If The Flowers Can, Then I Can Too!


Brrrrrrr, it has been a frigidly cold winter (for us southerners) with temperatures in single digits, inches of snow, ice and so on and so forth. The snow caved in the hoop-house and the ice knocked over trees onto our deer fence.  The deer are STILL getting into our fence, so we beefed up the brush around the garden to deter them.  The brush might be a bit unsightly, but it seems to be working.

Tree down on fence

Jonathan and I planted a whole bed of flowers in October to winter over until early spring blooming.  We covered the bed with 2 layers of frost cover and left them for the winter.  I have been worrying about our little flowers for months on end.  With such unusual temperatures and heavy snow and ice making the hoops cave in on top of the flowers, I thought that surely the flowers were dead or suffocated.  But no!  We opened up the bed the other day when the row cover had defrosted enough to not tear when removed.  The flowers were not only alive they were thriving!  They love the cold!  In fact, more learning has taught us that some cannot even bloom properly without the cold.  We gave the bed a good weeding and left it uncovered to get more sun and rain.  This bed of flowers includes larkspur, nigella, bachelors buttons, agrostemma, bupleurum, red sail poppies, tulips, and matricaria (a flower in the chamomile family).

Will I continue to worry about the flowers even though they clearly love the cold?  Yes indeed. I can’t help it. I want them to succeed. I want us to succeed.  Yet in the darkest and coldest times of the year, the flowers are happy and thriving, promising a lovely spring crop.  I take heart in that realization.

These past few weeks I got started on seeding for our spring flower crops.  I seeded over 1000 flower starts into trays including snapdragons, lavendar, ammi majus, dianthus electron, flowering kale, black-eyed susans, zinnias, gomphrena, herbs, and more, plus some vegetables for us.  The “gardner” at Orchard Hill Children’s School has been helpful in watering the starts with me as part of their rotating weekly job.  Today I managed to work in the garden beds, seeding carrots, turnips, beets, onions, lettuce, and arugula.  Just as I was finishing it started to rain, sometimes the timing is just perfect!!

Flower seeds are tiny

The recent warm weather has left the taste of spring in my heart, but with nighttime temps back in the mid 20’s my hopes aren’t too high yet. Sigh… I guess we have a little bit of winter left.  Maybe it will leave our little farm alone.

But I know that if the flowers can survive this cold and busy winter… then I can too.

Closing Day: November 22, 2013

It is truly hard to express the depth of joy and thankfulness in my heart right now.  We have waited and prayed for this moment for so long: For the moment to call a piece of land home; for the moment to step into a lifetime of loving and caring for the soil and all that it grows; for the moment to adventure into all of this with my dearest friend and husband, Jonathan.  That moment has come, we signed the papers today, closing on 12 acres on Terry Rd, Hurdle Mills, NC, it is ours to steward.  The story of our journey is below.

The Story: Jonathan and I spent a lot of time traveling individually before we moved back to NC and met and fell in love.  During that time we were each saving every penny we could towards this hope and dream of buying a land to build a farm and homestead.  We were willing to do quite unique jobs.  Jonathan worked as a teacher for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for one. I worked on 18-wheelers at Coldfoot, Alaska, a truck stop on the Haul Road in the Gates of the Arctic National Park. We finally both settled in to very regular jobs of teaching Kindergarten at Orchard Hill Children’s School in Hillsborough, NC and working for the Durham Fire Department as a full time firefighter. We continued to save and even tried out some big money making schemes. I worked on a salmon boat out of Bristol Bay, Alaska in the Bering Sea and Jonathan auditioned for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Nothing panned out, and we went back to saving monthly.

This year, we started looking for land. We looked at a lot of different properties. Some were large, some were small, some were mostly clear, and some were heavily wooded. Each property we visited helped us refine our search and clarify what we were looking for. And while we liked some of the properties we visited, none of them felt right.

In July 2013 we found the Terry Rd property and made our first visit.  We liked it but were not convinced.  We returned for a second visit in September and fell in love with the land. We made a low initial offer in cash, hoping to avoid a land loan, but the sellers didn’t bite. We went back and forth a few times until we reached the highest offer we felt we could make. It was still less than they wanted, so we crossed our fingers and prayed.  They accepted it.

Our Plan: We are spending the winter designing a small, passive solar and environmentally friendly home. We plan on moving out to our farm in mid-March and living in a camper while we build. Over the next 2-3 years we will work the soil and establish the farm as we slowly build our house ourselves paying as we go.  We hope to have no mortgage on our home when we are finished. Also, we plan to install solar panels to on-grid hook up after the house is finished.  Insane?  Absolutely!  We are the adventurous sort and are ready to take on the joys and challenges of the next few years.

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An October Wedding Success

To be quite frank, it’s been a hard autumn season.  We are having a wake-up call to the menagerie of critters eating our vegetable garden including, but not limited to: 8 different species of caterpillars, a colony of rabbits, deer, and cutworms to name some.  Needless to say, after losing half of the vegetables we planted, we felt discouraged and inadequate.  Luckily, our flowers are growing elsewhere right now, and they have been growing beautifully.

HOWEVER, in spite of all that, Spring Forth Farm is celebrating a big accomplishment. We provided flowers for our first wedding. We worked hard planning, cutting, and arranging. It was a joy to deliver such beauty to our friends, the bride and groom, on their big weekend. We are thankful that they gave us this opportunity and took a risk with us as we stepped forward into the world of wedding flowers!

This is a good reminder for us that when we are struggling in one part of the farm, we can have a success in another.

Below are pictures of our work including Jonathan’s boutonnieres, Megan’s first bridal bouquet and table arrangements for the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception.  Enjoy!

Flowers Extraordinaire!!

I just returned from an incredibly productive 3 week internship on Harvest Moon Flower Farm, south-central Indiana’s finest flower farm.  I learned about cultivating flowers, proper harvest and post-harvest techniques, bouquet making, the ins-and-outs of wedding florals, diverse flower marketing, and good business practice.  I first learned about HMFF from Anna Dale, a Warren Wilson College friend who grew up farming flowers with her mother,  Linda Chapman, the farmer and head bouquet maker extraordinaire.  I was constantly amazed at Linda’s ability to keep a million things in her head at once.  She graciously shared her experiences and knowledge with me as I furiously tried to write it all down or capture it on camera.  In exchange for sweat and work, she gave me the basis for a successful flower farming business here in central NC.  I am so thankful for her mentor-ship and gift of knowledge that she gave to me during her busiest time of the year.  At the end of my internship, Linda helped me start 950 flower starts to put in the ground here in NC for Spring Forth Farm’s first wedding gig in October!

Harvest Moon Flower Farm
Morning at Harvest Moon Flower Farm, Spencer, Indiana
Harvest Moon Flower Farm
Harvest Moon Flower Farm
A dynamic group of hard-working women (left to right): Kuenzi Wiswall, Megan Leiss , Linda Chapman, Anna Dale (also not pictured, Ben West)

These are my first two bucket of bouquets for the local farmers market.  Entering into the “bouquet barn” to join the crew of very experienced women was, needless to say, intimidating, but very instructional.

Megan's first basket of five bouquets
Megan’s first basket of five bouquets
More of Megan's bouquets
More of Megan’s bouquets
Bouquets of flowers ready for market
Bouquets of flowers ready for market

Clearing Land

Jonathan and I are in the process of cleaning up the land that we will start growing on this fall.  Clearing is a joint effort between us and the owners of the property.  We are cutting down saplings and tulip poplars around the edge of the garden to increase the amount of light the garden gets throughout the day.  This is hard work and sure puts clearing land by hand in perspective.  Here are some pictures of the clearing in process.  Somehow, projects always “look” worse right before they get better.  After clearing, the stumps will be pulled out, then we are planning to till with a roto-tiller.  Then we will build beds, plant the fall garden and winter cover crops, and plan for the 2014 season.

Clearing land at Orchard Hill Children's School.
Clearing land at Orchard Hill Children’s School.
Clearing land at Orchard Hill Children's School.
Clearing land at Orchard Hill Children’s School.