Seed Savers Exchange

It’s that time of year again, when I hole up in my office with stacks of seed catalogs, my laptop, old seed invoices–for reference and a vision of a garden currently covered in snow.  I make charts, count backwards and forwards on my calendar and drink a lot of coffee.  ThIMG_2356anks to my friends at Highland Coffee company and the folks at Lagrange Coffee Roasters –both create  a delicious honey latte that fuels the day.

The seed orders are not just for Woodland’s vegetable garden or even the ornamental gardens at Woodland and Hermitage Farm .  In the Woodland Farm store , we proudly carry flower, herb and vegetable seed from the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE).  The seed from SSE are all heirloom, untreated, non-hybrid and non-GMO.  Their catalog is a pleasure to perusIMG_3105e and their staff are always fun to speak with.  Each year we make an effort to carry SSE seed that we have experience growing in Goshen, Kentucky–zone 6.  To that point, we offer varieties that we have been successful growing and have become fresh favorites of our farm store customers.  It’s exciting to have folks not only ask when the okra will be available but when will the specific variety, ‘Bowling Red’, be available.  Our customers know what they like and we are doing our best to deliver.

I enjoy carrying varieties that we know are favorites but each season try to introduce a few that just can’t be missed, like Mexican Sour Gherkins.  We have been growing them for years and they are a garden staff favorite.  This could be a good thing but often they are eaten a little faster than they are harvested for sale.  A great vine for growing on a trellis, IMG_0047the Mexican Sour Gherkin would easily fit in the ornamental garden with their teeny yellow flowers and lovely foliage.  The fruit resembles a grape wearing watermelon clothing and crisply snaps in the mouth delightfully sweet and sour.

Of course, I love to try new things so there will always be something in the seed rack that is new to our garden.  Usually a few varieties that we will trial and welcome–even seek out–input from other growers, farmers and gardeners in our area.  This season, Chef Wadja of Proof on Main , has requested cucumber ‘Miniature White’ and squash ‘Sweet Fall’.  I have no experience with either variety but look forward to tasting both.  It will take ‘Sweet Fall’ 100 days to mature so I sure hope it is worth the wait.

If you are planning to start a garden in 2016, please stop by the farm store and pick up some seed from the SSE.  We would love to share our experience and learn about yours.  Planting time will be here before you know it.  Heck there is no reason you shouldn’t have some sprouts or lettuce in your window sills right now.  Happy Growing!


Bottom Heat System

 This winter we built a bottom heat system for seed propagation.  I am more than a little excited about this as I have been starting all of our seed in my basement.  I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag and say the new system is awesome!  Everyone involved did a super job and I am thankful.  Here are a few pics to show you what we did.  


Foam insulation board was routed to secure micro tube.  Header pipes were cut for each zone.  We have three!

Insulation board



The header pipe was tapped for a threaded nipple.



Each tube was fed, cut, and attached to two header pipes—hot feed and cold return—for each zone. 


Zone 1 can hold 80 plug trays.  This is a far cry from the 16-tray capacity of my basement system.



Before the system was even complete it was time to fill plug trays for seeding.


Without time to waste, trays were filled, stacked, and then the seeding began.  



Seed trays were covered with plastic until the system was up and running.



Thermostats were centrally placed in pots filled with germination media.




The system is set to kick on or off when the temperature deviates from the desired temperature: + or – 3 degrees.




Nice to see consistent germination and high percentages.



 Ready to transplant!


Noble Trees

It seems, officially–by the date this photo was uploaded—that on January 24, 2013, life on the farm became hectic again.  The first few weeks of January were spent making last minute garden plans and participating in a few conferences.  Time spent sitting still, listening and learning, is good for the body and soul.  I returned from Columbus, Ohio, where I attended the Ohio State Nursery Short Course, truly inspired by Dr. Michael Dirr and the lectures he gave on Noble Trees.  I immediately posted this pic of the great white oak (Quercus alba)—one of my many favorite trees at Woodland Farm—that stands along Stagecoach Road.   Aware as I am that the last three months have slipped by in a flurry of seeding, transplanting, and obsessively checking the weather, I use this great Noble Tree as a reminder to slow down.  

The posts that follow are meant to catch everyone up on what has been happening in the greenhouse and gardens.  It’s magic.

bon appétit

Farm to Table, Faster Than Ever


Red Penguin Report

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Dahlia Rewards


Dahlia are a wonderful addition to any garden.  Their uses are limitless and allow you the freedom to change your garden design year to year.  We use them in our perennial border, shrub border, vegetable garden, and even in mixed pots.  Although not winter hardy (USDA Zone 8 ) in our area (USDA Zone 6)–they require lifting and storage for winter–the dahlia is tender with an attitude.  As the blooms of many of our perennial standouts peter out with the first few cold snaps and light frosts, the dahlia’s colors become more vibrant.  With 6 months or more growth the hollow stems hold their delicate blooms high and proud, daring mother nature to bring the killing frost we all know will come–but when?  These bold colors coax one into the garden on finger-numbing mornings reminding us that the growing season is not over.

There is a seemingly endless list of dahlia types, which are classified by petal arrangement and the shape of the flower.  Each type varies in bloom size, plant height, appearance, and vase life.  A wonderful addition to flower arrangements, the double-flowering types do best as single-flowering blooms tend to drop their petals.  We make sure to keep cut dahlias on display in the main house throughout the fall.  I am currently keeping a close eye on the weather forecast for the cold snap that will end their season, and have big plans to cut every dahlia bloom to fill the house.

Once a killing frost arrives we will cut the stems to approximately 3″ above the ground and mark with a descriptive tag.  Using a garden fork, we will dig each clump while taking care to avoid spearing the tubers.  Gently shaking and brushing the soil from each clump, a descriptive tag is tied to the stem to guarantee identification in the spring.  The clumps are placed on a shelf to cure for a few days before being moved to winter storage.

For storage, we use leftover sawdust from our sawmill, plastic zipper bags and bulb crates.  After curing for a few days, each clump is inspected for wounds and signs of disease.  It is recommended that wounded areas be dusted with sulfur to inhibit disease, but to date we have not taken this step in our overwintering process;  instead we check the stored tubers every few weeks for adequate moisture and signs of disease.  Diseased tubers are removed immediately.  If the sawdust becomes dry, water is sprinkled in each bag to avoid drying out of the tubers.  The crates of tubers are stored in an area where the temperature is not allowed to dip below 38 degrees or above 50 degrees.

Throughout the winter, as we check the tubers, I gaze at the laminated photos attached to each bag and imagine where that dahlia will live next season.  I know already that ‘Crazy Love’ will end up in a container or two, and ‘Gallery Art Deco’–a gift from Katie Kramer–will go back in the shrub border again.

Appreciating what is in the garden now and dreaming of next year is a wicked balancing act.  Beautiful gardens are made with planning, but accidents are often welcome additions.  We will pot up our dahlia tubers in April to assist with planning and placement in May; however, this is not a necessary step as they can be planted directly in the ground within a week or so of the last spring frost date–about the time you might plant tomatoes.



‘Arkansas Black’

Our orchard is 4 years old now and the last fruit have been picked for the season.  We started out with thirty-five or so heirloom varieties of apple, peach and cherry.  Today we have forty-eight trees adding pear-apple, crabapple and plum to the mix.   A couple of varieties from the original planting simply didn’t pass muster and have been replaced with the farm favorite apple, ‘Arkansas Black’.

‘Arkansas Black’, as its name suggests, is a dark red apple with slight flecks of gold.  Ripening in late October through November it is an extremely hard apple.  The flesh is a pale yellow and perfect for crisp bites fresh from the tree, baking, or apple sauce.   Reported to be an excellent storage apple, we hope to have apples throughout the winter season.

This season’s yield was our largest yet with approximately 150 predominately softball sized apples.  The largest and most beautiful have been shared with family and the rest will be consumed a few at a time while those with blemishes will be used to make a  nice batch of applesauce.



You’re Invited

Saturday October 6, 2012


Dragging hoses

The last I posted, it was ramp season.  You would only have to check the weather or better yet visit–click on Oldham County–to know what we have been doing:  dragging hoses.  Before I sound ungrateful for the rain we have had, I know other counties like Henderson and Union have suffered worse–receiving less than 16 inches in 2012.  THAT’S FOR THE WHOLE YEAR!  Woodland to date has had 26.04 inches.  I am grateful.

One might wonder, why not throw open the hydrants and make it rain?  If it were only that simple.  We have livestock to consider.  If we were to pull all the water the garden desires, the bison would not receive what they need.  For healthy bison I will stand proudly next to my stubby 3-4′ okra plants and maybe even accept a racquetball sized pear-apple.  There are always dreams of next season to keep me going.  Thoughts of harvesting okra with a ladder and bushel baskets full with 100 pear-apple rather than 50.  Either way the fruit tastes just as sweet.




It’s that time of year again.  Time to pull on the waterproof hiking boots, throw the garden fork over your shoulder, and head for the woods:  ramp (Allium tricoccum) hunting.  I’m not sure why I always refer to it as ‘hunting’–I know where they are, and we take care to insure they will be there year after year.  This is not a trip to be enjoyed in a hurry with your next task in mind.  I like to walk slowly, soaking it all in.  Just about every step is rewarded with new life as the wildflowers and ferns push through the rich wet leaves.

There are limits to this hunt.  One is time, dictated by Mother Nature, as she only allows the ramps to display  themselves for a short window.  The leaves begin to show in late March-April, with signs of their senescence timed with the increase in temperature and day length.  I believe the ramp harvest will be short this season as temperatures have been unseasonably high.

The ramp bulbs grow in clumps clustered together in moist, well-drained, wooded sites, rich in organic matter.  They are often found under woody species such as Beech, Buckeye, and Spice Bush.  If your woody ID is lacking but you are wild about wildflowers, you will find them sharing space with bloodroot, cut-leaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, and trout lily.








It is extremely important–to me–that we work diligently to insure future generations will have the good fortune to experience the ramp hunt.  When harvesting, we never take an entire clump.  Instead, when a clump is dug, 1/3 or less is carefully separated for harvest and the remaining clump is replanted.  The ramp flowers in June after the foliage has died back.  The seed matures on this flower stalk and drops to the ground to begin formation of a new clump.  According to Jackie Greenfield and Jeanine Davis in their publication “Cultivation of Ramps,” the ramp seed can take up to 18 months to germinate.  If we were to remove the entire clump, there would be no flower, and therefore there would be no seed, and this would mean no ramps for the future.

The smell is intoxicating, consistently making my mouth water and my stomach growl.  When harvesting and washing, I like to pull a root or two to chew.  Often referred to as wild garlic or wood leek, the flavor is sharp and strong.  It is easy  to understand their popularity.  To get the ramp flavor you don’t have to harvest the entire plant.  The leaves are edible and just as flavorful as the bulb.  Another harvest method is to cut the foliage and leave the bulb.   This method of harvest insures seed production and future ramp production.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service website list ramps as a species of special concern in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.  In Tennessee they are also listed as commercially exploited.   We are doing our part to keep Kentucky off of this list.