Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Laugh!

It has been a tough week at Hurst Greenery and I'd be lying if I said any different.  Without dwelling on the gory details, suffice it to say that an unholy alliance of weather and transportation has left us with a higher percentage of damaged plant babies than we would ordinarily expect. The odds of getting a cutting or plug delivery on time this February is about the same as expecting your flight to the East Coast to depart when scheduled. This month we have unpacked mush that used to be coleus..or New Guinea impatiens...or geraniums.... shipped from all over the United States.  We never know whether the flowers froze at the departing airport, the intermediate airport, the warehouse that received them, or the vehicle that delivered them.  Or..perhaps it was the substitute driver that Blake discovered leaving two boxes of cuttings OUTSIDE our office door one day when it was 15 degrees.  The box was clearly marked "Keep from Freezing".  The frosting on this ill begotten cake was an entirely unpredictable equipment failure somewhat akin in likelihood to winning the lottery...except we didn't.  Because its the time of year when we are not lacking for work to do, we don't especially relish the notion of  re-ordering, then replacing and replanting that which we have planted once.  It has been a challenge to "Put on a Happy Face".

Thankfully, we have our personal team of in house comedians! I am not sure what age Ben was when he went through the joke stage, but surely it was between the ages of seven and ten.
  I do remember Brooks telling us jokes without obvious punchlines when he was about ten....or perhaps I just lost concentration before he delivered it.....
At any rate, this family has always appreciated a good..or bad...pun, depending upon your opinion of that brand of humor.  And what better way to cope with misfortune than by having a good laugh?

Blake solved this one before he'd even finished his first cup of coffee the other morning.  From Mark over in St Louis, via text:
 "What do you call a dinosaur with a large vocabulary?''

"A THE-saurus!"

Or..."What does a clock do when its hungry?"

" It goes back for SECONDS!"

You aren't laughing?  Well, Mark isn't pretending to be Jimmy Fallon, but he has an infectious chuckle and you would join in if he were here!

The most prolific jokesters in the family these days are the seven year olds.  Santa Claus is not just a right jolly old elf; he must want others to be jolly too because he brought Gabe and Abbie each a joke book in their stockings.  Friday night Abbie got us all warmed up for the birthday party with a few choice one liners:

Abbie: What do you call a wheelbarrow full of stones? A boulder holder!
(Gabe: yuk yuk yuk , BOULDER HOLDER!)

Abbie: What do you call a tired tent? A sleepy tepee!
(Gabe: rolling on the floor, SLEEPY TEPEE!)

Then there's the ever reliable knock-knock joke, perennial favorite of the younger set.

Gabe: Knock, knock....Who's there?  Jell-o.  Jello who?
Jello, its me again!

He's got a whole book of them.  Really.

Finally, there's my favorite joke anecdote.  This falls into the category of the comic that cannot remember the punchline.  Last year sometime I heard the perfect joke for a girl Lizzie's age.  And, sure enough, after a short explication, her lovely eyes lit up delightedly.  Then she ran out of the room briefly, returning with a pencil and a piece of paper.  "Grandma," she said, "Would you please write this down so I won't forget it when I go to school?"

And I did...but that didn't stop her from calling me up days after that, asking me to tell her the snowman joke again..

Here it is:

"What did one snowman say to the other snowman?" No, I'm not telling!

Next time you see Lizzie, ask her!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


It all seems rather quaint now. Come the second week of February we swept aside the place mats, salt and pepper shakers, and napkins from our table and replaced them with ledger sheets, a calculator, pencils and pink rubber erasers. We girded our loins and pulled the thick booklet labeled Form 1040 from the file cabinet underneath the desk in our all purpose kitchen.  I made another pot of coffee.

It was tax time.

Time to make an accounting of our year past.  Time to add the machinery and equipment purchases to the depreciation schedule....spread across 10 columns for the straight line years for grain bins and greenhouses, tractors and planters, three years if we had purchased a pickup.  The ledger sheet was the measure of the progress of our business:  not just capital but stuff you could touch, use, drive, park, and, of course, repair.  Those first ledgers were the baby steps of our farming career:  fences, corn cribs, share John Deere 4630, share disk, share plow.

Blake dumping a 1974 Ford

Ben, deduction year 1986, in the 1983 GMC white truck
Blake would painstakingly compile the sales and expenses of our rented farm operations, column by column, deposit by deposit....then spew out great long curls of adding machine tape checking and cross checking the columns and rows, erasing....smudging...and cursing, until we were reasonably confident the tax man wouldn't be coming to haul us off for an arithmetical error. The whole process would be repeated when it came time to copy the figures to the actual tax forms: he would fill out one form in pencil, then it would be my turn to be the scrivener and copy all the figures over with the care of a medieval monk illuminating a manuscript.

We ate off plates in the living room while the table was covered with taxes.  The kids thought it was great and offered company and moral support to their dad.

Lee, deduction year 1979 and Ann, 1980, help Blake with taxes
 Outside of one fat file a year, the physical accoutrements of tax time are all passe', gone the way of the passenger pigeon.The ritual has moved from the kitchen table to the office.  There's still plenty of drama, but it all happens online.  The stately accumulation of property has been replaced by section 179: under $500,000 and poof! Your major investment is magically transformed into an expense, here today and gone next year. TurboTax does all the adding and, in theory anyway, prods us when we make a mistake. Our ledger books are ancient history, gathering dust in a file box somewhere, as whimsically archaic as a black and white photo.....or a long ago scrapped Hurst farms John Deere.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Land o' Lincoln....

Mr. Lincoln's hat
 I don't believe in President's Day.  I consider the mongrelization of the former holidays of George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays to be nearly sacrilegious.   Either these men are giants in our country's history, worthy of recognition on the merits of their singular accomplishments in two different centuries, two eras apart.........or history has been sadly subsumed by the expediency of picking one Monday in February for Presidents' Day furniture sales.

Like I said, I'm not a fan.

Blame my upbringing in Illinois.  In the Land of Lincoln, February 12th was almost akin to a religious holiday.  Schools were closed.  The radio stations played  Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait, narrated sometimes by native son Carl Sandberg, other times by Gregory Peck, maybe by Henry Fonda.  Its solemn strident chords and the deliberate repetition in the excerpts of Lincoln's speeches brought to mind nothing so much as a Greek chorus declaiming with one voice the distilled wisdom of the ages.
 In memoriam: Lincoln the icon, Lincoln of cold bronze, Lincoln the martyr.

But in our household, Lincoln was a mere road trip away.  His words lived in the books on the shelf, but his footsteps had barely died away in places like the Metamora Courthouse, one of two surviving courthouses on the 8th circuit in Illinois, a four hundred and forty mile ride for the country lawyer.

The village of New Salem, where young Abraham Lincoln's flatboat got stuck on a mill dam in 1831, survived for just twelve years.  But from here Lincoln fought in the Black Hawk war, ran and lost his first election, failed as a small businessman,  and began the study of law.  The CCC rebuilt New Salem in the 1930s, but it looked to me like Mr. Lincoln could walk right out of his general store and commence to hobnobbing and telling his tall tales to any passersby.

Why this affinity for the sixteenth President?

My father had a framed copy of the famous letter allegedly penned by Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby, the widow who lost five sons in the Civil War, on the wall of his den. I stopped to read that letter often, admiring the  gravity and graciousness of the text.  I continue to be touched by the Biblical cadences of the second Inaugural Address graven on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial. As a child, I agonized over which Presidential memorial to purchase with my souvenir money....I thought the setting of the Jefferson memorial was the prettiest, the heft of the Washington monument most satisfying, but the man honored by the Lincoln memorial the most courageous.

It wasn't just the words.  Photographs, grainy and gray as they are, of Lincoln throughout his presidency and the war made him as familiar to me when I was young as the current occupant of the White House.  My imagination constructed no barriers between me and that April night in 1865 when Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln sat in that honored open box in Ford's Theater. There was nothing between me and weighty history but air.

Nor do I intend that George Washington get short shrift.   I've read his own words in his journals about his farm at Mount Vernon and sat on his porch overlooking the grand vista of the Potomac.You can imagine him just around the corner checking on his fruit trees or inspecting his sheep on an early spring day.

 My complaint is with the notion that our calendars are so encumbered that they cannot bear the burden of remembering and appreciating two of the heroic figures of our history.  My proposal is simple:  a celebration of American history between Lincoln and Washington for the entire 10 days between their birthdays.

Anachronism overload alert!
....Presidents' Fortnight....?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015



It may not be general knowledge but after more than a decade of empty nests, fowls are playing once again north of town on Route O.

Like many another cagey operation, this one began behind closed doors....closed garage doors, that is. In past years, the nucleus was an ordinary playpen, but this time around the feathers were flying behind an
impr-egg-nable fence of discarded pallets. No de-fence-less nesting place here!

Ask not which came first: the Chicken or the Egg.
In due course, the egg-sistence of so much bounty could not fail to be egg-sposed. You know the old joke about zucchini? If you don't lock your car someone will break in and leave a squash? Like some off season Easter Bunny, an unlocked house or open door will result in a dozen beautiful clean brown eggs on the counter. Go to Sunday school or church and an egg-stra blessing will appear on your front seat. Stop for a cup of coffee....and leave with brunch for the next day! In its most natural aggr-egg-ation, of course.

But don't get egg-cited! Our fertile minds had no trouble whipping up ways to put this egg-stra egg-stravagance to good use! Just a few egg-samples:

Two dozen loaves of apple bread in December (2 per).
Four cream cheese coffeecakes (5 per).
Six Chinese coffeecakes (3 per).
8 FB coffeecakes (2 per)
Two cream cheese pound cakes (1 dozen each!)..yeah, I know...don't be judgmental... Poppy seed cakes (3 each). Butter cakes (4 per). Gooey butter cake (hmmm, don't know) . Dozens of cookies.
Egg casseroles (half dozen), quiches (5 per) for dinners and suppers. And an in-egg-spressible tally of omelets, homemade McMuffins, huevos rancheros, fried eggs or scrambled eggs for meals in a hurry.

Eggs...we're the people who cook 'em...and eat 'em.. We can only egg-spress our hopes that the Queen of the Hen House will soon be in fine feather and ruling her Roost!
After all, there's no better way to consume all those eggs than....
in one of Millie's homemade Angel Food Cakes!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Name Dropping

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I've never been able to believe it. I don't believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” 

gomphocarpus physocarpus 'Hairy Balls'...

"As its name implies, eating the leaves or buds causes a “buzzing” sensation in your mouth… or in the mouth of the person your children gave it to. Numbness occurs and next comes the drooling. This plant is known as a sialagogue meaning it causes one to start salivating. Big time."

What's in a name? Given all the time, effort, creativity....and money...spent not only in creating new and improved products, but also christening them, lots of people believe that having a catchy or unique or clever name is the verbal equivalent of being the Roadrunner vs. Wiley Coyote. Clearly, the folks that gave "Hairy Balls" its name had a good grip on "attention getting". No one would choose Gomphocarpus physocarpus off a plant list for fear of contracting whatever-that-is simply by reading about it. But attach the variety name "Hairy Balls"to it? Downright irresistible. Even before one of our customers ordered the darn thing, I thought I might have to plant some just to see what it did..Besides make people salivate uncontrollably, that is.

Speaking of spontaneous salivation.... without luscious names, just how many varieties of garden tomatoes do you think there would be? After all, the "just the facts, ma'am" of their attributes are about as enticing as the signs on a test plot.

 Big this, Early that....sigh...Where IS the sense of imagination? Compare, if you will, the listing in my seed catalog for tomatoes with the enticement of names gleaned from an heirloom listing. 

Here be tomatoes differentiated by color: Green Zebra, Persimmon, Pineapple, Plum Lemon, Purple Calabash, Blush Pear.

Green Zebra
And tomatoes differentiated by origin...or someone's romantic notion thereof: Caribe, Cherokee Purple, Chesapeake, Italian Heirloom, Jersey Devil, Nebraska Wedding, Missouri Pink Love Apple.
Jersey Devil
Finally, there are even tomatoes that pretend to be members of the family: Aunt Gertie's Gold, Aunt Ginney's Purple, Aunt Ruby's German Green.
Aunt Gertie's Gold

One gardener claimed she had grown the tomato variety with the longest...and most of all: Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge tomato. Descriptive, but not poetic, I say.
Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge
Modern seed breeders have their work cut out. Their cohorts on the vegetative side of the aisle have a leg up on them. Take, for example, varieties of coleus. Coleus, of course, is an annual originally discovered in Java which became wildly popular in Victorian gardens inciting a coleus craze something like the tulip madness of centuries before. Back in favor with both gardeners and breeders, coleus varieties are like overly eager first graders waving their hands frantically, vying for attention and popularity with bold colors, textures...and, naturally, over-the-top names. Looking over this list, it appears that some of the original coleus madness is still alive and well in nomenclature! If you're brave enough to take a walk on the wild side, choose your coleus wisely from options like: Apocalypse, Pink Chaos, Alligator Tears, Coco Loco, Hot Lava, Inky Fingers, Pistachio Nightmare and Stormy Weather. Think you can handle it?
Pink Chaos

Coco Loco

Pistachio Nightmare

Probably. After all, we consumers are used to dealing with the persuasive powers of advertising whether the product is Made For TV (BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!) or a particularly seductive sports car streaking out of a computer generated backdrop. You could plant an entire estate to posies for what that Lexus with a bow will set you back. Do some name dropping of your own....forks will wonder what you've been up to!

Just keep your Gomphrocarpus physocarpus in your own garden.....

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Warm and Fuzzy

Later on, my feet will hurt and my shoulders will ache. Later on, there will be weeds and bugs and sweat and worry and deadlines. But on this January day, the sun is shining, the wind is light, and the season is new. It is just like the first day of spring training when hope springs unbidden in the heart of fans everywhere. This....this will be the year.....that all the pots will arrive on time...that no trucker will follow his GPS and get stuck in the mud of 150th west of Highway 59.....that it won't freeze or snow on May 3rd...
Winter is the time to build (two new bays on the gutter connect house); to repair (fan belts, stovepipe, electrical this and that); and to re-cover (still working on that...three more greenhouses to go). Winter is the time to call on old customers and try to find new ones, to order seed and cuttings and plan, plan, plan. But winter ceased on Sunday when the first heaters were lit and Monday when the first pots were filled. Tuesday Kevin, our trusty FedEx driver, made the first of countless drops of boxes in the office.
It may be January, but at Hurst Greenery, it is officially spring 2015.
We unboxed 400 ferns yesterday. It takes a long time to fill out a fern basket when you grow as far north as we live. Ferns may be happy in the shade during our hot summers, but they tend to sit and wait and do nothing during the cold dark days of winter. For several years we got the ferns in December to give them an extra month to grow, but it was a waste of time and propane. The plants sulked; nothing grew in the pots but moss. We try to fool the ferns with supplemental lighting, but there is no substitute for the longer days after winter solstice.

Geraniums also benefit from additional light. We root our own geranium cuttings for several reasons: 1)to save money on shipping for the large quantity of cuttings we order and 2) to have that nice big rootball established when the geraniums are transplanted into bigger pots and hanging baskets. Geraniums may not be the earliest bloomers in the greenhouse, but they are poster children for flower power. It takes lots of space, lots of fertilizer, and lots of grooming to grow the beauty queens we send off in April.

I have always enjoyed rooting cuttings and still get lots of pleasure when the first  white roots poke through the bottom of the cell pack. A week or two after sticking the cuttings it is difficult not to "peek" and pull the cuttings up to look for new roots. To speed the process, we run a fog machine like you see on the sidelines of a football game to increase the humidity when the cuttings are first planted; a bright day even in January will make the rootless leaves and stems wilt down alarmingly.

And this is what 3000 red geranium cuttings look like just planted. These cuttings were shipped to us from Mexico. Tomorrow Lee and I will plant 4000 more cuttings purchased from another supplier and harvested in Guatemala. The cuttings are bagged by variety and packed to keep cool....not warm! We rarely receive frozen plants even in the depths of winter, but we worry about shipping and are thankful for weeks of moderate weather like we have enjoyed recently.

We've had company in the greenhouse this week. The puppies reduce our productivity, but they sure are cute!
Gabe and Popeye

Abbie and Gibbs
From geranium cuttings to puppies, this year's greenhouse season is starting out warm and fuzzy!