seasonal stakeout

story by Michelle Sutton; photos courtesy Ellen Krzemien unless noted

Sunrise over the flower fields

For weeks after my interview with Ellen Krzemien (pronounced CRAZE-men), the beautiful produce I bought from her and her husband Jon stayed crisp in my fridge. Growing vegetables with her father’s expert guidance, The Krzemiens are helping to preserve their century-old family farm in the village of Springville, southeast of Buffalo. In recent years, Krzemien’s flowers and her already-iconic Flower Stand have emerged as a key resource for the farm as well.  

In 2007, Krzemien moved back to the family farm to help her parents. Always interested in home décor, she formed the Home Staging Source, one of the few companies of its kind in western New York. She prepared occupied homes for sale by working with the homeowners on simplifying and beautifying their décor so that potential homebuyers could better see possibilities for themselves. In the early years of the business, she would also pull from her own warehouse of furniture, accents, and art to stage vacant homes on the market. In the off-season, she still does occupied home staging, but she let go of the vacant home staging, which proved too labor-intensive to be profitable.  

The Flower Stand’s logo with an ethereal view on to the flower fields

 An avid gardener since childhood, Krzemien began growing flowers on the family farm to supply her home staging business. “Eventually I started putting bouquets out on the veggie stand and found they sold out quickly,” she says. “Then I was asked to provide flowers for weddings and other events; that evolved into having a U-Pick, which we keep expanding, and beginning in 2017, we started offering CSA flower subscriptions.” A blog post about the Flower Stand appeared on in 2018 and went viral, reaching more than 10,000 readers. “Things really blew up after that,” she says. 

Reliable gomphrena blooms well into fall
Daucus carota ‘Dara’ is Queen Anne’s lace, spun out into several colors

So successful has Krzemien’s enterprise been that last fall she was awarded a $25K Ignite Buffalo grant, part of a regional million-dollar Facebook Community Boost grant. As part of the competition, Krzemien presented her business plan (and showed off jugs of her flowers) to the grants panel and community members. She’s using the majority of the money to purchase a flower truck so that she can sell flowers at WNY markets, festivals, and other events and to make deliveries to CSA members and other customers.  

Running a CSA serves a practical purpose for every type of grower: subscriptions are purchased in the winter months, funding the acquisition of seeds and supplies at the time they are needed. “It also helps greatly with planning and infrastructure to know in advance how much income you’ll have coming in,” says Krzemien, a Master Gardener with the Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension. 

The plywood black bear, a perennial fixture at the back of the flower fields, gets a double-take from new visitors. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Krzemien says she enjoys the CSA and U-Pick sides of the business equally. The CSA is time-consuming in summer and fall in terms of making deliveries, while the U-Pick is labor intensive in the spring. “The U-Pick is up to one-and-a-half acres of flowers and every seedling is planted by hand, so that’s all we do for the month of May and well into June,” she says. “We do staggered plantings every three weeks of things like sunflowers, zinnias, and snapdragons. We also have two rows of perennials (including ornamental grasses), a few shrubs (mostly butterfly bushes), and one whole row of tuberous plants like dahlias that have to be dug up in the fall. The latest addition is 350 perennial lavender plants that will be ready for U-Pick in 2020.”  

Krzemien chooses to plow up the U-Pick field (minus the shrubs and perennials) entirely each spring, creating rows anew and reseeding grass in the aisles. “We like to have wide pathways so that the rows can be accessed by tractors for watering, wagons, strollers, and wheelchairs,” she says. “It’s important to me that this be a place families can come, take pictures, and have a relaxing time.” To that end, Krzemien has a free “Little Library” outpost, where grandparents can select a book to read to kids while their parents are cutting flowers.    

Krzemien is herself a grandmother to her daughter Jessica’s kids, Milana (5) and Luis (Tre) (3), who live nearby. Her daughter Jordan lives in Italy with her new husband. “In early June we went to Italy for their wedding,” Krzemien says. “For obvious reasons, Jordan assured me she would not pick a date in July or August,” she says, smiling. 

Krzemien working at dusk … (and past sunset!)

When poring through seed catalogs in January and February and ordering seeds, Krzemien tries to ensure a selection of annuals that, along with her perennials, will give her flowers from Mother’s Day all the way to Thanksgiving. Penstemon, red hot poker, peonies, delphinium, and yarrow shine in June for early season bouquets, while gomphrena, snapdragons, and rudbeckia are fall stars. “Little bluestem, if picked before seeds dry out and start dropping, is nice as a filler for a fall bouquet,” she says.   

In picking which selections to grow, she looks for good stem length (like tall zinnias instead of compact ones) and finds good options—except for mums. “I do wish I could find a mum that has a decent stem length, but I haven’t had luck with that,” she says. “Also, I make sure to trial things on a limited basis to be sure that their stems grow as described. Sometimes our microclimate doesn’t suit a plant that would grow in a nearby microclimate, or our soil isn’t just right.” 

Celebration of yellow

Weather in greater Buffalo can indeed be a challenge, and Krzemien is subject to the weather-related stress of any farmer. Her biggest challenge, however, is deer damage. “One year they ate the whole 200-foot row of sunflowers,” she says. “It was distressing not so much because of the cost of the seed, but because of the lost growing time.” Repellents tend to be too smelly for a U-Pick setting, and she hasn’t found the perfect fencing solution. “If I use a tall fence, it would absolutely detract from the charm and beauty people come here for—they take pictures of the gardens with the rolling land behind them,” she says. 

Krzemien is proud to be part of the resurgence of locally grown flowers. “I embrace the principles of the Slow Flower movement,” she says. The customers do, too. “They like coming here as a family and knowing they are supporting a local farmer. They understand that buying local flowers is helping Western NY agriculture as a whole. Plus, most people find that fresh local cut flowers are superior in terms of beauty and longevity.”  

Dark velvet pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea) is prized for both flower and seedpod. Photo by Michelle Sutton
Scabiosa stellata seedpods are popular with florists. Photo by Michelle Sutton.

Having done her own experiments with flower preservation, Krzemien is a bleach fan. “I know that might make some florists cringe, but of all the industry and home methods, I’ve found that the vase with a couple of drops of bleach has the longest-lasting, healthiest flowers.” (She recommends that folks recut the stems and change the water every third day at least.) 

Currently, Krzemien’s excited about the ornamental qualities of Nigella seed pods (“I have local florists come pick from me”); Daucus carota ‘Dara’ (produces white, burgundy, and pink Queen Anne’s lace flowers); lavender; geum; and Calla lily foliage. She grows all her own seedlings except the notoriously fussy Lisianthus, which she buys in plugs. If you visit The Flower Stand this fall or next season, you can talk flowers with her yourself. 

More info:

A Few of Krzemien’s Tips on Staging Your Home for Sale:
Landscape and Flowers
– You need to be able to see all or most the house. If you have overgrown trees and shrubs, they have to be tamed. Take down trees and shrubs that are blocking the windows or big ball shrubs that are no longer pleasing to the eye.  

– When using fresh flowers inside the home, stick with whites, browns, and greens—they tend to mesh best with peoples’ belongings and with wood and fabric. White flowers are best to prevent clashing with the surroundings. If you choose a yellow daffodil or something colorful, stick it with lots of earthy green foliage and/or brown grasses or seedpods. 

– For outside curb appeal, whether you do a container planting depends on the house. If you have a big porch, you might want two pots flanking the entry. However, there’s a hierarchy of needs that comes first before containers: are the outdoor lights clean? Is the flag tattered? Is the doormat new and porch swept? Address these first, and then see if containers will enhance the entrance or not.

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.


A Visit to Ballantyne Gardens

by cathym on September 9, 2019

story by Valerie Shaw; photo courtesy Ballantyne Gardens

When you think of gardening, using your ears is one of the last approaches that might come to mind, but at Ballantyne Gardens in Liverpool, what you hear is just as important as all the other senses. There’s the sweet hum of happy, busy bees, bumbling from flower to flower with big, plump, pollen-pants. There’s the splashing of a beautiful pond and several water plant pools; and the swish of tall, strong perennials perfect for this climate. There’s even a contented cluck-cluck-cluck of vigilant hens, scouting along beneath flowerpots to eliminate pests. 

Bald-face hornet collects nectar from a doublefile viburnum 

My family and I discovered Ballantyne Gardens recently while on my customary birthday plant hunt. Although the nursery is not vast, we spent nearly an hour there, and left feeling we had enjoyed an adventure. From the moment you pull into the small parking lot, your eyes feast. The aesthetic of the gardens are inspiring, intriguing, and thick with the joy of life. Multiple little buildings are nestled along the winding rows of beautiful plants, and there are secrets to discover all over the place. These gardens do what many gardens aspire to: They delight. 

Unique signage

If you are looking for native plants strong enough to weather our summer humidity and frigid winters and create the kind of yard that people slow down for, here is where you can find them. Thanks to organic practices and an understanding of working with our weather, Tim and Lisa Ballantyne offer plants that will not only thrive here in upstate New York, but also encourage pollinators to flock to your gardens. If you need information, the folks there take the time to talk. I enjoyed Tim’s excitement as he pointed out a stand of milkweed growing by the rain spouts. He made sure we could show our children the cute, plump Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Both Tim and Lisa are Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, actively engaged in learning the newest growing methods and gardening trends. With degrees in horticulture and landscaping, this gardening team has plenty of skill and knowledge and are on point for organic gardening. 

Pond plants

Started in 1997, Ballantyne Gardens has grown and flourished. With a “customers come first” attitude and a gentle, organic approach, Ballantyne is a nursery that local folks love. Even in the cooler months, the nursery is busy. There are houseplants of all kinds, statues, garden decor, seeds, and tools, in addition to a wonderfully whimsical—and plentiful—selection of fairy garden items. The Ballantynes work closely with the Liverpool library, offering classes like wreath making, terrarium building, and herb gardens. They also give presentations to local groups and have hosted bus trips to various amazing gardening adventures, including the New York Botanical Gardens, the Philadelphia Flower show, and other New England destinations. You can follow Ballantyne Gardens on Facebook or check out their blog on their website. 

Flower tower

What I enjoy most about Ballantyne was the overall loveliness. It is the kind of place that curious gardeners can get lost in, be inspired by, and discover treasure. I went home that day with some native plants for my pollinator friends; a vigorous, highly coveted rose plant for my birthday; and some warm, fuzzy memories of very friendly folks and their delightful gardens. 


You can visit Ballantyne Gardens at their website, or, better yet, hop in your car, and take a drive on over. They’re located at 4825 Hopkins Road in Liverpool. 

Valerie Shaw is a long time garden-center aficionado. Valerie lives in West Monroe, NY, with her husband, two kids, Harvey the wondermutt, and a platoon of compost-making goats and poultry.


by Michelle Sutton 

Homesteaders Sean Dembrosky in Trumansburg (Tompkins County) and Akiva Silver in Spencer (Tioga County) are making a full-time living growing nursery crops within a permaculture system. At its most essential, permaculture aims to mimic the structure of natural ecosystems to maximize productivity and sustainability. Food forests are a form of permaculture in which a woodland ecosystem is created with edible plants at every layer—trees, shrubs, climbing plants, perennials, and annuals. 

In these conversations with Dembrosky and Silver, the concepts of permaculture and food forests begin to come to life. There’s so much more to explore. Fortunately, both men are passionate about sharing their extensive knowledge. 

Sean Dembrosky (left) used his YouTube platform, Edible Acres, to introduce viewers to Akiva Silver’s channel, Twisted Tree Farm.

On Dembrosky’s YouTube channel, EdibleAcres, he and his wife Sasha have posted nearly 400 how-to videos for more than 40,000 subscribers; see also their website, Silver recently released his first book, Trees of Power: Ten Essential Arboreal Allies and posts technical and philosophical writing on his website, He also hosts a YouTube channel, Twisted Tree Farm, and an online course—both focused on woody plant propagation.  

The forest-nursery at Edible Acres. Photo courtesy Edible Acres


I grew up in northern New Jersey where my Mom converted most of our tiny yard into food production, so I was always immersed in growing plants. I went to college for fine arts with a focus on computer graphics, but I was always gardening on the side wherever I was renting or in containers if no land was available. 

The direction of my life was greatly influenced by an amazing professional photographer named Jon Naar who had traveled all over the world. A World War II vet who had met Gandhi, John was in his mid-80s when I met him. At his house in the middle of Trenton, he had a concrete backyard upon which he grew abundant veggies and fruits in massive soil-filled containers. When I came to a crossroads of either going all in on computer graphics or pursuing my interest in farming, John pushed me towards the latter. He saw where the world was heading in terms of fossil fuels and food security and thought that farming and sustainability would be a better use of my life.  

Edible Acres happened over time; it wasn’t a buy-the-land-and-start-the-nursery sort of thing. I bought degraded, very low-cost land on top of a hill in Enfield, New York and started planting trees everywhere, training myself in permaculture, and making an unlimited number of mistakes! One key connection was with Stephen Breyer of Tripple Brook Nursery in Southampton, MA, who showed me his nursery system. It was very feral and loose, a wild food-forest style that he would dig up plants to sell from. It helped me see what was possible; before that, I always thought nurseries had to be high plastic tunnels, drip irrigation … lots of inputs and extra work.  

At Edible Acres we are particularly interested in providing rapidly replicating plants for food forests. I see food forests as human-stewarded spaces that closely mimic forests or hedgerows, with an eye towards making food and medicine. Food forests are about the perpetual management of young forests; you’re hitting the reset button lightly, fairly often, to create the highest density, diversity, and number of interrelationships among all the species in the system—the plants, mammals, bugs—the whole shebang. This dynamic approach creates a really resilient and alive system.  

Our little permaculture nursery in Trumansburg fully funds our whole life and that’s pretty exciting. We like the place we’re at and don’t want to grow the business just for the sake of getting bigger. This spring we’re shipping almost 300 separate orders from our tiny garage to places around the country. 

This past year I’ve been particularly psyched with elderberry (Sambucus spp.) and black currants (Ribes nigrum), in part because with the massive deer and rabbit pressure that many people like us experience, these are shrubs that readily regrow after browsing. They are also easy to plant by cuttings by direct sticking in the earth; we can plant 15 to 20 per minute. The demand for nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa)—from people and rabbits—is astronomical as well. 

Humans love Nanking cherry fruits, and rabbits love to gnaw on the bark in winter. Photo Courtesy Edible Acres
Edible Acres grows sea kale (Crambe maritima), a perennial green hardy to Zone 5. Photo Courtesy Edible Acres

Plants have to be tough to grow here, and they grow stronger for it. Our main nursery has only one 10-x-30-foot area that has rabbit protection; other than that, 100 percent of the nursery is exposed to deer, rabbits, voles, and mice. We plant enough cuttings and seed to weather that pressure and still meet our financial needs. We have no irrigation, really poor soils as a starting point, very little sunlight, and the land floods in the winter and gets bone dry in the summer. In this way, it’s an intense testing ground! Once these tough plants get to gardens with cushier conditions, they really flourish. 

There’s this limiting idea that in order to practice permaculture you have to design everything out in advance, an idea that can keep people from starting. Speaking from my experience after 15 years of not designing, it’s fine to just start planting and learn as you go. Permaculture overarchingly is a wonderful framework, but more than anything it’s the principles ( and ethics that I feel have the most value.  


Akiva Silver on his land in Spencer. Photo by Michelle Sutton

I became really interested in wilderness survival about 18 years ago and started spending all of my time in the woods to try to learn how to live off the land. However, the more time I spent in wilderness areas, the more I started to see that humans can have a positive impact on the world, like through planting trees. About 12 years ago, I started teaching myself plant propagation, focusing on trees and shrubs with food value for people and wildlife and medicinal and lumber value for people. It went from a hobby, to side income, to now selling more than 20,000 bare root seedlings of more than 100 varieties each year. 

However much I produce, I can sell, but I don’t care to grow the business any larger; I want to keep life simple, and I choose to be satisfied where I’m at. I have help in the busy spring grafting and fall harvesting and shipping times, but most of the year it’s just me. Being able to work from home is what I always wanted, and really it was building a website and doing mail order that made this all possible. My wife Megan homeschools our three kids: Forrest, eight, Cyrus, six, and Oren, three.  

Those who buy trees from us are gardeners, homesteaders, permaculture folks, wildlife conservationists, other nurseries, and even doomsday preppers. The wildlife conservation folks plant more trees than anyone, I find. They plant hundreds of thousands of chestnuts and chinquapins (Castanea spp.), hazelnuts (Corylus spp.), persimmons (Diospyros virginiana), apples (Malus spp.), pears (Pyrus spp.), and the like. 

Hazelnut is a permaculture staple because of its nuts, pollen, rapidly regenerating shoots, wildlife cover, hedgerow suitability, and more. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Fir0002, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Spring is grafting season, planting the whole nursery, getting it all mulched, and then by May I weed and water and check on things. In the fall we dig up everything. We have a big festival in the fall called Nut Bonanza, a celebration of nut tree crops. There are stations for people to experience different tree crops, so we do hazelnut oil pressing, make hickory milk, crack black walnuts, roast chestnuts, and make acorn flour.  

For someone who’s new to permaculture, I would suggest focusing on really easy-to-establish things that are high reward, like black currants and raspberries. These will build confidence to try more things. Start with building the soil and then putting in the smaller berry bushes. Eventually you can work your way up to fruit trees. Either way, you’ll want to spend significant time building your soil, much like you would prep soil for growing tomatoes—you’re striving for the crumbly, rich, well-drained soil that organic matter makes possible.  

Fruit trees don’t have to be difficult; it depends on the type and the site. Persimmons and mulberries (Morus spp.) are very easy to grow, as are some apple tree varieties. If someone is wanting to put in a chestnut orchard and they’re on a clay hillside where wholesale amending of soil is not realistic, I would encourage them to create big berms or mounds by scraping any available topsoil downhill, then plant on those berms. If you’re growing in sandy soil, the task is to get as much organic matter into the system as possible. It could be raking up all the grass clippings in the area. Use what’s around you and nearby—I live near a saw mill so I use sawdust, which works great, and I use manure from a local dairy farmer. There’s not one right amendment or planting method; it depends on what you’re trying to do and what’s available.  

In permaculture, I think the most important thing is to keep the soil covered. If you look at nature as an example, the earth naturally wants to be covered, either with plants or with leaves. If it’s not covered, all the organic matter is burning off really fast and nutrients are leaching out. Keep piling on the mulch, using materials around you, to protect the soil. The bacteria and worms and fungus are going to start working on that mulch, and that will make your soils alive. You can’t put those organisms there but you can create really good habitat and then the organisms will flourish—and they do the work of feeding the plants. 

You know how you get inspired about different things in your life, but the feeling can pass fairly quickly? If you can act on it, it can grow into something amazing—and those amazing things are what’s going to heal the earth. You can’t know what chain reaction your actions will set into motion. For example, scientists introduced wolves back into Yellowstone Park with the initial intent of controlling elk and deer populations. Cognizant of the wolves, the elk and deer stopped feeding in open areas, including along riverways. The vegetation along rivers then exploded with growth, erosion was controlled, beavers came back, and the actual course of rivers was changed—all because wolves were reintroduced. In growing plants or in life in general, it’s important when you have those inspiration bombs to light them—don’t just put them away. 

Trees of Power:
Ten Essential Arboreal Alliesby Akiva Silver

(2019, Chelsea Green Publishing)

Silver’s first book, Trees of Power, is broken down into two parts. Part One teaches about propagation and planting skills. Part Two explores ten trees (Arboreal Allies) in depth: 

Chestnut: The Bread Tree 
Apples: The Magnetic Center 
Poplar: The Homemaker 
Ash: Maker of Wood 
Mulberry: The Giving Tree 
Elderberry: The Caretaker 
Hickory: Pillars of Life 
Hazelnut: The Provider 
Black Locust: The Restoration Tree 
Beech: The Root Runner

In the section on black locust, for instance, Silver explores how many different kinds of insects feed on the leaves and how important those insects are for bird populations, and how the flowers are edible and produce a huge nectar flow (Silver says they taste like sweet peas). “Black locust transforms landscapes, like places where they blow the top off a mountain and leave a wasteland, black locust is able to come in and transform no soil into soil,” Silver says. “It can fix carbon and nitrogen out of the air at extremely high rates. It’s pulling stuff out of the sky and putting it into the ground to set the stage for other things to grow again in abandoned pastures, roadsides—anywhere that’s been degraded.” 

Another thing that makes black locust so valuable, Silver explains, is its rot resistance, which makes it ideal for boardwalks, docks, picnic tables, playgrounds, etc. New rules around docks, for instance, prohibit the use of treated lumber, so the options are tropical hardwood or black locust. “The demand for black locust is super high right now,” Silver says. “Fortunately, they grow so fast that by age seven to 10 you could be cutting the trees down and harvesting fence posts and they will regrow, giving you an endless supply. The regrowth on black locust with an established root system can be 10 feet in a year.” 

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor living in New Paltz.