Showing posts from 2018

December—An End and a Beginning

December is the month of dwindling daylight. I understand why so many animals hibernate or semi-hibernate. It feels as if everything is coming to an end. The growing season is ending; the world is ending. Okay, an exaggeration. But dark at 4:30? The rainy and gray days take a toll on everyone. The plants outside just sit there…not dying, not growing.Our calendar year is ending, which is a natural time to look back over the year and assess what went as planned, what did not, what was successful, what was not, what do we want to do differently?
And then--what a relief to get past the Winter Solstice and start increasing our daylight, minute by precious minute. And because growing is what I like most of all, we look at ways to circumvent nature and winter weather. The trees and fruit bushes will stay dormant, but growing vegetables in the high tunnels and heated greenhouses is rewarding.The greenhouses are warmed with passive solar heat, and on a sunny day can be 80 degrees. Night time …

November is Transition to Winter

November is our noticeable change in daylight hours, with dark creeping in earlier in the evening (late afternoon?!?) and making me want to hibernate.But November still has plenty of work to do, so we can’t nap yet.

If you check The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the list of garden clean up is pretty much what we do in November: clean root crops of dirt and store in a cool, dark place; clip the tops off beets, parsnips, turnips, and carrots so they stay fresher; clean fall squash of dirt and store in a cool, dark place; dig up, clean, and store dahlia tubers and gladiola bulbs in a cool, dark place (you see the theme of “cool, dark”); clean out dead plants and vines; destroy slug egg masses (slugs are never on my “keep” list).
Clean all tools. Check all tractors and equipment. Now is the time to do repairs and maintenance. Spring rush comes sooner than we think every year!
Test the soil, add sulfur or lime to adjust the pH as needed.
Inspect all the trees. What might need to come out? Where …

October Means Overcoming Obstacles

There are a lot of different ways to say it. In A Mood. Cranky. Difficult. Needs A Nap (sign me up, please!). By the end of October, we are all tired. And tired people are…cranky, to pick one of those phrases. This year, with twice the normal rainfall and a serious deficit of sunshine, everyone is cranky. Customers, staff, even the bees are cranky right now.
We should have planted rice this year. There was a bumper crop of squirrels, foxes, raccoons, crows, and mice this year. Produce did not keep as well because of all the rain. The squirrels destroyed a lot of pears and pumpkins. Sudden and serious illnesses wreaked havoc among the staff, causing extra work for everyone else.
So now it is time for the pep talks to keep us going and keep us smiling. How do we do that?
One of our core values is we take care of each other, including staff, families, customers, friends, and community. When one becomes sick, everyone steps up and covers that person’s work. When a customer became ill a…

John Webster Remembered

John Webster was born July 1, 1901, and died on September 13, 1990. His life began in the horse and buggy era and ended in the space era. He ran the family farm, first with his father, and then with his wife and five daughters.He broadened the horizons of the family farm, taking produce to the King’s Street Farmers Market, building homes in the community, creating a dairy herd, and becoming a peach orchard specialist. He was involved in his community, hiring people in the 1930s who were desperate for work and for food, teaching Sunday School at church, a leader in the Delaware and Pennsylvania Farm Bureaus.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to know John Webster all have a story to tell. I remember planting peach trees with my grandfather when he was “retired,” and wondering why he was planting more trees now. “Because people will want good peaches to eat when these are ready,” he replied. John Webster’s ability to look ahead was phenomenal and laid the foundation for what we are …

What Happens In August

Barn swallows, foxes, and the peacock in August
August. It’s the beginning of the end of summer.
August 2 is the mid-point between the beginning of summer and the beginning of autumn. Summer harvests are in full swing. The first apples are picked at the end of the first week of August; the first pears are picked at the beginning of the second week; the first spaghetti and butternut squash are picked the end of the third week; more pears and apples are picked by the fourth week. And we are still picking zucchini and beans, peaches and plums. August is the high point for peaches in flavor, quantity, and juiciness, AND it is the start of apple season—Ginger Gold, Jonamac, Early Goldens, Early Galas. First cider pressing. August is also the push to get fall crops planted. We are racing daylight hours and nighttime temperatures for the plants to reach maturity before those delightfully cool nights halt plant growth. And this year, August has given us extra hot, extra humid days and nights f…

Surviving July is all in how you view it

Oh, July! Hot, productive, busy, overwhelming July! Hottest month of the year. Picking raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, peaches, plums, first of the summer apples, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupes, watermelon, corn….all of the summer bounty rushes to ripen and is ready for harvest. The days are packed. July is the fruition of a lot of planning and planting.

Oh yes, and generally the weeds have gone totally crazy by July.

It’s always funny when people ask if we are closed for July 4 (unless it falls on a Sunday, the answer is no). The plants do not take a holiday in July. We have Sundays off (always), but we would be light years behind if we took another day off in July. This year, July 4 is hovering at a balmy 91 degrees after 5 straight days in the 90s—you can practically see the berries ripening in front of your eyes.We close a few hours early to give our employees a chance to spend some time with their families. For family members,…

Farewell to Schuylkill River Park

It seems very strange to say farewell to Schuylkill River Park. We have been there since the first farmers market started in 2005. We have seen vendors come and go, we have endured construction around the park, and in the park, and next to the park, and we have gotten to know many wonderful people in the community who come out and support our farm through their purchases at the market.
The park is beautiful now, with its renovated pathways, dog park, and plantings. The community garden is full with creative plots. Why would we want to leave?
A simple question with a complicated answer. We are fortunate that our business has grown dramatically over the past decade. We have more CSAs, more restaurants placing orders, more companies wanting to provide produce for their employees, and more business at our home market on the farm.
We have finite resources.
I have rolled this around in my head for quite a while now. My decision affects all of our employees, our customers, and our revenue.…

Peak Bloom Time!

Meander down to visit the chickens and ducks and look past the pen. You’ll see our flower field filled to the brim and buzzing with beautiful life. 

At the Delaware Beekeeper Association, I asked the other beekeepers if they planted flowers every year where they keep bees. It turns out that Highland Orchards is pretty unique. On our farm we have so many fruit trees and shrubs, flowering vegetable plants, and we grow so many cut flowers that we have an overwhelming abundance of pollen and nectar to go around. 
So, here’s the beautiful diversity we encourage with our field-grown cut flowers.  The best part? We cover all the stops. You can buy bunches for bouquets, or buy the plants yourself to grow your own! That way you can enjoy these pollinators visiting your garden!

Our mix of flowers brings in our incredible mix of pollinators:  Small native bees: melittid, megachilid, and others including mason bees Larger carpenter and bumble bees in the Bombidae family Our classic European hone…

The Intensity of June

I think it was May yesterday, and now it is almost the middle of June. If I don’t finish this today, it will be the end of June when I return! Summer is like that: if you blink, it disappears! June is the beginning of the intense season, where every hour and every day is packed with harvest, planting, and planning.
Still picking strawberries, starting to pick tomatoes, raspberries and cherries, checking on the plums, peaches, blueberries, and blackberries; starting to pick cucumbers, beans, and squash—it definitely feels like the summer wave is here, even though it is only 71 degrees today. In about 3 weeks, nearly everything will be ready for continual harvesting.
Although there is a press to get everything planted, we are busy with harvests and with taking out as well as putting in plants. As soon as one crop is finished—lettuce, for example—another one goes in (say, cucumbers!). This “succession planting” helps us get in at least 3-4 crops over the year for most parts of the farm. …

Where has May gone?!?

May is almost over. I love May: spring has sprung, the flowers are fabulous, planting time is rewarding—you get the picture. This year, we started with lilacs blooming on May first and ended the month cutting lots of peonies. In between, we had sun, rain, thunderstorms, five days straight of rain, deluges of rain, threats of derechos and hail, cold and overcast, hot and humid. Never a dull moment!
Strawberries finally started May 21 (only about 10 days late, which considering how cold it was in April is not too bad!). Picking berries happens when it is dry, so we have been dodging the rain!
Fortunately, asparagus loves the rain and has been growing like crazy. And it is ok to cut asparagus while it is wet.
While it is raining outside, we tend all the plants inside. We are very grateful that we set up the second large heated house in the fall, which transitioned from lettuce to tomatoes by the end of the month. First, tomato plants were planted in-between the lettuce rows, staked and tie…

Our Native Plants This Year

Here is a listing of the different native plants we'll have for sale this year, along with their ideal gardens and possible uses. 
Happy Planting! 
CropPlant TypeBloom SeasonPollinatorsLightResistsOtherAmsoniaPerennial NativeEarly to Mid SummerButterflySunDeerAstilbePerennialLate Spring to Early SummerBeePart/ ShadeDeerBasket FlowerAnnual Half HardySummerPollinatorSunBurgundy Shamrock