Friday, October 17, 2008

A Love Affair With Compost

I love compost. I love the concept of making something from nothing, creating value from waste. It speaks to the frugal parts of me as well as to my environmental leanings. This weekend we looked at the yard blanketed with the first round of leaves and knew it was time to start mowing and bagging—and in the process, accumulating next year’s compost.

No easy task this year. My husband, Dave, snapped his Achilles tendon in mid-August, and has been down and out for weeks. He is just now getting back on his feet, finally crutch-free with the help of a protective walking boot. We figured he could drive our riding mower and I could handle the rest.

The mower acts like a big vacuum cleaner of sorts, chopping the leaves and grass as it sucks the mixture up into a large basket. As Dave mowed, I went to work raking leaves from the patio and on to the lawn, and setting up my first bag. A few years ago we discovered this simple but ingenious device: a sheet of black plastic that can be rolled into a wide tube and inserted into the bags to prop them open. I highly recommend it. (We purchased it at ACE Hardware in Traverse City a few years ago, I think.)

Happily, Dave also managed to hobble off the mower, slide the heavy basket full of leaves off the rack and hold it up for me so that I could scoop the mixture into the waiting tube. As each bag was filled with a soft mixture of sweet smelling fresh grass and chopped up leaves, it felt like a harvest of sorts. By the end of November, we will fill 40 more bags and also collect three times that many from the village of Northport. Villagers there rake and bag their leaves and set them out on the curb. They are then collected and taken to the town dump. I used to drive up and haul them back in my car. But a few years ago I talked the Department of Public Works guys into hauling the bags to my old garage instead of taking them to the dump. A batch of brownies sweetened the deal, and so every year I make a pilgrimage to the old brick building in Northport with a shoebox full of treats.

I could not function without the leaves. When Upickers visit, they often look around and ask me how the heck I maintain 26 flower beds that cover nearly an acre of land. I tell them that mulching with leaves is the key--and that it can help them in their own gardens too. Getting the mulching done early is important. As soon as I’ve got the beds cleaned up and weeded in early May, I slide the big heavy door open on the old garage and retrieve bag after bag full of leaves. Over the winter, the leaves have already started to break down--especially those with a mixture of "green and brown" in them. I put down a thick layer of leaves between the rows of perennials and tuck them around the base of each plant. It makes everything look nice and also blocks out sunlight and keeps new weed seeds from germinating. That cuts down on my workload while the leaves also help to keep the soil moist.

Best of all, as last year's fall yard waste breaks down, the inherent organic matter enriches the soil. That in turn activates microbes that go to work, churning up the dirt and turning it into rich, loamy matter. In my business, this is known as “good tilth.” I know things are really cooking when I step into the beds, and literally sink by four or five inches. It’s almost as if the earth is calling me to plant myself too.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Monarch's Fragile Journey

Today I noticed that somebody named Melanie wrote in the guest book that I keep in my U-Pick shed. “Forget Disneyland,” she wrote. “This is the happiest place on Earth.”

On Earth? I was stunned. And grateful. Of course, for me, the Upick IS the happiest place on earth. And I needed to be reminded of that, and realized for about the millionth time how easily we take for granted the best parts of our life when things aren’t going so well in other parts of it. This is a lesson it seems that I need to learn over and over.

I have sworn off looking at the falling stock market and reading all the bad news. At least for now. Today I am thinking about a close friend’s husband who was taken to Hospice House on Tuesday and is struggling valiantly to get through this final stage of life. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in April, and it has been a nightmare for my friend and her family ever since. This is a good and gentle man, a thoughtful intellectual, a loving father, a stellar husband who is being taken from this earth. Life is not fair, this much I know.

I have the day off today as I do not work on Fridays at all, in order to keep up with the farm. It is one of those spectacular fall days on Omena Bay. The blue water is all the more stunning, set off by the emerging fall color backdrop of Omena Point. This is the first Friday since early June without bouquet making and deliveries. To wander from bed to bed, pulling weeds here, clipping back dead stems there, is a luxury. I have no agenda on this day other than to be at school in time to pick up my 9-year-old son, Will.

As I do my work, a monarch comes to rest on the nearby neon pink sweet William to drink the nectar. Neon is a new variety I planted this spring, said to be a true perennial. It is blooming again in a short burst of color after being cut back in June. The monarch slowly opens and closes its wings as it feeds. Uh oh, little fella, I think. You are a long way from where you need to be at this time of the year. How these fragile creatures make their long journey is one of life’s greatest mysteries, and, in my opinion, some kind of annual miracle.

When I see things like the monarch, or the rainbow on my way to school earlier this morning, I wonder, is this it? Did my friend’s husband pass over? Is this some sort of sign? I am a person who looks for signs, explanations. And then I think that perhaps the monarch was not a sign that a wonderful life had ended, but rather a reminder of the fragile journey that we are all on toward that destination.

You can read more upicker guest book comments at Omena Cut Flowers.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Drying Sunflower Heads for the Chickadees

Yesterday I was clipping spent sunflower heads and lining them face up around the edge of my circle garden. Some of the larger heads contain at least 100 glossy, black sunflower seeds. I leave the drying heads in the garden over the winter for the chickadees, who flit in and out, plucking the seeds from their husks. Some seeds will drop into the soil and magically appear as "volunteers" next spring in the form of seedlings, saving me the expense of buying new seeds.

I am always amazed at the miracle that one small seed morphs into a six-foot tall plant, and then produces a number of seed heads that can in turn produce hundreds more plants. Yesterday I thought about this tremendous gift, and took it as some sort of sign. God or whoever provides so much. The potential for plenty is there, just waiting. But we must pay attention to the opportunity, reap the harvest and sow it intelligently. And then I thought about our country and how it offers the same vast potential of growth and plenty -- but only if we apply the same principles: pay attention to the opportunity, reap the harvest, save some for seed production, and then sow the seeds with care.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The reds are peaking on the trees along M-22

Today I took a bouquet of flowers to work with me. Normally, I don’t pick bouquets for myself. With my weekly subscription service, I have so many bouquets to make each week that at the end of a long day, the thought of making one more just doesn’t cut it. But with things slowing down, I found the time last night to wander through the garden and clip a fistful of bright blooms for myself. It’s a well-known fact that having flowers around is good for one’s mental health. After this tumultuous week in the stock market, my life savings tanking by 25%, and political arguments abounding within my family, I was sorely in need of something.

Those flowers that are left this time of year are particularly vivid. Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) is my favorite. Its iridescent orange sets off every other color. Snaps are making their second appearance of the season, and I picked some velvety maroon ones. The color and texture reminds me of a little girl in a holiday party dress. The snaps contrasted nicely with magenta Alma Potschke asters, so I clipped a few of those. Rudbeckia Indian summer is still going strong too. These bright golden black-eyed Susans are a workhorse in my garden because they self seed and produce new plants all season long that grow and mature at varying stages. So there is always rudbeckia to pick in my garden, it seems. Last week I spent some time moving some of the younger volunteers into rows for orderly production next spring and appreciated their reassuring promise of things to come.

Candleabra sage, in both pink and deep violet, red zinnias and cosmos rounded out the bunch. It was quite a colorful sight. As I stood in my shed stripping the stems and placing them into the vase, dusk was falling. I carried the vase up the stairs and into the kitchen, and literally drank in the color in the bright light.

As I drove to work this morning, the bouquet nodding on the seat beside me, I noticed how the reds are peaking on the trees along M-22. I thought about how flowers and trees, in all their brilliance and flaming color, make their last stand this time of year. As if to shout, “Don’t take me for granted…it’s almost over!” It’s a silent but powerful message. And a great reminder to revel in the beauty that surrounds us now.

Carolyn Faught
Omena Cut Flowers

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Omena U-Pick Flower Farm Celebrates Eighth Year

Flower farmer Carolyn Faught keeps a guest book in the little green garden shed where U-pick customers find scissors, jars of water and a change box. Reading the messages visitors leave daily is one of the best parts of her job. Her favorite: "I can feel my blood pressure lowering whenever I come to pick your flowers." Other visitors report that they've picked for an aunt's 91st birthday party, or for a baby about to come into the world.

At Faught's orderly farm overlooking beautiful Omena Bay, rows of flowers are marked with signs telling the price per stem-most blooms range between 10 and 30 cents-and a nice-sized bouquet can be had for as little as $4. Faught says she has met brides who come to make wedding bouquets, husbands gathering anniversary arrangements and families who romp around the one-acre spread filling jars with blooms for the cottage.

"Children absolutely love to cut their own flowers," says Faught, whose passion for gardening-and a desire to spend more time at home with her own child--led to starting the business 8 years ago. "Every spring I would find myself wishing for more time in the garden," adds Faught, who was then working as managing editor for Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.

While searching the Internet, she stumbled on information about a successful U-Pick flower farm in Oregon. The things that made that farm successful -a visible, high-traffic location in a busy tourist area- were a given at Faught's picturesque, century-old farmhouse just north of Suttons Bay on M-22 in Leelanau County. She found a local farmer to dig the beds, added tons of compost and moved in divisions from her own perennial gardens. That winter, she read books on growing plants from seed, and by April had several flats under lights in her basement. What started as eight 50-foot long beds has grown to 24 beds.

Eight years later, many of the perennials she started from seed have gotten so big that she divides them out every fall and pots them up for sale at $3.50 a piece - a bargain compared to nursery prices. In addition to the U-pick, she also delivers about 80 weekly "subscription" bouquets to homes and businesses in the Suttons Bay and Traverse City area, with several clients on Omena Point. She assembles the bouquets from over 60 different types of perennials and annuals. Her season begins with daffodils and ends with mums. The business has grown each year.

"It's a totally feel-good business," says Faught, 48. "The karma is great. I get so much positive feedback. After all, who doesn't love flowers?" Omena Cut Flowers is located 7 miles north of Suttons Bay in Leelanau County on M-22. The U-Pick is open daily dawn til dusk. For info: 231-271-6432.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Best Cut Flower List

"Best Cut Flower List"
Omena Cut Flowers' Recommendations

All of these perform well in full sun. Many of them also do well in part shade. I've noted those that I know grow well in both levels of sun with an asterisk (*).

Early Season

    -Daffodils and tulips, of course! *
    -Foxglove "Strawberry Mertonensis" *
         Longest vase life
         "James Pillow" (pink)
         "Festiva Supreme" (white)
         "David Harum" (red)
         My personal favorite is the pink "Sarah Bernhardt." *

    -Lady's Mantle (great filler) *
    -Columbine *
    -Bearded Iris
    -Lupine (buy the Russell hybrids) *
    -Thrift: try Armeria "Joystick Red"
    -Painted daisies: get "James Kelway"
    - Lamb's Ear: pretty filler

    -Foxglove "Digitalis Purperia" *
    -Canterbury Bells (Campanula)
    -Sweet William (get the tall "Dianthus Barbatus") *


    -Shasta Daisies *
    -Lavender *
    -Monarda *
    -Liatris *
    -Asiatic lilies
    -Sea Holly (Eryngium) good filler
         best bets: "Giant Pacific"(very tall-need staking) and "Magic Fountains"

    - Campanula "persicifolia"

    - Larkspur: buy "Giant Imperial"
    -Snapdragons: buy "Rocket" for spikes tall enough for cutting

Late Season


    -Tansy: "Goldsticks" Can be invasive!

    -Scabiosa "Pincushion flower." Get the taller S. causasica for cutting

    -Purple Coneflower: buy "Magnus" for petals that won't droop

    -Veronica: buy "Speedwell" *

    -Rudbeckia: buy "Goldstrum" *

    -Phlox: White "David" and pink "Bright Eyes." *

    -Mums with tall stems

    -Japanese anemones: can be invasive!

    -Obedient plant: invasive!



    -Zinnias: buy any "Elegans" type. Try "Benary's Giants", "Oklahoma", "State Fair." *

    -Cosmos -will reseed. *


          My favorites

         Chocolate brown "Velvet Queen"

         "Sunrich Orange"

         "Sunrich Lemon"

          --Look for "pollenless varieties" that won't shed pollen. *


    -Rudbeckia "Indian Summer" (These come back for me if mulched and left undisturbed. *

    -Verbena Bonariensis -will reseed*

    -Salvia horminium: "Tri-color sage"

    -Coreopsis tinctoria (good filler) *

Please call us at 231-271-6432 or email for more info!

Fresh Flower Tips

“How to get the most out of your Omena Cut Flowers”
Omena Cut Flowers’ Care Recommendations

*Keep the water level high in your vase - they drink a lot during the week!

*Change water mid-week and add 1 tsp. of flower preservative

*Keep away from fruits and veggies which emit a gas that makes flowers fade fast

*Snip off faded blooms (like iris and lilies) -secondary, closed blooms will open

*Pull out faded stems so your bouquet always looks fresh

Monday, June 26, 2006

Canterbury Bells

Blog From The Garden
Canterbury Bells

Glad you enjoyed your trip to the Omena Cut Flowers upick. Thanks for your business!

The flower is called Canterbury Bells. It is a biennial, meaning it grows foliage one year, produces blooms the next, then dies. I planted those from seed in the winter in my basement, but you can find them at a good nursery, no doubt.

Carolyn Faught, Grower
Omena Cut Flowers