Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh Manure! It's Spring!

Sign of Spring
I know spring is here to stay:
The ducks were tails-up all the day,
Kicking their feet like paddlewheels
To take their underwater meals.

They waved their yellow feet in the sun
And let their handsomeness all run
Down in their bills for all they were worth
And turned to a mouthful of sweet earth.

When they came up to take new air
And bow to one another there,
They did not stand long on decorum
But plunged in the merriment before them.

The willows were too green at the top;
Robins found earthworms every hop;
You could not expect a duck to be
A model of serenity!
Robert P. Tristram Coffin

I found this poem tucked inside a recipe book many years ago. I was tempted to share it with you the other day, for Maine's "Birthday," because the author is none other than Maine poet Robert P. Tristram Coffin.
Robert P.T. Coffin was a writer, professor and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, born and educated in Brunswick, Maine. Coffin is best known as a writer of more than three dozen works of prose, poetry and history. In 1924, he published his first volume of poems, followed by 39 others. In 1936, when he was 44 years old, he won the the Pulitzer Prize for his book Strange Holiness.
On this first day of spring, I would like to direct you to The New England Wild Flower Society. Not only do they offer native plants for your garden, they also manage ten sanctuaries in four New England states. Nine are open to the public. One of those sanctuaries is in Woolwich Maine, established in the name of Robert P. Tristram Coffin.
...Robert P. Tristram Coffin Wild Flower Reservation , Woolwich, Maine: Hilly woods, a brook, and 1,256 feet of sandy shore and tidal marsh make up this 177-acre sanctuary, which borders lovely Merrymeeting Bay. Over 100 species of flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs--including pink lady’s slipper, yellow violet and white baneberry--grow on the site, which is located along a migratory flyway for water fowl. Other features of interest include a lovely cobbled cove, hemlock stands, and a swamp...

"Agriculture is the most Healthful, the most Useful, the most Noble Employment of Man."
George Washington; Pioneer Farmer

Fishing Creek Green House

At what precise moment in time do you determine that a person you meet will become more than an acquaintance. Perhaps a friend? How do you decide? A glimmer of the eye, a reassuring smile or a few chosen words? What makes the difference; acquaintance, friend? For me it was a few chosen syllables. No sooner had Katie finished her words, Do I have luscious manurer for you," that I knew, in that instance, that Katie and I were to be friends.
I'm a firm believer in manurer. Oh, I know, it's not something one speaks about in "mixed" company but, hey, sometimes someone must just grab the bull by the horns. This evening, that someone is me. Yes, we are going to speak about the unspeakable, manure; amongst other things:)
Manure is an excellent fertilizer. It nourishes the soil by adding organic matter brimming with all kinds of nutrients. It improves the soil's structure, helps with aeration and water retention. And, let's face it, manure is a necessary by-product of the dairy industry.

A few of Katie's Cows:)

Katie and her family are dairy farmers. Each and every member of her family contributes to the workings of the farm. The kids, there are five, three girls and two boys, tend to their chores with as much gusto as I attack a bag of Reese's. I suppose this is not so out of the ordinary for "country folk" but for a "city girl" like me, it's simply fascinating. Like a well tuned machine, you can feel the rhythm of the earth the moment you spy the 100 acre farm in the distance.

I've been spending the past couple of weeks "playing" at the greenhouse with Katie and her family. I was a bit apprehensive at first because, although I have a few home gardening projects under my belt, I by no means consider myself a "pro." Katie, on the other hand is a natural. Follow me as we explore

Fishing Creek Green House.

That building in the background is the Amish Schoolhouse. Katie's oldest daughter, Anna, sometimes helps as a teacher's assistant. Nai, is just a few years younger than Anna and when it comes to arts and crafts or playing on the playground, the kids cheer when Nai arrives. Cat, the youngest daughter attends this school also. Cat loves to bake cookies and is quite talented when it comes to fixing any and all kinds of machinery. A few weeks ago, she had no choice but to deliver a new born calf when the rest of her family was at a funeral in Lancaster County. I asked her about the experience when I heard and she just smiled. She's still a bit shy...Arl is the oldest of the boys, he too is a bit shy but is slowly warming up to the "English" lady who teases him about being the next great Pennsylvania artist. What he doesn't say in words, he transcends in his "doodles." I'm going to ask him one day if he would mind if I show them to you.
Sam, the youngest boy is the picture of vigor. I can't wait for him to meet my grandson, Noah. Last week while we were potting begonia's, he was quite the little helper pulling out the young plugs and gingerly handing them to me as we transplanted. He confided in me that Begonia's were not his favorite flowers. I asked him what flowers he like the best and he shrugged his shoulders and simply said, I haven't seen it yet." The next day when I returned, I thanked him with a Venus Fly Trap Plant. We didn't have time to "play" with it yet but last I spoke to Katie, she said the boys were quite fascinated with their new carnivore.

That's Katie all the way at the other end of the greenhouse. The lovely girl walking toward us is Cat. Katie said I could share this picture if I just gave Cat's face a little smudge:) The rest of the family hid behind me while I snapped this photo:)

I met Katie last growing season when I was in search of organic fertilizer for my new flower bed. As we chatted, she explained to me that she had considered various ways of supplementing the family's income before finally deciding on nurturing seedlings as a way of staying true to her farming roots.

After a successful first year, Katie and her family have outdone themselves this year. Their selection of plants includes everything from culinary herbs to aquatic plants with "Wave Petunias" and Ornamental Grasses squeezing in for my attention too! It gives me great pleasure knowing the conversation pro and con for organic vs. synthetic fertilizers will never occur. It is one I grow tired of defending.

These hanging baskets are waiting to be transferred over to one of the other green houses. Yes, there are three.

Fishing Creek Green House will be opening for business on March 30th. I can't wait! Katie has had many inquiries from local residents who are anxiously awaiting the Grand Opening. The other day Katie had a visit from Penn State Master Gardener, Tina Clinefelter, who also writes a column for the local newspaper, The Lock Haven Express. She featured Katie's endeavors in an article she posted on her Keystone Gardening Blog. I've run into Tina more than once or twice as she also volunteers at our local Cooperative Extension. I had planned on attending a few of Tina's classes this year but it looks like I'll be getting some hands on experience right in my own backyard!
One day while Katie and are were rearranging one of the green houses, we assumed the girls were tending to the cows. Little did we know they were off baking sugar cookies to surprise us with. It was one of those iffy days, rain, sun, whisks of snowflakes. Imagine our delight when they arrived with a plate full of freshly baked sugar cookies topped with an ever so slight sprinkling of cinnamon. It was a tough decision but I chose not to weather the run down to the car to get my camera to take a picture of those yummy cookies. I did however ask Cat if she would part with the recipe. "Sure" she said. "I'll go get the book." Lo and behold, this is the book she returned with. It also just happens to be just like the one sitting on my cookbook shelf:)

Sugar Cookies for a Crowd

The Amish expect unannounced company. They are seldom caught unprepared with their bountifully stocked canning shelves and flourishing gardens.
One efficient and experienced cook has found a way to both entertain and feed her guest. "I mix a big batch of sugar cookies and only bake half of them at a time. The other half I keep in the refrigerator for up to two or three weeks. What i like is if someone comes then you have something to do. And the cookies are much better, too, when they're fresh!"

4-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups lard, melted
2 cups sour cream
8 eggs
3 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons cream of tartar
9 cups flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
pinch of salt
Cream the sugar and lard. Add the sour cream and eggs and beat well. Stir in the reamining ingredients and mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 325 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
FYI: According to The National Confectioners Association, March 20th kicks off American Chocolate Week!

P.S. Drop by the trashmaster blog for a chance to win composting books. They look GREAT!!!