Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Month of Wind and Taxes

Indoors or out, no one relaxes
In March, that month of wind and taxes,
The wind will presently disappear,
The taxes last us all the year.
~Ogden Nash (1902–1971), "Thar She Blows"  [Tax Day used to be March 15th from 1918 through 1954, not April 15th as we know it today. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens (1812–1870), Great Expectations

“Only those with tenacity can march forward in March” 
― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

The first sweet potato cuttings of the season came in looking like a wilted lettuce salad.  And this was the sweet potato that was delivered.  Another four hundred plants were ordered...and then cancelled.  Was this sudden shortfall of ornamental sweet potato due to the unanticipated bankruptcy of one of our favorite sources for cutting raised plants?  Analogous to the accordion effect one car in a thousand braking for a daredevil squirrel.has on three lanes of congested traffic.  Or is it just Nature's way of reminding me that it goes against the order of the world as created by Almighty God to expect summery plants like Marguerite and Blackie to thrive...or even grow!... before the Ides of March. What I'm saying is there is a natural order that waits for some signal from the sun and the earth even if the the man maintained environment all around seems ideal.  The tomato seeds I plant in February are a little reluctant to emerge compared to those planted when the days grow longer...even though they are all planted in a room with light twenty four hours a day!  Never ceases to amaze and mystify...

The Timehop tells of March madness past: the snow days with grandkids at play in empty greenhouse bays and at work transplanting, or watering, or even getting a haircut.  There are lists four foot long and towers ten foot high that correlate with sun rise shots before the equinox and sunset pictures after the spring forward. And water, water everywhere: an irrigation boom making its slow crawl down the bay like an April thunder shower on the western horizon, a water wand seemingly suspended in mid air while the photographer acts as deux machina. As March marches, water is the driver; a multitude of baby plants cries for water like hatchlings in a nest.  Strapping teenage transplants are drama queens, wilting under an afternoon sunspot.  The curve for water in March is an increase at an increasing rate: in math terms, exponential.

February may have set records in northern Missouri, but our truckload of potting soil apparently originated somewhere so far north that the middle of each bale was more akin to permafrost than peat-lite mix.  The guys filling pots climbed inside the bale breaker with a sharp edged spade, but the biggest chunks still lie outside like over-sized Idaho potatoes awaiting the oven.  Matt stuck his finger into one this afternoon, gauging its temperature, and declaring it 'done' and ready to be scooped back into the dirt machine. We are expecting another truckload on Monday, the fourth of the year, and hope against hope that this bunch will be thawed.

Two weeks to go in March and two greenhouse remain unopened, without heat or plants.  Blake has begun his familiar March refrain:"I don't think we are going to need all this space."..."Why did we build that new greenhouse?"....and...just for variety.."I think we can turn one of these empty greenhouses into a batting cage!"  We tolerate this humor now, but by April 1st, there will be hundreds of flats of tomatoes and the flowers for three different school fundraisers awaiting transplant and we will be deciding how narrow a walkway one can navigate with two feet and 150' of garden hose. As the tension mounts, the sense of humor shrinks...another mathematical function increasing at an increasing rate! Two in one blog post...imagine that!

When we unwrap the box from Botany Lane containing the two trays of succulents, we can't help oohing and aahing and patting the trays.  Baby succulents are like puppies; everyone loves them and no one can resist them.  The difference is that succulents remain cute and never drag the clothes off the line....

The first soybeans in Atchison county have cracked the surface.  Everyone I know is curious about the soybeans in pots we are growing for a fundraiser.  I am too.  How many soybean plants does it take to make some tofu?  Are these beans going to grace a salad?  Be a snack?  Is edamame going to become a household word?    And the same goes for the stevia cuttings...another new crop for Hurst Greenery.  So unfamiliar, we didn't recognize them when we unpacked them.  For your information, they look a lot like lobelia as a plug...

The perfume of pansies meets me at the door of the annex, a sure sign that we are on the cusp of spring.  Is any flower more lovely than a pansy face?  Be-whiskered, blushing, brilliant and bold or subtly shaded, I suppose it's just as well they flourish only in the cool season, else we should shun every other flower with a lesser palette.

“AND what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;”

No one would dream of applying James Russell Lowell's paean in praise of June to March.  And yet...and yet....on a bright and breezy Sunday afternoon when the watering is done, payroll complete, and our tummies full of another great St. Paul's Spring Dinner, it is possible to imagine Heaven leaning down to watch kids on bikes, or throwing baseballs, fathers and sons sitting in lawn chairs by their backyard campfire, golfers out for the first time, and gardeners peeking at the crabapple trees or picking up sycamore limbs. 

There might even be kids fishing with a stick for moss....and like its the first of July.

March can be rare like that.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Customer is Always Right.....?

"I’ve had the first one of the year…..more to come.  A customer wants to know which ….uhhh…let me copy and paste this because I can’t do it justice.

Please advise."

I take a deep breath. Our family grows a lot of plants for the woman sending us this email.  We ship vegetable starter plants, finished hanging baskets and flowering pots, and...starting this year....herbs and cucumber plants, stevia and edamame (yep, edible soybeans) and a host of other flowering annuals.  In our greenhouses, we grow not just hybrid tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, but also heirloom tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, destined for the patios and gardens of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, with some making their way as far north as the Dakotas.  Last year we fielded questions about our entire production system for growing the vegetables that would eventually bloom and produce something edible: were they organic; did they contain GMOs? (insinuating that being GMO is a contagion one can catch.)   But the letter she was preparing to copy and paste..copied and pasted here ....was clearly one for the record books.  Read it and weep.

"I need to know which plants that you sell are genetically modified - what I mean by genetically modified are plants that undergo unnatural genetic engineering including shooting genes into chromosomes.  I am fine with plants that have been selectively bred.  Selective breeding is a natural process of natural selection.  I would prefer native but will accepts selective breeding options.  If any of these flowering plants are native and not altered in any way, I need to know that for sure.  I would like to place a sizable order but your plants are not marketed to indicate which ones may be unnaturally genetically modified.  I do not want to kill bees and other pollinators by planting unsafe plants for them.  I am also selective about considering plants that produce vegetables for our consumption.  I only plant non genetically modified (no lab created seeds) food plants for my family's consumption and only use organic soil.  I do not use miracle grow or other harmful products in my food gardens.  If your food plants are not modified, you need to indicate it for sure.  I need to know, for sure, that the flowering ornamental plants I consider from your company will not be harmful in any way to our ecosystem."

Sigh.  Really, where does one start.  With the confused, incomprehensible, and value laden  differentiation between 'natural' and whatever it's antithesis is considered to be?  (Unsafe? Harmful? Unselective, perhaps?  Foreign, heaven forfend.....)  How can we possibly cut a Gordian knot that defines "selective"breeding as a "natural" process of "natural" selection!!?  Selection involves a someone or something.  In this case, the someone is a human being.  In the broadest sense, yes, a human being is certainly something "natural", but using that interpretation makes all genetic alteration natural and I don't think that's what the writer intended to imply at all.  Choosing a desirable characteristic is certainly "selection", but there is nothing "natural", aka accidental or arbitrary, about it.

Let's continue. No, I'm afraid none of the flowering plants we are growing for this account are 'native'.  They are annuals and unmistakably altered (bred) for color, hardiness, disease resistance, long blooming, and probably, drought tolerance, seeing as many of the flowers purchased by our customers have to endure conditions that are quite "unnatural".... roots constrained to a very small volume of soil and watered once a week or less....  But no problem: if one desires a "natural" planting there are other options.  Just let these highly improved annuals reseed for year or two and the offspring will revert to the pallid ancestors of sporadic bloom and sprawling habit. Or grow your own natives from seed or purchased perennials.  There ARE indeed grand and garden worthy native plants; I'm a huge fan.  But growing indigenous species will not make you a better person or provide more habitat for pollinators or butterflies than a pot of lantana or a planting of pentas.  Grow 'em both; that's my advice!

And let's get one thing perfectly straight; there isn't going to be a genetically modified seed or plant in any of our greenhouses this year.  I wish there were!  I wish there was a way to prevent fungus from spotting zinnias, botrytis from browning geraniums, and put a stop to the downy mildew plague that has devastated impatiens the last few years!  If one buys a tomato from us, it may be a brand new hybrid with lots of letters after its name signifying its resistance to various nasty fungi...or one can choose something tried and true like Rutgers or Big Boy....but we will be just as happy to sell you a heritage tomato variety like Cherokee or German Johnson.  Choice is good, and one need only leaf through a catalog like Totally Tomatoes to realize the past, present, and future of home garden production offers a cornucopia of decisions.  

While I'm on my garden soapbox, allow me to point out that it would be a really tough job to find a totally inorganic soil.  Even an abused garden plot will contain a fair amount of organic matter in the form of stems, leaves, roots, mulch and other leftovers in various stages of decomposition.  I guess my grandkids' sandbox might be considered an inorganic garden spot...but not after they've pounded a half dozen gourds into pulp and planted the seeds.....

Ecosystem is such a sterile technical term.  A garden can be many things...organized or unkempt, monotone or multi-hued, edible or ornamental, frivolous or practical. Forgive me if I believe planting flowers and vegetables, whether for consumption or pleasure, is a net gain for the earth and all the creatures thereof.  We grow plants for a living...and for love.  That's the kind of rule I can live with....

Sunday, February 26, 2017

On This Day.....

You've seen us. 

We're the car just ahead of you that simultaneously brakes, flips on the blinker, and turns precipitously as soon as we spy a historical marker.  We are the people for whom the tongue and cheek plaque, "*ON THIS SITE IN (name a date), NOTHING HAPPENED*" was created
And, to be perfectly honest, most days are like that.  Put a big X through the bulk of your Mondays through Sundays and call it good. Most of our ancestors lived their lives recorded in the briefest of statistics, despite what and their ilk advertise.  For centuries, only the most well heeled sat for portraits and but few of them look out at us from museum walls. The advent of photography brought the weddings, graduations, and family portraits of stiff unsmiling persons not meeting the cameraman's eye and arranged as carefully as fruit and flowers in a still life. "ON THIS DATE.....THEY HELD THEIR BREATH...."
Enter TimeHop.  Suddenly, every date has its day.  Every birthday...naturally.  Every walk on the beach...of course.  Also...a rosy cheeked 'cheese' snapped on an iPhone on February 23, 2009 in the number 8 greenhouse...
...and some cuties in college gear and snow boots splashing in a man-made mud puddle in the big house.

On February 24, 2010,.TimeHop  brings a mosaic of plug trays of posies ...clearly an overwhelming kaleidoscope of work to come for the photographer and friends.....
No mud puddles in 2013, where Lizzie and Abbie are excavating in the bare dirt around a new hydrant in the #7 greenhouse in their school clothes.

I'm not so sure Abbie isn't making dust angels.

Hurst Greenery spring training 2012.  No, Josh is not pushing a cart; we don't let the kids do that before they turn three....Joke! Joke!  
February 2012...the beginning of a dreadful drought year, though we couldn't know it at the time.  The geese were low over the #9 greenhouse that February 23.  And I had a newer iPhone 4.

And the very next day...on February 24....a thick frosting of snow left by the retreating clouds....
 And some wishful thinking about palm trees and beach chairs as recorded later that night.

Yeah.  She definitely needs her toes in the sand.  Still February 2012.
Beaches are for daydreaming.  In real time, the greenhouses were building  big icicles in February of 2013.

And Aaron is old enough for some elementary basketball!  That means some serious bleacher time.

And it's February 23 again. Every week in February is like Groundhog Day and Christmas wrapped together.  FedEx, or UPS, or a Tagawa Greenhouse grower truck arrives dropping off 2, 4, 6, 8 or several pallets of stacked boxes.   Before we ever plant, we have to unpack.  Lucky to have these guys helping back in 2014.

Ok, ok. No child was harmed in the taking of these pictures. Trust me, that's a rubber knife Josh is holding wrong side up.

The iPhone 5 shows me pinching fuchsias so they will branch into a rounded fountain of blooms.
Told you we do Groundhog Day.  Here's another colorful delivery of cuttings: coleus and calibrachoa and New Guinea impatiens destined for big planters and hanging baskets.  That's what we were planting  on February 23rd in 2015.

Not everyone was planting: some of us were hanging around like monkeys.

Hello, moon over the sycamores at 502 Spruce and a goodnight to February 23, a day without much history...but plenty to remember.  See you again soon.