Stoney Creek Iris

Friends of Katie Festival, 2011 edition

Posted by katie at 2011.05.22 1915
I want to preface this by thanking Shawna for sending me some beautiful pictures from our two-day event.  I had a camera hooked to my belt loop all weekend.....and totally forgot to take pictures.

We had a nice crowd and a lot of iris and seedlings found new homes!  Here's a shot of the tomato and pepper seedling tables, which held over 3000 4" pots at the weekend's start:


Waldorf and Statler, the new kittens (the names come from the Muppet Show, do you remember the two old guys in the balcony?) provided entertainment and fur therapy.


While the rain didn't stay away the entire weekend, it was limited to a brief shower on Friday night.  Then we were rewarded with this spectacular rainbow!  Notice the young couple in the left corner taking advantage of a little rainbow magic.


Hydroponic iris gardening

Posted by katie at 2011.05.22 1036


There is no reason why the beds should be this beautiful this year.  Spring has been cold and ridiculously wet; given what's going on along the Mississippi right now I certainly can't complain, but we've had standing water in our fields for weeks.  And yet, somehow, the iris are stunning.


Not kidding about the water, though.  Here's a shot of me sinking into the ground as I'm trying to photograph a new-to-me iris, and a shot a few seconds after I managed to extricate myself.  Do you think the Muck Boot company would give me a sponsorship for endorsing their products?



How to order iris during a recession.

Posted by katie at 2011.03.18 1043
First:  do not order multiple rhizomes of any one variety. They multiply cheerfully and enthusiastically.  Delay the gratification, for one extra year, of the big impact that multiples can make.  It will happen.  With iris, the anticipation is part of the package, after all.

Second:  I've had to increase the price of the newest offerings, but I have not, and will not, raise the prices of the earlier ones.  You can find many $4 iris.  I have a very few with crazy high prices, in the 7-12 dollar range, because of either limited selection or because those are newer varieties.  Those will come down in price next year or the year after.  If you're watching your budget, wait for them.

Third:  while there is no minimum order, you'll pay a $5 shipping charge on orders less than $20.  So......don't do that!  Find a couple of friends, each of you pick out one different one, place one order, and plan to share the offspring in two years.  Put a date on your calendar, and buy a bottle of wine and sock it away to be opened at your iris-sharing party.  Or whatever.

Fourth:  if you just want some cool iris, and you're willing to take potluck and get unnamed varieties, fire an email my way (there's a contact link at the top of the home page) and ask for the Recession Special.  Every year I've got a few that I cannot sell through the site because the tags were stolen by raccoons or knocked over by a soccer ball, or someone somewhere's made an error along the way.  They're nice healthy plants.  I've got no idea what the heck they are.   I toss them in a corner plot and let them fend for themselves.  They come back every year and bloom their little hearts out.  I always intend to photograph them, tag them, and match them up to their labeled counterparts elsewhere in the gardens, but I never seem to get that done.  For $20, I would dig out and ship 10 of these.  You might get duplicates, but I'd try to dig them from different places to minimize that chance.  They'll certainly be strong iris, because they're the survivors in a patch that isn't weeded or fertilized at all.

And finally, if you have an overabundance of a named variety, and can back that up with a photo, I often purchase iris from private collectors.  I can't pay more than $1.00 a rhizome, or it isn't worth my time to propagate it further - I don't turn over any iris that haven't bloomed here so I can verify them, so there's a long return period on my investment.  I know it doesn't sound like much money.   But I don't have very much either, and this is what I can offer.  If you have a big batch you're dividing and haven't another option, it might be worth your time.

No, Vogue. I'm not your Girl.

Posted by katie at 2011.01.04 1221
Got a postcard in the mail the other day notifying me that I'd been chosen to receive a free designer handbag if I purchased a subscription to Vogue magazine.  A special offer for a special Girl! it crowed.


Me?  Really? Come on.  I mean, it's like I'm the anti-Vogue.  Seriously.  There's probably a picture of me on a bulletin board in the editor's office, with a note reminding the staff "if she's interested in it, it does NOT belong in our magazine!"  And a designer handbag? I have purchased one handbag in my entire adult life, at a charity shop in Cheltenham, England, because I needed a place to keep my passport and camera other than my jeans pocket.  I wore it strapped across my body like an ammo clip for the remainder of the trip because I was afraid if I set it down anywhere I'd lose it, then brought it home, and tossed it in a closet.  It is unlikely that it was a designer bag, but I suppose it might have been. I didn't look.  All I remember is that it was black.

Neighbor Samantha didn't get a postcard.  I know this, because she's not home right now and I'm picking up her mail.  Neither did Neighbor Betty - I asked.  Gee.  I must really be special.

Or not.  My self esteem isn't based on whether I get kudos from other people whose self esteem is based on having a magazine tell them what to wear.  I understand that it's important to many people to know what color and hem length is in fashion.  We're hardwired to want to belong somewhere, we all need to belong somewhere, and we all define our tribe differently.  Mine isn't that group of people, but I don't think less of someone who considers it important.  I'm not writing this (or, I hope, anything else on this blog) from the perspective of "I'm right and they're wrong."

But two thoughts did come to mind today while I was outside doing the January ritual of 'little fires', a totally unsupportable (ecologically) habit of torching small brush piles on every January morning with decent weather.  It lets me clean up clutter, and gives me a chance to lean on the rake and think while I'm tending the flames.  Leaning on the rake feels like working, because the little fire's still burning, but it's not.  I'm listening for birds and trying to read the sky for weather changes and deciding what's going to be for dinner and just enjoying being outside.  There's definitely something primal happening psychologically, too, as I burn up the debris and weed-mistakes of the past year.

So I'm leaning on my rake this morning thinking about special offers for special Girls, and it occurs to me that it's kind of reassuring in a world where our every purchase is tracked and so much information's gathered about us that some marketing group could have gotten it so utterly, entirely wrong. Maybe Big Brother's a little myopic after all.  And that's okay.

And then,'s kind of nice to get a reminder every now and then that we're not locked in.  That we could, if we wanted to, make a big change - something many of us think about at the start of the new year.   A wonderful and unsettling difference between my life and my great-grandmother's is that I have many divergent paths from which to choose at many points in my life.  I could, I suppose, embrace the culture of Vogue magazine if I wished.  I don't wish to, but it's weirdly sweet to remember that I have options.

The gift of the night sky

Posted by katie at 2010.11.06 0901
We added a puppy to the menagerie this summer, because there just wasn't enough to do around here.  I expected the chewing and the leash training and various other puppy issues, and I looked forward to the cuddling.  But Finian gave me something I hadn't expected at all.

For the first two months, Finian required a tinkle trip at roughly 3 am.  Sometimes, two trips, at about 2 and 4 am.  By now, he's sleeping through the night, but for awhile it was depressingly predictable.  Just about the time I'd really hit a good REM sleep, I'd hear him start to whine.  Now, I'm decidedly not a morning person, let alone a middle-of-the-night person.  But housetraining this little guy has been a breeze, and I wasn't about to ignore a call for distress, so out we'd go.

And that's when I discovered how amazing, how utterly freaking amazing, my little farm is at 3 am.  I learned the difference between various stages of the moon, how a full moon could make tiny lettuce plants look as if they were glowing in the dark.  How you could see stars when the moon was dark that you can't see otherwise.  How you can tell time by placing the constellations in the night sky.  What a fingernail moon looks like peeking through the branches of a 100 foot pine tree.  How many deer casually stroll around the place at night, as if it's theirs.  Which, mortgage payments aside, it is.  I watched raccoons playing with the basket of clothespins on the little table by the clothesline.  I heard two kinds of owls I didn't know we had here. I learned that turkeys make little grumbly noises in their sleep.  I looked at vegetable beds in the moonlight and felt them growing, and realized it was one of the few times I looked at those beds without feeling an obligation to go work in them.  I could see moonlit iris fans - they really catch the light - from hundreds of yards away.

There is an entire world out there that I'd missed, other than the occasional very late night home after a trip, or maybe checking out something that went bump in the night.   Inevitably, I winced when Finn woke me up, but by the time we got outdoors, my perspective changed. In all honesty, I'm glad I can sleep all night through again.  But I'm also glad to have been given this gift.

His eye is on the....chicken?

Posted by katie at 2010.04.06 1702
Once again, dignity eludes me.

My brass quintet had several Easter gigs, one of which was at the Church of the Stiff Upper Lip - they're probably all lovely people, but you've got to picture it, it would be a cathedral if this were a denomination that used the word, a massive imposing Gothic style cathedral.  The men wore nearly identical suits, the women wore gloves and hats. They all had perfect teeth. And tans from their winter holidays in the islands.

I arrived and parked my slightly leprous-looking farm truck in the parking lot between two Mercedes.  Once distanced from my truck, I could almost pass for someone who belonged there, dressed in black, my hair sort of all doing what it's supposed to do, my fingernails clean.  I carried my horn and stand into the church, ran through the usual warmups, walked into the sanctuary with the other four musicians, and went up to the alter, where our chairs were set up.  There's a massive pipe organ, there's a deep red carpet in the aisle, there's carved stone everything, there's stunning stained glass.  We play the preludes, play the entrance hymn.  The last chords echoed in the huge hall for several seconds at the end.

That's when I looked around and realized I had tracked chicken feathers into the church.  A nice little trail from the side door, about five of them, up to the altar.   I'd run up to check the girls before I left that morning, and I thought I'd wiped my shoes carefully but, well, I guess I didn't. Not big huge feathers.  Little downy ones.  But I knew what they were.

I sat there and reflected on the situation, thinking that while the creator of all things surely appreciates the humor in this sort of thing, the congregation of that particular church might be unlikely to do so.  There was a fresco on the wall behind the altar of a manger scene, complete with shepherds who I know darn well should have stuff stuck to their shoes too, but these guys looked kind of, you know, Disney-fied, sparkly clean, like Lands' End bathrobe models.

I cleaned up everything after the service.  Maybe no one noticed.  At least I played well.


Posted by katie at 2010.03.20 1550
When the going gets tough, the tough order a pint of ladybugs from Ladies in Waiting.  (There are other sources, but none with such cool names.)  I keep half the potted iris in the greenhouse over the winter, and right about now they usually get hit with aphids.  They don't eat a lot, but they can carry diseases.  Most of my sources say to hose them off, but I've apparently got a super strain of aphids here with really, really sticky feet, and they scoff at my attempts to dislodge them.   Here's a particularly infested leaf last night - today the same leaf was completely clear, just a few hours after the ladies were released.  They eat a hundred a day at least, and if a few basic conditions are met, engage in wild ladybug sex and produce larvae, which eat more than the adults.  When we reach the point where I can't see any aphids at all, I'll put out a few pieces of honeydew melon to keep the ladies fed until the next outbreak.  With a little vigilance, the greenhouse will remain aphid free for the season, without the hazards of chemicals.


I just pretend it's my greenhouse

Posted by katie at 2010.03.16 1425
Sweeney Beans is in charge, actually.  Sweeney's the best barn cat ever - or should I say greenhouse cat?  She certainly makes herself at home.  Amazingly, she never crushes foliage or disturbs the markers in the iris pots.


The greenhouse is built onto the side of the barn, and there's a new distraction today:  Maeve the Goat delivered a baby girl in the wee hours this morning.  Morgaine, as you can see, is barely two cinderblocks tall.  I am smitten, and the barn is getting a good cleaning today because I can't bear to miss anything.  (Edited later to correct gender:  Morgaine is a Morgan.  Who knew the items of interest would be so small?)


An iris by another name

Posted by katie at 2010.01.10 2042
A certain elderly male relative speaks with a bit of a Pennsylvania Dutch accent, very pronounced for some words.  "Flower", for example, is "flar", and one does not take a "shower" but instead a "shar".  It seems the "ar" sound is pretty much the default for several vowel+r combinations, including the combination of long i and the letter r.  A fire is a "far", and at the end of a long day of hard work, one gets "tard".

When he visits our home, without exception, he gets out of his vehicle, hitches up his pants, looks across the iris beds, spits on the driveway, and asks "So.  How's your arse doing?"

Seems a bit personal, doesn't it?

I know what you're thinking - he's pulling my leg.  But I am one hundred percent certain that's not the case.  Still, one of these days I'm tempted to give an honest answer:  it's providing more shade than I'd like.  And gravity is not my friend.

January's a good time for checking on things, although bundling up against the cold makes it difficult to truly assess the status of one's bottom line.  I'm speaking about iris, of course.  I have to do an inventory before I can get the website all fluffed up and ready for spring sales, but you can't count what you can't see, and the iris are stubbornly hiding under snow and ice.

With iris-related chores temporarily on hold, I've turned my attention to caring for the animals, the greenhouse, and developing the plans for the CSA I'm starting with a friend.  (Details can be found at  The dining room table is covered with seed packets, seed catalogs, and seed order forms, impressive since the table's twenty feet long. I'm remembering all the chores I put off in summer, figuring they'd wait until winter:  cleaning up old iris markers, sanding and oiling the handles of the garden tools, organizing the room full of nursery pots in the barn, making nicer chalkboard signs for the booth at the farmers' market.  January's a time for mending things, planning things, organizing things.  And exercising things, especially things that produce too much shade.  No wonder mine's so tard lately.

through the magic window

Posted by katie at 2009.12.06 1135
There's snow on the ground, and it's cold outside.  I take refuge in my wonderful, weird greenhouse, where a huge bed is filled with salad greens, hundreds of pots of comfrey produce snacks for the goats and rabbits, various perennials spend their first winter in small pots, a thousand or so iris pots increase their odds of thriving through the winter.  This is the view from the steps into the barn, from which the greenhouse is accessed. (We don't have the skill set for freestanding buildings with structural integrity, so the greenhouse was added on to the side of the barn.)

The window was a find at Construction Junction in Pittsburgh, a wonderful salvage / recycling place, and probably came from a third floor in a house somewhere in the city.  Twelve leaded panes, old wavy glass, and it cranks open.  The climbing rose I mentioned in an earlier post grows right outside the window.  You will not find this amenity in a kit greenhouse.

You're looking at pots of comfrey in the picture.   When my friend Judi learned that a 50 foot row of comfrey can feed a goat for a year - it's a high protein plant - and my friend Diane decided to use comfrey as a natural mulch in her orchard - there was nothing to do but dig up my comfrey patch, divide the roots into small segments, and pot them up.  According to garden writer Nancy Bubel, chickens are supposed to adore comfrey, but mine haven't gotten the memo; they won't have a thing to do with it.  The turkeys are wildly enthusiastic though.  My goal is at least a hundred plants for each of us, and if they make it through the winter - i.e. the goats don't figure out the gate latch, in which case the comfrey is toast - there should be enough.through-greenhous-window.jpg

tree people! tree people!

Posted by katie at 2009.12.05 1518
That was the rallying cry when our boys were younger and customers would pull into the driveway during Christmas tree season.  There's lots of 'tree people' on this snowy December day (the snow started just after the photo was taken).  We don't have a lot of trees to sell every year, maybe 200 or so at the most.  It doesn't matter all that much what the financial return is, because the fringe benefits are awesome.  Hanging outside for a few hours on weekends kind of ensures that the outside decorations get put up. Little kids call me the Christmas Tree Lady and hug me.  I can give friends trees for early presents.  Neighbors hang on the back porch and drink cocoa.  We've sold newlyweds their first trees and once sold a tree to someone who was facing a first Christmas after a terrible loss.  On Christmas Eve, when I'm driving home from my brass quintet's gigs, I can drive through town and see 'my' trees in customer's windows.  And after Christmas, people can bring their trees back here and recycle them - goats love them: evergreens!  nom nom nom.

Every time I hear a vehicle in the driveway, I can hear two little boys yelling "Mom!  Tree people!  Tree people!" even after all these years.


Home sweet home.

Posted by katie at 2009.11.29 2128
If you look really closely at this picture, you'll see not one but two little goat faces in the rear window of the truck:  Maeve and Fiona have arrived at Stoney Creek.  Fiona's harder to see, but if you start with the red collar, you can pick out her silhouette.  Driving home with goats looking back at me in the rearview mirror was a new experience, and it was with relief that I closed the stall door once we got them safely into the barn.  It went without a hitch, thankfully, because my ability to imagine hitches is far greater than my ability to solve them.  Fortunately I did not have to chase an escaping goat through the valley, or explain my passengers to a police officer;  neither goat fell and broke a leg when I braked, or had fatal motion sickness, and the bungee cord that keeps the rear window closed held. I am grateful.


It only looks like an ordinary sandal.

Posted by katie at 2009.09.24 2348
I had a really special moment today in the grocery store when I realized the vaguely flatulent sound I kept hearing was coming from my right foot.  My sandal, you see, was farting.  With every step, it released this noxious, wet phffft sound.  I'm guessing there's a small hole in the air cushion in the instep, and I'd hosed off the sandals after going in the henhouse that morning.  I don't know why it hadn't started earlier, and I'll be puzzling over that for a few days.  I mean, I really will - I need to understand things like this.  Phffft, phffft.  People in Aisle 5 stared.  Two little boys in Aisle 6 started giggling and blaming each other.  Phffft, phffft.  In Aisle 7 I tried tiptoeing, but the sandals  don't bend enough,  so I tried putting my weight on the outside edges, and I tried hopping,  but then I had a vision of trying to explain to my orthopedist why, exactly, I'd messed up my back / knee / hip.  I really hope no one watched the security camera in Aisle 7.  I mean, I'm a grandmother now.  I'm Calliope's Nanno.  I'm trying for a little dignity here.

"It's my shoe," I told a woman in Aisle 8 after a particularly vicious rip, but she had a hearing aid, and didn't seem to know what I was talking about, and you know, I just wasn't up to starting from scratch on that one so I let it go.

By Aisle 9 I'd decided to stop stressing about it and go with the flow, so to speak - to become one with my flatulent flats.  To enter the Zen of the moment.  That didn't actually work. I was too distracted by trying to think up bad jokes about the Shoebomber, and Maxwell Smart's telephone in his shoe, and Dorothy clicking her heels - "there's no place like (phffft) home!"

This probably explains why such a new-looking pair of sandals was at the Salvation Army store in the first place.


Iris? What iris?

Posted by katie at 2009.09.23 1352
It's been a little hard to concentrate on renovating iris beds this week.

This is our first grandchild.  I have a granddaughter.  I keep saying it different ways and it's almost as if it's a new experience each time.  This is Calliope Spevack College when she was four hours old.  "Calliope" means ''beautiful voice" in Greek, and she apparently got the memo on that one - she has a very sweet little cry, with a bit of a hiccup at the end of each one.   If "Calliope" proves untenable on a daily basis, they'll call her Lila.  But if anyone can raise a girl to have the confidence and creativity to pull off a name like Calliope, it's my son and his wife.  She and my beautiful daughter in law are doing well, and my son - well, it's an amazing moment to see your baby holding his baby, and to realize that your child has not only become a parent, but is going to be an outstanding one.


Maeve and Fiona

Posted by katie at 2009.09.18 2249
The names aren't definite -Fiona is actually already named Luna, and the assemblage at the bar where my son was tonight sort of liked the name Luna better, according to the phone call I received. You have to give the boy kudos for creative conversation openers, though.

I could not take better pictures, because Fiona a.k.a.  Luna and Maeve were part of a group of about a hundred fifty goats, all of whom wanted to cuddle, and I was just trying to stay upright, and had I dropped the camera, I might have never seen it again - or wanted to.  They'll be joining us in mid to late November, after the seller is certain that they're pregnant.  Luna had quadruplets last spring, but I do not think I will mention that possibility at home just yet.  Someone here is still processing the fact that multiple births are common enough that our girls might have twins. No sense raising his blood pressure, especially since Maeve, as a first time mother, will probably just have one.

Maeve first, then Fiona.



Getting my goat(s).

Posted by katie at 2009.09.17 2013
This is not my goat.  This was my practice goat, to sort of see how the logistics worked out before making a commitment to getting my own.  It may seem like I'm anthropomorphizing but if you'd spent any time with her, you'd know that really is a grin on Renae's face.  A deviant one.  Renae and I got along just fine.

Renae and the two other goats who came with her for my long weekend of goatsitting were perfect co-conspirators in my campaign to get dairy goats for Stoney Creek, beautifully behaved until the precise moment when their owner picked them up, at which point Mary ate a dollar bill from the center console of Judi's van and peed on the backseat.  I hope to meet my goats tomorrow, and they'll be coming here after a certain amorous deed is accomplished at the seller's location.

Our 30th anniversary is coming up in December.  You've probably heard that there's a traditional list of appropriate gifts for every wedding anniversary - paper, wood, copper, silver, whatever.  Looks like the 30th is pregnant goats.


When Life Gives You Chicory......

Posted by katie at 2009.09.14 2034
I've neglected the blog lately.  A friend visited a few weeks ago and gently pointed out that perhaps I've taken the insight I wrote about gaining in my previous post - to 'be where your butt is' - a tad too seriously.  It takes me by surprise to find out anyone actually reads the blog, but once reminded that I have a readership of at least one, I am only too happy to neglect chores to entertain you.

My farmers' market stand has been a challenge this summer.  I hadn't planned on having an outlet for direct sales, and the market season started a bit late for selling greenhouse plants, so I've had to scramble.  I've managed to find a respectable amount of produce each week, but I've had to be a little creative:

I started selling iced 'coffee' made from my most ferocious weed, chicory.

There's a historical precedent for this.  Chicory was used as a coffee substitute in Revolutionary times and during the Depression.  It contains no caffeine, and has a rich, dark taste.  The homegrown version is different from the chicory I can buy at the grocery store, but I'm not sure why.  Maybe I just like it better because it's free and it's such a weird hippie thing to do.  I'm a coffee drinker, and while I'm not giving up my first cup in the morning for this, I've switched over for the second and third.

You pull the chicory plant, chop off the roots, scrub them, and cut them into consistent sizes, or as close as you can.


Next, they're dried in the oven for a few hours, then roasted at 400 degrees.  The difference between a perfect roast and charcoal is about as long as it takes to check to see if the washing machine's done - five seconds, I swear it was only five seconds, and boy was that a lot of smoke. So I'm not posting any recommendations other than to suggest you not take your eyes off the roots while they're roasting. The roasted roots are ground - I use an old coffee grinder.


I've been enjoying it hot, but selling it on hot market afternoons as an iced drink mixed with cream.  (I know this is a lousy picture.)  You only need a scant teaspoon to brew a cup, so a little goes a long way.


Now, here's a little morsel from the Dept. of Irony that I'm still chewing on:  I have one bed particularly infested with chicory, and it happens to be near the house, so it's where I've been gathering the chicory roots.  I've just realized that I've sold several hundred dollars' worth of iced chicory drink prepared with chicory...making the weeds more profitable than the iris in that particular bed.

So if life hands you chicory, make chicory coffee.

"Be where your butt is."

Posted by katie at 2009.07.06 1820
I've just had my outlook on life fine-tuned somewhat by a conversation overheard in a small northern Ontario grocery store, where I was picking up a few essentials on a recent family vacation.  By 'small' I mean that this is the sort of establishment where you can ask if they have any onions and be told "Mrs. McClarty just bought them", meaning you're SOL until another truck comes through, so it didn't take any effort to listen in as two ageless Ojibway men were discussing their morning's fishing adventure.  Short and barrel-chested, they were both dressed in multiple flannel shirts that came nearly to their knee-high workboots, giving them the appearance of crossdressing hobbits, only, somehow, extremely dignified.

They were chiding themselves for not having fully appreciated the time spent on the lake that morning, as each found himself mentally besieged by the list of chores he had waiting for him at home; the broken chainsaw, the window trim to paint.  (How could I not listen?  This is the story of my life.)

"Yah," said the other.  "You got to be where your butt is."

How perfect is that?

This week I've pulled out a hat I don't wear all that often anymore and I'm teaching a music clinic about an hour from home.  It's all I can do to not torture myself with thinking about digging the iris orders, which will start next week.  Left to my own self-destructive tendencies, I'm capable of mentally digging every rhizome six times before I  actually pick up the digging tool.  I am able to feel the back aches, the dusty sweat and the blisters, I can second-guess my packing and shipping choice, worry about delivery errors, and otherwise vicariously experience the entire process a week in advance.  But now I'm going to try to keep my head where my butt is, and enjoy the kids I'm teaching, enjoy the process of getting a concert together, revel in the shining moments where it all works.  This week I'm a music teacher.  Next week I'm digging iris.  From now on, whatever I'm doing, I want to do with more focus on the moment.  Which means keeping my head and butt in the same place for a change.

Listo, ergo sum.

Posted by katie at 2009.06.24 2159
My to-do list, lately, reminds me of a solar eclipse.  I can glance at it obliquely, or partially shade it with my hand and view a part of it, but if I look at it directly, it will burn my retinas.

There's two reasons.  First, June is a rampaging celebration of fertility, and fertility is a joyful, demanding, messy process when you get right down to it.   There is no hope of having clean fingernails or clean work clothes in June.  There is no down time while roots are straining and tendrils are climbing and things are hatching.  Ripeness is a bell curve, and if you miss the moment, you're stuck with starchy shell peas or rootbound flats of winter squash or basil that's going to seed because it wasn't pinched.  "Wait a minute" is as meaningless to thirsty baby chickens as it is to a two year old. I go to a weekly band rehearsal and collapse gratefully into my chair: two hours with no bending or lifting.

Second, we're under the foolish impression that it's a good idea to take a week away from home right now.  (Someone asked if it wasn't a bad idea to post this information on a blog, but I figure anyone who actually has been here and knows where we live knows there's not a darn thing to steal here.  Besides, it takes a village to hold the place together when we're gone, and there  will be someone here weeding something or feeding something most of the time anyway.)  Small countries have been invaded with less preparation than it takes for us to leave here for a few days.  Neighbors and helpers are mobilized, baby turkeys have moved to Diane's house for the interim, the greenhouse is mostly empty, and most of the grass has been cut.

It's come down, in the last few hours, to a lowering of standards:  I will not leave a clean house behind after all; the kitchen floor is actually a bit crunchy.  We might not catch the mouse in the pantry.  The thistles on the front bank will in fact go to seed and plague us for the next twenty years.  I didn't plant the soybeans.  I have four flats of celery that didn't get planted, either.  We built the new turkey pen and never actually moved the monsters into it.  I haven't written arrangements for the week-long music clinic I'm doing less than 24 hours after we get back.

And yet, oddly, life will go on.  That's what June teaches me every year.  Our ancestors who celebrated the solstice must have been busy at this time of year too, and they knew the secret:  do what you can, do a little more than that, and then throw your hands up and  dance.


Posted by katie at 2009.06.23 1713
Sometimes being a grownup means pushing your comfort envelope, and farming certainly provides multiple opportunities, often in a single day, to do so.  Most of it I can accept as part of the life cycle, but there's one thing I have to do periodically that really gives me the creeps:  check my spam box.

For reasons we understand but have not entirely solved, my server occasionally throws an order from a customer into the spam box, so I wade through it weekly just in case.  It affects me much in the same way it does when I overturn a large rock and see what's living underneath - you get this sense that there's a whole creepy underworld, sort of a parallel universe to your own.  Should I choose to do so, I could make the acquaintance of several businessmen from Nigeria (all of whom are severely deficient in spelling and grammar), acquire a Breitling watch or acai berries (I'm not entirely sure what either one of those is) or lengthen tools that I gather are not found in the toolbox on the workbench.  The crawly things under the rock, at least, are unmindful of my existence, and serve some purpose in the grand scheme of renewal as they do their thing munching on decaying organic matter in the soil.  The spammers, on the other hand, have invaded my personal space by sending me this stuff. Plus the bad spelling really, really irritates me.

I can't help but wonder if there's some other life force out there, one more advanced than ours, that's monitoring our planet and studying the signals we send over the internet.  If they're forming opinions about earthlings based on my spam box, it's not a flattering conclusion they're reaching: a world inhabited by bad spellers with expensive watches, made up of overweight women and very, very insecure men.

Chicken sleepovers.

Posted by katie at 2009.06.17 2220
Crystal the Chicken is visiting us for two weeks while her people visit their family in Denmark.  It's one thing to find someone to water your plants while you're gone.  But your pet chicken requires some special arrangements, and so Crystal's having a little rendevous  at Stoney Creek.  Haven't introduced her to the rest of the feathered gang just yet - I got home from market at around 8:30 and wasn't up to mediating any pecking-order disputes.

I see a new marketing opportunity.  A boarding house for chickens.  Chicken spa.  Summer camp with activities (7 am:  eat bugs.  7:15 am:  poop.   7:30: eat grain.  7:45: poop.)

Not to politicize this, but if the pending NAIS legislation goes through, Crystal's people would have had to file a form with the government because she was moved half a mile from their house to ours, and another form when she moves back.  Making our food supply safer is of course a wonderful goal, but no illnesses have been traced to the kind of small, humane operation you find in sustainable family farms.   Our animals have access to grass, sunlight, plenty of space, and are comfortably housed.  They're not confined to cages in which they cannot stand up, or wallowing in their own excrement.  We'r either raising meat for our our own use or for customers who buy from us directly, who can inspect our premises whenever they wish.  There are options that can improve safety in industrial operations without requiring Crystal's sleepover at Aunt Katie's farm to generate more government paperwork.

Marilyn, my Marilyn.

Posted by katie at 2009.06.15 2226
We currently have two Angora rabbits.  Our part of the bargain is to feed, water, cuddle,  and house them; their job is to shed.  And shed they do with wild abandon, copious amounts of beautiful wool, which is collected and will one day be spun and knit into something......but right now we're just shedding and collecting.  On the days when I hold them and pull the loose fur, you would think the Abominable Snowman molted in the yard.  I believe every robin's nest in Stoney Creek has a lining of angora fur this year, because the last major grooming session was the same week everyone was building nests.

This one's Marilyn Monroe - you can see the resemblance in the expression on her face, I think.  Marilyn is clearly ready for her closeup.

We didn't know her sister's name until Nephew George recently enlightened us:  it's Cynthia, because, as he patiently explained, she eats a lot of forsynthia.    (It doesn't work in print as well as it does aurally.  Read it out loud.)  And Cynthia and Marilyn aren't Angora rabbits anymore, at least not here; an elderly friend referred to them as Argyle Rabbits, and Argyle Rabbits they shall now be. Just as the basement will forever be the basedump, because whichever son started calling it that during his toddler years really called that one right. And prepackaged cupcakes (yes, I know, shame on me) are known as Daddy-take-works, because 'you can't have them;  they're for Daddy to take to work in his lunch'.

I love private family language and look forward to what our grandchild will add to the lexicon.   And I can't wait to hold him or her as we feed forsynthia to the Argyle rabbits.


The window of vulnerability.

Posted by katie at 2009.06.13 2125
At Weed School this winter - yeah, seriously, it was a class at Penn State, and it was an amazing part of the annual PASA conference this year - I learned something I've waited months to test:  that many of the meanest, nastiest weeds have a window of vulnerability, a time period during which they can be pulled with a fraction of the effort required otherwise.  As a person with a bad back (some days I feel like a bad back with a person) I was intrigued by this, and I especially watched the chicory carefully, waiting for the exact moment to strike.

Chicory is a beautiful plant, really, with periwinkle-blue flowers July through August.  The roots can be ground and roasted and used as a coffee substitute, but the only time I tried that I set off the smoke alarms and the end result was, er, not tasty.  Chicory and I could probably come to terms, since the long tap roots don't take away nutrients from the iris particularly, and I'll eventually get this roasting thing figured out.  But the leaves are thick and they compete with the iris for light, and they restrict the air flow that the iris need.

I've resisted the urge to pull any so far this year, waiting instead for this supposed window, settling for harvesting massive amounts of the leaves to feed the rabbits, turkeys and chickens.   Today it seemed that things were just about as the botany professors had explained:  the plant is not flowering, but has sent up a central bloom stalk and is clearly poised to do so.  Right now, just for a few days, the plant's energy has been diverted from the developing root system towards this massive effort of flowering; once it does, it reverts back to normal.  And when it's 'normal', chicory's impossible to pull.  As one of my boys once said, many years ago, in despair while weeding "I can't pull this out, Mommy!  The whole world's holding the other end!"

So today I started pulling chicory, focusing on plants that were at that pre-flowering threshold, each of them about three and a half feet high.  And they came out of the ground easily, despite taproots of up to 18 inches.  I pulled one hundred in seventeen minutes (yes, I counted) and only three broke at the soil line.   What a difference it makes when you understand your opponent! After  that first session I worked more slowly and found the rhythm of it, moving down the rows, finding it easiest when I pulled straight up and not at an angle.  It works.  I concentrated on changing my stance, stretching different muscles, and thought about the teenagers I used to teach, and how vulnerable we all are right before flowering.  It was hot and humid enough that I had my own heat-yoga session out there, with a view of the mountain, contemplating the meaning of being vulnerable, thinking about the tidiness of a cycle that allows me to feed these piles of weeds to animals that will feed us later, thinking about those awful commercials where competing insecure neighbors spray poisons on miniscule weeds in their driveways, and wondering, of course, what the window of vulnerability is for the hundreds of other weeds I have here.    One thing at a time.

Lazarus Project Update

Posted by katie at 2009.06.10 2324
The crispy crunchy iris rhizomes we found in the back of the workroom, pictured in an earlier post, have all sprouted and look healthy.


Further evidence of how things just want to grow: this partial seed packet was overlooked in the greenhouse and happened to be under one of the roof leaks, so the packet was soaked a few times:


Never do this.

Posted by katie at 2009.06.10 2319
My poor little truck creaked and groaned the whole way home over the mountain with a load - some people might have thought of it as two loads, perhaps two loads for a bigger vehicle - of fence panels, from which we have created a palatial chicken run, and also (finally) a large enough enclosure for those goofball turkeys.  I believe Helper Ryan and I did not exhale for the whole excruciatingly slow trip home, but the load didn't shift an inch, the pieces went together remarkably smoothly, and the whole load cost a fraction of what I'd expected to have to pay.  Also, I now know that I can singlehandedly wrestle a 10 x 6 chainlink fence panel fifty feet uphill through four inches of liquefied chicken slop.  I'm not sure I'll ever need to impress anyone with that little tidbit, but it's still strangely empowering.


farmer's market

Posted by katie at 2009.06.10 2311
Farmers on the Square.  That's the name for the new market - my new market, she says with barely concealed glee - in Carlisle, Pa.  I'm sharing a stand with two good friends.  I don't make much money, particularly.  But I love the market for four reasons:  it forces a level of organization on me that does not come naturally.  I have to think like a real farmer.  Second, the sales and feedback are incredibly validating:  I'm thinking and acting like a real farmer, and people react to me as if I were one, and I begin to realize the potential I have to be be one.  Third, I am in the company of warm, talented, passionate, generous people who know a heck of a lot more about farming then I do:  my stand partners Judi and Diane, the vendors closest to my stand (Sandy, Sue, Melanie, Elaine, Michelle, June)  the Amish families, the Eshes and the Fishers, who make it all look so effortless, and the college kids from Dickinson, who work on the innovative school farm that is now providing fresh food for the school and community under Jenn's guidance.  So I also get to be a better farmer because of what I learn from them, not only about the content, but about the spirit and the work ethic of what we do.  And finally, I'm committed to local, sustainable agriculture as the best way to reinvigorate our health, our land, and our economy.


These snow peas just flew out of the stand tonight.  (The funky things in the upper right corner are garlic scapes, the very top of the plant -wonderful garlic flavor, weeks before the cloves are ready to harvest.)  And just look at Judi's daughter Sarah in this next picture, helping to sell Judi's wonderful bread, made from homegrown and freshly ground wheat.  Could you resist buying bread from her?


The Friends of Katie Festival

Posted by katie at 2009.05.31 1117
The name, always, was tongue in cheek, really.  But the Festival this weekend was so awesome I'd do it every weekend if I didn't need time to recover.  My friends who came as vendors brought beautiful paintings, crafts, and food.  The guests who came, happily, understood immediately what this was and what it wasn't, and I believe they all enjoyed their visit here.   Our guests needed realistic expectations:  the parking was crowded, and you had to watch out so you didn't step in chicken poop.  Our vendors needed realistic expectations too - it's a recession, and none of my friends, sadly, have any spare money to spend.  Nevertheless we sold some iris, we sold some plants, the other vendors sold some things. What will remain with me as the real benefits of the weekend, though,  are the intangibles - the people I met, the little kids running around feeding the chickens, Neighbor Charlie identifying the iris that Paulette painted last year from photographs she took here last year, people turning up their bowls to lick the last drops of Judi's strawberry ice cream, the gentleman who set up a picnic area for his family on the deck.  The fact that we had picture perfect weather didn't hurt, either.  I have great ideas for how to make it better next year, and to get more local people involved.  And as long as everyone realizes the name isn't an ego thing but an inside joke we all share, maybe we'll keep calling it the Friends of Katie Festival.



Posted by katie at 2009.05.26 2322
Someone who visited this past weekend posed this question:  if I could choose only a few iris, which ones would I want to have?  It's a reasonable question, and one I'll probably face some day.  Neighbor Charlie is downsizing his beautiful iris beds every year, keeping only his favorites.  What would I do in his position - which of the 1200 varieties would I keep?

I think it would be the  nameless iris that live on the front bank.  When I divide clumps in the lower bed and have a 'mother' iris - the one that bloomed this year - that still looks viable, I toss it on the front bank by the road.  Not plant it, just toss it.  (I once overshot and hit the UPS truck accidentally, but the driver was very understanding.)  Some of the these worn out rhizomes somehow manage to root and rejuvenate and bloom again, years later, and go on to form thriving clumps.  I don't have them labeled and don't even remember what most of them are.  But I admire their tenacity.


If I had time to sit down, it would be here.

Posted by katie at 2009.05.26 2310
Things have been understandably hectic the last few weeks and I've realized I've reneged on the promise I'd made to myself to take time every day to sit down and relax, even if just for a few moments between chores.  When I do have a chance to sit down, it's going to be on one of the blue chairs.  They both have flaking paint, revealing that one was originally (or most recently) painted red, and one had been green.  I think they're perfect just the way they are.  I just have to remember to sit down sometime.


Are You My Mother?

Posted by katie at 2009.05.17 1330
This little pooterhead fell out of the maple at the end of the driveway, and eventually, with encouragement from its parents, managed to get itself back to safety.  I know the whole process only took a few minutes, because I was loading straw bales into the cart when the little guy bounced off my shoulder as it fell, and the parents started swooping around just after I took the picture.

It's a perfect symbol for this time of the year.  Everything's hungry. Everything needs attention, and it wants it now.  The rewards are great - fifty iris opened yesterday, some for the first time ever - it's like Christmas morning, every morning, and again in the evening if it's warm enough.   There's several customers a day buying vegetable plants, and the various assortment of baby creatures are at the height of cuteness.

I'm not complaining about the workload (is there anything worse than someone who's always telling you how busy they are, with the unspoken assumption that you can't possibly be as productive, necessary, etc. as they are?  Ugh.)  The seasonal nature of life here means there's times when you have to hit the ground running first thing in the morning, and bloom season, with the concurrent responsibilities for the vegetable garden and greenhouse, is definitely one of them.   But - everything's hungry.  I've got to run.


A garage by any other name

Posted by katie at 2009.05.12 1823
The title of this piece is "Katie's Cottage", and the artist who painted it, Pat Koscienski (more of her work can be seen at just sent me a link to it.  Pat was one of the artists who came last year to paint iris, but nearly all of them saw other things, as well, that caught their eye.  This building, which I've always loved, was the original house on the property, and is now the garage.

It wasn't built to be a garage, which might explain a very un-garagelike problem:  most cars don't fit.   Because my husband is thin, he can get out of the driver's side door of a Taurus, but just barely, and a passenger doesn't have a chance.  My truck won't fit in there, and I'm not sure I could squeeze out of it if it did.  So as a garage it's somewhat lacking, but I still think it's charming.  And thanks to Pat for letting me see it through different eyes!


So, of course, I bought a plant......

Posted by katie at 2009.05.11 1510
This past weekend was the Garden Faire at Landis Valley, near Lancaster Pa, which is my absolute favorite garden show in the entire world, that world of course being limited to my small corner of it, and then only on the weekends I can manage to get away, so, um, it's my favorite of the four I know about.  I've been a vendor there for the past three years, and although the bulk of the business here will probably always be through the internet, I love the personal interaction with customers, who are now seeing the blooms of the plants they bought from me in prior years.

I love seeing repeat customers, and I love the people who bring their mother to choose a Mother's Day plant, and I loved the little guy, maybe eleven or twelve, who took nearly an hour to make his selection.   I'm hoping he takes me up on my offer to buy back rhizomes from him in future years.  I love talking to the other vendors, some of whom I count among my friends by now, I love the ideas I get from customers - someone's ordered black and gold iris for their Pittsburgh home to honor the Steelers, and why didn't I think of that angle before?  - and I love the fried portabellas.  Okay, so it's not all about business.

Now, I have about five hundred pepper plants in my greenhouse, less what's sold already, representing many varieties, certainly more than I could possibly ever use.  And what did I do when I finally got a chance to make the rounds of the other vendors?  I bought a pepper plant.  This is kind of embarrassing, because it forces me to admit that deep down inside me is an eight year old boy, but I bought it because of the name:  Rat Turd Pepper.  Not only did it make me laugh when I read the tag, I actually said the name out loud several times in the truck on the way home, and snickered every single time.  I am such a child.  Rat Turd Pepper. It still makes me laugh, two days later.  I'm going to pot it up and put it on the deck and I'm probably still going to think it's funny in October when the frost hits, since my immaturity is not time sensitive.   A friend has suggested I try hybridizing iris, but here's a good reason why I shouldn't - I'd probably choose a name with 'booger' in it, or something along those lines.  The world does not need a Rat Turd Iris.

Through the Looking Glass

Posted by katie at 2009.05.01 1343
There's a hole cut in the garage door so the cats can go in an out - pointless, because a raccoon's burrowed under the garage bay door, and there's a windowpane missing on a back door to the building, and I suspect the cats know a few other ways to get in anyway; I've stopped trying to pretend I can outsmart any of the creatures who share the homestead with us.

The chickens are obsessed with the snacking potential on the other side of the door, which includes a dish of cat food.  The Rhode Island Red in the picture fits, but I've got an old Silver Wyandotte who can't remember from one attempt to the next that she's too big for the opening.  It reminds me of the story in Winnie-the-Pooh, when Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's doorway.  She has to be coaxed through one feather at a time, and it's traumatic for everyone involved.  You'd think she'd learn.  But I've been known to have a few cat-door moments, doing the same stupid thing and expecting different results.


Butternut Rogosa di Violina Gioia

Posted by katie at 2009.05.01 1007
......does not fit on a popsicle stick.  Nor does Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Winter Squash, or Zucchini Tromboncino Rampicante, or Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon.

I tell my plant and produce customers that I choose varieties based on taste first, open pollination second, and adaptability to our area third.  They're all valid reasons, but I've left one out, and I'm honestly not sure where it falls into the hierarchy:  it has to have a cool name.  Okay, maybe I'm a goofball, but Stump of the World tomato just makes me laugh.   And Pantano Romanesco is simply fun to say.  And the story behind Mortgage Lifter is great (hasn't worked quite that well for me, though, but maybe this is the year.)

The only problem is that  I mark my beautiful little seedlings with popsicle sticks, on which the name has been written with a Sharpie marker.  This is considered, by various family and customers, to be quaint, thrifty, or environmentally responsible, but the truth is actually pretty weird:  when I'm writing out the marker, I feel as if I'm giving each little plant a blessing, a little individual benediction before it goes out in the world. I told you it was weird.  I'm upfront about it, at least.

But by the time I've written Rouge Vif D'Etampes Pumpkin or New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin the 36th time, Zephyr and Coosa are looking better and better.


and speaking of Lazarus..........

Posted by katie at 2009.04.24 2207
My husband, who is the VP of burying Dead Things at Stoney Creek, was pressed into service this evening when a neighbor called to tell us that Leftover Cat had been hit by a car alongside the road.  Things were pretty busy here, as I was packing the truck for an Earth Day show tomorrow, and had a helper here who was working with me to put an infinite amount of plants into a finite amount of truck.  But still, I took a moment to grieve for a faithful friend who had nothing much on his side except longevity - this wasn't a cuddly or even friendly cat, not so great with the catching-mice thing lately, and he had an annoying habit of barfing on the back porch, usually on my work shoes.  But longevity counts for something, you know?

I can never remember how old Leftover is, but I remember the summer of the Pregnant Cat, who was dumped by a passing car and immediately took refuge under the porch.  She had two litters in rapid succession before we could trap her and have her fixed, and we were left with 14 adorable little monsters to place.  Leftover was simply the last one, and no one wanted him, and he just sort of stayed. He was a pretty good mouser once, but had pretty much retired in the last few years, and spent his days sleeping on a chair on the back porch.

So I worked on the truck while the cat was buried, and I knew I'd feel bad the next morning when I went outside and didn't see a little pile of barfed up cat food on the porch...and what does that say about the poor cat, really, that this was the only thing I could come up with?  Ryan and I used every branch of mathematics plus a suspension of disbelief to cram everything in the truck that needed to get in there, except one flat of cilantro that might have to ride to the festival on my lap.   While we packed, I thought - in vain - for any other memorable attributes to mourn now that Leftover had gone to his final resting place.

And then I had to get something inside the house, and who was waiting for me on the back porch (actually in the process of gacking something up) but Leftover Cat?  Greg had buried some other cat, not Leftover.  There's always strays around here, and always cats being abandoned on our road.  The buried cat was - well, it was a black cat, and not in good shape, and we've only seen Leftover in the last few years with his nose buried in his tail, asleep on the porch, so it's not like we could tell, exactly.  But it wasn't Leftover, who will live to throw up on my work shoes another day. I'm oddly comforted.

The worst part?  This entire scenario happened before - same neighbor called, another black cat was buried and briefly mourned.  I know there's the whole nine lives thing, but I really hope my poor husband doesn't need to bury seven more.

the Lazarus project

Posted by katie at 2009.04.23 1527
We're working in the back room of the garage, the Room that Will Be My Office someday, Helper Ryan and I, and I discover some crispy critters, pictured below, in a desk drawer.  There is no actual desk to go with this drawer, just a random drawer that - wait, that's so beside the point I'm not going to try to explain.

These lovelies are leftover iris from last year that somehow were overlooked and spent a long, cold winter in an unheated building.  The outer leaves are dried up, but every single one of them has a little sign of life left.

I have little doubt what big commercial growers would do in this case.

I had less doubt about what I would do.  How can such a tenacious hold on life not be honored?  The iris have been stripped of their dried leaves, carefully planted in pots, and thoroughly watered.  I swear I could hear tiny sighs of relief.  I'll document their progress over the next weeks and months and we can see whether unbridled faith in the power of a tiny speck of life is justified, or if I'm a complete idiot.




turkey psychology

Posted by katie at 2009.04.21 1947
Baby turkeys, unlike baby chickens, are not born knowing how to eat and drink.  We're at the beginning of what will be several weeks of hatching poults, and getting the newly hatched babies to drink water and eat food is a bit of a challenge.  It's also crucial to keep them at the right temperature, and they're not bright enough to move around their box to find the right spot.

Enter Nanny Chicken, a frizzled bantam who's seven weeks old.  Frizzled means her feathers are curly, making her look like a cross between Teddy Ruxpin and me when I try to use a blowdryer.  Bantam means she's just a little thing - she'll top out at about a half pound.  Bantams don't lay too many eggs and when they do, they're extremely small.  But they have great mothering instincts, even this young.

The babies are much happier with her, and the feeling is apparently mutual.  I have no idea what happens when they grow up and outweigh her by a 80:1 ratio.   I remember what it was like when my sons got taller than me, but that pales in comparison - she's only going to come partway up their legs when they're fully grown.

She keeps the babies under her wing when she's standing up, and when she sits down, they sit on her back or on her head.  You're looking at three babies in the picture - two butts and one head.  Looks like the spot between the sleeping box and the side of the big cardboard box they're living in is the favorite place, because they're usually hanging there.  Nanny Chicken models appropriate eating and drinking, and has already taught them to freeze when there's a shadow overhead - it's a way that chickens learn to protect themselves against hawks, who apparently need to see their prey in motion to identify it.  And she's not too happy about the camera, so I didn't even try to take a second shot.


bunny therapy

Posted by katie at 2009.04.20 1053
When your neuroses all come out to play, there's really nothing as beneficial as hanging out with baby rabbits. Not the baby turkeys - they're adorable, but they've got suicidal tendencies, so when I go down the 'basedump' stairs to check on them, there's always a little angst.  Not so the bunnies.  They're just hangin', the epitome of cool - unless they're in full scamper mode, careening around the cage, using their poor mothers as a trampoline.  Either way, it's a great restorative.

I spent an entire afternoon in the greenhouse potting up plants for next week's Earth Day festival in Mechanicsburg, with one bunny in each front pocket of my favorite Salvation Army flannel shirt.  The bunnies settled in, warm and happy,  and napped until my greenhouse chores were done.  On the good side, I didn't get tinkled on.  On the bad side, the extra weight in my pockets pulled the shirt down and I had a very, very frightening preview of what my own profile might look like in a few years.

This past weekend I took potted iris to a plant show, where I set up a booth and spent many neurotic hours snipping imaginary dead leaves and obsessively rearranging pots by a quarter inch in between customers, because in some part of my brain, I truly believed if the pots of Lemon Duet were on the second shelf instead of the third, sales would increase.    It's so hard to assess these events afterward from a business point of view.  Do I base my verdict on the actual sales?  What about the number of people I invited to the house to see the iris in bloom?  (I'm probably the only vendor who issues an open invitation to all my customers to come home with me.)  What about the two speaking engagements I lined up?  Or the people who took my business card, who might look at the website later?

Things like this really make me take a hard look at what the definition of success is, anyway.   I talked to a  young woman who never planted anything in her life, and she left with a few iris and my email and the promise of a tour of my vegetable gardens and greenhouse when she visits.  I don't see my friend "Tomato Mike" often enough and he stopped by for a great visit Saturday morning and introduced me to his wonderful aunt.  I had a long conversation with a woman who's going through some rough times right now, and I hope she'll come up and see the iris in bloom, and perhaps for one afternoon be able to forget the very real, very difficult situation she's in at the moment.  I visited with other vendors and bought my daughter-in-law a gorgeous wrap dress made from recycled saris, which she can wear through her whole pregnancy and after.  I met someone who knows someone who makes garden hats who can make one big enough for my weird fat head.  Sales were decent.  But maybe all this stuff matters more.

I messed up a lot of things, as always.  I left my business cards on the kitchen counter the first day and had to write my contact information out by hand for all of the Friday customers.  I packed the trucks too fast Thursday night and paid for not going at a slower pace when I woke up the next morning.  I drank way, way too much coffee for someone who worked a booth alone.

So I came home and cuddled bunnies for a a bit, and got to work ont he next project.   Life is good.


does this look like Christmas dinner to you?

Posted by katie at 2009.04.13 1136
The first turkey egg hatched today, and happily, the guy who's installing some new windows for us brought his son Austin, who had no school today.  A turkey egg hatching is pretty awesome.  A turkey egg hatching when there's a little boy around to see it is even more so.  Austin also got to see another egg being laid (or dropped on the run, apparently, as from his description of the blessed event it sounds like the hen may have not actually noticed.)  I've been on egg vigil for 28 days now, but I haven't seen one being laid.  Still, if I had to choose, I'm glad Austin got to see it.  We marked it with his name and the date, and I'll email him a picture of it when it hatches.

I didn't know that I could hold eggs at room temperature and put a whole batch in the incubator at once, which would make the hatching process less chaotic for the humans involved.  (I don't know a lot of things.)  The first 30 eggs or so were added to the incubator as soon as I saw them in the turkey pen, and so - sigh - they'll be hatching at odd intervals for the next 18 days; after that, the ones I added to the incubator in groups will start, so there will be a hatch every few days. This is good, since I felt compelled to check the egg every ten minutes after the hatching process began.  I can see where this will play havoc with my chore schedule.


I had days like this, too.

Posted by katie at 2009.04.06 1554
The black doe who's having an ostrich moment here - I know it's not a great picture, but I can explain it - has at least five babies in the box on the right side of the picture.   Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing in my interpretation, but when she gets a little overwhelmed, she  sticks her head under the feed dish like this.  If she's especially stressed, she smacks her head against he underside of the dish and scatters alfalfa pellets everywhere; it makes a satisfying crashing sound.  Never did it before the babies were born.   I wish I could explain to her that they'll grow up and be able to feed and clean themselves soon.


say what?

Posted by katie at 2009.04.06 1547
This is a face even a mother might have some misgivings about, isn't it?  He's the patriarch of the Red Bourbon turkeys, the father of the as-yet-unhatched but spoken-for poults that I hope, I hope, I hope will hatch in the styrofoam incubator.  He's not hostile or unfriendly, but he's got this frat-boy mentality in a steamroller body overloaded with testosterone, so he's got to stay in the pen.  Otherwise, he charges anything that might be a female turkey, and that is apparently anything or anyone, including laundry baskets, an attraction I would not want to see consummated.  I must say, though that the three hens find him very attractive.  Personally, I think he looks a lot like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.


new babies

Posted by katie at 2009.04.06 1507
Here's a shot of the brown doe's litter - it's a warm day, so she's pulled the fur and straw out of the nest so they don't overheat.  Nobody's eyes are quite open yet, but they're hitting the serious cuteness stage now. When they're covered up and you put your hand in the nest box, you can easily tell which corner they're cuddled up in, because those little bodies give off a lot of heat.

The mother rabbit only feeds them once a day.  Predators hang with their kid with impunity; prey learns to stay away to draw attention away from the vulnerable young.  Today the black doe decided to give the little guys in her nest a little snack while I was transplanting tomatoes - we're all one big happy family in the greenhouse - and while I could not see anything except the mother's big furry rump, I could sure hear it. Snorting, smacking, gulping, and occasional happy squeaks.  After feeding, the babies' bellies were noticeably fuller. Life's reduced to the basics. The first goal is simple:  eat, don't get eaten.  Hang out and cuddle with the rest of the family once goal #1 is met. As a life philosophy, I think that's hard to beat.


Untangling the Stoney Creek food chain.

Posted by katie at 2009.04.03 1346
Sweeney Beans, the barn cat, has been camped patiently under the stack of rabbit cages in the greenhouse.  After a disastrous cage-scaling effort to check out the new babies, which ended badly for Sweeney when the doe in the middle caged chomped firmly on the cat's back paw as it poked into her cage, Sweeney is content to sit underneath the cages just in case something interesting happens.  The expression on her face is clear:  I'm not going to initiate a thing, but if one falls out, it would be a shame for it go to to waste.

I can't blame Sweeney.  As Neighbor Bob points out, "everything's got to eat."  The food chain here is purposefully interconnected as we experiment to see just what can be done with a few acres to provide nutritious, safe, good fresh food.

The greenhouse is churning out about twenty flats of transplants for the gardens a week- greens, mostly, so far, and broccoli and onions.  The flats get weeds, because I can't afford to get weed free starting mix by the truckload, and make do with several tons a year of a locally produced, nutrient rich compost which is, sadly, full of weeds.  So before a flat leaves the greenhouse, I've got to pick out the volunteer lamb's quarter and cress and galinsoga.

But the rabbits love the weeds, and they poop their little hearts out in appreciation.  The poop gets scattered over the vegetable beds before planting (one sign that spring is here is that the 'poop grid' has been completed, and yes, I graph out a plan for it ahead of time) and the poop enriches the soil.  All good farmers know that what we really do is grow the soil, and the soil will grow the plants.

The chickens will eat some of the weeds, too, and they're great at patrolling the iris beds for weeds and iris borers.   The turkeys love to be hand fed - at your own risk - dandelion and plantain and cress.  We eat and sell the chicken eggs, and we're selling turkey poults this year.  The chickens snarf down all kitchen scraps except meat, citrus, and onions.  The chicken poop ages a year, mixed with collected leaves, to provide a few inches of mulch to overwinter on future squash beds, because the squash are heavy feeders. The chickens, turkeys and rabbits eat any leftover or damaged squash (if they are not carved into boats for the Zucchini Regatta or used in Zucchini Golf tournaments first.  We find entertainment where we can.)  The deer get their share - I think of it as a deer tax of ten percent and don't worry unless they exceed that amount.

We raise meat chickens, and we will soon eat one of the turkeys, and the plan, at least, is to eat the rabbits as the circle completes.  We give Neighbor Bob vegetables and he gives us trout and venison.  Neighbor Betty brings stale bread for the chickens, and takes eggs home with her.  Sweeney Beans, however, will have to content herself with mice and tuna-flavored kibble.

Lay, Lady, Lay

Posted by katie at 2009.04.03 0933
I put an ad on Craigslist last week for 'hypothetical Red Bourbon poults."  Hypothetical, because the turkey hens just started laying eggs two weeks ago, and when I placed the ad I only had about a dozen eggs in the incubator.  I explained, in the ad, that I was just testing the waters, trying to see if there was any interest.

There was.  I've got orders for sixty poults as of this morning.  We're up to 28 eggs in the incubator, but who knows what the hatch rate will be.   Only a fool would make promises when turkeys are involved.  Twenty years of raising chickens has proved next to useless when applied to figuring out turkeys.

Take the simple matter of the eggs. Chickens settle down in the communally agreed-upon nest, making a few little grunting noises, squawk a bit, pop out an egg, and then inspect it happily, making noises that sound, I'm not kidding, like a worried Marge Simpson.  Then they forget about it entirely, and go off in search of a little snack.  Occcasionally a hen gets broody and decides to sit on a nest - another story for another day - but usually it's back to business within a few minutes.

Not the turkey hens.  First, the eggs pop out wherever the hen happens to be standing when the urge hits.  She'll squat down a little, but I've seen a few bounce so hard I fear the babies could have brain damage, but then, who could tell?  Once the egg is on the ground, all three hens circle around it, obviously intrigued by this odd intruder.  They'll pace around it clockwise for a minute or so, then one gets the idea to switch directions, and after a bit of crashing around, they're all going the other way.  What is it?  Where did it come from?  Will it bite?  Is it food?  Did I do that?  Really?   While the chickens sound like Mrs. Simpson, the turkey hens look like MacBeth's Weird Sisters circling their bubbling cauldron, and they sound like the old ladies who've "been shoppin' " in the Monty Python sketch.

Before I realized that each egg was a potential ten dollar poult, I left one egg in the pen for a few hours to see if the hens might decide to sit on a nest. There was a great deal of activity for awhile, as each hen picked up feathers from the floor on the pen in her beak and ceremoniously dropped it on top of the egg, like a feathered Magi bringing gifts.  This lasted for about two hours and forty feathers, which is a very, very long time for a turkey's attention span.  Then a pheasant strolled through the yard and the girls were distracted, and that was the end of the nest-building.

So the potential poults will be mothered by a styrofoam box with an electric heat unit, and I've been outside singing Bob Dylan to the turkeys and offering rewards of fresh dandelions for each egg produced.  If you visit during bloom season this year, there will probably be baby turkeys in the poultry playpen on the porch.  Hum a little Dylan and they'll know you're friendly.

Pocket omelette recipe

Posted by katie at 2009.04.01 1349
Take six chicken eggs from the henhouse, realize you've forgotten the basket, and put them in the right pocket of your chore coat.  Feed the rabbits, makes sure the potatoes haven't been uncovered in the garden, transplant twelve more flats of tomatoes, and then, when the sound of rain on the greenhouse roof simmers, remember the laundry that's still on the clothesline, race out, snag the laundry quickly, and grab the full basket against your right hip.  Oops.

Iris: not yummy.

Posted by katie at 2009.03.22 1238
In the interest of science, I've eaten an iris leaf.

I've noticed that we occasionally have deer damage to overwintering leaves, but usually only when there's a snow cover, and almost inevitably a search of the area finds an iris leaf, spat out on the ground, somewhere nearby.  The main damage the deer will do is to pull an entire rhizome out of the ground instead of just biting off a piece of leaf, but our soil is like cement here, and the leaves usually give before the ground does.

Deer have a reputation for eating nearly anything and many of my customers live in areas that are overrun with them, so the question of potential deer damage has often come up.  But here, the deer usually nibble a leaf or two every winter and move on to something tastier.   They don't eat my hosta, either.  I'm guessing that the available food is proportionate to the local deer population, what with the State Game Lands behind us, and they've just got better options.

But I tried a leaf out of curiosity and I can tell you that they are not particularly tasty.  Grassy, a little bitter, and a bit tough.  Now, I still don't know if deer taste buds are similar to humans, although I've noticed we share a fondness for snap peas.  And I don't know if all iris taste the same, or if ones grown in different soil might have a different taste, like the onions grown in the sulfur-rich soil around Vidalia, Georgia.  I'm closing the book on this experiment, though - I can't quite bring myself to munch on leaves in other people's iris gardens.

Pot patrol

Posted by katie at 2009.03.22 1223
Someone recognized me at the hardware store - probably because I was bending over to get something out of a low bin, and thus in the pose that most neighbors see as they drive down our road while I'm weeding.  "You the lady that grows all that stuff?" the man said.  "That would be me," I agreed.  "Huh," he said, scratching his flannel-clad belly.  "So, how's that going?"  "Well," I said, "I'm having some trouble with the pots this year."  "Really?  Why's that?" he said, filling his paper bag with nails.  "I'm guessing too much moisture," I answered, warming to my topic - and noticing that a second guy was now listening.  "Maybe a little too cold this year."  "Whattaya do about it?"  Second Guy asked.

(Isn't this interesting?  Being asked for advice on raising iris while at the local hardware?)

"I'm replanting a couple hundred just to be safe," I said.  "Fresh soil certainly won't hurt.  I'll amend it with a little alfalfa meal."  A third guy has now entered the aisle.  "Alfalfa, meal," he asks, "like from the feed store?"  "Yep," I answer.  "I gotta try that," he said.

So I pay for the new toilet flapper thingie I need and drive home, thinking how nice it's been that I could be helpful - and who knew some local guy is growing potted iris?

Then I realized:   he didn't hear "trouble with pots", plural; he heard the singular, and I have just unwittingly enhanced my local reputation in a way I could have done without, although it might increase attendance at our open gardens this year.  I am pretty sure I've just given horticultural advice to at least one local marijuana grower.  I do hope it turns out to be helpful, but at the same time, I hope I never find out.

Iris earworms

Posted by katie at 2009.03.15 2002
Don't worry - this isn't some kind of terrible new iris pest.  Unless you're like me - highly susceptible to musical earworms.  You know earworms - those musical hooks that play over and over in your brain, in my case, sometimes, for hours.  I did some reading up on earworms, last night, as I was fairly desperate for any diversion that would keep me away from unloading the dishwasher.  Turns out - who knew? - that there's a German word, similar in sound, that means a 'musical itch on the brain'.  I wrote it down because it charmed me, but now I can't find the paper.  I've assumed for years that 'earworm' was a term coined to play upon the parasitic nature of the beast, but it's just a corruption of a German term.  I can't wait to bring that up in conversation, but I'm going to have to find that slip of paper first.

The people most susceptible to earworms, I read, tend to be women, trained as musicians, creative, and neurotic.  I admit to the first two, aspire to the third, but fear  I've made a clean sweep.

Here's how it works for me:  when I'm walking through the iris beds, or working on the database, and I see an iris name that's a trigger - like "Modern Major General" - then there's no escape; I'm singing Gilbert and Sullivan until I am distracted by another one like "Penny Lane", at which point the Beatles replace the operetta.  There's no discrimination as far as genres;  "Stars and Stripes" starts the march, which will run in its entirely unless interrupted,  "I Feel Good" has me channeling James Brown, and "Winterland" cues the John Mayer tune "Wonderland".   Weirdly, "Snowy Wonderland" does not remind me of that song, nor does it kick off  "Winter Wonderland, even though the deliciously offbeat Bob Rivers version of that tune gets stuck in my head every holiday season.

It's not always predictable:  "Honky Tonk Blues" is an earworm, but "BugleBoy Blues" is not; I guess I'm more of a Stones fan, although I know I conducted the latter with a high school jazz band somewhere in my teaching career.  "Auld Lang Syne" doesn't do a thing, but "I've Got Rhythm" is inescapable.  "Spinning Wheel" is one of my favorite Blood, Sweat and Tears charts, but I'm immune to it, maybe because the iris itself is so innocuous.  But "Ida Red" has somehow triggered "Lida Rose" from the Music Man, and "Rapture in Blue" starts the clarinet solo at the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue; I wish I could 'hear' the whole piece but I just seem to loop the solo.  "Good Vibrations" cannot be turned off, and, sadly, "Muskrat Ramble" starts the Captain and Tenille's Muskrat Love.  I had kind of hoped, as I got older, to put that one behind me.

If you are afflicted with earworms, then you know resistance is futile.  I mean, I can't even walk through bed 10 without the Batman theme starting up.   I've tried pre-emptive tunes as a counterattack, but no matter how hard I try, I can't hold Janis Joplin in my head when I'm faced with "Ain't Misbehavin' ".

I guess I should just be glad there's no iris named "Lion Sleeps Tonight".

I spy with my own eye - or do I?

Posted by katie at 2009.03.08 1349
Inventory accuracy.  Pretty important, if you're selling something.  So every year at this time, I head out to the fields to start counting.  Because my inventory doesn't behave itself on warehouse shelves; no, it's spent the last year partying, multiplying wantonly, or perhaps it's been suicidal and has vanished without a trace.  Maybe the deer have used its marker in their little soccer games, or whatever the heck they're doing out there (possibly multiplying wantonly, and kicking markers over in the process; who knows?)

Some clumps are aggressively pushing up already, several beautiful green inches, and some are shy, poking - maybe - the tip of a leaf or two in the middle of a patch of clover so I can't quite be sure.  Occasionally I've written off a variety entirely only to have it come charging up in early April at breakneck speed, late for the party, but ready to rock. Sometimes the reverse - something that looks vibrant and healthy now will vanish in two weeks and I will have no idea why.   Some have clearly definable offspring - there's definitely four on that one - and some are not so easy:  will that one grow enough to sell the three babies this year, or not?  Most are healthy, but a few are marginal - is that rhizome slightly squishy?  But there's a nice shoot coming up from it.  Maybe it's going to be okay.  Do I count it, or not?  Did something bite off the top of that one?  Will it grow?

I've realized this isn't a simple counting project.  It's a Rohrschach test for the iris grower.  You can look at a clump of iris at the end of winter in Pennsylvania and see whatever you want to see.  My approach to life is to hope of the best and prepare for the worst, but where does that put me when it's time to write a number in the column beside Rose Princess in bed T11A? I once thought that as I gained more experience growing iris, this would get easier, but last year I asked a friend who also does this for a living at what point in his thirty-one years of growing iris he became proficient at inventory.  "Hasn't happened yet," he emailed back.  "Kinda comes down to educated guessing."

Well, that I can relate to; it's how I did my undergraduate work.   Inventory has to get done this week, so once this shower passes I'm going back outside to finish the T (terrace) beds, and I'll be making my best educated guess.  I wish there were a flawless method, because I remember every single time I have had to contact a customer and tell them something isn't available after all.  Greg H. really wanted Aunt Lucy last year, and the woman who wrote to order Pretty Woman because her husband used to sing the song to her, and the lovely woman who visited and fell in love with Gallant Moment..........I'm sorry, again.  I'm not always overly optimistic.  I thought Progressive Attitude had pooped out last year and now I'm drowning in it.  Doing my best here.   This year I think my guesses are more educated.  And hey, you might want to check out Progressive Attitude.......

We've moved!

Posted by tim at 2009.02.27 1651
Hi everyone -

Background Geek Tim here - Just wanted to let you know that we've moved to a new server.  Let us know if you see anything weird.



Something about iris.

Posted by katie at 2009.02.20 0018
It's occurred to me that I rarely post anything about iris on this blog - oops.  A question came up today in an email with a landscaper and I realized it might be a good point to bring up, because it can make your decisions about long term iris care more clear.

Each rhizome has exactly one bloom in it - one bloom stalk which may have multiple blooms, but it will only bloom once.  There is nothing that will change this. This blooming rhizome, called the 'mother', will put forth a few babies at its base (this process starts before the mother blooms) and it's those rhizomes which will bloom the next year.  The baby rhizome will not bloom before the mother rhizome does, so if for some reason - perhaps because it's been transplanted or otherwise stressed - the mother doesn't bloom, the babies will just wait their turn.

Very rarely an iris will bloom and not send up any babies at all, a phenomenon known as 'bloomout'.  Weirdly, an entire variety will sometimes bloom out in the same year.  It's extremely frustrating.  Out of sheer stubbornness I'll trim them back and pot them just to see if, in time, there might be new growth, but the success rate is so low that unless it's a variety you can't replace, it's probably not worth the effort.

After the mother rhizome blooms it might (rarely) produce babies more than one time, but it won't bloom again no matter what.  Standard practice is to toss the old worn out mothers when the beds are divided, because usually they won't send up more babies.  I have something of an affinity for old worn out mothers, being one myself, and I will often pot them up and give them a little extra love and see if perhaps they might have another, er, litter.  (Usually two, sometimes four, very rarely six new rhizomes spring from the base of the mother plant in the first round; if I get any later, it's never more than two.)  The success rate for this is pretty high, but it can take several years for the second batch of rhizomes to come to bloom, whereas the first batch will bloom fairly reliably the next year, and I've never sold any of them because I suspect they may just not be as strong as the first ones.  The mother rhizome will give nutrients to the babies until eventually it rots while they thrive - not a metaphor that we mothers would want to dwell on particularly.  If a squishy rotten mother rhizome is still attached to a good one, it can be the entry point for disease, so it's best to cut it away when it starts to get soft.  But up until that point, it can still be helping the younger rhizomes.

It's possible to cut away the soft mother rhizome without disturbing the plant, and if you notice squishy bits close to bloom time, when lifting the entire plant would cost you the bloom, you can do exactly that.  Use a sharp knife, and for maximum protection against disease, sterilize the knife between plants.  This is ridiculously impractical in real life, so I'll wipe the blade on the seat of my jeans and use a spray bottle with a bleach and water solution on the blade, if I'm doing several hundred.  You, of course, probably have more class than that.  More often, though, I take the route of benign neglect:  if it doesn't stink, I leave it alone until it's time to divide the plant.  Stinky squishy rhizomes are a sign of bacterial rot, and that's bad news; then there's no choice but to cut out the bad parts.

Generally though I break off the good new parts when I divide clumps after blooming is over(Neighbor Charlie always uses a knife but I don't), then I'll toss the old mothers into a bucket in the cart, trim the roots and leaves of the younger ones, replant them with more appropriate spacing - and then I get a little twang of empathy and look at the old mothers again, and if they look healthy, I pot them up and stick them in the greenhouse on the salvage shelf.  For home gardeners, lifting and dividing clumps every three years is probably best, but you can wait an extra year or two if they haven't divided to the point that they're crowding each other.  If you don't get around to it, you won't kill them, but you'll reduce the amount of bloom you could get otherwise.

The early bird gets the worm, but........

Posted by katie at 2009.02.19 2153
.......the slowest chicken gets the ramen.

I'm sorry I can't get a better picture - I guess I'm laughing too hard to hold the camera steady.

The fastest baby chick (these are four days old) snags the ramen noodle and, because we don't share this age but instead run as fast as we can with our treasure, it immediately takes off at high speed, frantically leapfrogging the other babies like a little feathered running back.  Sometimes the weight of the noodle's a little too much and the chicken will fumble in a somersault and forfeit the prize, but more often it tries to go for the first down, managing about twelve inches of gain per play.

But when you're only four days old, you poop out pretty quickly, so Alpha Chick is soon exhausted, and in the manner of baby chickens, falls asleep instantly, whereupon Second Fastest Chick triumphantly grabs the ramen noodle and runs until it, too, is so tired it suddenly falls over asleep.  They do this like a switch has been thrown, and after all these years I still sometimes think they're having little chicken heart attacks.

There are thirty three chickens in a box in my living room, and the little scrap of noodle you can see in the picture (which by this point is coated with chicken feed) was in everyone's possession at some point.  By the end of the game, thirty two chickens were sleeping, and the slowest chicken of all of them was feasting, uninterrupted, on the noodle.  In the picture, the little girl on the right has what's left of the noodle, and the gray one to its left, and the one with the brown head with stripes, are actually asleep on their feet.

I should have been folding laundry instead of  watching this all afternoon.


Ten reasons why a cold house is not a bad thing.

Posted by katie at 2009.02.19 1417
As we look for more and more ways to economize, the thermostat's as low as it's ever been and I need to put the spin in motion so I can see the bright side:

1.   Diet Coke from the basement is at perfect drinking temperature, thus freeing up room in the refrigerator.

2.  Going outside for chores in subfreezing weather isn't the shock it would be if the house were warm.

3.  That virtuous feeling when the television experts suggest lowering your thermostat to a number that's ten degrees higher than our house is right now provides a warm glow.

4.  It's not uncomfortable to work on my larger knitting projects, especially if I can wrap myself in them while I work.  Looks like everyone will get an afghan for Christmas this year.

5.  Shivering burns calories, right?

6.  Great opportunity to wear all those stockpiled heavy sweaters ..... at once.

7.  If someone accidentally leaves the door open.......who'd notice?

8.  Meat defrosts safely at room temperature.

9.  More motivation to bake bread and use the slow cooker, as hands can be warmed by the oven or crockpot, resulting in more frugal meals.

10.   No chance that the seedlings in the basement greenhouse will grow too fast and become spindly.  No chance at all.

An open letter to my dry-erase board.

Posted by katie at 2009.02.17 1846
Dear Dry Erase Board,

I thought our relationship was going to be special.  I thought, when I picked you out of the bin at the dollar store, that you would be the answer to my prayers.  When I got home and discovered that despite having been made in China and costing only 99 cents that your little marker still worked, I thought this was a sign of great things to come.  So I hung you up in the greenhouse - I even used a level, to show you that I was committed to this relationship - and I wrote down all of the big winter chores, organized by month.

What went wrong, Dry Erase Board?  Were your sensibilities offended by the earthier listings?  ("Jan:  shovel chicken shit in barn.")   Were you disgusted by the hubris of such grandiose entries as "Feb: Inventory all iris!"?  Don't you believe my promises of better times to come?  ("Mar:  time to start brassicas!")  Had you pictured for yourself a more upscale future, installed in a shiny condominium kitchen in a community with a neighborhood association that ruled out things like chickens and iris pots and, well, me?  With entries in flawless cursive reminding SuperMom that she chairs a board meeting at nine and runs a 10K on her lunch break and tonight is little Heather's debut in the community theater?  Is that why you mock me with silent reproach every time I go into the greenhouse?

I'll take my share of blame for the wreckage of our relationship, Dry Erase Board.  I knowI slacked off in January. ("Fill 500 flats.  Clear brush from hillside beds.") I know I've neglected you in February. ("Seed lettuces.  Compost rabbit poop.  Expand turkey pen.")  But, Dry Erase Board, you might want to look in the mirror, too.  I mean, okay, I've fallen behind on my commitments.  And a startling percentage of my jobs revolve around excrement in one form or another.  I know I've let you down.  But, Dry Erase Board, you only cost 99 cents, and I wasn't going to mention it before, but you have a big chip on the left side, and your eraser doesn't work very well.  SuperMom wasn't ever going to buy you.  Her neighborhood association probably wouldn't have approved of you either.  We were made for each other, Dry Erase Board. It's time we moved past the youthful exuberance of first love and accepted each other, flaws and all.  I want to grow old with you, Dry Erase Board.  Can we get past this?  I'm willing to try.  Tomorrow, I'll clean up all that chicken shit.  I promise.

love, katie

.....was blind, but now I see.

Posted by katie at 2009.02.10 1015
I've just returned from a few days at the PASA conference (PA sustainable ag) at Penn State.  When I attend the annual program, I'm often seduced by two hour workshops on things improbable and impractical, from the perspective of reality at Stoney Creek, and attend sessions on things that don't have an immediate application here.  This year, I made better choices:  Weed School and Bug School.

I spent an entire day learning to identify weeds.  Now, they're the main crop here in terms of volume and variety, if not sales, so you'd think I'd already be something of an expert.   And I was, in fact, pretty good at recognizing some old foes:  bindweed, chicory, galinsoga, henbit, etc. Many, many etc's, in fact.

But I've never been able to distinguish the different grasses.   In retrospect, I now realize I didn't even know they were all different.  The agronomy profs who worked with us showed us how to look for certain identifying characteristics at the nodules on the grasses called auricles.  Once you figure out whether there's an auricle, and if so, what type, you can place the grass in question into a particular category, then work your way through a few more identifiers, and know what you're looking at.

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.  But....auricles.  I didn't even know they existed in the first place, let alone that I didn't know about them.  Kind of makes you wonder how many things are out there, doesn't it, that haven't crossed your radar yet?  I've spent all these years trying to work harder, and I'm finally learning the key is to work smarter.  If I can identify my particular weeds, I can figure out if they're beneficial (many are) or if they're truly problems.  If they're problems, I can figure out the safest and sanest way to deal with them.

I had taken a novel with me to read at the hotel, but I stayed up well past midnight the first night reading my weed book, leaning against a stack of pillows, just wanting to read 'one more page'.  I have many, many weed books already. The difference was that now I could see things I hadn't known were there before.  It's a great feeling.'s a business expense

Posted by katie at 2009.01.20 0017
Every now and then I run into someone who confesses that they go a bit overboard when purchasing seeds or plants or (happily for me) iris rhizomes.  A bit shamefacedly, they share the details:  I bought three extra tomato plants, they'll say.  I ordered ten iris I don't have space for in my garden, they'll say.  Or, they'll admit to having splurged on a couple of flats of petunias when, really, one would have been enough.

To which I cannot help but reply:  dear reader, you're an amateur.  You want to talk embarrassing excess?  Grab a cup of coffee and listen to this.

I grow plants in the greenhouse and sell them in 4" pots, and I grow a lot of produce.  In my mind, this perfectly justifies having bought over three hundred new seed packets so far this year.  Three hundred.  New.  So far.  We're not talking about the stash saved from previous years.  And we're not, possibly, done yet.  This is the royal 'we', although I have noticed my husband, for the first time, browsing seed catalogs this year.  In the past I've attempted to engage him by showing him catalogs and asking what kind of flowers he'd suggest, and I get answers like "Oh, um, maybe some yellow things?"  So this could be an interesting twist.

There is no logic here.  Last year, I read about a new variety of rhubarb. Better vigor, better production.  I hit that little 'buy it now' button before my brain had even finished processing the description.  I grew four flats of what turned out to be, in fact, extremely vigorous rhubarb plants.  You know what? I hate rhubarb.

I grow potatoes.  I grew nine varieties last year.  In quantity.  There are two of us at home now.  Guess what I have for breakfast every morning?  But just to be on the safe side, I ordered twelve kinds this year.  Possibly when my mother was carrying me in the womb, she had a nightmare about food shortages.  Possibly that's why I feel the need to grow four varieties of arugula. (Which I do like, but I can't tell them apart.)

I'm growing hops because my daughter in law's brother, a great guy, makes beer. Never mind that Joe buys hops already, and lives several hundred miles away.  I like Joe, so I'm growing hops.  A Mennonite friend taught me how to make good bread last year, starting with grinding the wheat.  Guess what I'm planting - and how many kinds.  And while I was choosing wheat seeds, I thought hey, let's try millet, and amaranth, and quinoa, and teff.  I'm not even sure what teff is, except I read a novel, once, where the heroine was traveling in Africa and she ate something called injera, which might, or might not, be made from teff.  I can't really remember, but teff clearly imprinted on my brain, so I ordered some.

Sixteen kinds of winter squash.  You know how much space winter squash take up?  Did you see Little Shop of Horrors?  I'm pretty sure Audrey was a Delicata squash.   I've got a packet on my desk of magenta spreen, and I honestly can't even remember what it is.  Flower?  People food?  Chicken food?  No clue.  I have already started flats of some of the 30 kinds of lettuce I'll grow here this year, because what's a salad without one leaf each of thirty kinds of lettuce?  On the off chance I remember to cut some flowers for the table in August, I'll have a dozen kinds of zinnias alone from which to choose.  I'm growing woad because the name makes me laugh, and because smearing myself with blue dye on the Solstice is a far more intriguing idea than I really want to share here.  I'm growing herbs that make relaxing teas and I'll probably be too chicken to actually try them.  Including motherwort, which is supposed to be great for menopause, and I'm not even there yet.

Understand this is just the seeds.  We have not yet discussed, and will not, because I want to retain a modicum of dignity, things like books, yarn, or iris.  I rarely buy clothes and I no longer buy 'things', and in the last year or two I've really purged the house and given away a lot of stuff.  But a rare breed poultry catalog can cause hyperventilation, and I've dog-eared nine pages in the beekeepers' catalog.  I won't replace my  ratty old socks because there's still life in them, but I just ordered more elderberry bushes.

So relax. Go in peace.  Do not despair. A seed packet, after all, is a two dollar leap of faith that the world's going to be more beautiful, more productive, more nourishing this year than it was last year.  Nothing wrong with buying an extra packet.  Or three hundred.


Ending hibernation.

Posted by katie at 2009.01.14 1135
Think of me as an early groundhog, lumbering out of my winter quarters, stretching, squinting as the sun reflects on the snow, mildly grumpy at being awakened, but eventually, after much coffee, starting to get excited about the new year.  The groundhog gets a few more weeks of sleep, but things are already cranking up at Stoney Creek Iris for the new year.

The groundhog gets to look for a shadow and go back to sleep, but my to-do list is a bit longer:  there are flats to plant in the greenhouse, gardens to design, vegetable seeds to order (actually, I excel at that part), decisions to make about plant shows and sales, and thousands of marker tags to write.  The website needs updated, and I have postcards to send to returning customers that must be addressed.  The animals need attention, and there are catalogs of beekeeping supplies and poultry and fruit trees that must be studied at length, and decisions made.  The back room of the garage, which I optimistically refer to as my office, needs to be cleaned out and organized. I didn't get all the iris beds tidied up in the fall, so that's a priority when the weather cooperates, or even if it doesn't.   Oh, and I intend to organize my entire house, fill the freezer with homemade meals I can use when the spring work gets frantic, and lose a zillion pounds.  Anything is possible in January.

We added a lot of new iris last summer, some of which might be ready to sell this year.  Overall, the organization here was decent, the customer service excellent, and the weeding abysmal.  That's the goal for this groundhog this year:  minimal weeds, better growing conditions (air circulation and sun) for the iris plants.  Chicory in the iris beds will be a thing of the past.  Lamb's quarters and dandelions will be fed to the rabbits and turkeys (and people, in salads.)  Quack grass will quake at my approach.  Time to bundle up and head outside.

Guardian Angels

Posted by katie at 2008.07.23 1309
It is premature to look back over this season with the idea of assessing the totality of it, but one thing has become abundantly clear:  the kindness of others is an integral part in whatever measure of success Stoney Creek Iris achieves.   Having most of my employment experience in the arts and in academia,  I think that on some level I expected the world of business, or the tiny microcosm of it that I'm inhabiting now, to be a cold, impersonal adulation of the bottom line.  I thought, I suppose, that 'business' was the opposite of 'human', in other words.

What a joy  to discover how wrong I was.  I have received enormous support from family - Tim' s website design and computer-crisis support, Greg's willingness to weed and talk to on-site customers, Mike's question-and-answer sessions on the phone that focus my thinking, Becky's artistic design, Matt's suggestions about business grants.  Friends and customers, two groups that no longer have distinct boundaries, have been wonderfully supportive and understanding.  Ev brought friends to see the iris, David sent contact information for a like-minded friend, Patti routinely manages to find information on varieties I haven't been able to find in my research, Mit refers customers, Deb stops to visit and always makes me feel like I'm doing a good job.  (And so, so many more examples.  Some winter day, maybe, I'll see if I can list them all!)  Simple things like an email from a happy customer will motivate entire afternoons of weeding, and have made me look at how I interact with business people - why miss an opportunity to do the same for someone else?

Because I have a cool family, I am not surprised by their help, and likewise, I have cool friends.  What's surprised me a bit, though, is the genuine support from 'institutions'.  The people at the bank, the post office, the Ag Dept, etc. have become partners in the process of making things work here.  I realize that on one level they're just doing their jobs, but I'm sometimes a bit of a bonehead when it comes to understanding new things, and everyone's been very patient and gone the extra distance to help.

And then, there's the unknown benefactor who bought me a gift subscription for Business Weekly.  The magazine began arriving a few months ago, and when I realized it was an actual subscription and not a complimentary copy, I called the magazine and asked where it came from.  I'm kind of glad they wouldn't tell me.  While I'd very much like to thank the person, there's something very heartwarming in a way about wondering who it might be.  I've come up with seven people I know who would have the resources and the inclination to do something like that.  I think it's a good thing, to be 49 years old and have a list of seven possibilities like that in your life.   I see the subscription as a gesture of faith that I can become better organized, grasp business principles, and understand the bigger picture.  I'll try to live up to it.


Posted by katie at 2008.07.14 1115
I thought I'd update the blog with descriptions of how the iris are processed for shipment, along with a few pictures.  I like the first step a lot:  that's when I sit at the dining room table with a cup of coffee, comparing orders to inventory, happily making digging lists.  I'm good at this.  Good at drinking the coffee, good at staging the digging in a logical way, and especially good at making lists.  Listo, ergo sum.  I list, therefore I am.

Step Two is the actual digging.  This gets ugly.  So much so that I took a picture, using the nifty delay feature on the camera, but I will not post it.  Not because I have any ego issues; those were pretty well wiped out in my adolescence, and thanks again, Mom.  I won't post the picture because no one would believe it hasn't been doctored or staged.  You know, like the Iranian missile picture in the news last week.

But I'll describe it.  I am standing beside the trusty John Deere with the trailer attachment, which is full of the Necessaries for digging iris:  the inventory binder, a dozen sharpie markers, scissors, my digging tool, and Diet Coke.  I am wearing a t-shirt which is so covered with mud that you can not only not see the picture on it, you can't tell what color it once was.  Similarly filthy shorts.  My duct-taped comfy shoes.  A straw hat which has been soaked so many times it has weirdly morphed into a lopsided thing that looks like a flying saucer crashed into my head.

And under all of that, there's me.  I always think I've sweated out ten percent of my body weight, although sadly that is never confirmed when I step on the scale. I am soaking wet.  I have strange hair-sprouts sticking out sideways from raking dirty fingers through my hair.   I've always been a dirt magnet, unable to do the simplest task without getting messy, and digging iris brings this out to extremes.  Dirt has coalesced with melting sunblock to form a sort of shell on my face and arms.   When I dig iris, I can't go inside and shower until I hose myself off outside; I keep an old bathrobe in the garage so I can leave my clothes outside.  Truly, if the UPS man came up the driveway while I was digging iris, he'd call 911.

Technical Difficulties

Posted by tim at 2008.07.10 1005
Hi everyone - Background Geek here.

Our host upgraded our server this week - which is nice, but it's caused a few problems.  That's why the site was down this morning. If you made it in during the 15-minute window between the site coming back online and me figuring out why the heck it didn't show any iris, were probably as confused as I was.

If you find any other oddities, please let us know!



Rest in Peace

Posted by katie at 2008.06.12 1759
No, not the iris, although their bloom season is over now, and the dead stalks that I haven't cut yet look dismal in the garden. I'm sad when the season ends and not so at the same time - who could sustain that kind of thing? It's time for the next part of the season to begin, and, weirdly, I look forward to this too: the annual renovating of the beds and digging of orders. It's my Everest, although it more often feels like the hill Sisyphus had to climb.

This requiem, instead, is for my Comfy Shoes. These aren't just your regular Comfy Shoes. These are the UberShoes, the Alpha Pair of comfyness. Naturally, they're not made anymore. This pair, in fact, was acquired from a warehouse that specializes in out of stock footwear, and I paid dearly for them.

But all good things come to an end, and the Comfy Shoes are no exception. I've glued the soles back on several times and have more recently tried duct tape to hold them together, but there are holes in my soles and rips in the uppers. The stitching has disintegrated, and the insoles have rotted. It's time. I know I said that when I put them in the trash twice before. But this time I mean it. I know I'm on a crusade to reverse personal consumerism (you can do what you want, but I'm reining in my inner greedhead) and I don't want things going to landfills that still have some life in them, and I really, really do love the way these shoes fit, and I know I can't replace them......oh, never mind. The shoes stay.


Curtis - I miss you.

Posted by katie at 2008.06.02 2225
Before my sister's family was transferred overseas, my nephew Curtis had a crucial job whenever he visited: locating my coffee cups.  Knowing my eccentricities, I purchase cobalt blue mugs by the dozen at dollar stores.  I don't know how many cups of coffee I drink a day, but I pour at least six.....and lose at least three.  I take one with me, for instance, when I make the morning round of the iris beds, with the camera, clipboard, and sharpie markers clutched in my non-coffee-bearing hand.   Sooner or later this requires more coordination than I have (a quantity also known as 'some'), and I'll put the coffee cup down for just a second.....and forget about it.  There are blue mugs in the greenhouse, in the iris beds, in the vegetable garden, on top of the rabbit cages.  I leave them at Neighbor Bob's or Neighbor Charlie's, or on the washing machine in the basement.  I've found them in the loft of the barn, and once I found one in the mailbox.
Curtis earned a quarter for each cup he found, and the treasure hunts often lasted an hour or more and cost Aunt Katie several dollars.  But Curtis has been in England for a few months now, and I am reduced to searching through the beds for my own coffee cups.  We've had lovely teenage visitors this spring and charming toddlers,  but, sadly, no one who's the right age to send on a treasure hunt while their parents look at iris or choose tomato plants.   There's too many dangerous places here for unsupervised toddlers, and teenagers are far too cool.  If you're visiting and you have a ten year old......I know how they can make a few bucks.


Posted by katie at 2008.05.28 0938
I think we had some disappointed visitors earlier this season - dates that were full of bloom last year were sparse this year, and some planned trips happened before the beds really opened.  Here's where we are now, at the very end of May.  I wish you could all come back!


The Accidental Sofa

Posted by katie at 2008.05.26 1723
I spent the afternoon making new iris markers, comfortably seated on this lovely sofa under the maple tree in the driveway while I waited for visitors.  To some, this might look more like the six bales of straw that weren't carted to the garden and spread for mulch with the other 94 that were delivered a few weeks ago.  I admit there's a strong resemblance.  But this is functional art.  Entirely on purpose.  Really.  I expect the Chia company will be calling soon.


And to think I bought sunscreen

Posted by katie at 2008.05.20 1513
When I was planning ahead for guests during iris season, I made a list of small things I could provide, like pencils and notepads for visitors who decided to make a wish list. I bought sunscreen, too. Now, I've lost track of how many consecutive rainy days we've had, and I realize that my guests are in no danger of sun stroke, but they may be at risk for mold. It is damp and squishy, but the view from the top of the hill is still pretty cool. I don't have the skills to photograph it in a way that shows the scale, or captures the way the clouds sort of drift along the mountains.


How to choose iris

Posted by katie at 2008.05.20 0944
As a lifelong student of psychology, always intrigued by the other humans with whom I share the planet, I've been fascinated by the different approaches people have to choosing iris when they visit.   In no particular order, and with absolutely no endorsement or judgment, here's some examples:

1.  Bring a  list of iris names which you have gleaned from my website, and others, and see if you can meet those iris in person, to make sure they're exactly what you want.

2.  Bring a swatch of fabric from a dress you made your daughter when she was seven, because it's her favorite color and she still mentions that dress occasionally, and now that she's grown up with her own home, you want to find an iris that's exactly that color for her new garden.

3.  Stand in the middle of the beds making vaguely orgasmic noises and panting "I....must...have....THAT ONE!" while pointing to one iris after another.

4.  Print out, in color, a picture of every iris you already have, so you can coordinate new choices.

5. Want very badly to find the exact one your grandmother had when you were four, but it's hard, because at the time you were three feet tall, so you remember it towering over you, and now they all look.......smaller.

6.  Confide that you feel that pastel colors are speaking to your soul this year because they're telling you that you need to slow down the pace of your life, so you're only looking for lighter hues; you're coming back for bolder colors when your psyche is stronger.

7.  Stick to pink and black because Martha Stewart's recent article said they're the 'in' iris colors this year.

8.  Ask for concierge service:  "I'd like to see something in a yellow, with ruffles."

9.  Need - really, really need - to be assured that your choices are okay.  "Will these look good together?  Are you sure?"  (Remember, you're asking a woman who can't coordinate her wardrobe and is not particularly disturbed by the fact.)

10.  Choose iris by name only.  You're a Beatles fan so you want Abbey Road and Ringo, or you secretly despise your sister in law so you want to buy "Wide Hips",  give it to her without the tag, and amuse yourself with the thought.

And that's only from the first open garden weekend.

Kitchen sink psychology

Posted by katie at 2008.05.18 2207
The dishwasher is broken, and because it's bloom time I haven't had time to call and negotiate with a repairman. So I thought if I put some pansies and potted iris right outside the kitchen window, maybe I'd be more inspired to wash the dishes. It's worked pretty well so far, but only because I've changed the pots every few days. I have a short attention span, I guess.


"Death is the mother of beauty"

Posted by katie at 2008.05.18 1201
One of the wonderful parts about the open gardens is that I get to meet so many interesting people - some neighbors I didn't know, and some people who traveled a considerable distance to get here.  There is something to learn from everyone, including the woman who sniffed "They all look alike to me" and got back in her car.

Yesterday I found myself in a discussion about the philosophy of loving a flower with a relatively short bloom time with a charming couple from Harrisburg.   I've heard the comment before, in a critical sense - which is not remotely how these people meant it:   that iris aren't worth the effort because even with staggering varieties, there's only so many weeks of bloom time.  A woman felt compelled to share that observation with me at a plant show last week, making an effort to come into my booth specifically to tell me she would not buy any iris for that reason; she didn't want to waste her money on something that didn't last.  Since I am not exactly the paragon of maturity, it took considerable effort to keep from handing her four quarters and suggesting she go to the dollar store and buy herself a plastic flower.  But I managed.

I believe that it's a bit like Christmas morning.  Who could possibly sustain that kind of feeling throughout the year - and who would want to even try?  It's the anticipation beforehand and the memories afterward, as much as the event itself.  It's the fact that it only comes once a year that makes it something special.   My guests yesterday with whom I had this conversation understood this.  Wallace Stevens, in the poem "Sunday Morning", says that "death is the mother of beauty".   It's the very impermanence of the iris, I think, that make us appreciate them.  It's the idea that all that effort, a year's worth of the plant feeding the rhizome, the stalk rising, the buds forming - results in, for each individual blossom, one brief, shining moment.  Something that is beautiful has value, regardless of its duration.  Who among us hasn't wondered what our own contribution to the world might be, how it will be viewed after we're gone?  Maybe good, like beauty, doesn't have to fit any parameters of time, or maximum visibility, or concreteness to have worth.  Maybe it just has to be.  And if not - there's a large display at the Dollar Store.



Posted by katie at 2008.05.17 1934
Because iris reproduce asexually, each parent can only produce identical offspring, and all iris of a particular name are descendants of one original cultivar.  New varieties are produced by cross pollinating two different ones.   Except, every now and then, one of the colorbreakers (stripey ones) decides to do it's own thing on just one or two petals.  I'm not sure what causes it, but it's sure fun when it happens.  Check out this flower of Ziggy - two petals with no stripes to speak of and one that just went all out.


Mother Nature Bats Last

Posted by katie at 2008.05.16 0907
Tomorrow is the first day of the Open Gardens, which we have advertised through the website, my farmer's market, the plant shows I've done this spring, and the article in Susquehanna Style's May-June issue.

In January, I thought about the Open Gardens, and envisioned perfect weed free beds, separated by thoughtfully arranged paths of woodchips, with new, larger labels. (I need reading glasses now, and I've revised my opinion about how big a marker really needs to be.)

In February, I thought about the Open Gardens and envisioned a peaceful retreat with gardens bursting with other plants as well as the iris; perhaps a strategically placed water cooler (more environmentally friendly than disposable water bottles) for guests; a printed handout for every visitor with lists of available iris and their prices; casually arranged vintage benches and rocking chairs tastefully placed in various areas so visitors could rest. The various little creatures in my care would provide charming photo opportunities, and, naturally, my vision included me, floating gracefully through the gardens, having lost weight, acquired social skills, and replaced the embarrassing wardrobe.

March and April were what you might call a reality check. I had unexpected surgery, it rained on most of the days I was home to work, and days seemed to have fewer hours than I needed. I never quite know how this happens. The road to the Open Gardens was paved with good intentions. I did get a lot done: I rented a porta-potty and scrounged up a bunch of chairs and benches, so visitors can pee and rest, respectively. I potted up some begonias and repainted the barn door. Never got a water cooler, so I'm hoping there's a case of bottled water in the basement. The iris labels are good, but the weeds are monstrous. I'm still wearing my favorite shoes, which are wrapped with duct tape to keep the soles on, still grumpy in the mornings, and haven't lost an ounce of weight, so gliding gracefully through the gardens in a summery linen outfit just isn't happening. The angora rabbits need to be brushed, as they look like Rastafarians again, and the back porch smells alarmingly like baby turkey poop, because I still haven't move them to the grown-up turkey pen. Leftover Cat has claimed one of the vintage chairs (which I did not get reupholstered), and is shedding gobs of black fur all over it. And despite an early start to budding, the iris aren't opening as fast as I'd hoped; they're just starting to get cranked up now. Barely. Mother Nature, ultimately, calls the shots here.

It might sound like I'm making excuses. I'm not, not in the least. I'm laughing as I write this. Laughing at the ultimate futility of those manically optimistic to-do lists and our ridiculously human idea that we can control everything in our little universes. Lists are nice but ultimately limited - Churchhill said that plans are useless, but planning is everything. I tried, and things happened, and so I tried to roll with it. It is, after all, all about the iris, not about my fantasy of perfection. I'll get closer next year. In the meantime, the iris are beautiful and guests are welcome. Just watch out for the cat hair on the chair on the porch.

Baby Bean

Posted by katie at 2008.05.06 2112
Here's a picture of the new kitten, Baby Bean. Happily, she is already placed with a wonderful owner, the young woman who originally rescued the Bean's mother, Sweeney Beans. This picture pretty much captures Baby Bean's general outlook on life.


Nighttime rituals

Posted by katie at 2008.05.06 2110
Let me preface this by saying that I know perfectly well if the weather wasn't beautiful tonight - crisp and clear, with a hint of color in the clouds after the sun set - that I wouldn't be writing this post.  Instead, I'd be complaining about how long the evening chores took.

But......I love the 'tucking in' ritual every evening.  Gather the eggs, thank the chickens, close the henhouse door.  Check the rabbits' water, give them a handful of clover and a forsythia branch to chew on.  (I hate the forsythia by the barn, so I'm feeding it to the rabbits one branch at a time.)  Check for tools accidentally left outside.  Flip on four light switches to get into the greenhouse through the barn, adjust the exhaust fans, check that everything's well watered, flip off the lights on the way out, pull the big barn doors shut, unhook the small door, go outside, latch it again.  Pull the laundry off the clothesline, check Sweeney and her kitten, close the garage door, check the turkeys on the back porch, turn off the porch light, close the door.

As I said, if it were raining, I'd be griping.  But it was pleasant tonight, and it makes me feel that all the little creatures in my care, plant or animal, are safe for the night.

Never fear - Feral Chicken is here

Posted by katie at 2008.05.06 1040
Here's the Stoney Creek Employee of the Month: Feral Chicken. A true testament to Darwinian theory, FC has been on the lam for 18 months, having discovered a secret escape hatch from what we thought was a pretty tight henhouse. We can coax her back in sometimes, but she's always out the next morning - and no one else has ever discovered her secret. She eludes the beasts of the night by sleeping at the very tip of a high oak branch, lays eggs in a juniper bush near the house, and spends her days happily searching for weeds and, one hopes, iris borers. Clearly Feral Chicken is superior amongst the flock, and we salute her intrepid spirit and wily survival skills.   Iris borers, beware.


The Stoney Creek Iris Gargoyle

Posted by katie at 2008.04.30 1902
Many iris catalogs have a picture of the well-groomed, well-behaved dog or cat that lives there, usually accompanied by glowing text in which the grower explains that their noble, cuddly companion weeds the beds, nips off spent blossoms with his or her teeth, and greets garden guests by name.  No such luck here. I've got Leftover Cat, instead, who not only is without discernible personality and charm, but who technically doesn't even have a name; she really is the leftover from a large and unexpected batch born under the porch twelve years ago. In retirement from active mousie duty, Leftover has stationed herself on top of the deck roof as the farm watch cat, which would be more impressive if she could see more than a few feet in front of her. Oh well - they also serve who only sit and glare.


The Egg and I

Posted by katie at 2008.04.25 1154
This is what my kitchen counter looks like the day before market.  Well, not really, because before I took the picture I moved a couple of things out of the way:  grocery receipts, my morning coffee cup, a packet of hinges (for garden trellises), a bowl of carrot peelings (for the rabbits) and a bottle of gin (self-explanatory).  This is 27 dozen eggs, ready to pack for market.  There's a designated fridge in the garage for them.  I discovered that I can put 20 dozen in a laundry basket at one time, but that just seems like an accident waiting to happen.  So I carry them outside six dozen at a time instead.


Okay. How cool is this?

Posted by katie at 2008.04.23 1344
Imagine, if it's not too painful, a middle-aged, overweight woman returning from work with a pickup truck full of groceries. She pulls up next to her roadside mailbox, grabs the usual bills, and finds a large white envelope with four beautiful issues of a magazine which has run a feature about her iris business. Imagine ice cream melting in the back to the truck as said middle-aged woman, unable to contain her excitement, jumps out of the truck and performs an impromptu Happy Dance on the, happily, not heavily-trafficked road.

I ran over to Neighbor Charlie's with a copy for him and his wife Betty, my good friends and iris mentors, before even reading it, then came home to, well, memorize every word. I'm not too proud to admit it. I even took a picture to add here; the actual title is "The Iris Impulse", but the picture isn't clear enough to read the second word.

I come across as articulate, knowledgeable, passionate, and mildly eccentric, which is pretty much my blueprint for adulthood to begin with. I'm grateful for that, for writer Daina Savage's attention to detail, and for Donovan Roberts Witmer's breathtaking pictures. I'm also grateful that my butt doesn't look too big in the pictures. All our concerns can't be equally meaningful, I suppose.

The magazine is "Susquehanna Style", and their website is www.Susquehanna It's available regionally here in central Pa., and if you visit here during bloom season, I'll probably still have a copy in hand. Meanwhile, I have some ice cream to clean up.


let the games begin!

Posted by katie at 2008.04.22 1728
Remember that feeling you'd get when you woke up on Christmas morning when you were, say, six years old, hardly able to believe that it was finally here.  I'm feeling that way today, even though this first iris bloom is sort of cheating because it was in a pot in the greenhouse.  I guess that's the equivalent of being allowed to open one package on Christmas Eve.  But why haggle?  I'm just going to celebrate it.


Apologies to Sam Francis

Posted by katie at 2008.04.16 1941
When my boys were little and still had trouble pronouncing half the alphabet, they referred to the statue in the garden as Sam Francis.  The Saint Francis statue was my mother's, and I've always loved it because Francis - or Sam, as he's still informally-but-respectfully known here - has a wonderfully weatherbeaten look to him, and his hands are a workingman's.  I'm not a saint-statue kind of person in general, but if I'm going to have a Saint Francis here, he'd better not have sissy hands.  I mean, the guy worked a garden, and gardeners do not have sissy hands.

I can see the statue from my kitchen window, and I've noticed how often Leftover Cat seems to be right there at the feet of St. Francis.   Cool, I thought; after all, he's the patron saint of animals, a kind, gentle soul, and perhaps Leftover senses that?  I had flashbacks to one of my favorite books as a child, 'Rabbit Hill', in which forest animals gathered at the feet of a St. Francis statue.  Imagining all sorts of anthropomorphical motives, I'd smile every time I saw the old black cat squatting in the garden beside the  Squatting?  Oh, horrors.

Leftover Cat isn't spiritually communing with the patron saint of the animal kingdom, he's pooping.  And apparently has been for some time. Yes.  My I.Q.-deprived, antique cat has been getting up in the morning, stretching, having breakfast, and then wandering out to the Saint Francis statue to have his morning poop.  I am at a bit of a loss here, theologically speaking.  I am fairly certain the animal characters in 'Rabbit Hill' did not poop at the feet of St. Francis.

Should I move the statue?  Should I replace it with a more poop-worthy icon, a politician or overhyped celebrity, perhaps?  Should I put a load of nice fresh topsoil in another accessible place and hope Leftover's remaining brain cells find it an attractive alternative?  I just don't know.  I hope Sam isn't offended.

The wisdom to know the difference.

Posted by katie at 2008.04.16 1914
Part of the Navajo philosophy is to reconcile oneself to reality and see the beauty in what is; a core tenet of Buddhism focuses on joyfully accepting the here and now; and in the Christian tradition, there's the beautiful line in the Serenity Prayer about accepting what we can't change.

Well, my reality is weeds, and I'm working on the acceptance thing. I admit that weeds might more accurately fall under the "Courage to change the things I can" line of the Serenity Prayer, but it's not just courage that's lacking here - it's time and stamina. They're simply growing faster than I can dig them out.

I worry about the economy and health care and poverty and the war, but even as I ponder these larger issues, Bermuda grass is staging a coup in my iris beds. I've just spent a half hour attacking weeds, wrestling with choking, twisted roots, stabbing at intertwined clumps of clover, grubbing through the soil looking for the ends of those wiregrass roots. (Apparently, they're in the next state.) At the end of the half hour, I straightened up, looked at my handiwork - really, quite lovely - and thought: well. One down, 2399+ to go. Every variety I have is in at least two locations. I have just made one batch of Dusky Challenger absolutely stunningly weed-free. If you come visit, be sure to ask to see it. Perhaps by then it will have equally weed-free friends. I'm going back outside now. Courage.

The Quest for the Perfect Marker

Posted by katie at 2008.04.02 1836
It's the Holy Grail of the iris grower: an inexpensive marker that will not fade, tangle up in the rototiller, blow away, stab the gardener in the shins, or rust.

I'm not even close.

But we have a prototype of the Next Best Thing, as pictured below, made from a coat hanger, a piece of a mini-blind, and a UV resistant label.

I've been buying markers in bulk, because there's 1200 varieties here, but I have nearly all of them in more than one place to decrease the odds of losing something. 2400 markers at .38 before shipping - and that was last year's price - isn't a casual expense for me. I don't want to pass that cost on to the customer, either.

So I have a supply of mini-blinds from freecycle, and wire coat hangers are easy enough to find; I've always thought they bred in dark closets anyway. If supplied with cookies, Greg can be coaxed into cutting the coat hangers while he watches television. I'm using a hole punch on the 3" piece of miniblind. My pockets are always stuffed with Sharpie markers, but I've learned - the hard way - that mini-blinds are made of different grades of plastics and metal, and some resist fading and some do not. So for now, I'll splurge on the label tape. (Also, I take a childish pleasure in playing with the labelmaker.)

The goal is a label that can be read by a person with a bad back without bending. I guess the only problem now is keeping the weeds low enough so that the markers aren't eaten!iris-tag-prototype.jpg

Anything is possible in spring. Anything.

Posted by katie at 2008.03.31 2142
I am forty nine, overweight, and have osteoarthritis.  I dislike using the telephone, find self-promotion unsettling, and can add the same column of numbers multiple times and get as many answers as I make attempts.  Oh, and I lose important receipts.  And yet, I am running an iris business which appears, despite my personal shortcomings, to be succeeding.  How can this be possible?

The iris get a lot of the credit, because, bless their little pointy leaves, they thrive on the kind of benign neglect at which I excel.  As people learn about Stoney Creek Iris and contact me with iris-related questions, I discover the extent of the 'just roll with it' mindset that characterizes most projects here.  Chemical sprays?  Ick.  Weeds are dealt with only when they compromise the actual iris; we'll call the non-threatening ones 'ground cover', and rototill the rest.   Bugs?  If I see evidence of iris borers I squoosh them, or entice the chickens to that bed for a little snack; they think I am a food-dispensing goddess as it is, so they come when I call them.  Iris that don't thrive?  If a variety croaks, I figure it wasn't meant to grow here.  Soil amendments?  Whatever happens to come my way, whatever's free.  You see why I grow irises.  Nothing else would tolerate me.

But another, equally significant part of the equation has to be the inability within our family to recognize an idea as anything other than possible.   This is not irresponsible, over-the-top idealism, nor is it a manifestation of the kind of motivational poster that makes me want to barf, e.g. "If you believe it, you can achieve it."  I mean, get real - I can believe I'm going to have a career as a professional basketball player all I want, and it isn't going to happen - to use one of many, many possible examples, most of which would involve physical coordination on my part.  No, what I mean is that with considerable hard work, enough humility to ask for help from those who are more knowledgeable, more hard work, a lot of research, a willingness to consider options, an understanding that plans are only starting points - throw in some more hard work - and a reluctance to take yourself too seriously, far more things are possible than most people allow themselves to truly believe.

This is the year that I'll produce all of our vegetables, keep the house clutter from scaring visitors, practice my horn more, take the iris business up another level, start contacting agents again about my books, lose weight, and a host of other resolutions.  They don't always seem possible on January first, when most people make resolutions; I'm hibernating then, thinking more about survival than potential.  But when the iris, trampled by deer, picked at by chickens, covered with last year's leaves, and smothered with weeds start charging up out of the ground, ready to grow and bloom.....well, who am I to not have faith in the face of that kind of determination?   Heck, maybe I'll even keep track of those business receipts this year.

Spring, Interrupted

Posted by katie at 2008.03.16 1030
Friday and Saturday were beautiful, perfect, gift-days from spring, and I worked outside nearly every hour that there was light.  Today is colder and windy, not so pleasant for outdoor, but that's okay; eventually the laundry has to get folded, after all.

Early spring chores on an iris farm include snipping away dead foliage, in which iris borers might have laid eggs.  The chickens are an enormous help with this, as they follow me around the beds scratching and looking for yummy protein sources.  It's also time to straighten up the markers, some of which heave in the frost, some of which are knocked over by deer, or Leftover Cat scratching her head on them, or - Neighbor Bob swears he saw this happen - carried off by raccoons intrigued by the shiny metal.  I once thought I could be so careful that I would never mislabel an iris.  I hadn't factored in raccoons.

I'm sorting the pots for spring garden sales, since there's some logistical problems with transporting them in quantity, and I want to choose well.  Will customers at the PA Garden Fair in York be more likely to buy yellow or pink iris?  Tall or dwarf?  It's impossible, of course.  Each pot needs a photo tag and varietal information, and I'd like to separate the pots for each sale to minimize confusion later.  Lots of lifting, which is another reason I'm not too disappointed that it's an indoor day today.  I think I need some recovery time.

Countdown to Spring: 7 Days, 10 Fingernails

Posted by katie at 2008.03.13 2008
It's not spring yet. It's not spring according to the calendar, not for one more week. It's not spring according to the garden soil, which is still too soggy to till. It's not spring according to the daffodils, robins, skunks, or other feathered and furred harbingers of seasonal change. And it's not spring yet, because I still have ten unbroken, clean fingernails.

I'm looking at them now, a tiny bit wistfully, just sort of saying goodbye. Because, you see, tomorrow might be 60 degrees here, and if it is, then the calendar be damned, it's spring, and I'm getting out there and getting dirty. I will break and tear my nails, one by one (I loathe wearing gloves and when I try, I lose them anyway) and my thumb and forefinger will be marked with Weeder's Stain, that semi-permanent green-brown mark you get from pulling dandelions that makes the cashier at the grocery store sort of blink when you sign the credit card bill. I will get scratches on my hands, blisters on my palms, too much sun exposure, and that's just a few inches of bodily real estate; the rest of me will suffer proportionately with my hands. And you know what? I can't wait.

Patience and Georgia O'Keefe

Posted by katie at 2008.03.04 1714
Patience has never been my strongest suit, although I'm improving as I get older. I now understand that the morning traffic jam will eventually clear, and line at the grocery will not in fact last for hours, and that the presidential election will even finally come to an end. But I can't, ever, completely believe that spring is going to come until it's here. This happens to me every year, this dark moment before the light and air change with the oncoming season, and this year I've turned to Photoshop for solace.

I do not retouch any pictures I use on the website, ever. But I do crop them to fit the parameters of the site Tim set up for me, and lately I've been playing with the features in the software that allow me to enlarge photo details. And although a significant part of my world revolved around the iris, I feel as if I've just been permitted admission into a secret world that belongs to the iris alone. These close-up pictures are extraordinary in their detail and intimacy, and I realize that I've clumsily stepped into the world that Georgia O'Keefe painted.

While I was in the middle of working on the pictures, which I plan to use as a slide show during a presentation, I was contacted by a friend who asked if members of her art class could possibly come to Stoney Creek Iris this spring to paint. The request was made in such a way that I know she thinks I'd be doing them a favor, but the fact is that I would feel honored and humbled just to be a tiny, peripheral part of the creative process. The thought of looking out at my field and seeing artists working is an intoxicating one, because I wonder what they'll see in the iris and in the gardens here that I have never seen, and what I'll learn to appreciate when I see it through their eyes. Georgia O'Keefe taught me to look at flowers in an entirely different way, and perhaps one of my guests this spring will do so as well.


Hope springs eternal.......again

Posted by katie at 2008.02.29 2256
The first sweet harbingers of spring arrive without fail in mid February, sometimes poking green leaves through ice and snow before the little white flowers bloom. They're deceptively fragile looking, these little snowdrops, because they'll persevere through the fiercest howls of winter. As I write this, snow is swirling madly around the house and it's about twenty degrees, but the snowdrops are blooming. Who can't believe in the ultimate triumph of good over evil when confronted with snowdrops outside the back door in February?

I'm not writing this just to wax poetic about snowdrops, of course. I wanted to play with the new blog some more. :) Many thanks to Tim, who developed the website and its many permutations, and perhaps more impressively, taught his mother how to cope with it.


Pot Schlepping

Posted by katie at 2008.02.29 1855
Last summer, I potted 1200 iris for spring plant shows this year. 300 fit in the greenhouse for the winter, but the remaining 900 were set up in the vegetable garden. A few days ago Leftover Cat and I were inspecting the 900 potted iris that are outdoors and discovered, to our horror - well, my horror, as Leftover seemed unperturbed - that the pots had sort of settled into the layer of cardboard that I'd put underneath them. The cardboard was supposed to discourage weeds, but it also made it impossible for the pots to drain. Bearded iris are very forgiving, but they don't like wet feet, and these pots - all 900 of them - had an inch of freezing water and ice in them, and had to be moved, right then, on a snowy, miserable, blustery February day.

But they couldn't be moved until I pried each one from the frozen ground, and then the freezing water and ice chunks had to be drained out, and I figured as long as I was that far into it, I'd take the time to remove dead outer leaves from the fans as well. Somewhere between pot #150 and #200 the morning sun turned the garden to slick, cold mud (although the darn pots were still firmly frozen in place) and every step became treacherous. Where the ground was still frozen, I slid on the ice; where it was muddy, I slipped in the mud.

Thank God the cat can't use the camera. My chore coat is an amazingly unattractive striped wool blazer, buttons long gone, that I bought at Goodwill years ago. Rust, brown, orange, gold, and blue stripes - it's, ah, eyecatching, and even with my low sartorial standards, I never leave the property wearing it. I wore the bright red rubber clogs the boys call my Ronald McDonald shoes, and a neon purple scarf. I had a yellow sweatshirt under the coat, so the rainbow was pretty well covered here, and all of it was eventually covered with mud, which splashed up as I pried the pots from the icy garden, and of course got all over me every time I slipped. Gloves were pointless, given the icy water in the pots, so my fingers were cold, and my frozen nose was probably the same shade as my garden clogs.

Pot Rescue took hours and hours, during which time I seriously questioned the wisdom of being self-employed in the nursery business. But all 900 pots are now safely set up in an area with a nice, well drained wood chip base where they are draining happily in today's rain and snow, and all is right with this little corner of the world once again. Next year, no cardboard under the pots. Live and learn.