Seasonal Decorating: Wildly Beautiful for the Birds

This past weekend I fashioned a wreath using bittersweet from the woods and American beautyberry stems from the barnyard. If there was ever a shrub whose beauty is under appreciated the American beautyberry is it. During the year visitors to the farm will walk right by the beautyberry and say nary a word. Last weekend we had several guests, and it seemed the most talked about topic was the beautyberry bush. For most of the year, beautyberries sit inconspicuously in the landscape. We have six bushes at last count and my appreciation of them has only gotten better since they were planted. Around November, after the first good frost, the leaves begin to yellow and eventually fall off, leaving long graceful stems with tightly clustered purple berries. I've not seen bittersweet at the farm, but this time of year I keep my eyes trained on the woods where I run because I've learned that it grows therein. On one recent run I came back with some bittersweet in hand. Technically a vine, some would argue that bittersweet is harmful to trees and while that may be true, this time of year the vibrant orange berries are irresistible in floral arrangements and also loved by songbirds. I'm pretty pleased with how the wreath turned out. Of course, the colorful berries will be long gone in a matter of days if the birds get their way. And now that I think about it, the farm belongs to them, too. I think they'll enjoy the feast. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Late September: Lavender Honey and Pruning Days

A few years ago, a swarm of honeybees landed in one of our willow oaks. At the time, I phoned the local cooperative extension service and was referred to Barron Church, a local beekeeper. Before Barron had a chance to come collect the bees, they had already moved on...but an idea had been planted. Keeping bees at the farm is in line with our sustainability efforts, and honey is a value-added product. So this past May, Barron brought two hives out to the farm and situated them alongside the lavender field.

Over the summer I sampled as many different types of honey that I could find, ranging from tupelo to lavender to local wildflower. I've learned that some honey producers simply infuse the lavender scent into clover honey - a practice that does not seem exactly authentic. I like to think that the honey Barron harvested from our farm in August is the real deal, the result of happy bees working the lavender flowers. Yet when it comes to taste, I've decided that most honey is, in fact, similar...with only minor subtleties. Honey's benefits are well-known. It is a natural preservative and has been used in healing remedies for at least 4000 years. It acts as an antibacterial agent and is commonly used for dressing wounds. Honey also contains vitamins and beneficial antioxidants.

On a personal note, over the next several weeks I'll be pruning lavender - a job you can't run away from because it's vital to the plants' health and longevity. Pruning needs to be completed by Halloween - in time for the first frost. Happy Autumn!