Archive for June, 2009

It’s under control… not.

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Reading back thru my journal, it’s amazing how often I run into the word “control.” A shrink once told me I had was a control freak, and I immediately & thoroughly dismissed the notion.

Control freaks are the Felixes of the world, right? Who always have a brand-new kleenex & an immaculately clean house. They iron their jeans and possibly their underwear, too. Count me out, right there.

But again and again, I’m confronted with my own words: I’ve got to get in control of the weeding. If I could just get the laundry under control… The kitchen is out of control…

And what I’m finding is that probably life, but most definitely farming, is completely uncontrollable. (more…)

Special Trees

Saturday, June 27th, 2009
Mimosa & Magnolia

Mimosa & Magnolia

There are lots of special trees on Mt Pleasant Farm. Some are huge & shade the house. Some, like the linden tree, suddenly burst into bloom. And the venerable 3-story pear tree that sometimes deigns to provide pears in the fall. Others are just starting out- the tiny redbuds that will grow into an allee along the drive, the lime tree in a pot that gets carried into the house in the fall.

But these two trees, the mimosa & magnolia between the house & the barn have stories.

The mimosa tree was a gift to Slim from a friend who heard he loved mimosa (powder puff is the local name) trees. She found one growing in someone’s front yard, and was given permission to dig up a seedling from under it. So 17 years ago, she brought Slim a 4-inch seedling for his birthday. I’m not good with height estimation, but it looks about 25 feet tall to me. It’s a magnet for hummingbirds, and the blossoms are wonderful. Slim may be gone, but the mimosa tree is one of his legacies to us.

The magnolia tree has an even stranger history. It was grown from a seed 16 years ago. There had been a magnolia tree in the front yard, probably nearly as old as the 200-year old house.  My mom was talking to the woman (then elderly) who had lived at Mt Pleasant before Slim. It turned out that she (Ms Lou Davison) had taken a slip from the tree with her, had grown it into a tree and was more than willing to pass on a seed. So this magnolia tree is the “grandbaby” of the original Mt Pleasant magnolia.

In my gypsy life, sometimes buying green bananas can be an act of faith. But thank goodness there are some people with enough patience and faith to plant trees.

Mimosa blossom (Powder puff)

Mimosa blossom (Powder puff)

The Birds & the Berries

Thursday, June 25th, 2009
Wren house

Wren house

One thing I’m learning lots about is birds in the garden. Lots of gardeners fight with birds over berries, but there are a few tricks (passed down from my great-grandmothers) to get the birds to actually work for and with you.

Tip number one is to put wren houses near your strawberry patch. The wrens eat insects, not berries. They’re extremely territorial and will chase other (berry-eating) birds right out of your patch for you.

Then there are cherries. To avoid having your cherries eaten by the birds, plant a mulberry tree near them. The mulberries ripen at the same time as the cherries, and since birds like mulberries better than cherries, your cherries will be safe(r). Extra points if you can place the mulberry at the end of your chicken run as well, so that the chickens can feast on the fallen fruits. Sheep like mulberries, as well.

Last tip is to always leave at least one big old thistle growing in your garden. Goldfinches line their early spring nests with dandelion down (and also eat the dandelion seeds.) If thistle fluff is available later, they’ll use it to re-line their nests & raise a second brood. “Why are goldfinches important?”, I asked. “Beauty needs no reason.”

Dung Tag Mulch

Monday, June 22nd, 2009
Dung Tag Mulch

Dung Tag Mulch

No, it’s not snowing in VA (Thanks be!)  That’s one of our latest projects, mulching the baby fruit trees with dung tags. What is a dung tag, you may well ask?

Well, when sheep are sheared, if you’ve got a good shearer, it all comes off in one sheet. Then, the spinners only want the cleanest parts, from the upper body. They don’t want the stinky parts from the legs & bellies.  So the next process is skirting, when you trim off those bottom parts, which are full of stickers & leaves, and yes, dung.

While they aren’t good for spinning, dung tags are super for mulching. They’re thick, so the weeds don’t stand a chance (yay!) and all the “organic matter” makes for a terrific slow-release fertilizer. One caution- they shouldn’t touch the trunks. Also, they’re good for some plants, but not others. (Don’t put them on peppers, for instance, or you’ll get lots of leaves & not many peppers.)

That’s today’s lesson from the farm. Oh, and I added some more photos to flickr. We’re coming into lily season, and things are starting to look beautiful. There’s also a photo of rows of beans, showing how big the weeds actually are. I’ve become a big believer in mulching, that’s for sure!