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Gardener’s Q & A

Well-Sweep, Well-Swept. Which is correct and how did you come up with the name for your farm?

It’s Well-Sweep, although we have mistakenly been called “Well Swept” and other variations of our name. A well-sweep is an old-time farming implement. Take a look at our logo on the front cover; it’s the wooden contraption adjacent to the well. In olden times a family depended on hand drawn well water to fill its drinking and bathing needs. The well-sweep was designed to lighten the load – so to speak.

A tall sturdy tree is used as the base of a well-sweep. It must be Y-shaped at one end. A second, longer tree, the “sweep,” is placed in the “Y” of the base at an angle to the well, forming a lever.

To retrieve water from the well, the bucket was lowered by raising the sweep. Once filled, the bucket was raised by allowing the heavy sweep to slowly lower to the ground. Pulling up a heavy water-filled bucket required strong arms. But in using the well-sweep, the sweep did most of the work. With a well-sweep on the farm, even children could assist with the water-fetching chores.

When I was a child, we had a well-sweep on our family farm. I used it to draw water for our horses and chickens. If you’ve visited Well-Sweep, you know we have an old stone well in front of our home. When my family moved here in 1966, I built a well-sweep similar to the one which I grew up with. When my wife and I started our business, we debated a long time before selecting this piece of history for our farm’s name and logo. We feel it represents our simple back-to-basics way of life.

I know rosemary is a tender perennial, so last year I dug it up and brought it in for the winter. It died anyway. What can I do this year to keep my new rosemary plant from following suit?

Your rosemary must sustain two dramatic transitions to survive the winter. By giving it an opportunity to handle one at a time, you’ll be increasing its chances. The transition from ground to pot is the first such “shock.” Pot the plant in an appropriate size container with any good potting soil. Place a few small pebbles on the bottom of the pot to promote drainage. Now, weather permitting, leave the potted rosemary outside for two to three weeks. Keep an eye on the thermometer. If a light frost is imminent, cover the plant. It will survive for a few nights this way. If the temperature drops too low, however, bring the plant into a cool area of the house.

Once your plant has adjusted to the pot and is ready to move inside place it in a sunny window in a cool room. As with any potted herb, check the top of the soil to determine when it needs watering. Toward the end of winter, around February, your rosemary will begin to require more water. The sun becomes stronger now, and draws more moisture out of your plant. This is when many folks lose their rosemary plants. Take care to check on your plant between waterings in case its consumption increases.

Unlike a plant in the ground, potted plants can’t draw nutrients from the earth and must be fed to flourish. Feed your rosemary every three to four weeks during the growing season. While Fall to Winter, feeding every four to five weeks should be sufficient; cut back on the ratio during the shorter days. Choose a sunny day when the weather forecast predicts two sunny days will follow.

You’ll find it’s a delight to have rosemary on hand year-round. Use it in lamb, pork, chicken and beef dishes.

My polyanthum jasmine didn’t bloom last winter. What can I do to make it flower this year?

Polyanthum jasmine requires a cool period in the fall to help it “set” blossom. Leave your plant outside this fall as the temperature drops to 35 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a week or so. Keep an eye on the thermometer and bring it in if the weather report calls for freezing temperatures. The days become shorter in autumn and this low light, plus the cool weather, prepares the polyanthum to bloom.

To promote growth feed every three to four weeks during the growing season. While Fall to Winter, feeding every four to five weeks should be sufficient; cut back on the ratio during the shorter days. Choose a sunny day when the weather forecast predicts two sunny days will follow.

Be sure not to cut back the plant’s vines because they’re full of potential flowers. If the vines become too long, wind them around the plant. Any pruning should be done after blooming.

You have such beautiful topiaries in the herb garden at Well-Sweep. What’s your secret? I’m very interested in growing one myself. Is it difficult to do?

We’re pleased that you have enjoyed the topiaries that we grow at our farm. Successful topiary growth does require a great deal of patience, but with a little skill and determination, you too, can create beautiful topiaries.

It’s important to realize when first starting out that topiaries don’t develop their interesting shapes overnight. Most will usually look straggly in the beginning. By paying attention, however, to the following suggestions, your efforts will be well rewarded.

The first step is to choose an appropriate plant. We recommend herbs that will develop woody stems. Several of our favorites include rosemary, myrtle, lemon verbena, pineapple sage and scented geraniums.

Select a plant with a straight center stem. Then trim away all growth on the lower two thirds of the plant. Continue to prune any leaves that may sprout in this area. By prohibiting the plant from growing sideways, you encourage upward growth instead.

When the plant reaches the height you desire, snip it at the top to encourage the plant to begin to branch out. As your topiary begins to fill in, support its heavy top by wiring it to a bamboo or metal stake. Be certain to check the tightness of the wire about every four to five weeks to prevent it from cutting the trunk as it thickens.

Trim your topiary only on sunny days. This prevents the growth of fungus in the plant’s “fresh wounds” that often occurs when topiaries are trimmed in damp weather. Use shears or hand clippers to shape the topiary. Decide if you prefer a flat-topped or round-shaped topiary, and prune your plant accordingly.

Once you’ve had success with a single-ball topiary, experiment with two and three-tiered ones. Be certain to contemplate the height of each ball before you begin cutting. Let the main stalk at the top of the first ball grow through, and be certain to leave enough space to accommodate the anticipated size of the second or third ball. In our multi-tiered topiaries, we prefer to create bare stems between the balls to enhance the design.

As with any potted herb, water your topiary when the top of the soils feels dry to the touch. To promote growth feed every three to four weeks during the growing season. While Fall to Winter, feeding every four to five weeks should be sufficient; cut back on the ratio during the shorter days. Choose a sunny day when the weather forecast predicts two sunny days will follow.

(If we can answer any questions about your topiary’s growth, please feel free to call the farm during regular hours. We wish you great success and enjoyment in your new undertaking.)

I want very much to have my own herb garden. The problem is I have a full-time job, a family and little time for myself. Is there any way I can manage this?

Of course you can have your own herb garden. I have four suggestions which may make your dream a reality.

First, thoroughly plan your garden before you start. Decide where you’ll place it so it gets enough sun. What plants will you get the most enjoyment and use from? How about some culinary herbs to use in the kitchen or some flowering perennials for cutting and arranging?

I recommend basil, rose geranium, lovage, rosemary and lavender. Basil is easy to grow, can be used in herb vinegars and any tomato dish, and also makes a great pesto. Rose geranium leaves lend a delicate floral taste to jelly, cakes and cookies.

The young tender leaves and stems of lovage are delicious in potato salad. Dry the older stalks and leaves to use throughout the year in stews, soups and dressings. Rosemary is wonderful fresh, frozen or dried in chicken, beef, lamb and pork dishes.

Plant lavender and use the flower heads in potpourris, cakes, cookies or tea. Bunches can be cut to dry and used in dried arrangements. Other flowering herbs will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.

Second, start small. Your first attempt need be no larger than 3′ x 6′ (18 sq. ft.). Space your plants 18-inches apart. This will give you enough room for 12 to 15 plants. A small garden means less time spent caring for it. Then next year if you have the desire and a bit more time, you can expand it.

Third, mulch. A two to three-inch cover of either shredded hardwood or wood chip mulch is probably the best friend a gardener, with little time, can have. Mulching decreases the amount of watering a garden requires by helping to retain moisture. It helps cut back on weeds so you spend less time weeding and it helps to increase your garden’s productivity. Your plants will be happier surrounded by mulch – so they’ll produce more for you.

Fourth, ask for help! If your children are old enough encourage them to help you in the garden. It’s a terrific learning experience for a child to care for a plant and reap its rewards. Herbs have lots of scents and everyone enjoys smelling them.