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A Winter Day


Memories of summer fun.

While dreams of warm sunny mornings and afternoons of garden gazing run through my mind, the realty of winter has set in. What fills a farmer, writer, retailers winter days? Plenty of business chores, a farm dog that is bored to tears, and planning all the possibilities of the coming season.

Something that is a constant to keep our business growing and alive is the need for something new and exciting all the time. This is what is the heaviest on my mind this time of year—what are my projects for 2015? A new video, book, or maybe focusing on producing even more flowers and vegetables from our little farm. Oh to choose just one, or to do them all! This friends is what small business owners face day-in-day out. Exciting but taxing also.


Sitting amongst the tower of toys she has retrieved one-by-one patiently waiting for a kibble.

While projects are still rolling around in my head, the farm dog is bored. In her mature years she is not overflowing with energy to expel—but her personality requires interaction and fun. Spending more time at my desk in this season has led Babs and I to create the desk game. I have a little cookie box on my desk full of her kibble. She brings me one of her many stuffed toys and drops it at my chair, I give her a kibble. As you can see from the photo it didn’t take her long to get the hang of this game! After she brings every toy in the house, I stop and move them all somewhere—back in their basket or in another room to keep her busy. This could go on all day until I call it quits and send her to bed.


Napping after a round of the desk game.

Top of the list this week is our seed starting schedule through fall. Hard to imagine fall now but I have to do it. What happens here is we are so busy all summer—harvesting, selling, planting, and so forth that there is no brain left to plan—especially when you add in heat. So I am tackling one of my favorite tasks reviewing the many seed catalogs and notes I have gathered from other farmers on new flowers to try and writing our lineup of what to grow, when to start it, how many to start and where it will be planted.

The next realization that comes– I never have enough time or space to plant all my dreams.

I am sowing the seeds of the future of our farm even in winter!



Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website .

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White House Horticulturist Tells All!

Friday, January 9th, 2015Happening on a Flower Farm with Lisa Mason ZieglerComments Off

A story from my past:

Amazon from cramers

Celosia Amazon flowers.

Celosia “Amazon” is a flower that I have grown for several years, and we also offer the seed for sale. It is one of those great staple flowers in the garden that is so reliable and uniform I just plain take it for granted. It is tall, growing over 8 feet in our garden. A single plant can produce over 80 stems of flowers in a season. Its flower is a two-tone magenta spike-type bloom. Its foliage has streaks of burgundy that turns even deeper colors in the fall. It’s like a nice quiet neighbor, just nice to have around.


family Aug 27 2005 088

Celosia Amazon plant.

Well here’s the beginning of the scoop: For years the story was that the plant had been discovered in the Amazon region. But some years ago, a story began circulating in the cut-flower-grower circles that Amazon didn’t really come from the Amazon. It was just named that because it grows so big and produces so many stems. This story seemed likely, so it stuck–

–until Thursday, Feb 21, 2008 at the Maymont Flower and Garden Show before the doors opened to the public. I was in my booth, busy getting ready for the grand opening, while the gardens were being judged by a panel of experts that included Wayne Amos, horticulturist of the White House. After the judging was completed, he came by my booth with one of our customers to check out our Cramer’s Lime Green Cockscomb seed. After looking it over, he offered that I should try growing a variety of Celosia called Amazon. I, of course, said I not only have grown it for years but also sold the seed.

He then offered, “You know it came from the Amazon.”

I offered, “We’ve been told in fact it didn’t, that it’s just named that because it grows so large.”

He said, “I brought the seed back from the Amazon.”

I said, “No way! Really? Get out of town, really? We love that plant!”

At this moment, my sister (as previously instructed) snapped a picture of the two of us talking, because it appeared that I was meeting someone who was somebody!


Maymont Feb 21 2008 009

Lisa meeting Wayne Amos, White House horticulturist

I actually met the guy that brought the seed back from the Amazon—where he spotted the plant while powdering his nose in the bush! I can’t wait till I go to the next grower’s conference to tell this story!!!

About Cramer’s Amazon: Loves it hot and dry! Spike-type blooms on a plant that can grow to over 8 feet tall! Full sun, 96″H, annual, great cuts, attracts birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects, drought tolerant, reseeds occasionally zone 7 and south. Spring/summer planted zone 4-9. Blocker size small, direct seed also, and do not cover seed, 5-10 days to germinate. This plant is an instant hedge to cover an ugly view. To purchase click here.


Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website .

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Making Lists

Friday, January 2nd, 2015Happening on a Flower Farm with Lisa Mason ZieglerComments Off

What was I thinking? All too familiar to me, these words questioning my sanity are like a familiar friend as I head into the New Year. Sometimes I find it hard to swallow opportunities missed, mistakes I have made and left turns when I should have gone right—you get the picture. But as I am clocking up the years, I have come to appreciate my blunders that make the successes and homeruns in life, business and gardening all the more sweet.

20140928_094808b    The view from my office of one of my greatest successes.

I no longer make New Year’s resolution lists. I read somewhere it turns out to be nothing more than a to-do list for the first week of January—so true. However I am one of those nutty list makers. Without a list I am pretty sure I would walk in aimless circles. Not sure how folks that don’t make list get anything done or even know when to give yourself a pat on the back or more importantly to throw in the towel. If you want to enjoy the benefits of list—now is the time to get one started.

20150101_121350                                                                            My big calendar known as B.C.

January is when I actual have a moment to gaze, dream and reflect on my “big calendar” (B.C..) B.C. is the record of all happening here on the farm. It is a large month-to-month calendar with 2” x 4” spaces for each day that I notate everything on that I want to remember about my gardens. In addition to seed-starting and planting times it includes those out-of-season jobs to be done later– all perfect candidates for a late winter and early spring chore list.

20150101_120410b One of my winter reads this year Garden Soils, published 1948.

The toppers on my list this year are winter tree pruning chores, planning the seed starting and planting schedule for the next 9 months and finishing my part of the 2015 catalog and out brand new website (launching late January). I am required to provide lots of ideas and text on those last two items so everyone else can proceed with their jobs. Middle of my list items always includes a couple farming related books to read, making lists of chores for home and business once the season gets started, and working on new program topics and content. At the bottom of my list are those items that seem to never get done—painting a room, cleaning the cellar and lounging around reading magazines.

Embrace the cold weather and make a gardening to-do list.

Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website .

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…By the Chimney with Care

Monday, December 22nd, 2014-Miracles in the Garden with Susan Yoder AckermanComments Off


When Christmas rolls around, our fireplace is front and center. But it’s a place for knitting stockings, not hanging them. There is no mantel. The stockings would be toast in no time.


On Christmas Eve, we usually line the stockings up on a nearby couch. On Christmas morning, they lie there temptingly chubby and lumpy, to be poured out upon the hearth rug as the fire snaps at a safe distance.

IMG_0282 stockings

And then there is the whole question of whether Santa Claus even comes down the chimney. I used to imagine it possible. One Christmas morning long ago, my father needed to leverage a little more time, and asked us to stay upstairs a tad longer. Santa Claus had apparently gotten stuck in the small chimney for a bit—or so he said– and Daddy was tending his scraped foot in the kitchen. We understood Santa was shy and just wanted to get on his way soon without fanfare. We waited excitedly for the all-clear.

At the Ackerman farmhouse, not many folks have actually come down the chimney. There were those two young starlings last summer, and maybe that bat we found hanging in a corner one morning.

And then there was Robby, barely out of his twenties. Our chimney had been replaced after a distressing fire, leaving a mortar job to be done just above the fireplace flue. The building industry was booming, and no brick mason would take it on. Why would they want to hang upside down in a three-story chimney when they had plenty of work outside in the sunshine?

I was away the day Robby decided to just do it himself. He first lowered a 5-gallon bucket of mortar down the chimney from the scary high roof. Then, he climbed headfirst down the ladder. There was so little room to move that he had to do his mortar job with his head actually in the mortar bucket. The thought did cross his mind that he could meet his end by falling headfirst into mortar. Who could have rescued him?

The house, the chimney, and my husband survived to celebrate many Christmases after that. He still tends the flues lovingly, though he has been asked to stop doing his own chimney repair!


I’m thankful as I knit by the firelight night after night. The stockings might not hang on a mantel, but our family lore is knit right into my stitches.

There is a strand of silvery blue running through three of the stockings I knitted for grandsons. The boys enjoy the bright stripes and the stretchy capacity of those stockings as they dump them out Christmas morning. Some day they will also understand that the shine in the blue yarn holds the memory of a grandmother that is no longer with them. That it represents the gift she chose but was never able to create for them.

And while our hearts are tender, I can’t help telling the story about the one Christmas morning when stockings hung flat and empty. I was a newborn baby. My big sister was critically ill with whooping cough, scarlet fever, and pneumonia. My parents were desperate. Christmas was the last thing on their minds.

That was not true of the five-year-old in the family. When bedtime came on Christmas Eve, she took off her long brown stockings. She hung one for herself and another for her brother who was almost three. The distracted parents never noticed.

In the morning the children rushed to the stockings. They were flat and empty. I asked her later: “What did you do?” She said, “I just put my stockings back on.” But there was a gift after all. That new thing, penicillin? It worked a miracle for my sister. There were many, many years ahead to hang stockings—always with a tangerine in the toe and a Christmas cane hanging out the top.

Whether or not you have a cozy fireside or even a full stocking this Christmas, here is wishing you and yours much health, happiness, and gratitude!


Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at



The Winter Garden

Friday, December 19th, 2014Happening on a Flower Farm with Lisa Mason ZieglerComments Off


Fall planted, spring blooming hardy annual garden ready to go to bed for winter.

I feel as though this is the best fall-planted, spring blooming garden we have had in a couple of years. Our fall was cool and moist, not cold and dry. And as winter is getting started it has not been the brute of years past with relentless wind and rain. All of this has worked together for the greater good of our winter garden.


Lettuce planted in October that will produce all winter. We cut and it regrows.

Our vegetable patch is pumping out lettuce, spinach and greens like a champ, we can hardly eat it fast enough. In years past—including last year with our single digits in January—this garden with only the protection of a floating row cover provided for us throughout winter. No one was more surprised than me last year to knock the snow off of the collapsed garden hoops and row cover to find rows of greens smiling back at me. Once you have eaten your way through winter you’ll never miss fall planting of greens again!

20141125_073857 Garden safely tucked to bed from deer and ferocious winter winds under hoops and row covers.

I forecast that this spring our hardy annual spring bloomers will be spectacular and in abundance! We planted pretty close to on schedule and our soil blocked transplants were at the perfect size for planting. With our fall conditions these plants hit the ground running. Then, when added in that we go the extra mile and mulch all the pathways deeply with leaves that suppresses weeds and retains moisture and top the beds off with hoops and floating row cover for deer and wind protection, well this all makes for a perfect spring garden storm. I am afraid and already dreaming of the 5 one hundred foot beds of snapdragons planted and how many stems they will produce…

20141025_181105 Snapdragon beds before pathway mulch, hoops and covers.

If you can imagine life in the winter garden for these plants that love cool-to-cold weather it all makes perfectly good sense. When planted into cool conditions to get settled in and grow roots, it creates a plant that is so healthy and hardy that it will resist disease and pests once it does warm up beyond their comfort zone. Plants are set to take off come spring; this improves health, grows more abundance and grows larger flowers or fruits.

babs ad Lisa on bendch

Lisa and Babs watching spring unfold.

During winter some folks page through magazines looking for signs of spring. I live in the presence of spring all winter. Daily, I pull on my boots, call Babs and head out the backdoor to walk my winter garden and watch spring unfold before my eyes.


Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website .

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Just—and Justified–Desserts

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014-Miracles in the Garden with Susan Yoder AckermanComments Off


“T’is the season!

Kroger shelves empty of my favorite unbleached flour. I search from store to store for green candied cherries. Bags of chocolate chips and packs of butter spill over in my grocery cart. Dough is chilling for pecan dreams and molasses crinkles. A Concord grape pie is already baked and in the freezer.

In full frenzy, I stop, though, rolling pin in hand,when I see a friend’s Facebook post:

“At our house we have one dessert per holiday.”

I was struck with awe! One dessert per holiday! Still festive, but controlled. That would totally solve so many problems—how to have enough hours in the day for all baking projects, how to prevent a kitchen backache, how to keep from sampling every tasty treat and ending up with too much of a good thing.

But how would that look at our house—one dessert? I was stumped. Whose favorite dessert would I choose? And for which meal?Some holidays there are people in and out of our house for weeks, nibbling, tasting, and enjoying while the kettle boils for another plunge of the French press. The desserts share the stage with savories like soups, salads, and breads.


On Christmas morning some expect this cranberry coffee braid. Others love my mother’s orange slice fruit cake full of dates and nuts and coconut. A double recipe of Aunt Mary’s layer cookies is required.

And then chocolate. Don’t forget chocolate! The Buche de Noel tradition, French teacher that I was—some years I made five or six gorgeous chocolate and cream logs in a season. I took them to school and to parties; I served them at home. I passed on the recipe, never quite managing the meringue mushrooms crafted by the true French but improvising with cream cheese mushrooms rubbed in cocoa and spearmint holly leaves with cinnamon candy berries.

One dessert per Christmas—I don’t know how to do it. And what about the other holidays? Is one dessert even possible then?


A birthday bunny cake, sure, but you need mice to go with it.


A coconut lamb cake at Easter, yes, but what about a fruity trifle, too, piled high in a glass bowl?Pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving, certainly, but who wants to leave out pecan?


And on Fourth of July the picnic crowd will barely be satisfied with just one oozing pie of fresh picked blackberries.


And then there’s every day. Tradition has given humble desserts a place at the table.(The Mennonite Seven Sweets and Seven Sours were not just for holidays!) My mother fed a family of seven children with them. They featured fruit, whole grains, eggs, or dairy. Oatmeal cookies with nuts and raisins…. tapioca with egg and milk…strawberries with bread crumbs and milk…baked custards…canned peaches…apple crisp…blackberry cobbler. Dessert—nothing decadent, just good food rounding out the meal.

Last night our dinner was delicious but light–chicken, oven-roasted carrots and potatoes, and kale fresh from the garden. A dessert was not only justified, but needed, to fill it out. In a double boiler I put a half cup of rice, 2 ½ cups hot milk, cinnamon and nutmeg, a handful of raisins, and less than ¼ cup of sugar. I stirred as it cooked, watching it turn creamy and spicy and utterly delectable. The smell was heavenly.


While I was at it, I cooked up a dozen apples that I found in the crisper, too. This dessert is lovely with yogurt or cottage cheese.


Holidays bring about some outrageous desserts with barely a scrap of nutrition to recommend them. But this is their time–if ever–to be served with flair and shared with friends and family. It is a way to celebrate hospitality, creativity, tradition, and festivity.

As in all of life, moderation is the key. Portions can be small. My family calls it “slivering,” when I shave off a slice. They are quick to point out, when I indulge in “serial slivering,” that I am at risk for eating way too much! They are right. But…

It’s just desserts. Merry Making and Baking to all!






Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at



Season of Sweet Angels…

Monday, December 8th, 2014-Miracles in the Garden with Susan Yoder AckermanComments Off

Sweet Potato Angel BISCUITS, that is! And a Nina angel to roll out the tender dough.


At fall harvest time, and into the Christmas season (think ham or veggie accompaniment)—well, really, all year around–Sweet Potato Angel Biscuits have become a favorite of our family and friends. The morning after Thanksgiving, I made nearly a hundred of them, and by evening, only four or five remained in the bottom of the Ziploc bag.

Those who kept reaching for another and another included a baby-wearing mama, a teacher, a business vice president, a data scientist, an engineer, a college professor, a cardiologist, a nurse, and a whole front yard soccer team of little first and second cousins along with two dads—a research doctor and a hotelier.

But I don’t really make these for the grownups. I make them because without exception, my grandchildren love them. And they love going through the steps required to transform them from raw sweet potato into a delicacy.


Here Noah is waiting for the rosy dough to turn golden as they puff up in the oven.


Sweet potato angel biscuits are toothsome and sweet without being candy or cookie. They are buttery. They fit the hand well and don’t crumble, so they are perfect for travel treats in the car. And healthy? For every teaspoon of yummy butter there are two teaspoons of mashed sweet potato, so there’s your vegetable for finicky eaters! What’s not to like!


After Thanksgiving, Audra, our niece from Florida, asked for the recipe. Her daughter wanted some of “those yellow biscuits” Aunt Susan had. Anyone can make them—they are easy! However, they do take advance preparation and multiple steps, which is part of the fun. If you want to serve them on a certain day, be sure to begin the day before!

I start with raw sweet potatoes and put them in the oven to roast in their jackets in a moderate oven. I lay them on a tray because they get messy when they get good!


It is possible to mash up canned ones, but the taste is more delicious if you roast them in the oven until they ooze caramel juice. I am not the only one who feels that way. Many years ago, George Washington Carver, the expert on peanuts and sweet potatoes, said this, and I heartily agree:

“A sweet potato cooked quickly is not well cooked. Time is an essential element. Twenty minutes may serve to bake a sweet potato so that a hungry man can eat it, but if the flavor is an object, it should be kept in the oven for an hour.”

The vegetable becomes so sweet when roasted to perfection, that I find I can cut the added sugar to a third of what the recipe calls for. No one misses that sugar!


A couple of hints: Be sure to let them rise until they look high and puffy, it may take a while because they start out cold. That gives the best texture. Also, I roast a lot of sweet potatoes at once and store them in three-cup containers in the freezer. Gives you a head start when the urge to make these angelic treats strikes, or when a little one asks for “those yellow biscuits.” May she never be disappointed!




Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at



Tool Wars—Friendly Fire

Monday, December 1st, 2014-Miracles in the Garden with Susan Yoder AckermanComments Off

We both stared at a crack on the surface of the small wood-handled pancake turner. I’m not sure if he offered, or if I requested, but it was agreed that he would take it to the garage and try to fix it.

“Don’t ruin it!” were my last words as he headed out to the arsenal of tools he keeps in the sacred space we call “the garage.”


I guess his welding equipment was over-engineered for an egg-flipper.


This was the casualty he handed sheepishly back to me. It was friendly fire this time, but still just as horrifying!


The Tool Wars had begun soon after we were married. A neighbor came to borrow a wrench. I knew we had a wrench in the garage. I told the man to help himself. The decades since have mercifully blurred the way the story unfolded, but the marital learning curve took a huge jump that day. I learned NEVER to lend a tool. Robby could lend a tool. But I? NEVER. It was like a toddler releasing a prize puppy to wander through the neighborhood unguarded—the danger! The loss! The possible damage!

I got it instantly. All tool questions were to go to him. The battle was short and victorious. But the war was not over.

As in all young marriages, neither of us had learned all there was to know about What Really Matters. It hadn’t occurred to Robby that he wasn’t the only one in the family who had tools.

My kitchen is small and quaint, my oven tiny, but everything I use there is dear to my heart.


First, my electric skillet lost the ability to regulate its temperature. No problem– I just turned it on and off accordingly as I tended the food.

I came home one day to find the skillet had been carried away in the trash—(probably it had burned his eggs!)–and a brand new one was in its place. I was fine with acquiring a new one. But the old skillet was my kitchen companion, my right hand man. I wanted to be the one to decide when it was to be taken off of life support.

The next defeat was over a pancake-turner. It was small and limber—perfect for turning a one-egg omelet or a crepe. Its tendency to rust if not dried with a towel was a minor flaw. One morning I turned the kitchen upside down looking for it. But it was gone. In its place was a large stiff one with a black plastic handle—just like one I already had for sturdier tasks.

I was outraged!!! What gave this man the right to throw away my personal tools??

I knew just the thing to do–toss out any of HIS spare parts or tools that weren’t pleasing to me. I would need a tow truck for the job, since the first to go would be several entire rusty “parts cars” hidden in our woods and treasured by him as veritable gold mines of free car parts.

Rusty parts car? Rusty pancake turner? Could he not see the parallel?

But he was contrite. And he made amends. Soon after, he brought me a flipper from his mother’s kitchen. I forgave all, because I loved this one even more than the one he had thrown away. It didn’t rust! It had been Dorothy’s! It had a smooth, worn, wooden handle. It was beautiful…until today! Now it was sporting an ugly hole.


Well, the crack had been half sealed, at least. And though the hole was ugly, I could still turn a pancake or an egg with the thing. It was going to stay in my kitchen. Amnesty was granted.

This week, when our children and grandchildren gathered for Thanksgiving, our son and his wife had a special package for me. “To save Robby’s hide,” I believe was the rationale. This was inside:


There was a beautiful wooden handle, painted red. There was a small, flexible metal surface. And there– yes, there was a crack across its surface, just like the one Robby had tried to weld with such disastrous results. A crack that will never be mended.



Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at



Garden Gold: Leaves

Saturday, November 29th, 2014Happening on a Flower Farm with Lisa Mason ZieglerComments Off

It is so good to be back! My sabbatical this past season from blogging was such a relief as I was required for other duties related to launching Cool Flowers during the farming harvest season. Now that I have hung up my harvesting shears for a few months—I am happy to get back to sharing what is going on our farm.

image001(1) First load of the season!

The most excitement going on around here lately is the truck load after truck load of leaves been brought to the farm to mulch our pathways. This annual chore of mulching our fall-planted garden is labor intensive for about two to three weeks but we reap the benefits for the life of the garden. Our beds and pathways are about 110 feet long, we have 32 beds planted which makes 64 pathways to mulch—whew, lots of leaves!About 20 good size bags for each pathway.

image001(2) We collect from a house every year that has what we call “body bags of leaves”–huge!

We mulch the pathways 12” or more deep—this makes it virtually impossible for a weed to sprout. Weed suppression is the most obvious advantage but there are far more that are vital to the organic function and low maintenance of our farm. Moisture retention is another huge benefit.

image001(3) No soil showing in garden for weeds to sprout or moisture to escape.

How it all works for the good of the farm:

  • We mulch pathways as soon after making beds in fall or early spring as possible to prevent weeds from getting a start.
  • We only use bagged leaves—so easy to drag or carry to where you need them. (FYI: this rescues them from the landfill. Bagged leaves cannot be composted by most cities and counties.)
  • Mulch deeply to prevent having to top off mulch later in the season. Leaves are free and usually available in abundance—don’t skimp.
  • Beds are planted and harvested throughout the season as usually with no maintenance needed in pathways (huge benefit!)
  • Flowers and vegetables are stripped of excess foliage while harvesting, dropping the greenery in the pathways.
  • All season we are walking on this amazing “organic lasagna” we are creating, breaking down the leaves and basically pulverizing it all as we work.
  • When a bed has reached the end of its usefulness, we remove any flower support netting, mow the crop, and pullup any irrigation tape up.
  • To work the organic matter into the soil we plowand/ or till the garden—pathways, beds and all adding tons of organic matter.
  • Let the garden digest the matter for 2 to 6 weeks –depending on the weather, soil type, and the crop mowed to start all over again—making beds, planting and so forth.


image001(4) No bag left behind–sometimes we even put them in the front of the truck when the back is full! (Babs is totally bored with this chore. She goes along for the hope of stopping at a drive thru!)

This practice has built our soil into what it is today. The very best part of all of this for me? Walking my little farm all winter and early spring admiring these beautiful pathways knowing what that offer and the life they bring to my garden. The other benefits of all this organic mulch? When your soil is covered and insulated with organic mulch, it brings the earthworms and billions of his microbe friends closer to the soil surface to work.

image001(5) Suzanne and Rhonda can always find room for one more bag!

All winter while you watch from the window— there is a whole lot going on out there beneath that blanket of leaves. So, go ahead and rescue a few bags—but don’t come in my neighborhood, it might launch a new realty show: Bag Wars!

Magic Dust–Little Entrepreneurs and Me

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014-Miracles in the Garden with Susan Yoder AckermanComments Off

Magic dust! The words caught my eye as I paid for my grapes at the vineyard farm stand. A small baggie of wonder-working dust to work magic on tired African violets–bargain at only one dollar!

There was no mention of secret ingredients or even active ingredients. The magic was in the crooked handwriting. I am a complete pushover for childish entrepreneurs, and “Isaac + Cyrus” were apparently nothing if not clever little marketers making money for their piggy bank.


I bought a bag. Of course. I could just see the devotion to the project: first getting the idea—next, enlisting a partner (not always a smooth process when siblings are involved!)—then finding the special dirt—bagging it—cutting the masking tape—making painstaking letters—deciding on the price—creating the display. And then standing back to watch the money roll in, with bated breath.

It reminded me of decades ago, when three little girls knocked at our neighbor’s door to offer bouquets for sale. The flowers were short of stem, limp from sweaty hands, and way overpriced.


But my little sisters were confident of one thing: the flowers they were selling were most certainly ones the neighbor liked. After all, the girls had just selected the best from the neighbor’s very own flower beds!


I can’t forget some of my own door-to-door experiences as a child. My friend Norma and I decided to sell Sunflower dishcloths. It was soon after our school had raised lots of money selling hundreds of those very dishcloths for a quarter each. Well, obviously the rural Denbigh market had been saturated by the time we two girls piled dishcloths into our bicycle baskets and plied the Colony roads. The weather turned cold; the wind blew them out of our baskets; and no one wanted to buy dishcloths. We arrived home, discouraged, with a quarter between us for our trouble. I am pretty sure both our mothers were well supplied with dishcloths for years to come, because I don’t think we ever went out and tried again.

Maybe that’s why we have always sympathized with the kids knocking on our door. The children of the neighborhood know we will buy whatever they are selling for fund-raisers. We buy boxes of Girl Scout Cookies; we buy fall bulbs to plant; we buy Christmas ribbon.

But a week ago I shocked myself. A brother and sister knocked at my door. I had always bought from them before. But when I paged through their catalogs, something in me rebelled. The glitzy catalog had nothing but candles and candle stuff. Now, I love candles as much as anyone. I have a cabinet full of candles, some of them handmade by family.


But thirty-five dollars for one, seventy dollars if I bought one from each kid? Part of me argued: just buy the candles, it’s for the kids. The other part of me said: no it’s for some company that’s running this fund-raiser. The kids have nothing to do with it. In the end, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t buy the candles. I’m so sorry, kids, not this time, I said.

I buy other stuff, though. For nephews and grandsons at a distance, the internet is a wonderful thing.


Popcorn from little Boy Scouts near Buffalo NY. Lovely multi-colored tissue paper packs on their way from a school in Rockville, MD. But these are reasonably priced in the 6, 10, 12 dollar range. And they are things I enjoy using.

Fund-raisers aside, my heart will always leap to the crooked lettering and the spunk of such little dust-baggers as Isaac and Cyrus.


And, like the generous neighbor of our childhood, I will always buy a handful of fresh sweaty flowers, even if the little florist delivery girls have snatched them from my own flower beds.





Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at



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