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Slow movement and speedy growth

29 Jun

Lately I have been thinking more about how thankful I am about what I have and the things around me and I wanted to share a photo that I took on the way to work in the morning not long ago. Cumberland Island really is a place of beauty and the serenity that can be found here is almost unbelievable at times. Wherever you are be thankful for what you have and take a minute to realize how special this planet is.

Horses on the way to the garden in the morning.

Summer is in full swing and here in the low country the humidity is as heavy as a truck load of compost. We are still experiencing a bit of a dry spell unfortunately; before too long the humidity will fatten up the clouds and they will start dropping on us every afternoon.  Plants are amazing on many levels but the ability to store water and produce a fruit made mostly of water is one thing that makes me more aware of the incredible abilities of mother nature. For example, our melons and cucumbers are looking great right now and we are not watering all that much. Our soil has been developing over the past year and it has gained a good bit of organic matter which enables it to hold water as well as other nutrients that it may not have been able to last year. We are harvesting several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucumbers currently. Our melons are looking tip-top (let’s hope those raccoons don’t get them before I do), the herbs are strong, our flowers are busy with bees and the okra is about to start blowing up.

squash, peppers, tomatoes mmmm

I have had several conversations lately about organic farming practices with guests in the garden and would like to share some thoughts. A guest  asked me about a problem with his squash plants and described what to me sounded like vine borers… I took him over to one of my plants that had fallen to these pesky creatures to make sure this is what he was describing. Sure enough, the borers were eating his squash. He asked me what I do to deal with this problem. I said that I try to keep an eye on the plants for signs of the pests and pluck them out when I do see them; I told him I had tried using diatomaceous earth when I ran into a serious infestation. He asked if sevendust would work…. I just finished reading  Silent Spring and proceeded to explain that sevendust destroys all life in the soil. We had a brief discussion about the use of chemicals and that even though they do get rid of certain pests they are often misused and their effects are felt in areas outside of their application. This discussion often arises in the garden and I feel that it is my duty to inform folks about the harmful effects of chemicals. Perhaps I am stating facts that are obvious when I tell someone that the chemical they are using is harmful, but maybe they did not realize how harmful. I always applaud folks that grow their own food and I think that the ability to work the land is a life skill that more people need to practice. I do my best to persuade individuals that use chemicals to take the next step in growing healthy food for themselves and their family by explaining organic farming practices and the benefits of building a healthy and active soil. 

composting in place x3

The above photo is an example of one way that I build organic matter to be added to our garden. composting in place is a great way to feed plants during their growth while simultaneously allowing the materials inside the barrel to decompose and make beautiful soil that will be spread after the removal of the preceeding crop. This method is also less laborious than turning a pile or spinning a barrel and it is perfect for raised bed gardeners. The barrel can be placed in the middle of a bed leaving room around it for planting and once the crop is finished the compost is already in place and ready to spread. I started saying “Feed the food that feeds you” and began to realize that feeding food is actually something that is very important and often overlooked. What we put into the soil is what when get in the form of our favorite fruits and vegetables. The importance of caring for and properly treating our soils is something that is gaining attention on some levels thanks to the hipness of the organic food push but it should not be treated as a trend. Soil is very real and we only have so much topsoil to work with. Please help everyone by doing your part to compost, buy from your farmers’ market, and start pushing for this type of education in our schools. Our children are the future and if we can get them excited and educated about healthy food and healthy soils then we are headed in the right direction.

This bee was a little stumbly, I think he had too much to drink.

I have posted these photos of bees because I think they are pretty cool pictures and because I began participating in something called the Great Sunflower Project. A guest brought to my attention that some research is being compiled about wild bee populations and that the scientists needed help across the country to compile data. I checked out the website and signed up, you should do the same!


Borage flower and a busy bee.


Remember, “Feed the food that feeds you” and do your part to sustain the earth’s topsoil and the health of  we creatures that inhabit it. Until next time, take it easy (on the planet)!


Farming Adventures and Gardening Pleasures

24 May

Hello and all the best to everyone reading. We have gotten through six weeks or so with very little rain and now the heat is building up. The garden is a little parched but still very pleasant. Swarms of beneficial insects accompanied by a medley of annoying pests have resurfaced with the change in season. We are constantly keeping our eyes peeled for hornworms, squash borers,  and aphids at this point. Insect pests are lower on the bad guy list than armadillos in our setting. If anyone knows a good way to keep these destructive mini tanks out of the garden please share your secrets!

Monarch and milkweed

Greyfield Inn has been pretty busy which means we have been giving lots of garden tours. I always enjoy the enthusiasm of guests entering the garden bursting with questions about their personal garden, organic food, and sustainable lifestyles. The goal of my garden tour is to allow guests an opportunity to connect with the food they will be consuming as well as simultaneously exhibiting our efforts to provide a unique culinary experience.  The way that food brings people together is often overlooked and taken for granted, my thoughts on the subject are simple. Stay in touch with your food. Buy from the man or woman that grew your food at your local farmer’s market. Grow what you can for yourself, it tastes better trust me! Feed the food that feeds you. Compost. Think about the distance your food has traveled to make it to your plate. Take time to share a meal with your family and better yet get your family involved in the growing, planning, and purchasing of your foods.

The colors are similarly beautiful.

View from the south beds looking north.

I have taken some time to visit a few local farms over the past weeks and spent some time with some incredible people.

Mr. Ben Walter of Hermitage Farms is a good friend of mine with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. I describe Ben as an intellectual that is obsessed with soil health and sustainability. He is running a five acre family farm equipped with a pecan orchard, a flock of chickens, several vegetable plots, shitake logs, and a lovable border collie named Jada.  Ben is located in DeLand, FL so if you are in the area look him up!

Veggie plot amongst acres of pecans, chickens, and wild flowers.

Hermitage Farms, Deland Florida. Farmer Ben Walter

Maggie’s Herb Farm is owned and cheerfully operated by Dora Baker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman with an obvious affinity for plants.  The plants are of the most excellent quality and it is obvious that they are expertly take care of. We have beautified and filled out our herb garden at Greyfield with plants from Maggie’s and could not be more satisfied.

Herb classes are offered and workshops occur frequently, check them out!

Sapelo Farms is a family owned and operated farm located in Brunswick,GA. They have been producing delicious and beautifully cared for fruits, vegetables, goats, chickens, beef,  and bees since 1947. This farm is perfect. The fig trees have a wisdom about them and one blueberry patch is over fifty years old. The mother daughter duo that run the place are inspiring and their dedication and compassion for the property is incredible. They run a CSA and sell to local restaurants. Chef Whitney, myself, and Robbie took a day trip to the farm in hopes of making a local connection to grass fed beef, goats, and seasonal fruits and veggies. We walked away with a half gallon of wildflower honey and nearly a goat!

Amazing family run farm in Brunswick, GA. Beautiful people and delicious food!

Greyfield Garden is putting properly nourished produce on the plates of our guests and the energy coming from both the kitchen and garden are apparent on the dinner plate.  Here are a few pictures of what is coming out of our garden at the moment.

Amaranth being cleaned in the sink with the plants and garden in the background.

Squash blossoms prior to being tempura fried and put on top of a fresh garden salad

I have drawn inspiration from each of these places and hope that no matter where you are in the world it is possible for you take a trip to a local farm and enjoy the feelings I have felt visiting these places.  The farms I have visited lately have reassured me that the direction we are heading in at Greyfield is on par with other local farms and gardens.  The places I have highlighted have many things in common but the one that really stands out to me is the dedication to wholeness that is present in many forms; the unity of a family,  biodynamic practices, community involvement, and the knowledge of the land  work together like thousands of bees in a hive… truly amazing.

Remember, live simply so that others can simply live.  Know your food, or at least be better acquainted with it. Enjoy the life that you have and take care of yourself and your family.

Healthy soil equals happy spring seedlings!

19 Apr

Hello everyone, I hope you are well. The pollen has been making everyone cough and sneeze and as I sit in the garden I see it blowing from the trees like dust.

Sugar snaps blooming

The bees and other insects are active around the garden lately; trees are budding and flowering everywhere within sight. The keeper of our active hive at Greyfield Garden stopped by the other day and shared some interesting information about bees. He talked to us about the South African Hive Beetle and shared tips about handling and keeping bees.

The beekeeper came by to check his hive in the garden. He shared lots of info about bees and maintaining his thousands of hives.

Here on Cumberland Island, the smell and feel of spring is best served early in the morning with a fresh bucket of compost and a hot cup of tea.  Unfortunately the sand gnats enjoy the early mornings and otherwise calming sunsets that are usually perfect for relaxing in the garden just as I do.

Using funky shaped limbs as tomato trellising works nicely and is also aesthetically pleasing.

Volunteers are popping up everywhere! It is really amazing what one-year of agricultural activity on a one acre piece of land can produce and create. The compost that we have been feeding our beds with since last summer has selected this spring’s garden prospects and they are abundant. Hunter, our new WWOOFer, and I spent an evening in the garden transplanting basil from several highly populated areas to areas that needed some filling in. They are doing well several days later and we are happy that they are happy in their new spot in the garden.

Speaking of compost! I wanted to give an update on our compost. Since the beginning of this calendar year we have turned approximately 1300 pounds of kitchen scraps into food for our soil!

The new chipper, our to-go coffee cups (made from vegetable oils,compostable), egg cartons, and newspaper... otherwise known as our carbon source for composting!

7 huge bags later!

We cannot forget about what else that compost has done for us. I have been keeping a loose total of veggies going from garden to kitchen….

Cooking Greens (kale, collards, mustards, sweet potato greens, turnip greens):

–       Roughly 50 gallons

Salad Greens (arugula, butter head, red leaf, endive frisee, bibb and others):

–       Roughly 30 gallons

Radish ( red meat, nero tondo, icicle, French breakfast, easter egg, pink beauty, daikon):

–       Roughly 60 dozen

Carrots (purple haze, yellow stone, white satin, rainbow varieties):

–       Roughly 30 dozen

Here is a bundle of our rainbow mix carrots being sprayed off early in the morning!

We have also harvested 35-40 pounds of sweet potatoes and an assortment of root vegetables. Plenty of broccoli and cauliflower heads made it from garden rows to dinner plates along with a few hearty rounds of Brussels sprouts. We have been working with the kitchen toward doing more of a seasonal menu. On the garden side I am working on ironing out a crop plan and rotation including a cover cropping rotation along with composting in place. We are looking forward to a productive late spring and summer at Greyfield Garden so stay tuned! see more photos check out our page on Facebook! Take it easy (on the planet).

Louisiana, Alice Waters, and an Edible Schoolyard

21 Mar

Hello and good day. Spring temperatures are finally here and the island is a very healthy looking shade of green. The horses are as pleased as I am with the new colors of spring and the gnats are back to test everyone’s patience, spring really is here!  I recently returned to Greyfield Inn following a trip to Louisiana.  Marksville, Louisiana was my first experience in the great state and honestly I loved it. My girlfriend and I were hosted by Mr. Rodney Rabalais and Mrs. Paige Rabalais on their property appropriately dubbed “slowness”.  The couple were absolutely amazing people and welcomed us as if we were family. Paige had been a guest of Greyfield Inn in December and on her visit she spent some time in the garden. Paige and I chatted about the local food movement, shared gardening stories, and talked about school gardens for an hour or so.  Paige had invited myself and Robbie (WWOOFer at the time) to attend a school event highlighting the schoolyard garden that she and another teacher initiated. Avoyelles Public Charter School is a lovely k-12 school in Marksville, LA consisting of a curriculum focused on the arts. Students take art, music, foreign language, and sewing at every grade level. The school really is a jewel. The students and faculty share a beautifully designed campus on a spacious piece of property. A well-constructed and creatively designed tool shed sets behind the school within wheelbarrow distance from the garden. The shed is built largely with reclaimed wood. The school held a shed- raising event that drew assistance from all over Marksville. Upon entering the shed a breath of the community surrounding its construction fills your lungs and a feeling of home is exhaled.  Signs indicating vegetables, flowers, trees, and fruits are all in written in French, which helps the students stay sharp on their vocabulary as well as teach them about their heritage.  Paige and fellow teacher Polly spearheaded the movement to create an edible schoolyard at Avoyelles Public Charter School. The students wrote letters to Alice Waters when they took their first steps toward creating the garden and invited her to attend their 10-year anniversary.  Shortly after receiving the letters Miss Alice agreed to visit the school and see what everyone had accomplished. I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Miss Alice. She is a very kind woman and truly has a golden heart and sincere love for educating adults and children alike on all things food. My experience in Louisiana is one to remember. The food was as delicious as the culture surrounding the area and the people were incredible. I tasted a few things for the first time one of them being a rice and vegetable stuffed sausage called boudin but the taste of the rich culture is one that I will truly hold on to and hopefully taste again in the future.  Until next time, take it easy (on the planet).

This is what the Avoyelles Public Charter School garden looks like mid March.

The kids were so excited about their new project!

The entire hallway leading to the garden is full of info about why the garden is the right thing to do!

The students at APCS take art, music, sewing, and foreign language classes beginning in kindergarten.

The 5th graders made an apron for Miss Alice and Mister Joe.

These folks were very informative and their honey was delicious!

One of many chefs participating in the feast surrounding the garden event.

These kids are not students however they did receive a good amount of attention.

A true Louisiana experience!

Mr. Rodney, Mr. Joe, Miss Alice and Miss Paige

Mr. Gerard and some students celebrating their heritage in the form of music.

Mr Joe doing a cooking demo using fresh garden veggies!

A few students enjoying some good food and a lovely day.

Greyfield Garden and Kitchen at the Georgia Organics Conference

2 Mar

Storms have blown through the country, all forms of precipitation have fallen, knowledge has been gained and ideas have sprouted like the restless spring seedlings since the last post. Myself and Chef Alberto Gonzalez attended the annual Georgia Organics conference February 20th and 21st on behalf of Greyfield Inn.  I attended last year’s event and walked away feeling more empowered and enthusiastic about my life and my career than ever before. This year’s event was enlightening and inspiring for Al and myself as well as every other attendee, vendor, volunteer, educator taking part in the conference. The event was held in Athens,GA, a city with a very rich food culture as well as a welcoming atmosphere of  a community that is  keyed in on the local food movement.  Al and I joined our new chef Whitney Otawka for an elegantly local meal at 5 and 10, her former place of employment. The food was excellent and the conversation jovial, what else can you ask for?  We look forward to growing with Whitney in the kitchen and the  garden. Good things are here and even better things are happening at Greyfield Inn and in Greyfield Garden.

Two days were spent digging a mote, filling it with wire cloth, securing the cloth with staples, and zipping up all the loose spots. The end result of hours hoeing with blisters and numerous backstretches gave the garden a well-constructed armadillo-proof fence!

Jen and Aaron, a sensible newlywed couple, lent a week’s worth of their time in exchange for some good food, garden experience, and a chance to gain some knowledge about their interest in returning to the land. Check out their blog to read about their journey…

I have been busy getting a few projects folded up and put together while the garden has been carefully expressing apprehensive feelings toward the tardiness of spring.  The seedlings are itching to leave their apartment buildings and set some roots in the warm and lively sandy soils of Grefyield Garden.  I had the pleasure of sharing two days of flower planting and compost sifting/hauling with a few friends this weekend. Ryan and Amanda came down from Savannah to spend some time with their hands in the earth. We took the first few steps toward fashioning a funnel and freshening up an herb garden. More to come about the funnel… it’s a part of our most recent structure in the garden, a water tower for collecting rainwater and irrigating a portion of our vegetable and flower beds.

I am working hard at making our spring garden healthy and productive to provide our guests with delicious veggies and a pleasant place to meander and gather inspiration. Greyfield Garden has started a composting initiative of sorts on Cumberland Island. We are giving island residents and extended stay vacationers 5 gallon buckets with information about composting and asking them to collect kitchen scraps during their stay in hopes of encouraging new earth friendly habits. Cumberland Island has a rich natural history of food and sustainability and we intend on preserving that culture and soil that it starts with. Chef Whitney, myself, and the entire staff at Greyfield are waiting arms open for spring to walk in the door, we look forward to an enjoyable growing season!  Enjoy some photos of the “garden haps”. Take it easy (on the planet), happy planting!

Sugar snap peas busting trough the still cool soil.

Leguminous cover crops collect nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots.

Chinese cabbage, Red Russian kale, green wave mustard , and collards.

Young carrots and ornamental kale.

A look under the row covers.

Seedlings under the cold frame, almost time for spring transplanting.

The tower part of our new rain catcher with some recently shaped and composted rows ready for planting.

True companions. Strawberries and onions work well together.

Snapshot of the garden on March 1st, this same shot in May will be totally full of color!

Current Issues

28 Jan

This post will catch everyone up with what is happening at Greyfield Garden, well at least the stuff we are willing to disclose!

It is the last week of a pretty chilly January and personally I am very much looking forward to some warmer weather.  The whole country went through a week and half or so of some frigid weather early in the month and crops were affected. Those of us that are growing fruits and veggies this time of year had to do some cuddling and cozying. In our garden we had some pretty eager tomatoes and basil that volunteered in a number of places and they were the first to fall when Jack Frost came to town. A”volunteer” is a term used for  seeds that hang around in the compost and are spread in the beds or in the rows and decide to set some roots in a new location. Perhaps they wanted a change of scenery or maybe they were just sleeping in their compost comforter and ended up peaking their heads out when we ruffled the blankets. Our Casper eggplant had been holding strong late in the season and, like the tomatoes, thought that the low temperatures were a good reason to tuck in to the compost comforter for a couple months. Thankfully the eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and a few patches of nasturtiums were the only folks affected by the low temps. The days of our kale, cabbage, collards, brussels, cauliflower, broccoli, and salad mixes being under blankets ended around the middle of the month. I even spent several nights heating bricks in the oven and placing them under the blankets to sleep with the veggies during the coldest nights!

Jack Frost left around the middle of the month and we had about a week of mid 60’s- low 70’s. I spent most of the cold spell inside planning for Spring, placing seed orders, and drawing garden maps. I received the seeds I ordered just in time for the warm weather! I spent several days planting salad mixes, radishes, kohlrabi, and carrots and harvesting sweet potatoes. Farmers and gardeners need to know when to plant and harvest, they need to be familiar with their soil, they need to be well read on pests and diseases, but even the most well studied farmer is at the mercy of Mother Nature.  Two days after I shed the layers of long sleeves and stocking cap and started planting we got three or four days of hard rain, lots of water in a short period. We have a very low spot in the NW corner of our garden and after one or two hard rains a couple months ago I realized it was going to be a lasting issue, so I raised all the beds in the western section.  The raised beds helped a great deal but it did not solve the problem completely, we are still dealing with standing water following a few hours of hard rain.  I spent a couple rainy days bending conduit for row covers. The row covers will serve as a warm tunnel for some spring seed starting. I hope to start enough seeds under the row covers to transplant a good majority of the garden by the end of February.

I have attached some photos of our worm bin as well as a composting method that was shared by a guest, Paige Rabalais, of Avoyelles Parish, LA. I am excited about the composting in place. I feel like it is a great way to give garden visitors a visual on the composting process. The method is great for backyard gardens and raised beds; lots of guests have questions about compost and it is great to give them an idea about how to handle composting at home.  Composting in place is less laborious than pile composting or other methods that require shoveling and hauling the compost to the intended place of use. I planted oats and rye grass around the small compost barrel in our garden. Cover cropping and composting in place are excellent together because they both add organic matter to the soil and help to create a rich bed for the next crop in rotation. I have built 12 of these small barrels and will begin using them in rotation with cover crops following a fruit or vegetable crop. Our worm bin started out with two pounds of worms, several boxes of shredded newspaper, kitchen scraps, and some finished compost a little over two months ago.  Our worms are currently being fed like kings and have a lovely house nestled between our two orange trees in the garden. I transported the worms from Savannah one weekend and became well acquainted with them when the bag I was carrying them in busted in the car. Needless to say I know what they looked like when they went into the bin and now when I feed them I check on how much they have beefed up, they are looking happy and healthy! We are using this bin and our compost piles to reduce the amount of material that is hauled off the island. Instead of sending it off to be hopefully be recycled we are shredding the newspaper and some cardboard to use in our compost and the worm bin. Along with

Those of you that are farming and gardening out there, good luck with spring prepping and we wish you the best in the upcoming season. Those of you that are not currently growing, I hope it’s because it’s too cold where you are and not because you think that you don’t have enough time or space to do so. Grow what you can, it tastes better and you feel better when you eat it!  Take it easy (on the planet) and eat well.

The new Greyfield Garden sign, come on in! Thanks Tucker 🙂

10 nights below freezing. We made sure our babies were as warm as they could be.

These are the guys that took a hit w/ the cold weather. We saved them and fried them for a delicious snack!

Casper eggplant, middle of Decemeber. These guys and our volunteer tomatoes were among the cold weather casualties.

After the cold we received several days of hard rain. The garden is a little stressed. I am doing my best to keep her happy and healthy.

Compost tea anyone?

Adding new rows in the western section of the garden.

West beds are finished. Robbie plants young strawberries in one of the new rows.

West beds are looking good!

(Top to bottom) Bananas, cold frame, beds, hand cart, beds.

Beginning of our worm bin.

The worms survived the cold weather and have grown considerably since we dropped them in to their new home.

Thanks for the idea Paige. Composting in place. I am going to do this in beds when they are not under vegetable production. Compost in the middle with a cover crop surrounding the pile. This will really help get the beds ready for the next rotation!

Composting in place well on its way.

Cheddar cauliflower surrounded by broccoli and snow crown cauliflower.

Micro greens factory. Our chefs love using these as a garnish and when they get past the "micro" stage they use them for young leaf salads, delicious!

Welcome to Greyfield Garden

21 Jan

Hello everyone, the following information includes my thoughts, words of truth, garden facts, occasional jokes, and hopefully some insight to what it is like working closely with Mother Nature. My name is Andy Schwartz and I am the gardener at the lovely Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island.

The garden at Greyfield is roughly one acre in size and approximately half of that is under vegetable and fruit production at the moment.  Greyfield has had an interest in things sustainable and environmentally friendly for decades. The mentioning of growing healthy soil and healthy food came as no surprise when several forward thinking heads came together with thoughts of rejuvenating the Ferguson family garden on Greyfield grounds. The result of those thoughts and the decision to move forward with a more sustainable and seasonal menu at Greyfield led to many positive happenings one of which was the decision to hire me as full time gardener. Items like fresh fish, shrimp, oysters, and scallops, local breads, cheeses, fresh Florida citrus, rice and various traditional grains have been on the menu for years. The addition of a productive fruit and vegetable garden paired with a good recycling and composting program only made sense. I must give my thanks to Daron “Farmer D” Joffe, Marla Henderson, Mary Jo Ferguson, and Oliver “Mitty” Ferguson for giving me the opportunity to steward the lovely piece of land that I do.

Our goal is to grow as much of the most healthy and nutritious food that we can to feed our guests at Greyfield Inn.  We offer guests a unique opportunity by doing daily tours of the garden and assisting in developing a relationship with the food they will be consuming later that evening. We are excited to share our philosophies on growing sustainable, organic, and natural foods in a healthy environment. Our country is changing the way it thinks about food and the way it perceives what is healthy and what is not. Nationwide plenty of folks are beginning to realize the importance of being able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for themselves and their families. Our aim is to enable those that may have never seen a brussels sprout growing to see it growing and flourishing in a row of its brothers and sisters, learn how to harvest it, and have the chance to eat it that evening on their dinner plate with local fish caught that day and Carolina Gold rice from a nearby rice farmer.

The vegetables and fruits know exactly what to do; we do our part to provide the most nutrient rich soil that we can and the rest is up to Mother Nature. We do not use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. We compost. We look to the island for soil amendments. Horse manure, oyster shell, fish emulsion, various mulches, leaf mold, and sea- weed are a few of our not so secret ingredients.  Our composting operation is fueled by roughly 12-15 pounds of kitchen scraps on a daily basis. Since my first day on Cumberland we have turned approximately 1 and a half tons (3195lbs) of kitchen scraps into nutrient rich compost for our garden beds!  We are now shredding all of our newspaper, egg cartons, and some cardboard for our worms to process into more fertile soil to be added to our beds.  We have been using compostable coffee cups that we mulch and add to our compost piles for several months now and will continue to use indefinitely. We believe that our efforts to be responsible and have a low impact on our surroundings will help to keep Cumberland as wild and magical as it is today for many years to come.

We have been hard at work developing the garden from the ground up and hope to have a very productive spring this year. We have had one WWOOFer  (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) do an apprenticeship with us and he was a witty lad from London that loved Willie Nelson, compost, and armadillos. We are listed on the WWOOF website as accepting one apprentice at a time and are working with the University of Florida to develop an internship program through their agriculture department. Through these outlets we hope to draw in individuals that are interested in growing vegetables, being surrounded by raw nature, and working shin deep in compost and horse manure, not necessarily in that order. The unique situation that is Greyfield Inn and the island surrounding it draws thousands of visitors every year. The goal of Greyfield garden is to educate as many people as possible starting with our guests and extending to the mentioned apprenticeships and internships. We also want to feed our guests all the yummy veggies they can eat during their visit! I will be posting thoughts and any information that we feel needs to be shared as well as plenty of photos and narratives. Keep your heart close to the ground so that your ear is close too and listen closely… checking our blog will work just as well.

Until next time, take it easy (on the planet) and live well.

Mature luffa on the vine, ready to be harvested and used for exfoliation.

Sunflower harvest. soon to be hung for our winged friends stopping by the garden.

Hanging elephant head amaranth. These really added color and a new dimension to the luffa tunnel.

Bright like the sun

West beds. Sunflowers and a cover crop row of cow peas.

Prickly pear cactus. I transplanted these from a nearby field to start a sort of interpretive bed in the garden.

Passion flower

Typical daily harvest mid-June.

enter the garden

This is most of what you see upon entering the gate, there are 6 raised rows to the left of the tabby structure.

nasturtiums/micro greens

Early morning in the garden.

Tiger melon, ground view

The Recovery

28 Apr

While we all are wondering when there will be an economic recovery in this country and around the world; it’s hard to miss the biological recovery progressing in the areas on Cumberland Island that burned last summer.  Much of the twenty five hundred acres that burned on the north end of the island was a scrub type plant community with thick, saw palmetto undergrowth.  The fire loving palmettos have already returned to full size and all of them are sending up flower stalks.  In a couple months, honey bees will be attracted to this area and palmetto flowers, with the help of the bees will make a premium, high quality honey.  Later in the summer there should be a huge crop of palmetto berries which are a food source for many animals such as deer, turkeys, raccoons and rodents.  The native Timucuan Indians that once lived on Cumberland ate these berries also, but modern people today would find them hard to get down because of their strong, musky smell and taste.  However, the native people consumed a lot of them and might have even burned palmetto fields to promote the flowering and fruit production of the plant.

Many of the trees in the recent burn are starting to recover, especially the pines, which can take more heat from fire than the hardwoods; although trees like myrtle and bluejack oak that were destroyed above ground are now sending up new growth from their roots.  Pine trees that were killed by the fire are being stripped of their bark by woodpeckers as they hunt for remaining, wood boring insects.  Eventually these trees will fall down, decompose and become fertilizer for the next generation of plants.

Recent heavy rains have filled many of the ephemeral ponds in this area, so the return of amphibians like frogs that need water to reproduce in will be able to get re-established here, along with a number of predators that feed on them.  It wasn’t long after the big 1981 fire in this same location a large number of eastern leopard frogs were found.  At least one alligator was nesting close by also.  I remember watching baby alligators catching both frogs and dragon flies along the banks of one pond. 

Since the recent fire, signs of coyotes have been found along the north cut road that runs right through the middle of the burned area.  It’s also on this road where I have had most of my bobcat sightings over the years and no doubt they will be back hunting the prey species such as rodents that will benefit from all the new plant growth.  Hawks, owls and snakes will also take part in controlling these animals as well.  Several years ago, while conducting a Greyfield tour along the north cut road, we came upon the rare sight of two large yellow rat snakes hanging by their tails from a tree while mating.  However, the snakes I see the most are black racers as they hunt the road bed for lizards and other snakes.  Several times though we have encountered cottonmouths and eastern diamondback rattlers, two of the venomous snakes living on the Island, but no less important in maintaining the balance.

It’s interesting how both snakes and fire have received such a bad rap down through the recorded history of man.  While in reality, both are part of an efficient system that has worked itself out over evolutionary time.  On the other hand, we modern humans are still trying to find solutions to our many problems, while hoping for an economic recovery.

Carrying Capacity

30 Mar

Many visitors to the Island want to know where are the best places to see wildlife.  For variety and consistency I would have to say the Dungeness area on the south end of Cumberland, especially the quarter mile stretch between the Miller Greene cemetery and the beach.  Within this relatively short distance several Island eco-systems come together to create a bottleneck effect where animals from these converging habitats live together in close proximity.  At the center of this wildlife corridor is a boardwalk that borders a tidal creek and saltmarsh.  During high tides, Bottle nosed dolphins will sometimes move up this creek to feed.  In the warmer months, both alligators and manatees also frequent the waterway as well.  At low tide the creek is greatly reduced in size leaving a large area of exposed oyster beds and mud flats.  This is when wading birds and some shore birds move in to feed.  Raccoons find a buffet of things to eat here but are most often found digging fiddler crabs along the mud flats.  Occasionally river otters can be seen catching fish and blue crabs that congregate in the deeper areas of the creek at low tide.

Much of what happens in a saltmarsh eco-system can be observed from the south side of the boardwalk, but turning to the north side the vegetation of a maritime forest borders these wetlands.   Large live oak and red cedar trees grow here and are interspersed with a profusion of under growth that attracts a great variety of migratory song birds in the spring and autumn months.  Leaving the boardwalk on the east end, visitors are surprised to see the remnants of a maritime forest that was killed by migrating sand; here the twisted remains of dead live oak trees reach up through the sands of the large active dune that killed them.  This surreal landscape is a favorite location for photographers as a foot trail to the beach winds through the area.  A number of game trails also converge in this crossing zone between the habitats of saltmarsh, maritime forest, inter-dune meadows and the nearby beach.  The mostly night time activities of animals can be seen etched in the sand every morning.  This is an area we cover with our early morning birding tours that can quickly turn into tracking tours, depending on the amount of animal use the night before.  The easy to observe signs left here by wildlife tell a revealing and often dramatic story.  Signs of fighting, mating, searching for food and territorial marking with scat are just part of the story.  It’s easy to see which animals travel between habitats in this location and how often they pass through.  Understandably, reptiles such as lizards, snakes and alligators are only active during the warmer months.  But even then, their use of this cross over is infrequent.  Bobcats and coyotes hunt the area year round but may not be seen for intervals of up to a month.  However raccoons, opossums, armadillos and deer leave tracks almost every night:  especially raccoons.  This is one animal that really thrives on Cumberland because it can find food in all of the various habitats on the Island, while there are plenty of suitable den trees in the forest area as well.

In an area with s0 much wildlife I often think about the carrying capacity of the eco-systems they are a part of.  In other words, the number of species and the numbers within each species these areas can support.  This is an exercise for trained wildlife biologists but most people can understand that a natural area will only accommodate a certain number of animals.  If these numbers are exceeded; starvation, disease and damage to the habitat itself soon follows.  National Park lands such as Cumberland are managed to maintain a natural balance of native species.  This may include re-introducing native predators that were exterpated earlier in order to control prey species that can overpopulate.  Proper wildlands management also includes removing non-native species that upset the natural balance that developed over evolutionary time.  The Park Service also recognized the impact humans can have.  That is why they have a limit on the number of people allowed to visit the Island on a daily basis.

I wonder if scientists will ever identify the human carrying capacity for coastal eco-systems in relation to the heavy development that is occurring along the east coast, and will the government ever regulate these numbers?  One thing I know for sure, is that after talking with thousands of visitors to Cumberland over the years there is a growing awareness of what is being lost to development in other coastal areas.

Spring Thoughts and Encounters

13 Mar

Spring is well underway on Cumberland Island even though we have experienced some recent cold snaps over the last few weeks.  Temperatures have ranged from the low thirties to over eighty.  A couple warm days together managed to bring forth our first reptile sighting of the season; a six foot long Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake.  We watched as the snake slowly crossed the main road and disappeared into a nearby thicket of saw palmettos where it will be safe from snake predators such as hawks and owls,, but not from feral hogs.  One thing I have noticed over the years is when hog populations increase, I see fewer snakes.  Feral hogs are known for eating these important reptiles that help control the rodent populations and the diseases they carry.

On Cumberland the hog numbers are up, but that may change soon as the Park Service steps up their efforts to hunt them.  Also, there are some indications the coyotes that have recently found their way to the island are now feeding on pork among other things.  As temperatures rise alligators will become active and they too feed on hogs that often roam the wetland areas.  Over the years I have seen a number of hogs floating in the water that were killed by alligators; one was still in the reptile’s mouth.  Alligators don’t usually try to eat a large animal right after killing it because their teeth are not designed for chewing.  More often, they will let the carcass partially decompose in the water so it can be easily torn into bite size pieces and maybe it improves the flavor for them also, who knows?  It’s amazing how some animals can tolerate such extremes in the quality and condition of the foods they consume.  I often think of this when I drive by some fast food places on the mainland.

The breeding season for wild turkeys is getting started and there is a lot of this activity on the island now because we have a lot of turkeys.  I would have to say there are more turkeys on Cumberland today than I can remember at anytime in the past.  If anyone wants to photograph wild turkeys, this is certainly the time and place to to it.  The birds are not hunted here and therefore not afraid of people, making them much easier to observe and photograph. 

There are quite a few song birds visiting the island now as part of the spring migration.  Large flocks of Yellow Rumped warblers have already passed through.  While a number of other species will stay and nest here this time of year.  One bird in particular is not shy about it’s nesting intentions.  The Carolina wren is a true extrovert with a loud call that rings out through the forest.  This bird also nests where it pleases; meaning, it can be inside someones car or house if the windows are left open.

Winter shorebirds are still on the beach.  Many of these species will soon begin a migration northward to their nesting grounds in the arctic region.  However, the Oystercatchers are paired up now and will be nesting on Cumberland in a few weeks.  The nests of these beautiful birds is nothing more than a depression in the sand above the high tide line, usually closer to the foredunes.  Oystercatchers are a species of critical concern because they need wild undisturbed beaches for nesting and this type of habitat has become increasingly rare as so many beaches along the east coast have been developed.  Cumberland provides suitable conditions for ground nesting shore birds like Oystercatchers, while the park service  will also place signs near a nesting area warning people to stay away. 

Also on the beach are a few shells left over from winter northeast storms.  More recently though a number of Keyhole urchins, also known as sand dollars have been washing ashoree on the north end of the island to the delight of those visitors who collect them.  Sand dollars are related to both the Starfish and Sea urchins.  Most of the ones I’ve seen on Cumberland have been on the north end of the island.  This may be due to a shallow shoal area not far off shore which would be good habitat for this burrowing marine animal.

Spring is happening on Cumberland and it is a good time for visitors to experience the great variety of wildlife we have out here.