Sweetbriar is always full of surprises! Our morning started out fairly typical: transplanting beautiful grasses; clearing stone paths of ambitious plants; chatting and laughing about this and that. As the morning went on, a very friendly bird came nearer and nearer to us until finally, it took up residency on my head! The unexpected visitor was a fun surprise, but didn’t keep us from accomplishing great things at the nature center. We hope to see our friend again when we return next week! Well, there’s no time like harvest time! To prevent the deer from beating us to the harvest, we first created and installed our homemade deer-fencing on the garden’s gates to send our four-legged friends a hint: keep out! Then, it was time to take down the greenhouse for the year, so we packaged it up until late winter when we’ll pull it out again and set it up to start all over again. Finally, we were set loose on the veggies: purple beans, carnival carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beets, basil, lemon balm, mint, thyme, parsley, oregano… it was ALMOST too much. (Almost.) We just couldn’t wait to get home before we ate, so we sliced up some fresh-off-the-vine tomato and cucumber with basil, olive oil, and balsamic, and had ourselves a home-grown snack! After layering up the compost pile and a bit of weeding, we divided the day’s loot and went home with sacks full of goodies to munch on at home. What a day at Arcadia! The gardens at Sweetbriar are just about at their prime this time of year, and we’re delighted to be spending some time there helping to maintain the beauty, and even expand upon it! Our major project this morning was to finish clearing an area near the back of the gardens that had become a bit unruly, then plant four new trees, cut a nice clean edge for the border, and spread plenty of mulch. That sure was a step-back-and-say-“wow” moment when we were all done! As if that wasn’t fulfilling enough, we also trimmed the hedges in the rose gardens, exposed some very hidden brick, and did our usual Sweetbriar communing with nature, pausing just long enough for some winged creature to rest a while on one of our volunteers. This might have been our best Arcadia gardening program yet! With an enthusiastic group of volunteers, we first set to taking care of our tomato plants, trimming away tired leaflets to allow the plants to concentrate on producing their delicious fruits. Next, we set to clearing out areas of the garden that had exhausted the efforts for the season, pulling up the last of the carrots, some more beets, a section of herbs, and our box of poppies. No inch goes to waste in our beds, so those spots were immediately filled with our fall crops: root vegetables, lettuces, bok choy, Swiss chard, and spinach. Next, we attacked the basil bushes, proceeding to take a bunch of it downstairs for a quick pesto-making lesson and snack break! The day finished off with the building of a new bean pole and the construction of slat sets for our compost bin, keeping our volunteers around a bit later than they’d anticipated, but leaving me so proud of them for happily sticking around to complete the tasks at hand. Bravo, STATE-ees! We couldn’t have picked a more beautiful morning to spend at Old Field Farm! With the weather feeling nothing like August, but rather like early October, we didn’t mind hustling around the show fields, loading and unloading pieces of jumps, riding on the back of the Gator, and setting up courses for Sunday’s horse show. We learned about the differences between the ‘Hunter,’ ‘Jumper,’ and ‘Pony’ groups of horses and how the jumps and courses vary from class to class. While we didn’t get to put the bells and whistles (and flowers) on the jumps, we certainly got a taste of what it takes to set up such an elaborate show. During our unloading, we found a baby mouse in its nest, and placed it— with our best wishes— back in the area where the nest had come from, hoping that the mama mouse would come find it again. It seems that our volunteers attract interesting animal encounters! Just because the summer is starting to come to a close doesn’t mean that we’re ready to wind down at Arcadia! Our string beans are still producing, our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are just starting to roll in, and we still can’t pick the basil fast enough. We cleared out some past-their-prime plants to make room for winter crops like kale and collard greens, hoping that they take off and establish themselves before the frost starts setting in. After gathering up all of our veggies and herbs for the day, we headed over to the kitchen for an Eggplant Casale cooking lesson so that we’ll know what to do with our eggplant once they’re ready for the picking. Another fun, tasty day at the garden! They knew that this was their last Tuesday of the summer with some of the best volunteers this side of the county line, so the ladies at Sweetbriar served us up a sizable task to tackle. We were introduced to an overgrown area that is slated to be a cut-flower garden next year, but was full of weeds, bulb-rooted plants, annuals, and vines. After careful instructions, we sifted through the low jungle, pulling, sparing, and transplanting plants left and right. After two hours of diligent work, we had that area as ready as it could be at this point in the season, and it sure looked good! We’re excited to continue our work at Sweetbriar on weekends throughout the year, and then again next summer. Until the next time, we’ll miss the lovely resident volunteers and the endless gardens at the nature center! Bayard Cutting Arboretum has asked us to complete a most enjoyable task: create four scarecrows to represent the iconic characters from The Wizard of Oz. Using kits of ‘scarecrow skeletons’ provided by a scarecrow enthusiast at Bayard, we built ourselves four structures on which to drape, stuff, and construct bodies made of recycled plastic goods and thrift store finds. In our hours of work, we completed a great deal of the task, but we will return to it in September to put on the finishing touches. After all, ‘Dorothy’ can’t be without her ruby slippers! These ‘crows will be displayed at the Arboretum’s Fall Garden and Harvest festival, where STATE volunteers will also be helping out with various activities. Well, Hurricane Irene wasn’t easy on any of us, but thank goodness she chose to spare Arcadia! Much of the garden stayed in tact, but that’s not to say that there wasn’t a bit of cleanup work to be done after the storm. Our sunflowers took their final bows and went home with volunteers to live out their final days as table centerpieces. We needed to rebuild our deer-proof fencing so that hungry visitors didn’t get the idea that we’d changed our ‘Got hooves? No service’ policy. Once we were done with storm damage, we took a look around and realized that some of the plants were past their prime and were ready to restart the cycle of life in the compost pile. Where we pulled up old plants, we sowed new seeds for the next season. The rest of the afternoon was spent harvesting so many delicious goodies from our happy-to-be-alive plants. Volunteers went home with bags full of eggplant, tomatoes, string beans, onions, beets, basil, and herbs. Isn’t it nice when hard work pays off?