Okay, so I’m not a fan of chainsaw art – in general if it’s something that’s associated with a Kardashian or Duck Dynasty I don’t want it in my backyard. However, there’s something to be said for temporary land art, and if Tim decides to get creative with a chainsaw, who am I to say no? And yes, I made him put on his safety gear after I snapped the photo.
It still seems surreal to me, the fact that we are leaving the place we’ve called home for the last 15 years, the place we’ve toiled over, the place we’ve raised our babies, the place we’ve loved. But the new house in Shelburne is almost done so we are putting our farm in Addison on the market today. Yes, the new house is an exciting adventure, where we will be closer to 90% of our clients, have access to fabulous schools and lots of other enriching experiences, but I’m still sad about leaving the farm. When we settled here, and during the years of renovations and improvements, we said we would never leave. I’m telling myself the move is a lesson in flexibility, fluidity, adaptability, and resilience – and that the new owners of the farm will love the place we’ve created, make it their own, and its deep history will continue to evolve.
We have built a website www.EverestFarmVT that describes the farm and has a ton of photos. The property sleeps 20 with all the outbuildings (5-bdrm farmhouse, summer cottage, studio and guesthouse) and would be perfect as a farmstay B&B, or as an elegant summer home with a year-round farmer/caretaker living in the guesthouse. We renamed it Everest Farm since it was the Everest family who built it in the late 1700s and occupied it for four generations. A new Linden Farm will be built on our 15 acres in Shelburne. So if you’re in the market to buy a lovely property on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont, or know somebody who is looking, let us know. Everybody is welcome to enjoy a taste of the Good Life in the gallery below.
Green Works, established in 1964, is a non-pro?t professional organization for the Horticultural Industry in Vermont. The Environmental Awareness award is given in recognition of an individual that has implemented an environmentally sound practice that contributes to the protection of the environment. Winners received their awards at the recent 2015 Green Works Winter Meeting & Trade Show held on 1/27/15 at the UVM Davis Center. This is the second award given to Rebecca by Green Works – she also received the NENA Young Nursery Professional of the Year Award in 2009, given by the New England Nursery Association to an individual under 40 who has contributed to the growth and success of the industry in the eye of the public.
Linden L.A.N.D. Group has grown and evolved much over the last 10 years, and has developed into a company that last year serviced 70 Garden Care clients and designed/built 35 new Landscape Projects. Looking forward we already have nine projects lined up for 2015 and several more in the design phase.
After a year of huge transition (moving the business to Shelburne, then designing and building a new net-zero house on the same property; and finally finishing our 15-year labor of love historical farm renovation in Addison which will go on the market in April) we have decided to simplify. Moving is an intense experience for most and for us the process stimulated an evaluation of what was important for our family, and the realization that we need to make more time to enjoy our lives together (and our own gardens). To this end we have decided to focus the business primarily on new design/build projects (plantings and stonework), and to stop providing maintenance services. We are calling it the Simple Plan – for each choice we are faced with we ask “does it keep it simple and solve a problem?” everything runs through its gauntlet from our business structure and our marketing efforts to how we spend our non-working hours.
As a result you will see some changes on our blog this year. I will still write the occasional thesis on ecological landscape design requiring extra joe, but the rest of the time I will keep it brief – photos of favorite plant combinations, quick garden tips, what’s happening in the barnyard, backyard and fields, as well as projects in progress. So, here’s to the simple plan. It goes against my nature but will preserve my sanity, and possibly yours too.
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Lawns, hmmmm. There isn’t an issue in the landscaping world that’s more charged with dogma and drama than lawns. It may be due to our inability to separate the lawn from its historical symbolism of wealth and status. Having a lawn meant that you didn’t need that space to grow crops to feed your family, and that you had the leisure time to use a lawn for strolling and lawn games. In the post-war era the creation of suburbia included a small lawn for every family as a status equalizer. Today most families can afford such small luxuries as lawns, and their existence in the landscape is assumed mandatory. What’s changing (slowly but surely) is our definition of the lawn, its size, shape and role in the landscape. Let’s look at these four trends:
Lawns are going Organic – The “natural lawn” movement is rooted in an increased appreciation of the environmental costs of traditional lawn care practices (phosphorous, pesticide and herbicide runoff, carbon emissions, lack of biodiversity, etc.). Thanks to the work of many organizations including SafeLawns.org, and the like-minded NOFA Organic Land Care practitioners that followed, many lawns have been transitioned to an organic maintenance system. In Vermont we also have some great programs helping to keep Phosphorous out of Lake Champlain, including the collaborative Lawn-to-Lake program.
Personally, we’ve never had irrigation or applied anything to our lawn here in Addison and after 13 years I think it’s still beautiful. It’s green all season long partly because there’s nice wet clay underneath and partly because we let the clover grow (a wonderful nitrogen fixer and drought tolerant), and the dandelions do their thing (amazing deep rooted aerators). I’m sure a Victorian gardener would roll over in her grave, but it works for us.
Lawns are going Native – at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center ecologist Mark Simmons has been leading research on a mixture of drought-adapted native grasses that cut down on mowing, watering, weeding and feeding. These fine-leafed species grown together form a dense lush lawn that takes less effort to maintain a lawn of mixed native turf grasses than a non-native lawn. It’s called HABITURF®, and the seed mix outperforms Bermudagrass in terms of rates of establishment, thickness of the turf, mowing rates and weed resistance. Of course it was designed to combat the drought conditions of Texas, and we usually have the opposite problem (fungus) when it comes to turf, but climate change makes it hard to predict. There’s also the slow growing grass blends such as Pearl’s Premium, which are a mix of native and exotic grass species. The State of Maine is growing ten different mixes, including one that is 2/3 native, in a research project called the Great Grass Experiment. Out of curiosity we will trial some of these seed mixes up here in Vermont and see if we get good results compared to the typical VT Conservation mix we normally use.
Lawns are being replaced with low native groundcovers or transitioned to meadows. Many large public institutions, including our own local Middlebury College, are transitioning large areas of previously manicured lawn into meadows that are brush-hogged twice annually, which is all that is necessary to maintain the open space (prevent reforestation) and reduce the tick population. In rural areas I usually advise clients to let 90% of their burdensome multiple acres of mowed turf go – just mow paths for walking, brush hog the rest a few times a year if open views need to be maintained, and enjoy how the grasses transition over the season. When lawns transition to meadow you see movement and song come back into the landscape – breezes sway the seedheads and birds arrive in droves. For smaller suburban front yards I take lawns out of the design altogether – if the goal is curb appeal there are so many better choices for that space that require so much less maintenance and have a lot more “Wow” power. In shady areas sedges are the winner – the photo above is of Carex pensylvanica, which is a clump-forming Northeast native that only grows 6-9″ high and can handle dry shade. We plant it spaced fairly tight and it grows into a lawn-like planting that you don’t have to mow more than once a year or fertilize, and it looks soft and inviting. Now that’s drama I can live with.
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I have high hopes for cover crops and no-till farming methods, both to save water quality in Lake Champlain, as well as to prevent the erosion of precious soils and to increase the carbon sink capacity of farmland across the country.
As Tom Philpot explains in his September 2013 article One Weird Trick to Fix Farms Forever in Mother Jones, our soil is a limited resource, and we should be concerned with its preservation. According to University of Washington soil scientist David Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, it takes between 700 and 1,500 years to generate an inch of topsoil under natural conditions. Cornell agricultural scientist David Pimentel reckons that “90 percent of US cropland now is losing soil faster than its sustainable replacement rate.” And then there’s climate change. Under current farming practices, US farmland only acts as what the USDA has deemed a “modest carbon sink”—sequestering 4 million metric tons of carbon annually, a tiny fraction of total US greenhouse gas emissions. However, if all US farms adopted the use of cover crops and no-till planting methods their fields could absorb 25x more carbon – equivalent to taking nearly 10 percent of the US car fleet off the road.
Soil loss and carbon aside, our biggest motivator to use No-Till Drill cover crops is to protect water quality. Since EPA disapproved the Vermont 2002 Lake Champlain Phosphorus TMDL on January 24, 2011 there has been quite a bit of activity on the subject of cover crops, culminating in the recent No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium hosted by UVM Extension – Champlain Valley Crops, Soil and Pasture Team, VT Agency of Agriculture and the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
There are many advantages us using no-till drills to plant both cover crops and main crops. They allow farmers to get on a field later in the season (up to October 15th), and put in a crop of winter rye. Winter rye grows fast, holds onto nutrients, and in the spring it can add nutrients to the field. The roots help minimize soil loss from erosion and protect soil structure and health. The crop also conserves soil moisture, limits surface water runoff and requires fewer field operations.
In 2012, UVM Extension provided the use of no-till drills to 49 farmers who used them to plant 1,672 acres. Farmers no-till planted 560 acres of pasture on 19 farms, 802 acres of hayland on 20 farms and 310 acres of winter grain cover crops on 13 farms. I can’t wait to hear what some of the initiatives are for the farms in our end of the watershed – I truly hope they can embrace the new practice soon and reduce the annual spring flow of sediment into the Otter Creek. I love the fact that the Agency is getting behind the initiative and provides financial assistance to farmers for cover cropping and no-till, but there’s still work to do. The majority of farms around us have been uncovered bare soil all winter – not a lick of winter rye cover crop in sight, and the Roundup Ready Corn planted in spring means that the soil is bare between corn rows all year long. Our Clayplain soils are so fine that they are easily suspended and carried into surface water, where their Phosphorous content contributes to algae blooms.
I found a great introductory blog post about written by Kirsten Workman who works for UVM Extension as an Agronomy Outreach Professional for the Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team. She works with farmers to implement practices to improve crop production and protect water quality. She has a great list of things you can do on your farm to protect water quality. I think many of her suggestions can be applied to gardens as well, especially cover cropping. A great source for cover crop seed for vegetable gardeners, homesteads, and small farms is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Many clovers make great semi-permanent cover crops between rows of long-term crops like strawberries and grapes. Check it out, and plant some green manure this spring!
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On a walk past the bee yard the other day I paused to put my ear to the hive, something I do regularly throughout the winter. I discovered that only one of our two hives was making its normal faint buzzing sound. It was a warm (45 degree) sunny day so I opened the silent hive and found it full of dead bees, many of them near the top but also many with their noses deep in the comb, a sign of starvation.
I felt terrible – I thought I had left them enough honey for the winter, but maybe not? On closer inspection I found a few frames of capped honey not far from the cluster of bees. The upper entrance showed evidence of cleansing flights and there were quite a few dead bees outside on the ground in the snow – had they been sick or was it just too cold? Each hive had an insulated winter cover with plenty of air flow to keep them dry.
I tried not to get teary, but instead stomped around the bee yard in frustration. Like any new parent I was plagued with doubt and guilt – what did I do wrong? Plenty, I’m sure, but how do I make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again?
Our adventure with bees began three years ago at the Burlington screening of the award-winning documentary film “Queen of the Sun: What Bees are Telling Us”. I then took Ross Conrad’s Organic Beekeeping course and passed the exam given by the Vermont Beekeeper’s Association.
Our two hives did fairly well the first year, but to be safe we didn’t extract any honey. They came through the winter very strong, so strong that I missed preventing one of the hives from swarming, leaving it mostly empty with a Queen cell. I’m afraid I did something to interrupt the acceptance of the new queen or she didn’t return from her mating flight, because after 6 weeks there were no new eggs.
So I split the strong hive and introduced a new Russian Queen. I made notes on which boxes had nectar, eggs, and capped brood. Throughout the rest of summer they seemed very strong, I added supers as they needed them, and then we extracted honey in early September.
We took 3.5 gallons total from the two hives, leaving a full shallow on each, and an empty shallow for the bees to fill during the goldenrod flow. In October one of the two hives seemed weaker and hadn’t filled their second super, so I did a mite count using my IPM board and they both had a fairly heavy infestation, so I fed the hive, adding BeeHealthy, and treated them both for mites with ApiVar. There was no evidence of Nosema or Foulbrood. We did have some pretty cold weather this winter, but I’m questioning how much honey I left them, and plan to leave them more next year.
So what’s my plan for my dead hive? First I’m going to clean it out and do some more investigating. Here’s my plan – Take out the frames one by one and brush off the dead bees and vacuum out the ones still in cells. Scrape of any bridge or burr comb and propolis from the frames and inspect the comb to see if any frames need replacing. Do the same with the hive bodies, cleaning off the frame rests etc. where the propolis really gets in the way. Then I’ll work my way down to the bottom board getting everything cleaned up. It might be a while before the new bee package arrives so I’ll store the empty hive in the barn (where it’s still freezing) in a plastic bag until it warms up outside and then air it out in the greenhouse so it doesn’t mildew.
I have to decide soon if I’m going to order a new package of bees with a new Russian Queen or try to raise a new queen from the overwintered hive, and split it in June. The advantage of splitting an overwintered hive is that hopefully some of the genetic material of the bees that survived can be passed to the new hive, breeding tougher, more resistant bees. This is the approach of both Ross Conrad and Kirk Webster, a well-known Vermont honeybee queen breeder, who didn’t use chemicals at all when tracheal mites were first discovered in the state in the late 1980s. He lost 95 percent of his bees the first year, but by breeding the survivors, now has a resistant stock. I would love one of his queens but there’s a two-year wait-list. Knowing how busy we are in spring, I’ll probably start with a fresh box of bees in early May.
Losing hives is fairly common now (30% is the average) – honey bee colonies are overrun with difficulties (Colony Collapse Disorder, Nosema, and now Zombie bees. Our wild bees are almost extinct (the national Academy of Science reported a 96% decline in the four abundant species), and it’s now being shown that wild and domesticated bees are passing diseases to each other.
To make matters worse the U.S. market is being flooded with cheap honey from China (laundered through other Asian countries – see this article on Honey laundering) and this honey is often contaminated with banned antibiotics and diluted with corn syrup, yuck. The flood of cheap foreign honey is reducing demand for local honey = fewer hives = fewer pollinators = less local food.
So, yes if we want to keep eating healthy food we need to become advocates for healthy bees and local raw honey. Let’s all cross our fingers, and say a prayer for a warm spring full of blossoms and healthy bees.
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The New Year brought the classic moment of looking back to look forward – and I realized that in September we will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our business, designing and building landscapes here in the Champlain Valley of VT. We have experienced significant growth and change during that time and I am very grateful for Tim’s infinite patience, as well as the extreme hard work performed by Tim and the crew, and the faith of our clients as we have evolved our design process and methods.
Looking back at some of our first designs I admit it’s a bit like looking at photos of myself in the 80’s and wondering how I could possibly have thought shoulder pads were a good idea. Thankfully, we’ve learned along the way, and continue to do so, and we have found ways to successfully integrate our interests in ecology, agriculture, and landscapes. Recently I was giving a particularly interactive lecture to some UVM students about Ecological Design and the discussion turned to whether I thought they should go to grad school in order to secure a job. I told them that “it depends”, but that no matter where their path takes them I believe that education is continual beyond any formal school setting, and needs to be a part of daily life. We choose to be Learners and our identify morphs with our constantly evolving body of knowledge. I am not the same gardener-designer-farmer-wife-
So yes, research is important but so is hands-on experience, and most importantly, learning from each others’ hands-on experiences. With this in mind I have assembled an index of the topics that I’ve written about in the last three years to share with you – think of it as a distillation of our recent experiences. I write about 20 posts per year, so there are 60 articles here organized by topic for you to pick through and hopefully find something useful. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter if you would enjoy getting our happy rantings each month. Have fun and please share your thoughts.
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I love this photo of Gabbie – it was taken eight years ago on her first birthday at a jobsite on the south end of Lake George, about 2 hours south of us. The usual routine for remote jobsites includes Tim and the crew staying in a nearby hotel and working long hours until the project is complete, while I visit periodically for design oversight. This project was special – the clients very graciously let us stay in their guesthouse on the property, and so we took the whole family, including my mom who watched the girls while we worked. The days were punctuated with barbecues and swimming and even birthday cake. Occasionally the girls both got to “help” which was code for getting reeaally muddy, much to their delight. I’ll never forget that project, not only because Elsa had her first asthma attack/emergency room visit, but because the girls had the unique opportunity to “help” us and understand what we do all day while we are away from them. I have learned that the strength of our family is built through participation in each others’ lives, and it seems even more true as the girls get older. I have to dig deeper now when they get off the bus and I ask them “what did you do at school today?” and the first response is “not much”. The answers take their time and usually emerge during a walk up to the woods or a stroll through the garden. It’s difficult at times to remember to take this time to connect when I have a design that’s due, or I’m deep into preparing a presentation, but the best things happen when I step away from the computer or the phone, and walk outside. So yes, getting muddy is important – all pretenses are shed, our true selves revealed, smiles emerge and bonds are formed. I’m off to meet the girls at the bus stop and maybe get my hands in the dirt…
It was a big harvest year for us – we had four weeks of clear warm sunshine in a row in September/early October and we spent every weekend filling the cupboards and freezers. It was also our first year extracting honey – such a rich reward for the last two summers with our hives. Here are some photos of the bounty.