Spring Seedlings and Wayward Pigs

There was a time I thought this winter snow and cold may last forever. Not that I have reason to complain, considering my winter was filled with teaching snowboarding and baking desserts. There were also high hopes of painting masterpieces, learning to knit, and ending world hunger, but alas, being outdoors (even in subzero temperatures), often took priority. Luckily, with the change in season, I can continue working outdoors as the farming season makes a gradual entrance.

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Now that we have reached some pleasant days in the 50’s and 60’s (with 4 inches of snow last week already behind us), working outside has been rejuvenating as ever, and I am full of hope and excitement for flower season.

As farming goes, this spring has already sprung its share of challenges. First was moving some stubborn pigs and chickens out of our much needed workspace. For the pigs, we dug a snow pit, a “Pig-loo,” if you will, to keep them contained within four towering walls of snow.  Restraining the chickens proved to be more difficult. Upon entering the greenhouse every day, we began constructing obstacle courses in our wake to deter nosy chickens from entering and wreaking havoc on our seedling trays. This created a challenge for the farmers and chickens alike. Luckily farmers are smarter than the average chicken.

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Furthermore, when the relief of cleaning up the farm in the fall arrived, we hadn’t really considered some items (including animal fencing) may be hidden by two feet of snow come April! I guess we also failed to realize sliding shed doors may freeze into an impenetrable block of ice. And without the ability to open the doors, we may have to disassemble our wheelbarrow, chuck the parts out a sliver of opening, and reassemble outside the shed.

As fellow flower farmers giddily posted pictures of apple blossoms, poppies, and tulips, I looked across my snow covered field and sighed. Even now with the snow melted, it will take some time for my field to dry up and be ready for planting.

Still, as spring leisurely strolls in, I am a seeding machine in the greenhouse. I am excited this year to be growing more flowers and some new varieties! I am looking forward to arranging for summer weddings and the opening of the Gardiner Co-op, where I plan to offer fresh cut bouquets.

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In other big news- I bought a filing cabinet. A wise man (Ben Marcus, owner of Sheepscot General) once told me, “there is a fine line between self-employed and unemployed.” I’m pretty sure owning a filing cabinet solidifies the former, or at least I hope.

So fear not, fellow Mainers. When summer arrives, it will be filled with flowers. Sign up to get a Honeysuckle Way bouquet each week with my CSA, if you have not already done so. And take some time to enjoy the sunshine and pleasant days!

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In awe and thanks…

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After a whirlwind first season growing flowers as Honeysuckle Way at Crooked Door Farm, I am beginning to prepare for next year.  This time of year is bittersweet.  It was hard watching beautiful plants wither in last month’s frosts, and maybe even more difficult ripping out living plants in attempt to get the field cleaned up before winter.  As crisp fall weather sets in, I’m suddenly realizing how much I’ll miss the flowers that once seemed overabundant mid-summer.  Yet, it is also a relief to be finished rushing around preparing for markets and keeping up with the farm.  As the days grow shorter, I am grateful to be able to sleep in a bit later.   It’s nice having the time and energy to cook more creative meals, using the crops grown at Crooked Door to their full potential, instead of just eating twenty cucumbers because it’s quick and easy.

Of course there were tough days- arriving at market with a car full of flowers, only to find the market had been rained-out… Realizing my sweet pea would never flourish due to an overwhelming population of bugs… But days when I was scolded for having too many beautiful options, making it difficult to choose just one bouquet, and begged to return to market next week with even more flowers- made it all worthwhile.  Knowing that even just one person appreciated the soft blue hue of the delicate nigella stems, or the uniqueness of the scabiosa stellata flower pod, confirmed that not only can we still appreciate beauty in the world, but that I am making a difference by growing and providing local flowers in Maine.

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I owe you all a sincere thank you for supporting me through this exciting and scary experience.  It has been such a pleasure serving you with my floral creations.  It would not have been possible without the kind-hearted support from family, friends, CSA members, market shoppers, and flower lovers like you!

Whether you bought my flowers or not, I hope you became more aware that local flowers are often fresher and more fragrant than imported flowers.  Unique varieties are available that would otherwise not package well for plane rides, but will, however, stay just as vibrant as I hand deliver them several miles down the road.  I hope you have a better understanding that responsible farming practices, free of harmful chemicals, produce flowers just as lovely, if not lovelier, than those shipped from foreign farms that often underpay workers and expose them to dangerous working conditions.  Buying locally-grown flowers contributes to your community’s economy, supports sustainable farming practices, and eliminates fuel and energy costs.

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Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm for Honeysuckle Way, as well as local flowers in general.  I am already giddy dreaming about which flowers to grow next year.  I can hardly wait to brighten more days with fresh-picked bouquets, or even a virtual bouquet for those too far away to enjoy the imagery in person. But first: some rest, some fun, and some time to appreciate how lucky I am to have the life I live, along with the wonderful people I’m fortunate enough to share it with.

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Climbing Mountains

Recently my family came to visit Maine.  With a flower field to run, markets to attend, and CSA shares to fill, I regret I did not spend nearly enough time with them.   Still, we were able to squeeze in a trek up Katahdin, Maine’s highest and (in my opinion) most epic mountain.

From Moosehead Lake, we got up before the sun and braved a stretch of the Golden Road, a  logging road that spans a hundred miles or so across the North Maine Woods.  It’s riddled with unpredictable washouts and blowdowns, moose encounters, and those 20-ton logging trucks that come barreling around the corner, just when you are convinced you were alone for miles and maybe days.  We made our way north with my uncle steering the family van as I kept a careful eye on the map.  We continued reassuring ourselves the heavy rain “showers” would clear into a beautiful day.

As we began our hike, the rain had mostly stopped, but the atmosphere and surrounding woods remained saturated with moisture.   A gradual three miles led us to Chimney Pond, which shimmers beneath the rocky Pamola and Baxter Peaks, with an intimidating view of the legendary Knife Edge connecting the two.  This day, however, our eyes traveled across the clear water to the beginning of some craggy cliffs, which quickly became engulfed by dense fog and mystery.

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Joe, Joan, Lilly, and me at Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park.

It began to dawn on me that the clouds may not magically part, gifting us with a beautiful sunny day, as I kept imagining they would.  Still, my brother, sister, cousin, and I forged ahead up the mountain.  After stumbling up slippery rocks and taking several moments to catch our breath, we reached a particularly challenging section.  The trail rose nearly vertically above us, leading up a river of boulders into the misty sky.  We discussed our options.  We needed to be back to level ground in a few short hours.  The rocks were precariously slippery and the view from the top may very well be nonexistent.

Yet, we had come here on a mission and already made it this far.  We put our heads down and scrambled further up into the clouds.  Without any clearing, we couldn’t see what we were climbing to, making it difficult to gauge when, if ever, we would reach the top.  The last mile dragged on, but suddenly, there we were, standing before the legendary Katahdin summit sign.

We saw nothing beyond a 20-foot radius of boulders and a gathering of two dozen hikers, some celebrating as they had just finished their 2,500 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  The remaining miles of mountain and ridge line disappeared into the gray billows of fog.

I couldn’t help but feel denied the satisfaction that accompanies conquering a giant mountain while towering over the world below and taking in the rugged landscape I’d just pushed my body to overcome.  Needless to say, the summit was cold, wet, and windy.  We ate a quick lunch and hurried back down the way we’d come.

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A fleeting glimpse of what lay below our Katahdin decent.

As we descended, I began to realize it’s not always about getting the best view.  We may not have returned home with a picturesque photo of a breathtaking scene, but there were more valuable rewards to be had.  The sense of accomplishment after persevering, when it would have been far easier to turn back…  The journey we made together and encouragement to get each other through it…  Believing in whatever we are doing enough to not give up, despite the outcome or whether or not others are able to witness, or even appreciate, how far we’ve come.

My life over the past couple years has been, and continues to be, a journey- both to find myself and my purpose.  There are always those rock scrambles to defeat and a thousand excuses to turn back, but how would we ever know what we are capable of if we gave up when things got tough?  Looking ahead, it may all seem like an insurmountable jumble or vision masked by clouds, but you have to start somewhere to uncover a path and direction.

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Blooming zinnias

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The flower field

Starting a farm is not as romantic and glamorous as we imagine, and while I feel well-supported and loved, it’s hard coming to terms with the fact that not everyone has the same appreciation and awareness for what I am doing.  But I think that’s ok, because I believe in what I am doing, and if I can share even the slightest piece of that with those around me, then I’m making progress.  It has become important for me to be deeply connected to food and flowers, from seed to table, and be able to channel my creative energy into beautiful arrangements that make people smile.  The key is having faith that I’m doing the right thing and that it’s all going to turn out ok.  To quote my most favorite Tracy Chapman song, “I’ve conquered hills, but I still have mountains to climb.  And right now I’m doing the best I can.”

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Just some things I’ve been working on…

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‘Tis the Flower Season!

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We kicked off the Honeysuckle Way Flower CSA two weeks ago with lovely bouquets bursting with poppies and sprinkled with other surprises.  Some of you received Maine’s picturesque lupines, an early summer staple that beautifies the state’s highways.  Others contained rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), a workhorse of a flower that you’ll be seeing again in different varieties throughout the summer.

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People living in lower longitudes would have scoffed at our complaints about heat and humidity this past week, the same way we get a good chuckle when Texas freaks out over an inch of snow, or when visitors shiver and reach for a coat in late spring, just as all the local kids are running out to the bus stop in shorts and tank tops.  I admit, I thought I was going to melt in the hot sun while weeding some spinach midweek.

On the bright side, the flowers thrived in the warmth, and after months of anticipation, it is exciting to find something new bursting with color each morning.  I am loving snipping my way through the field in order to thoughtfully assemble bouquets for your flower share.  Maybe you’ve noticed a little more color at the Gardiner and Hallowell Farmers’ Markets or on display at the Sheepscot General Store (and if not, you should get out and pick up a bouquet and I promise it will make your day better.)  This is just a preview of what’s to come this summer!

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A peaceful treehouse getaway.

Same Shirt, Different Day

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Lately I’ve been pondering the term “work clothes” and how it can imply a whole range of wardrobes depending on one’s line of work.  To many of my friends in the business and teaching world, work clothes mean skirts, ties, heels… dare I say a daily shower and makeup?  Picking out the right combination that says, “I am a professional; take me seriously.”

However, upon entering the outdoor industry, work attire has taken on an entirely different meaning.  In both farming and trailwork settings, acceptable work clothes possess characteristics like ruggedness, durability, practicality… plus many other qualities preceding fashion on my list.

Appearance becomes more of an afterthought than a representation of style or professionalism.  In fact, the adverse theory seems to apply: the more dressed down and worn in you look, the more legitimate you probably are.  If you’re at the point where you’re acquiring free hats for your loyalty to seed and tractor companies and your Common Ground shirt dates back ten years or more, I’m probably going to start off with more respect for you.

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Suzanne modeling waterproof bibs

I am proud to say I’ve embraced my carefree uniform.   And uniform it is, because, let’s be honest, really I am just pulling on the same clothes off the floor every day.  I can totally relate to the cartoon characters who are happy wearing a reoccurring outfit and hairstyle in every scene.

With fewer loads of laundry and little money spent on new clothes, I thought I was living the life.  But all good things must come to an end.  Crawling around on the ground year after year leads to an inevitable blow out.  In one week, I split three pairs of pants, two straight down the butt.  Sure, all had endured multiple seasons, but aren’t Carhartts supposed to outlive their owners?  Pretending nothing happened, I continued to wear the pants.  Life went on as usual until I stepped into the Thai restaurant to pick up dinner.  I became suddenly aware of the draft on my backside, which I had been embracing up until now. My self-consciousness got the best of me as I imagined patrons whispering and parents shielding small children’s eyes.

I retreated to the land of misfit clothes at Goodwill.  I grabbed from racks at random and ended up in a dressing room dilemma.  I had slipped on a pair of pants with the comfort of pajama bottoms and the pocket capacity of cargos.  I did some squats and lunges to confirm the ease with which they moved.  Yet, one problem prevailed.  With their flappy form and elastic high waist, everything that made these pants ideal also made them ridiculous.  Safari grandma meets M.C. Hammer.

For the sake of adhering to my moral principals that appearance shouldn’t matter, I was ready to buy them (and later wonder why I don’t have a boyfriend).  The price was right.  But all I could think about was my best friend from college, Matt, a talented journalist, graphic designer, and fashionista.  I imagined the combination of bewilderment and revulsion on his face, accompanied by a just-saw-a-mouse yelp, as I stepped out of the dressing room.   Reluctantly, I hung the pants on the reject rack, as Matt would have instructed me to do immediately.  I later circled back, just for another look, but someone either hid the pants to protect potential buyers, or they ended up in some grandma’s cart.  Either way, probably for the best.  I settled with a slightly less ugly, slightly more restraining, pair of work pants.

I discovered that even if I spend all day digging in the dirt, I still reserve some pride in my appearance.  Besides, all country songs point to finding love on the farm.  I’ll be ready.

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Farming Madness

I have reached a conclusion: farmers are stressed out. Mother nature is behind a lot of this anxiety, while other stress results from an endless to-do list and too few hours in the day. Farmers seem to forget that even if one more project is crammed into the day, there will still be a thousand more waiting tomorrow. Intentions like cleaning up the afternoon’s adventures slip off the priority list when unexpected time and energy is dedicated to chasing runaway livestock. Meanwhile, forgotten tools transform into a lawn ornaments.

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Tulips Suzanne planted around the farm. (I have to take pictures of something while I sit around waiting for my own flowers to bloom.)

I admit I am guilty of judging people’s short patience or need for organization.  Yet, as I am swept rapidly into the farming season’s raging current- I get it.  That frustration of greenhouse plastic flying away in the wind or the exhaustion that justifies choosing sleep over a much needed shower, I now understand.

As a continuous to-do list scrolls through my mind, it’s hard to focus on one task when I want to tackle them all.  I end up wandering in circles, starting one project, but quickly deciding another needs my attention more.  Clint and Suzanne make fun of me for re-positioning my seedling trays from table to table around the greenhouse throughout the day.  It gives me a sense of control I am overwhelmed without.

The haste with which I have been packing my hours finally dawned on me as I settled into the dentist chair to have my teeth drilled.  Music drifted through the ceiling; someone reclined my chair, and I was handed a pair of sunglasses.  At that moment, there was nowhere else I could be.  No manual I could be reading or ditch I could be digging.  It was like stretching out in a hammock on an exotic beach.  Sure, there was a needle jabbing my gums, but looking past that, I floated away into a moment of relaxation and no immediate conflict at hand (unless you include my rotting teeth).

However, the tired at the end of the day is a good tired, and I know the internal reward of my work will be high.  I feel as though I have a better understanding of the pressure farmers feel to feed their families and communities, or, in my case, bring joy back to a kitchen table in the form of flowers.  Still, I encourage farmers and everyone alike to remember to step back and enjoy life without letting it slip away in the everyday rush.

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Getting wrapped up at the farm, I didn’t realize the view I was missing back at home.  A sunset canoe ride and good friends to share it with helped me appreciate this life.