All posts by griffs

It all white out!

It is great to have something to prepare for this time of year! As the snows continue to pile up , we are keeping sane reviewing orders and looking at all those green and colorful catalogues. Seeds are due next month and the first real plants in early March but for now the work is cleaning, sorting, repairs and upgrades to displays and growing areas. We will be producing even more of our own plants this season so are reallocating greenhouse space for this. Heated benches and special watering systems are critical to success in these early stages so careful planning for timing and space utilization are important. Herbs and peppers must be started early, many flowers next and last seeded are tomatoes and direct seeded plants such as squashes and cukes. And if we only knew for sure when the last frost was going to be!

We are looking forward to starting the greenhouse work very soon- just have to clear a big enough path through the snowbanks to get tools and materials inside. You are welcome to stop in anytime there is life visible. Our official opening date this season will be April 15th but seeds and starting supplies will be on hand by March 1st or so and we would be happy to have visitors!

Preparations for Spring Are underway!

While you put another log on the fire and huddle down inside, here at the greenhouses there is a stirring of life! The best time of the year can be those sunny and very cold days because the greenhouses heat up quickly and give one a chance to ignore the outside world. We won’t be starting any seedlings until about March 1st but there is plenty to do in the meantime.  Some of our growing mixes arrived on pallets in December so soon we will bring a few bales inside to thaw. Meanwhile seed orders are being completed and all the sundry items needed to produce lovely plants for our customers are being ordered.  We are creating a new larger seed germination zone because this year we will be starting many more of our plants ourselves, especially concentrating on pepper and tomato varieties plus other specialties not readily available elsewhere. With a season of growing experience here in Stockbridge to draw from, we are upgrading our retail sales area and adding some new gardening items.  There will be new additions to our vegetable and herb plant offerings, and of course we will continue to grow the newest and best garden plants and hanging baskets, chosen from the thousands of possibilities out there.  Also look for our new all-organic vegetable seed line.

Larger projects in the works are to revise our parking area for more convenience and better access to the greenhouses and construct more outdoor display areas with better benches. Hope to see you soon and please stop in for a peek anytime you see signs of life in the greenhouses!

What are we doing this Winter?

After a very busy Fall with site work and building the greenhouses, we are now on Gozo, the little island of Malta, roughly midway between Sicily and the northern coast of Africa in the Mediterranean. It is the growing season here with temperatures 65-70 daily and slightly cooler at night. During this time, November to February, all the rain for the year falls and usually totals about 10″.

Salt pans at Marsalforn
Salt pans at Marsalforn

When the rains are over and Summer heat and dryness arrive, the Gozitans used to produce sea salt by evaporation in these shallow ‘pans’ carved into the soft limestone rock along the coast. There are only a few old-timers still working with them now, but their beauty is spectacular even today.

We are living in an apartment on the ‘Belvedere’ of the village of Nadur, overlooking the Gozo channel to Malta where we can observe the ferries make regular crossings between the islands.

Gozo Channel looking south over Camino towards Malta
Gozo Channel looking south over Camino towards Malta

It’s only 20 minutes to Malta but in so many ways it is a world away. Old traditions are still very much a way of life here in this rural, agricultural society. Many families still work the small plots of land which have been in the family for generations. Often animals are kept in the cellars as was often the case in neighboring Italy.  A very few surnames include much of the island’s population. The fishing boats are painted in traditional multicolored patterns.

Traditional fishing boats at Mgarr harbor
Traditional fishing boats at Mgarr harbor

The history of Gozo is fascinating with temples from 3-5000 BC still in evidence, as well as influences from the many times it was ruled by foreign powers, including the Phoenicians, Moors, Romans, Spanish, Order of St John(‘ Knights of Malta’)and the French. The Maltese language is arabic based but contains many imported words and phrases, plus everyone speaks English since the Brits were the last rulers before Malta became an independent republic in 1964. It is now a member of the E. U. and the euro has replaced the Maltese lira.

Occasionally we relax by the waterside.
Occasionally we relax by the waterside.

The pace of life is pretty slow here so we have plenty of time to work on all the behind the scenes jobs that contribute to a smooth and successful season when we return to Vermont in March 2017. I am setting up new accounts and renewing old acquaintances in the trade.  Organizing the ordering of seeds, plants and supplies from many sources and setting up delivery schedules takes up time everyday now and I still fret a bit about what I’m forgetting! Starting a new business is very exciting and one must have a certain confidence to go forward. See you in Spring.

Chameleon sighted while we were pruning olive trees on Gozo
Chameleon sighted while we were pruning olive trees on Gozo

Ta Cenc cliffs on Gozo
Ta’ Cenc cliffs on Gozo

Update Nov 7

The land has just been mowed, ready for work to commence
The land has just been mowed, ready for work to commence

For anyone who has driven by the site lately, things have been happening! We are actually back in Italy now, having gotten to the stage we had hoped to achieve just recently. A recap of events not necessarily in order follows: Work started in earnest on the site about Sept 20th when the grading and filling began for the greenhouses’ base. We brought in about 365 cubic yards of a gravel mix to get up to grade. Immediately we began construction of the

The pad is ready for the greenhouses
The pad is ready for the greenhouses

first smaller greenhouse, which has served as the work station and storage area as we continued to develop the site.

One of the 2 smaller greenhouses, which will later serve as our work area
One of the 2 smaller greenhouses, which will later serve as our work area

Time passed quickly as we received the driveway permit and got the electric lines buried. Since the land is relatively low lying overall, we reworked a drainage ditch along the rear boundary to channel runoff on down the property away from the greenhouses and parking lot.

Improving the drainage along the property border
Improving the drainage along the property border

Family and friends stopped in and were quickly enlisted in the cause. Here are the Griffith ‘boys’ celebrating getting up the first bow of the large house.

First bow of the 30' by 48' greenhouse frame
First bow of the 30′ by 48′ greenhouse frame

Frame up, nearly ready to cover
Frame up, nearly ready to cover, with Jan on the ladder adding braces

The ‘big house’ cover went on smoothly one Sunday with the help of many hands.

Attaching the double layer of plastic to the main greenhouse
Attaching the double layer of plastic to the main greenhouse

Things were really looking official but there was still much work behind the scenes to be done. Lots of little features needed attention such as constructing  the roll up sides, which are used to efficiently cool the greenhouse on sunny days without using additional energy, and adding baseboards. Even with the occasional Vermont obstacle thrown our way, we pressed on:

October snow just added to the fun!
October snow just added to the fun!

We continued the process with doors, inlet vents, a big exhaust fan, circulation fans, a propane furnace, water permeable ground covers, even a blower to inflate between the 2 layers of plastic for added insulation.

Inside floor compacted and ready for groundcloth
Inside floor compacted and ready for groundcloth

Work is winding down for now and here’s proof it is time to stop:img_5658

Hope to see you all in Spring!

Here's how we left things to return in Spring and grow 'Plants for Vermont'!
Here’s how we left things to return in Spring and grow ‘Plants for Vermont’!

Check out our website at griffsgreenhouses.com
Check out our website at griffsgreenhouses.com and enter your email for updates

Thermal pools

It has been hot for so long that we decided to take a day off and head for Rapolano,  famous for its  thermal waters. 

We were greeted by a strong sulfurous smell, which we quicklyImage result for rapolano antica querciolaia became accustomed to as we immersed ourselves in the varying temperatures of the soothing waters. Mineral deposits cover the submerged surfaces giving a most attractive  effect of carved white stone.

Eventually, we convinced ourselves that we had been in the water long enough and set about finding a comfortable spot for a (discreet) picnic.

Image result for olive treeAlthough there
are plenty of  sunbeds located around the pool areas, we prefer to sit under the cool shade of olive trees. And so it was that we spent a lazy afternoon reading and relaxing in the most wonderful of Tuscan settings.

Rapolano Terme is also known for its travertine, a stone deposited in the fresh waters surrounding the area, first discovered in 1597.Image result for travertine images  It subsequently became one of the most important aspects of the town and has influenced more than just architecture and the landscape. It is a fundamental part of the economy, the social structure, history, language and artistic genres.

Culture also plays a large roll in Rapolano Terme. There is a literary prize, an olive oil festival, a rich theatre program and the Festival di Rapolano each July. An open-air travertine theatre is set up to host multicultural events such as Egyptian concerts, Maghrebian music festivals and song and dance routines for cinema.

Italian earthquake

In the early hours of the morning on the 24th of August 2016 a substantial earthquake devastated a string of mountain towns and villages in central Italy, killing at least 290 people and leaving many unaccounted for. The 6.2 magnitude quake, which was followed by several aftershocks, struck at 03:36 (01:36 GMT), 100km (65 miles) north-east of Rome. Worst affected were the towns of Accumoli and Amatrice and the villages of Pescara del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto.

The earthquake badly damaged the centre of Amatrice, shown in these two pictures of the same street before and after the quake - 24 August 2016Before and after photos of the main street of Amatrice.

Bruce and I felt compelled to help in some small way, but not wanting to impede the emergency relief efforts we decided to take donations to the nearest ‘safe’ town, Rieti which is some 40km from Amatrice. It was heartwarming to see so many people working to organise, sort and categorise donations to distribute to those worst affected.

In such emergencies people’s needs change on a daily, if not hourly, basis. We asked what would be most useful, what supplies were they most in need of. It was suggested that we should buy toiletries.

Initially I was surprised by this suggestion, but then realised that many of the townsfolk had lost everything, they were safe, possibly in shock and they were dusty and dirty.  Soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes are not life saving supplies,  but as far as feeling human, being to be able to wash and brush your teeth would offer some level of comfort.

 

 

Sunflowers

Italy is a major producer of sunflowers which are grown primarily for their seeds and oil. July  in Umbria and Tuscany brings fields full of the  glorious yellow flowers which Italian artist, Pablo Picasso, immortalized in his famous  painting.Image result for pablo picasso sunflower

Helianthus, or sunflowers,  is a genus of plants comprising about 70 species in the family Asteraceae. The genus is one of many in the Asteraceae that are known as sunflowers.
The tallest sunflower variety, American Giant can grow to up to 16 feet tall, with stronger stalks than other tall types, and enormousleaves. Plants are topped by 10 inch golden sunflowers.

A native of the Americas, the sunflower symbolized the image of the Sun God to the Incas and its P1070968sunny presence and edible seeds have linked the plant to humans for 4,000 years or more. In fact, the first known signs of the sunflower’s domestication by humans was in around 2,300 B.C in Tennessee at the famous Hayes site.

The sunflower’s seeds have been long prized for their oil content and are sold from China and the U.S to Russia as a snack food; it has also been cultivated across Italy for centuries because of these qualities. Research is currently being carried out to refine the oil for use as a bio-diesel.

The composition of the sunflower’s florets itself is also rather fascinating and has been studied by mathematicians like Leonardo Fibonacci (a 13th Century Italian mathematician from Pisa, Tuscany) and Greek mathematicians alike.

In simple terms this means that there can be 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other direction, or on some larger flowers can range from 89 to 144. The symmetry and logic of a sunflower’s flower structure has astounded and fascinated artists and mathematicians alike and manages to cross many fields of science in 2011-2012 044one simple… flower.

The sunflower’s complex mathematical structure is based upon the famous “Golden ratio” (again, discovered by Fibonacci) where the growth rate of successive numbers gives a ratio which converges on1/2x (1+/5) = 1.618, known as the “Divine proportion” or “Golden section” of geometry and aesthetics in nature.

 There are even curiosities concerning the sunflower’s Image result for sunflower seedlingscultivation, as the young seedling of the sunflower soon sets about establishing the position of the rising sun in the east, on its emergence from the soil and faces in that direction throughout its life. This ability to grow in the direction of the sun is known as Heliotropism and has earned the flower the name of “Girasole” (Sunturner) in Italy.

Leaving science aside, the sunflower’s cultivation needs are really quite simple; full sun, fertile soil and good watering after planting. By addressing these simple requirements the sunflower will happily provide us with a flower spectacle that is rivaled by few others and its presence will bring sunshine to any vegetable garden or plain flower border.

                                 

 

 

Visit to the UK

My birthday was approaching and although I have not lived in the UK for many years there are times, naturally, when I really want to be with my family.

The journey from our house in Italy to England is quite straight forward:

We leave home at 6am for Pisa, which is a journey of approximately 134 miles,  take a Ryanair flight of 2 hours 35 mins to arrive at John Lennon airport in Liverpool,  pick up a rental car and we are only 45 minutes away from an olde world village pub where Bruce can enjoy a cold Guinness within an hour of our arrival in the UK.

Whilst we were in England we decided to do a spot of market research in the award winning Bodnant Gardens, Conway, North Wales. The Bodnant Estate is  predominantly agricultural, with woodlands and lakes, however, it’s magnificent gardens are open to the public.

Bodnant Estate is a strikingly beautiful agricultural estate in North Wales IMG_4462IMG_4467 IMG_4457

 

 

 

 

 

This is where I digress because this next part has nothing to do with gardening, but Conway is a great place to visit.

Conway town center, is dominated  by an ancient castle built by Edward I between 1283 and 1289 during his conquest of Wales.

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The smallest house in Great Britain is also in Conway. The house,  has a floor area of 10.0 by 5.9 ft and a height of 10 feet 2 inches to the eaves, it was used as a residence from the 16th century until 1900.IMG_4448

The last tenant was a 6ft 3 fisherman named Robert Jones.  The rooms were too small for him to stand up in fully and he was eventually forced to move out when the council declared the house unfit for human habitation. The house is still owned by his descendants.

No visit to Conway would be complete without a serving of Conway mussels  conwy mussels cooked on the beachwhich are renowned for their colourful  shells and rich tasting meat, they are simply the best  mussels  in the UK.

 

 

We made an offer

Back in Italy spring is in full swing, admin-ajax Griffs.Bruce has a number of large estates that he manages and they       all need attention.

In addition to pruning, clearing leaves and tending the lawns, it is time to check on irrigation systems. During the summer months, Italian gardens do not survive without effective irrigation.

The land in Stockbridge was calling. After a number of phone calls we made an offer on the land. There is a six hour time  difference between Italy and Vermont, an important  consideration when making a phone call!

Six weeks later our offer has been accepted!!!!

Now that we’ve made the  commitment to buy the land,  we have to start making decisions.

What will our business name be?  What permissions do we need?Where, on the land, will we site the greenhouse? What about electric? and so on.

Bruce has a wealth of experience growing plants, retail,  and dealing with state regulations, therefore he assumed the responsibility of administrator. My roll was to set up a way to communicate with potential customers, ie via a website, email and a blog.

We decided to call our business Griff’s Greenhouses as a tribute to Griff’s, a family business run by  Bruce’s father in Cape Charles, Virginia many moons ago. We worked together on an idea for our logo and found an excellent freelance graphic artist, Ravi Saini, to digitalise our design.without faded                                                      Griff’s Greenhouses

My initial concern was that customers might think that we were selling greenhouses, not plants that were grown in greenhouses, we dealt with this by using the tag line, ‘Plants for Vermont’.

This is the finished design of our logo:

updated tagline

 

The Story

May 2016.

We arrive in Vermont to visit Bruce’s family with a vague idea about looking for land to site a greenhouse with a view to starting IMG_3717a business growing plants next spring.

Unfortunately,   we couldn’t find anything that was suitable.

After a fun filled two weeks we set off for the airport to catch a flight home to Italy.

IMG_4112

 As we were driving through Stockbridge Bruce noticed a ‘for sale’ sign on route 107.

This seemed an ideal location for a garden center as it had 500′ of frontage on a busy road, it was flat and was opposite the local school.

Unfortunately we were leaving, so nothing could be done.