Trees

Claire and I harvesting Golden Delicious apples in the Fall.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Delphi can provide its interns with is intensive work with trees throughout the estate. The fruit and nut orchard boasts several dozen unique and rare varieties of stone and pome fruits, citrus, and olives as our Mediterranean climate allows both deciduous and evergreen trees to thrive alongside the other. Hosui asian pears, Elephant Heart plums, Medlars, Quince, Saijo persimmons, pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, an array of cherries, and over a dozen different apple and European pear varieties, to name a few. Some trees are mature and highly productive while others have been recently planted and are in need of initial training and a different level of care. Between fruit thinning, irrigation, summer pruning, orchard floor management, branch propping, harvest, nutritive and preventative dormant season spray schedules, and winter pruning we definitely give our cultivated fruiting trees a lot of attention. The return for this, however, is always enjoyed and appreciated: fruits are shared and eaten fresh or are solar dehydrated, made into jams, wine or liquors, or processed in a number of other ways.  

Shiro plums are consistently abundant. Because they remain small despite extensive thinning, and because we always have more than we know what to do with, we've experimented with making a country wine with them last year. Although still bottled and hopefully aging well, I can report that we enjoyed at least moderate success with this first attempt! 

The gifts of the native, exotic and specimen trees throughout the estate are also not to be ignored. We work with many of these intimately and simply admire others for their natural form, or highly pruned and trained forms, and how they work together in a designed setting. The Kashmir cypress, for example, towers majestically at a place where two paths meet and provides some shade for the stable that is just to the south and west of it. A few of its branches inevitably make their way in our annual holiday wreaths. In late Spring we gather the flowers from silver leaf linden trees that mark the edge of a path and a whole area. There is a single week where, to walk by them, one becomes instantly intoxicated by a fragrance that is floral, bright, clean, and alluring all at once. A single flowering branch in a vase can lift the energy of an entire room. We distill these flowers, at the height of bloom, into a lovely hydrosol to use throughout the year: either in the washing machine or as a refreshing linen spray. We will collect and roast ginkgo nuts (recipe courtesy of Ellen Zachos) in late Fall from the small collection of female ginkgo bilobas -- trees so ancient they were here when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The native trees and shrubs that thrive at Delphi - Madrone, Manzanita, and Ceanothus, to name just a few - are wonderful attractants for the pollinators and birds, and we have experimented with some of their edible, or other, properties, as well.  

Peter Quintanilla is a talented and knowledgeable local arborist who has taught several workshops at Delphi on pruning fruit trees. He teaches the Arboriculture and Landscape Pruning classes at Cabrillo College as well as workshops for home gardeners, UCCE Master Gardeners, Green Gardeners, landscape crews in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. We are grateful for his mentorship, and friendship! 

Photos from a pruning and training workshop for the Santa Cruz CRAFT Network. 

Trees are some of life's oldest living things with many lessons to share with us. Perhaps the greatest is to observe, and mimic, their impressive break forth into Spring with buds, colors, leaves, and finally fruit. To know innately when it is time to shut down and be unimpressive, when it is time to rejuvenate, is the essential second part of their life cycle. It is one we must follow, as well. 

The Gifts of Compost

"There is one rule in the garden that is above all others. You must give to nature more than you take. Obey it, and the earth will provide you in glorious abundance."                                                                          -- Alan Chadwick

The compost yard at Delphi is one of my favorite places on the estate to be and to teach from. It is, afterall, the beginning and the end of the garden's gifts at the same time. Students new to sustainable gardening and composting are often as marveled by this as I continue to be. Composting is an activity that yields to the magic of transformation and does not cease to marvel despite routine and experience. It is an area that is in need of near constant attention, monitoring for it is an active process despite its passive-seeming nature. 

Our compost yard is protected by the forest, but is also accessible by the Gator when we need to haul large loads of material to it. It is where we compose (a word that shares the Latin roots, 'com' and 'poser/pausare' with "compost") a medley of horse and chicken manures, kitchen scraps and coffee grounds, and spent plants from the gardens with dried leaves, straw, and animal bedding. Horse hooves trimmed from the farrier's work plus dog and human hair are additions we greatly value, too. These layers, properly moistened and added in balance to the other (generally 70% carbonaceous materials to 30% nitrogenous), require us to dance along: there are filled burlap sheets and buckets to collect, dump, spread and berm, and a digging fork, to add air and pull the piles edges out, is an invaluable tool. We conduct the layers in order for them to play out their symphony, monitoring temperature and moisture and turning the piles only as necessary, if at all. We are overwhelmed with gratitude when the end product yields a mature, finished, dark brown humus-like compost...anywhere from 9 months to 1.5 years after a pile has been "prepped". 

We make a small 'nest' of soil to tuck about 1 teaspoon of one of the preps into. Then, using a stick, we drill diagonal holes into the pile where we reach in and deposit it, toward the center of the pile.

We add the Biodynamic preparations to each pile when we are completely through with composing it and after it enters a slight mellowing, or resting, stage. The preps work in subtle ways to ensure that the pile decomposes in a stable, consistent manner. Because the finished compost must provide balanced nutrition to the soil,  and therefore to the plants, as well as supply organic matter -- the preps ensure this smooth delivery. The vision and intention for the preparations came to us from insights delivered in Rudolf Steiner's 1924 Agriculture lectures, and we make them in regional community through the Biodynamic Association of Northern California. They have been referred to by skeptics as nonsensical, a waste of time, and by others -- mainly those who have worked with them -- as spiritual, medicinal, connective, and intriguing. While they are complex to explain, and often elicit more questions than they do answers, I ask only that our interns are open to the process, and willing to engage with it. Observable effects on the fermentation process of the compost pile include creating a finished compost with excellent humus structure. And, of course, the plants share the benefits of well-made compost with us year-round.  

One last quote from Alan Chadwick that has been particularly inspiring and, I think, relevant in the context of compost building, spreading, and the nourishment it provides us with: "We need to create the beauty and the quality first. The quantity will follow."

 A compost pile entering its resting stage. 

A compost pile entering its resting stage. 

 

 

 

Then Summer Yields to Fall

We could not have trained this peach tree more elegantly if we had tried. A leading branch bent completely to the orchard floor, heavy with fruit along the way. Just one of Nature's gifts: that of marvelous design, in action!  

As Summer ends I am drawn to awaken. Fall, and the Rains, just beginning and so necessary right now, as we all know, provide a space to enter deeply, a process that includes stretching out, rubbing one's eyes open for a new and thoughtful vision to unfold. Limbs, tired from Summer's routine and hustle, slow down. Hands busily collect next year's potent seeds and work to preserve the harvest, but they are no longer as chapped, muddied, or cramped as they have been. My eyeballs appreciate the shortening days and lower position of the sun in the sky and my mind is allowed to begin to think beyond schedules, itineraries, to-do lists on small pieces of paper that float around the office, my pockets, my car console. The lists, and all of it, move from being scattered and scattering to clear, simplified, as I awaken during this special, autumnal time of year.

Rudolf Steiner begins to describe the rhythmic nature of life, or the movement from Summer's etheric body to Autumn's astral body, like this:   

It is wrong to compare the waking state of man, from waking up until going to sleep, with the summer; on the contrary, this very waking state must be compared in the Earth-Nature around us, with the winter, and the summer is analogous with the sleeping state of man. So we can say, to use this comparison: Man goes to sleep, that means he enters the summer of his personal existence, and when he wakes he progresses to the winter of his personal existence; and the waking state would roughly correspond to the previous autumn, the winter and the earliest spring. Why would that correspond to the facts? Because when we really progress in the way mentioned, to being a member of the whole Earth organism, then we must indeed take into account how that which is the Spirit of the Earth sleeps in summer; that is the actual sleeping state of the Earth, the great consciousness of the Spirit of the Earth withdraws.
— R.S., Etheric Man Within Physical Man, 1915

Why, as a gardener, as a farmer, should one care about the body's relation to sleep, mindfulness, the ego's and physical relationships to the changing Seasons? I've had organic farmers, whose work and values I respect very much, tell me that they did not have time for biodynamics, for applying the mysterious preparations or even attempting to build fertility, via diverse compost, on-site. I wondered, often, if there was something deeper that they didn't want to tell me, because I was, and remain, enthusiastic about biodynamic practices. The excuse, though, was that their production model just wouldn't allow for it; they literally could not make the time for anything additional with so many other, pressing things to do on the farm. I empathize with this and acknowledge that we do live in a world that tells us that we're always short on time, that we need to be more efficient, to constantly "upgrade."

Yet, when I acknowledge myself as one part of a bigger whole, I take real responsibility for the world that I live in. I become a steward, a shepherd, a healer, and I've certainly seen the plants, the trees, and the animals respond to this. I also try to be true to the real reason that I do this work. For me, the peace that quiet, focused time in a beautiful, vibrant, and living setting can yield is sacred. The challenges abound, constantly, as every gardener knows, but I draw on the meditation process that goes hand-in-hand with the acute ability to observe that I've developed (and am always developing). To really see, hear, and respond to what the soil needs, what the pollinators need, what the plants need, all to strengthen the whole and become more resilient as partners -- wow! -- this is a key! I work hard to slow down enough to give the gift of teaching some of the aspects of Biodynamic gardening to our amazing interns - all of whom are on their own unique journeys yet contribute so much to our program, and to our gardens. This is a gift, too, in its own rite.

Tori, a Summer intern who just finished our program last week, had this to say about her experience:    

Since working at Delphi I’ve become more aware of what it really takes to keep soil healthy. The benefits and pitfalls of crop rotation. The effects of drought stress on plants. Honestly, the effects of EVERYTHING on plants. I felt like I was conducting 15 different experiments with soil, light, water, turkeys, seeds, all at once, all summer...I have a much better sense of the rhythms of the trees and vegetables, the timing, the surprises, the long haul.
The person gets to know the great experience of identifying himself with the Earth Spirit. From this moment on he says: I don’t only live in my skin; like the cell in my organism, so do I live in the organism of the Earth. The Earth sleeps in summer and wakes in winter, as I sleep and wake in the changes of the day. And as the cell stands to my consciousness, so do I stand to the consciousness of the Earth.
— Rudolf Steiner, Occult Significance of the Baghavad Gita, 1913

Until next year, dear squash blossoms, we thank you for your seemingly-unending abundance, your fruit's nutrition, and the joy that your form brings to our Summer Gardens. Au revoir!  

   

On Failure and Success: Spring In the Gardens

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one thro’ the year. Under a total want of demand except for our family table I am still devoted to the garden. But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1811

Jefferson made the above remarks to Charles Willson Peale when he was nearly 70 years old, about 13 years before his death. He had recently retired from his presidency and public life, and was busy at Monticello completing the vegetable garden platform and Garden Pavilion: a place from which he could take in the estate's views and activities comprehensively. 

I am moved by his remarks for several reasons. Namely, because they ring of humility -- not necessarily a characteristic I would associate with our 3rd President and author of the decisive and powerful Declaration of Independence. How refreshing, then, to hear a person who had occupied such a traditional role of power express his own humility in relation to Nature's course and cycles, and to delight in it, unthreatened, without expressing defeat or the need to dominate. Gardens have this kind of ability, and more, to remind us of our role, our place in the Big picture, and our own abilities as well as inabilities. Gardens and farms make us mediators, collaborators and, perhaps, as Rudolf Steiner suggests, priests. Jefferson recognized the value of scientific methods and experimentation in the garden as well as the acute requirement to develop deep sensitivities and abilities to observe. Well before the word resiliency was a part of a farmer's daily vernacular, Jefferson was creating a framework for this method.                    

To touch on our "failures," at Delphi, is to recognize them and address them, full on. I'll be posting updates on our management strategies as time goes on, and hope that others will learn from our experiences. So, to get to it: Devastatingly, we've discovered Fire Blight in the orchard. 

As the orchard awakes with blossoms and foliage, signs of Fire Blight have made themselves known on some of our oldest, most vigorous apple and quince trees. Note the burned looking branch in the center of the frame.

Especially devastating has been discovering signs of Fire Blight on Delphi's mature espaliered trees. Their symmetry is lost due to removal cuts that must be made to, hopefully, save the tree. The disease typically appears at the tips of branches first, then makes its way toward the trunk, as seen here. 

And another "failure," or frustration, rather: the solans - peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes - and some of our basil and flower starts, too, have experienced a fair amount of fungal damage. Be it Fusarium, Phytophthora, Pythium, Rhizoctonia, or Thielaviopsis damage, perhaps a plant pathologist could tell, but I can not. And, while I've not been able to diagnose the problem, I have also been unable to treat it effectively. 

Young pepper plants exhibit deformed leaves, alongside some young seedlings that did not even make it to the stage of development that these have. 

The garden's successes are everywhere, too. They come in the form of birdsongs, swallows diving, narcissus emerging with early color, diverse scents of nectar and flowers, a lushness despite this having been such a terribly dry year, colors, textures, and flavors that simply speak for themselves: 

Cherry blossoms illuminated

Bellevalia pycnantha, or grape hyacinth, borders a bed in hairy vetch cover crop, which also has small purple flowers. 

The sweet, distinct smell of wisteria, growing over the arbor that leads to the Grainfields was incomparable..and so fleeting.  

Thomas Jefferson was a wonderfully accomplished farmer, quite uncontroversially. But his embrace of a life-long learning practice that was both intellectual and experiential, deep, persistent, and consistent. In his own words, he was an amateur gardener! The word "amateur," after all, is French with roots in Latin, amator,  'lover', and amare, 'to love'. May we all be perpetual amateurs, then, in love with our work, our practice, able to embrace imperfections, successes, and failures equally. May we, as gardeners, be in love with being a part of all of life's cycles that we find ourselves engaged in. And, finally, may this hard, good work lead to our own declarations of independence -- to answer, with confidence, the call to help heal the Earth, help restore balance, accept the many climate changes that we are still just beginning to see with grace and sensitivity, and to use our capacity to observe Nature with an eye toward resilience, toward the future.   

Seed Dreams

Sweet Freckles Crenshaw Melon. Golderbse Pea. Depp's Pink Firefly Tomato.

I've just placed our final order for seeds for the upcoming season: a little late, perhaps, as the glasshouse is nearly full of flats with young starts inside already and, truly, we only have so much space... But, the excitement that each seed catalogue brims with this time of year, the beauty and art, the hope and promise each new (to me) variety beckons with is as powerful as a Grecian siren's call to unassuming sailors, thirsty, dreaming. The days are getting longer and, here in Northern California, at least, while we are still praying for rain we are equally and fully lured by the unseasonably warm weather, already spending full days in our gardens, harvesting miner's lettuce, winter broccoli, cauliflower, greens, and setting the table with narcissus. 

I tend to, for better or worse, set aside nearly all other reading materials in the months of January and February. I allow myself to become fully obsessed with garden planning, crop variety choices, seed orders, and seed cleaning. This year, we are especially proud to announce that we are new contributors to one of our very favorite seed catalogues:

This annual publication is printed and shipped to members of Seed Savers Exchange. It lists heirloom and open-pollinated seeds for plants, herbs and flowers: more unique varieties than I've ever seen in one place, actually! Some listed varieties have been completely revived from near-extinction through this important, 35+ year-old network. Backyard gardeners, working cooperatively, were able to sustain varieties by sharing seeds with others who commit to growing them out and re-offering them the following year. An added benefit of obtaining seed from a neighbor or, next best, a specific bio-region that is akin to one's own, is trusting that that specific seed will have properties inherent to it making it more adaptable to your environment. Executive Director of Seed Savers Exchange, John Torgrimson, describes the catalogue by saying: 

[it represents] one of the largest non-governmental seed banks of its kind in the U.S. and is a key player in global efforts to maintain genetic diversity.

This is a powerful network, indeed. What's more, is that Seed Savers has an on-line version of it's Yearbook, for the first time, too. You can view Delphi's seed offerings, and even see photos of some of the crops we grew out for seed in 2013:

. Bozeman Watermelon

. Ghandi Lettuce

. Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash

. Goldrush Currant Tomato

Next year we look forward to offering our first biennial seed: Willis collard greens.

 ‘Willis Collard Greens’ exhibits two distinct types, plants are either with or without purple coloration on the stems and leaves. This color variation is a reflection of the diverse genetic make-up that is often seen in outcrossing crops like collards.

‘Willis Collard Greens’ exhibits two distinct types, plants are either with or without purple coloration on the stems and leaves. This color variation is a reflection of the diverse genetic make-up that is often seen in outcrossing crops like collards.

 This is a 'Willis Collard Greens' plant without purple coloration.

This is a 'Willis Collard Greens' plant without purple coloration.

While we are investing in a small seed crop from our collards for next year, we also fully enjoyed the delectable, tender, emerging seed heads and small leaves toward the top of the stalks, as shown in the photo on the right. Their flavor is somewhat akin to asparagus at this stage. When sliced and cooked for an hour, the stems, at any stage, will be quite tender and fully edible. This info was inspired by Deborah Madison, in her book Vegetable Literacy.

The Winter Fruits

Pom_1.jpg

As the New Year pulls me gently and forgivingly out of a wonderful holiday slumber, and as the Winter Solstice marks the lengthening of days once again, it seems a right and good time to reflect upon the unique winter fruits we've been enjoying - on many levels - here at Delphi. 

Our pomegranates (Punica granatumhave, for six or more weeks now, been harvested, stored and continue to sustain us. Pomegranates have enjoyed a sort of consumer-come-back in the nutrition world in recent years. I am fully on board with touting their health benefits but they are also one of the most ancient and mythologically important fruits that I know of. They appear in Greek mythology, have been discovered in Egyptian tombs (including King Tut's), and were carried by ancient Persian soldiers under Xerxes' rule, on the tip of spears in the place of spikes, when they invaded Greece in 480 BC.

Nutrition-wise, pomegranates can be juiced quite easily and, especially when said juice remains unpasteurized, this can serve as a powerful anti-parasitic tonic. Pomegranates are incredibly antioxidant-rich and contain extremely high levels of polyphenols and flavinoids, both known to offer protection from cancers and heart disease.


When I first moved to California and really discovered the joy and potency of a pomegranate, as well as the beauty of growing them in a garden setting, I would describe the cleaning and eating process to my young nephew as a way to uncover "jewels:" small, bright and juice-covered seeds guaranteed to mark one's hands, and any clothing, a deep and brilliant red color. I've enjoyed sharing pomegranates at the Thanksgiving table, the small seeds substituted for the East Coast's traditional cranberry sauce.

Historically speaking, this treasured fruit plays a prominent role in the ancient Greek myth of Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld. As it is known, Persephone, whose name means "she who destroys light," or "the inspirer of death," was the daughter of Zeus, God of all gods, and Demeter, his sister, Goddess of the harvest. Persephone was a beautiful young woman, sought after by many. Haides, God of the Underworld, was especially attracted to her youthful light and innocence. He took her, quite literally, by emerging from a crack in the earth and bringing her to his underground world. Zeus was aware of her abduction and even coordinated it in cohorts with Haides. Demeter was not privy to this deal and became utterly devastated and confused upon the lose of her daughter. Demeter left her temple to roam the whole earth searching for Perspehone.    

When Demeter finally learned that Zeus knew about their daughter's abduction she refused to allow anything on Earth to fruit until Persephone was returned. Zeus consented to Persephone's return, in part because the agricultural system was completely falling apart, and humans and Gods alike were getting furious about this. Because Persephone had tasted the food of Haides' Underworld -- a small handful of pomegranate seeds -- she was forced to continue to spend a part of the year with her husband, underground. Her annual return to Earth happens in the Springtime, along with the flower blooms and new plant growth. Her annual decent occurs when vegetation ceases, or goes underground, every year.

Persephone's story symbolizes the cycle of death and rebirth in nature. As she matured into the respected wife of Haides and became, truly, the Goddess of the Underworld, she further embodied the role of Great Balancer which, indeed, we all know our Mother Nature to be. 

The figure in this painting, called 'Prosperpine,' is the Roman name of the mythological figure Persephone. The artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted this in 1874 and the original is housed at the Tate museum. Symbols contained in the painting include the pomegranate, which signifies captivity and marriage, and the incense-burner, the attribute of a goddess. 


Another winter fruit we've enjoyed without end - purréed and folded into sweet breads, baked in puddings, and as table fruit - is the unique and rather mysterious Medlar. Mespilus germanica is a member of the Rosaceae Family, typically grafted on to hawthorn or quince rootstock. It is a pome fruit, like apples and pears.  

medlar.jpg

What makes this fruit wildly interesting is that it needs to "blet" in order to be eaten raw. This process takes two to three weeks in storage in a cool, dark, frost-free place. We were able to allow our fruit to NEARLY fully blet, and therefore develop the most flavor, by staying directly on the tree. One can determine the fruit's proper readiness by looking for soft, brown flesh. It tastes almost of something tropical and has large, smooth black seeds within that add to its curious profile. I'm not prone to eating large quantities of the fruit but really do enjoy how majestic and unique it is. And, of course, we love medlars because they are one of our latest ripening fruit sources on the farm. 


The Fuyu and Hachiya persimmons add such necessary color to our winter fruit collection. Their bright orange orbs on leaf-fallen trees in mid-December, which is just around our final harvest date, are stunning.

Additionally, there is a very late ripening apple on our multi-grafted apple tree that I've been unable to identify. It is tart and firm, beautiful, fragrant and delicious. I am including a photo of it below: please leave a comment if you can identify it!

And, lastly, this piece on winter fruits would simply not be complete if I did not mention our olives. They are being washed every day now as part of the hand-curing process that we practice at Delphi; the oils visible in the water that is changed out along with remnants of pale purple from their ripe, plump flesh.     

Nothing Plain About Plantain

DSC_8729.JPG

Plantain, or Plantago majus, is one of the many plant gifts from the Garden that I am continually humbled, and intrigued, by. It was there for me this past summer when Carra and I were harvesting white peaches, the tree so heavy with juicy fruit that the birds had started to peck at a few, which in turn attracted the bees, yellow jackets, even wasps. Determined to save what we could of the quickly ripening harvest one afternoon, I hastily entered the open-centered tree without gloves on, and without considering consequences, clearly, and started harvesting away. It did not take much time before I was stung by one of our pollinator friends, on the soft, sensitive skin that connects my thumb and index finger. 

The sting, startling and enlivening at the same time, saw me respond instinctively: running toward the Sweet Corn and Cosmos bed where I had spied some plantain growing at some point, pulling some leaves from a bright green, broad-leafed plantain plant, and quickly shoving them into my mouth where my teeth worked quickly. I was able to spit a green poultice out onto my skin within 45 seconds of being stung and the stinging sensation and immediate swelling were all but gone from my hand in another 45 seconds. Such gentle, quick, and thorough relief I could not have imagined from one of the medicines or treatments available in our more formal First Aid Kit in the office. Burn and sting creams sealed nicely in small foil packets and bandages rolled tightly in their cardboard boxes do, indeed, have their place on our farm. But in the Garden, when we are present to them and ask their permission, we are blessed to be surrounded by plants and forces that heal. 

We need the tonic of the wilderness.
— Henry David Thoreau

Our peach crop was gorgeous and heavy and needed harvesting -- like all things do in the beautiful height, and heat, of summer. As grateful as I am for our fruits, and the heat they take in and transform into juice and nectar, so too am I indebted to the oft-overlooked, always steady, cool, and ready-to-provide "weeds" that we never actively cultivate yet always find.  

Plantain was considered magical in pre-Christian times. It more or less followed European settlers around the world, known by Native Americans as "white man's footprint," as it sprung up around wherever white men seemed to travel on this continent. It is used to quell itches and rashes, from poison oak to diaper rash, and relieve stings, traumatic bruises, even burns and cuts. Its leaves can be combined with elderflower and mint as a tea used to treat hayfever and other allergies, as it has a wonderful antihistamine effect. For these reasons, and because it is a great purifier, too, plantain taken internally provides a soothing effect on the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, relieving stomach ulcers and symptoms of I.B.S. New to me, is that Plantago majus is actually related to Plantago ovata,  what we commonly know, and see sold in stores, as psyllium. Plantain's seeds can be eaten raw or cooked: they are a rich source of vitamin B1. The seed husks swell up and are very absorbent -- wonderfully full of dietary fiber -- and ALL wild seeds are rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. So, look around, celebrate what you cultivate as our big Harvest holiday approaches, by all means. But do not forget about the other gifts, the plain and ubiquitous ones, that we are surrounded by throughout the whole year. 

We will strip these dried seed stalks of both their seed and husks and enjoy them in smoothies, baked goods, cereal, etc. They are full of fiber and Omega 3's. 

Many thanks are extended to our current, Fall 2013 interns, Ann and Lisa, for inspiring me to always look closer, understand more, and be present with our gifts and challenges. Ann's presentation on Medicinal Herbs inspired this post and the book Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal was consulted. Additionally, an article by renowned Herbalist Susun Weed was consulted: http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/October08/wisewoman.htm 

A Celebration Complete with Celebratory Confections

 This is  Althea officinalis  , or Marshmallow. The drawing is from  http://hortuscamden.com/  

This is Althea officinalis , or Marshmallow. The drawing is from http://hortuscamden.com/ 

Our summer celebration at Delphi Agrarian Arts Foundation, which brings together former interns, their families, and friends of the farm at the beginning of the height of our Season of Abundance (yes, capital letters here are appropriate), revolved, this year, around the peach harvest: plump, juicy and abundant as could be. In the background, however, through a recipe trial I've been very excited about, were, marshmallows. Quiet, sweet, subtle, and decorated with little borage flowers, this journal entry is dedicated to these once-medicinal confections, and will serve, also, I hope, as a call for other traditional marshmallow recipes from readers or browsers alike. 

homemade marshmallows accented with edible borage flowers 

Marshmallows come from an ancient Egyptian tradition: the extract of Althaea officinalis root was combined with honey, to make a sore throat treatment fit for the Gods but accessible to all, as the perennial shrub grows easily and prolifically in many soils and environmental conditions, granted it's not in full shade. What we understand marshmallows to be, typically - the white, fluffy cylinders - more likely resembles the old French pharmacist's version: egg whites whipped up with marshmallow root extract, and lightly sweetened so that children, and adults with a sweet tooth, could better tolerate the taste of the earthy root while still getting the medicinal benefits of the plant, too. The demand for these tasty confections soon exceeded the ability that the labor intensive process of making them allowed. When the process was industrialized the ingredients changed: from egg and marshmallow root to gelatin and, eventually, high fructose corn syrup, or corn syrup, and without the root of the marshmallow plant entirely. 

Marshmallow root is used to sooth and heal sore throats as well as all mucus membranes: those in the digestive system, stomach ulcers, and the urinary tract. It helps to clear congestion and calm harsh coughs and, as an added benefit, it helps to control blood sugar thanks to it's large concentration of both soluble fiber (pectin), and the mucilage it contains. I steeped some cleaned and peeled root in near-boiling water for almost 15 minutes and found the tisane wonderfully calming, the pieces of root enjoyable to suck on and the beverage very nice to sip. One could add some chamomile flowers or another favorite herb to mask the taste but I enjoyed it solo, truth be told. 

The recipe I used for the marshmallow confections was sourced from a whole-foods oriented blog and I chose it because it called for honey and marshmallow root, itself. However, the treat is not suitable for vegetarians, and I found the final product to be a bit too gelatinous for my taste, less light and fluffy, as I was hoping for. Nonetheless, they were a hit at our gathering, and a great step toward using our lovingly grown plants as both confection, and medicine!   

  José and family - enjoying the treats and the day.    

José and family - enjoying the treats and the day.   

Summertime

Summertime is thinning the sunflowers to make way for the corn stalks who need their fair share of full sun.

It is, out of nowhere, and in no time at all, noticing that the elderflowers are nearly spent, the Sambucus nigra blooms making way for her healing purple-black berries to emerge. Gathering the last of the flowers we made a simple, floral liqueur. 

Summertime is stone fruit and krauting the Spring cabbages, Bozeman watermelons on the vine grow bigger with each passing day, and the sunflowers, they reach high...

Golden Shiro plums, so abundant -  

Saving seed from Dukat Leafy dill umbels, harvesting the last of the winter grains...

DSC_7993.JPG

And, while doing our best to keep up with it all, we are trying to live by the following. (Thank you, Carra Dugan, for contributing some great photos to this post).

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.
— Henry David Thoreau

Pinch, Prune, Trim, Tie (Repeat)

The water lilies are pruned once each season, which allows new growth more space as well as more flowers to bloom. It also ensures our interns a chance to navigate the pond in a traditionally constructed coracle.  

Busy as bees, we were, in the Delphi gardens last week! Cooperating and focusing, we finished installing the "tomato wall," pruned and deadheaded the Europeana roses to make way for their second flush of summer growth and, yes, even more clusters of red flowers.. 

We also made some necessary headway with the apple and pear cordon summer pruning process, scythed stalks of golden White Sonora wheat down and prepared it for curing, and picked so many cherries and berries: delightful!

The tomato plants are growing quickly thanks to the little heat waves we've been experiencing. The fence is in place for us to tie stems to once they get a bit more mature. 

Training and pruning tomatoes against a wall, or fence, is one of my favorite summer activities. This season, we will grow tomato plants in two different ways in order to compare fruit and plant health, as well as the labor requirements necessary, hopefully informing us about whether the inputs involved in training and pruning are, ultimately, "worth it." We will train and prune our heirloom, indeterminate varieties alongside the fence we constructed (it's about 30 feet long, 6.5 feet tall, and will support 25 plants) and we will use tall, swirling metal posts for our Goldrush Currant plants, and other indeterminate varieties, in a separate bed.

I have to be upfront about my bias, which is, of course, already clear -- although I am really excited to draw some comparisons and look more analytically at these two different systems for growing tomato vines. I learned about the intensive training method while apprenticing at Live Power Community Farm, and was so smitten with the process that I even volunteered, in addition to working very long days, to keep up with the tying and training on my own time. The intimacy that one is able to develop with the plants and, therefore, the education one receives from them - about their growth patterns, habits, and more - was irreplaceable. The rhythm of this activity, taking time for it mid-summer despite the busy-ness of everything, seemed vitally important.

It really took all of us to properly install the "fence" that we'll be growing the indeterminate vines against: I am very grateful to José, our fellow gardener and maintenance person, for assisting with its design and construction. The plants were placed about 18 inches from one another, diagonally, on either side of the sturdy fence, which is simply reclaimed 6x6 wire mesh, held into wooden posts with screws and washers. It was designed to be able to take down, and assemble, easily, and to be tucked into storage in a compact way when necessary. 

The training process is quite simple: to grow the best tasting fruit in the most organized, space-saving way, you must allow for light and air to enter the canopy, so pruning out extra foliage, in the form of "suckers," after choosing one, two or three main stalks, is the general gist of this process. I typically like to have two main stalks identified and trained: just in case something happens to the other. Suckers emerge from the stalk and stem at 45 degree angles, and will simply develop into "stems," complete with foliage and fruit bracts, themselves. The fruit bracts grow out from the stalk with, typically, three sets of leaf stems in between each bract. I like to prune the suckers off when they are smaller than 4" long, to prevent any tears in the main stalk, and they simply break off when you move it forward and back in a quick, gentle motion. I like to tie the plants to the fence lightly, just above the fruit bract, to support the fruit that we hope will get heavy below.   

Here is a photo of my farmer-mentor, Stephen Decater, working in the tomato wall at Live Power Community Farm, in Covelo, CA, July 2010. Stephen was a student of Alan Chadwick's and learned this training and pruning method from him, directly.