Happy Summer Solstice! The height of the season, the longest day of the year. So far, we may have a lot of rain, but a spectacular season with April Showers bringing May flowers and beautiful eighty degree days to linger in the garden.
My New Year begins with Winter Solstice on or around December 21, the longest night (about sixteen hours) of the year and believe it or not the days proceed to get longer. One can't really tell until February, but take heart, in the dead of Winter is the Return of the Sun.
Earth revolves on an axis and as it spins it's axis tilts North and South. Here at the Summer Solstice, the axis begins to tilt away from us (South) and at the Winter Solstice, the axis starts to tilt back. In between we have the Spring/Autumn Equinox followed by the deep dark down to Winter Solstice. Spring Equinox is the bright light that drives us to the height of Summer Solstice.
Imagine a world where time was not kept for us. Where we could only look up and follow Moon and Sun. How long would it take us to figure out the rhythm of the seasons? When we were in the Paradise of the Caribbean and Africa, the Southern Hemisphere, when a harsh Winter could not kill us? Spending lazy days fishing and growing food. Fail to plan here in the Northeast and one could lose their life.
With the New Year at Winter Solstice, the excitement for the season begins. At Summer Solstice we assess the gains and losses of the season so far. I did not get Lavender, Wormwood or Marigold in Spring. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Labiatae, Shrub, Perennial, Mediterranean), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium, Asteraceae, Perennial, North Africa, Eurasia), Marigold (Tagetes minuta, T. patula, Asteraceae, Annual, Guatemala, Mexico). I can try again with Lavender and Wormwood on my deck for an Autumn planting, but it's too late for Marigold. I got Marigold from seed, but they rot when I transplanted them. I grow them in my living room so they don't get leggy, but when I transplanted them, I should have put them outside on the deck to dry out and take. There just was not enough sun in the living room. I also didn't get Sunroot pickled (Helianthus tuberosus, Asteraceae, Perennial, Turtle Island). I read that native Americans use them like Radish and I love to pickle Radish, so I make a couple of pints of pickled Sunroot. By the time I got to them, they were three feet tall and the tuber had no innards left. It was three weeks after the Spring Equinox. Visons of what to improve upon begin here, and what if anything new I want to grow. I've been considering perennial food crops for the last few years at Sargent-Downing. We may never use the Spiral for vegetables. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis, Asparagaceae, Perennial, Africa) has been there since I've been there so it would be nice to extend the section. Berries in beds West of the Spiral would also be nice. That's as far as I've gotten thinking about it. Peppers are only half a bed I realize this season so considering some thing for the other half would be good. Possibly Fennel. I love Fennel, but Marc does not so I don't need much, maybe a quarter of the bed, maybe Ground Cherry in the fourth quarter.
Autumn Equinox is that final push to the end of the season. Processing the harvest will have begun in August. Roots and seeds can be harvested in Autumn. Visons of next season begin for me here. All my crops are planted, time to harvest and process.
For me, coupled with Moon, I find an ebb and flow of sowing and reaping. I pray at the New Moon. Winter Solstice like New Moon has all the promise of what I can conjure in my imagination. I can send my vision out into the universe knowing the energy of creation works for me. I buy seed to manifest my vision. Spring Equinox is that first quarter Moon where I put my vision into action starting seed April 1. Summer Solstice has the energy of fruition like the Full Moon as my dreams manifest and I start to give thanks for my first harvest. I am grateful at the Summer Solstice for the weather Mother Earth has given me. Autumn Equinox is that ebb in the season like the waning Moom drifting to darkness, where I've done my very best and give thanks for the gift of a bountiful season. It has brought peace to my life to follow the rhythm of the seasons with Solstice/Equinox and Moon to guide me.
I got Tomato (Solanum lycopersicon, Solanaceae, Annual, Mexico) in just before the Equinox. I fell a week behind during propagation and the clouds lingered so long Tomato is pretty small, taking them directly out of the seeding trays instead of having transplanted them into pots like I usually do. Cabbage has come directly out of trays for the second season now. I'll have all my crops this season. Mustard Mix, Peppers and Parsley left to go.
Happy Summer Solstice! It's time to celebrate. Festival season has begun here in Beacon and I have that first opportunity to pause, breath and give thanks for Earth's bounty. The feverish drive from Spring falls away and I start to linger in the garden. Here's wishing you have brilliance in your garden. That you have dreamed big and manifested your vision. I am in the gardens which is all I ever want. I am spending my life outside. Twenty years here through Botanical Gardens, the Parks Department and now my gardens. I dreamed of being outside, so I am and it is good. A good life.
I have planted Kale, Beets, Corn and Cabbage. It's late and my Tomatoes and Peppers are still quite small, but I will get Tomatoes in the ground here just before the Summer Solstice. Peppers, Mustard Mix, Parsley, Squash and Beans will follow. I didn't get Lavender and Wormwood from seed in the greenhouse, but I will try again in July on my deck for an Autumn planting.
The rain continued into May which is why my Tomatoes and Peppers are so small. I did fall a week behind in getting them started. I got very few Basil plants as well so I may have to purchase starts. Basil rot last season with all the rain and cool temperatures. The mornings are cool here in the beginning of June, so I think I'll be okay this late. I don't think I've ever gotten Tomatoes in before June 15.
We have been challenged managing A Farm for All! and White Pine Community Farm. We've decided to manage the space with a Core of four of us which means we learn what we can manage and then build from there. We used to have tenants in the house, but emptied out the space to offer Air Bnb. We have to make taxes by October. We haven't achieved tax exempt status on the land as a non-profit yet. We have to do more work with official low income entities. We are also researching grants for A Farm for All!
White Pine now has a microgreens business, Sharon Mountain Greens which should prove to be a sustaining moneymaker. At least two of us in the Core have been planting for White Pine, Burdock, Marshmallow, Chamomile and weeding Dandelion. White Pine is also an Herbal CSA.
We have gained a Hemp farmer and his partner who is going to use some land as a test site to learn how to grow. Very exciting as he is black. African-Americans have been locked out of the Medical Marijuana industry, but as CBD takes off these two partners seem to be at the forefront.
There is no industry African-Americans dominate in America. We may be part of the music and sports industries, but we do not own much of it. African-Americans were self sufficient in Tulsa, OK in a town called Greenwood until race riots broke out in 1921. Known as Black Wall Street, white residents killed up to 300 blacks and burnt the town to the ground. Some residents remained and rebuilt, but for the most part the town was obliterated. Some day we will learn how to manage this fearful, hateful, arrogant, hypocrite who has the audacity to believe this world was made only for him. If indeed Africa is the cradle of civilization, this European would be the last incarnation of humans, a rebellious teenager wishing to murder their parents. Perhaps woman should apologize for relegating man to breeding during matriachial culture and Black people should apologize for discriminating against the albino (to this day) and we would be on the road to allowing one another. Let me say it here. We are so sorry!
We have to start somewhere. We have to believe there is enough for everyone and there is! Basic Income Guarantee and free housing for the homeless have been tested and the numbers don't lie, but here we have this authoritarian victim who would like us to be as miserable as them. This focus on money and power above all else has produced this abhorrent psychotic character. They are us and we are them. A product of our evolution.
Having no children, my plants are my babies. Last Wednesday was perfect weather, 77 degrees, sunny with a breeze, so I lingered in the garden four hours. It's prep bed and plant season. To look back over a Cabbage bed planted is so satisfying, Cabbage (Brassica oleracea, Brassicaceae, Biennial grown as an annual, eastern Mediterranean, Asia Minor). Contains beta carotene and Vitamin C, outer leaves contain vitamin E. May be the origin of our ball games, used as the ball.
Kale (Brassica oleracea, Brassicaceae, Biennial, Europe) Our Brassica family of plants are derived from Cabbage so many of the plants are named Brassica oleracea and separated into different groups. Kale has been grown as far back as the Greek and Roman Empires. Contains calcium, iron, beta carotene, vitamins E and C. Considered a primitive Cabbage. I direct seed Kale in May. I make containers of cooked Kale for the Winter. We have Kale for Christmas after a good season. I started growing a 15' bed instead of a six foot bed last year so that I would get a pot of greens from one harvest.
Beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris, Chenopodiaceae, Biennial grown as an annual for swollen root and young leaves, dates back to Assyrian times). A bit higher in carbohydrates than other vegetables, contains folic acid and potassium. I also direct seeded Beet in May. I have had digestive issues all my life and figured out the value of fermented foods quite awhile ago so I process pickles and make sauerkraut for Winter. I just love pickled Beets in January! Sargent-Downing is grown communally and Beet is one of the gifts a former member left me. Thank you Nicole!
Corn (Zea mays, Graminae, Annual, Mexico) High in carbohydrates and fiber, contains protein and vitamin B. What to say about one of our most denigrated crops. Grown for cows and not humans. Cows don't eat corn, but if you feed them corn for three months, they bulk up quick for slaughter. If cows eat corn for six months, they die. Corn may have been cultivated in Mexico in 7000BCE. The colonizers found Corn, Beans and Squash growing together in native fields. Known as the Three Sisters in indigenous culture, Corn, Beans and Squash were the staple foods of the natives providing, fiber, protein and vitamin C. I grow Corn, Beans and Squash at Sargent-Downing. I honor our native ancestors and wish to learn the old ways. Beans grow up the stalk of the Corn plant and provide nutrients to the soil, while Squash covers the ground with her giant, leaves keeping down weeds. The Three Sisters were grown in mounds and a fish was placed in the mound for fertilizer.
It's time to harvest Wild Bergamot leaves for tea, (Monarda fistulosa, Labiatae, Shrub, Turtle Island). The leaves get Powdery Mildew once the flowers develop. We can return and harvest the flowers for tea as well. Minty flavor with a cacao backbeat, aromatherapy, good for digestive issues and colds through Winter.
It's also time to harvest Garlic Scapes, the flower stalk of Garlic (Allium sativum, Alliaceae, Perennial, grown as an annual for bulbs, Western Asia). From the taste to its medicinal properties, Garlic is a plant universally loved. Good for the heart, infections, uterine tumors and even to ward of witches. I make a Garlic honey annually and pickle the Scapes, which taste just like Garlic. We have to cut off the Scapes to get the bulb to grow. By Winter I have bunches of Garlic hanging on my doors. No Vampires here!
I look forward to the warm Spring days to linger in the garden. Unfortunately, Mama is constantly weeping, overcasting our days, washing our mess away and reclaiming herself. We have no choice to take the ride and watch the show waiting to come out the other side.
My growing season has consisted of propagation in April, planting in May, harvest and weeding from June to September and harvest and planting September to November. Here in the Northeast in the last four years our entire growing season has shifted from March - October to April to November. I am a purist and a simpleton. I have no desire to jump the season and start seed under lights. I wait for the sun in a greenhouse. My journey is harmony with Earth. Honor and respect for Mother. I do recall it becoming cold pretty quickly last November, though. We have experienced extremes of temperature here in the Northeast over my thirteen years upstate. I have become fearful of the cold. I heat up quickly (hot flashes, though I've been a Hot Mama my whole life) and I cool down quickly as well. We often dip down into the single digits in Winter, not to mention regular snow.
This season, though, I have been, instead of planting Hiddenbrooke (my herb garden) in particular, weeding through May. I realize I should have killed the grass before I planted. My method at Groundwork (my old herb garden) was to kill the grass then dig it up with a cultivator, but I felt I took up too much soil (at least 2 - 3 inches) so I didn't want to do the same this time so I pulled the grass instead. As I write here I realize it is not grass that I am weeding right now, but Sasa or Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum, Poaceae, Annual, Asia) so technically, by pulling the grass I did kill it making way for Stiltgrass.
I wanted to open six beds this season. I probably still can through Summer and then plant them in Autumn maintaining my process. I have black plastic that I can lay down to kill the grass. I think that I am engaging the space and making way for the new plants. The garden has always been grass.
I engage space, allowing the wild to dwell and, depending on the garden, incorporate my Plant Family be it vegetables or herbs. Half the herb plants are wild and it is quite the adventure to allow them. Flora Jones Garden has become my wild forage garden. I do plant a spiral of vegetables, but for the most part, the garden is wild (to the great chagrin of the neighbors).
Lawn is considered a sign of wealth and English envy, harking back to the rolling hills of the English countryside. I'll take a lawn with the added color of Ground Ivy, Dandelion and Violet any day. Incidentally delicious and nutritious plants. The Establishment will never shake off their royal Motherland regardless of all the cries of "America." We will always be steeped in our British origin, not to mention Dutch, French, Spanish - awwww heck Europe, not to mention Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America - a melting pot after all. Hey, I was born in England, so I get it. Turtle Island will always be steeped in the indigenous, thankfully regardless of all the attempts to rename it with European names (Tappanzee/Cuomo Bridge). Those so-callled "immigrants" down South are in the process of reclaiming Mexico. Don't get it twisted. Europe is white (barely), Turtle Island is red and always will be. The sooner we recognize that fact the easier the transition will be, otherwise it will continue to get ugly. Lawn is wasteful (water) and poisonous (herbicides) to our environment in an effort to keep it green. There are many alternatives.
Though I am challenged by Hiddenbrooke at the moment I do enjoy the arrival of Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea, Labiatae, Perennial, Turtle Island, Caucasus, Europe), which creates a lovely blue mat of flowers in Spring and can be used for Wild Salad and tea, is a blood cleanser, tonic diuretic and expectorant.
Dandelion, (Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae, Perennial, Northern hemisphere) is thought to have been brought by the Vikings 600 years ago, who were not interested in conquering. Dandelion is the yellow flower found in lawns in early Spring. It is highly nutritious from leaf to flower to root. Leaves have vitamin A, B, C and E and minerals, is diuretic and detoxifies the blood. The flower can be made into a nourishing wine. I am taking Dandelion root tincture through menopause to support the liver and kidneys as they process the extra hormones.
Violet (Viola odorata, Violaceae, Perennial, S., C. & W. Europe) has a pretty purple flower that has been candied. The leaves contain vitamins A and C and can be used for Wild Salad and tea. They also contain saponin, are diuretic, expectorant, alterative and mildly laxative.
Plantain (Plantago major, (broadleaf), P. lanceolata (narrowleaf), Plantaginaceae, Perennial, Eurasia), is known to the natives as "white man's foot" because everywhere the colonists went, Plantain came up. I think it is a statement to the power of herbs that the European heading to the "new world" would bring this valuable herb with them. Susun (Weed) says they wouldn't have been that smart. Plantain leaves can be used in Wild Salad, the Narrowleaf variety is sweeter. The entire Plantain plant contains our Omega 3s. We can have the leaves in salad and collect the seeds to sprinkle on rice or oatmeal through Winter.
Aster (Aster ericoides, Asteraceae, Perennial, Turtle Island) is an edible leaf with a white spray of flowers in Autumn. Aster macrophylla is also a tasty leaf with a lavender spray of flowers in autumn.. Astringent.
Mugwort (Artemisa vulgaris, Asteraceae, Perennial, N. Africa, Siberia, Europe) Mugwort is a sacred plant in Asia, Europe as well as to the indigenous of America. She can be dried, for tea and smudge. Whole plant vinegar, aids digestion, regulates menstruation, balances out the energy of menopause. Use sparingly in Wild Salad because she has a strong flavor. Avoid when pregnant.
Clover, (Oxalis acetosella, Oxalidaceae, Perennial, Turtle Island, Asia, Europe,) A tasty lemony flavored leaf that can be used for Wild Salad or lemonade. Astringent, diuretic internally, externally soothes rashes and boils. Large doses can block the absorption of calcium.
Lamb's Quarter (Chenopodium album, Chenopodiaceae, Perennial, Europe) Leaves contain vitamis and minerals, complete protein, folic acid, leaf poultice soothes sore skin, avoid shoots if one has kidney problems. Highest level of protein of any green. The leaf is a tasty, nutty flavor in salad. The young stem is also edible and with the leaves can be made into pesto. I recently had Lamb's Quarter cooked and the flavor is enhancee when done so. The seeds are ground into flour.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense, Leguminosae, Perennial, Europe) A pretty pink flower this season. The leaves and flowers can be eaten in Wild Salad and the leaves can be cooked. High in iron, chromium and B vitamins. Leaves, flowers, infusion monitors overflow of menses, reduces cramps, promotes fertility, reduces hot flashes, treats breast cancer.
Rain, rain, rain. At least I think we can say we had April Showers this season. Rain with 60 - 70 degree days. It has been years since we had April Showers. April has either been too dry, too hot and last year was too cold. Our mornings were 49 degrees right down to June last season. And grey and wet. Hardly motivation to get out into the garden. This year we've had a mixture of beautiful warm Spring days with sudden dips in temperature and rain, but the warming trend slowly kept creeping up so we have low 50's to 60 degree nights. I finally got to garden in the rain this week, my April Shower.
Though we have an administration that denies climate change, we have to look no further than the extreme weather taking place across Turtle Island. Tornadoes and floods are a regular and damaging occurrence in the midwest and south now. We will never forget the fire that raged out of control in California last year. I had my own individual experience with the unprecedented tornado that passed through Beacon last May.
I was gardening at Hiddenbrooke that day. I heard about the tornado watch and head out planning to leave the garden when the rain was scheduled to start. When it started to drizzle I packed up and made my way down the half mile drive to Depuyster Ave. I live five minutes away. I thought I knew the rain in Beacon and it would get heavy by the time I reached home. If one has ever been to Hiddenbrooke., one is familiar with the tree lined road of the Preserve. I didn't give it a thought, but will forever now be mindful of that treacherous tree line to get to the street. By the time I reached the straightaway to the street the wind had picked up and the trees were swaying mightily and branches were falling on the road. I drove over a set of branches because I was so close to the entrance. A large tree limb was blocking the entrance! At this point I called Marc. He wanted to know if I was safe and I had to tell him "No!" He suggested I turn around and go back to the house. When I did so, a tree limb fell and hit the front of the truck and there was too much debris to drive back to the house. I turned around again and thought briefly about staying in the truck until the storm passed, but quickly realized I could be crushed by a falling tree. I decided that if I was going to die, better to die trying to save my life that sitting in the truck and getting crushed. I jumped out of the truck praying for safety and grabbed a branch on the limb, which snapped off and I fell back on my butt, telling myself "No, you dope, grab the whole limb!" I got back up, dragged the limb (about 6" in diameter, 12' long) out of the way, jumped back into the truck and drove home. Halfway home, the world was completely calm and by the time I reached home, there was no rain. The limb that hit the front of the truck cracked the top of the windshield. We had gotten rust repaired and replaced the windshield six months earlier so here we were again! Marc likes to say I threw caution to the wind, but for possibly the first time in my life, I had planned my day with safety in mind. The tornado apparently jumped off in the Hudson River and stayed on the ground until Bridgeport, CT. It was said you could see the damage on Google Earth. It all happened so fast. I was in peril!
I have been traveling to Kingston and Wingdale for the past two years working with my partner farms. One night on the way home from Rosendale I came across a fallen tree with a police car onsite. A pretty big tree! It reopened the thought of peril with these massive trees simply "giving up the ghost." I'm from Miami, so I've see my share of hurricane damage, but to drive around Dutchess County and see the number of fallen trees was incredible. Mt. Saint Mary's Desmond Campus, where I have begun teaching this season, lost one hundred trees and a woman was killed when a tree fell on her car at the entrance. A young girl in Newburgh was crushed after her mother stepped out of the car. I suppose it wasn't my time.
I lost my Mum last July. I consider my own death now and saying good-bye to my husband Marc someday. As our Establishment becomes more treacherous, it is a race to see whether we will lose our democracy or our environment first. Either way, we are not on a hopeful path. Joy is found in the gardens and with the community we have built for ourselves.
I have harvested Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae, Perennial, Europe) this month and have hung thirty-eight bunches to dry. I usually get a pound of dried herb that lasts a couple of months. Susun says we need six pounds of herb to make it through the year. Stinging Nettle promotes the optimum functioning of the internal organs. It can be used in place of coffee. With the internal organs functioning optimally, an energy boost is a natural result. Stinging Nettle is good for allergies. Also contains calcium, protein and is good for diabetics. I have planted a square foot of Nettle in my gardens. My original square foot came from Stone Barns. I've heard Nettle is wild on the Fishkill Creek off of Washington Ave. One has to travel by boat to reach it. Nettle spreads about three feet a year. I have planted a square foot of Nettle in my gardens.
This week I also harvested Sunroot also know as Jerusalem Artichoke (not an Artichoke nor from Jerusalem) or Sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus, Asteraceae, Perennial, Turtle Island). Her sister H. annuus is the forerunner of Sunflower, hybridized in Europe to the giant head we know today. Sunroot has a tuber in the ground this time of year somewhat like a potato, tangier, I think. I read that the natives used them like Radish so I like to pickle them. The tuber can be boiled, mashed or roasted. Like beans can cause flatulence which is less likely when ingested the second day after cooking. Sunroots contain inulin, which is very good for diabetics. Sunroots cooked and eaten the following day are even more delicious as the inulin has converted to fructose. I've decided to plant them in all my gardens. I have fifty feet on either side of Flora Jones Garden. Just replant the tubers wherever one wants them. They will multiply ever after.
Think globally, act locally Pete Seeger used to say. When we tire of our compromised democracy and natural world, we can find solace in our gardens and community, which is all we've ever had or will have.