July 2nd, 2013 § § permalink
Each year my garden sprouts more and more chamomile. It comes earlier each year, too. This year it was all done by the end of June.
This leaves a shorter harvest time, and unfortunately I can’t tend my garden in Gresham as much I have been able to in the past. This means a few long harvesting days rather than a constant, steady harvest in better bite-sized chunks (which I prefer). This also means that a lot of my chamomile went to seed before I could get to it. » Read the rest of this entry «
April 17th, 2010 § § permalink
I’ve been wondering lately how I’ve got to where I am now. At times it seems like life throws random people, events or places at you with no regard to your plans or wishes. But upon closer inspection, I found that those “random” events that “happened to me” more closely resemble an orchestra finding its harmony than a lottery.
This is most apparent when I think about how got into gardening in the first place. At first thought, I began gardening in college my then boyfriend (now husband) and I started a garden in the back yard our the house we rented. We borrowed a tiller, dug up the lawn, and planted squash, beans, kohlrabi, mustard greens, beets, carrots, tomatoes and hot peppers. Occasionally we watered and weeded, but mostly it kind of grew on its own. It was actually one of our better gardens.
Each summer after that, our gardens evolved and grew. I wish I could say they got progressively better, too, but we had bad years and good years in no particular order. One year in was dedicated almost entirely to making sacrifices to the gardening gods and weeds.
In 2007, someone asked me how I got interested in plants and was not satisfied with the “I dunno, it just happened one day in college” answer. Here are the major contributions to my love of plants and gardening.
Grandparents – My maternal grandparents were role models and teachers about gardening. As a child, I would stay with my grandparents in the county during the summers. They had a huge garden, veggies, fruits and flowers. My grandpa would thread cucumber flowers into small-mouthed jars, and after they grew into full-sized cucs in the jar he would show me to my amazement. I was also amazed at the way potatoes grew under ground.
Grandma told me all the names of her annuals, like morning glory, bachelor’s buttons and petunias, and showed me how to collect and save marigold seeds for the next year. My favorite part of the garden was the lying under the aromatic dill and watching monarch caterpillars make their chrysalis. And eating the monster strawberries that they grew. In fact, I ate so many in one summer that I became allergic to them, and couldn’t eat them without breaking out into hives until I was 18 (thank god I grew out oh that one!).
Underneath the two story house (that had four porches, a front, side, back and sun porch) was a dug out cellar. The steps to the house could be lifted up and propped to revel the earth “steps” into the cellar. Down there it was always cool. Jars of pickles and other canned goods lined the small space on handmade shelves. Apples and potatoes were wrapped individually in newspaper and stored in cardboard boxes. I loved going down into the cellar. It was like stepping into the underworld – with lots of food.
Grandma and Grandpa were not farmers themselves, but they were surrounded by crops, as they rented out the adjacent land to farmers. We would go to Threshing Parties (Thrashing, they pronounced it) and look at old farm equipment and displays. There was the various antique farm equipment they had scattered around their property, including horse and human-drawn tillers and potato harvesters. One summer there we visited Grandpa’s friend who was a parsnip farmer. His massive field held lacy, emerald green tops up to your knee of parsnips so sweet and aromatic you could smell them wafting in the air. We pulled some up and Grandma made incredibly delicious parsnip gratin for lunch.
Genes? – I owe a lot of my interests and skills to my father’s side of the family. I didn’t have a lot of contact with my father after my parents split when I was three. When I would see my dad in the summer, he would show me his incredible gardens of vegetable I had never heard of, like endive, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and a structure resembling a dog house that was teaming with shiitake mushrooms.
In the woods, he showed me a species of cactus he discovered (growing in Wisconsin!) and American ginseng he grew and sold. One of my aunts invited me over for lunch and I’ll never forget it. She served me some organic, crunchy granola, healthy type food (looking back it must’ve been something like quinoa, kale and tofu) that I despised at the time but now I love and appreciate (and grow) that sort of food now.
Growing up where I did – The beautiful river town where I grew up, St. Croix Falls, WI was a grand place to have a childhood. It was there that I gained an appreciated for the beauty and bounty of nature. My friends and I would spend summer afternoons roaming the streets and woods hitting up the blackberries, June berries and columbine and finish off with a dip in the river. We played doctor (innocent, I swear) in the woods with lance-like lily leaves to wrap our broken limbs and the collected dew inside to wash our wounds.
While I can’t say that I come from a long line of farmers, I bet my lineage contains people who lived close to the land. Most people (dare I say all?) of the past had to rely on the foods around them (whether gathered or harvested) for survival. Now is an exciting time because people are again electing to grow food of their own. I am excited to continue gardening, hopefully for my whole life!
March 15th, 2010 § § permalink
Seedlings on Parade - May Day Parade 2009
I hope you are all enjoying the increasing daylight and the mild weather! This time of the year my mailbox overflows with gardening catalogs and I start to dream about all the plants I want to add to my garden. Late winter is the perfect time to plan a new plot, window box, landscaping or accents.
While you’re at it, why not make some of those new additions medicinal plants? Here are some places I like to get medicinal herbs:
- Horizon Herbs – a huge variety of medicinal, organic, at-risk seeds, root stock and plants. horizonherbs.com
- Jung Seed co. – a Wisconsin seed and plant company with a large variety of annuals, including at-risk woodland plants like black cohosh, wild ginger and bloodroot. jungseed.com
- United Plant Savers – check out this fabulous organization dedicated to preserving at-risk plants. Members receive bi-yearly deals on live rootstock or plants that are endangered, like American gingseng, lady slipper, blue cohosh, butterfly weed and more. United Plant Savers’ mission is to protect native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada and their native habitat while ensuring an abundant renewable supply of medicinal plants for generations to come. unitedplantsavers.org
There are many greenhouses that carry medicinal herbs (not labeled as such!), ones to look for are Lady’s mantle, monarda or bee balm, mallow, echinacea, solomon seal, wormwood, violet, black cohosh, ballon flower, lung wort and of course the culinary herbs. Creeping thyme, catnip and lemon balm are my favorites for the garden.
Rich Soil is Out Real Wealth - May Day Parade 2009
All this talk about gardening makes me consider how gardening is important to herbalists and herbalism as a discipline. Many herbalists are gardeners or wildcrafters, who deeply understand the ways of wild and/or cultivated plants. Since herbalists cover a vast scope of practice, from Chinese medicine, naturopathy, folk herbalism, plant researchers, midwives, bioregionalists, permaculturists and so on, it is natural that herbalists engage with gardening and plants in different ways.
Some of the early Western religious figures, physicians, philosophers were quite often botanists and herbalists (as were multitudes of lay men and women). Often their connection to the earth and plants flavored their lives work. Hildegard von Bingen, the multidisciplinary German nun of the 1100’s, was an herbalist and healer who added a bit of ‘greenness’ to her spiritual, musical, and scholarly work. Wikipedia say of this; ”…‘greenness’ is an earthly expression of the heavenly in an integrity that overcomes dualisms. This ‘greenness’ or power of life appears frequently in Hildegard’s works.” Goethe called the upright gesture of plants the “spiritual staff”, which “might be seen as a vessel for holding and organizing cosmic energy and transmuting it into more earthy energy” (Jill Stansbury).
As modern herbalists, we can make our own individual connection to plants as simply as observing the wildlife in our yard, enjoying a bouquet of flowers, or as complexly as spending years cultivating expansive garden beds or studying botany. Many insight can be had from observing plants as they grow, and a bit of appreciation can go a long way.
October 16th, 2008 § § permalink
Fall is a perfect time to prepare a garden bed for next year’s season. Over the winter, the prepared bed will decompose, leaving you with fertile soil ready for planting in the spring. Using this “lasagna” method will eliminate the need to dig up turf, fertilize, or pull weeds like mad next year. Cardboard is much more beneficial than the typically chosen black plastic, as it decomposes while eliminating weeds and turf. Comfrey is chosen because of its superb nutrient content and decomposability. The soil will be fertile with minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron, and more.
||The first step is to place carefully cleaned (no packing tape pr staples) and cut cardboard directly onthe surface you wish to transform into a bed. Cover this with over an inch or compost (unfinished works just fine).
|| Add some leaves over the prepared dirt.
||Gather more than a few handfuls of comfrey from your local source (Duluth has three that I know of) and layer over the leaves. If you cannot find comfrey, use another source of nitrogen, like grass clippings. Note: Comfrey spreads. Take care to only use comfrey leaves, not any part of the root–unless you want a stand of comfrey in your new garden bed next spring!
||Repeat cover yet again with leaves, then top off with a layer of unfinished compost. Let time, weather and the synergy of compost, nitrogen and carbon do it’s thing. In the spring, enjoy planting in your new bed!
February 8th, 2008 § § permalink
One of my favorite things to do as a child was to scrounge for Blackberries. Even though I lived in smack dab in the middle of town, it was easy enough to find the thimble-sized deep purple berries in the patches of woods scattered around the river town. Once I wrote in my diary in the summer after 4th grade, “Today I had Blackberries for lunch and Honeysuckle [Columbine] for desert”. Ah, the sweet life of a 10 year old…
Blackberries are still my favorite berry, though I am also partial to Blueberries. While I was reading over my notes from my internship in Vermont this fall, I came across a tidbit about Blackberry. It was from a wonderfully informative Saturday class taught by Micki called “Using Plants to Heal the Earth.”
“Blackberries keep people back! Brambles are seen in area of development; warrior plants that protect the impeded ecosystem from more mindless invasion. They are pioneers, creating fungal soil as woody plants do, making the soil hospitable to forests if they ever grow back.”
A good friends noted that Portland, OR is full of extremely thorny Blackberries, making it impossible to navigate through the woody areas. Now I know why they are there. I love it that more and more I am seeing plants as keepers of the earth. Each has a purpose or few. They can tell us about the ecosystem and the soil. We can stop fighting them in our gardens and lawns and start thanking them for their hard work.
There are few plants that I don’t welcome into my backyard garden now, especially since my beds are very new. One exception: I am not too crazy about brassicas in my garden, they grow too well and crowd out other plants. The plants that naturally grow in my beds that were sod for decades prior help me in two ways. First they tell me about the quality of my soil. Second, the “weeds” work to make the soil more hospitable. I wonder what the mustard says about my soil…any ideas?
The Dandelions, Burdocks and Mulleins break up the compacted soil, calling in nutrients from deep down with their taproots. I have heard that Daikon radishes also can do the same trick as Burdock, both send roots down around 15 feet. If I feel the Dandelions are getting out of hand, I cut off their flower heads before they can spread. I am so excited to have a second-year Mullein to watch over my garden this summer and provide food (their seeds) for the birds in the fall. Quack Grass metabolizes Calcium that may be in my soil by tied up (chemically unavailable). Upon Micki’s suggestion, to aid in getting rid of the rhizomeous grass, I have mulched with Comfrey (a great source of Calcium) gathered from the neighborhood patch.
In my back yard, Ground Ivy (or as Minnesotans say, “Creeping Charlie”) has proliferated into a stunning carpet of purple when it flowers. Ground Ivy is wonderful at absorbing lead and other heavy metals in our body and in our yards; funny how the more my neighbor sprays chemical pesticides in his lawn the more Ground Ivy grows in my lawn! At the end of the season, I pull it out and put it in the trash; I suspect it is full of toxic chemicals and can’t muster up the nerve to compost it.
Some of the volunteers in my garden beds are great edibles: crunchy Purslane and Lambs Quarters, one of my favorite steamed greens. Chickweed grows under the shade of the red maple in the front yard, and Forget-me-nots line the cracks in the pavement. Even Plantains growing in the cracks are trying to their job of breaking up soil. I don’t use a lot of the plants in my yard for eating and medicine because of they grow too close to the driveway (or in the driveway), I value them because I feel that part of their life is creating a healthier environment. I have realized my role as a gardener is to facilitate.