Tag Archives: country life

Our Summer Garden in the Shenandoah Valley


pink bee balmFlowers bloom and veges grow in a riot of beauty, despite the heat, humidity, and rampant weeds I make efforts to contain. Feeble efforts compared to the power of Mother Nature. My goal is to have more veges and flowers than weeds, but the pretty weeds stay. Even the marginally pretty ones. Beds stretch like islands in our yard, filled with reseeding heirloom flowers, wildflowers, and perennials that return from bulbs and roots. Herbs are interspersed throughout. We also grow heirloom vegetables.

Salad garden.

Being an organic gardener means we have a lot of bugs, good and bad. Occasionally, I spray organic brews around to discourage rampant bugs and leaf fungus’s, but the cats were licking seaweed/fish emulsion fertilizer off the leaves. Not a good idea when it’s mixed with the brew. So I’ve quit using fish based fertilizer.. We also have our own farm compost to put around plants to mulch and nourish them. Worms are a gardener’s friend and they thrive in it.

flowers near garden

Our goal is to have a wildlife sanctuary. Butterflies flutter from blossom to blossom and we have bees. Not as many bees as we used to have, but some murmur on a summer’s day. Bumble bees buzz happily and hummers dart. Our resident fairy expert, my niece, Cailin, says the flowers fairies love our garden(s). So do the kitties, both the inside cats gazing out windows and the outside felines stalking around like miniature jungle cats.  Gold finches sing and eat seeds from the sunflowers that reseed each year. Most birds survive, despite the cats. Maybe because I feed the kitties, and they’re on the lazy side.

Siamese tabby mix cat in the window

This spring the local cat rescue people humane trapped and spayed our barn kitties, many of whom were dumped on us, and then reproduced. They fixed and returned 19 cats of various ages, and found homes for the kittens. Some cats claim the old red barn as their domain. Others love the garden and eat from the bowel outside the back door. I mix lysine with their food to boost their immune systems. They’re much healthier now. I’m also buying little cat houses to provide extra shelter in bad weather. Cats hide among the garden plants and shrubs, but when winter comes, they will need more cover. They love the kitty houses.

I think the secret to enjoying the garden, is to not let the failures outweigh the many joys found in the beauty amid the imperfections. ~

Siamese barn kitty in herb bed

“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.” ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897 (Thanks, Jessica)

“No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden.” ~Hugh Johnson

“I think the true gardener is a lover of his flowers, not a critic of them. I think the true gardener is the reverent servant of Nature, not her truculent, wife-beating master. I think the true gardener, the older he grows, should more and more develop a humble, grateful and uncertain spirit.” ~Reginald Farrer, In a Yorkshire Garden, 1909

Barn with wild flowers

“Let nature be in your yard.” ~Greg Peterson, www.urbanfarm.org

“A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.” ~May Sarton

“I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of the day.” ~F. Frankfort Moore, A Garden of Peace

Cone flower

“Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.” ~Thomas Fuller,Gnomologia, 1732

“Despite the gardener’s best intentions, Nature will improvise.” ~Michael P. Garofalo

***This is true. Nature improvises all over the place here.

Sunfower in back garden

Images taken by my daughter Elise. Pink Bee balm, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple cone flower, heirloom lettuce, marigolds, zinnias, daylilies, coreopsis tinctoria, parsley, sunflowers, Siamese tabby mix cats.

Meadowlarks, Pussy Willow, Fussy Geese–Spring in the Shenandoah Valley


“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
― Margaret Atwood

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring is coming to the valley this week, and we’re all ready to kick up our heels after the long winter. The post below is from last year, but it fits.

Grady, soft-coated Wheaton terrior, enjoying spring day

Heavy wet snow fell last night and the trees are laden, my crocus buried. But several afternoons ago after the rain showers ended, the day turned mild and I pulled some overwintering weeds from one of my flower borders. A whole wheelbarrow full. While bent contentedly to my labors, I heard the sweet trill of a meadowlark, my favorite songbird. Silent today. When the sun shines and the weather softens, I will hear it sing again. This crazy weather is typical of early spring in the Shenandoah Valley. A cold snap follows on the heels of a wonderfully balmy day or two. This year has been on the colder side and wet, which is just as well with our tendency toward summer droughts. We’ll take the moisture while we can.

Meadowlark, Eastern MeadowlarkDucks and geese love all the puddles that come with the rain, and our farm pond is finally full again after dwindling to a sad state in the past. Happy quacks resound against the fussy geese fighting over nesting sites. These battles, and the meadowlark singing, are among the first signs of spring. And the pussy willow blooming. I picked a lovely bouquet of pussy willows yesterday. The fuzzy catkins brighten the kitchen in an old mason jar,

Pussy Willow

Back to the meadowlark, my goal is to ever actually see one of these elusive birds again. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be such a challenge, with our meadows and all. Once or twice, I’ve glimpsed a yellow flash and spotted the bird perched on a fence post before it flew. Mostly, they hide in the grass and skim away to another spot before I get a good look, calling all the while from various positions in the meadow.

Beth, Elise, and Cows

Several years ago, my daughter Elise and I were determined to track down the evasive songster and take its picture, like photographing fairies. We tenaciously followed its calls, even climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s pasture and picked our way along the little creek that flows from our pond, but never caught up with that bird, or birds. There may have been more than one taunting us. Unless I catch another rare glimpse, I must content myself with their beautiful trills. Birds like this need tall grasses and untidy hedge rows for nesting. Bear that in mind in your own yard and garden. Keeping everything trim and cultivated robs our feathered friends of habitat. It’s also a good excuse for a less than perfectly kept landscape. A little wilderness here and there is a good thing.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in spring“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
― A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

***Images of spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by my mom, Pat Churchman,  Grady, the soft-coated Wheaton terrier, and pussy willow by daughter Elise. Beth and Elise in our meadow by my husband Dennis. Obviously, I had to purchase the image of the meadowlark

Choose Life — Support Small Family Farms


Years ago, after I’d first written Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about the joys and trials of life on our small dairy farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Mom showed the manuscript to a local historian. He said I’d beautifully captured a vanishing way of life and that this book must be published. His insistence, coupled with the term ‘vanishing way of life’, gained my attention. I knew it was hard for small farmers to hold on with mounting pressure from the broader dairy industry, unregulated imports, and the growth of mega farms, but I didn’t realize we faced extinction.

Irregardless of our fate, the consumer will always have dairy products, but are they of the quality you desire?

Have you heard of Milk Protein Concentrates, also called MPC’s? There’s scary stuff sneaking into food, we need to become aware of and speak out against.

cows grazing in pasture

(Cows in our meadow by daughter Elise Trissel)

From Food and Water Watch:

“Unregulated imports of cheap milk protein concentrates are driving down the price of domestically produced milk and putting American dairy farmers out of business. And fewer American dairy farmers mean fewer choices for consumers, who are seeing increasing amounts of MPCs’ new, unregulated protein source‚ in their food supply.

MPCs’ are created by putting milk through an ultra-filtration process that removes all of the liquid and all of smaller molecules including the minerals that the dairy industry touts as being essential for good nutrition.

What is left following the filtration is a dry substance that is very high in protein and used as an additive in products like processed cheese, frozen dairy desserts, crackers and energy bars. Because MPCs’ are generally produced as a dry powder, exporters can ship the product long-distances very cheaply, and almost all of the dry MPCs’ used in America are imported.”

Visit the above link for more on MPC’s, not inspected or subject to the quality standards demanded of American dairy farmers. Check your labels carefully.

farmer-field

(Harvesting rye in the valley by my mother, Pat Chuchman)

My question is, do you care where your milk and other food comes from?  Are you concerned about the quality of what you’re feeding yourselves and your families? If so, then support your local farmers. We’re a dying breed.

Back to our farm which has been in the family for five generations. To try to preserve our way of life, we banded together with 20 other farmers in 2013 to form Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. Our goal: to purchase our own creamery and sell local natural milk and other dairy products from our farms to appreciative consumers. Nothing tastes as good, or is as good for you, as milk fresh from happy cows grazing in grassy meadows. We’re as picturesque and idyllic as the hobbits in the ShireBut a growing shadow hangs over us.

Farm garden image

(Our farm garden by daughter Elise Trissel)

Marketing our own dairy line was a great concept, and our products were very well received by the public. The work farm families poured into this venture is beyond description, No one could have tried harder to succeed than this group, but the creamery was too costly to run on our own. We failed to gain vital investors and co-packers. In mid-January 2015, after less than one year of actual production, Shenandoah Family Farms was forced to close. Our products are no longer offered. Instead of better helping our farm(s) to survive, we have further endangered ourselves. Our story is woeful, indeed. Barring a tidal wave of support, we’re not going to recover.

children with farmer in meadow

(Our farmer son and grandbabies by daughter Elise)

If you want to help the Trissel farm family and learn more of our lives, buy my book, Shenandoah Watercolors, available in kindle and print with lovely pictures taken by my talented family. There’s also much in here of interest to gardeners, to anyone who loves the country and a more natural life style.

Our beautiful valley. For now. Some things are worth fighting for, some things worth saving. If this isn’t, I don’t know what is.

Image of the Shenandoah Valley in early spring by my mom.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in spring

***Disclaimer: I am speaking as an individual farm owner and NOT as the official spokesperson for Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. .I am entitled to a voice. This is my post and mine alone.

Old Time Sayings and Superstitions From the Shenandoah Valley


Spectacular Autumn Day!
These sayings are from Shenandoah Voices:  Folklore, Legends, and Traditions of the Valley by late historian and author John Heatwole. I also threw in some cures. Images of the Shenandoah Valley and Mountains were taken by my talented family. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by my mom, Pat Churchman, above.
I knew and greatly respected John Heatwole.  He even helped me with some of the initial research for my first historical novels. The wealth of knowledge he amassed is just one of the rich legacies John left behind.
Shenandoah Voices is my favorite book by him.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the old ways and days of rural Virginia, especially the valley and surrounding mountains. I was also privileged to hear John speak on this fascinating subject. He’s best known for his vast knowledge and books about the Civil War. He was also an amazing wood-carver/artist, a man of many talents.  Much missed. (Log hog/chicken barn by my husband Dennis.)
****
Many early valley settlers were Scots-Irish, my ancestors among them.  People from the British Isles tended to be superstitious. Also prevalent in the valley were Germans bringing the influence of the Pennsylvania-Dutch, another superstitious group. To quote Michael Scott, from The Office, “I’m not superstitious, just a little stitious.”
autumn in the Alleghenies
It’s bad luck to lay a hat on the bed.~
An itching nose means a visitor is coming. ~
A cardinal bumping against the window pane is an indication of an early death~
(The Alleghenies by my mom above)
old barn with Virgina creeper*To this I have to add ‘or an insanely jealous bird regarding his reflection as another male which tends to happen with cardinals.’
Peel an apple all in one piece and throw the peel over your shoulder.  When you turn around and look at it lying on the ground, whatever letter it reminds you of will be the first letter of your future husband’s last name.~ (This is an ancient Celtic Custom)
It’s bad luck to point at a rainbow. ~ *I suspect we are all guilty of this one.  Who knew?
It’s bad luck to bring a shovel into the house ‘because it is a grave tool.’ Some also think a hoe in the house bodes no good.~
HEARTHIf you enter a house and leave it without sitting down it is bad luck. Particularly if you leave by a different door than the one you entered.~
If a bird flies into your house there will soon be a death in the family~Within six months if a whippoorwill comes to your treetop and sings at night. ~ *How many of you have even heard a whippoorwill?  I have. Though not lately.
(Hearth in the old smokehouse on the Christmas tree farm in Singers Glen, VA)
If a baby smiles in its sleep, the child is talking to the angels. ~ *My personal favorite.
Rain isn’t far behind when a tree shows the underside of its leaves.~
Count the number of foggy mornings in August and that is how many winter snows there will be.~ I heard this one not long ago and suspect it may be true.  I’m also a believer in wooley bears predicting winter…
old barn at dusk(Creepy old barn up behind our house by Daughter Elise.. Also pictured above.)
A new moon with the points up means dry weather, and a moon with the points down means rain will soon fall. ~
If a full moon has a ring around it there will be snow by morning. ~ If the ring is large, the number of stars you count in it will be the number of inches that fall.~
*We say a ring around the moon means rain, or snow, within a few days.
Sheep shearing takes place around the first of May.  A cold rain will follow within a few days of shearing called a sheep rain. ~
On Ash Wednesday people made pancakes or the chickens wouldn’t lay.~ *We still have pancake suppers in the valley on that day.
Horse chestnuts carried in the pocket are thought to ward off rheumatism. ~
Sassafras tea is good to thin the blood. ~
Broth made from the hind legs of mice is good for kidney ailments.~ *Not tried this one.
‘Swamp root’ tea is also recommended for kidney disorders.~ Swamp root tea is considered by many to be a kind of ‘snake oil’ that was peddled years ago. A patent medicine. Here’s a link to learn more. (The Alleghenies by my mother)
For someone who is weak and recovering from long illness, make them sparrow broth tea. ~ *This supposedly saved my grandmother’s life when she was sick as a child.
Before taking a new baby out for its first ride (this probably applied to a wagon or buggy) the ‘herb lady’ rubbed warm bear grease on one of the infant’s palms and the bottom of the opposite foot thus insuring that the baby was protected from the rigors of the journey. (The herb lady was the granny woman).
A hog’s tooth carried in your right pocket will ward off toothache.~ *Maybe I should take up this one.
Catnip tea was made for children with colic.~ Tea from peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache.~ *These are still practiced.
Sage tea will keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.~
(old bridge in the valley, bordering the Alleghenies by my husband)
Treat measles with sheep manure that has been boiled, strained, and diluted with moonshine.~ *I assume with enough moonshine the patient didn’t notice the manure so much.
For a bad cold put lard on your chest sprinkled with salt. Another remedy is a mustard plaster made with mustard, lard, and egg whites and laid on the chest~
Freckles on the face can be washed away on the first of May. If they are washed in morning dew, they will be transferred to the hands which can be dried on another less visible part of the body like the arms or legs and left there permanently.  It’s recommended that this practice be repeated for three years in a row to work. ~
Quite an investment in time.
(Image of river in the mist by my mother)
When mumps invade your house put hog manure on the throat as a relief or cure.
 
*Considering the stench of hog manure, I doubt the sufferer would find much relief.
To get rid of warts, tie a knot in a string for each wart you have and bury it under rock.  When the string rots the wart will be gone. ~ (Tried this one, took years to work, but the wart is gone).
Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains
 (Old house in the Blue Ridge Mountains by my husband)
If you are sitting up with an ill person and a spark flies from the fireplace in the room, it is a sign of impending death. (From Hardy County, West Virginia).
It would be a terrible mistake for you to kill a lightning bug because lightning might kill you during the next electrical storm. (From Wise County, Virginia)
In the Blue Ridge Mountains it was believed that if a glass fell from a table after midnight and rolled across the floor, a coffin would have to be made the next day.
And I could go on, but this is enough for now.  Well, maybe one more.
When springtime rolls around again, and if you are fortunate enough to make a wish on the first toad you see hopping by, you will have abundant good luck. (From Wise County, VA)
This piece is a repost from the past, but seems appropriate for this time of year.

Gardening and Country Life in Glorious Color!


cover-for-swcI’ve labored away adding lovely images to Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about life on our small family farm in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Given my love of gardening, this includes a strong focus on my gardens and love of nature. The book is already out in print with images, but now that kindle and nook E-Readers support colored photographs, I’ve added heaps more. Shenandoah Watercolors in available in  eBook and print format at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I will also get it up on Kobo soon. If someone is dying for me to have it somewhere else, let me know.

Book description: Author/farm wife Beth Trissel shares the joys and challenges of rural life on her family’s small farm in the scenic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Journey with her through the seasons on the farm, owned by the family since the 1930’s, and savor the richness of her cherished gardens and beloved valley. This journal, with images of her farm and valley, is a poignant, often humorous, sometimes sad glimpse into country life. Recommended for anyone who loves the country, and even those who don’t. ***Shenandoah Watercolors is a 2012 EPPIC eBOOK FINALIST.


The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in springExcerpt:
  The heavy rain has given way to a misting drizzle, but streams of water pour down from the hills and make new ponds and creeks. It’s chilly with that raw wet feel. This spring is awash in moisture and amazing after last summer’s searing drought. I’m struck by the intense beauty around me, and I thought I was already seeing it, but it’s so much more somehow. The grass seems to shimmer, yet there’s no sun out today, and the meadow is so richly green it’s like seeing heaven. Our barnyard geese are enraptured, as much as geese can be, with all the grass. If there’s a lovelier place to revel in spring than the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains, I don’t know it. Narnia, maybe.I’ve been thinking about my favorite places.

Dark hollow falls on Skyline drive, Shenandoah national parkThe pool I like best lies in the woods near a place called Rip Rap Hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A splendid falls cascades up above, but I like the pool far more. We always meant to go back, but never have. The cold water ripped through me like liquid ice and is as clear as melted crystal. I could see the rocks on the bottom, some slick with moss, others brown-gold in the light where the sun broke through the leafy canopy overhead. Trout hid beneath big rounded stones or ones that formed a cleft, but the men tickled them out to flash over the flat rocks strewn across the bottom like a path. Drifts of hay-scented fern rose around the edges of the pool, warming the air with the fragrance of new mown hay, and made the shady places a rich green.Now, that’s a good place to go in my mind when I’m troubled. The problem with cities is that people don’t learn what really matters. Don’t really feel or know the rhythms of the earth. When we are separated from that vital center place, we grow lost. Sadly, most people will never know what they are lost from, or where they can be found.~

***Images of the Shenandoah Valley in early spring and Dark Hollow Falls in the Blue Ridge.

For the Loveliness of it All


“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.” ~Ruth Stout

Crocus Again

Why, some of you may ask, am I so drawn to gardening? Granted, toiling in the earth has its downsides, like the aching back I will soon be complaining of, the chewing bugs, and inevitable weather affronts, but nothing is more uplifting to the spirit than a fair day in and among growing things. The joyous sights of new life returning to our beautiful valley after a long winter, the delectable scents and sounds…the trill of a meadowlark, the song sparrow singing overhead as I plant seeds in the crumbly brown ground…the swoop and soaring of the first butterfly…the pussy willow bursting with fuzzy catkins…the glowing crocus. Snow still obscures the landscape and cold wind nips my face, but the forecast promises better days and I shall soon be out sniffing the air with profound appreciation. The barnyard geese are fussy. Egg laying shall commence.

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

The delights of spring are almost upon us. There’s always a moment that catches and holds me transfixed, and in that moment, all is perfect. All is lovely. My piece of heaven on earth.~

***Images of crocus from last year and spring in the valley taken by my mom in past years.

I’m Calling it–Spring!


Meadowlark, Eastern MeadowlarkSpring is when the meadowlark sings and I heard one in the field across the road from our farm this morning while out walking the dogs. I stopped and listened closely to be certain I’d heard right. Yep, three more unmistakable trills floated on the cold air. In full-blown spring, those sweet calls resound from various places in our meadow and the neighbor’s. Tracking down the elusive songster is almost like trying to catch a leprechaun. Getting a photograph of a meadowlark has long been a goal of mine and daughter Elise’s. We have yet to succeed. Still, hope, like spring, reigns eternal. Yes, we have snow and more biting temps in the forecast, but the barnyard geese are getting fussy and pairing off, our earliest indication of the renewal of the earth, and now the meadowlark has proclaimed the end of a brutal winter is in sight. (*Image of meadowlark I purchased)

Gray Geese sitting on eggsThe dogs and I tramped the yard to survey my dormant flower beds. I wonder how many plants will return after the frigid cold that engulfed the Shenandoah Valley these past weeks. The vegetable garden should be sporting the promise of a glorious cover crop of crimson clover, but the seedlings I knocked myself out to establish last fall are conspicuous by their absence. I will try again next fall. Over the weekend, Elise and I poured over seed catalogs and sent off several orders. I plan to start seeds in my little greenhouse later this month or the first of March. It’s solar, without an alternate heat source, so not much point in starting anything before then. If we really want it going all winter, we will have to install some kind of heat. As it is, the greenhouse is frozen out, so any bugs and diseases that might have lingered from last year are well and truly zapped. One advantage of a severe cold snap.

(*Nesting geese from last spring. Image by my husband, Dennis)

snowy pussywillow by the old red barn on march 25Another early sign of spring is the pussy willow in the back garden. Fuzzy grey buds are beginning to swell. Last year, I planted several pussy willows I’d rooted from cuttings down by the pond. I ought to trek over there and see if any of them made it. I’ll report back, and, if they didn’t, I shall persevere. (*Image of pussy willow by the old red barn from last spring by Elise)

Onward ho.