Bonafide Farm

Office view

May 28th, 2015 § 0


And to think I used to sit in a desk chair in front of a computer in a windowless office all day.

No thanks.

I’ll sit in the dirt any day, and do the best work of my life.

Spring in Edinburgh: The beast with two faces. Or backs.

April 9th, 2015 § 1

The past week began with brutal wind-driven snow showers and has ended with temperatures edging into the high 60sF under blue skies and streaming sun. I suppose it’s like spring everywhere, showing two faces as winter reluctantly cedes to the inevitable warmth and light. And the light! Since the clocks sprang forward a couple of weeks ago I’ve been marveling at how long the days are now, with light past 8:00 p.m. What a change from winter, when the world went dim at 3:30 in the afternoon and I went to school each morning in the dark. And the days will continue to grow longer until late June, until it is freakishly light late at night thanks to this northern latitude. No wonder there are aisles of blackout curtains appearing in the local shops.

The return of the light, and some decently warm temperatures, has me back out plant collecting. As the ground wakes up, more and more plants are showing themselves to me. Today I walked to Blackford Hill and the first thing I saw was an orgy. The warm and shallow water of the pond was teeming with toads. I watched one randy fellow swim from one potential mate to another, slipping up behind each in a fumbling wet embrace that was usually deflected in a kicking swirl of muddy water. He could have taken a lesson from this persistent fellow who rode his indifferent girlfriend all the way down the path in front of me as I sat eating lunch.


The toads aren’t the only creatures with spring fever. The geese were swimmingly paired and the swans sat preening on their nest.



And I’ve got spring fever too. The sunlight is intoxicating, and I have dreams of garden parties, picnic blankets, and park barbeques. The plants are returning, and the gardens are even more a place of wonder and education. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a spring, and so full of joy at the return of the light.



February 27th, 2015 § 2

Yesterday our nursery production class visited the Inch Nursery, where all of the bedding plants used to decorate the city of Edinburgh are grown. I was really struck by the huge nursery tables filled with seed-starting trays. Each module is no bigger than a centimeter squared and yet every one held a tiny growing seedling just a millimeter or two tall. These are the beginnings of new life, and I stood in front of all that potential and felt like there’s so much to look forward to with the coming of this spring.


My classmates and I spent the afternoon potting up thousands of bedding geraniums, standing and chatting and laughing at a long bench full of compost. It’s mindless work, and essential to do quickly and efficiently. But it’s lovely to get lost in the feeling of compost under my hands. Scoop, dangle a young plant over the pot, one scoop, two scoop, tap the pot once on the counter and on to the next. It’s a flow activity if ever there was one.

I am not sure bedding geraniums are anyone’s favorite plant, but these are destined to bring bright color to what the Rough Guide just the other week voted the fourth most beautiful city on the world. That I had anything to do with making something pretty for millions of people to see is entirely satisfying, especially when that something pretty began life as a dry little speck shoved under compost, with hope.



And also with shovelfuls of hope, here’s a little shout-out to the person who at 7 this morning gave me the best news I’ve had in months. So happy and excited for new adventures in our future, couldn’t stop grinning all day. XOXOXOXOXO!!!


January 15th, 2015 § 2

This week’s plant identification is a real challenge: conifers. We had a walkaround last Friday, just snuck it in as soon as the gardens reopened after having been closed most of the week because of high winds. It was still gusty, and a cold rain fell as we sped around the garden looking at twenty different conifers. My notes bled across the paper, which melted in the rain and sloughed away under my pen.

The weather and similarity of the subject matter conspired against me, and over the weekend I found I wasn’t able to learn the conifers as fast as I had other plants. So Tuesday night, after a full day of work experience at the Botanics, I set out alone to find the twenty trees we’d been assigned to learn. The gardens had closed for the day, the gates locked, and I was alone with the plants.

It was a real scavenger hunt as I tried to remember where we’d walked in a garden I have still not learned by heart. The day was going dark fast, and snow fell as I tromped beneath evergreen boughs, trying to spot the small black labels that identify each plant in the garden. The only sound was the strange and reproachful flapping of the large roosting birds whose bedtime I’d disturbed. It was so cold that my hands cramped and I could write only shaky initials on the labels I’d brought to i.d. cuttings from each of the assigned trees.


In the empty garden, in the freezing dark, I caught a tiny glimpse of the wildness that makes urban gardens such important links to the natural world. By day the Botanics are obsessively orderly and man’s desire to control nature is the main attraction. But when all the people leave, and the darkness erases tidy edges and labeling plaques, the garden occupants revert to their undomesticated outlines. Walking amongst them, in the quiet dark, the city dropped from my awareness and I was for just a moment back in all the wild places I have lived in and loved, and miss.


All week I’ve been working with the plant material I collected that night, learning these conifers not only by sight (Chamaecyparis pisifera has white, butterfly-shaped markings on the underside of its leaves) but also by touch and smell (Thuja plicata smells like pineapple or artificial fruit flavoring). To have such closely related plant material has been an exercise in broadening my identification skills to include all senses. The test is tomorrow, wish me luck.


Found a little bit of Bonafide Farm

December 16th, 2014 § 2

on the top shelf of an Edinburgh garden superstore.


Red tide

August 21st, 2014 § 0

Last weekend I picked what felt like about 50 pounds of tomatoes. I have only ten plants, but it’s been an unreal tomato season here—the best since I’ve started the farm. I have no doubt that it correlates with our cooler-than-usual summer. When tomatoes are exposed to the high temperatures (day/night temperatures of 95/80°F) that are common during a typical Virginia summer, it significantly reduces the number of pollen grains that each flower produces and releases and decreases the pollen’s viability. No pollen = no fertilization = no tomatoes! But this year, which has been cool enough that I’ve had my air conditioning off more than on, with night time temperatures regularly in the 50s, has kept the tomatoes happy and pumping out fruit.


I recruited my mom to help me process these beautiful tomatoes, and we made a good team. She washed and scored each tomato with a knife. Then I dunked them for 30 seconds in boiling water before plunging them into a cooler water bath. I slipped off the skins and chopped/crushed each tomato to pulp before adding it to one of three stockpots I had bubbling on my stove. With fistfuls of basil, a couple of heads of roasted garlic, and a bit of salt, the tomatoes cooked down into a sweet, beautiful, nutritious sauce free of pesticides, preservatives, and all the other frightful things that show up in commercial sauce (e.g., high-fructose corn syrup).


It’s not clean work, and it’s hot standing over boiling water for a couple hours. But I know that last year when it was brutally cold outside and I opened up my freezer to find containers of homegrown, homemade tomato sauce, it made winter just a bit more bearable.


Cleaning the tools

August 15th, 2014 § 5

Yesterday I took some time to clean all my garden tools. I soaked them for a few minutes, then scrubbed off all the caked-on red mud and chicken manure. I took a wire brush to the rusty spots and today I will apply a thin coat of oil to stop any further rusting.


As I cleaned I remembered all the hours of hard labor on this farm, working alone and getting to know my own physical limitations and the strength of my willpower during the days spent forking mulch around my trees and turning compost, cutting new furrows into the spring garden, and sweating through the tear-inducing frustration of trying to pick-ax a planting hole in dry, red clay. There are so many stories behind each of these tools. There’s the hand maul that finally did in my rotator cuff while I was splitting wood during this winter’s polar vortex and the elegant little hand weeder that was a gift from an exboyfriend who did more than any one else save my parents to support my farm dream. I don’t ever want to lose my favorite short-handled red cultivator, which I bought to use at this farm’s predecessor, my community garden plot in Arlington, and that’s almost always at hand. And of course I’ve prepared homes for hundreds of trees and plants here using that one shovel and a couple trowels.

For historical perspective I’ve kept a couple of delicate “Lady Gardener” tools that I was given as a skinny kid who just wanted to dig in the dirt. I guess I’m not a lady gardener now that I’ve graduated to the man-size tools, but if you’ve ever seen me caked in dirt, sweating and bleeding and cursing as I try to bend the earth to my will, you’d know that anyway.


This humble little collection of steel and wood is what brought Bonafide Farm to life. The least I can do to thank my tools for their service is give them a garbage can bubble bath and a little hot-oil rubdown.

Naked lady, surprise lily

August 5th, 2014 § 1

As I drove into town this evening, I kept noticing naked lady lilies (Lycoris squamigera) blooming in the yards of some of the oldest houses. These fascinating members of the Amaryllis family are bulbs that first appear in spring with strappy leaf growth, looking like beefier daffodils that never flower. The leaves die back and then, suddenly, in late July or early August tall stalks shoot from the ground and unfurl translucent pink flowers that do indeed have the luminescent glow of bare flesh. Because of this disappearing/reappearing trick, they’re also known as surprise or resurrection lilies.


Because of their ephemeral nature, it took me a few years to realize I had a clump of these lilies growing in my woods near the previous owner’s junk pile. I hurried out there tonight and caught my own naked ladies on their first day of bloom. Like many lilies, these have a strong, sweet scent. They really are pretty magical, holding court in the old oak grove.


I associate surprise lilies with old homesteads as they are amazingly long-lived. I wonder how mine got in the middle of the woods. I have several mysterious patches of cultivated plants in my woods, including groups of irises and other spring-flowering bulbs. Were they planted to mark a grave, perhaps of a beloved pet, or were they chucked into the woods during garden cleanup, as I’ve done with some of my own iris rhizomes?

I suppose I will never know, but I enjoy them just the same.

Beautiful borage

July 27th, 2014 § 0

I stuck a spring of borage into one of my homegrown bouquets and have fallen even more in love with this most-beautiful herb. In the indirect light of my foyer the zillion tiny hairs along each stem appear to glow. It is a magical-looking plant, and one I connect with deeply.



I grew this borage from seed, direct-sown this spring. It definitely needs a lot of sun—the seed I sowed in the shadow of some other plants failed to thrive, but the plants in the sun grew huge and vigorous and are covered with blooms. I didn’t expect it to do well as a cut flower—many herbs wilt in the house—but it’s proven to be a tremendous asset to my flower arrangements. And it’s a timely discovery, as one of my gardening goals this year was to expand my palette of cut flowers.


July 23rd, 2014 § 0

Monday night, before the rain had even stopped, I was out in the garden harvesting tomatoes. I knew that with so much rain, so quickly, any tomato that was even remotely near ripe would be split by morning if I didn’t get it off the vine. The year’s first Beefmaster and Brandwine were ripe, and I didn’t want to lose these massive and beautiful fruits, ironically, to too much moisture in a drought.


I picked all the tomatoes I could, with a few squash and cukes for good measure. It baffles me that the squash are still standing, but several readers have written that they’ve seen the same pattern in their gardens. Lots of Japanese beetles, not many squash bugs. Amazing. If this is an effect of the polar vortex, I’ll take one every winter!

As calculated by my kountry rain gauge, I got just shy of two inches of rain from the storm. Pretty amazing for about an hour’s worth of rain.



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