Rain. It's been about four weeks since we had rain. We had April Showers and May Showers, but since the end of June when the temperature rose to 90°, we have been missing the rain. I don't recall such a prolonged time of heat without rain. Promises of rain and overcast days and then nothing. Finally, a 95° weekend followed by a half a day of rain from midday on on a Monday. The sky rumbled all morning and I went out and watered at noon in case it didn't rain. The surest way to get it to rain is to water one's garden. The deluge brought us cooler temperatures even 60° nights, so welcome and the temperature starts to climb here at the weekend again. Europe had record breaking temperatures, but low humidity, so Arizona heat which is quite bearable. Apparently France does not have air conditioning so their citizens took to the fountains.
I after many years of watering the bare minimum now spend time drenching the plants. I am a brat and in the pursuit of harmony with Earth have given up hit or miss crops like Radish, Lettuce and Spinach in favor of hardy crops like Kale, Cabbage and Parsley. So many crops to choose from, so much nutritional value to be found. Variety is the spice of life, but give me simple meals of Pasta Salad and Beans and Rice or Quinoa and I am a happy camper. For me the Simple Life strips down even crops and meals to the bare minimum. I am indeed a simpleton.
It's time to make pots of greens for Winter. We usually have Kale for Christmas. Kale (Brassica oleracea, Brassicaceae, Biennial, Europe) contains calcium, iron, beta carotene, vitamins E and C. Amaranth has always been wild at Sargent-Downing and this season came right up with Kale so I'm harvesting them together for pots of greens. Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexis, Amaranthaceae, Perennial, Turtle Island) grows wild and like many wild native plants is denigrated so has no value in America. The wild species actually has more nutritional value than the cultivated species. Does not hold its shape as well as Kale when cooked, which is why I blend it with Kale, but Caribbeans use Amaranth to make Callaloo adding onion, peppers, salt, scallion and tomato and serve it with codfish. I was raised on Goat meat (Caribbean) so once we had a successful crop of Tomatoes, I made sauce and froze it, so our tradition is Goat Lasagna for Christmas with Kale on the side. Scrumptious! Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum, Solanaceae, Perennial, Annual, Andes) contains beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin B. The fearful European originally thought Tomato was poisonous because of their bright colors and strong scent. Also considered Tomato an aphrodisiac.
Bunches of Garlic adorn my doors. I only had half a bed this season because much of the crop rot lat season with all the rain and Garlic suppliers were sold out by the time I checked in. Hopefully, I'm not too late if I check in in August. Last season I made pickled Garlic for the first time and I ran out of Garlic before Winter was over. I usually have Garlic until harvest in July. Garlic (Allium sativum, Alliaceae, Perennial grown as an Annual) is good for the heart, infections and contains small quantities of vitamins and minerals. I use Bay Leaves and Garlic when I make my Sauerkraut.
Still opportunities for firsts, I harvested Wild Bergamot flowers for tea. I didn't get a lot, but they will be a joyful addition to my tea leaves this Winter. I harvested leaves earlier this season. They get powdery mildew by the time the flowers arrive. Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa, Labiatae, Shrub, Turtle Island) is sister to Red Bergamot or Bee Balm (M. didyma), the leaves have been infused in oil and used on hair, they contain thymol which is an antiseptic that can be used for pimples, steam inhaled for colds and brewed for nausea, flatulence and insomnia. Along with Peppermint, Wild Mint and Chocolate Mint, not to mention Anise Hyssop, my go to tea for heartburn during the holidays.
St. Johnswort doubled in size, but I let the flowers go for oil and tincture, until next season. Once one has success in the garden it can be challenging to keep up with the harvest stage. I would have gotten a small amount of oil which is what I use the most, but not tincture. I'll wait until next season when the plants double again. St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum, Gutteriferae, Perennial, Turtle Island) oil is good topically for muscle ache. The tincture, a well known over the counter anti-depressant, used with the oil, is in my opinion ecstasy. The tincture can cause sensitivity to the sun. I found another species in a Florida native plant book, St. Andrew's Cross, Hypericum fasciculatum.
Borage has been wild at Sargent-Downing as well, though I haven't seen her for many years. I propagated some from seed this season and low and behold, wild plants came up in the Kale and Beet beds. I have been using my compost for the beds this season so maybe there were seeds in it. Exciting to see them wild again. Borage (Borago officinalis, Boraginaceae, Annual, Europe) has the sweetest periwinkle colored flower which I pick and eat for a mild high. The flowers have been used for Wild Salad, cakes and frozen in ice cubes. The leaves are rich in minerals, are cooling and have been used to flavor drinks, dips and salt free diets. Leaf and flower infusion as an adrenalin tonic for stress, depression or cortisone and steroid treatment. Many other uses as well.
I've also gotten huge stands of Lamb's Quarter this season. Always welcome in my gardens. SDG and Flora Jones have Lamb's Quarter this season. She's like an old friend returning for a visit. I let a few grow to my height (5'5") and have harvested the leaves for Pesto for Winter. I freeze seven quarts of Lamb's Quarter, Basil and Parsley Pesto. Lamb's Quarter (Chenopodium album, Chenopodiaceae, Annual Europe) contains the highest level of iron of any green. Forbidden to grow by the church in Europe. The best way to break a people is to deny them their resources. Lamb's Quarter has a nutty flavor and can be eaten this time of year in Wild Salad. Cooking enhances the flavor.
Purslane has also made a comeback. A tangy delicious succulent for our Wild Salad. (Portulaca oleracea, Portulacaceae, Annual, India, Eurasia) Again in SDG and Flora Jones, Purslane contains iron and vitamin C, can be pickled and cooked and used in soup. Dried seed can be ground into flour. Used in China for diarrhea and urinary infections, also to reduce fevers.
Flora Jones Garden draws to a close sadly. Happily, I can use more time to develop my Herbal business, but the wildness of the garden has provoked the ire of not only the neighbors, but her family and friends as well. I guess I am a big land girl now and my gardening style does not sit well with urban dwellers. Nine years and I have cultivated a wild edible garden. Flora Jones is my Wild Salad harvest site. She will be missed, but I'm excited for what new adventures I will discover.
Mid-summer and all is well. The gardens are flourishing. I haven't had this much time to spend in the gardens for awhile. I love my gardens. They are life's work. It was our way up until 1950 when everyone had a kitchen garden. Beef entered our diet, then. Our meals were primarily vegetables. Then industry entered the scene and within the rat race convenience became the order of the day. There will always be the opportunity to engage in a simpler time. When I approach my gardens, the love in my heart is enough. Enough for me to take a deep breath and slow down and remember my connection to Earth, our Mother, our Sustainer.
Independence Day. July 4, 1776. Independence for European Americans for slavery in America was not abolished for almost another 100 years. 1865. Not actually official until 1872. It's only come to my attention in the last ten years or so, along with Black women being dismissed in this Establishment. We, the African, Caribbean, Indigenous, live in a hostile environment. We had better chances living in harmony with the natural world for upwards of 10,000 years. Let's be frank, slavery built human civilization, the world economy. With the inception of agriculture we gained the ability to feed and sustain our prisoners of war, whereas before agriculture we had to kill them because we didn't have enough food. So technically, slavery was an evolutionary step forward. A conundrum to be sure.
Old world slavery - African, Asia, Europe, had avenues to freedom. Cash, years of service, manumission to name a few. American slavery sought to strip the slave of any of these options, reducing human beings to animals. If the white man is truly superior, why would he have to pass laws against education and voting for people of color? And what was all the fuss. Why were these - now accepted millions of black bodies needed for the industry? Not food crops but, except for cotton's practical use, luxury items for the European wealthy - sugarcane and tobacco. No nutritional value whatsoever. Items grown to satiate vice.
Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum, G. barbadense, G. arboreum, G. herbaceum, Malvaceae, Shrub, Temperate and tropical Turtle Island, South America, India and Pakistan, southern Africa, Arabian Peninsula). We can make a case for the idea of one's Plant Family, those plants that come to us as allies, Cotton being found all over the world. Cotton is spun into fiber and no doubt make's up one's favorite t-shirt. Cotton has been spun into cotton for over 2500 years. The seeds are pressed for cottonseed oil which is edible. Gossypol, found in untreated seed oil may be a source of hormones and a male contraceptive. Gossypol is also antiviral and antibacterial and eases menstrual pain. Seed hairs from G. herbaceum make cotton wool. Bark root tea infusion can be used to trigger menstruation and contractions during birth and abortion. It is a traditional method of birth control for the indigenous who grow the plant. Cotton root bark infusion can also be used to facilitate labor. Used with other herbs such as Witch Hazel or Lady's Mantle, the tincture of Cotton root bark can be used for postpartum hemorrhage. Cotton is the only Mallow family plant with poisonous properties. Use only with the aid of a professional. The manager of a friend's community garden grew Cotton at the gate so everyone could have the opportunity to see the plant. I think I will grow Cotton next season, just to see it.
There is a prickle in the Cotton ball that made it painful to pick with human hands, but with the invention of the cotton gin those human hands were necessary for production. The cotton gin was said to be invented by Eli Whitney (1765 - 1825), who may have borrowed the idea from a comb used by slaves and a woman, Catherine Greene may also have had input. Slaves were not entitled to patent inventions. cotton was simultaneously domesticated in India and Peru 5000 years ago. The first appearance of a cotton gin is from the 5th century C.E. in India. It was introduced to America mid 18th century but was more suited for long-staple cotton rather than short staple cotton which was what was grown in America.
Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum, Graminae, Perennial, S.E. Asia). I grew up with Sugarcane because my parents are from the Caribbean. The influx of Caribbeans to America began in the 1940's since colonialism was drawing to a close and folks needed jobs. The Caribbean diaspora encompasses the Caribbean, Europe (England and France (Spain for Latin America)) and America. My parents ended up in Miami looking for that tropical climate that reminded them of home. My father is from Dominica, my mother is from Guyana, both English colonies, which is why they met, married and had my three brothers and I. Dad returned home annually until his mother passed on, Mum never returned to Guyana. Because of the number of Caribbeans in America, especially New York, there are whole grocery stores that carry our traditional crops - callaloo, codfish, root vegetables, yucca, to name a few. Dad said he used Sugarcane like a toothbrush as a child. So it can be said for colonialism, that it meant finding viable crops around the world and exploiting whole countries with the similar climate to produce those crops. In Asia, Sugarcane is used in Thai fish stews, the stem juice is used as a drink. Of course our use of Sugarcane is for brown and refined white sugar with the byproducts yielding mineral rich molasses, syrup and rum. Cane sugar is a preservative. Cane juice can soothe asthma symptoms and is expectorant. It is applied to wounds and boils in Asia and along with the root is diuretic. Stem residue produces ethanol. Along with the now consumption of high fructose corn syrup, responsible for obesity and diabetes in America.
Tobacco (Nicotium rustica, N. tabacum, Solanaceae, Annual or Biennial, N.E. Argentina, Bolivia) Used for millenia by North and South American native tribes in ceremony and poultice on sprains, infected cuts and bites. The juice is applied topically for facial neuralgia and wet leaves used for hemorrhoids. In recent years, I have spent lots of time in native ceremony marveling that this precious plant used for ceremony has been exploited creating a crippling habit akin to heroin addiction destroying countless individuals health in the process. Poetic justice I suppose.
So division in America has real historical content. Yes we love America, but some of us for its definition as a white country and some of us for its definition as a melting pot. To be sure, we are the one country in the world that encompasses every other and America wold not exist without the contribution of all its citizens.
Marc was home for four days for the Fourth of July. Our local fireworks occurred the Saturday before. I have not been eager to attend as much anymore now that I know what I know. I spent the 3rd in the community garden weeding Beets and Kale harvesting for my first pot of greens for the season. The 4th morning was spent negotiating the future of Flora Jones Garden as her relatives and friends DO NOT like its wild look. July 5, I weeded Skullcap at Hiddenbrooke. My father said many years ago when Reagan was elected "it doesn't matter who is in the White House, I still have to work two jobs." The summer has begun and the holidays are upon us, but I still have my daily weeding, watering and harvesting, welcome meditation as we navigate our new challenges. For me it certainly helps to look back and recognize the history that gets us here. Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it? Or does history repeat itself? Or is history simply the tyrant's playbook?
HOT! The rain has given way to clear, hot summer days. The Dog Days of Summer are upon us, named for the visibility of the Dog Star Sirius in the night sky of Greece. These days I am heading out to the gardens 9:00am to get inside by noon. I like to thing about lions lounging in the shade after capturing a meal. How fitting is siesta this time of year.
Sun hasn't even gotten above Mt. Beacon at 9:00am so Sargent-Downing remains in shade for another hour or so. I made the mistake of wearing shorts once, but that won't happen again as the memory of insects feeding on me for breakfast is embedded in my brain. I can go barefoot though and the cool Earth beneath my feet is refreshing.
Corn (Zea mays, Poaceae, Mexico) is six inches so it's time to add her other two sisters Bean and Squash. Weeding the bed in preparation, I find Yellow Dock (Rumex obtusifolia, Polygonaceae, Perennial, Turtle Island) also know as Bitter dock, sister to the more well known R. crispus which is also called Yellow Dock or Curly Dock. I decide to take some roots home to make a Decoction, which is the only way I've seen them used. Turns out Yellow Dock roots can also be made into a Tincture and Vinegar. I have made the seeds into Vinegar. Yellow Dock increases the uptake of iron. One can add Molasses to the decoction for iron and sweetening. Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris, Papillionaceae, Annual, Peru) provides protein and adds nitrogen to the soil. The vine grows up the Corn stalk. Squash (Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, C. pepo, Cucurbitaceae, Annual, Turtle Island) provides vitamin C., giant leaves to give shade and hold down weeds. Squash has varieties from Summer to Winter. I've made Zucchini bread and Butternut Squash soup is one of my favorite soups.
As I've mentioned I weed from June to September although I have been weeding at Hiddenbrooke all Spring just to establish the herbs. I have one Clematis plant at Sargent-D0wning and it took no time at all to liberate her. I am so excited to see her back because she got weeded out last season. Flora Jones driveway has become Violet (Viola odorata, Violaceae, Europe) and as I discovered yesterday Red Clover (Trifolium pratense, Leguminosae, Europe). Violet can be used like lettuce in Wild Salad and Red Clover is good for managing our Moontime and provides iron.
Chocolate Mint (Mentha x piperita 'Chocolate Mint', Labiatae, Europe) at Hiddenbrooke is struggling so I have to liberate her. Mugwort is the culprit of course. There turns out to be more Chocolate Mint than I anticipated so I am pleased. I drink Chocolate Mint Tea through Winter for digestive issues like any mint. I have also made her into a Vinegar. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora, Labiatae, Perennial, Turtle Island) is poking her head up right through Sasa or Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum, Poaceae, Perennial, Asia). In hindsight I should have taken some Sasa home for Wild Salad, she was still small enough for the leaves to still be tender enough to eat. Later in the season she gets fibrous. Once again there is a lovely amount of Skullcap in the bed. Skullcap is a painkiller. There is something to be said for plants choosing their spot.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Asteraceae, Perennial, W. Asia) is growing wild at Hiddenbrooke. She has overtaken a Phlox bed and has a spot next to the house, in the middle of the field and a full stand at the edge of the woods. Know here that half of our herbs are wild. It's always a treat to discover who will reveal themselves when I open up a property. I first saw Motherwort (Leonarus cardiaca, Labiatae, Northern temperate zones) in the foundation of the old barn last season at Hiddenbrooke. She has since moved up to the top of the field. I planted a bed at Sargent-Downing years ago now from volunteers in the garden. I still get volunteers and now along with Catnip she is gatekeeper to the fairy realm next to the Compost. It is time to harvest Yarrow flowers to dry for tea and Motherwort whole plant in flower for tincture and vinegar. Yarrow is diaphoretic, astringent, tonic and stimulant. The tea can induce sweating and reduce fever and can also be used as a skin wash for infections and inflammation. It can also stop external and internal bleeding. Motherwort's botanical name means Lionheart, so use her tincture, one dropperful every five minutes for anxiety attack, two dropperfuls three times a day for high blood pressure and three dropperfuls to be asleep in about thirty minutes. Motherwort Vinegar is a daily dose of heart tonic. I planted a bed of Catnip (Nepeta cataria, Labiatae, Perennial, W. Africa, India) at Sargent-Downing and she has since found spots throughout the garden as well as near the Compost pile. Catnip can be used for tea as well as vinegar. The dried leaves can be used as tea for colds. Tender leaves can be added to Wild Salad. The tea was used before tea was imported from China. The tea like many mints treats colds, calms upset stomach, reduces fevers, soothes headache and scalp irritation. Catnip is also a good smoke. I make a smoke blend with Mugwort, Tobacco and Marijuana.
I took a Yoga class this week which I don't get to do in the season. I'm committing to at least once a month. Yoga is life! I have been in yoga off and on for almost thirty years. I had a personal practice at home through Winter for the first time. It is my go to for restoration. I was and am in this moment astonished by the energy boost. The breathing alone is probably worth it. I can recall when I became a farmer thinking what a perfect compliment to farming is yoga, stretching out all those muscles I use on a daily basis. To find the time, energy and motivation at the end of the day is the trick. I have had pain afterwards in the last few years, but not this week. I have been through Hatha, Iyengar and Kundalini yoga. Iyengar is the most fascinationg with all the props and hanging off walls. I picked up my first Yoga book when I was sixteen in Miami when it was the last thing a young black girl would be thinking about. I must have seen it on television and it got stuck in my mind. My first yoga class was at the YMCA on 23 St. in Manhattan. The Hatha teach promptly sent me down the hall to the Iyengar class. I moved on to the Iyengar Center on 22nd St.
I've been eating Juneberry (Amelanchior canadensis, Rosaceae, Tree, Turtle Island) for the past three weeks. A cross between Blueberry and Cherry, wild, yummy sweetness this time of year. Also known as Shadbush because she flowers when the Shad are running in the Hudson River. There are three trees outside my apartment and I have been planting an upright variety for Arbor Day the past four years. A testament to our love of convenience and how our most popular fruit come to be, Juneberry has a tiny seed inside left over after eating them not unlike Grape, which is why we have seedless grapes, not to mention seedless Watermelon. Paw Paw is another native fruit similar in appearance to a small green Mango, but tastes like Flan. The fruit bruises easily which wold not be appealing in the grocery store.
Lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer. Schools out and vacation is in the air. Gardening becomes meditation. I linger up to four hours some days. Soaking up that lovely Sun remembering our sometimes brutal Winters. We have had a spectacular season so far. April Showers, May flowers and now blazing hot summer. Occasionally, we get this most beautiful seventy-seven degree day with the loveliest breeze.