Harvests of jewels, pockets of treasure

For several growing seasons, the multihued photographs of fields filled with wildflowers drew my gaze when I thumbed through seed catalogs. Rolling meadows dotted with daisies, sprinkled with scarlet poppies, and crowned with golden coreopsis radiated from those catalogs. I was determined to establish such a sight and pestered my husband, John, until one spring he disked up an eighth of an acre for me.

Back and forth I trudged, leveling the ground with a rake and tossing wildflower seeds. A phoebe called from the nearby copse as it watched me. Off to the west, gray clouds hung low over Lake Michigan and I quickened my step. A spring shower would be the perfect blessing to help the seeds swell and germinate.

Despite my efforts, only a few larkspurs towered pink and blue above the quack grass. Mice, voles, and starlings probably ate a portion of the seeds, but grass choked most of the baby plants. My husband informed me that I should have cover-cropped the soil first in order to conquer the quack grass. I tucked my dream field into a corner of my mind and hoped to try again some other time.

When my son's honeybee business expanded to 60 hives, many of our dinner discussions focused on the problem of "nectar valleys," those times in the growing season when bees have trouble finding an adequate source of nectar. Spring flowers and blooming orchards allow the bees to fill their supers swiftly in May, but come late June and early July, the nectar supply drops.

"We need more flowers," my husband said, a rare statement from a man who teases me about encircling my vegetable garden with old roses.

"How many flowers?" I asked, envisioning a trip to our friends' perennial farm.

"Acres and acres of flowers," John answered.

My vision of wildflower fields danced to the front of my mind.

While John disked, cover-cropped, and prepared the fields, I searched the seed catalogs for plants best suited for our climate and soil. Scientist that he is, John called the companies and requested information on which of those seeds were similar in size to clover seed. He chatted with the experts and explained that he wanted to plant a bed of clover beneath the flowers, so all the seeds must roll through his seed drill. The UPS truck rumbled up our lane and dropped off sacks of wildflower seeds.

Reds and golds swept over our sugar bush as John planted 30 acres with wildflower and clover seeds. During our late fall walks I taught him how to identify the different flower seedlings. Lake-effect snow finally insulated and protected the baby plants until the Chinooks of spring blew across our farm.

The orangy-gold of wallflowers first sprinkled the patchwork of green leaves. Soon daisies sparkled among the rising stalks of the cornflowers. Suddenly, silky poppies shimmered here and there until they finally swept across the fields in a blaze. Bobolinks took a liking to the sight and nested among the flowers. As I biked about the farm, they would rise, singing their bubbling call, their yellow patches flitting over the flowers that hummed with bees. Friends and strangers came to view the spectacle while my son stacked supers of honey.

I have reveled in this sight for a couple of years, but what thrills me most are the rogue flowers planted by birds or jostled out of the seed drill as it bumped from one field to another section of the farm. A single red poppy lights a row of blueberries. The sapphire of a cornflower sparkled at the edge of the asparagus patch.

They remind me of a midsummer party when my friend Deborah told the gathered children that the queen of the fairies had broken her necklace in our cherry orchard, one of the sites where flowers now grow. Earlier that morning Debbie had flung fistfuls of red, green, yellow, and blue plastic beads throughout the orchard. The children crept between the trees collecting plastic gems that they later strung onto necklaces. For years after that party, my sons continued to stumble upon plastic jewels as they walked that ground.

Like the queen of fairies' lost treasure, rubies, sapphires, and opals now glitter in far corners of our farm. I not only have fields filled with flowers, but hidden jewels waiting to be discovered.

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