Thursday, June 23, 2016

The wannabe farmer turns wannabe soccer coach

Recently one of my closest friends (he's the kind of guy who most of his friends think of him as one of their closest) came back to town for a friend's wedding.  During his visit to our place I mentioned that I had volunteered to coach Alida's soccer team in the local league.  "Hm."  He said.  "Didn't see that coming."

Right.  I haven't worn a soccer uniform since seventh grade, and anyone who knows me won't have me pegged as the jock type.  I don't like watching sports on TV, and every bracket I've ever filled out has been organized entirely by how well I like the names of the teams or the cities they come from.  Furthermore, I am nearly entirely non-competitive in nature.

But I love sports!  Everything from croquet to ping pong to javelin...if it involves bodies and motion and performance and is not pure choreography, color me interested.  Actually, I could probably get interested in choreography too if I could see the point!  I am sure there is one.

In team sports particularly, I am pretty intrigued by the mental aspects of the match.  It thrills me that an individual who is less physically capable can end up besting his or her opponent by wits, experience, and presence of mind.  Even more intriguing is how a team full of lesser specimens, if they learn to work as a team and think as a team and keep their eyes on their egos can adapt to the punishing realities of the brute force they are faced with and end up confounding expectations.  Add to that the mutual honing effect of each team meeting the other's challenges in real time, and you have a mighty complex and dynamic system emerging which is pretty interesting to watch and participate in.  In general, I find rooting for one team or the other detracts from my enjoyment, even if I'm on one of the teams.  I am interested in a good and challenging match for everyone (the exception is when one team is totally dominant with bad attitudes and the underdogs are getting demoralized...then I start rooting and every goal or point by them is a sweet and gratifying relief).

I have secretly sort of fancied the idea of coaching kids' soccer for a few years.  I liked the notion of myself being a different kind of coach from what you often see.  No posturing, no yelling, no getting hung up on scores and winning; instead the focus could be on development as players and as a team...crafting the learning, adding one more layer to the dynamics of the season by responding to the specific experience of each game at the next practice and the next game.

This post is partly motivated by meeting the challenge that came in from a friend to blog about soccer coaching and tie it in to Permaculture somehow.  Well there it is.  The Permaculture design process that I learned is what is known as an "iterative" process.  That is to say that it consists of several or even many "passes" or "iterations" of the same basic process with the same basic constraints, but with changes or improvements made in each round.  With Permaculture design, this means you start by getting your working parameters and priorities established, then start taking a crack at integrating them into a design.  Looking at what you came up with, you judge it based on your criteria for success and try again.  And again.  And again.  Until you feel satisfied that you've reached a settled point:  the best working compromise possible under the circumstances, and a design that will help the clients (or the self) know how to direct their efforts in service of crafting a system that supports their thriving over the long haul.  Perfection is unachievable, irrelevant, even a damaging constriction in this kind of process.  Superlative performance is the goal, and the limits to that performance are always being extended, can never by found.

So does that sound like soccer, or what?  The deep joy I get from each year's or each decade's successes on the land is somewhat mirrored by the deep joy of seeing a kid suddenly learn to dribble in the middle of a game and have her play transformed by it, or watching a kid shake off their reluctance to stick their foot into the action and learn to be bold with their motions, or for all of them to stretch out their legs and run for that ball!  And the joy I also get from responding to each season's palette of successes and failures in the next iteration is furthermore mirrored in the enjoyment our team had this year talking over the last game and organizing our practices around it.  OK, so there are limits to how involved the 4- and 5-year-olds got in that part of it, but it was a great start.  I think we kept it light and fun, and it was great to see the kids eager to come to games and practice, and terrific to see them grow as players and as people over the weeks.  I look forward to the fall season.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Blood drive and duckling update!

Kali's four ducklings are taking after all the growing things around here - they are doing it fast! As of this past weekend, she has been letting them out to range for a few minutes each day and it only took them one day to learn, via the adult ducks, where the pond is. Now they head straight there and my goodness what a good time they have. They seem right at home!  Hopefully, when not enthusiastically swimming around and dunking themselves and preening, they are eating mosquito larva! See for yourselves how big, cute and fun they are:

I find that it can go days where I don't get out and about much to really take in what is happening all over our property. Might be a good thing as when I do I experience a mixture of awe and a good dose of feeling overwhelmed at what needs to be done. Last evening when we got home from the blood drive, Jason was pretty wiped out from his platelet/plasma donation and so he hung out with Terah while I did the evening piggie feeding. I was eager to see them and got to marvel at their impressive growth. They were also happy to see me and were soon slurping their milk/whey evening snack with great pleasure. I took the camera with me and focused on the beautiful things growing all around - the yucca is in full bloom, the onion seed heads are looking quite perky, there are gooseberries to pick and our lettuce is just ridiculous!
The butterfly weed that always makes us think of Nora is also in it's prime right now. Perfect timing as we spent last remembering and honoring her with others at Virginia Blood Services. It was a very good thing I had donated a few weeks back, as Terah was not too keen on letting me out of her sight (or out of her reach)! I'm trying hard to embrace this last experience of being the most special, important, amazing person in the whole wide world to someone. If she didn't express her pure pleasure in being with me with bites and pulling my hair it would be easier to enjoy! She gave out lots of smiles and squawks for everyone during our several hours there. She also tried to eat the floor and the chairs and liked jumping on the donation chairs. She was also a big fan of the cheap crinkly sounding water bottles. For being in an odd place with lots of people for nearly three hours, she did quite well. And she slept good (for her) last night so she must have been tuckered out.
If I counted correctly, we had 12 successful whole blood donors and 2 for platelets. In addition, we had a great crew of cheerleaders and snack contributors, and I'm hoping we are attracting some future blood donors. It's really fun to see the group that gathers each time - always a little different with a few that have become our "regulars" and then new people joining each time. It's a very meaningful way to honor and remember Nora with others - some who knew her and many who we have gotten to know in the years since. So count on us doing it again come October!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fathering our girls...

So it's Father's Day - a day to be grateful for the men in my life who have nurtured me (thanks especially Dad!) and for the man who is on this crazy parenting journey with me and who does an incredible job of nurturing our daughters! He's got his hands full, no doubt, but is my inspiration on many a day! I feel grateful to be partnering with someone who has a deeper reserve of patience, knowledge, endurance and better sense of humor than I do! Couldn't do it without him! I love, too, how much he clearly enjoys our girls. The other evening after a rainstorm, he called me from the kitchen. He was outside with the girls and here's what the littlest had discovered:

I think Terah has Jason's love of music! I like music too, but she is clearly powerfully impacted by it. I've only sat at the piano a time or two with her since she was born, but Jason often goes to the piano to plink out a tune or two. So here she is making some music. Towards the end, she clearly wanted some additional inspiration from the song book.

I think our girls have also acquired much of their amazing brain power from their dad. Terah's bringing up the rear and, while different from her older sisters in various ways, seems to be just as sharp as they are.  We are working currently to get her to transition from going potty in the sink to the little potty (the sink worked great when she was a newborn but let's just say that the potty would be better at this point!). She has peed a few times for me now in her little potty but mostly likes to kick her legs, eat the books on the shelf next to her or try to pick up and move around the large leaf bucket. Her feet don't quite touch the ground but she'll scooch forward and try to stand up. Silly baby! See for yourself:

I know for Jason there are many wonderful moments fathering his daughters, as well as some exasperating ones. I won't speak for him, though, but will share one of the challenges I'm currently experiencing with our middle gal. If Kali had not gone through a phase that shared some similarities I might be joining Terah in yanking my hair out. As it is, on my good days I'm trying to find humor in it, remind myself it won't last, take a deep breath and love her through it. It's the "hoarding, I love it, I need it, I'll never have another one like it" phase. And boy is she in it deeply! This doesn't just include treasures that reasonably belong to her and that she might have some use for. It includes shreds of paper, a piece of clothing of mine that I no longer want, a broken hairband, etc... In a moment of inspiration the other day, I told her that she could put the aforementioned broken hairband in her treasure drawer IF I could take a little video of her explaining its importance to her for her to reflect back on later. As she came out after putting it in her drawer, I heard her happily say to herself, "I convinced her." Our silly baby is not the only silly one around here. Enjoy:

So other than keeping track of these growing, maturing (some more quickly than others), fun, creative and curious girls, what's Jason up to?  The daily stuff: chicken chores, piggie care, keeping the toilet emptied, and being the main one to "notice stuff" around our place.  And then there's the gardens...oh the gardens. We now have a spice garden, kitchen garden, main garden, welcome garden, dry land garden, new garden, root field rotations, not to mention the various other plantings here and there to keep up with. Well, to try to keep up with. We are in "pea season" right now. Jason also has worked on some barley harvesting recently. He was pretty pleased the other day to add something else to his list of life activities - putting barley into sheaves.
Fruits are also starting to come in, but the girls and I are trying to keep up with those. Black raspberries are starting, a few red and white raspberries as well as gooseberries, blueberries next door and a great crop of red currants. The girls picked those the other day and the first jams of 2016 (12 little jars of bright red yumminess) have made their way onto the root cellar shelves. It's a colorful, delicious place we live right now! I'm finding we are putting less in the freezers this year, thus far, as appetites have grown in the last year (for the younger generation that is) and it has been a tough spring for the gardens. But it's ramping up, maybe a bit faster than my ability to keep up.

I can't end this without mentioning how wonderful it's been to have my mom around the homestead this week. I've noticed a trend in myself - as the weeks pass with her not around, I feel myself starting to unravel. She arrives and showers love and care and helpfulness on all of us and by the end of the week the world is a brighter place and I feel like I'm coming back together again. It is clear that Alida especially treasures these days (and nights) close to Grandma. She's also clearly got the puzzle gene as I understand they stayed up together last night until 10 p.m. so they could finish the puzzle they were working on. I know it's not mother's day but thanks mom (by far the best Christmas present I've ever received!). Well, a thanks to dad too for sharing her this week while he enjoys a long birding trip!

Ok, out of steam and likely about out of time. Here's a few more pictures with tidbits from the last few days: 
I might not have my mother's depth of interest in having lots of bouquets inside, but I sure do enjoy the colors outside...
Yep, this is what we are up against these days. This gal wants to MOVE!
Still very fond of each other and still very sweet together! 
Every time we do an outdoor fire and make pizza pockets we say we need to do it more often. Enjoyed being joined by Ethan, Joshua, Sabrina and Emily last evening for time around the fire, along with Isaiah and Miranda who were over for a sleepover! Terah was up until 10:30 and was happy. She then nursed peacefully to sleep - couldn't figure that one out but Jason wondered if the wood smoke was calming. If so, we might have to add making an outdoor fire to our evening routine!  
Last but not least, our Father's Day breakfast after the fun sleepover. I've been gushing to Jason how great our kids and their friends are! I hope they keep rubbing off on me...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

8 very full months!

Terah's 8 month birthday was yesterday - 2/3 of a year old! What a busy child she is these days. We are at 6 teeth, pulling to standing, rolling and flopping and scooching all over the place (still moving backwards more than forwards). She is not content to be still for very long - unfortunately that is often the case when she is awake and sleeping (still working on long blocks of sleep for the little one and her mama!). I was just thinking today how I'm not really taking many pictures of the harvests this spring - where are the all green photos of chives, scapes, peas, lettuce, herbs, etc... It's mostly that it's a good day if I just get the harvesting done. Terah is not one to just come along for the ride. She likes the front pack or ergo for limited periods of time and if she is well entertained throughout. If not, she will entertain herself by pulling my hair or reaching for anything she can (pulling pea vines or thornless blackberry flowers off the vine). She is quite the swiper - and often its a smooth motion of swiping and inserting into her mouth. It was not easy for me to get a picture of the four leaf clover Kali found for her today before it was disassembled and partially consumed. So, if previous posts have left any doubt in the reader's mind, she is keeping her big sisters and parents on their toes! Whenever we are anywhere it seems most folks comment on how happy she is. Our response is almost always, "Yes, she is very happy...except when she isn't." She loves to smile and laugh. She is also very ready and willing to let us know when all is not to her liking. I'm glad she has a strong voice - may it serve her well all her life (and may her parents not try to squelch it in their moments of exhaustion or desire to eat one meal in relative peace)!

Here's two of her current favorite activities:

This is how we all get ready for bed before she completely melts down. She will play scoochy-scooch for quite some time.

I have to work pretty hard to keep her happy in her high chair for a full meal. Once she is out of it, she is still quite happy to be entertained by her chair with some arm exercises.

So, what else is going on? Well, we sure are ready and hoping for that "June lull" we have often experienced but it appears that if there will be such a thing it will be of our own making, not because we'll experience a lessening of tasks. We've got the vast majority of the planting done but there is millet to get in, string beans to plant as soon as the hull peas are done and then some transplanting (due to some peppers dying, we think thanks to slugs, and poor winter squash germination). Sugar snap and snow peas are coming in and hull peas right behind them. The lettuce is still marvelously plentiful, but the hot weather is sure to turn it bitter soon. We are eating garlic scape pesto daily and various other pestos (oregano, parsley and basil). The strawberries came and went without much flair - a very poor year with a few containers in the freezer and one batch of jam. So we are rooting for the currants and gooseberries and raspberries and wineberries...

We are feeling grateful for a few things that will give us a little more breathing room - the girls and Jason finished off the spring soccer season yesterday. I think we all feel grateful as the heat was starting to make Saturday games less pleasant - Kali played in 90 degree heat yesterday at 1 p.m. and I think did the best I've seen her play. She even had a break away and got a shot on goal. Yep, I was proud of her - proud of how she has stuck with it and enjoyed it and steadily improved without what I perceive as any anxiety or frustration, just enjoying learning and improving her skills while having fun. What a kid!
Kali's ducklings outgrew the swimming pool so they moved out to the empty half of Kali's duck coop this week. I need to get down their to see them as ducklings, like chicks, don't stay little long. And Alida has some exciting news in the pet department. The other day the girls reported that Alida's chicken Goldie Bean (not sure I'm spelling that right) was acting a little strange - on the nest, ruffling her feather, and growling a bit. Broodie hen behavior!  She has never gone broodie before so this is a bit unusual but just in case Alida went down with Jason that evening and they put fake eggs under her. She's been sitting tight ever since so tonight they'll put real eggs under her and get the incubator going with one more round of eggs. We'll hope for good hatches, as we've had a lot of sub-optimal hatches this year (it's just been a tough spring for growing things - that is except for the baby and our pigs; neither are lagging in growth!).

I'm looking forward to taking most of the rest of this month off from work (my away-from-home job anyway!). We are anticipating our yearly summer trip to Pennsburg to see all the Benners at the end of this month, so happy to all have some time at home before and after that excursion. I'll be working from home most of July and then will get back into a regular work routine in August (currently planning to be in the office two days/week and working from home one day/week). But for now, I'm focusing on the time at home and have high hopes of getting in a little more reading and writing in the weeks ahead during Terah's naps, that have been almost exclusively devoted to office work the last few months. We'll see. Maybe I'll even have a book report to share on the blog at some point. :)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

May family book report by Jason

This book report may challenge our most faithful blog readers! If you stick with it, you may understand why this one was a few months in coming - LOTS of material to work through. Thanks to Jason's study of it, we will hopefully be eater even yummier and even more fruits from our land in the future!  Enjoy whatever amount of the info you wish to that is found below!

I read The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by Michael Phillips with the intention of learning how we might manage to obtain reasonably sound, chemical-free, yummy fruits from our several trees, and with an eye to the possibilities for making more extensive plantings that might also produce reasonably well for us with thoughtful, knowledgeable, and diligent care.Though our rainy spring weather made implementing any of this newfound knowledge impossible in the month of May, I was not disappointed in the contents.  It seemed to me that he was neither alarmist nor irrationally exuberant with regard to the challenges of fruit growing.  His approach, while marching to its own drumbeat and articulated with generous doses of the author’s own idiomatic expression, seemed to me nonetheless a very sensible place to start. It seems helpful for me to relay some tidbits from the many pages of useful writing that were applicable to our situation and needs.  I will organize these quotes and some brief commentary into three sections: Theory and Principles, Wisdom and Discernment, and Matters of Practice.

Theory and Principles

Human Nutrition

“Humans evolved eating fruits and nuts and green plants and the occasional mastodon.  None of these foods was shortchanged nutritionally; every bite had fantastic flavor and substance.  Why we accept anything less in modern-day fare is a result of effective advertising coupled with an outright loss of species intelligence.  You reclaim your nutritional birthright when you plant that first pie cherry tree.  How you grow that fruit in turn determines the nutrient density of your family’s own health prospects.” –XIII-Introduction

Page 16: “Inherent nutrition in the food we eat becomes a degenerative joke when there’s little respect for soil biology.”

The general conclusion from the book seemed to be that healthy trees, well-supplied with a full palette of balanced minerals produce fruits that support human health in wonderful ways.  Fruits that come from trees propped up with chemical disease controls and fertility boosters, on the other hand, can be expected to be found wanting, with repercussions for the people depending on them for nourishment.


He supports the notion of growing plants other than fruit trees in amongst and under the canopy of those trees, though he discourages the dominance of grassy plants in the understory.

Page 26: “Far more space in a diverse orchard planting can be productively utilized than you might otherwise think is possible from listening to the conventional party line, which says that trees must be isolated in rows for maximum production.”

Page 285: “An integrated orchard consists of far more than trees.  The very same woodsy ecology principles apply to all sorts of berries.”


This aspect of fruit tree and berry cultivation has been underappreciated and poorly addressed in any other information I’ve ever come across.  What a helpful perspective!  Of course tree health would be influenced by the soils in which they grow, and of course selecting, preparing, and stewarding such soils ought to be the orchardist’s main tasks.  Why didn’t anybody say so?

“Each tree and fruiting shrub is a system within a system dependent on the vitality of…other life-forms that are invisible to our human eye.”-XII-Introduction

Page 3: “The progression that takes place when microbial feeders restore soil balance—and just where that balance point lies for different plant species—spells out a far more accurate way to grasp plant dynamics than does available mineral fertility as indicated on a typical soil test.”

Page 8: “Most agricultural soils (other than the prairie grasslands) are of forest origin: Soil that has been built from the top down through fungal action undergoes humic stabilization—such soil has staying power and maximized nutrient recycling.  Fruit trees belong in such soils.”

Page 25: “Having the proper mixture of minerals, organic matter, air, and water in the upper layers of the soil—the area where plants grow—is ultimately more important than feeling limited for the rest of your life by poor soil structure.”

Page 60: “Biologists describe soil as a marriage between the mineral world and the organic world.  Many of the elements essential for plant life are provided by the molecular structure of the minerals.  It’s the organic partnership of the microorganism community that transforms these nutrients into bioavailable form.”

Page 61: “It’s the life aspect of the soil that introduces and enforces the whole concept of balanced nutrition, as opposed to the overstocked flooding of the reductionist chemical approach.”

Page 61: “Healthy soil is a biological factory that with time gets richer, increasingly complex, and absolutely sustainable for the long haul…the total amount of a nutrient in the soil is nowhere near as important in terms of the soil’s fertility as is the availability of that nutrient…The untapped minerals in almost any soil—once accessed by a healthy humus complex—are more than sufficient to revitalize every sensible orchard, year after year after year.”


Fruit plantings are widely known to take careful attention in order to produce reliably.  The particulars of this attentiveness are the first thing people want to talk about when discussing home fruit growing.  Mostly this centers on the decision to use conventional chemical sprays or not.  Mr. Phillips thankfully broadened this discussion to include a wider variety of strategies and a deeper understanding of the issues.  His full instructions are too detailed to reproduce here, but I have included some quotes that set the tone.

Page 14: “Our grandparents’ generation didn’t make the turn towards chemical agriculture so much out of dire necessity as out of uncomprehending enthusiasm.”

Page 16: “I’m not going to engage anyone’s beliefs here about what makes for righteous agriculture.  I am, however, going to make clear what happens in the orchard ecosystem when chemicals are relied upon as a primary means of growing fruit.”

Page 16: “Short term solutions merely address symptoms and can never be more than a prop for a sick patient…although they may seem to do good at the time.  Eventually stronger medicine is needed as the system gets weaker from not having relied on its own internal fortitude.”

Page 16: “Perpetuating imbalance takes more effort than some people might wish to admit.”

Page 16: “Natural defense mechanisms abound in a healthy orchard.  Our job as growers is to support the underlying biology and abet diversity.”

Page 107: “Stewarding what needs to be right while intelligently setting limits on what might go wrong describes health-based orcharding to a tee.”

Page 107: “Our foremost task in the home orchard and the community orchard is to build health.”

Page 114: “Disease cycles require knowing the beast you face and from whence it comes.  All of this is why orcharding isn’t necessarily simple…and yet remains so absolutely fascinating and determinedly doable.”

Page 122: “…we actually need low numbers of foliar feeder populations to maintain helpful species to a sufficient degree to keep those same foliar feeders in balance.”

Summing Up

“Organic orcharding can never be a straightforward recipe where you simply follow steps A, B, and C and then pull a delicious apple strudel hot from the oven.  Nature is dynamic…climate is changing…and every ecosystem is localized.  New growing seasons bring shifts in the challenges to be faced.  Every variety will not necessarily thrive where you live.  A key quality of a good fruit grower is the ability to adapt.  What I love about my fruit trees—and all plants—is the listening and the observing.  Seeing the subtleties brought forward by healthy management choices.  Knowing I can adjust my understanding in order to help shape a better biological reality.  Appreciating the gifts of this special place in the universe.  You have that same ability too.  You really, really do.”-XIV-Introduction

Wisdom and Discernment

Mr. Phillips did more than just provide instructions, he offered advice!  Most welcome.  Some of that advice was intended to save readers the trouble of learning some practical strategies the hard way:


Page 19: “Starting small is far better than going for the gusto.  This has always been true of the better home orchardists I’ve known.”

Page 20: “Fruit growing quickly becomes a passion.  Keep it reasonable enough so that you never lose sight of the fun.”

Page 37: “Other fruit growers nearby know far more about what grows dependably in your region than anyone else.  Lessons learned over the course of a lifetime are priceless—being able to tap into such knowledge is a great reason to seek out new friends.”

Page 160: “A few good tools up the pleasure of orcharding considerably.  Spending several hundred dollars for quality equipment makes sense when you think about fruit trees being with you for a lifetime.”

Page 164: “Apple varieties ripen over a period of months, ranging from midsummer to the far end of fall.  Spreading out the harvest across this time gives your family a chance to enjoy a number of different varieties in their prime.”

Page 170: “One multi-variety tree of several summer apples will be a happy choice in a tight home orchard.”

Page 188: “Why bother growing grocery types like Anjou, Bosc, and Bartlett—many of which are fire-blight susceptible, when you can explore a diversity of flavors and sensational textures better suited to your bioregion?”

Page 232: “The wonderful flavor of fully ripened peaches—so delectable you can hardly do anything but stand at the tree and eat away—makes local peach culture a must.”

Page 233: “Being able to stand up to disease pressure matters considerably in choosing good peach varieties for your geographic region.  The telltale woes of bacterial spot, brown rot, peach scab, leaf curl, and canker are best checked by the innate ability of the tree to resist any pathogen in the first place.  But know this:  Varietal resistance shifts somewhat from region to region, not unlike how peak flavor correlates to soil type and that season’s weather.  All indicators are only that.  Given the advantage of across-the-board health resulting from deep-nutrition choices, the peach you love may well be the right peach for you to grow.”

Page 42: “Dwarf trees require limiting vegetative competition, the medicinal support of fungicide, regular irrigation, and trunk support in the form of a stake or trellis.  Semi-standard and seedling trees, on the other hand, require far less fuss in maintaining fungal duff; they procure balanced nutrition and moisture through a vaster root system and thus are more likely to succeed with holistic approaches to disease.”

Page 259: “Settlers…watched young apricot trees bloom in Virginia by the early 1700s.  Some years saw a bumper crop; other years an absolute bust due to normal spring cold…and on that score little has changed since then.”

Page 259: “The plus side of apricot culture certainly makes a thoughtful attempt worth pursuing.  Apricots surely have more flavors packed into each fleshy orb than any other fruit.”

Page 259: “The apricot makes a good urban tree, where the heat island effect often proves the difference in warding off a blossom-killing frost.”

Page 270: “European plums are less likely to be damaged by spring frosts, as these trees bloom a good week later than Asian plums most seasons.”

Page 271: “One of the rarest fruit experiences is a tree-ripened Euro plum.  Seriously.  What’s picked slightly green and hard in the commercial trade is little better than a winter tomato.  You get to experience plum finery only by growing these Old World varieties for yourself.”

Page 284: “No fresh plum keeps particularly well.  Those immediate days after picking the crop are for dribbling juice down your chin, but then decisions must be made as to putting up jam, drying the prune types, or letting fruit flies run amok.  The point here is not to plant more plums than you can enjoy.  A few varieties will be more than plenty for a family.”

Page 285: “Larger plantings [of berries] are invaluable for taking advantage of growth habit, being able to protect against birds, and filling the pantry with the very best jam.”

Page 286: “From North to South, brambles are the perfect home garden plant in many respects.  All are easy to get started, requiring little more than a patch of full sun and some well-drained soil.”

Page 286: “Disease problems rarely overwhelm [brambles] though viruses do indeed set regional longevity parameters.”

Page 308: “Growers in transition zones are advised to grow both southern and northern highbush [blueberries] as each highlights different flavor subtleties.”

Page 316: “Gooseberries are typically used for preserves and pies, somewhat like rhubarb, more than for eating out of hand.  Still, the better cultivars will change even that perception quickly.  And then there’s gooseberry butter:  Heat the berries until the skins pop, then force them through a colander; add sugar in equal proportions to the pulp, and simmer until thick.  Top off a toasted English muffin and you’ll understand far more than mere words can tell.”


Some of his advice was intended to set us straight with regard to assumptions we might be bringing to the cultivation of fruit.

Page 9: “I know, I know.  You have particular ideas about how often the lawn should be mowed.  That all trees shall be in a straight line.  That mulch should be applied uniformly and look tidy.  That one dandelion uninvited is an abomination.  Well, it’s time for you to lighten up!  The appearance of your orchard isn’t about you.”

Page 11: “Human notions of neatness are rarely biological!”

Page 14: “Choosing to spray to sustain system health is different from choosing to spray to kill.  If you’re in the camp that has always regarded “need to spray” as the ultimate reason not to grow fruit, shift gears, please.”

Page 111: “…dealing up front with any lingering reluctance around spraying will be pivotal for your success as a health-focused orchardist.”


Sometimes it helps to take a step back and think in more general terms about what we’re trying to accomplish here, and this allows us to choose our approach proactively.

Page 20: “Be patient about this.  Everything isn’t going to go right.  Recognize such learning opportunities as a chance to do better next year.  In fact, be stubborn about this.  Every back-to-the-lander quickly learns that something else does go right in that very same season.  Nature gives and nature takes.  Here’s a beautiful argument for an even wider diversity of fruit plantings, to gain the best crop insurance going for your family.”

Page 37: “Think about what it means to stretch roots into rich soil, to develop fruit buds with vigor, to close cambium tissue across a graft.  It’s that oneness with the tree that accomplishes far more than descriptive words alone can achieve.”

Page 107: “You’ll come back here many times and find yourself now ready to hear that next bit of guidance about a particular challenge.  Just as trees grow slowly, you too are developing a strong branch structure as an orchardist over the course of time.”

Page 334: “Learning to prune, making woodsy compost, identifying what pests are on hand…none of this comes easy at first.  You learn by doing.  Just as a fruit tree needs to build good wood structure in those early years, you are building ecosystem understanding and personal confidence through genuine experience.”

Page 339: “We don’t need to guess about what’s going right for our trees or the quandaries that inevitably pop up.  We observe, we ask questions, we learn, and eventually, yes, perhaps we even comprehend…all of which should lead to a deeper appreciation of this beautiful creation.  That attitude alone can lead to success at procuring the gifts of this good life for family and community.  Don’t be overcome by learning-curve insistence on orcharding challenges.  Much of this takes time.  The biological lessons presented here become obvious to those eager to grasp the connectiveness of it all.  Listen to what the trees and the microbes tell you to be true.  Trust your inner druid to guide you in these ways.  Growing healthy fruit is for thinking people who embrace being a part of something slightly more than wonderful.”

Matters of Practice
And then there’s the how-to component:


Page 6: “Fruit plantings happen in one of two ways.  The go-getter turns the lawn under and, plop, the trees and assorted berries are in.  No real transition towards the fungal state occurs prior to the nursery order being made and delivered.  The soil biology can recover from such unbridled enthusiasm—it’s not “wrong” to do this—but soil preparation prior to planting offers certain advantages worthy of consideration.”

Page 19: “The absolutely ideal site for fruit trees might not exist at your place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with reasonable accommodation...Favoring biological advantage will always be the driving imperative behind orchard layout.”

Page 26: “A broad mix of species belongs under and within the vicinity of fruit trees.  You can make deliberate choices here to reflect a certain look, or you can trust serendipity (enhanced by introduced species left to go to seed) to bring a diverse understory to the fore.”

Page 33: “Wild corners should be granted due diligence—a dear friend once told me to always leave a place for the fairies to dwell.”

Page 53: “A wee bit of mycorrhizal root investment is a worthy idea, because all commercial rootstocks lack this basic biological connection.  Planting fields are fumigated, tilled, and otherwise manipulated as a matter of course.  Very few nurseries in turn choose to inoculate the trees created by grafting onto rootstock purchased from these big commercial propagators.  The soil where you’re planting an orchard doesn’t necessarily lack the mycorrhizal species needed for fruit trees—that depends on landscaping history and the proximity of other tree roots.  Yet jumpstarting a barren root system makes sense to me, as it can take several years for disturbed soil to otherwise be restored in this important fungal respect.”

Page 242: “Siting for shade is a far different notion from creating a microclimate facing due south in hopes of assured warmth.  The best place to consider growing a peach is in the winter shadow of your house or barn, a conifer stand, or what have you.”

Too much detail on this subject to treat properly here, but here’s one more generalized gem:

Page 87: “Evaluating the light space between branches and competing shoots—and thereby considering how the chosen limb will develop to fill this space—has helped me more than any other pruning parameter in making good decisions.  Pruning rules (about vertical shoots and the like) are useful up to a point.  But it’s only when you grasp what happens beyond the moment of the cut that you truly become effective from the tree’s point of view.”

Plant Health

Mr. Phillips’ emphasis on fruiting plant health and his recommended strategies clearly set him apart from the crowd, and are bound to win him a devoted following, though I am sure his descriptions of how to go about this have also convinced some that this is too much trouble!

Page 141: “Non-aerated compost tea won’t satisfy purists, but I do see a place for this simple brew in orchard culture.  This liquid extract of compost requires none of the fussiness of the aerated version.  A few shovelfuls of rich compost soaked for a day or two in a 5-gallon bucket, stirred on occasion, then strained, yield a less defined yet still helpful range of organisms to enhance leaf decomposition beneath the trees in the fall.”

Page 150: “Wet springs will always be a fungal challenge.”

Page 152: “There are times in the organic orchard when you may think it best to reach for old-school ways.  That’s okay in the short term.  Just understand there will be more and more biological ramifications the farther you go down this road.”

Page 246: “Barrier protection for stone fruits needs to be in place prior to petal fall on apples.”

Page 257: “The successful nectarine grower will find trap tree selection paramount in making organic approaches work.”

Page 283: “Plum borer larvae tend to be somewhat gregarious; spotting as many as twenty larvae around a single wound site is not uncommon.”

Tricks of the Trade
A few things we might not have automatically known:

Page 250: “…flavor is accentuated by a degree of water stress going into harvest.  Conditions that are overly lush do not bring out the flavor profile of any fruit.”

Page 254: “Painting trunks white in fall to lessen the chances of southwest injury also works to delay the awakening of buds in spring.  This effect can be amplified with early applications of refined kaolin clay throughout the tree well before any sign of bud swell.”

Page 259: “Tree-ripened fruits will keep in premium condition for three to five days after picking.  Refrigeration extends this to two weeks, though the fruit will be far from its best after serving time in the tundra.”

Page 284: “Plums do not continue to ripen completely after being picked and so, just like all the other stone fruits, should be picked fully tree-ripe to taste their best.  Picked underripe, plums will still soften and some of their complex carbohydrates may break down to sugars, but those changes are more akin to the first stages of rotting than the flavor changes associated with true ripening.  That’s what you buy in the supermarket, but not what you should be picking in your own garden of eden.

Page 333: “Every orchardist needs to create a task checklist to keep biological timing of orchard tasks throughout the year clearly prioritized….Knowing what to do when becomes far more manageable when you take the time to organize your thoughts on paper.”


I was quite relieved to read Mr. Phillips’ several reassurances that orcharding is a discipline that has to grow on you, or rather you have to grow into it.  A person would be well justified feeling intimidated about the prospect of jumping in with both feet, I do declare.  I personally do not feel prepared to act with confidence after even this fairly comprehensive treatment of the subject.  It will require an open mind, reflective character, opportunity, patience, and time.  The good thing is that most of those factors, minus the time, are probably safely declared as being in place.  Therefore I am encouraged to believe that our farm becoming productive of delicious, usable, and healthy fruit from various species is only a matter of time.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

June 4 came around again

Well the weather is very fitting for this 8th anniversary of Nora's death. Soon after Nora died, a large thunderstorm made its way through Charlottesville.  On the first anniversary of her death, Jason and I went to Riven Rock park out 33 west and sat in a pavilion reading all the cards that had been sent to us. It was rainy that day. Today, all 5 of us made our way to the same spot. I enjoyed the storms. Alida was not so sure about them. The time there was not nearly as relaxing as when Jason and I went alone, and our brief hike down the trail ended with two of our three kiddos falling apart. However, when we first got there Terah and Alida had fallen asleep in the car and Jason joined them in slumber so Kali and I got to enjoy a few games together. When they woke, we all enjoyed a picnic lunch together - Terah even successfully swiped some sour dough bread when none of us were paying close enough attention - so we'll not only be adding grapes but also sourdough bread to her ever expanding food list! We didn't leave Riven Rock any too soon, as we drove through lots of standing water on our way back to Harrisonburg. But my spirits didn't feel dampened by it. I was grateful for some alone time earlier in the week during one of Terah's naps to be with the memories and emotions. Today I was glad to just be present to my family in this crazy, chaotic, unpredictable, fun, hard, and exciting season of our lives.
It's been a particularly crazy week, and for a number of reasons (some baby related and some due to other circumstances), Jason and I both found ourselves rather sleep deprived on the morning of this anniversary. Jason set out for soccer with the girls and Terah and I were joined by three of my close women friends (we gather quarterly for breakfast). Today felt like a precious time - a walk followed by a delicious potluck brunch and then we all went to donate blood together. I am so very grateful for these friendships that have supported and sustained me for many years now!

It has been almost 2 years since I was able to give successfully - low iron, veins not cooperating and my most recent pregnancy with Terah were all factors. The longer I don't give blood, the more I get nervous about it. But I was more nervous a week or so ago than I was this morning. I was actually surprised how relatively calm I felt. I also was really, really hoping to be able to give successfully again in honor of Nora and get back into the routine of giving as that had become a very meaningful ritual for me. I credit being surrounded by wonderful friends for both my calm and my success. It went great and I've been riding on a bit of post-donation-success euphoria since!

Terah wasn't all that pleased that she was not allowed to be in my arms from the time I was stuck until I was done donating. Even just my voice across the room set her off so she took a little jaunt outside with Virginia until I was needle free. She's a mama's girl these days, that's for sure! So I have not been heading the advice of not lifting heavy things for awhile after donating! She was also taken with the red bandage on my arm; one of the many distractions from nursing today!

So her new news is that at Riven Rock park she flung her head back (a common thing these days) and I noted that she sprouted a 5th tooth on the top that none of us had even noticed.  Maybe that was the cause of the two bad nights earlier this week?  So she sprouted one and Alida lost her first tooth!  She may not be thrilled right now that I am mentioning this here as she hasn't wanted folks to comment on her lost tooth (but I'm banking on her feeling differently years down the road when she wants to remember how old she was when she lost her first tooth). For the first hour after it came out, she was whining and bemoaning how it didn't feel good and she wanted it back in. Changes, changes!  Growing up is hard!!  She has since adjusted and is quite cute with her little hole in front. The other bottom middle is loose, so likely the gap will widen before too long.

The rain has stopped for now and the birds are singing! We won't be doing any outside work this evening, so I'm hankering for enjoying mugs of decaf coffee together.  The weeding will wait...even longer!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Life is full of discoveries

...especially for the littlest among us!

One of the things she is discovering is how fun it is to make a royal mess!  She is really getting into food - both eating it and playing with it and smooshing it and smearing it.  This year's strawberry crop is rather abysmal, but we've enjoyed eating some fresh (in honor of my Grandma and Grandpa Myers we finished off our box of cheerios last night with milk and fresh strawberries). Kali picked enough one day this week for a batch of strawberry freezer jam. I was not sure how I'd accomplish making jam with Terah along for the ride so I plopped her in her high chair and gave her a berry. Here's how she entertained herself (once she was done putting strawberries in her mouth).

Kali's out searching for berries once again amidst the weeds. There was one gigantic berry in the front walk everbearing patch that we split 5 ways last evening!  In general, though, our patch is declining and all the rain has made the slugs extra happy and prolific, so we are grateful for any that we get. Ok, now that I have just said one thing that hasn't gone so wonderfully this year I better practice my anniversary commitment to Jason and comment on something that is going well!  Our lettuce is keeping us in scrumptious salads daily and the garlic scapes are coming in - I hope to make a batch of fresh garlic scape pesto this evening! The corn, squash, cucumbers, melons, dill, okra, cilantro and sweet potatoes are finally in the ground. The onions are weeded and mulched and the potatoes and asparagus are hilled and mulched. I promise, I'm working hard to focus on all those successes and not the project list and the vast amounts of weeding begging for our attention!  The sunshine has encouraged me to pull the solar dryer out from under the roof overhang and I've got my first gallon jar of dried peppermint tea in the pantry and there is a round of oregano waiting to be jarred up when Terah wakes!

Speaking of Terah, unless she is sleeping (and even sometimes then) she is on the go!  This gal is focused on getting mobile!  Yesterday we had a little picnic in the yard and she started up on the blanket with us and before long had ooched over her blanket and onto the grass. She is so far mostly going side to side and backwards (and has the knack for getting herself under the futon - why do kids seem so drawn to getting themselves under pieces of furniture?). So finding ways to keep her happy and contained has been a bit of a challenge.  It was wonderful to have mom around this week as she always discovers some new tricks when she is caring for Terah!  This past visit's new hit was a little wooden cart (I had more or less forgotten was in the garage).  Terah has had a lot of fun rides in it and it helps to get some harvesting done or laundry on and off the line.  Though she doesn't sit still long if the cart is sitting still - so keeping her from catapulting herself out of it is not always easy.
After our little picnic last evening we took a rare family walk together. Terah is really enjoying walks which is great. She likes to ride front facing in the pack holding my index fingers - one in each of her little hands. It's very sweet. It was exciting to have daddy and both big sisters along, so no napping happened on this walk. This meant that our evening came to an end the way many seem to these days - a mad rush to get all the evening things done before the baby completely melts down (there was laundry to fold, butter to shake, dishes to do, chores to wrap up, as well as getting a little more food in everyone while slipping in a few rounds of Phase 10. I'm eager for her to be able to be tired without completely losing it (it will come!).

Before I end, just a few more highlights of recent days!  It was so wonderful to reconnect with Adam (those times always feel too short with too much time in between). One of my favorite memories was watching Kali and Adam discuss the math problems that Adam got from his dad (a math instructor) and mailed to Kali. She completed them, snail mailed them back, Adam solved them and brought them along to discuss the discrepancies. This even involved a phone call to his dad to discuss some aspects of the problems and a number of dictionaries to check definitions (since Kali feels that googling something is cheating!). They both seemed to be having a grand time, and I had little pangs of wishing he lived closer!

Ending on a happy note - is there anything more thrilling than peas in full bloom? They are over the tops of the trellises in the kitchen garden and looking marvelous. But the thornless blackberries in the bed up from them, are in close competition with their beauty and vibrancy. One thing I love about growing a wide diversity of things is that if one thing doesn't have a good year (e.g. strawberries) in all likelihood something else will thrive under the conditions that didn't work for the other crop.  The beauty and strength of diversity is quite evident around here right now!