Give Us a Kiss

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” – Rumi

Greetings, Friends –

It is November and I have now been in a post-season, downshifted gear for (a glorious) four weeks. My last blog post was in April while we were packing up our home in Alaska. We’ve since had an epic cross-continental journey back to the farmhouse (photo highlights here) AND I’ve officially completed my very first flower farmer florist season. The idea of capturing the past 6 months in a nutshell blog post feels overwhelming to say the least, so going with a top 10 list.

2018 Flower Farming Season Top 10 Highlights 

1. Partnering with Nature Intelligence. Having an awareness of nature intelligence has changed the way I think about this Earth & my place on it. Using a pendulum and the art of kinesiology to ask yes/no questions, nature intelligence guided every farming activity, enabling me to move confidently through my first season’s learning curve. Most of my time in the garden was spent pondering how to best share this experience with others. Will attempt to do this in a blog post soon.

2. Spending time with flowers. I can’t get enough of them, they are so freaking awesome.

3. Receiving serendipitous aerial videos of farmstead & garden. Three guys just happened to change out their drone batteries outside of our barn lane one afternoon in June. I’d been desiring an aerial view of the garden a couple weeks before this, so of course I drew additional meaning from the timing and entire orchestration of this occurrence.

Video of Garden in June 2018

Video of Farmstead in June 2018

4. Receiving mentorship from Violeta Veenstra, flower farmer partner at Harvest & Blooms Farm. In addition to absorbing helpful hands & eyes-on learning from Violeta, I am grateful for a lovely new friend.

5. Receiving family support throughout the season. Steve took on the primary parent role that enabled me to dedicate 10-14hr days to farming. My parents provided additional kid and market/harvest support. My younger sister, Kate, joined me for an entire harvest & market day and then captured her experience in a lovely blog post. Uncle David helped with perennial plantings and rototilling. Uncle Jim dropped off found treasures that we put into use. These provided the keystone that held the season together. Much to learn from this season to inform work/life balance in future seasons… for example, I need more hands on deck!

6. Returning to volunteer sunflowers & surviving perennials. I planted over 45 perennial plant species in March and then flew to AK for 2 months. It felt like a gamble. It was more than awesome to return in late May to surviving perennials underway AND volunteer sunflowers throughout the garden.

7. Making it to market for 13 consecutive weeks. I attribute this primarily to Nature Intelligence guidance as I would not have been brave enough to start when I did. I consistently sold at the Monticello market & I also had the opportunity to sell at one Champaign and two Mahomet markets. Exposure to different markets, audiences, vendors, and harvest windows was very informative and helped me get over my trying-new-things nerves. I am so appreciative for the patron support and enthusiasm for flowers! Without this, I would not be able to continue pursuing this work.

8. Receiving exciting opportunities beyond the market: Farm to Table dinner, Artisan Cup & Fork, special orders, weekly subscriptions, & corsages. I love making miniature, intricate bouquets for corsages & boutonnieres. The awareness of pre-ordered bouquets for weekly subscriptions was awesome! *I am developing a CSA flower subscription for 2019, stay tuned* It was great to make more local connections and exchange flowers for food with Triple M Farms and The Land Connection. All of these opportunities also provided awareness of associated work load and what I can handle/balance.

9. Observing aspirations coming into reality. There is no better metaphor than planting seeds and observing the phenomenal growth that can occur. Backyard Beauty coming to Be is full of this ‘evidence’, inspiring me to pay closer attention to the details of the unfurling. The Backyard Beauty name and logo visual both reflect aspirations that I want to support coming into reality. Much like a chrysalis, transformation is underway.

10. Practicing the art of allowing. One of my life lessons. Goes hand in hand with #9. Patience is not one of my virtues (I’m made aware of this every day) and I greatly benefit from the garden’s daily reminder to observe and allow the gifts that surround me to unfold.  Pursuing this relocation to central Illinois, developing new business ventures, and bringing about the resulting life changes is an intentional leap into trusting the Divine. I would not have used these words even a year ago. Details of the unfurling becoming more clear… lovely. “Let the beauty we love be what we do…”

Cheers to our finding ways to kiss the Earth –

Megan

This blog’s musical inspiration: If You Wanna Sing Out by Cat Stevens

Come Dance With Me

[This guest blog post brought to you by Kate Murphy Orland, Megan’s younger sister]

“Set an intention for your practice”- my yoga teacher, every class.

Sometimes this makes me groan internally (can’t disturb the polite quiet of the class setting), but recently I’ve tried to embrace this whole intention business. My intention is typically something along the lines of “don’t sneeze during shivasana”. However, parenthood has made me an even bigger puddle of feelings, allowing for a more meaningful and sincere intention of “gratitude for all the things”. This can lead to light sobbing during what should be a happy baby pose. I suppose that’s why they call it a practice.

Anyway, this post is not about yoga. I had the opportunity to spend a whole week with my little family visiting my big family in Illinois and got to spend some time helping Megan at Backyard Beauty. This trip was significant to me. Because I live out of state, it is rare that we all get to spend more than a weekend together. It is important to me that my children know their grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins.

I’ve always had the luxury of looking up to my older sisters – learning from their mistakes and following in their intelligent footsteps. For as long as I can remember, Megan has been a person with initiative, energy, bravery, independence, and leadership. She is ok with risk. She is a do-er. I’ve been fortunate to accompany her on some of her adventures and at the very least I’ve tried to be supportive. Her new farming endeavor requires a multitude of the characteristics that she possesses, but because she only has two hands, I was thrilled to get to help her with flower harvest and market preparation. This meant that we got to spend about 12 hours together and I witnessed firsthand this new job that she’s so in love with (and she literally says this through the day, “I JUST LOVE MY JOB”).

KateDay - 1 (1)We started the day early such that an extra layer was required to be comfortable (a welcome break to humid Illinois summer), harvesting Queen Anne’s Lace and Spurge in the pasture of my grandparents’ centennial farm. The magical morning light, the cool air, the feeling of doing something productive to help my sister made the experience just beautiful. I feel so connected to that area and it warms my heart to think that Megan and Steve are working and re-working the earth and old buildings into beautiful and useful spaces that would make my grandparents proud. The day is long and tedious at times, but it was a welcome change for someone who sits in a windowless office for the majority of the week. I loved getting to observe her process, the intention with which she moves through the harvest in preparation to make stunning bouquets for lucky farmer’s market patrons.

KateDay - 3“THIS IS JUST GORGEOUS!” “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS ONE?!” “I JUST CAN’T GET OVER THIS” came shooting out of Megan’s mouth regularly, particularly in the giant Crayola-box zinnia patch. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is what harvest sounds like even when she’s by herself. I can appreciate Megan’s enthusiasm. I sat next to her as she parted the sea of butterflies to snip geometrically perfect zinnias rich and varied in tones and hues. To think they all started out as a tiny seed! Nature IS astounding.

KateDay - 2Guided by a partnership with Nature Intelligence (most easily explained in her words, “Intuitive Gardening”), the harvest day focus is on what will go into each bouquet recipe and thus how many of each flower/forb/foliage is required. Much to my surprise, this led to her directing me beyond the garden to bushes long established on the homestead, and sometimes down the road to my parents’ house, to obtain a specific number of trimmings from unassuming shrubbery I would never think to include in a flower bouquet. KateDay - 5Greenery from Honeysuckle, Ninebark, Foxtail, and Aromatto Basil are cleaned, trimmed, hydrated, and stored until bouquet assembly commences. She troubleshoots along the way, addressing a source for some special-request gladiolas and reviving dehydrated basil with a boiling water trick. Megan’s faith and excitement about her final product never wavers. She seems to float.

KateDay - 3 (1)She seldom loses focus. She frets for a minute here and there about being a little behind schedule or wishing she was more efficient with her assembly. She admits that she’s not even sure how the bouquets will turn out, but she trusts her process. In the end, it pays off big time with some strikingly beautiful and unique arrangements, even if she continually questions “should this go here or here?” “higher or lower?” “two reds or one?”. The texture, color combinations and foliage combine to make a lively, lovely, living spray.

KateDay - 10Although market preparation is a bit of a scramble, she is still set up well ahead of start time. She beams, exuding pride and excitement about sharing the fruits of her labor with others. I feel similarly, but for me it was getting to watch her in her element. She is, of course, glad to be paid for her efforts, but it seems that her satisfaction peaked at the point where she got to display her flowers. She’s brought beauty and joy to the community; she is living her intention.KateDay - 11

In gratitude for all the things,

Kate

PS – If you want to know what my expression looked like throughout my experience, it most closely approximates Dana, Danielle’s little sister, seen around the 2:40 mark on this video:

Fire Water

Greetings, Friends –

We are well into the Aries Fire on this second day of April. The Pisces Water slipped right through my fingers. March was full!

As I looked at the to-do list for March, it seemed a bit unlikely that it would all unfold as desired. Steve was leaving mid-March and I would head out at the end of March for Homer, Alaska. This created a condensed springtime work window to prepare for my very first flower farming season.

Most of my tasks hinged on the arrival of a new 42″ rototiller. And Mother Nature’s activities are more than just variables, yes?  Steve was hoping to get the new shop insulated and vapor-barriered before leaving and I was vying for a bit of his time and person-power, too. Taking you to the exciting conclusion (If you’re intimately familiar with the movie When Harry Met Sally, here you can visualize Billy Crystal flipping to the back of his book): we got 92% of it completed!!! The unfolding and orchestration of the weather windows, the coincidental mentioning of neighbor Hank that he had a 3-pt hitch rototiller available for loan, the support of Grammy & Pops with child care, the physical support of Pops, David, and Mary with tractor and planting time, and ongoing Nature Spirit guidance made the completion of the March tasks nothing less than magical. I still well up thinking about it.

There are two main areas in which I’m focusing my growing efforts this year: 1. The Garden [Virginia] and 2. Two new 40’x120′ flower beds in the metal yard [Walter & Carmen].

Metal Yard Phase I, II, & III: Clean Me Up, Scotty! Plow & Till Me!! Cover Crop Me!!!

In addition to hosting treasures and troves of farm equipment and miscellaneous other, the metal yard used to be the orchard. As an incentive to clean up the space and reclaim/repurpose found objects for Steve’s handiwork, we thought it would be a great place to begin our farming experiments (the W&V White Farm was supportive of this idea). An overview of March steps (“Contemplated, reviewed, revisited guidance, contemplated some more, went outside to ground truth then adjusted plan on paper” could be woven in, around, under & through all of these steps):

  • Measured & marked out beds
  • Spread Manure
  • Plowed 2x, unearthing more metal
  • Rototilled & Harrowed (Thank you, Uncle David!!!)
  • And hopefully in April, white clover & oat seed will be spread on these beds that will stay through the season. The idea is to start competing with the weeds and prepping the soil for flower planting in 2019.

 

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The Garden: First Year Flower-Farming Experimentation

We utilized a circular garden plan last summer (our first growing season in IL) and I loved it. Taking in to consideration our tractor & tiller size and their combined maneuverability, I decided to keep the circle plan for perennials and to establish annual beds in the southern and western sides for more frequent tractor-accessibility. An overview of March steps:

  • Moved fencing to allow tractor passage into garden
  • Dug up & transplanted existing perennials to allow for garden tilling
  • Spread manure
  • Rototilled 3x (I did the first round and didn’t have the engine running fast enough… made for a ‘light’ tilling and a very stiff neck. Thankfully, Uncle David remedied the approach & donated tilling time)
  • Established new center point of circle & marked out concentric circles / beds with flour
  • Laid out perennial plants in their respective spots (per the on-paper plan)
  • Laid cardboard & mulch in the walkways
  • Added nutrients and compost to holes, used weed fabric in beds that would not have any additional seeds sewn, and planted plants
  • Put frost covering on a few beds with tender perennials

 

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I continue to rely on the support of family members who are ‘on the ground’ in IL and look forward to see what will develop in our absence. A new ecosystem is underway!
The Murphy-Collins team is presently in an entirely different universe. The adventure continues. Best, Megan

This post’s musical inspiration:

The Learning Curve Plunge

Greetings, Friends –

Flower Jewelry & Tattoos

Flower Jewelry & Tattoos!

Last week I got to attend my first flower grower workshop through the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. It was awesome, extremely informative, and also overwhelming. I began the workshop feeling inspired with new ideas (for example, flower jewelry and wearable flowers / ‘flower tattoos’!) and left feeling like I needed a pep talk. It became increasingly challenging to absorb back-to-back presentations of folks that have much of their systems dialed in, breezing over topics that I am presently trying to navigate. It was a humbling reminder that I’m in the steep beginning of the learning curve plunge.

In addition to learning how to grow flowers in Illinois and at a scale beyond my own personal use, I am diving into a world that I have previously never entered: business. Here is where the leap of faith into the unknown is tremendously supported by the genuine excitement of spending more time with flowers and sharing them with others.

Biznass Time

“learn to grow & sell” in one easy bullet

Most of you can relate to the discomfort that accompanies doing something new.  There is trust that at some point it will get easier and there is an acceptance (on some level) to embrace the awkwardness.

Just a couple days ago I was redoing 82% of my drip irrigation order. It hurt my brain and my sense of humor. I initially purchased a system that one might confuse with the needs of a fire station. We’ll just say it was ‘robust’. I’ll have to eat the cost of shipping on a heavy box of parts, but thankfully no additional harm done except a little embarrassment. One of my flower farmer authors describes drip irrigation as ‘like tinker toys’ and dedicates a short paragraph about watering. Well… let’s hope irrigation systems are like tinker toys once you have the parts in hand. Navigating the purchasing side of things, however, is decidedly not so simple. It’s not just mainline tubing attached to your spigot with drip tape attached down your beds. Oh, no, there is more. Options for the beginning of your line include a pressure relief valve, check valve, screen filter, pressure gauges, timer, and how ’bout a fertilizer injector while you’re at it?! You need to determine your water pressure and flow rates and weed through ridiculous numbers of purchasing choices.  Steve did me a huge favor and took the wheel on this one. After a few conversations with Rose, the extremely helpful DripWorks customer service agent, a more appropriate drip system is now on its way to our home.

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It’s lovely to have help with the things you enjoy, too. Uncle David helping me transplant 40+ yr old gooseberries today!

One of the nuggets of wisdom that I’ve heard a few times on this new journey is to identify the things you’re good at and identify the things you’re bad at (so you know when to ask for help)… think I’ll add ‘figuring out proper irrigation systems’ to the latter. Navigating taxes, insurance, and legal structures are also going on this list.

A fellow science-careered-turned-artist-careered colleague and friend, Mandy Bernard, recently posted a video on instagram (@homesteadingroasters) that pretty much sums up my recent thoughts. The words resonated and the video continues to help me lighten up. I’ve watched it over & over again. With her permission, I’ve included screenshots as the featured image & the video here: Be the Mouse / Leap of Faith.

Cheers to stretching, following your joy, navigating the unknown, and taking the plunge –

Megan

P.S. This song helped me loosen up on my return drive from the ASCFG workshop in Oberlin. Listened to it on repeat, I did. For a good half hour or so.

 

“Yesterday is history…

… tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” (unknown)

I discovered this quote while watching (of all things) Kung Fu Panda. A good reminder for me as I spend a great deal of energy thinking about the future.

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Visioning, planning, planning

Ah, the anticipation of our unfolding art, flowers, gardens, studio, workshops +++ is so delicious!!! Most of the time it is excitement. Sometimes it is impatience. Regardless, I get so much joy out of turning ideas on paper into touch it, see it, feel it, smell it, hear it reality. (Turning ideas to reality is one of Steve’s fortes. I love being on the same team.) Sketches below.

Today I am celebrating the many desired mysteries that I hope will unfold in 2018 (ahh… desired mysteries sounds way better than goals 🙂 ).

2018 Unfolding Desires

  • Re-establish new garden beds and fence lines for a suite of flowering perennials, my first annual cut flower patch, and vegetables for our family
  • Obtain and erect a high tunnel through a partnership with the NRCS
  • Establish new flower beds [big ones!] in the soon-to-be-more-flowers-than-metal yard [plow, disc, rototill, cover crop] (see photo below)
  • Finalize major renovation of studio / shop so it is functional
  • Begin prototyping art projects
  • Transform (ace of) base of grain bin into flower cooler (and what to put up top?)
  • Establish water catchments wherever we can
  • Establish drip irrigation system for annual plantings in garden, determine best irrigation set-up for larger flower beds
  • Finish first official draft of our business plan (Thank you Land Connection Beginning Farmer’s class & the upcoming Monticello BootCamp!)
  • Obtain hands-on mentorship support from Alaska Stems and Harvest & Blooms flower farmers
  • Attend the Beginning Grower’s workshop (this month!!) put on by the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers
  • Oh, yes… move our material life from Homer, AK to White Heath, IL via Janice the converted yellow school bus (where’s Mary Poppins when we need her?)
  • Visit dear friends along the AK – IL journey
  • Sell my first flower bouquet
  • Meet and connect with more central IL community members

Well… there’s a start. Almost every one of these bullets involves the support of my parents (Grammy & Pops = Love & Support that money cannot buy). Most involve the support of the W&V White Farm, LLC. And hopefully some of these bullets will involve the engagement of more friends and family… want to join in the fun?

Cheers to the present, the many gifts of your day, & the unfolding mysteries of tomorrow!
Megan

Featured blog image is of W&V White Farm ~1950. Ever-changing.

Desired Vision

Present vision for unfolding desires