Spring Update

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It is interesting how time becomes warped as winter just goes on and on …. It is amazing to enjoy the first warmer days of spring. Everything is waking up.

One of the projects I have been working on is reclaiming the greenhouse. Pat and I built this greenhouse for Dad about 10 years ago. It is a lean-to that is attached to the east side of the honey house. It is one of my favorite places. There are always ways to improve buildings, and I would change a few things next time around, but it is amazing what you can do in a relatively small place. There are some great tables on both sides and some storage for seeds and areas under the back tables for mixing/storing planting soil.

I am a “first things first” kind of gal so I spent about two days cleaning, sorting, and organizing the supplies, tools, pots, etc. I was talking with Dad about all the odds and ends of seeds so he gave me another project – sorting all the seeds that he has in various places. Dad has been a seed saver for many years. We will have to do some experiments with germination rates to test some of the older seed, but it is exciting to have the opportunity to grow some of these seeds that Dad has saved. One glass bottle had seed that said – Andrea, tomato, good! Andrea is my youngest sister, and they were tomato seeds brought back from her time in the Peace Corps. Amazing!

Dad got started on burning the pastures earlier this week, and my brother Dan and his son finished up this weekend. We are re-seeding part of the east pasture with Crimson (Red) clover – this will improve the pasture for grazing and also improve the hay crop. My husband, Pat, planted 200 pounds on six acres of the east pasture. The red clover is not a great source of nectar for the bees although Dad says they will work it in hot weather. According to Dad, the nectar spouts are smaller on the red clover than those on white or yellow clover. We also planted 40 pounds mixed of Alsike (pinkish-white) and Yellow sweet clover on a small area in front of the beehives. Dad said, “Now if we get some rain and this grows knee high and blooms like crazy, it will be great for the bees.” According to beesource.com, “Alsike clover or Swedish clover is one of the very best honey plants in America.”

“Some beekeepers have estimated that Alsike will produce 500 pounds of honey per acre in a good season.” – American Bee Journal, 1886. Yellow sweet clover is also reported to be a major source of pollen and nectar. Again, according to beesource.com, “The yellow variety blooms about two weeks earlier that the white and where both are present a long honey flow may be expected.”

Dad gave me a spot for “wild flowers” this year. While sorting seed, I came up with a good amount of flower seed and suggested that we mix it all together and see what came up. Dad said, “Well, it won’t bloom in the package.” There is everything from a butterfly mix, sunflowers, petunias, cosmos, red milkweed, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, coreopsis, bee’s friend, African daisy, bachelor buttons, zinnia, marigold, butterfly weed, lupine, and California poppy seed. I cannot wait to see what comes up.

Dad has the potatoes in. We planted the old standbys – Kennebec and Pontiac and also some purple potatoes (Purple Viking) and some red potatoes (Desiree) from Seed Savers. Dad and I are a blending of old and new, but also old and old, and new and new … I learn so much from him and I introduce some ideas and he shares his knowledge in a casual way but also says, “There is more than one way to do this…” We are a pretty good team. I do always defer to him; after all he has been gardening and stewarding this acreage for more than 50 years. He gave up “tilling” about 15 years ago.

His style of gardening was made popular by Ruth Stout. MOTHER EARTH NEWS published an article by Ruth Stout in its February/March 2004 issue. Ruth Stout’s System for Gardening – known as the “Mulch Queen” – her method of gardening was no-till: “My ‘no-work’ gardening method is simply to keep a thick mulch of vegetable matter that rots on both my vegetable and flower garden all year round. As it decays and enriches that soil, I add more. The labor-saving part of my system is that I never plow, spade, cultivate, weed, water or spray.”

Dad says, “This is not ‘no work’ but it is ‘no-till’.” He spends hours covering the ground with hay. If weeds or grass come up somewhere he just puts down more hay. He does pull back the hay to plant and once the seed have sprouted and are about 2-inches tall, he brings the hay back up around the row of plants. No weeding whatsoever! He does water the garden, as needed, from the pond. Generally, he will plant 150 to 200 tomato plants, and people will come from areas around for his organic produce.

I will update you all soon. Thanks for shooting the breeze!

DJ Wilson