 15, 2019

Asters

Asters in the mist

On this Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day I went out into the garden in the mist to take my photos. These asters just started blooming on the ‘hellstrip.’  A few other plants are  blooming like the coneflower and a pink phlox.

Hydrangea

Hydrangea plus

The Firelight hydrangea (one of three hydrangeas) is getting pinker every day. Blooming flowers around her include a helenium, Grandpa Ott’s morning glory, a delphinium and a pink  honeysuckle. A lot is still going on in the garden.

Robustissima

Anemone ‘Robustissima’

I love Robustissima, even when she is knocked down  by last night’s rain.

Sedum

Sedum

Name lost. Maybe ‘Neon’?  She doesn’t seem very Neon-ish.

Zinnias

Zinnias, cosmos and marigolds

These annuals are growing on a bed where all the perennials drowned last year. I love looking at this melange from my kitchen window. I’m planning to keep them there.

Black eyed susans

These black eyed susans somehow jumped from the big clump in the nearby bed. I think black eyed susans will have to leave.

Purple Rain Kordes rose

Purple Rain rose

There are still a few scattered roses like Purple Rain.

Raspberries

Can I call these ripening raspberries ‘blooming’?  I am surprised to have them so late in the year, but the bushes are full.

I want to thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens and giving us the chance to see gardens all over this great land.

Daniel Greene – My Good Bunch Farm At Last

Teri and Daniel Greene

Teri Rutherford and Daniel Greene

Good Bunch Farm didn’t grow overnight. Like many new students entering the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Daniel Greene did not know what he really wanted to do. This was a new environment, filled with new people, new freedoms, and new ideas. He did know he was concerned about climate change and other environmental issues. Academics and learning were important but he was eager to get to work, get his hands dirty. But his ultimate goal was not clear.

As he began his studies he realized he was surrounded by farms and a university with agricultural programs. In 2008 he graduated with a degree in Sustainable Agriculture.

After graduation he began his years of peripatetic farming. He moved to Shelburne Falls and worked on a Conway farm as manager and planted his first field of vegetables.

There were a few years of moving and farming in Colrain, Shelburne Center, and Ashfield. Four years ago he was renting fields in Conway again. Last fall Greene decided it was time to move to his own land permanently.

He bought an old house in need of a lot of work in Charlemont that came with eight acres. By this time he had a partner, Teri Rutherford. They met while they were both working at Gloriosa and Co. in Ashfield. One of the strings in Greene’s bow is carpentry. He was working on the old barn which was used for special events – like weddings. With Gloria Pacosa’s help, Rutherford was learning how to be a wedding organizer. I thought it was very romantic that they met where they were surrounded by beautiful plants – and love.

Greene and Rutherford spent a lot of time last fall working on the house. At the same time Greene was also working on the year-end harvests and field work on his rented two acres in Conway. Rutherford was now working at the Valley View Farm in Haydenville, coordinating and pre-planning weddings.

By the time the holidays were in sight, the couple had finished enough electrical and plumbing renovations to make the house livable. They moved in.

Greene has now had a full season of planting and harvesting in back of his house, as well as finishing up in Conway. He and Teri gave me the tour of plantings and necessary work spaces. Early in the spring he had planted a quick buckwheat cover crop before planting, very aware of how important soil improvement is on a new property.

The long hoop house was mostly filled with all kinds of tomatoes climbing up wires to supports. Another long hoop house will join this one next spring.

Right now another long bed filled with tomatoes, ground cherries and tomatillos is being harvested. One section was filled with Goldenberry (Physalis peruviana). I had never seen much less heard of goldenberry before. “I’m growing it more for fun than anything, but this is a trial plot for Rutgers University. Rutgers is testing this crop for small farms with CSA programs because many small farms don’t grow fruit,” Green said.

Goldenberries are a small, cherry sized fruit that tastes like a mix of pineapple, strawberry, and sour cherry. These little fruits can be eaten raw, dried or made into jam. They can be harvested over six weeks and be a financial benefit to a small farm.

Cucamelon

Cucamelon

Greene has other experiments. He showed me a section devoted to Mexican Cucamelon also known as Sour Gherkin Cucumber (Melothria scabra). This fruit shaped like a tiny watermelon ripens in75 days. I tasted one and it does taste a bit like a cucumber. They give a big harvest and they do look pretty on their vines.

There are fields that cannot be seen from the house because of an intervening woodland, but we walked up the hill and Greene pointed to plots planted with sorghum-sudangrass hybrids in preparation for planting next year. This hybrid is a soil builder, weed suppressor, and subsoil loosener..

“I’ll cut down the sorghum-sudangrass early in the spring, and chop it up and into the soil. I won’t be able to plant small vegetables in that plot, but squashes should be able to thrive,” he said.

Planting, growing and harvesting vegetables aren’t the end of a farmer’s work. Greene showed me a small production house where produce is washed and the leafy crops even get spin-dried in an old washing machine.

Then produce is stored in a chilled concrete room ready to be brought to the Friday Shelburne Falls Farmer’s Market and the Saturday, Ashfield Farmer’s Market. Greene also delivers vegetables to several restaurants including the Blue Rock Restaurant and Bar, Hearty Eats, Ashfield Lake House, and others.

Rutherford is responsible for keeping the Farm Stand supplied. The milkhouse part of the old dairy barn has been renovated to house a cooler, a table with a variety of vegetables  – and honor system payment.

After the tour we walked back to the house and sat on the porch. I felt the serenity of the spot, looking across the lawn at the magnificent old trees. We chatted about all the work that had been done, and work that waited. There was a silence then Greene smiled a small smile. “I think I have pretty much accomplished my ten year plan.”

I smiled. I think he  is ready  for  the next ten years to begin.

Between the Rows   September 7, 2019