Progress Report…flora

And a fine good morning to you all from the studio.
Yes, it’s been a while since I checked in here on the blog thingy…but it’s SPRING…and I’ve been working overtime both at the easel and…in the garden.

As this life flies by, I have been paying more attention to slowing down.

My vow to spend more time in the sky chair,
which swung empty on its swivel hook for most of last year,
and to spend more time with my wife,
coming home in time for Jeopardy most of the winter,
and to let the brushes flow at their own pace,
surprising myself discovering new ways to say old truths…
and grabbing all the spare minutes in between to play…in the garden.

We have survived the major tree removal project and the sky has opened up for sunshine to reach some areas of the garden for the first time in a hundred years. I am seeing some changes already, especially in the greenhouse corner of the studio yard. Here then is a tour of the very much “working” progress.

Got to start with a glam shot of my favorite day of every year…the opening blossoms of our Chilmark beach rose…with the extra shot of sunshine she will be receiving now we should be treated to quite a show.

Then, the welcome to my garden view…

Wood chips provided by those dead trees.

This corner is tremendously satisfying as the new bed is brimming with salad greens, and beets, carrots, onions and kale coming along. I confess that I have no idea what that tall green veg is…yes I labeled the seedlings but that label read Kale. It looks more like a broccoli thing. I’ll get a better pic and ask for ID help.

Then a few steps further along we have the splendid newly refurbished arbor bed. The traditional herb garden has now been annexed with the greenhouse bed which I planted yesterday with a whole bunch of seedlings that I actually managed to raise to more than the first two leaf stage.

Then we get serious, and very messy.

The spinach bed, planted way back in March, has been steadily producing but the cover came off pronto when it started to bolt way too early. That thin bed on the right had held a crop of winter carrots which I planted way too late. They were producing full heads of greens but the roots were being chomped by some creature so I yanked them. If I can find a space between raindrops today I’m going to add a layer of new compost and plant edamame there.

The bed beyond, with the two pea towers, is an overachiever. The garlic planted there last fall has been, and will remain, covered in the hopes of deterring the dreaded alium leaf miner. Everything else is shooting up. A local garden guru said this has been an old fashioned spring for us. I really feel that vibe. A gradual climbing in temps, increase in rainfall with some good days of sun and no deep frosts. We have turned that corner now and it is wonderful to put the ice trackers away.

Some big progress in the back forty…

We got this new bed, which I am dubbing the Very Large Array,  almost finished. Not sure where I’m gonna find the dirt to fill her up but I can hear the carrots and parsnips whispering yes.

And now for Ruth…

This experiment may not look like much at the moment but it’s really fun.
While waiting for warmer temps to attempt some planting inside this bed, I threw all sorts of things in the outside bales. Extra broccolini seedlings (I won’t grow that next year…lots of time and space taking flats for Zero return. (some seen here below)

The leeks, and the onions which I nurtured in February… are thrilled to have a home and are soldiering up the perimeter like they were born for the job. Some carrots, kale and extra sage are in there as well as sunflowers and climbers for the Ruth Stout Memorial Archway.

But Potato Row is the star.

All varieties are up now. You can see here how the back wall of hay bales is collapsing into the potatoes. They are on the uphill side of the sloping yard so they have to fight gravity as well as decomposition. I am going to let them do what they think is best and hope that the veg planted in them will overcome the drooping attitude.

There are some persistent weeds coming through the hay all over the bed. I will be using the mountain of wood chips to fill in some walking pathways in here and all over the rest of the yard. It can just be seen out there beyond the fence…which is part of the problem… I need Kory’s help for that but we’ll get her done.

Elsewhere on the estate…

The blueberry bed is thriving.

The much neglected far corner has received a facelift incorporating some Ruth Stout hay mulching with shredded hardwood to tamp down the thready weeds and help establish a new blackberry bed. I saved some Soloman Seal from beneath the pin oak which was taken down at the log cabin and it seems to be quite happy in it’s new home around the maple tree.

And then we swing back down to the easel window, along the rose bed…

A clever shot of the view which the birds and squirrels have of the artiste…from without…

and her view from within…

Some re-positioned birdhouses…

And David’s gazing ball…

and the apprentice telling me that’s enough…get back to work.

She’s right. It’s time to get back to my day job.

I’m having just as much fun inside…working on a new series of a very old house on the Vineyard. We will check in on that a bit later.

Thanks for slowing down with me for a bit today.

Now go get your hands dirty.

H

 

 

 


The big hay day

Well dear readers…

Today was the day.
After a couple read throughs of her books,


and heading down a few you tube rabbit holes…
and waiting for the weather to thaw…

Today Kory and I created our very own Ruth Stout garden bed.

Complete with a Ruth Stout memorial archway…

With the ground thoroughly frozen at the start of the day,
and mother nature shining a record breaking 65 degrees down upon us by mid-afternoon,
everyone was in high spirits to be spending a February day in t-shirts.

I laid out some cardboard and newspaper to define a border
and the stories in the Vineyard Gazette will be whispering to vegetables for years to come.

 

Let the deliveries begin…

After an early morning spent bearing witness for an immigration trial at the jail, my human rights hero, joined us to help supervise…

And one of the best parts of the day was watching how much fun Finn had playing in the hay. I didn’t get a good picture but she had such a big smile on her face…as if this fluffy soft bed was just a big gift for her.

 

Early on Kory could see that the ground was thawing rapidly so he made a lovely path…

By lunchtime we had almost two thirds completed.

Ruth recommended a good 8″ of mulch. She used spoiled hay because it was cheap since the farmers couldn’t feed it to their animals. After trying to find a ready source of that around here I decided, as you will recall from my last post, to use the regular bales available at our local supplier…thank you again Homer.

This chronicle is not meant as a how-to, interested gardeners will get much more pleasure out of reading Ruth’s own words of wisdom. I CAN report that there has already been much eyebrow raising, and not a little “mansplaining” from those who have heard of my plan.

Ruth had much to say about that…

“Naturally the neighboring farmers at first laughed at me; for a few years they doted on stopping in in the spring to ask if I didn’t want some plowing done. But, little by little, they were impressed by my results, and when they finally had to admit that the constantly rotting mulch of leaves and hay was marvelously enriching my soil, they didn’t tease me anymore. On the contrary, they would stop by to “have one more look” before finally deciding to give up plowing and spading and to mulch their own gardens.”

Originally I had planned to use straw bales as a border, which would provide some structure to run wire rabbit fencing all the way around and then available, directly upon disintegrating, to be tossed onto the mulching bed.

But we had much more hay than we needed to start out with so Kory used hay bales along the back edge and Him and Herself fetched another couple truckloads of straw to line the other sides. The straw is cheaper and won’t break down as fast as the hay, but all of it, as I repeat myself, will eventually be tossed onto the bed to provide the continuous mulching required to build the soil.

Fun fact…In the past years, when I was experimenting with strawbale gardening, it was quickly discovered that a fully grown studio rabbit is just the right height to reach up and nibble the tenders growing at the top of a bale.
A bit of wire fencing was enough to decide them that there were other delicacies requiring much less work elsewhere in my yard…and several of them have been quite happy enough with that arrangement to pose for me in between noshes…

Ahem…

Some tossing techniques…

It was simply a glorious day to be outside making those January dreams come alive..

Even though our entire yard is on a sloping angle, this section of the studio yard is full of underground springs and is a devil to mow because it’s a swamp on all but the driest days. One of the benefits of this mulching method is that there should no watering needed. Ruth described setting out a small lawn sprinkler only to give seeds a head start.

Time will tell if the mulch will be happy as happy as the rabbits with this arrangement.

By three o’clock we had finished the large bed, hay mulched a nearby flower bed as an experiment, put straw down between all the raised beds to make muddy spring passage a bit easier, in addition to Kory tackling all of the chores Miss Pat had on her to-do list.

The finished bed…

Kory replenished the firewood stack on the log cabin porch, and now we can sit back with our feet up in front of the fire and wait for winter to rain and snow on this creation and for all those lovely earthworms and critters to wiggle their way into Finn’s fluffy bed.

I figure we made a loosely consistent 18″ or so blanket of hay and built a 15 x 50 foot bed.

I also figure there are more of these warm weather breaks ahead, and I have a large pile of leaves which we can chop up a bit with the lawn mower and toss on the RS bed (that pile is frozen now). And from now on all of the garden waste and grass clippings will go on there as well.

I’ll still keep the compost piles going. We had great success last season sifting many wheel barrows of that home grown gold. The existing raised beds were put to bed with that gold in the fall so should welcome rotations of deeper root crops this year, and most of the leafy greens and such.

Our next project is to replace one of the first raised beds I built, the bottom boards are rotting away. So it will be just the place for a keyhole garden. Oh yes, I am. I’ve designed it to use the same galvanized corrugated aluminum which we used to repair the walls of the asparagus bed last year. With some tweaking and design updates I’m hoping to improve on our first attempts and make a more permanent structure that can double as a cold frame for winter greens. Stay tuned for more on that.

Expectations for the RS bed this year are low because of the time it will take to break all that hay down and begin to build a nutrient rich soil. Others who have tried this report it took a year or more to begin to have soil that would support deeper root crops. OK, so I will be planting potatoes. Ruth just pulls back her mulch and throws them directly on the ground and piles the hay back on top. Pretty much the way I’ve been growing them for a couple years so there ya go.

Gonna also try onions and leeks, brussel sprouts and kale, shell peas and edamame, and a big section of squash. I sow all the seeds I can fit in the studio and the greenhouse so I may start most of the RS bed plants by pulling back the mulch and adding a couple of inches of composted manure and peat before planting the seedlings.

And don’t forget that strawbale border can be planted in as well. Maybe with marigolds and nasturtiums with onions and turnips in between.
And a cascade of morning glories for the memorial arch.

Ahhh, what an absolute bliss of a gift this day was.

Thank you Kory for all that you do for us.
These two old ladies are so grateful.

Prowell Lawn Services at the ready…

And lest you think I have retired from my day job…

the greater irony of spending an entire day throwing hay around…

is that I have spent the last month doing my best to paint it.

No no, you will have to wait for those pics.

Suffice it to say,
I got PLENTY of up close and personal reference material today.

Now go and make your own dreams come true.

 

 

 


Let the garden begin !!!

THANK YOU HOMER…

our CSA pals came to the rescue to help us haul 50 bales of hay to the studio today.

Shout out to Sunnyside Farm…here’s a link to their blog and website.

They are about 12 minutes from us and besides being fascinating humans, Dru, Homer and Claire, on their Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) farm, harvest acres of veggies, chickens, turkeys, beef, pork and gorgeous flowers. I’m sure that’s not the complete list.

We can’t live without their eggs and are thrilled that they have convinced the girls to keep laying throughout this winter ! They have local farm pick up once a week and drive to markets in Hershey and Maryland on a regular basis. Check them out to support your local farmers.

Today they supported us.

You’ll remember reading on this blog recently of the Ruth Stout garden I’m going to establish this year.  I’ll be adding regular updates to share the process but today is the beginning.

I’ve got three flats of leek and onion seedlings well on their way. They are soaking up the sunshine in the studio patron lounge and will soon be joined by the cold weather startups like beets and chard and carrots when the annual Valentine’s Day studio sowing takes place.

This hay wants to be on the ground yesterday, so I’ll get to enjoy the coming warmup as I toss these bales around.

Which makes me think of …

The Hay Whisperer

Stay tuned and stay frosty out there.


Late to the party

I’m getting a late start today.

My frantic mind had settled enough to let the sun come up without my help,
which gave the overnight coating of sleet enough time to begin to melt,
and sorting the box of newly arrived garden seeds was a most pleasurable task to begin with, then a walk to the compost pile turned into a bike ride in the greenhouse,
which lead me to Ruth…

(photo credit Mother Earth News)

Ruth Stout.
The other party to which I am late in coming today.

Arriving at this sixtieth decade I seem to be only just now stumbling across the paths of quite a few amazing humans. This week it is Ruth.
Or was, as she left the planet after 96 years of living here, back in 1980.

I’ll bet that most of my hard core gardening friends are smirking as they read this having known of Ruth and her simple ways well before my stumble…Ruth Herself didn’t throw away her tillers and pesticides until she was 60…so there ya go.

The evolution of my own gardening life saw me give away a brand new tiller a few years ago after learning about building better soil by letting the critters do the work..and I know many of you followed along as I adopted Joel Karsten’s Strawbale method which I have been experimenting with for about 5 years now… and that has morphed more recently into my latest guru Charles Dowding’s No Dig compost only beds which Kory has been helping me build and tend.

Well move on over and pass the hay…
it’s time to quit working so hard and strip down to the essentials.

I’ll let you enjoy this introductory video… for those who are not smirking,
and you can google down this rabbit hole to your hearts’ content…
because it’s time for me to lift some brushes…
but before I go…
here’s a little teaser of a nod to my favorite part…
she gardens in the buff.
Yes.
Yes.


Solstice Gardening

A little dirt on your hands…in December ???

You bet.

I’ve been watching the forecast like a hawk and we’ve got a slight warming trend for the next week or so…averages above 40 and near 50 degrees. And coupled with the sunshine Finn and I headed out this morning to soak up some of that vitamin D, and I thought you’d like to join us.

In the photo above you can see those beds which Kory and I tucked in for the winter. The two in the foreground have some plantings and a cold frame. Let’s take a peak…

Under that tunnel on the right is an earlier fall planting of carrots. I invested in those tunnels for the first time this year and they are terrific. The manufacturer is Haxnicks. I went just now to Amazon to find a link but they only have the fleece version. The one shown here has a poly netting. Very sturdy and allows a lot of light in as well as terrific insect protection. They also make a heavier shade version which I’ve used with great success in deep summer heat. I’m using this one to cover the carrots and provide a structure over which I can drape a heavier plastic sheeting for insulation. We’ve had weeks of sub-freezing temps and so far they are not dead…so that’s a win.

The mini greenhouses, one shown on the left, are new this year. They fit the bed perfectly and I anchored them to the wooden frames for extra security. I did find that link…click here. (Actually I just checked the link and it is not the exact one shown above but it is the same manufacturer. Might need to do more surfing than I have time for right now to find the right one.)

So far I love them. I had a larger version of them years ago and, in the warmer winters, it gave me a full extra season of growth for kale and chard and even some pop up spinach volunteers.

You can see this swiss chard, planted last march, is still going strong and is my go to smoothy ingredient.

Today it was time to experiment with the second one I bought, and so the flat of seedlings which have been keeping me company inside the studio were ready to rock and roll…

I popped out a few of the kale and Hakuri turnips and out we went…

My theory is that this one may be warmer than the other as it is sheltered from some of the winds by the greenhouse which may also throw back some warmth from the south facing sun.

Here you can also see the easy access from the zippered panels.

Boy did it feel great to sit on my garden bench and hold the Hori Hori knife, and just like that they were planted. I have zero expectations that newly planted seedlings will make it planted this late but I live in hope these days.

It wasn’t in the original plans, but I thought adding one of those tunnels here might give an extra layer of warmth, and it worked out perfectly as a support for…

Yep…the christmas lights.

Somewhere I read of a  gardener putting a string of lights inside a cold frame to add a tiny bit of heat during the night. Why the hell not. I can never get enough of christmas lights.

I’ve put the compost thermometer in there so I’ll have some idea of the comparison between the two covered beds.

As you can see, a solid 43 degrees before I covered was promising.

And here we are all bundled up and ready to grow…maybe.

 

It’s a sea of mud out there now, and shortly after I wrote last week’s post those pesky Muses actually did show up and have made up for my basket of angst by hurling half a dozen new and sparkling challenges my way.

So…as Finn conquers…it’s time for me to get back to the easel…

But Oh My Goddesses did it ever feel good to be out working in the garden on this almost Solstice day.

 

 

 


E…scape

It’s that time of year again…

Garlic Scape Time

This year’s challenge was to minimize the effects of the Allium Leaf Miner pest which had completely decimated last year’s crop. I can’t even bring myself to revisit the pictures from that devastation, so google it yourselves if you are scientifically motivated.

The local Ag agents suggested covering the crop in the early spring before the creatures emerge. I tried three versions of that. In the cold frame bed featured below, I had the doors closed until mid-April.

In this back bed I used fleece to cover the plants, which the wind and weather rearranged frequently, so there were gaps in time when there would have been access. Image below shows windblown exposure.

In the third bed, (it’s starting to sound like the three little pigs here…) I used a screened tunnel. See garlic growing tall under that screen.

I harvested scapes from all three beds over the last three weeks or so. The bed shown above was curiously the last to form scapes. Possibly the full time cover slowed growth ?

Some test pulling of the plants showed those gnarly wee beasties had indeed begun their invasion. As was the case last year, the leaves were browning early and the bulbs were not forming, or were becoming deformed.

So, this week I yanked them all.

In bed one, 100% infestation. No bulbs were saveable.

In bed two, 60% infestation.

In bed three, the one with the 24/7 tunnel, almost all of the bulbs were untouched.

Out of about 200 plants, I now have close to 60 curing in the greenhouse. If there are some critters lurking within I may lose some of those, but it’s not a total loss.

On the principle of being given lemons… I decided to make lemonade.

Well…garlic scape butter.

I saved all the scapes, which were untouched by the bugs, and yesterday I got out the cuisinart !

The recipe is quite simple. Grind up the scapes, mix them into softened butter, put that into a ziploc bag and spread it thinly to force air out, then freeze. Then it’s easy to break off what you need as you go. It is especially nice to soften and use as the spread for Garlic Bread.

I had enough leftover minced scapes to add some lemon and olive oil and also freeze for later use in sauces and such.

Bonus tip, which I learned from an old blogger whose name I apologize for forgetting, you take the butter wrappers and stack and bag them up and also put in freezer to use as ready made greasers for pre-baking pans.

So, I started this blog yesterday, only to find that my website was down…again. A long frustrating day of dealing with my server resolved the problem late in the evening. When I sat down to write this entry today…down again.

They tell me it is fixed now, for good.

If you are reading this, then at least for now…it is.

You will be hearing more often from me now as we near the big opening for the Granary Gallery Show…This year that date will be August 5.

I’ve been working full tilt at the easel, almost non-stop since last November, and you’ll see the results very soon.

In the meantime, I hope your gardens are glorious, your souls are finding peace, and there is laughter in the air around you.

Stay tuned and stay frosty out there,

Heather

 

 

 


The Thinker

This is Zoe
thinking seven year old thoughts…

with legs which are longer than six
and can climb that old ladder of sticks

and fingers much faster than five
which can tenderly twist a thin chive

a patience greater than four
to fill two buckets and more

and a lot more pockets than three
holding feathers and wings from a bee

still smiling the smile of the two
she listens for things that are new

with a heart that is deeper than one
to us, she comes second to none.

 


My summer vacation…

This summer we enjoyed a staycation. We had a blast at the Granary Gallery Show at the end of July… here’s a few pics from that week of fun

Then we returned to this little corner of the world wherein we toil and play…here are just a dozen or so pics out of the hundreds I took this year of the studio garden…note I had a helper this year, Kory, who did most of the heavy lifting…yeah !

There was a wonderful visit from Alex, who is probably banging on some drum at a band concert about now…

Kory and I built a new walkway, and he cleared us a beautiful view of our creek…

Zoe spent a week at Camp Gran and Mima, and was a terrific helper…

We taught her to play Clue…

Then we taught Arthur to play Clue…

We celebrated Andrew Wyeth’s 100th birthday with stamps and a trip to see his retrospective at the Brandywine River Museum…

We took in an O’s game with Doug and Scott…

I pretty much parked myself on the studio porch for weeks, and carved spoon after spoon and then got out the spinning wheel and spun my way through the last of the long locked lincoln fleece…

And we kept up the tradition…of opening and closing the season at Reeser’s…

I did a bit of commission painting somewhere in there, and a lot of wool gathering, in addition to the spinning…

Delayed by a hurricane or two, we have just finished packing the car…Finnegan’s followers will be just about as pleased as she was to know that her bed and bowls have been included… and tomorrow we head back to the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

An extended autumn stay to allow the muses to take me down some new roads, and listen to new stories, and refresh my soul.

So this is just to say,
that we are well,
we are grateful,
and we want you all to stay safe out there.

I catch you on the other side of the leaves…

 


Sisters and the Muse

This falls under Ted’s favorite category of “sorta fun”.

A while back, one of my master muses, John O’Hern, sent a query asking about the painting Sisters. He was writing an article about florals, and botanicals, and Albrecht Durer, and naturally…thought of moi. (She wrote with a grin)

The article came out in this month’s American Art Collector Magazine, which Pat brought in from the mailbox last night.

As I read through and found it today, I see that an image of Sisters did not make the editorial cut. I can see why as the others make a wonderful bouquet of floral still lifes, and my little garden painting is of the more humble vegetable variety.

But, here’s the fun part.
What John wrote about the painting Sisters is…in his most inimitably magical way…delightful.

And I quote,
“Heather Neill observes a helpful symbiotic relationship in her own garden between her tomato plants and a volunteer scarlet runner bean that self-seeded the year before. Sisters refers to the ancient practice of “sistering” or “growing companion plants to, in this case, literally, support one another”, she explains. “Native Americans would plant corn to support the beans, which would shade lower growing lettuces…all in the same patch.”

The subjects are shown after dusk plucked out of the dark by a porch light. Neill’s saturated color and hyperreal painting along with the dramatic light suggest a more sinister role for the vine when the light is extinguised.”

Only John would imagine such sinister designs, plucked after dusk by a porch light.

Brilliant, and ta.


Sky chair summer

After the big summer shows I usually come home and crash…
for a week…
then get right back to the easel.

Well, this year I’m taking it slooooow.
We have been blessed with a new studio apprentice, Alex.
Here he is with his Dad, splitting away the mountain of wood that arose
after the two great, but sadly decaying, pin oaks came down last month.

neighborly

Alex is one strong, enthusiastic, and smart worker, and he is making it possible for this old artist to cross off a long list of chores that have been put on hold…for a decade…while all focus has been on painting.
He has begun to learn the art of panel making and is teaching me a thing or two about snakes, and we’ve both enjoyed some spoon carving on the back porch after the mornings of hard work.
Pat and I feel like we have won the lottery as far as good neighbors go. Every which way we turn, we find kindness and generosity. Believe me it is appreciated.

And, after all that fun morning work…the garden beckons.
Those straw bales are producing, and though I have had an attack of storm trooper squash bugs, there has been progress…

albino zuke early harvest watermelon

Time to try the new slushy machine…

slushy

and of course… Reesers…with friends

reesers

and, at the end of these perfect summer days…

sky chair summer sky

Sending you love from the Sky Chair.