The Pleasures and Treasures

"The Universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper." --Eden Phillipotts

Like most gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere this time of year, we have been BUSY. The short, but intense, heat waves we've experienced seem to be bringing things on earlier than our records indicate: many of the tomato plants are nearly tall enough to need their trellis (which we're still in the process of building), the orchard needs water while the cherry trees and strawberry plants are bursting with fruit, and the raspberries, gooseberries and black currants are not far behind. The espaliered pear and apple cordons are fully ready for their summer foliage trim: we follow a modified version of Louis Lorrette's method; and the corn and dry beans and more green beans, oh my! all need to be sown. And winter squash started, and the bed prepped for that...

It is a glorious kind of busy, where sketches and notes, made in the evening, are set down first thing the next morning and returned to at the end of the day with only more bullet points, tasks, observations to move from. So, I was thankful for the opportunity we made at Delphi last week: to slow down and spend time with the flowers during this busy time of year, mimicking the bee, if you will, chasing pollen and flitting about in order to nourish and sustain the other part of self that is as reliant on feeling the sun through an array of senses.  

One of our two magnificent interns, Carra, a professional cut-flower grower at Everett Family Farm, shared a brief history of flowers as ornament and adornment with us, then brought us on a walk, meandering along the estate's paths, stopping, seeking, cutting, and contemplating our way through the diversity on site. I was released by allowing myself to feel this thought, which manifested, in my mind, as a short letter. I believe that our whole Team shares this intention, so took the liberty of signing the letter with my name, "and Crew": 

Dear vegetables, beloved fruits -

Please know that you can run amok in the summer’s sun in your own way, grow up and out, explore. We will return to you soon, with a lovely, fragrant offering from your fellow givers and sharers of life. We are all in this together, and we know you know that more than us.

With Love and Deep Thanks,
— Karisa & Crew

Humulus Lupulus, Anyone?

image courtesy of Missouri Botanical Gardens' Rare Book Collection: http://www.mobot.org/

Back in March I dug up and divided some hops rhizomes as our sprouting vines were already showing signs of vigor that I am not sure the arbor which they are established along was completely designed to manage. Dividing hops rhizomes is quite easy and enjoyable: dig down to where the rhizomes are trailing, evidenced by their first emerging sprouts (which the British used to harvest and eat, like we do asparagus). I aim for clipping those furthest away from the crown first, and use caution digging around the crown itself. With a pair of sharp hand shears trim 3-4" pieces of rhizome that each have 2+ sprouts emerging from it.

I potted the rhizomes I'd harvested into 1 gallon containers, watered and waited until they started to leaf out and establish roots. Then, with some courage and hope, I reached out to the good folks at Fermentation Solutions, our favorite local fermentation supply store. I asked if they wouldn't mind keeping a few one gallon pots of this medicinal, fragrant vine around their shop -- just to see if fellow home-brewers in the South Bay Area might be interested... 

And, as it turns out, some home-brewers were!

I brought an additional half dozen plants to the shop last week: a mix of Cascade, Sterling, and Willamette vines. 

If you are local and have an interest in adding an easily grown, perennial vine or two to your garden or yard, preferably alongside a fence as they will need support sooner than later, I encourage you to swing by Fermentation Solutions, on Winchester Blvd., in Campbell. These plants would love a new home and can become a beautiful & fragrant living shade structure which, based on our warm Spring weather thus far, I think we will need come Summertime.  

Foraging for Fir Tips

One of the joys of gardening alongside and amongst, forested areas is that we can make time, despite the call of Spring's agricultural demands, to honor Nature by foraging for wild foods. Last week: douglas fir tips.  

Once you learn how to properly identify a douglas fir tree, the bright green, soft, succulent fir tips that emerge in early Spring through the buds that give way from the tips of the older needles, they are always recognizable and, suddenly, everywhere. The color of the fir tips contrasts with the dark needles that they lie against -- which are also suitable for food and tea, just tougher, less lively, less light. The ancient, Native rule of harvesting only what one needs, and always leaving plenty for the tree or plant from which you are harvesting, as well as for the birds and animals that rely on your harvest for a food source, is a rule we follow strictly. There are many, many douglas fir trees at Delphi, some as tall as 100 feet, so we would have a difficult time over-harvesting fir tips, for sure!

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With some sugar, hot water, an ice cream maker, and a touch of gin, we made a lovely Douglas Fir Tip Sorbet with our green beauties. It was a touch too sweet, in my opinion, but delicious none-the-less. The recipe came from one of my favorite books: Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of the Sierra Nevada, by Alicia Funk and Karin Kaufman. I look forward to trying additional recipes from this book as there are so many wild foods, plants, and gifts to explore in the woods here at Delphi.   

In addition to the sorbet, we made a simple fir-tip sun tea that has become my new Springtime beverage of choice. To replicate, simply stuff a ball jar about half full of fir tips, then pour clean water over, to the top. Seal and let it sit in the sun for 1-2 days. Chill in the refrigerator until and you're ready to drink it, then remove the fir tips if you'd like, and enjoy! I haven't left the fir tips in for longer than 5 days, but after 5 days time there is still absolutely no decomposition of the needles - just a stronger tasting tea. Douglas fir tips are full of Vitamin C, making this the perfect drink for gardening work on warm days...which is exactly what we've been having lots of. Enjoy! 

Asparagus, Escarole, Interns, Rain!

Bloomsdale spinach, large heads of escarole, asparagus, garlic chives, spring beets, artichokes and broccoli flowers: gifts of nourishment and pleasure in this week's harvest.  

Spring interns have arrived and are eager to learn, work, and collaborate: we are so grateful. And the sky opened up, gifting the gardens with a little more than a .5 inch of much, much needed rain on Thursday. 

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Spring Forms, Food and Flowers

Red camellia shrubs frame a table-top pruned crabapple tree. Their blooms are coordinated to create a magnificent Spring show of reds, pinks and whites all at once. 

Red camellia shrubs frame a table-top pruned crabapple tree. Their blooms are coordinated to create a magnificent Spring show of reds, pinks and whites all at once. 

With Spring "officially" here, and notes in our journals pointing to signs of the season having been upon us, in fits and bursts, as early as six weeks ago now, it seems to be an appropriate time to take inventory of our harvests, and the state of the gardens, in general.

Despite the miner's lettuce flowering, it is still wonderfully succulent and refreshing.

Meyer lemons, blood and navel oranges, and miner's lettuce have been mainstay edibles at Delphi through the winter and early spring. Lettuce, arugula, escarole, and mustard greens planted last December, and earlier, have now either been harvested or, depending when they were transplanted last season, are beginning to grow rapidly with the lengthening days and temperatures that reach the low 70's, at times. Night-time temps are still cool, in the 40's. Peas, collards, cabbage, dill and cilantro have been transplanted and all seem the better for it. Asparagus spears are beginning to emerge in the perennial beds and a few small artichokes have peeked around their silvery blankets of leaves. I've lightly harvested manzanita and borage flowers to add color to our winter salads. Their subtle, floral tastes provide a spring energy that is beyond generous, including in small amounts.

The over-wintered kale and swiss chard plants want to live-on forever in our Santa Cruz mountain area but we are clearing them as we move forward with some double-digging and bed amendment work. The Lacinato and Red Russian kale leaves are sweeter thanks to having over-wintered but the swiss chard appears tough and less desirable to me, the longer it stays in the ground. The chickens appreciate the chard, and any aphids that are on it, very much! There are two incredible broccoli plants, referred to at Delphi as the "perennial broccolis," which formed gorgeous, tight, purple heads a week or so ago. We've been harvesting from both heads, never removing the whole head at once but enjoying it in pieces over the course of different meals. Broccoli is typically a biennial crop in this area, so I wonder if the method of harvest contributes to why it has grown so vigorously for more than two seasons now...  

While the narcissus, of which there are easily a half dozen different kinds scattered throughout the estate, are either still in full bloom or have just finished blooming, I've failed to take any photos of them because they are, literally, everywhere! They provide superb, natural protection from the gophers, rabbits and deer - who all detest their bulbs. I will end my Spring journal entry, instead, with two stunning flowers that I've been most attracted to recently:  

Fremontadendron, native to California, Arizona and Baja Mexico, is also called Flannel Bush because of its fuzzy leaves and conical seed capsules. Beware, though: the seed capsules and leaf undersides can irritate the skin if handled.  

I've not been able to identify these blushing, papery, short-lived beauties. I snapped a photo of them on my way to making several trips to the mulch pile, just off of the path, in the woods. When I went back a few days later for a closer look, they were gone! If you know what these are called please post a response in the comments. Thank you!

Fungi, Bacteria and Beans: An Age-Old Formula for Nitrogen Fixation

While the atmosphere consists of 78% Nitrogen (N2, or di-nitrogen gas), plants and animals are unable to use it in its "free," gaseous form. Over the course of millions of years, a special relationship has developed between bacteria, fungi, and legume roots that is worth understanding a little bit more about -- especially since we're concerned with soil health and organic methods of growing food. 

Diazotrophs are the general name for the bacteria that enable nitrogen fixation to happen. Nitrogen fixation is the transformation of di-nitrogen from the air into ammonia, or amino acids, that provide food for living things in the soil (including plant roots). Rhizobia are the diazotrophs that have developed a symbiotic relationship with legumes specifically. Arbuscular mycorrhizas (AM), are the fungi that are also required for the Nitrogen magic to unfold underground.

The fava beans that were planted in the grain fields last fall turned into a sea of flowing green foliage with pretty, dark-purple and white flowers spotted throughout. When I noticed the plants showing between 10-50% of their flowers, I scythed the stalks at the base and hauled them to the compost pile, to add a beautiful and hefty layer of "greens". The roots or, more accurately, the nitrogen-fixing nodules attached to the roots, were left in the ground and will be worked thoroughly into the soil, which should hasten their decomposition. We plan to plant potatoes where this generous cover crop was living before too long. The added nitrogen from the favas will be combined with composted leaves, or leaf mold -- a nice, carbonous source of organic matter as well as a source full of the micronutrients our potato plants will appreciate.

I get jazzed about observing the nodules on bean and pea roots. In this photo I've sliced one open, revealing the pink leghemoglobin, indicating that nitrogen has been fixed by this ancient, trio of elements: bacteria, fungi, and legumes.

Of course, we are saving quite a few stands of favas for re-seeding certain areas in the gardens next Fall, as well as for enjoying both fresh, and dried, beans. Has anyone made pasta fagioli with fresh favas? Quite delizioso -- and we'll be sure to share the recipe when the time for harvesting the fresh beans rolls around.   

Blossoming

Spring blooms abound through Delphi's fruit and nut tree orchards: promises of summer harvests held together by the hope we place on our pollinators and their commitment to the hard work that allows fertlity to unfold. We are surrounded by Spring here in the fields, and vegetable starts in the greenouse are responding to the lengthening days, as well. The emergence of leaves, buds and awakenings in the woods surrounding our gardens is of equal awe.

Live consciously with the rhythm of the seasons, to experience nature in spring through the physical body, in summer through the etheric body, in autumn through the astral body, and in winter through the ego.
— Rudolf Steiner

Amaranth Everywhere

We grew beautiful, tall stalks of Golden Giant Amaranth last year, named for the color and size of its grain, not its flower, which is a lush, drooping, deep blood red color. Amaranth was a staple food of great importance to the Aztecs, Incas and Mayas. It is one of the two known grains that is a complete protein containing the eight essential amino acids and it was said that a man could march for a day by eating only a handful of the tiny, shiny seeds  

The Aztecs used amaranth seeds to make flour, first popping the seeds like popcorn. They used the leaves to make sauces and mixed the seeds with the sap of a cactus to make into a drink. Amaranth seeds were also used to pay tribute or taxes to the Aztec Empire. Throughout the year, amaranth seed was ground into a paste with honey and the sap of the maguey plant. The paste would be formed into various shapes and carried through the streets to the great temples and then fed to the people. This amaranth paste was consumed in much the same symbolic way as the Catholic Church rite of the Eucharist, as ritual communion with God(s). The Spanish found the Aztec "pagan" ritual offensive. Recognizing the sacred value of the amaranth to the Aztecs' heretical religion, the Spaniards banned the cultivation and use of amaranth in the Americas.*

The bucket on the left contains amaranth prior to being threshed. The bucket on the right is seed and chaff following the hand-threshing process I used.  

The Golden Giant Amaranth grain harvest was beautiful, once processed. 

The Golden Giant Amaranth grain harvest was beautiful, once processed. 

*many thanks to Tina Poles of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, and her invaluable resource "A Handful of Seeds," for describing the historical uses and importance of amaranth.