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!!!


  1. So nice to see all the pictures! Love the ducks :)

    Happy Spring, Louise!

  2. Beautiful shots of the farm, Louise! Wasn't yesterday lovely - although today we seem to be in the shadow of winter once again. Funny that you mention the natural "fertilizer" -- we had our spring pot luck at Restoration Farm yesterday, and one of the staff was singing the praises of manure!

  3. Wonderful photos! I need to call and see when our local greenhouse is opening, if just to visit.

  4. Louise your post speaks to my heart; love the name of their business: Fishing Creek Green House.
    Enjoyed so much reading of your adventure and those cookies sound so good. Smart idea of keeping 1/2 the batter in the fridge for next time; just like our refrigerator cookies. A very good read;thank you.

  5. Happy Spring! Happy Chocolate Week!! Loved the history and the greenhouses. One of my favorite professor in college was a Tristram Coffin, professor of folklore...

    And.. I have someone in my book group who is married to a Coffin in the famous Maine family (middle name Tristram. Small world.

  6. wow that is a big cookie recipe - and I love your present of a venus fly trap - what a novel present

  7. Oh, the ducks! Gosh, I miss living on a creek with ducks around all the time. Maybe someday...

  8. It has been raining here in CA since the start of Spring :(

    I love the greenhouse. I smell freshness already!

  9. Well, well! From New Yorker to hanging around with Amish farmers in one year! I'm proud of you!

    We'll try a garden again this year. I hope the stinkin' deer and rabbits don't eat all of my plants again.

  10. That Amish cookery book must be very interesting! I bet it contains many great recipes.

    Spring landscapes! I love the countryside.



  11. Nice pictures of spring and pots... !

  12. My Mom has this book! The green houses are beautiful - they all sound sweet - like 'gems'. Definitely the kind of friends you keep.

  13. I was interested in the comment about how no Amish woman is ever unprepared for unannounced company. Here's an idea that I use that won't take up room in your fridge. Make cookie dough, form dough into balls. Put the balls on a cookie sheet and stick in the freezer until frozen. Remove them from the cookie sheet and put them into a Ziploc Freezer bag. Label the bag with the name of the cookie, the temperature at which they bake, and baking time, adding five extra minutes to the normal baking time to allow for their having been frozen. Do this with a variety of cookie doughs and you'll be able to bake up three varieties all on one cookie sheet and really wow your guests! Love your blog, thanks for adding mine to your blog list.

  14. Happy Spring !
    You are lucky to have such a charming family as neighbors !

  15. Wow! Love the signs of spring...and such amazing photos. I can't wait to get my hands into the earth this year :D Sounds like a good book, too...I'll look for it!

  16. Louise I love your pictures and love ducks! Happy spring! we are begining Autumn and I love it!
    Love your book of Amish recipes, is a nice book.
    Hope you will be better soon of your dentist surgery! gloria

  17. According to my daughter, spring has fled once again with some snow in its place! But it won't be long now before it's back.
    Loved reading about your friend Katie and seeing the photos.
    Also...the cookbook looks marvelous. Such a simple and elegant cookie! Perfect with tea!

  18. Love the pictures. What a great greenhouse. Love the cookie recipe.

  19. I'm glad you like spring as much as me!

  20. The post was wonderful, but I especially enjoyed the photos of the farm and your cookie recipe. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  21. I read your blog and I have not liked the link to the google translator, but I'm just comesso and learning how to create a blog. Thanks

  22. thanks for the ideas in new england!

  23. The ducks are so cute! And, what a gorgeous selection of plants in the greenhouse.

  24. Happy Spring, Selba Thanks for visiting!!!

    Mine too duckie.

    That beautiful day seems long ago, T.W. I won't even mention there is snow in the forecast...I can definitely understand a conversation built around manure at Restoration Farm. If only it was worth its weight in gold as it should be!!!

    Go visit a greenhouse, Chan. It's guaranteed to chase those winter blues away!

    Thank you Rita. I'm so glad you enjoyed this post. Katie and her family live on Fishing Creek so it is a perfect name for their new adventure.

    Happy Birthday Janet! A small world indeed.

    The boys are having such fun with the Venus Fly Trap, Johanna. When I go to Idaho for Easter, I'll be buying two for my grandchildren. It's amazing the conversations that come up while patiently waiting for its "dinner." A future present for Sylvia, indeed:)

    There are plenty of creeks and ducks, trashmaster. Come on down or is it up???

  25. Thanks for the giveaway link. As for going up or down to visit you - I'm in Oregon. Which direction are you?

  26. Spring hasn't quite sprung here either tigerfish. Thankfully, I have the greenhouse to visit for a quick, albeit temporary, "fix."

    Why thank you Marjie. I hope the wild life leaves your plants alone this year too. We don't want to have to sic Thor on them!!!

    The Amish book is overflowing with tidbits and recipes, Rosa.

    Nothing compared to yours, Sonia. Your images are captivating!!!

    It's a GREAT book, Reeni. When will you baking from it? I'd love to nibble...

    That is a GREAT idea, Pattie. I use to do that when the kids were younger and for our annual Christmas Open House. I'm surprised I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder. And, thank you for your kind words. Drop by anytime...

    Thanks Sidney. YES I am!!! Is it Spring where you are?

    I can tell you one thing, girlchef. There won't be any playing in the dirt in central PA this weekend. I dare not say why but it begins with an S...

    Autumn is my second favorite time of year Gloria. I'm looking forward to some autumn dishes as long as they're over at your blog!!! I'm feeling much better, thank you.

    I'm thinking we may just slide into summer, Barbara. I'll take it!!!

    Thanks for dropping in Tiffanee. I'm delighted you enjoyed your visit...

    We agree on lots of things, duckie. Take dancing for instance...

    I'm really enjoying my time on the farm, Mary. It almost confirms what I've always believed about myself. I'd never make a farmer's wife!!!

    Well, enjoy :) and let us know when you are ready for visitors:)

    You are welcome, SimpleLife. Thanks for dropping by...

    They were/are cute Lisa. They don't even budge when you get up close to them. Thanks for stopping by...

  27. You are more than welcome, trashmaster. I wish I would have thought of it sooner.

    Oregon! Oh goodness, I'm in PA!

  28. Impressive greenhouse. I'd love to visit that one day and take a close look on those plants and herbs.
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  29. Oh how I wish I were in that greenhouse right now, Gabrielle. it really is special. The herbs are my favorite!!!


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise