Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Handiwork...or The Old Fashioned Way

Happy last week of April...a time of year that truly deserves special appellation on the calendar for those of us in the "seasonal"professions. Barring the types of abominations that bookend a bell curve of weather expectations, events like snow, a hard freeze, seven inches of rain...you get the idea.....this is the week machinery of all configurations typically crowds the fields and highways. With the first of May peeking out from under the next calendar page, trees in full flower and the whine of mowers a constant accompaniment, gardeners throw caution to the winds and clog the parking lots of garden centers and nurseries like bees in a hive.
But at the greenhouse, the mechanical helping hands that sped the job of transplanting and filling flats sit idle as the tide of spring brings a transition from planting and growing to picking up the flats of flowers, vegetables, and choosing the finished hanging baskets and mixed planters for customers in four states. There is always an element of art in the growing of plants; there are rules of thumb and seasons of experience we rely upon. But when push comes to shove, we cannot grow plants from our devices or our instruments or our rules and records, or even necessarily follow our hard won experience; we have to get out amongst 'em, feel what they feel, pick them up, turn them over. It's detail, it's habit, it's time consuming....and absolutely essential.
So much of this enterprise is handwork. Watering in is rule 1,
but tagging is a close second. A perfectly beautiful flat of flowers will be left behind like Cinderella from the ball without a tag.....and no one wants to guess whether that vine in the corner will grow to bear a 20 # pumpkin....or 2 dozen zucchini!

Whether our customers order one flat of this and two flats of that..or 256 flats of marigolds and 243 flats of mixed zinnias, they are all picked up and carried by hand, two by two, the most ancient and elemental means of transport. It is piecework and not the stuff of glory...and it is the grand accomplishment of every single day. Flat by flat, basket by basket, truck by truck,until the greenhouses get too hot to bear and the whiteboard calendar is bare.

I am reading a book about work right now, believe it or not, a book that deals with work from a Biblical viewpoint, work as a vocation, a calling. I am comforted and encouraged by this interpretation when I do the most menial of tasks during the day: bagging the trash, emptying the dishwasher, putting away the laundry.

 Even though these chores are replayed daily, hourly in households world wide and require no especial talent, still, it would be universally acknowledged that the world is a better place when work like this is done. According to Martin Luther, these homely commonplace jobs are as beautiful in the sight of the Almighty as any other service rendered to His glory.
 With this insight, the work of the farmer , the gardener, the carpenter, the truck driver, the plumber, the welder, all become holy offerings when performed with our whole energy and effort. The outcome may not suit us; there won't be a standing ovation; we may consider our work menial or pedestrian or ephemeral....but our goals should be our best...no less.
These are the thoughts I ponder as I fill the carts with petunias and marigolds, snapdragons and salvia. Common annuals, beautiful and fresh as spring this day on April, but gone with the season like the proverbial lilies of the field. Some days my job seems trivial compared to the weighty burdens of the mighty, but I trust it is an offering to grow beautiful plants using the raw materials God has provided and the blessing of day by day work, no matter how humble.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Peonies and Memory

I am beauty; I am romance; I am tradition.  I am a peony and I hold both fragrance and meaning.
Today I grace the table in honor of a wedding, but I stand for so much more. I am a peony, and I measure the years, spring by spring, because I am perennial in the richest sense of the word: I am hardy, forgiving of the vagaries of all the winters before and the summers to follow. I came with the great grandmothers in the back of wagons and I will be there for the great grand children to bury their noses in, to cut with scissors, brush off the ants, and bring indoors to their mommas.
Tradition. It's another word for memory. We put out our grandmother's china, our mother's silver, and spread the crocheted lace tablecloth to welcome the wedding party and new bride...and to fondly set a place at table in our mind for those present only in memory.  In this way we knit together the gracious past, the joyful present, the future full of hope.
This old house puts on its best, calling its scars experience, its wear patina, and naming the clamor, the laughter, the creaks and groans of floors and stairs under the thunder of young feet human happiness. After photos, that bulwark against forgetfulness, three generations of women of one family send three generations of wedding party off into the April showers, then bundle up leftovers and the little children of generation four. Tradition has been honored; memories of the past have been resurrected. The day is recorded for posterity into the pages of family lore.

Yes, mawwaige indeed brings us together today, but it's not just for the wedding. An entire churchful will probably include a multitude of degrees of association. More photos capturing the event for the perusal of goodness knows who in the future.
Exhibit A is my grandparents' wedding picture: the somber dark headed best man next to my fair haired grandpa is none other than Ryan's grandfather, Rufus Harms. That's God giving us all something to smile about generations later.

Tarkio's Community Building is Cinderella yet again, wearing an brand new crop of tattooed holes in its ceiling. The little kids cannot contain their exuberance; abetted by sugar, they become dervishes of tulle, oblivious to the disc jockey, they whirl to their own personal music of the night.
And speaking of memory...and old times?
This week we'll celebrate Blake's birthday, together, as we have now for more than half our lives. I remember well worrying myself silly trying to choose the right birthday present for the guy I'd been dating for just a few months, wanting the gift to be personal, but not too....thoughtful, and something he'd like...and not really having a clue what that would be....and not too expensive, because I didn't have much cash. I finally decided on some paperback versions of Hemingway novels...I know, I know! I plead guilty to being young...and earnest....and hoping fervently to impress....
 We left home when we were barely past eleven-teen
Been back and forth and all around through hell and rain
I've loved you half of your life and I'll keep on loving you
Merle Haggard

No Merle this year, but there will be music: some Sinatra, familiar, but still surprising, a bit road weary, but with a lot of mileage left....like the birthday guy himself.

Just one more reason to celebrate the ties that bind and bring us together!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stick a Fork in It

The calendar says April.

We celebrate Easter whether spring decides to join us or not. Farm machinery of all configurations waits inside field gates, like Thoroughbreds champing at the bit before the call to post at Churchill Downs.
The radar gets checked incessantly: some wishing for rain, some wishing it would go away.
At Hurst Greenery, we worry our phone apps like the puppies work over a shoe; is it warm enough to load the truck? Will the tomatoes, or impatiens, or vinca be huddled and shrunken when they reach their destination? Or...worse yet...might they be frozen carcasses like one misbegotten delivery last year which began at 70 degrees in Westboro before plunging below freezing in a paroxysm of sleet and wind on I-80 in central Nebraska....
Not this year. This past Friday night channel 3 had some kind of sticky gooey frosted dessert on the set; meteorologist Jim Flowers ceremonially sliced and diced that cake, sticking his fork in it and declaring, as he has for lo these many years, that winter in Omaha was a goner.
How done is winter? Let me count the ways.

1) Put a fork in winter is done because Lee picked her first asparagus.

2) Abbie lost a flipflop at church this evening.

3) We turned off the alarm system at Hurst Greenery

4) Jeff Umbarger says he hopes he's made his last Saturday propane delivery (We hope so too, Jeff....come see us when you're ready to plant tomatoes!)

5) Spring is sprung because I changed out the winter garden banner on the pergola..there have been years I didn't accomplish that task until Memorial Day!

6) It might be spring if the Schlueter family takes a family bike ride...except for Grizzy, who runs along....over to Spruce...and no one tells Josh he can't get in the sandbox.

7) Winter is over when Lizzie and Abbie pick a generous handful of jolly daffodils.

8) It is surely spring when Ben sends us a picture of his first scorecard for the young baseball season.

9) On a similar note, Mike Shannon and Cardinal baseball provide the background music for Hurst Greenery office time on Sunday afternoons.

10) Put a fork in winter when it is time for Millie and Blake plant flat after flat of cucumber, melon, zucchini and pumpkin seed.

11) The moms admit defeat and let the kids create mud concoctions and play in the buckets of dog water on Saturday afternoons. (Playing in the water is still off limits for after school...).

12) The Dairy Diner beckons! So does Culver's, Dairy Queen, Sheridan's, Sonic...you get the picture.
Whether your fancy turns to gardening...or baseball....or ice cream...turn over that seasonal leaf and rejoice! Ding, dong, the wicked old winter is dead!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

C'Mon Over....We' re Open!

What's the weather gonna be like this coming Saturday?

Based on almost three decades of experience, I'm going to tell you...not because I'm a great prognosticator or because I've paid off the weatherman or because I've studied the Farmers'Almanac.  Nope, I've got a better weather vane than any scientific source: this Saturday is our Annual Spring Open House at Hurst Greenery and that event gives me the benefit of history and removes the mystery from weather forecasting.....

You can put a fork in it: whatever the weatherman predicts for this Saturday, it will start off still, sunny, and just a bit chilly, then, as noon approaches, the wind will pick up (I'm not privy to the particular direction) and by two or three o'clock, doors will be slamming, the baskets in the greenhouses will be swaying like they're in the mid Atlantic, and customers will have to hold on to their small children to prevent them becoming airborne.

Thus has it ever been. The weather outside may be frightful...but the flowers inside will be a Persian carpet, a kaleidoscope, a veritable cornucopia of color, scent, humidity...and temptation.  The greenhouses are full and it is early enough in the season that they will be relatively orderly, not look like the tossed salad they will resemble after a busy week in late April.  Not everything will be in bloom, but the season is still young; Open House is our invitation to you to visit, to browse, to ask questions, to dream of  the view from your porch, your kitchen window, your deck as you drink a morning cup of coffee.

At least, that's what I do as I stand, hose in hand.  What dare I plant in the baskets on the garage? Will Sunpatiens bloom on my hot shady porch?  Will there be any of those Supertunia "Black Cherry" left for my back porch pots?
   I loved the sweet potato "Bewitched"  in our pots last summer....will it play nicely with a colocasia?
What tomato will I try? (depending upon what's leftover!)  I am captivated by the new cherry tomatoes with names like "Indigo Rose" and the hybrid/heirloom varieties like "Big Brandy".

 I cannot wait to plant more grasses in the garden...a big bluestem...a little bluestem...feeding my inner prairie.
I hope the weather is nice so the kids can put together their lemonade stand...and folks will enjoy the refreshment of a cool drink, rather than wishing for a hot cup of coffee.  I know Aaron will be a big help, and that reminds me of the year the Westboro kindergarten came out to visit the greenhouse and Ben showed them around...all two of them plus Miss Walter.
One year the weather was so cold, only the loyal folks at the Avalanche showed up to take pictures and pretend it was spring.  Somewhere I have the clipping from the paper with Blake holding a flat of flowers and a young Ben grinning from the loft of our newly acquired livestock/plant trailer.  He wouldn't have been so happy if he'd realized how many times he'd be called upon to climb up there to load and unload flowers....a job that continues to go to the shortest and most spry of  plant pullers.  Beware, Gabe, Abbie, and Lizzie!
Back in 1989, April brought the Midwestern equivalent of a sirocco, blasting the top of our hill with 90 degree heat and blistering dust from our desiccated fields.  My aunt and uncle were making their first visit to our farm that weekend...and they departed with the reasonable assumption that the Dirty Thirties was alive and well in Atchison county.  In 1998 a near miss from a tornado peeled the covering and roll up sides from a 200' long greenhouse and flung it into the apple trees, leaving the plants inside untouched.  With the wind screaming and temperatures dropping to freezing, we detached the damaged plastic and pulled it back over the greenhouse frame to preserve most of the contents for Mother's Day.

Please don't let a couple of scary wind stories deter you from satisfying your inner longings for Spring.  C'mon over Saturday and stroll through the flowers; make a wish list for your pots; dream about fresh tomatoes.  Tell the kids how much they've grown and say hi to Gibbs, Streak, Popeye...and Griswold if he comes out to play.

And.. pull your hat down around your ears...don't say I didn't warn you!