Stop Waiting & Start Planting: Lessons from Lilacs

Lilacs, by Karly via Unsplash

“I was hoping you’d show up with lilacs!” I said when my mom handed me the bouquet, immediately bringing them to my face and inhaling.  

It was one of the first sunny and warm spring days of the season, and lilacs were blooming right on cue.  

Despite the fact that vegetables claim the majority of our farm, it’s flowers that planted the seed of wonder and my desire to grow as a child.  

Growing up, my mom and I went to the farmers market each Saturday, always stopping to see the “flower lady” for a fresh bouquet to supplement our home-grown flowers, and then to the “cookie lady” for a peanut-butter blossom—you know the kind with the big chocolate kiss in the middle?  I loved those.

But out of all the flowers we bought and grew, lilacs were always my favorite.

It likely started out that way because I knew how much my mom loved them, and love has a way of sending out runners and growing in the people around us.

One year, when we gave Mom a lilac bush for Mother’s Day, she instinctively bent down and said “It smells so beautiful!”

“Mom, it hasn’t even bloomed yet!  There’s no smell!” My brother and I said as we looked at the potted bush with tightly wrapped buds.

“Oh, but I can smell it in my heart,” she said.

Lilacs, photo by Brandon Green via Unsplash

So it’s not just their color and scent that makes me love them—it’s the way joy and home and wildness are wrapped up in their buds, the way these things unfurl as the petals open, beckoning me always to pause and breathe in, or to roll down the car window anytime I drive past a row of lilacs.

We don’t have mature lilac bushes at the farm, yet.

I was so sure we’d immediately plant perennials when we found our own land, but it’s taken us time to get to know the land, time to find the right place to plant something that we’ll never move.  Slowly, we’ve added pears, apples, plums and cherry trees. Elderberries, blueberries and raspberries.

A few years ago, a friend potted up two little lilac suckers from her own mature bushes and gifted them to me.  They stayed in pots for another year before I found their spot: on either side of the path that leads from our parking area to the CSA-pick up—living sign-posts welcoming people to the farm.  

I can imagine them now as they will be in 20 years, a magical blooming threshold from gravel to grass, from driveway to walkway.  

It takes time, but they’re growing.  

I don’t know when exactly they’ll bloom, but I last week I weeded around them, gave them new compost and mulch.  It all comes down to three simple things:

Tend.  Give.  Be patient.

Growing perennials has taught me that it’s not so much about waiting as it is about being patient, and continuing to work alongside your patience.

Waiting implies sitting and doing nothing.  This doesn’t get you very far. Especially in a garden—if all you do is wait, weeds will take over.

Waiting doesn’t send any signals that you’d actually like a bloom to unfurl or a fruit to ripen, but patience and consistency—consistently showing up, tending to the garden, and doing it again the next day—will bring you from seed to harvest every time.

Most days you won’t notice any growth.  Transformation is often imperceptible to the eye until all of a sudden growth shoots up.  You go to bed, and in the morning your plants (or your children) are taller.

Let it be this way.  

Let yourself be delightfully surprised with each leap of growth, and when impatience sets in, go hang out with the annuals.  

Eventually, the blooms will come.  Like love, they’ll show up as gifts and surprises—a potted sucker from a friend, a bouquet from your mom—and in those moments you don’t have to do any work at all.  

Just say thank you.

What perennials are you growing—or dreaming of growing?  Let me know in the comments below.  I’m always dreaming of adding more perennials to the farm 🌷

4 Simple Ways to Cultivate Joy, Even When Things Are Hard

Organic tomatoes ready for transplanting; cultivate joy by growing

In early April, just days after we moved over a hundred tomato plants from the house to the greenhouse, we lost power in the middle of the night.  

The greenhouse heater went off, and I woke at 5:00 am to Edge telling me to get my coat on. The tomatoes were freezing.

When your livelihood doesn’t depend on harvests, this kind of thing is at worst a huge disappointment.  (I realize that when your livelihood doesn’t depend on harvests, you likely don’t have over a hundred tomato plants ready for transplanting in early April).

But these were going to be our earliest tomatoes yet, and early tomatoes are valuable not only in their juiciness, but also in their dollar value.  

Edge and I worked quickly, throwing blankets over the plants to protect them from the biting wind as we shuffled them from the greenhouse to the delivery van, idling with the heat turned on full blast.  

Some made it through the freeze, albeit after pruning off the leaves that froze, but the plants never really made a full come-back.  This was the beginning of a hard spring.

One after another, little setbacks occurred: a failed round of spinach transplants, and then another.  Aphids on the peppers. A late snow. Another windstorm that sent a moveable hoop house flying.

Any one of these things by itself is frustrating but workable.  I admit, though, that April had us questioning our sanity in choosing a career that relies so fully on the weather, and further questioning the reality of farming on a windy hillside.  The physical challenges of farming can lead in turn to hard emotions.

But we’ve been here long enough to know that the sun will shine again, the gusts will calm, and the fields will fill up with crops.  

Now, moving into June, all of those things have come to pass.  Last night at dinner, Edge even remarked, “I feel really good about where things are.  We’ve never been so on top of things in the field at this time of year.”

If you’re in the midst of a challenging season, I’m sending you so much love.  More than that, I’m sending you joy.  

Because everytime I hit a wall, I ask myself ‘why am I doing this?’ and the answer that always comes back is: ‘to grow a life of joy.’

Wherever you are, here are 4 ways to root back into joy when things are hard:

You can cultivate joy, even when things are hard

1. Go Outside — without your phone

Between marketing the CSA, emailing, and managing the business side of the farm, I spend a lot of time behind the computer in the winter and spring.  The more I’m in front of the screen, the more I feel an edginess, a tension, a pattern of needing affirmation from others start to appear:

How many CSA sign-ups have we gotten today?  Did that person respond to my email? Do people like my instagram post?  Is anyone sharing our Facebook post?

The longer I sit, the more often I check for answers.  A habit of anxious waiting sets in. This is not joy-inducing.  

The antidote is to go outside.  

To walk in the forest.  To move in the fields, be it hoeing or broadforking or sowing seeds.

Somedays sowing seeds is exactly what I need: a physical act of creation, the trust that in nestling this tiny life into dark, damp soil it will wake up and grow.  It reminds me that new growth, new stages and seasons so often arise out of darkness, be it soil or night, or the hard times when you just can’t seem to find the right direction.

So when I find myself in a hard place, when I don’t know which way to go, I get quiet and still like a seed.  I remember that each seed has everything it needs inside of it to grow, bloom, and set seeds again. I remember that once planted, a seed will grow best when in an ideal environment.

As much as you can, put yourself in an ideal environment.  Turn off the phone, close the computer, and go outside.

2. Clear Out The Weeds

Cultivate joy by clearing out the weeds

Sometimes I need more than stillness.  

(I know, I hear a thousand meditation teachers sighing, too…and then getting back to their quiet stillness).

But there are times when before I can get to stillness I need to clear, pull, and release.  Weeding is the perfect act for these times. It gives some semblance of control, or at least an experience of restoration.

If you don’t have any weeds to pull, clean the kitchen.  Or clear out your storage. Give things away. Unload. Lighten up.

Mowing works surprisingly well, too.  

By the end of it, you’ll have a weed-free garden, a clean home, a walkable lawn, and the understanding that you are capable of creating a clear path forward.  

It doesn’t matter if mowing the lawn is drastically easier than making a tough business decision or figuring out how to deal with an unexpected illness, or what have you.  Take this understanding as proof that you can move through whatever challenge you’re facing.

3. Meditate

Ah, now that sigh has transformed into the slightest smile across those thousand meditation teachers’ faces.

In all seriousness, though, meditation has seen me through every challenging phase of my adult life.  From walking meditations to writing, from breathing meditations to mantras to singing, there is a meditation for any situation and person.  

If meditation is new to you, and you’re not sure where to start, here are two books by two of my favorite teachers:

How To Sit, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron

4. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude rewires our brains and helps us see what is here, rather than focusing on what isn’t.  

It’s the best way I know to shift from anxiety to calm and to open myself up to growth, which is key when moving through a difficult time.  

When those tomatoes froze, I was grateful for the greens that made it through and continued to grow.  When the hoop house flew, I was grateful it didn’t break anything else in its wake. And when I found myself in a particularly hard moment when gratitude seemed miles away, I looked at my family and felt infinitely grateful for them.  

Choosing gratitude in hard situations isn’t easy at first.  The more you practice, though, the more second nature it will become, and the quicker you’ll move from despair to joy.  

I don’t mean you’ll burst into laughter every time, but you will start feeling a little spark of lightness tug on your lips, ease your anxiety, and set itself like a seed in your heart.  This is the time to be the best gardener you can, and water that spark so it may grow. Saying ‘thank you’ is often the most effective compost when it comes to cultivating joy.

Whatever you’re working through, keep taking small steps forward.  

4 Simple Ways to Cultivate JoyRemember that gardens are planted one seed at a time, and each step is like a seed sown.  When a challenge sprouts up, try one (or all) of the 4 strategies above and become a grower of joy.

Just like spring turning into summer, the hard times will soften and give way to joyful ease.  

And if all else fails, have a cup of tea and a chocolate chip cookie, which always makes everything better.  😉

Essential Self Care for Organic Farmers & Gardeners

grow a life of joy with simple organic self-care

grow a life of joy with simple organic self-care

Being an organic farmer or gardener doesn’t automatically make you the healthiest person you know.

Nor does it mean you can skip self-care.

I know—I’ve spent years growing organic food, spending my days outside and eating well. Despite this, I’ve still dealt with loads of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, strained muscles and a hurt back.

Before I became a mom and business owner (which happened at roughly the same time), I didn’t strategize my self-care—it was built into my life. For me, taking care of myself was so much easier before I took on the responsibilities of mothering and running a business.

I’ve come to believe that the more responsibilities you have, the more important it is that you take care of yourself.

Small Changes = Big Impacts

Talking about self-care can bring up big goals to radically change your life. I’m finally going to do yoga everyday! Or: I’m actually going to give up sugar this year, starting today!

Don’t do this.

Going big can bring a lot of excitement, but sudden big shifts can also lead to overwhelm, which can lead to resistance, which can lead to giving up, which can lead to feelings of failure. Which is not good for your self-care.

Instead, make small changes.

By all means, start doing yoga or phasing out sugar if that’s what feels right to you. Just be gentle, and have compassion for yourself on days that don’t go according to plan.

3 Easy Ways to Implement Self-Care

homemade chai

start the day with a quiet cup of tea

1. Morning Quiet Time
Start your day quiet. Meditate, write, drink tea, go for a walk. Whatever your quiet is, let your phone and computer keep sleeping while you gently wake.

Let this be a way to ground yourself each morning.

To notice the small, beautiful things: birdsong, how your dog smiles and thumps her tail when you wake up, the way a moment slows down when you breathe deeply.

2. Stretch
Whether you work outside in the field or inside at a desk, stretching can help you feel good in your body.

Start off with 5 – 10 minutes of stretching in the morning and evening. If you sit at a desk most of the day, set a timer and stand up to stretch every hour.

As a farmer, this simple practice reminds me to take care of my body and to move mindfully.

3. Weekly Baths
While showers can be calming, there’s nothing that can beat a soak in the tub.

Make your bath extra rejuvenating by adding epsom salt and essential oils. Epsom salt soothes sore muscles and relaxes the body. Essential oils add a lovely scent and carry their own healing properties, too.

My favorite bath time essential oils are lavender and frankincense, both of which promote relaxation.

Before moving into our farmhouse, we lived in a yurt for 5 years. Yurts don’t have much room for bathtubs. If you don’t have a tub (whether or not you live in a yurt) you can get the benefits of essential oils with a few drops in your shower, on a hot washcloth, or by diffusing them in the air.

At the heart of it, self-care is about tending to your body, mind, and spirit the same way you tend to your garden.

Think of yourself as a seedling. You know a plant that is cared for well will produce the most bountiful harvest. Give yourself the same benefit through a simple self-care routine, and you’ll grow bountifully, too.

There are so many ways to give yourself some care. What’s your favorite self-care method? Let me know in the comments below.

Small Steps & Giant Leaps: The Most Important Lesson For Starting A Farm

I did think, let's go about this slowly. Poem by Mary Oliver

We bought our land in June 2012, and told everyone we weren’t going to move here until the following spring.

“That’s very responsible of you,” our lawyer said at the closing.  “If it were me I wouldn’t be able to help myself from moving right away.”

I smiled inside, feeling very responsible indeed.

After all, we just bought an open field and a plot of forest.  Aside from a powerline in the Southeast corner of the property, there were no utilities, no water, no buildings.

We started our farm from the ground up on an open field

We started our farm from the ground up on an open field

We’d borrowed more than the land cost, so between our savings and the money left over from our land loan, we had about $30,000 to start a farm.  Even now, 6 years later, I look at that number and think, “$30,000 is a lot of money.”

But geez, it doesn’t go far when you’re literally starting from the ground up.

So yes, I felt very responsible that we were going slow and taking very thoughtful, careful steps.

But bless us—

By September we raised a yurt and moved onto the land.

Yurt raising at Good Heart Farmstead, it's important to have helping hands when starting a farm

Yurt raising at Good Heart Farmstead

We spent $3000 to develop a shallow spring and run a frost-free hydrant to the sheep barn we were building, and a line with a hand pump up to our yurt.  The hand-pump thrilled me to no end, because for 2 years we’d lived in a yurt on another farm, hauling water in 5 gallon jugs.

So a hand-pump was pretty high-class living.

{And if you’re wondering, we managed to save up money by living on a farm in our own yurt, trading work for rent.  Edge and I both worked elsewhere in the winters—he in a sugar woods and me at a ski resort, then a bakery. We occasionally splurged on fancy local cheese and Redbox movies.}

By summer 2013 we were growing our first CSA and a baby.  While both steps were thoughtful, neither were small.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned more than anything over the last 6 years of starting and running a farm it’s to start.  Just start.

Plant a seed.  Take a leap.  

Start before you’re ready, before you know everything.  

Because you’ll never know everything.  

In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll know less the longer you farm—or at least, you’ll appreciate that there’s so much you don’t know that you don’t know.

Growing a farm and growing a life is a constant unfolding.  Having a vision is important, though I believe curiosity and flexibility are the most essential tools any farmer, homesteader, or gardener can have.

And when all else fails, a good poem can bring back of the joy of it all.

April is National Poetry Month!  I LOVE poetry, and Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets.

Is there a poem or poet with a special place in your heart? Please do share in the comments below—I always love discovering more poetry.

When You’re Caught Between Winter and Spring, Do This

Spring growth in the greenhouse

Spring in the greenhouse

This morning came in with rain and a curtain of clouds hanging low over the Worcester Mountain range.  

Snow is finally melting on this hillside, giving way to brown grass in the field, terraced beds of winter rye in the garden.  The forecast for the next few days is one of transition: rain, sun, a blip of snow, clouds, more rain, and the temperatures slowly zig-zagging between the 20s and 40s F.

Internally, I’m feeling the need to pause.

To let the rain come and wash away the snow.  To be patient, though the greenhouse may already look like June.  To sit quietly and let a cup of tea melt the tension that always seems to come with transition.

I don’t know about you, but the external environment always affects my internal environment.  As we move from winter to spring, I alternate between the rush of planting and the slow reflection that comes with snow.

Some days are blue skies and bird song, while others pull me back to tea and an extra log in the wood stove. And then there are the days, like this one, of not quite being sure which direction I’m going.

Is it rain or snow?  Melt or freeze? Movement or stillness?

Do ever feel this tension, too?  

Just yesterday, we noticed the red buds of a maple tree, plump and vibrant.  It will be a while yet before they open, but in this back and forth of winter and spring, those buds remind me what to do in the in-between:


Growth doesn’t happen on cruise-control.  It speeds and slows, bursts and pauses.

I’m taking a lesson from maple trees today, and allowing myself to pause.  To sit and listen to the rain dabble and dance on the roof. To trust the energy that flows inside me like sap, even as I sit here quietly as the morning stretches out.

Are you feeling the pause, too?  Linger a little longer, and get ready for spring with these blog posts:

Spring Garden Prep: When & How To Work The Soil

For The Garden Or For The Birds: How To Know If Last Year’s Seeds Are Viable

Dear Gardener, You Don’t Have To Do It All