Good Things Are Growing!

Officially, spring may be only weeks away, but the ‘farm’girl within us is getting impatient. The Groundhog didn’t see his shadow last month, but it’s definitely time to start seeing ours! Crawl out of hibernation with The Mountain Farmgirl, and let’s get planting in “Good Things are Growing…”

I love winter! My Florida sister reminded me on the phone yesterday that this is very strange, because I am a perpetual ‘frozen turnip’. She on the other hand, is a hot tamale, so what is wrong with this picture? Why does she swelter in the tropics while  I choose to live up in the mountains of New England, teeth chattering away … where winters can be long, snowy and bitterly cold? (176 inches of snow to date this year in Jackson!!). Well… it’s because I enjoy every aspect of this season, that’s why! (And because my mom keeps me well-fleeced in gorgeous homemade sweaters to keep me from going into hypothermia!).  It’s not my favorite season, mind you, but I love its austere, bare-bones beauty. I love the snow-covered frosting on all the trees and covered bridges, creating wondrous fairy-land snowscapes after a storm.  I love splitting and stacking firewood, and snuggling in front of a crackling fire with my knitting or a good book, and my never-empty pot of steaming hot tea. And then long about the end of December, by the time daylight becomes a fleeting ‘blip’ between long stretches of darkness, I am already lavishing into hibernation mode with a vengeance. I revel in indoor projects I am too busy to attend to the rest of the year, loving the warm, safe, comforting aspects of winter. It is as much a state of mind as it is of weather.


Then, very suddenly, like today for instance, you notice a difference that has been creeping up silently for weeks. Early mornings these days are surprisingly bright and dinnertime is no longer eaten in darkness. Days are longer and spring is in the air. How did this happen, you wonder?


I filled my bird feeders the other day for probably the last time this season, because very soon the bears will be coming out of hibernation, looking for a fast, filling meal.  As I was pouring in the seed, the chickadees and cardinals were singing a different tune. It was a definite springtime call, I’m sure of it.  At any rate, it got my blood moving with the anticipation of garden flowers and vegetable beds.  I started to feel myself shifting mental gears and itching for some dirt to dig around in. My winter-farmgirl heart is very fickle it seems. Even my carrots and potatoes are feeling the pull towards light and life as they uncontrollably sprout and reach for the sun. But alas, the reality is that my outdoor gardens are still buried under 3-4 feet of   snow, and we’ve a long season of mud to endure before spring actually comes to New England and the growing season commences.

But by now I’m psyched and want to do some gardening.  How ‘bout you?  It’s time to come out of hibernation, and here, in four words, is how I managed to satisfy the urge: Bulbs, Terrariums, Flower Bouquets and Wheat Grass! Come inside my inn and let me show you what I’ve been up to!


BULBS: My friend Wendy lives up on the mountain. We don’t see each other often, but I can see her lovely home way up on the hill every time I walk out our door, and I think of her often. She surprised me on Valentine’s Day, when she stopped in to give me a potted amaryllis bulb. She had purchased it from the Garden Club’s pre-Christmas sale, and had planted and nurtured it for me ever since. In the last few days it has literally popped into floral profusion … and what a gorgeous color!!  All my previous amaryllis’ have been either deep red or pure white.  This one is an ethereal pink and white with a touch of coral and peach. In a word, it is magnificent, and it lightens everyone’s hearts that sees it. Note to self: Buy LOTS of bulbs next year and create an indoor spring garden, turning the lobby and my apartment into a conservatory of color and contentment. And remember to buy extra to give away to share the blessing.  Thank you, Wendy. Who knew that such a little brown bulb could grow such happiness?

TERRARIUMS: Winter inertia is hard to overcome. I growl a bit when shifting gears … hibernation is just so … so darn  … COMFORTABLE!!!  But I make myself get up and out. It takes effort.  The daily walks resume, and the more I move, the better it feels. This extends not only  to physical things, but social ones as well. I find myself looking over an email for classes at the local flower shop. Several catch my eye. Terrarium Building.  European Hand-tied Bouquets. Creating an Indoor Woodland Garden.  Teacup Arrangements. YES! … I’m in!! The first two have happened; the others are still to come. We are blessed with the absolute best flower shop on earth, and a florist who has the true gift of artistry. Carrie studied in Europe and is renowned for her work. Her Terrarium Building workshop was fantastic, and just what the doctor ordered to satisfy the urge to garden.  I made both a wet and a dry terrarium, the difference being that the wet one has a lid and holds the moisture and humidity inside, while the dry one is open, and , well … drier! The trick is to have good drainage and match moisture loving plants with that kind of environment. It’s fun to find and recycle containers to hold the plants, and the sky is the limit with what you can create. Let your imagination go wild.  These are the two I made.

HAND-TIED BOUQUETS: All right … so this wasn’t “gardening” per se, but being around beautiful flowers and working them into an arrangement was the next best thing.  I spent a very enjoyable evening in the company of other women, learning from our local flower master, and I have acquired a new skill I can put to good use! This composition I made was actually three smaller arrangements I tied together with string, and then wrapped with ribbon. I chose two types of roses and some parrot tulips, interspersed with white hypericum berries and bear grass. Did you know that tulips continue to grow after they have been cut?  I made my arrangement all the same height, but about 5 days later the tulips were a good 3inches taller that the rest.  Interesting … I never knew that, but it’s true.  A beautiful flower arrangement with a heavenly scent is enough to lift anyone’s spirits at the tail end of winter. I highly recommend creating one. Learning anything new is a real shot in the arm, too.  I love taking workshops and learning new things, don’t you? I may not have felt like going out those cold dark evenings, but I am sure glad that I did!

WHEAT GRASS: Last but not least, comes one of my favorites: Wheat grass. I have been growing it for Easter Baskets since my kids were little.  I love to make containers of wheat grass for edible vegetable arrangements, sticking carved veggies that look like flowers into the grass on long skewers.  It makes a nice presentation on the hors d’ oeuvres table when I cater an event. I also just grow it to juice it, which makes a very healthy vitamin-packed drink, but which I admit takes some getting used to! It is definitely an acquired taste.
I love to make wheat grass flower arrangements, too.  I have a funny story about wheat grass centerpieces that I want to share with you.  My son Noah got married last May, and I catered the “night before” party for about 75 people.  On the center of each table I had an arrangement of wheatgrass in a really nice container.  The grass was seeded thickly, and the greenery was rich and full of life. On long wooden skewers I put tulips and other hollow-stemmed flowers, sticking them in the dirt, making it look like they were growing out of the grass. The trick is to plant the wheat seeds at the right time so that it is the correct height by the time you want to use it. I had started the seeds ahead of time, soaking them in water overnight, and letting them sprout for a day.  I then planted them in the containers and covered them with soil. When I left for the wedding, 5 days before the rehearsal dinner, they hadn’t as yet poked their little shoots through the soil. On the drive down to New York I started to panic. “Why didn’t I start them a few days earlier? What was I thinking?”  Little did I know that I had planted them in Miracle Grow Potting Soil, and when I got to my mother’s house 6 hours later, they had actually grown about ½” in transit!! By the time we needed them on the night before the wedding, the wheat grass stalks were HUGE, and by this I mean about 8” tall! They actually grew during the dinner while we watched. Amazing.


So if you’re feeling a bit frustrated because your garden is buried under several feet of snowdrifts … take heart! Any of the above ideas will help tide you over until the spring thaw. Who out there has any other green-thumb suggestions? Would love to hear about them!
Until next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from Cathi
The Mountain Farmgirl



By: Joan
On: 03/04/2013 12:30:23
I too live where we have long winters - not so much snow but COLD and I am ready for some gardening, might get some done now n again but not for real until 2-3 weeks into May - SOOOOO you have given me grand ideas, as soon as this snow storm goes through I am off to get wheat grass seed - been wanting to do that and well now is the time. Take care God bless
By: Adrienne
On: 03/04/2013 13:12:56
Spring is coming! Spring is coming! And we turn our clocks ahead early Sunday morning. Just a suggestion on the wheat grass juice: add some kale, a couple of carrots and a thumb of fresh ginger. See if you like it. I certainly do.
By: Sammy
On: 03/04/2013 17:16:13
Beautiful photos!
Spring is in the air for sure . Can't wait.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir