Home & Garden

Rain barrels collect rain that would otherwise be wasted, and provide water for thirsty plants, in an environmentally friendly way. — Photo by Michael Cummo

In the coming months, hot sunny days are likely to outnumber rainy ones. Plants and gardens around the Island will suffer if they don’t get the water they require, but water pumped from coastal ponds can be expensive, not to mention harmful to the Island’s natural resources. The Lagoon Pond Association (LPA) offers a solution to keep your plants thriving in an environmentally friendly way year-round: the Ivy Rain Barrel Program.

Rain barrels are large plastic containers that connect via downspouts to the exterior of a house, preferably near a garden. The LPA lists the following reasons as the top 5 for rain barrel use:

1.To protect rivers, streams, and ponds from runoff pollution

2.To divert water from the municipal storm drain system

3.To conserve a vital natural resource and reduce water bills

4.To use the nitrogen-rich rain water to grow healthy and lush plants

5.To control moisture levels around the foundation of your home

The 42’’H x 22’W x 18’’ L Ivy Rain Barrel, which is made from recycled plastic, sports a child- and bug-proof lid and holds up to 50 gallons of water. Valves toward the barrels’ underside can be fastened to hoses and irrigation drip systems, allowing for immediate reuse of the water collected during a storm that would otherwise soak into groundwater and cause nitrogen levels, and therefore algae, in local ponds to increase.

Ivy barrels, $81, are available for purchase at the Tisbury Farm Market or Middletown Nursery on State Road. For more information visit www.rainbarrel.org/lagoonpond.

Not too big, not too small…

In the home of Anna Edey, tendrils and blossoms fill the air with fragrance. — Photo by Michael Cummo

No two people are alike in their sense of the perfect-sized home. And over a lifetime, our needs change as families expand, then shrink. Sometimes the waist-band of a home is let out once again as an elderly parent is taken in or a post-graduate needs time to explore new options.

These days, for so many of us concerned about our poor besieged planet, our priorities have shifted from showing off to maintaining a decent, honorable, non-glacier-melting carbon footprint. This too dictates our sense of what defines a Just Right House.

The Too Big House — the trophy homes that dot our Island — are on their way, let us hope, to being sneered out of existence, much the way the seaside mansions of Newport, Rhode Island’s, gilded age were derided as white elephants.

On the other end of the house-sizing spectrum these days, an idealistic movement is afoot to patch together — usually it’s a DIY job — a house so conveniently tiny, one can place it on the back of a flatbed truck and move cross-country with it. This only works for individuals with zero degrees of claustrophobia, and this narrows (no pun intended!) the field considerably, although hats off to anybody giving it a try.

Three sets of householders on Martha’s Vineyard, out of a wide population of people who’ve found similar satisfaction here, shared their Just Right homes with the MV Times this month.

Anna Edey wanted to live in a greenhouse

The iconic Anna Edey, pioneer in the Island’s long march towards organic gardening with her greenhouse, Solviva, built her house on an expanse of dewy emerald acres in West Tisbury in 1980. She raised two daughters here, both of whom come back for visits with their children and, all the while, the home has breathed in and out around the original chatelaine without an inch of its indoor space being wasted.

The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability from solar panels to composting toilets.
The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability from solar panels to composting toilets.

“I especially wanted to live in a greenhouse,” she says under the pale morning light of a ceiling-length skylight. Indeed, everywhere one looks, tendrils and blossoms fill the air with spring fragrance. Originally she’d needed to prove she could grow fruits and vegetables indoors. “For four years I had the most persistent tomato plants, big around as tree trunks. There were avocado branches pressed up against the skylight as if they had fists trying to break higher. It was crazy!”

Eventually the cultivation of food transferred to the Solviva greenhouse on the acreage below. Nowadays Ms. Edey grows only flowers and herbs in her home. Her favorite spot is a claw-foot tub set into the far corner of her narrow solarium in an Eden’s bower of geraniums and begonias. The Swedish weaver has a positive libido for color and aesthetics and every cranny holds something exquisite — a rose-hued Tiffany lamp, a copper bowl of salmon-pink roses, paintings, stacks of coffee table books, and vibrant Persian tribal rugs strewn over hardwood floors.

Ms. Edey has added a studio and an office, but the domestic sphere by itself factors down to a cosy 1,500 square feet. The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability, from solar panels to composting toilets with a filtration system, to her beloved Nissan LEAF which she tops off herself at home.

And let us not end this discussion here: For more fascinating information on this way of life, pick up a copy of Ms. Edey’s book “Green Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Learning The Art of Living Well Without Causing Harm To Our Planet And Ourselves.” Included are designs for similar sanctuaries (as Ms. Edey calls them) of 600 to 800 square foot patterns.

Tom and Jaye Shelby wanted a just-right life

Jaye and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather) bought a snug house in the Campground with just enough room for them (and their dogs).
Jaye and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather) bought a snug house in the Campground with just enough room for them (and their dogs).

Educator Jaye Shelby and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather), with an empty nest in Manhattan and Rockland County after their three grown kids followed their bliss to other corners of the country, purchased a small Victorian cottage at the western edge of the Campground in Oak Bluffs.

“We bought it for the view,” says Mr. Shelby. Who wouldn’t? The two-bedroom cottage faces Sunset Lake across the street, with the commanding vista of Squash Meadow rising high and green beyond it. Adjust your head a mere 20 degrees and you’re staring at the glittering sweep of the Oak Bluffs harbor, arguably one of the world’s most alluring seaports.

Typically, the cottage had declined for decades in the hands of an elderly lady, a situation more congenial to cars than houses. Mr. Shelby explains, “It was falling apart. We had to open it out, insulate it, put in heating, rip out the orange shag carpeting — like that.”

Similar to Anna Edey’s house, the Shelby manse expands and contracts as needed for company. A small downstairs guest room is snugged up against the front parlor. Should all the Shelby crew come for a family reunion — grown kids, significant others, and significant pets as well — then the two upstairs offices — what the Shelbys call their “man cave” and “girl cave” have sofas that fold out to beds. At the rear of this upstairs second floor, Jaye & Tom have their master bedroom under a fairy tale steepled roofline.

An upstairs balcony and a downstairs porch, crammed with wicker rocking chairs, keep the ever-loving view in focus.

And there’s another element of this Just Right House: No mortgage. Tom and Jaye love to travel and, in fact, when you’re friends when them, it’s hard to catch them between trips to the Galapagos, the Turks and Caicos and, this month, the midnight sun of Iceland.

Hmm, must be a connection between the Just Right House and the Just Right Life?

Paul Mohair downsized year-round

Paul Mohair in his downsized kitchen.
Paul Mohair in his downsized kitchen.

New Jersey lawyer Paul Mohair, now director of Edgartown Council On Aging, has lived in houses big and small. His first house here, while not a trophy home, was nonetheless a glam spread, off Tea Lane Road in Chilmark. In the classic year-round Vineyard ritual, he made his nut by renting it out in the summer, and luxuriating in its spacious rooms during the off season.

In the last few years Mr. Mohair decided to settle more organically into Vineyard life. He sold the Chilmark home and took the hugely satisfying COA job. The transition was made smooth by the adorable two-story cottage he found off a rural road in West Tisbury; close to the business district, yet “private and quiet” — his top priorities.

Sometimes a dwelling is designed with perfect feng shui, calculated or otherwise. The cottage is set back from a minimally-landscaped front yard, and a commodious stone patio behind for all of one’s entertaining needs. Indoors the small living space is divided by a long deep gourmet-friendly kitchen, a dining area to seat up to eight people, and a nook with over-stuffed cushions around a low coffee table. The single bathroom is sited downstairs, along with a bedroom.

The piece de resistance lies up a spiral staircase: a second-floor turret room with windows open to every point of the compass. Full disclosure: I lived here myself in the spring of 2010, and I did more writing, reading, meditating, wind-watching and star-gazing from this room than I’d done in the whole of my 23 years of living on the Vineyard (a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea; this room is a creativity-incubator).

Does Mr. Mohair use this tower room for dream-weaving?

Not so much; he’s an outdoor guy, in the sun and rain pedaling his bike the 12 miles into his office in Edgartown (“It’s 8 miles to my girlfriend’s house,” he cheerfully adds.) And what does he do on his days of leisure, you might ask? He makes a concerted effort to cycle 40 miles a day.

Still, the house perfectly suits his own requirements for privacy, charm, comfort and, ah, that quintessential, sublime sense of being home.

The wooden bowls of Jeremiah Brown. — Photo by Kristofer Rabasca

Talk to someone in construction about the properties of different types of wood and they’re likely to comment on things like weight, density and endurance. Talk to someone who creates art with wood and you’re likely to get a completely different story.

When selecting tree trunks and branches for use in lathe projects, woodworkers invariably look for interesting patterns and variation in color. You’ll hear them enthuse about the grain a lot. It’s what can be found once you look beyond the surface that interests a woodworker. The things that reveal themselves once an artisan starts turning a hunk of wood is all part of the process of creation.

Luckily for those who love the look of natural wood, there are a handful of Vineyard woodworkers creating unique bowls, platters and vessels which show off both the artist’s skill and imagination, and the beauty that nature herself has wrought throughout the life of a tree.

Fred Hancock has a shed and a basement full of logs. He creates beautiful, unique wooden bowls and lidded containers using a variety of wood species. Part of the process involves preparing the wood which can only be accomplished with time. “Wood has to dry or season,” says Mr. Hancock. “It takes a lot of time and trouble.  If it’s not seasoned first, the piece can crack or warp as it dries.”

Hunks of wood make their way from the woodshed to the basement where Mr. Hancock keeps a dehumidifier for finishing the drying process.

He gets much of his wood from felled tree woodpiles and from a local lumberyard. Other pieces come from friends off Island who know of his hobby and from ebay, where Mr. Hancock sometimes finds exotic woods or unusually patterned pieces.

The wood itself often dictates the finished product. “The interesting thing is you can have an idea when you start working on a piece of wood. Then as you start turning it you see different things in the grain and the way it feels. You might just change what your intent was as you take it down.”

Many of Mr. Hancock’s pieces end up on bookshelves and end tables, as opposed to in the kitchen.

“For a lot of the work it’s really used more as a piece of art and less as an object of utility.”

Wooden Bowls.jpgTom Lowe finds inspiration not only from the wood, but also from other natural sources. “A lot of my inspiration comes from organic ocean shapes,” he says. Mr. Lowe’s designs include bowls in the shapes of scallop and clam shells. Other more abstract pieces benefit from interesting curvilinear shapes. Mr. Lowe also creates unique vertical sculptures, some with the ruffled, ribbonlike look of a variety of seaweed found on the Vineyard. Like Mr. Hancock, Mr. Lowe has a fascination with the mathematical properties of wood grain. He talks a lot about crotch wood – the area where a branch joins the trunk – and effect of the confluence of patterns.

Mr. Lowe finds his woodworking to be a very collaborative process between material and creation. “It’s amazing to see that with some of these types of wood just a slight curve coming up the side really brings up the grain.”

The former wooden sign maker uses power tools in a variety of ways to create his work. He is always experimenting with different techniques to increase his efficiency and keep his work affordable. But, despite any time saving methods, patience is still key to any woodworking project. The seasoning and finishing are all important parts of the process. “I get locked in to seven months where I have to baby all these bowls,” says Mr. Lowe.

Mr. Lowe lives in Virginia in the winter but will be spending summers on the Vineyard, where he hopes to eventually relocate full time. His work can be found at the Tuesday Featherstone Flea Market and on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Chilmark Flea. Pieces sell from $16 for a spreader to $2000 for a large sculpture.

West creates his bowls from scavenged wood.
Brown creates his bowls from scavenged wood.

Jeremiah Brown came into woodworking through his job as a landscaper, where he was introduced to different types of wood. He scavenges chunks from firewood piles and asks woodworkers for leftovers. Many of his bowls are constructed from multiple scraps of wood which he laboriously grooves together to create patterns. Using more than one type of wood for a piece requires a good deal of time and skill.

Mr. Brown considers his artwork a hobby as opposed to a profession and says that keeping his work affordable would not be possible if he was actually charging according to the amount of work involved. The payoff comes from the pleasure of creating. “It’s more a labor of love than for money.”

“I look for anything with variegated patterns. I love the burls – the stuff that’s hard to find. I never have a plan until I put the lumber on the lathe.”

Mr. Brown showed a dozen bowls at the Family Planning show earlier this month and sold out very quickly. He will be selling his work this summer at the weekly August Art Shows at Vineyard Gardens where he works.

— Photo by Michael Cummo
Paul Adler
Paul Adler

Alternative energy generation on Martha’s Vineyard has been confined primarily to windmills and stationary solar panels.

West Tisbury builder Paul Adler researched the latest innovations in solar technology and chose to install two fully automatic devices mounted on separate posts that use computers and motors to keep them pointing directly at the sun.

The systems sit on Mr. Adler’s grassy, landscaped, south-facing hillside front yard, above his design-award winning tennis court, and give the appearance of a set from a James Bond movie. Mr. Adler says the two systems are among the most advanced systems on the Island.

One is a 15-foot-diameter reflective parabolic dish that he installed three years ago. It sits atop a 12-foot post supported by a concrete footing 3 feet square and 9 feet deep. The dish concentrates the sun’s energy on a small box and generates temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees. It heats water circulating through a radiator in the box to about 200 degrees, providing all of his hot water needs for his home and his swimming pool.

The second system is a 22- by 24-foot array of photovoltaic panels, mounted on a similar post with a similar footing, that tracks the sun on two axes. Mr. Adler said that it was designed as a commercial system and he was told by the manufacturer that his was the first in the state.

“I feel the tracking principle is paramount,” he said. “I am able to gain an extra 30 to 40 percent more sun hours than with any stationary panel system.” He said they are ideal for small locations like his, without a lot of land, for a large array of panels.

“The solar panels produce all of my monthly electrical needs, which cost me almost $300 before and I sell almost $200 of electricity per month. That’s a $500 per month savings,” he said. The installation cost $28,000. A combination of state and federal tax credits brought the out-of-pocket cost down below $18,000 so he expects to have it paid for in about three years.

“The results are stunning,” Mr. Adler said. So stunning that he received a letter from the Massachusetts CEC (Clean Energy Center) suggesting he was cheating, that his system could not be producing as much as he was claiming. The CEC is a state run office that manages the program that tracks and pays for solar energy credits. Mr. Adler provided proof that his system was providing 40 percent more electricity than the CEC expected and he was exonerated.

Mr. Adler said the payback period for active solar was too long to be worth the investment, until recently. “If a clean energy system can pay for itself in seven years or less, it becomes viable and marketable,” he said. “In the recent past, the average life of active systems was 10 to 14 years, and the payback period was 10 to 20 years. When the system paid for itself, it was time to replace it.” He said that active systems today have a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years, and cost half as much as the older systems and, with government rebate programs, the payback can be from two to seven years.

Mr. Adler said that his interest in alternative energy began as a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the late 1960s. “I have incorporated passive energy saving concepts into houses I have built for several decades,” he said. “My first active alternative energy project was a large water heating panel array I installed to heat the water in my swimming pool.” He replaced that system with the concentrator.

Mr. Adler, who has a distribution arrangement with the manufacturer of the solar concentrator, has sold several to foreign countries. “It’s ironic; the biggest buyers of the concentrators are the middle-eastern countries, who have the most oil,” he said. “They claim they want to conserve their oil by using solar energy, and then sell their oil to us westerners for high profits. It sure makes you wonder about our energy policy when Arabs are buying our energy products.”

The Emily Post House in Edgartown has an old-fashioned cottage garden. — Photo by Alison Shaw

Gardening is easy. For gardeners. For the rest of us — a plot overflowing with flowers, or a bed full of tomatoes come summer  (or, let’s face it — even a few shrubs around the foundation) is, well, like some far-off dream. And the longer we go garden-free, the more anxious and insecure we become. Where do you start if your thumbs aren’t green? We invite gardening questions, large or small at onisland@mvtimes.com. Our gardening columnist, Abigail Higgins, will do her best to answer. Happy tomatoes…

Dear Abigail,

I have a great old cottage on Farm Pond, across from Hart Haven. I’ve done lots of work on it over the years, and am quite proud of it, except for one thing: the only “garden” I have is one that came with the house, a patch of daylilies that bloom in a tangled mess, with a single annual poppy in the middle. Other than that, no hedges, no veggies, no flowers. My house looks naked.

The problem, as you might have guessed, is that I’m an idiot when it comes to gardening. Not only do I not know what to do to get a garden started, I swear that plants die just being near me.

So, here’s my question: How could I begin to garden this spring? I’d love a small vegetable patch, some flowers or plantings around part of the house, and maybe a small additional flower garden.

My house gets sun all day in certain areas, but it is whipped by breezes and sea air much of the time as well.

What’s an idiot-proof way to start a garden, and then keep it growing?

Thank you!

Fear of Gardening, Oak Bluffs

Dear Fear of Gardening,

Luckily for you, gardening is one of the few activities where everyone starts out at the same level. No one was born knowing how to garden, and, as with many things, our mistakes are often our best teachers.

If I were you, I would first ask myself what kind of garden I want. Flowerbeds with colorful perennials? Cutting garden of annuals to provide flowers for the house? Mixed flowers and vegetables: the old-fashioned “cottage garden”? Curbside garden for public enjoyment, or screening garden to provide privacy in a built-up neighborhood? Are rabbits going to become a problem?

Then, visit the library to look at garden books liberally illustrated with color photographs, to see what takes your eye. Keep in mind that as a novice a small garden is more manageable and initially better; you can always expand.

The next step is to locate the garden site on your lot to take a soil sample, once you have clarified what kind of garden you would like. A colorful flowerbed, vegetables, or cutting garden requires all the sunlight you can provide. Site accordingly.

Take the soil sample according to directions on the web site soiltest.umass.edu, and send in to the UMass Soil Testing lab ASAP noting how you intend to use the garden.

Depending upon the results of your soil test, prepare and amend the soil as suggested in a shape that pleases you. Beds sited next to buildings may receive shelter from wind; they are often rectilinear and angular. Free-standing islands may be more exposed, but freeform and flowing shapes suit them. Consider lattice panels to provide windbreaks.

Or, build a raised bed right on top of the existing soil level, using the best topsoil/compost you can obtain. (Quality topsoil and composts may be accompanied by a soil analysis, analogous to a soil test.) If possible, lay down a base layer of manure, but not so that roots come into contact with it. Raised beds may be contained by structures of wood or masonry, or created by building up the soil to a bed with sloping sides as high as you want it. These are likely to be rectangular. Again, keep size in mind: expect the plant cost to be at least $20/per square foot, and quality topsoil upwards of $60/yd. Anything you start yourself is usually more economical however.

Perennial plants come back each year, such as daylilies and phlox. The existing daylilies may be mowed or clipped down next fall and covered with mulch (if they are not up too high they can be mulched this season, making a neat outline). The following year the “tangled mess” will be neater and you could add other perennials to it. Annual plants grow and die all in one season, such as zinnias and cosmos, leaving the bed able to be totally cleared out in the fall. If perennials and annuals are mixed together it is called a mixed bed. Choose what you like; some will undoubtedly displease you eventually, but this cannot be planned for. Gardening friends will inevitably have divisions of their own perennials to share with you. Accept all gratefully, but remember to ask if it spreads!

Tools good to have include a comfortable, sturdy trowel; secateurs (garden clippers) for pruning/dead-heading; a narrow shovel or spade — long-handled is best for avoid back-stress — for digging in close quarters; a spading fork; and a collapsible rake, for raking out wide/tight spots. A ball of twine and a sleeve of bamboo stakes may become useful eventually for staking plants. Nice to have are a claw and stirrup hoe for cultivating and weeding. A trash barrel can serve as a receptacle for debris, which may be composted in a pile in a concealed spot. Compost pile surrounds may be made from five shipping pallets (free at several places) lashed together with wire or baling twine: one to form the base, and four to create the four walls.

Happy gardening!

The writer had grown accustomed to seeing her neighbor's porch light on. — Illustration by J. Ann Eldridge

I run through the tall grass to Cary’s house next door to get a number from the auctioneer. The path has not been used in a while. By the time I get to her kitchen door, dew soaks the cuffs of my jeans.  The lilac against the house has hardly any flowers. No one has tended it since Cary died three years ago at ninety-five. In two weeks her house will be sold.

Bare feet from the same two families have worn down the grass path connecting her house and mine for seventy-five years. Four generations have shared days that began with a morning swim and ended with a communal dinner under star-filled skies.

The connection began during the Depression. In 1937 my in-laws, Whit and Mary Griswold, bought the house we now live in. They were looking for a quiet summer retreat and found it here overlooking James Pond in West Tisbury. Cary and her husband, Bob Luckey, purchased the land next door a year later. There was no house on it, so they bought an old Cape from the Hough family up in Indian Hill, and had it flaked and moved by truck to Lambert’s Cove.

Eventually these two summer houses became year-round homes, and the path was used during the off-season too. Cary moved back to her house full time after the death of her second husband and lived alone with her dog, Tiga Pie. We moved into the family home for a year’s experiment of living on the Island full-time and never left.

Cary and I would meet often for a sandwich or an evening drink. We’d toast the winter quiet and look forward to the raucous summers when her son and his family arrived from New Haven. Before going to bed each night I’d look out our bathroom window to make sure Cary’s front door light was lit.

By 8:45 a.m., the field next door is full of cars. A line of people waits on Cary’s back porch. Many seem to be estate sale regulars. They’ve arrived with shopping bags and warm cups of coffee, and they greet one another casually. The familiar screech of the aluminum storm door announces the sale has begun and the first twenty of us are ushered in through the living room door. It feels odd walking into Cary’s living room with a group of strangers. The sight of her faded pink couch is comforting, but it has been moved to a new position and there is a price tag on it.

It is important to me to be here, but I have no idea what I am looking for. Maybe it is just to stand in these rooms one last time. Knickknacks crowd tables and most things look worn. People come in quickly and choose things in a hurry. I pick up an Indian basket, an old kerosene lamp, and a faded hooked rug mainly because I don’t know what to do with my hands.

I go into each room. The quilt on the upstairs bed is one of ours. Carried over one night for a sleepover, it remained. In the guesthouse is a pile of DVDs, and several belong to my daughter. There is more than one book with my name on the inside cover — summer trades. Overwhelmed by memories, I step into the yard and there are our old Labs lying under the lilac as they often used to do.

I carry the basket, lamp and rug along the path to home feeling empty-handed. I show them to my husband and he decides to have one last look, too. Twenty minutes later, he walks back across our yard carrying the chair Cary sat in at her kitchen table and seven cheap champagne glasses. When I put them in the dishwasher that evening I remember that I’d bought the glasses years ago as a birthday present for Cary’s daughter-in-law Ettie, a dear friend. There were eight then. Finally I’m laughing. Do I really imagine an object can contain those precious years of living side by side? They have vanished like the eighth glass. I can’t wait to call Ettie and tell her the story.

A few weeks later an orange-yellow half moon is setting over James Pond as I walk in to Cary’s yard. The grass is uncut and the peonies have not been picked. I peek in the window and see the house is utterly empty. No one is here but the three deer I startle, grazing by the pond shore, and a skunk rooting right where the new owners plan to put in a pool. No one will know if I sit here on the deck and watch the moon, but this house belongs to someone new now, and I’m trespassing. I turn on the unclipped path and head back home. Before going to bed, I catch myself looking out the bathroom window for the front door light next door. For now, it remains off.

Home Bird, Four Seasons on Martha’s Vineyard, with essays by Laura Wainwright and illustrations by J. Ann Eldridge, was published by Vineyard Stories in 2012. It is available at Bunch of Grapes, Cronig’s, Alleys, and other Vineyard locations.

Potato and kale latkes. — Photo by Alison Shaw

Catherine Walthers is a private chef and cookbook author. Her new book, with Alison Shaw, “Kale, Glorious Kale,” will be published by Countryman Press in September.

Just days ago, it was hard to believe that anything green would ever come from the earth. But spring, reliably, has arrived; the smell of dirt, and green and growing is in the air. Soon enough, Island gardens will yield spring crops — baby salad greens and arugula and chard and kale and asparagus. Lucky for us, Island farmers and cooks shared their favorite spring bounty recipes.

North Tabor Farm

North Tabor Farm has greens and more.
North Tabor Farm has greens and more.

At North Tabor Farm in Chilmark, planting is in full force in the greenhouse preparing for this spring. New from the farm this year will be bags of three different kinds of baby kales – great for kale salads – as well as bags of both up-Island cress and tatsoi. Farmer Rebecca Miller says tatsoi is a great alternative to spinach and they hope to educate customers to its uses. The farm’s stand on North Road – always open – also features the mixed baby salad greens and arugula North Tabor is known for, as well as the shiitake mushrooms available when temperatures climb over 50 degrees. Here’s one of their favorite recipes:

Poached Eggs over Wilted Greens and Shiitakes

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons butter

1 1/2 cups North Tabor shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced

2 eggs

2 cups arugula or cress

1.    Heat the oil and butter together over medium heat in a skillet. Add the mushrooms and saute about 5 minutes, until cooked. Season with salt.

2.    Meanwhile, bring a saucepan or skillet with 1 ½ to 2 inches of water to a bare simmer . Crack the eggs one at a time into a small dish or ramekin and gently slide the egg into the water. Poach for 2 to 4 minutes. (?? any help here in poaching directions)

3.    Place the greens in a strainer and pour about a cup of the boiling water over the greens to quickly wilt. Drain well.

4.    To serve, place the greens on a plate, top the egg and a portion of the mushrooms. Season with salt.

Cook’s Note: If you haven’t poached eggs before check the web for general suggestions.

Green Island Farm

Susie Middleton makes quesadillas from Swiss Chard.
Susie Middleton makes quesadillas from Swiss Chard.

Turn at the greenish-blue egg on State Road across from the West Tisbury Ag Hall for Green Island Farm, open year-round 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Eggs are reliably available from their 450 chickens. Starting mid-April into May, look for tender young chard, kale, spinach, and their specialty baby lettuces. Some of the 16 to 20 lettuce varieties include Speckled Amish and Flashy Green Buttercrunch – bagged and ready to enjoy. Owners Roy Riley and Susie Middleton are doubling the size of their vegetable garden this year, and increasing the flock to between 600 and 700. Susie shares her vegetable expertise in her latest book, Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories, helping us in the kitchen with the produce we purchase here and elsewhere. Read her regular posts and recipes at Sixburnersue.com and try a Swiss chard and cheese quesadilla below:

Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with Pepper Jack Cheese

Makes 4 quesadillas, or 12 slices total

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon plus 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions (12 ounces), thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

Kosher salt

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

4 cups thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves (from 8 ounces of chard, stemmed)

Four 6-inch (fajita-sized) flour tortillas

2 cups (6 to 7 ounces) coarsely grated Pepper Jack cheese (or Cheddar)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat the oven to 200°F if you want to hold each quesadilla as you make it. In a small bowl, combine the sherry vinegar and honey.

In a medium (10-inch), heavy nonstick skillet, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until the onions are very limp and a light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (Turn down the heat as needed if onions are browning too fast.) Add the garlic, stir, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the Swiss chard and a pinch of salt to the pan and toss with tongs until wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle over the vinegar-honey mixture, tossing well. Transfer the chard-onion mixture to a plate to cool a bit and wipe out the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat and add 1 teaspoon olive oil. When the oil is hot, add one tortilla to the pan. Sprinkle a small amount (one-eighth) of the cheese over one-half of the tortilla. Cover that with a quarter of the chard-onion mixture and a sprinkling of cilantro (if using). Top with a bit more (another eighth) of the cheese. Fold the empty half of the tortilla over onto the full side and press down lightly with the back of a spatula. When the bottom of the tortilla has lightly browned, 45 seconds to 1 minute, turn the quesadilla over and cook until the other side is browned (and the cheese is melty), another 45 seconds to 1 minute.

Transfer the quesadilla to a wooden cutting board and let cool for a minute or two before cutting into wedges. (Alternatively, you can hold the quesadillas in the warm oven.) Let the pan cool for a couple minutes. Return to the heat and repeat with remaining filling and ingredients.

Recipe from Fresh from the Farm, by Susie Middleton, available now.

Morning Glory Farm

Asparagus is good roasted, and on the grill.
Asparagus is good roasted, and on the grill.

Fresh asparagus picked daily is a specialty that awaits us at the opening of Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown on May 1. The Island’s largest farm stand also plans to have salad greens, spinach, bok choy and tatsoi – grown in high tunnels. Expect new batches of pork and beef, plus eggs, new and better breads, and even an early crop of tomatoes by May’s end. Look for a new cookbook this summer, titled Morning Glory’s Farm Food: Stories from the Fields, Recipes from the Kitchen. Each chapter is devoted to a specific crop. Here’s a sample of farm chef Robert Lionette’s roasted asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus

Thick-stalk asparagus will work well with this technique, yet might require a bit more roasting time than the ‘pencil’ thin spears. Peeling the ends of the asparagus is not a necessary step for roasting.

1 bunch asparagus, ends snapped off, washed and dried

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt


4 ounces tender pea shoots

1 leek, white part only, cut lengthwise, then across 1/4-inch thick

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh chives, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon coarse or country mustard

3 to 4 turns fresh black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.Line a roasting pan with parchment         paper (optional). Lay the asparagus across the pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the         spears begin to caramelize (brown).Remove from oven and pour off         excess oil and liquid into a sauté pan. Place over medium-high heat         and add the leeks. Sauté for 5-6 minutes or until the leek soften,         but do not turn color. Stir in the mustard and vinegar. Increase         heat to high and add the shoots. Toss thoroughly and remove from         heat. Add the chives and pepper.Place the asparagus on a serving         platter and spoon the pea shoot mixture on top.

Recipe from Morning Glory Farm, Chef Robert Lionette

Ghost Island Farm

Expect lots of kale – 13 different varieties – plus salad mixes, arugula, spinach, pea shoots, scallions and other spring offerings at Ghost Island Farm on State Road (also the site of Nip ‘n Tuck Farm). Farmer Rusty Gordon is busy putting up greenhouse number seven to increase overall production for the farm stand and the farm’s CSA co-op where members pick up produce and other items at a discount whenever they want. Opening is set for Memorial Day weekend, possibly a bit sooner. His goal this year is to double the CSA co-op from 100 to 200 members. Learn more at ghostislandfarm.com

Potato Kale Latkes

Makes about 18

2 pounds Idaho potatoes

3 cups kale, stalks removed, finely chopped

2 teaspoons olive oil


1/2 cup finely minced onion (about 1/2 onion)

1/4 cup flour

2 large eggs

Olive oil, peanut oil or butter for cooking

Dill Sour Cream

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (optional)

Salt and fresh pepper

1.    Place the chopped kale in a large bowl and add 2 teaspoons olive oil and 2 pinches of salt. Massage kale for 2 to 3 minutes. If it seems moist, use a few paper towels to absorb any excess moisture.

2.    Peel the potatoes. Either grate the potatoes with a box grater, or quarter lengthwise and use the shredder attachment on the food processor. You should have about 6 cups. Place grated potatoes in a bowl of water for 10 minutes or so.  Line a bowl with a clean kitchen towel or two layers of paper towels. Lift the potatoes out a handful at a time, squeezing out the water with your hands over the soaking bowl as you go, and place into the clean towel or paper towels. Save the bowl with the soaking water and potato starch, and let potato starch settle to the bottom (this might take a few minutes).  Squeeze the towel to soak up excess moisture from potatoes getting them as dry as possible. Add potatoes to the kale, along with the minced onion.

3.    Pour off the water in the soaking bowl, leaving white potato starch at the bottom of the bowl (there will be up to 3 or 4 tablespoons). Add the eggs and flour to the starch, and mix with a fork. Add this mix to the latkes. Season with salt.

4.    Heat one or two large skillets (non-stick work nicely) over medium high and coat the bottom with about a tablespoon of olive oil or a mix of olive oil and a little butter. Pack a 1/4 measuring cup with the potato-kale mix. Unmold into the skillet, without crowding, and gently flatten each with a spatula. Pan fry until latke is golden, then gently flip and cook the other side, about 10-14 minutes in total. Repeat with the remaining latkes. (Sometimes I make a test latke to help find the right level of salt). Place latkes on a baking sheet lined with paper towels in a 200-degree oven to keep warm, until ready to serve. Serve with sour cream mixed with the chopped dill and horseradish.

Recipe from Kale, Glorious Kale, by Catherine Walthers, coming out fall 2014.

The Greenhouse

“Learn, grow and connect” is the idea behind the Greenhouse in Oak Bluffs (behind Dick’s Bait & Tackle) featuring local, organic vegetables available for U-pick all winter and spring. Warm, inviting and filled with rainbow chard, multiple varieties of kale and collards, baby lettuces, mache, even radishes and cherry tomatoes, the 2,000-square-foot greenhouse and non-profit (formerly known as COMSOG) is a community gem where members and non-members can visit any day and fill up bags of fresh produce for dinner. Learn from master gardeners and work alongside fellow gardeners on volunteer days culminating in a free lunch of soup and greenhouse salads.  The Greenhouse also sponsors gardening workshops and festivals, including their Earth Day fest [spring fest? ] on April 12 and  heirloom tomato seedling sale on May 10, the week before Mothers’ Day. Learn more at comsog.blogspot.com.

Green Goddess Salad and Dressing

Serves 4

Green Goddess Dressing:

1/4 cup plain yogurt (preferably whole milk)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs such as a basil, dill and/or parsley

Salt and pepper


6 cups baby salad greens, watercress or arugula, rinsed and spun dry

Spring radishes, thinly sliced

Spring red onions, thinly sliced

3 to 4 eggs, hard-boiled (optional), quartered

1.    Place all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until the dressing is creamy and herbs are incorporated.

2.    Place the salad in a wide bowl. Mix lightly with desired amount of the dressing (you’ll have some leftover). Top with radishes, red onion and eggs.



Big Ideas in a Small Space

David Stanwood has moved from his piano studio into the house. — Laura D. Roosevelt

A Lambert’s Cove couple has spent 40 years collaborating on their work at home — doing everything from perfecting piano mechanisms to creating bracelets you can throw in the compost heap (not that you’d want to).

“Eleanor and I have spent our lives trying to get to the essence of things,” says David Stanwood, an inventor in the field of piano technology. His wife of 40 years, Eleanor Stanwood, is an artist who works with wool.

The Stanwoods made a small house a little less small, and made room for their creative pursuits.
The Stanwoods made a small house a little less small, and made room for their creative pursuits.

“It’s fun to feel we’ve unlocked a Rubik’s cube,” he says, “that we’ve accomplished something with our work.” He notes that there is a significant connection between the mediums in which they work – pianos and wool. “Pianos evolved with the use of wool felt as a material in their construction and functioning. Felt has the highest regain of any fiber – when you crush it, it springs back to about 90% of its original loft. Other fibers don’t do that. But wool always remembers how it was when it was on the back of the sheep.”

The Stanwoods are problem solvers. While working in sheep farming in California in the late 1970s, Eleanor was dismayed by the wasting of wool on farms raising sheep for meat only. Recognizing that wool was a renewable resource, she found a way to process the “waste wool” into a durable, springy batting that could be used to stuff comforters and other products.

One of the first problems David recalls solving was when, as a little boy, he was disappointed to learn that a piano teacher had said she was unable to take him on as a student. “I had my mother call the teacher and hold out the phone while I played a song for her. When I finished, she said, ‘OK, I’ll work with you.’”

“If someone says something can’t be done,” says David, “then they’re probably missing something, and that’s where I want to go. It’s worked for me my whole life.”

Eleanor Stanwood used to make wool batting-stuffed quilts in her separate studio building. She makes smaller items now — bracelets and earrings — out of wool felt, and does it all in the Lambert's Cove house.
Eleanor Stanwood used to make wool batting-stuffed quilts in her separate studio building. She makes smaller items now — bracelets and earrings — out of wool felt, and does it all in the Lambert’s Cove house.

When the couple moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1981, people told David, who was then tuning pianos for a living, that he’d never find enough work here. This proved to be untrue, and Eleanor, too, soon found herself more than adequately busy after receiving an order from the Harborview Hotel for over 100 wool batting-stuffed quilts. Collaboration is a constant with the Stanwoods, and several of the quilts bore a stenciled compass rose pattern that David had designed.

At that time, David and Eleanor were both working in a two-story studio they built behind their West Tisbury house. The first floor was David’s piano workshop, and the second floor Eleanor’s wool-working space. David describes the building with obvious fondness, noting that it was built entirely traditionally (no plywood or other shortcuts), that its footprint is the Golden Mean, and that its 13’ roof pitch is one he’s never seen elsewhere. “Usually it’s 12’,” he says, “but 13 is our lucky number; we were married on Friday the 13th.” He adds that both the workshop and the main house are situated so that on the summer solstice, they face the setting sun, and on the winter solstice the rising sun. “It’s very special, this place,” he says.

In 1992, David did a trade that changed his life. Pat Gregory of Educomp, who had a piano that needed tuning, convinced David that he needed a computer. David began using the computer for recording and graphing measurements of the components of piano actions.

One long, open room incorporates the kitchen, dining area, sitting room and space for David's piano.
One long, open room incorporates the kitchen, dining area, sitting room and space for David’s piano.

In 1994, after a couple of years of studying the graphs and noticing patterns, David developed a mathematical equation that ties together all the weight and leverage characteristics of a piano’s mechanics, enabling a level of fine-tuning of the instruments that had never before been possible. “That equation broke everything wide open,” he says. “It’s not rocket science, it’s see-saw science; it’s algebra. By applying a simple methodology to pianos, which everyone thinks are complicated, I’ve taken something that’s very complex and turned it into something that’s simple.” Patented as “Precision Touch Design,” David’s methodology has spread around the world, as has his 2009 invention, Stanwood Adjustable Leverage Action, which allows a pianist to turn a knob to shift the pivot point of all the keys simultaneously, without interfering with the piano’s normal functioning. (“It changes the relationship between the pianist and the sound,” David explains, “and the sound changes.”)

Over the years, both Stanwoods’ work has evolved and changed. Eleanor went from making batting-stuffed quilts to making felt, then on to creating dyed and appliqued felt jackets, shawls, and scarves. Now, she’s fashioning jewelry from wool, dying and molding compressed wool circles into shaped bracelets and earrings. But the ethics behind her output are unchanged: “It’s totally sustainable,” she says of her jewelry. “You can throw it on your compost pile.”

David has gone from tuning pianos to tuning piano actions via his patented technique. He does most of his work by email: people he’s trained in his technique send him measurements, which he analyzes and reprocesses to specifications, and returns the customized results. He also travels, both to teach and to work on very high-end pianos. But when he’s home, he’s no longer in his workshop; he’s in the house, on the computer, generally in his library, where it’s quiet.

As Eleanor’s creations have gotten smaller in size, the need for her large, open workshop space has also declined, and now she, too, works in the house. “I have good light here,” she says, “I have a washing machine” (for turning batting into felt). “We could have put water and everything into the workshop, but I really like being at home.”

The house they originally moved into was very small – a two story (one room per floor) structure dating to 1840. It was moved to Lambert’s Cove Road in 1944 from the up-Island end of West Tisbury-Edgartown road, where for some time it had served as the doctor’s office of Nancy Luce’s uncle. The people from whom the Stanwoods bought their property in 1981 had built on a small addition, but still, the place was more than cozy. The Stanwoods eventually added to the structure themselves, creating a two-story addition, the downstairs of which is where most everything in the house takes place. A single, long, open room incorporates the kitchen, a dining area, a sitting room, and space for David’s piano.

“The space is absolutely perfect,” says Eleanor, “for sitting and eating, reading, working, listening, cooking.”

When David plays the piano for Eleanor, she lies on the sofa and he unplugs the refrigerator and turns off the furnace. “I’m inclined toward quiet,” he says, “because it helps creativity, not only in my piano playing, but also with inventing. One of the dangers of modern life is that there’s too much distraction. But winter here on the Vineyard is a space itself, a quiet space, a distraction-free space, which is important to both me and Eleanor. We revel in the quiet of the Vineyard in winter. It’s a special season, a precious time.”

Eleanor gazes out the windows that line the back side of the addition she and David built, overlooking a meadow where sheep used to graze. Now, a new season is arriving, and chickens scuttle about, enjoying the warmth of an early spring day.

Experts weigh in on prep, color, and tools.

With 40 years of experience, Bob Kimberly has a lot of painting facts at his fingertips. — courtesy Bob Kimberly

The Vineyard never experienced “out like a lamb” when March came to a close. But now, with April moving along, the weather truly has grown milder, crocuses are a common sight as are the tips of hyacinths and daffodils, and the daylight just keeps stretching. It’s at this time of year Islanders find themselves moved to spring paint (often after a good round of spring cleaning).

Sometimes the weather does the scraping for you.
Sometimes the weather does the scraping for you.

Whether inside their homes or outside them, thoughts about color begin to percolate, even if that color is only white. And the decision is weighed as to whether it will be the homeowner’s hand that scrapes and sands and brushes or that of a hired professional.

Bob Kimberly is one of the premier painters on Martha’s Vineyard. After more than 40 years of working on the Island there’s little he hasn’t encountered in his craft. One aspect of painting he increasingly finds to be a rarity, however, is a homeowner willing to attack a house’s exterior.

“I don’t see a lot of people painting their own houses these days. Certainly not the outside. I guess it’s just too daunting. Sometimes I’ll get a call from someone who says ‘We can do everything else if you can do the high stuff.’ Usually I end up doing it all.”

Bob Kimberly.
Bob Kimberly.

Mr. Kimberly adds that the Island’s inherent marine humidity plays a large role in what can make it too daunting. Should a homeowner be ready to tackle the effects such humidity can have on exterior painted surfaces, he offers some advice that can be both a precursor to a full exterior paint job or just an inexpensive way to bring new life to old paint work.

“Often people see that the trim on their house isn’t looking good but they’re not sure what they’re seeing,” Mr. Kimberly said. “In most cases what they’re seeing is mildew. The first step in painting a house is to wash it off. Once it’s gone the house can look 90 percent better. We live in a mildew intensive environment — lots of fog and humidity. The only thing I’ve found to remove it efficiently is bleach mixed with water. There are products out there that are ‘natural’ and user friendly, but they just don’t really do it. I’ve tried them. The bleach and water is 10 times faster. It works like magic. Start by just adding a little to the water and add more if it’s not doing the job. It’s a good idea to soak any shingles below the places you’re bleaching because any dripping bleach can discolor them. I apply the mixture with an old brush, working the heavier areas with the bristles. It goes pretty fast, though I know most people would rather use a sprayer or a power washer. Hiring someone to power wash your house can be fairly expensive. Give the bleached areas a rinse when you’re done.”

As to choosing color for a project, Mr. Kimberly emphasizes this can be a complicated matter. “When it comes to color decisions, oh boy,” he continued. “There are painters who refuse to get involved in that aspect at all. It certainly can be a can of worms, so to speak. It’s a funny psychology based on personal associations. We all see color differently. I’ve spent endless hours mixing, matching, and changing colors for people, repainting whole rooms, sometimes three times. The thing is, any color can be nice. It really depends on the whole color scheme of the room. It is very satisfying when it clicks.”

For Amy Upton, an expert in interior decorative painting and color consultation with 20 years of experience, colors are her stock in trade.

Exterior colors hold better with oil primers.
Exterior colors hold better with oil primers.

“Oftentimes I am brought onto a project simply to consult on color,” Ms. Upton said. “People can save themselves a lot of time and money talking to a professional about their palette. It isn’t easy to visualize the whole space from a tiny paint chip or to imagine how the entire space will come together with all of the relating colors at play. Sometimes I am called in only to find that the room has come down with a case of the spots, 20 little splashes of color on a big white wall. It can make a person crazy and I am happy to help avoid this scenario. Often a client knows what colors they like: it is evident in the clothes they wear or the dishes they choose. Sometimes a favorite rug or piece of furniture can be the beginning of the process. I can be of assistance in helping them to realize their preferred palette and translate it into painted surfaces.”

On the subject of paint composition, Mr. Kimberly acknowledges latex’s predominance.

“It’s pretty much a latex world now as many of the ingredients of the oil paints have been removed for environmental reasons. The paint stores are dropping most of the oil paints.”

John Montes, owner of Edgartown Hardware Inc., now in its 68th year, concurred from the counter of his new Vineyard Haven outlet.

John Montes at Edgartown Hardware.
John Montes at Edgartown Hardware.

“Oil paint is still around, but in limited quantities. Oil primers are exempt from the rules because they are needed for proper color hold out, especially on exterior paint. Oil paint is available in quarts only except for certain industrial applications.”

Ms. Upton added that the decline of oil-based paints is due to government initiative.

“The government is phasing out High VOC products, which are most of the oil-based ones, for good reason. They are terrible for the environment, and the people who handle them, or are exposed to them in their homes. I prefer Benjamin Moore Paint. I know that they are putting their best and brightest into coming up with products that comply with the new laws. I have had great success with their product ‘Advance’ (waterborne alkyd paint) in a variety of applications.”

Mr. Kimberly furthered the dangers of reformulating old-style paints. “After the formulas were changed to comply with the new codes, the products [oil paints and stains] didn’t work as well. Cuprinol, the oil-based product used to treat decks, was drastically altered to a silicone-based liquid which was terrible, and now it’s been discontinued. Probably the best paint for the house was the old lead paint. It was literally a coat of armor. Of course it was terrible for people and everything else. The latex paints on the other hand have been steadily improving. They dry quickly and there’s no need for toxic solvents. With oil paint you’d need several hours of good drying time before the fog rolled in or the dew set, otherwise the paint would ‘flash’ — lose its sheen. I do, however, still use oil-based primers on occasion. The one problem with latex primers is that they won’t block stains. Pine boards have knots that will bleed through paint unless they are sealed. The only product I’ve ever found to block this is the shellac-based paint called B.I.N. by Zinser.”

Regardless of whether they’re dispensing advice to do-it-yourselfers or commenting on their own choice of implements, Ms. Upton, Mr. Kimberly, and Mr. Montes consider a superlative brush a decisive factor in one’s success with a painting project.

“The most important thing when doing any painting but especially windows,” advised Mr. Kimberly, “is to invest in a good brush. The temptation is to buy a cheap brush, but a good brush — and it might be $15 compared to $5 — is a pleasure to use. The economy brushes can be frustrating. The bristles are coarse and when dipped in the can they pick up a blob of paint which is really difficult to control whereas the bristles of a good brush are finer toward the end, actually ‘flagged’ or split, making it easier to control the amount of paint on the brush. The tip will be nicely tapered and straight, which will greatly improve your accuracy.”

“As with anything, choice of tools is critical,” said Ms. Upton. “I use a variety of brushes depending on the project at hand. Choosing my tools carefully is part of the process.”

“It makes a big, big difference on the finished look, and especially trim,” said Mr. Montes. “A good brush allows the paint to flow properly, but that needs to be combined with the proper technique.”

Alyssa and Nayelli Vieira planted their own cranberry bean seeds, and learned how the beans were used in early times. — Photo by Danielle Zerbonne

Bright sunshine and warm temperatures set a summertime mood as the Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs got a head start on the season Saturday. The “Early Earth Day Celebration” offered an opportunity for serious gardeners and green-thumbed dabblers alike to enjoy a planting preview.

Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.
Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.

Formerly the Community Solar Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard, familiarly known as “COMSOG,” the greenhouse was bursting with enthusiastically growing things. Along with tiny seedlings there were full-grown greens that thrived in the indoor warmth all winter.

Beginning with its annual Mother’s Day Sale on May 11 and throughout that month, the greenhouse will offer these lovingly grown organic seedlings to home gardeners. The selection rivals that of a commercial nursery, and it includes lettuces and other greens, squash, cucumbers, and more. Heirloom tomatoes are a specialty along with conventional specimens.

“We have the most heirloom tomato varieties of any place on the Island by far,” Said Thalia Scanlan, Master Gardener and longtime board president.

Sungold tomatoes.
Sungold tomatoes.

Ms. Scanlan pointed proudly to the extensive list of peppers both hot and sweet, and a large variety of eggplants from the traditional Black Beauty to Asian, Italian, and other types. Flower seedlings and herbs will be for sale, and lush blooms in hanging baskets.

Outdoors, fascinated children clustered around a table as Diane Sylvia guided them in planting their own little pots of cranberry bean seeds. Along with the delight of real gardening, the children learned how the beans were used in early times.

Youngsters took their potted seeds home, excited to tend them and watch the beans sprout. Ms. Sylvia handed out fact sheets and even a traditional recipe for bread pudding baked in a pumpkin shell.

A retired math teacher, Ms. Sylvia is greenhouse manager. She was named to the post after having been an active member and volunteer for some time, even maintaining a blog and Facebook page for the facility.

At another table, Laurisa Rich shared information about rain barrels, a boon for environmentally minded gardeners. Ms. Rich, who organizes rain barrel sales for the Lagoon Pond Association, said these big green vats gather valuable, nutrient-rich water and can be equipped with a hose.

Herbs and pink and red geraniums soaked up the sunshine, and blooming daffodils welcomed visitors at the greenhouse door.

Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.
Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.

Drawn by the promise of spring, people came to browse, buy, ask questions, or help with chores. Those who wanted the pleasure of getting their hands dirty could transplant seedlings or plant seeds for blue or golden Hubbard squash. The squash plants, Ms. Sylvia said, serve as “decoys” to lure pests away from other vines. Another volunteer happily grabbed a rake and got busy tidying the grounds, while a little girl wielded a big watering can.

Behind the greenhouse, the garden plot was still at rest, but soon it will be planted. By mid-summer the garden provides an abundance of flowers and vegetables sold to members and at the Oak Bluffs Open Market. Specialties include lemon cucumbers, and okra that is hard to find here.

“People come just to buy okra,” said Ms. Sylvia.

Volunteer energy keeps the greenhouse thriving throughout the seasons as it has for many years. Members lend a hand all during the winter, sprouting and tending plants, then gear up production as springtime nears. Springtime sales of young plants are an economic mainstay and summer flower and produce sales bring needed revenue too.

Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.
Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.

At $30 for individuals, $35 for couples, membership fees are modest. Members are invited to volunteer and may purchase produce and plants at cut rates. A big benefit is picking greens year-round. There are more than 200 members on the roster, including some three dozen faithful volunteers. Others pitch in when possible.

During chilly months volunteers gather for a Wednesday chore day. After a busy morning tending plants they enjoy a potluck soup lunch with salad made from freshly picked greens growing close at hand.

According to Ms. Scanlan, doing chores in the greenhouse’s tropical atmosphere during cold winter weather is a delight, not a burden.

“It’s a very restorative kind of thing,” she said. “It’s a healthy thing. There’s nothing quite like it. In the winter you slog through the cold ugliness then you open the greenhouse door and you’re in another world. It makes you feel ‘we can get through this. It’s not a problem.

“It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work.., but that’s the joy.”

Organizers changed the facility’s name from the familiar “COMSOG” last year when the greenhouse celebrated its 30th anniversary. The change was an effort to bring the greenhouse into the public eye and let people know more about activities and opportunities.

A bright new green sign stands at the New York Avenue entrance and the jaunty artwork is echoed on a bright brochure. “Come Grow With Us,” is the message, “Learn, Grow, and Connect,” the motto.

Ms. Scanlan said the name change has had a revitalizing effect. “It is catching on and there’s a feeling of new energy,” she said. “People are really responding. There’s quite an upbeat feeling.”