My Adventures in Gardening - How I Gained a Green Thumb

 Organic Gardening has been practiced here on Earth for thousands of years. After the invention of inorganic chemical fertilizers over the last century, the soil microbiomes in many places on many continents - i.e. America, Europe, Central and South America, China & India have increasingly been poisoned, damaged and depleted of natural minerals. Today we face huge degenerative diseases which have been traced to the consumption or exposure to food, soil, water and air laced with these synthetic chemical poisons. This is my story of returning to Nature and more natural ways of growing whole foods, without adding inorganic chemical substances to control weeds or kill insects.


[This blog is illustrated with my 2016 gardens and produce photos, a couple photos are of me, and also some are photos of my paintings. The Hibiscus is the only flower I did not grow from seed...I photographed it in Connecticut.]


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My gardening story begins outside New York City, in Queens, where our family went to visit our grandparents on holidays. They lived in a narrow home connected to my great-grandparents home next door.


Opa, my great-grandfather, had sailed around the world before WWI as First Mate on a merchant marine three-masted schooner. After being badly injured in a fall, he went from an Australian hospital to South America, finally immigrating to NYC in 1916, during World War I.


Opa and Oma moved out of Manhattan after years of work in delicatessens to Flushing, Queens, where he once took a completely “dead” rose bush out of someone else’s curb garbage, bringing it back to life by watering and talking to it.


My Grandma, Opa’s daughter, inherited her father’s green thumb. She, too, could take “dead” plants and revive them to full bloom by giving them a little love, attention, water and sunlight.




My Grandma had a small piece of land within a walled backyard where she hung laundry and planted her annual tomato plants. The back alley wall was brick and wild concord grapes grew along it - delicious treats for little girls under a hot summer sun.


On my mom’s other side of the family – my great-grandmother made it through the Great Depression in the 1930’s by planting Kale and other garden crops in beds “as big as a barn door” after the local General Store was unable to fill their shelves due to over-strained credit lines.



My mother began growing a good-sized garden in our backyard before we ever moved to Vermont.


As a child I remember her freshly-picked string beans and corn picked from those early gardens. I also remember the day my sister and I discovered there were Monkeys in our tiny backyard corn patch!


Mom thought we must be wrong, our area had no wild Monkeys!


But we had seen correctly. The Monkeys had escaped from a local Laboratory and found my mom’s garden refuge. Those poor little Monkeys were captured and taken back into experimental captivity.


After moving to Vermont, my siblings and I had the great privilege of running wild through field and wood for several years, exploring our new world barefooted, while Mom began a strawberry patch and slowly improved our rocky mountain soil for a better vegetable harvest.




Every Winter when Seed Catalogs came in the mail, we watched my mom pour over the various kinds of squash, beans and carrots…


We dutifully helped with a lot of weeding each summer. Weeding was not my favorite task.


For some reason it sticks out in our minds that my mom would be on the phone, having a long important conversation, and she would direct us to, “Go out and weed, I’ll be out to help you in half-an-hour.” But three hours later, she was often still talking and maybe some of my siblings and I would still be weeding…


Our 1900-foot-elevation, half-way up the side of a small mountain, was plant-hardiness-Zone 4b or maybe even Zone 5. With a last frost date of May 31st we had a growing season of barely ninety days some years! Many winter Squash need at least this much growing time to mature.


Seeds also need time to germinate under the soil before sprouting. Once they sprout, you begin to count days to maturity.


On a cold year we could have an early killing frost by late August, more often it came mid-to-late-September.


The year I turned sixteen I began to take more personal responsibility to help my mom with our garden. I had planted and weeded over many summers before this, yet knew I could do more in organizing our garden.


I felt I was either going to really dislike gardening, or choose to like it by becoming more personally invested.


So my mom let me begin selecting seeds from the catalogs, ordering, and also planting the seed flats indoors in Spring. I liked this planning and the logistics of getting the seedlings in the ground in time.


My mom would help and give me lots of instruction on the “proper” way to do things. She usually planted our Tomato patch, too.


My mother is precise about details, more like a scientist. I was more like my dad – I wanted to see action and keep things moving to completion!




Seedlings on a windowsill grow toward the light, and the flats need to be turned around every few days or hours, to keep plants growing upright.


There were also several preparatory stages to planting a garden:


  1. 1We prepared the soil by adding composted manure from our manure pile, where pony manure and chicken coop dung was piled. Mixed with hay, wood shavings and our kitchen compost bucket, it was also full of grass seeds. Some years we went to get a truck-load of composted goat manure as well, at a local goat farm.


We planted Winter Squash in the remaining manure pile, which was healthy black soil and much warmer than the rest of the garden. We fenced around it, to keep chickens from pecking holes in tender young squash skins.




  1. 2.    We then believed in rototilling the land to loosen the soil. Now I know I was ruining the soil’s delicate structure - but I didn’t know better then.


One Spring, it took forty hours to complete this soil and bed preparation.


After 8-10 hours in a garden, under much sunshine and from turning a large rototiller around so many times, muscles become sore – but it is a great kind of tired! I grew to love physically working hard, outdoors under the sun.


Each year, deep in my heart, I would pray solemnly and dedicate my garden to our Father in heaven, asking for His help and strength especially on the very long days. I could plant and weed, yet I knew that any increase would be from Him, for only He could bring the needed sunshine, warmth and rain.


  1. 3.    Carefully, we hoed the soil into long raised beds, which made weeding easier and gave the plants more soil base. We put hay mulch on the paths in-between beds, to keep weeds down.


  1. 4.    Planting the first cold-hardy seeds came next and finally - after May 31st  most years - planting the hardened-off seedlings. My mom used sticks and string to plant straight rows. I eventually dispensed with this step, planting mainly beds instead of rows.


We sorted our seeds into plant families. I had a box for direct planting, some early and others later. We had another box for those seeds which needed to be started in seed flats before the snow melted.


We planted a dozen or more varieties of leaf and head Lettuces, Endive, Spinach, lots of kinds of Tomatoes, around five varieties of Carrots, more root vegetables like red and orange Beets, Turnips and Rutabaga, slicing and pickling Cucumbers, heirloom Corn, cruciferous vegetables like Kale, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Kohlrabi and several types of early and late Cabbages, plus Chinese greens – Tatsoi, Bok Choy, etc.


I tried growing Celery without much success. Leeks usually did very well. Once I grew Millet. It did well, but I didn’t know when or how to really harvest it, so the seeds fell to the ground and the mice probably ate it. I grew Fava beans once, too.


I loved dreaming about how my various annual Flowers would look when mature, but because of our short season they didn’t have much time to blossom. I had better success with flower seedlings, started early.


We grew many types of Winter and Summer Squash and Pumpkins. We also grew herbs like Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Cilantro, Dill and Parsley.


We grew Green and Red Peppers. I tried Eggplant and Okra, but we had too short a season and it was generally too cold for them to do well.


We purchased Open-Pollinated Heirloom seeds, avoiding hybrid seeds, because while they took longer to reach maturity, we believed they were stronger seeds and their fruit would have more nutritional value, too.


Gardening was always a type of lived experiment to me, like painting or cooking. It felt like we were “going on an adventure” without leaving home each Spring, trying this and that, to see how it grew and produced.


I’m not really a “read-the-directions” type of technical person. I learned best when people told me or showed me. We did have various books on how to garden, which I referred to when I wanted to know how far to space certain seeds or plants.


Other things I learned because my mom knew a lot from her reading and studying. There were no handy internet searches available then.


Seed packets do give directions for planting. If something worked, we did it again. Learning was a simple effort of trial and error.


I did however read through a book on Companion Planting and we began to plant Carrots in the same bed as the Tomatoes. Squash and Beans liked to be with Corn.


There were seeds which liked cold weather and so could go in the ground very early, like Arugula, Spinach, Lettuces and Peas.




  1. 5.    We built a new Pea fence and another Cucumber support each Spring because we rotated our crops, trying to put things in different soil each year. A heavy iron bar was used to make holes and then we pounded in a big fence post at each end of our Pea fence area. At times we had special Pea Fencing, but just plain chicken wire worked too, for the Pea Fence itself.


We didn’t plant potatoes often – we had a lack of room and they like newly turned soil. We also never planted asparagus – a perennial, which required its own permanent bed.


But I planted almost everything else that could possibly grow in our climate. Once we tried Sweet Potatoes - without much success, as they needed richer soil and a longer growing season.


Once my mom got a small greenhouse assembled and on a foundation but a strong swirling wind caught it through the roof which opened to regulate temperature, and it was blown away into smithereens.


I made a highly detailed “garden map” before planting – planning where everything went, trying to keep the Garlic and Onions away from the Beans – because they don’t get along. We rotated our crops, trying not to plant the same thing in the same place year-to-year.


  1. 6.    Seedlings need to be “hardened off” before being planted outside. When a plant is raised inside a house or greenhouse the plants are not used to direct sunlight or wind. They have to be slowly and carefully introduced to sun and wind – or they will become sunburned and die from shock and exposure to too much light.


Wind helps tiny plants become strong and stand upright…but too much wind, too soon, can also damage their growth and time to maturity. This is very analogous to little people, too!


So my mom and I would put our seed flats outside for 10-15 minutes a day – and then gradually extend that time until the seedlings could go through the hottest and sunniest part of the day.


During all these “hardening off” times, we were usually trying to keep the chickens off the deck, the cats from walking on top of the plants, etc.


At the start, our garden was 60x90 feet with a four-foot-wide grass path down the center which had to be mowed. We shortened the garden by about eight feet, to allow room to take a truck below the garden.


So my garden was probably eventually 60x75 feet, without the garden path, with a picket-fence surrounding it.


When I began gardening we were also raising chickens, Toulouse geese and Bronze turkeys. We had a bunch of cats, two goats and five ponies.


All of these animals LOVED to find a loose picket or small hole where they could squeeze through. They would then happily waddle, strut or amble down the garden path, eating insects and grass…and sometimes pecking, tasting, standing on or consuming my carefully tended new plants!!!


One Spring, the two-month-old hardened-off seedlings my mom and I had carefully tended were planted in the ground, only to have the geese break into the garden fence and eat them all up! I was so upset! We had to purchase more plants. The geese managed to gain entry again and we lost those seedlings, too! I was beside myself, fuming at those geese!


I lacked a lot of acceptance, flexibility and calmness back then. Any change in my plans was seen as a crisis. I was also very emotionally attached to the life of my little plants. Our cute, but highly annoying and destructive geese were my enemy! They ate all the perennial flowers outside a fence. And if our geese didn’t ruin something beautiful, our two goats would.


So there were many emotionally exhausting and financially expensive garden years. That one Spring we planted our seedlings THREE TIMES!


There was also a lot of construction and foundation digging going on during those years…the mess and lack of green grass was disconcerting.


Stick-tu-i-tiv-i-ty…


Another time I remember being determined to have all our seedlings in the ground before we drove to attend our annual home-education weeklong seminar event.


Sometimes - most times - pushing for your own timing in things is the wrong thing to do. I sincerely felt if the plants had an extra week in the ground, this time would help them mature before frost arrived…


But the weather that week was very hot and sunny. I remember waking up early one morning, while on the journey south, clearly realizing that all my plants had died from the sunshine and my not being there to water and care for them. My plants and I had a connection…


Sadly I was right – all my baby plants had fried! I was distraught!!


All this hard work and time investment – for nothing!


Gardening was teaching me about attempting things and failing and then how to try again. I was learning to think before acting, too.


Gardening taught me great patience – with the plants growing cycles and also patience with myself.


One year my beets were flourishing, happily growing well having been thinned and nicely spaced…but one morning I noticed their green tops looked withered. Upon closer inspection, I saw vole chewing marks on their roots, only around 2/10’s of each root remained…this shocked me, I saw how quickly a beet plant could go from “fine” to “dying”!


What if these plants really were my children and someone or something had damaged them??! This made me think on how parents need to be constantly alert for dangers when raising tender young people.


I didn’t know then that if you plant onion seeds in January and transplant them to a garden in early Spring you would harvest really large onions. We planted onion sets which grew, but never got as large as we wanted.


One year, my brother was helping me set these tiny onions in the soil, a few inches apart. My brother didn’t love gardening too much then. He jumped the fence with a laugh, quoting “I escaped!” from Calvin and Hobbs’ comic strip.



Gardening became a major part of the rhythm of life, as did stacking winter wood, and haying each summer. We grew food nearly every year and it helped me to have purpose in staying home and becoming an artist. I know the food helped my family with their health as well our finances.


My older sister was a huge help tilling and getting soil ready. We generally all helped each other because sometimes one or more of us had back, knee, ankle or wrist injuries, and so weeding was sometimes a one-handed task.


Farming and gardening is hard physical work. It makes your hands, legs and body very dirty. Dirt scrapes your fingernails. There were many summers I never went swimming once, because the garden needed so much work.


One summer my brother came home from some fun thing and yelled to me “you’re a garden-a-holic!” “Well, maybe if you came out here and helped, I wouldn’t have to be!” I yelled back.


I didn’t see the point in spending time to plant seedlings, harden them off, prepare soil, and plant – only to let the plants get covered in weeds and not produce fruit. It made no sense. Once I committed to the garden, I was tied down…summer after summer.


  1. 7.     Weeding provided time for me to learn to “feel” the plants. I could eventually tell without looking which was the plant and which was the weed. Stems of beans are sturdy and grass blades are softer.


I’ve been told Russians believe those who garden have a special connection to God, and can hear Him speak through the soil. Now I know of telluric currents - electric lines - which run through Earth’s soil.


There was a little breather in mid-summer after all the planting was done and had been weeded around twice…then the latter rains would come and weeds would continue to grow. Carrots needed thinning, Tomatoes had to be staked.


  1. 8.    Then came the time of harvest!


Harvesting fruits from the earth was a special joy, after all the work required to get there. But it didn’t lessen the workload.


We learned to can, blanch and freeze beans and broccoli. We made pickles with our cucumbers. I made a lot of steamed or stir-fried vegetable meals. I used to tell my brother that if he wanted meat, he’d have to cook it…but being a vegetarian didn’t entirely support my body.


I went through years of illness in my twenties. Exposure to toxic chemicals through our home renovations -varnish, lead primer and stains- led to my not digesting dairy or much meat. My health did finally heal with trace minerals, enzymes, unrefined salt and MSM, but perhaps all our fresh vegetables and time in the soil really helped save my life. I still miss cooking over our wood stove.


Some years we had good tomato crops. My mother was usually in charge of our tomato plants. It’s hard to raise tomatoes in Vermont outside a greenhouse because the nights are chilly. But a few summers were hot and sunny enough.


We packed our big freezer full for winter meals and gave away extra food. We also had a dehydrator but it wasn’t used often.


The Victory Garden Cookbook was helpful, it taught me a lot about how to prepare different vegetables, some we’d never seen before.



Some summers the sky just poured rain; it was cold and would seem nothing was ever going to mature.


As the years passed, our frosts got later and later. We could go into October without a killing frost! This was unheard of. “Global warming” or a heating cycle may be “bad” in the south but in the north, we knew it as a real blessing!


Each year I would plant the food first, and then the flowers. I loved flowers tremendously, but food was the priority.


Eventually I began planting my very best soil with flowers and garlic. Flowers fed my love for beauty and helped our garden by attracting insects. Garlic is a heavy feeder and needed good soil to do well.


My Cosmos flowers reached three-four feet in height and looked so beautiful, flowering mightily. One year a killing frost came, turning all their flashy pink and white colors brown and shriveling their slender leaves. I was an emotional wreck that cold night, probably because I had failed to bring more inside for bouquets and my poor family heard me sorrowing. How I loved how these lacy-leaved plants grew for me!



We also grew lovely perennial Hollyhocks, initially grown from the seed we purchased at Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello. They would come up all over the garden.


We had visited Monticello, and Mount Vernon’s gardens - George Washington’s home in Virginia. George means “farmer” and this was his true passion – growing new varieties of plants!


One of my favorite things to see grow were Scarlett Runner Beans, pole beans having a red flower. The Monticello gardeners had made a tall trellis which became a leafy green and red flowered pole bean canopy to be walked through. This was always my “fancy vision” and dream, but due to the difference in Zones, I rarely saw these pretty bean plants grow beyond two or three weeks of maturity.


Gardening taught me I could envision things before they happened and work to make those dreams come true.


9.    I read Seed to Seed and learned more about saving seeds. I learned there are five different squash families, so if I planted just one variety from each family, I could save seed and produce the same harvest the following year. More often than not, the squash varieties mingled.


We saved Calendula flower seeds. Sometimes my Cilantro would seed and this turns into the spice, Coriander. I saved Arugula seeds after they bolted, and sometimes we had dry bean seeds, too…Some things, like tiny carrot seeds – a biennial, were difficult to save. Italian friends of ours would save their Tomato seeds to give to us.


Raccoons would come steal our corn, just as it ripened. They could smell it, I’m sure. Deer also jumped inside the garden, sometimes to munch on our Swiss Chard bed, but it would grow back.


Jerusalem Artichokes began growing in our manure pile. They were delicious in soups and stews.


I had a lot going on in those last 7-8 years on our Farm, and between all the various organizational jobs I volunteered to do, there was family to help and artwork to paint. I became much more accepting and less stressed about problems that arose. It’s good to know I can grow.


We have photos of one of my final gardens…it was a joy to behold!


Dewy plants in early morning, the way the air smelled as summer turned toward autumn, sounds of insects singing…I miss feeling these wonders.




Southwest Florida


My grandmother moved to southwest Florida after my grandpa retired. They owned an empty lot next to their home, and planted a tropical fruit tree paradise there. Eventually, my grandmother had thirty-five tropical fruit trees. She knew tons about each variety and she had learned to prune and graft, too!


When we visited, I would juggle lemons in the garden and wonder to myself “where Adam was” as if I were in the Garden of Eden.


She had Dovyalis – Florida Apricot, a large Mango tree, Grapefruit, Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Black Sapote (otherwise known as Chocolate Pudding Fruit), Grapes, Banana Trees, Coconut Palms, Figs, Cherimoya, Carambola (Starfruit) and Pomelo (grandfather to the grapefruit). There were others, too. I think she tried to grow Kiwi fruit. Her Avocado tree never bore fruit. She may have had a Lychee or Macademia tree, too.


I am thrilled to still have my grandmother’s grafting knife today. It is a special reminder of the heritage she helped give me, growing good food.


Once I helped my Grandma with pruning, shocked by how much she was cutting off! “Don’t you think you’re cutting too much?!” I asked her. “Oh no, this will all grow back in three months,” she replied…ah, the difference latitude makes!


In Vermont, if you cut a forest to the ground, it takes 75 years to return, especially at the 1900-foot elevation above sea level, where we lived.




 

A Sabbath of Rest


The Bible says we are to rest the land every seven years. My mother took this seriously but didn’t do enough research to find out the Gardeners are also supposed to rest every seven years, which means more food must be raised in the sixth year.


So, the year I was nineteen, we were instructed to not plant inside the picket fence but to open a new plot of land further out in a field. We had to build a fence and were working in rocky soil. I tore my low back terribly trying to put fence posts in the ground that year…and the soil was terrible. The garden failed to produce any crops that year.


That may have also been the year we planted some Raspberry canes. Berries like more acidic soil, but the young plants also need water and shade. They were planted in the same far field and did not survive.



 

Gardening in New Zealand,


October 24, 2006 - October 23, 2007


After much prayer and many very visible miracles, I was able to gain my mother’s blessing to leave home to visit and work in New Zealand. 


God answered my prayer for plane fare. I worked sorting Peonies at a local farm with my sister, organized some speaking events and prayed.  $1,500 arrived in just a short time, although I had not made $500 the entire year before this, having been in the garden growing food.


I left for NZ with joy in my heart in late October.


It was not a year of peaches and cream, because that year brought many very difficult changes and losses to our family, but many good things resulted from my trip. God provided and protected me. I have many dear friends in New Zealand today!


I gardened a lot at the Sheep and Cattle Station where I lived and worked for five months or so in New Zealand’s Spring-Summer of 2007-2008.



The Station owner felt I couldn’t see well enough to muster lost sheep – even though their white wool showed up clearly amid the green grass and yellow gorse bushes. So instead, I wound up in another land on my hands and knees yet again, weeding their vegetable plants, flowers and mowing large lawns each week.


I took long walks through the pastures, avoiding the giant Black Angus bulls and was amazed by the wild Calla Lilies, Digitalis (foxglove) and the giant Rosemary bushes!


There was an invasive species at the Station that was new to me – I think they were convolvulus rhizomes I was constantly weeding.


I also learned more about Permaculture there. The Station master’s wife had a fermented seaweed and fish skeleton fertilizer we used on her vegetable garden, which smelled a little interesting.


This long-time organic Station where I stayed and worked had gone organic in 1973. They had diversified with stands of different hardwood trees, including Black Walnut, and also softwoods. 


I helped harvest their orchard of purple and yellow Plums. They were struggling with Possum damage, but the Possums didn’t get them all.


Feijoa fruit was wonderful to discover and taste. They had an Avocado tree and a Meyer Lemon tree, too.


I walked around barefoot on “Black Gold” composted sheep manure and loved it!




I joined a tour through the Station’s preserved wild Bush one day. An elderly Entomologist who loved Butterflies was on the tour that day. I have always loved insects. Bugs of all kinds are fascinating.


One day I saw one of the Station hands move cattle with his dogs two miles away, across a wide valley – the dogs were so obedient!


I rode through many sheep gates on a young horse another day. The coast of Raglan could be seen from the Station height! There was 1,800 hectares, or 4,500 acres of gorgeous land to explore.


It was a wonderful, if sometimes lonely experience for those first few months. I had managed to move myself across the world to a place with less people, phone and computer access than when at home in Vermont!


Two “angels” arrived and stayed in my sheep quarters with me at the end of my time there. They were WOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and had come from Montana to travel around New Zealand together. I enjoyed their company very much.


I planted a giant bed of Winter Squash before leaving, but moved to another location in NZ before it matured.


I went to a conference in the southern part of the North Island, and stayed on another sheep Station in Hamilton. At this time, NZ was losing one hundred Sheep farms every day, competing with Chinese and South America for the Lamb meat market. Then my sister and I traveled together in the South Island.




I also visited and lived with a family on a very large Kiwi fruit and Avocado Orchard in Tauranga, during both harvest-time and again at pruning-time for the Kiwi vines.


My home base those last six months became the home of anti-vax authors of Just A Little Prick and From One Prick to Another. They were wonderfully kind to me! We had good fellowship and I’m still in touch with them today.


I had taken a “calculated risk” to use my remaining $400 NZ to frame some new paintings of sheep, entering an art show. Two works sold, giving me $2,000 NZ, which allowed me to pay for food after extending my Visa and changing my plane ticket from six months to a year’s stay.


I was in a Maori reservation town near Pukekohe when I learned that Pukekohe is where most of New Zealand’s food is grown. It is a heavily sprayed and toxic area. Only around 7% of NZ’s agriculture was organic at the time, which was very sad to hear.


A new bus system had begun in NZ when I was in the South Island for three weeks, called “Nakedbus.” I used this bus to get to the different home-ed families who had met me at their conference, inviting me to visit their homes.


I was glad to travel long distances for small amounts of money. During those long bus journeys, I could see the grape vineyards, green fields with the sheep, and many rainbows!


I visited Christchurch, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Nelson, and Twizel, on the South Island. On the North Island I saw the Wellington Museum, Paraparaumu, Palmerston North, and hot springs in Rotorua, all briefly.


My final six months in New Zealand didn’t involve much physical gardening.


I traveled around mainly to home-educating families in Whangare, Kaitaia, Hamilton and Tauranga. I gave watercolor lessons to the children on how to paint, and others lessons about building good character. Sometimes I cooked food for their families.


It was thrilling to practice and sing in an enormous 600-voice choir in Auckland. It was also wonderful to ride a great horse in the Waiuku Forestry by the ocean!




I stayed with Maori families, British families, and mixed Maori/British families. I also became friends with a family who had fled South Africa during their country’s apartheid.


Persimmon trees abound in New Zealand. One Farmer’s Market had very ripe, freshly picked persimmons which I consider the greatest fruits in the world! Their Pack-n-Save sold green Persimmons which were completely tasteless and as crispy as a green apple! I was surprised to learn many Maori didn’t even know how a ripe Persimmon tasted!


I remember finding a large bunch of local Watercress at a market. I don’t know how clean the ditch it came from was, but I ate it.


Seeing the different Magnolia trees blossom and also purple Wisteria as Spring arrived was lovely, just before I left the country to go home.


New Zealand is very energy conserving. Many homes on the North Island have no central heat - they put water heaters in the kitchen cupboards. They also gather rainwater via barrels under the edge of tin roofs which have been scrubbed clean.





Back in Vermont


I gardened that next Spring, planting our onions early in April.


A delinquent tax sale had taken place while I was in New Zealand and I felt a big change would soon occur.


I remember how my older sister arrived home in a truck from land-surveying all day with our old family friend.


I went up to the side of the truck and said through the window, “Look at me, I’m a filthy mess. I don’t want to look like this the rest of my life.” My tattered old jeans were sopping wet with mud from planting onions.“Oh, don’t worry about it, Elise,” she said, trying to encourage me, “no one sees you anyway!”


I went back out to the garden and moaned to myself, “Isn’t this the real problem? No one sees me anyway! No one knows I even exist!” “Oh God,” I said, “you’ve just GOT to tell me why I’m back here, doing the same old, same old thing!”


Instantly, at the top of my head, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” This was from Psalm 126, which I had memorized many years earlier. At this unexpected answer, so applicable, I lay down on the wet ground and cried. If our Father saw me then this was enough.


Lots of things happen in a garden.



That Spring my mother ordered fifty chicks and a few turkey poults without telling me ahead of time. My older sister was unexpectedly not there that summer and my mom’s back was bad, so I raised the chicks in our kitchen until they could be put outside in our chicken coop. Those little wings flapped chicken feed all over the inside of our kitchen!


My stalwart sister arrived home in time to slaughter the meat birds. I plucked, she gutted and we put the meat in the freezer - $500 of organic chicken.


I had a vegetable garden that last summer, too. I don’t remember it. Perhaps the stress level was too high. I do remember my flowers were lovely, especially the big bed with blue Bachelor’s Buttons, mixed with white Gypsophila (baby’s breath) and red Poppies.


Red, white and blue is a strong combination. In stones, rubies, diamonds, and sapphire can take the most “heat” of any gem stones!




 

Gardening in Pennsylvania and New York


I planted a garden in Pennsylvania once, in a day, to help someone where we stayed en-route to a Tennessee seminar.


The summer of 2009, after we had lost our home, a woman I met at a seminar invited me to her home to visit for a few days. She was a professional Chef, teaching at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, as well as with the Academy for Healing Nutrition, but she had never in her life had a garden!


I planted a small garden for her that summer. I explained she must trap and move the resident Groundhog, for Groundhogs eat twice their body weight every day in greens (something like that). Groundhogs and Gardens don’t really mix! While the Groundhog did eat most of her seedlings, she managed to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers and was so excited when she called to tell me!


I forget that while growing food is very natural and normal for me, it is a novelty and something very exciting for people who have never in their lives planted a seed and watched it grow to produce colorful food!




MOFGA and Maine Garlic Seed


After the loss of our home, my busy life “slate” was wiped clean…and I found myself getting triggered by sadness whenever I heard a Turkey call at someone else’s farm. Going to NYC to be a street-artist was healing because I was not constantly reminded I had no home anymore.


I went to live on the coast of Maine for three years, and while there, my Aunt Helen, her children and I went to the MOFGA Fair for a day. The Maine Organic Farm and Garden Association’s annual Fair is a place where everything sold at concession stands is 100% organic!


I had attended this special Fair twice before – once in 1997 when I was 27, and once in the early 2000’s.


In my mom’s and my 1997 trip over from Vermont, there was a Full Moon and a killing frost that weekend. I remember being freezing cold and in agony because the moon was pulling the jagged edge of my first wisdom tooth in through the gum. My jaw was terribly swollen. Because of this pain, I don’t remember much at the Fair!



We did purchase my first 5-10 lbs of garlic seed and I began growing garlic each Fall, slowly building up my seed until I was planting around 500 cloves each year. We saved seed for the next year, gave some away and used garlic whenever we were sick. It is still my main remedy for any ill or issue. Garlic has amazing healing properties!


Strangely, I have almost NO memory of our second trip to MOFGA’s annual Fair. Just a vague one, of going to see the horses…I must have been very tired!


This third visit, in 2013, I separated from Helen’s family at noon, to go hear Michael Pollan give his Keynote speech in a central area. When he finished speaking I could not find Helen again among the huge crowds of people. There was no phone reception. I was low on funds so didn't see the point in going to see the consumable food booths, so just wandered around with a pain in my chest, wondering why I knew so much about gardening, yet had no land to grow things on anymore. Everything I saw triggered me!


I had already chosen three pounds of seed Garlic to plant that morning, several different varieties, learning about garlic nematodes – a pest boring holes in the skin, it ruins the garlic’s value and storage. I had never had any problems with our garlic – not rot or fungus, because we dried the bulbs thoroughly after harvest and before storage.


Finally, I went inside one of the teaching tents and learned how to grow oats. I took notes on how to tell when to harvest the grain for different purposes – green, immature milky oats; or when harder and more mature, for grain. I think it was Butterworks Farm’s recently-deceased owner, Jack Lazor, who taught this class.


Finally, at the end of the day, I found Helen’s family and we left with them laughing about the “Weed Dating” activity by the gate.


MOFGA has something for everyone. Growing up, my mother and father used to take us to County Fairs, and we even went to Canada once, to see a large horse-pulling exhibition.


An 89-year-old friend of mine gave me his raised bed railroad ties. I filled the bed with composted soil and my garlic grew really well in Maine.


I am still planting that 2013 seed today, after losing my initial garlic varieties due to our house eviction. Garlic is now my only crop but it keeps my hands in the soil a few times each year!




Haying with Horses


My mother is an old horse-woman and when we first moved to Vermont in 1979, there were lots of estate and farm auctions. We loved going and looking at the antique furniture.


My mom collected old horse-drawn farm equipment at these auctions. She had a dream of importing and raising French Percherons – old-style, with larger joints and hindquarters than American Percherons.


We had a plow or two, a stoneboat, a hay rake, a hay lifter, an old sickle-bar mower which had never been pulled by a tractor. We also had an old Revolutionary War wooden wagon, a sleigh, a horse drawn cart and a couple buggies.


One summer we were unable to rent a tractor and hay baler, so we used our team of half-draft Black Percheron/half-Morgan mares to cut and rake the hay in a rented field four miles down in the valley. We learned a lot that summer. It was hot and hard work! We brought the hay into our barn loft loose, not baled.




Now Sterling College, a small Federally-funded Agricultural School here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont has a farming and logging with horses program. This is good to see.


Knowledge of raising and training horses, maintaining or repairing farm machinery are sort of lost arts today! We’ve lost so many of the small family farms, who once passed this understanding down to the next generation.


Farmers have to know SO many things – weather patterns, seasonal flow, animal husbandry, forestry, horticulture, how to sell what you’ve grown and make a profit, fixing problems, building fences, repairing machines, building barns, caring for leather harness, etc.


Once, everyone knew these things. 98% of America knew how to grow their own food. Now, only 2% farm, and these are likely huge industrial farms. Some people are growing vegetables and poultry on the land, but there are many obstacles yet to overcome.

 



Summer on a Farm, Vermont 2016


In early 2015, I needed to find a new place to live. After looking to relocate somewhere along the eastern seacoast, I finally moved back to Vermont, to stay in a spare bedroom of an old family friend.


I was there nine months, painting hard, but without paying work.


But God provided. People at a local church fellowship met me and I moved in late March to live at their Farm, to be their Head Gardener and Greenhouse Manager.


After moving to the Farm I began planting seed flats immediately. They grew wonderfully!


2016 was one of the hottest summers on record for Vermont. May was extremely hot the entire month.



I had been given a large greenhouse to plant, and 45 raised beds in the garden area. Some of these beds were 3x15 feet.


I was also asked to plant a two-acre field!


This was a LOT of ground to manage by myself. Plus I mowed the garden, in-between the raised beds.


I did enlist my boss and the Farm’s groundskeeper also helped me hoe the large field of Corn. Hoeing to cover the seed in this field taught me to understand the real meaning of, “You have a long row to hoe!”


Corn field soil needs compost fertilizer, and the man I worked for did add some, but not enough - so sadly much of the time and work invested brought little gain. Growing Sweet Corn requires good soil and a lot of work. We also planted many types of potatoes, but insects ate up the potato plant leaves very badly.


I planted lots of Cabbages and many Tomato plants in the large field, too, with some composted manure under each plant, and these seedlings grew very well. I weeded them and eventually they produced wonderfully!



Once or twice a week someone would come to help me plant or there would be a volunteer. Usually this meant more work for me, not less, because they were usually disabled and I had to oversee their work.


A woman hired to help me, yet who didn’t have as much gardening experience, told me strongly, “You can’t plant anything in the soil until it reaches 60 degrees F.” I knew we couldn’t wait to plant peas and lettuce, so just went ahead with what I had learned and done so many times, and everything grew incredibly well.


Due to Vermont’s extremely unusual scorching late-Spring heat, with temperatures reaching around 90 degrees Fahrenheit daily, I was carrying water buckets to reach the newly planted seedlings twice a day, in the early morning and late evening, to keep them alive.



Finally, I learned it was a little easier to drag a hose and use a sprinkler, which needed to be moved every few hours through-out the night.


My mind was constantly planning what vegetable had to be planted, thinned, watered, weeded or staked next.


The house where I stayed was near a main commuting route, and the traffic began at 4 AM. It was noisy, and I wasn’t sleeping well at all.


After a few months of constant physical work, I lost weight and stopped feeling hungry. This was partially due to my dentist shocking a tooth with electricity, badly affecting my stomach meridian.


Feeling a need for a break, I rode a large horse on the 4th of July, bareback…walk, trot and canter, both directions. I didn’t fall off, but my legs were sore, so I rode again four days later. After this ride, I thought I had pulled a rib.


Then I went to Maine and back by bus, to join a plein air painting event. After the pain and swelling around my solar plexus got worse, saw a chiropractor. This doctor kindly traded for art and vegetables for six months, because I could not afford to see her otherwise. She said I’d pulled fascia over my pancreas area (the over-thinking meridian to the Chinese, as well as the organ that stores the emotion “not feeling nurtured by your mother” or to me, self-care.) She told me I needed to cut my hours down, so my body could heal.


I was so exhausted I could literally lie down on the ground near a bed of vegetables and fall asleep - at any time of the day, morning or afternoon!


So, I slowed down, and then the Harvest began to come in.




We had Tomatoes galore. There were heirloom, large, small, red, orange and yellow, beefsteak, cherry and paste tomatoes. That summer we raised 200 lbs - worth $800 - of beautiful organic Tomatoes outside of a Greenhouse!


We sold lettuce to a couple Stowe Mountain Road restaurants, which made me happy. I joked I was now a “professional”, selling my produce!



We harvested 75 lbs of gorgeous garlic, too, which I had not planted, and instead of re-planting this seed, the Farm decided to sell 40 lbs to a local co-op, where it would sell for $12-$14/lb.


There was a Farm Stand near the busy road, which was bumper-to-bumper traffic during morning and afternoon rush-hour – so no one wanted to stop, get off the road, and buy anything, I tried to sell our produce…yet the Tomatoes did not go to waste, I froze many of them and we made sauce all winter!


I also made zucchini relish, pickles, salsa, tomato sauce, and lots of fermented sauerkraut.




I made some good friends there. It was a Summer to remember, the year my gardening knowledge helped me survive, grow more food and also some very lovely flowers!


My artist self continued creating paintings at night and on weekends, which made me realize I missed being a visual artist.


But designing and planting a garden is an art form, too.





Our Large Forest


Growing up, our land was mostly forested. We had Maple, White, Grey and Yellow Birch, Beech, Poplar, Pine, Balsam, and Spruce Fir trees. It was old growth and the canopy was gorgeous! It was easy to walk through our forest, as very little light came through the canopy, so the forest floor was like a giant garden, with many ferns and lovely wild flowers.


In January, 1998, we lost that forest in an "act of God" – it rained ice for three days straight – too cold to rain, too warm to snow. The trees began snapping in the woods and we heard sounds like rifle shots. Suddenly, 70% of our forest canopy was GONE!


I had logged in those woods with one of our half-draft horses in winter and summer – not much, just once each season as it was dangerous.


And we loved those trees. I realized I could not hang on to the beauty of the past…I had to accept this drastic undesired change. With that loss of beauty came a lot of new growth. We gained some Moose in the woods, who ate the young twigs on the new brush. But the Forest floor was a complete wreck – it looked like a war-zone! It went from a beautiful area to walk, to trees on the ground that stopped you like a fence, brush and wild berry bushes…


And so every August I could, I was in the woods picking wild blackberries, getting all scratched up. Berries are great for your brain.


My mother decided to log the land.


The Loggers were good people but their equipment further destroyed the land. It had rained all the next summer, making the forest dangerous for their equipment was sliding all over the place.


My mom had never wanted logging equipment to touch our land, but there was so much usable wood on the ground, and she had to do something, fast, or we’d lose the log value.


They cut down a big pine tree at the end of our driveway, a tree I loved. I cried hard about this loss and those loggers all laughed. They only wanted the logs for money. Their coveted tree had heart-rot and therefore the log was unsalable. I wanted my tree back. So much suffering, and the trees just take it.


I marked twisted or diseased trees for culling a few times. It was considered part of taking care of the forest.


Deep in our forest there had been a special stand of White Birch trees, large ones, maybe a ten or twenty-acre piece. In Winter these trees became like a Fairy World, white snow on their branches, and white tree trunks.


I’m very glad I was able to see, feel, and really get to know our forest. It was the place I called Home here on Earth.



 

Orchard Dreams


When we moved to our Vermont Farm, which God had clearly provided for us through prayer in 1979, it had a very old and beautiful Apple Orchard. The trees were probably over 150 years old, as our farmhouse had been built in 1820.


Apple trees were scattered around the farm in various fields too. In all we probably had a dozen or more trees. Every two years they produced buckets of fruit!


The trees bore several different delicious apple varieties, some red, some green and one yellow apple variety. One of the reds was a good late apple. One tree also had a pear graft on it, and this branch produced small pears every few years.




Our orchard boasted one excellent crabapple tree. Black Bear liked to visit these trees when the apples were abundant and ripe, in the Autumn.


We liked eating sour apples, before they were really ripe. Our ponies had to be kept away from the apples, but that was almost impossible.


My mom and dad wanted to grow more Fruit Trees, and so they bought some young trees, planting Plum, Pear and maybe even Apricot trees. But the two young French Alpine kid goats, purchased as brush eaters, destroyed the branches of these tender young trees, and they all died.


We planted quite a few berry bushes and fruiting trees the last summer we lived there, watering them daily. I think we had mulberry and gooseberries, high-bush blueberries, blackberries and maybe black currants, too. We don’t know if these young plants lived or died.





                                    Garden Thoughts


I was in Southwest Florida once, on an island known for its mangos and we visited a hydroponic garden producer, who grew lettuces for local Restaurants. I recognized the tiny one-inch-high Kale seedlings, calling them by name, and instantly he offered me a job should I ever want it! This was nice, but I wasn’t living in Florida then, just visiting.


Every Fall I plant about 300 cloves of garlic. In late June the scapes are clipped and eaten, and then I harvest the 300-odd bulbs in Late July or Early August. This keeps my hands in the soil, but it is borrowed land.


I have taught several people how to grow garlic over the years. And it’s a good feeling, knowing how to grow your own food.




One woman I met on the street in NYC said “it was her dream” to go to Ecuador and garden organically. Maybe it’s easier to grow things in warmer climes, but I feel many people think growing a garden is very Romantic – they don’t realize how much work it often is!


Now, I also know plenty of people who find Gardening tremendously relaxing and say it is their favorite hobby.


Once a friend told me she “gardened” – she meant growing things in a very small 4’x 6’ foot area. And even this small area can produce a lot of food!


In NYC I worked in a flower shop that also sold indoor house plants and vegetable seeds. A woman called in, asking “could she plant beans and corn” in her tiny 2’x3’ plastic tub on the apartment balcony!


In the past I have enjoyed visiting the Boston Flower Show and also President Calvin Coolidge’s perennial flower garden here in Vermont. Perennial flowers seem less work than annuals, but you have to weed them and continue to thin the bulbs, which is not always easy.


My family and I used to visit Vermont’s Farm Show every January. It was fun to look at the animals, produce, maple syrup products and baked goods…we entered some of the contests. Once we made Maple Syrup on our farm…inside the house – not the best place to evaporate sap!


I guess a garden is always on my mind as the seasons change from Winter to Spring. My shock over not having “real work” to do anymore has not worn off…I feel like I’m always on vacation!


Someday I will have land to garden again. I once had a plan or dream of having a log home on our land, and had my corner plot picked out…but losing our home sort of erased and shattered those plans. It seems like such a lot of work to own things.

 



Flowering Trees


In the Spring of 2011 I went to live in northern New Jersey to try to regain my strained health. I stayed in a very old brick and stone home, built in 1807. The lawns and grounds around this home had been nicely preserved, amid an encroaching NYC bedroom community all around it.


Due to being tied to my own garden, planting nearly every Spring, I had never really seen or experienced Spring in a warmer climate.


I was amazed and thrilled to see flowering Dogwood trees, Magnolia trees and flowers, and a large Mulberry tree which fruited. I also visited the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for Hanami, seeing the flowering Cherry trees.


My very wise body made “a beeline” for a nearby recreational area and Park, where I walked under beautiful old tall oak trees almost every day.


A few months later, I was amazed to see on a topographical map that this Park was one of two green areas in all of that part of New Jersey! It is a very built-up area, house upon house. Yet my intuitive body wanted trees and oxygen and headed me in the right direction to find deer, ducks, squirrel, other wildlife, and beauty!





Hugging Trees and Stewarding Land


So, these are some of the many adventures I remember about my time gardening. It’s interesting to see how my memory brings up mainly the difficult patches!


I feel that my role in life has largely been to steward things for others. This is fine. No one takes what they think they “own” with them when they pass on to the spirit world. As I have both desired and sought to be a faithful servant, I know our Father in heaven sees my heart.


Now I’m still “sent around” and continue to look for a new home, but one whose builder and maker is God.


Gardening and working on and with land has been a very significant part of my life.



Gratefully, your friend in Gardening on the land called Vermont,


Elise



“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” ~ Jeremiah 6:16a


"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” ~ Jeremiah 29:5

 

And I will bring my people Israel back from exile. "They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.” ~ Amos 9:14

 

I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.” ~ Ecclesiastes 2:5

 

"Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters.” ~ Numbers 24:6





_________________

 


“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were--Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. ” ~ Beatrix Potter


“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” ~ Claude Monet


“Ol' man Simon, planted a diamond. Grew hisself a garden the likes of none. Sprouts all growin' comin' up glowin' Fruit of jewels all shinin' in the sun. Colors of the rainbow. See the sun and the rain grow sapphires and rubies on ivory vines, Grapes of jade, just ripenin' in the shade, just ready for the squeezin' into green jade wine. Pure gold corn there, Blowin' in the warm air. Ol' crow nibblin' on the amnythyst seeds. In between the diamonds, Ol' man Simon crawls about pullin' out platinum weeds. Pink pearl berries, all you can carry, put 'em in a bushel and haul 'em into town. Up in the tree there's opal nuts and gold pears- Hurry quick, grab a stick and shake some down. Take a silver tater, emerald tomater, fresh plump coral melons. Hangin' in reach. Ol' man Simon, diggin' in his diamonds, stops and rests and dreams about one... real... peach.” ~ Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends


“The master of the garden is the one who waters it, trims the branches, plants the seeds, and pulls the weeds. If you merely stroll through the garden, you are but an acolyte.” ~ Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration


“If you wish to make anything grow, you must understand it, and understand it in a very real sense. 'Green fingers' are a fact, and a mystery only to the unpracticed. But green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.” ~ Russell Page, The Education of a Gardener






Fairest Lord Jesus


Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature,
O Thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
Thou, my soul’s glory, joy and crown.



Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.



Fair is the sunshine,
Fairer still the moonlight,
And all the twinkling starry host;
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels heaven can boast.



All fairest beauty, heavenly and earthly,
Wondrously, Jesus, is found in Thee;
None can be nearer, fairer or dearer,
Than Thou, my Savior, art to me.



Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
Now and forever more be Thine.


~ Old German Hymn, circa 1842

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