I found some discarded English lavender plants at a nursery last spring, suffering from what seemed to be powdery mildew. I resolved to revive them, and bounce back they did, simply by spreading the pots out in a dry, sunny area, and not overwatering. As a last-minute idea before a housewarming party, I decided pot up a couple of plants and decorate with them indoors. After the party, I decided to keep them inside, wondering how they’d do.
Four months later, they’re looking great, with very little care. Lavender prefers very well-drained, sandy soil, and full sun. They can’t stand to have wet feet, especially during the cold of winter. My plants live in east-facing windows, and are very good at telling me when they’re getting dry. Their growing tips droop down very obviously. I tend to wait a day after I notice, to be sure I’m not overwatering.
Harvest by giving it a trim as needed, and use as tea, flavoring, scent, or medicine. Dallas made a lavender-infused simple syrup for mixing with cocktails.
Our writer/ filmmaker/ raw milk enthusiast friend, Matthew Gasda, along with the wonderful Joyce Laine and Claire Kimock came over one afternoon to enjoy some smoothies made from Flint Hill Farm’s fresh goat milk. That delicious batch included lavender, honey, and mint. Here’s Matthew’s favorite recipe:
The Gasda Macrocosm Smoothie
raw goats milk or raw cow’s kefir
homegrown mint or other herbs
seasonal or frozen fruit
two raw farm eggs
Directions: Blend, drink, go to heaven. Sally Fallon would be proud.
Corn, beans, and squash effectively comprise the collective staff of life of the New World. These crops were so important and complemented each other so well, that they were known as “The Three Sisters,” with many legends celebrating their sustaining virtues.
We try to do these New World native plants justice here at Lunaria, but none more than the winter squash, with whom we have a tasty love affair. I personally got so excited about them that I planted a few seeds on March 1, far before any sane gardener would think about squash. These tender crops are typically direct sown outdoors once the soil has thoroughly warmed up; they don’t like being transplanted. Well, ours were potted up and most were kept alive in sunny windows until last frost, and now they’re threatening to take down the fence of “Gary’s Garden” (named after the groundhog that kept infiltrating its perimeter). We have some ripening sugar pumpkins and stella blue hokkaidos that we expect to be ready in a few weeks. This should perfectly fulfill my intense craving for curried tomato-squash dishes.
Another one of our many experiments this year is corn. I’d always thought it somewhat inefficient, as it takes up a good amount of space relative to its cropping. Then, during my residence at Women’s Studio Workshop, I learned that the husks and stalks can be used to make a gorgeous, pale golden-green paper. Well that was enough to convince me to go ahead and try it. We planted 3 successions to stagger the ripening times, including a succession of transplanted corn. This is another crop that dislikes root disturbance, but we take the word of Elliot Coleman quite seriously, and decided to try it. We were elated with the results, as not a single transplant was lost, and they’re all still going strong.
With most of our meals being vegetarian, we tend to eat a lot of beans – dry beans, that is. We can’t imagine a world without black bean quesadillas, chickpea hummus, or pinto bean chili. But when it comes to green beans… meh. Most gardeners think we’re crazy – “You don’t like green beans??!” – but we think we’re being quite rational. Besides not appealing to our particular palates, beans will always be produced at a loss for the small farmer. They are tedious to harvest, and they must be picked every day, yet they must be sold at rock-bottom prices to compete with industrial farms. Even our so-loved dry beans are uneconomical to dry, harvest, and shell, when organic dry beans are so readily available now. The main advantage of growing beans is their special characteristic of being nitrogen fixers. The legume family, including beans as well as peas, clover, peanuts, indigo, and lentils, capture the nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in the soil, making this essential nutrient available to other plants.
So this year’s garden includes a small amount of beans, a good stand of corn, and hopefully a year’s supply of squash. We’re really excited about a certain portion planted in the traditional, Native American, Three Sisters formation. We chose to plant heirloom varieties that would all be ready to harvest in autumn: blue dent maize for cornmeal, drought-tolerant tepary beans, and several varieties of cucurbits, including pumpkins, winter squash, and moon & stars watermelons.
Corn is wind-pollinated, its tassels releasing their magic dust to the air to settle on the ear silks below. This fact of life prompts a break from the modern American row system – to ensure that each kernel develops (they are seeds, remember), the corn must be planted in blocks, or in this case, mounds. The first mounds, which are 18 inches across, staggered about 5 feet apart, and amended with aged horse manure, are each planted with 4 corn seeds. Then, when the corn germinates and reaches a height of 4-6 inches, a pole bean seed is planted in the same mound, 3 inches away from each corn seedling. In between the corn and beans, we create squash mounds of the same size, with 3 seeds planted in each.
The effect, once everything grows in, is a mutually-beneficial companion planting. The corn provides something on which the beans can climb. The beans fix nitrogen to provide nutrients to the other crops. The squash sprawls along the ground, suppressing weeds and providing a living mulch to retain soil moisture, while its prickly vines help deter hungry critters. And, come harvest, the delicious crops complement each other nutritionally. It’s hardly surprising that these crops were considered to be special gifts from the Creator. All of this botanical, gastronomic, and divine harmony kind of makes you want to enjoy some succotash while you plan your own Three Sisters garden for next year, doesn’t it?
Here’s just a glimpse of what’s pickin’ at Lunaria right now, where change is the only constant. The delicious snap peas that started so early are finally winding down in this hot, dry start to summer. The broccoli are plumping out the last of the main florets or sending out their rays of side shoots. We’re starting to get a handful of tomatoes every day, mostly Romas and cherries with the heirlooms not far behind. With the June strawberry season long gone, we’ve stopped pinching the flowers on our first year everbearing varieties so they can focus on fruiting. We planted a few zucchinis only to be met with just as many volunteers, and so starts the season of squash at every meal. The herbs are coming full force; loads of basil, cilantro, chives, parsley, dill infusing the kitchen. Although one of our hens recently molted for 2 weeks (thereby creating feathers instead of eggs), they’re all laying spectacularly once again. and And our standby greens – the kale, chard, lettuce, cabbages – are chugging away through the heat of summer, obliging us with leaves for the taking.
That’s what’s picking, but there’s so much more just focusing on vegetative growth, sending out new stems and leaves and vines every day. Check out what some of the gardens are looking like lately:
As you might have discerned from the lack of blogging, Lee and I have been particularly busy lately. Part of the reason is that we’ve been tending our new farm away from home. Truth be told, Lunaria is little more than a swampy yard of heavy clay with some spots of fleeting sunlight. So we felt like some lucky ducks when we found out that we were given the use of a sunny plot of land up the street! This corner garden was worked and loved for decades by a special woman named Helen Nast, providing the neighborhood with plenty of fresh food and flowers. We’re grateful to be able to continue that tradition and honor her legacy.
Unfortunately, in Helen’s later years, the garden was left untended, and grass has taken over, obscuring any clues to the original garden plan. Racing against rainy weather, we’ve spent days battling that stubborn turf, using a combination of hand digging, sheet mulching, tarp killing, and rototilling. We even have plans for some squash strangling for the real tall stuff. We were able to carve out enough beds to get some potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and jalepeños in the ground.
Constant farm tasks have met us on the home front, too. In another attempt to rid our hens of lice, we sprayed each of them generously with orange oil, and then watched as they wobbled away high and briefly disabled. We built Poultry Tractor 2.0, into which we tried to assimilate the lately-separated chicks and ducklings, but the larger ducks turned out to be bullies. We also received about 300 blueberry, strawberry, asparagus, rhubarb, brassica, and tomato plants that we’re still catching up with.
On Monday, after a sonorous thunderstorm that kept us up half the night, Lunaria farm had a particularly trying morning. The duck tractor proved to not be entirely watertight, and their heat lamp had shorted out at some point. The upper level nest box area of the chicken tractor had collapsed, and the hens laid their eggs in their food. Despite our fencing, a groundhog had gotten into the greens garden and eaten half the lettuce and some of the cauliflower. When I went up the road to the corner garden, I found that our rototilling methods hadn’t accounted for the necessities of drainage, and the paths between our rows were flooded with 6 inches of water. I planted 100 tomato plants in the mud while Lee dug a trench to sink a groundhog-proof fence into. Then it started raining again.
We were ready for some coffee. Just about every day, Lee and I have a “business meeting,” when, for few minutes, we discuss priorities. But it’s really just an excuse to sit down and drink coffee. This time, feeling as dampened as we were, Lee suggested that we start out by making a list of things we were stoked about. Here’s a summary:
blueberries are in the ground!
we have kombucha brewing!
5 eggs every day!
we’re farming the neighbor’s unused sunny garden!
we harvested pretty radishes!
all the healthy, free plants!
our fresh eggs for fresh bread exchange!
200 Roma tomatoes!
safety-first Lee & get-her-done Kristen are a perfect match!
we have a new french press!
we got some gigs playing music!
Needless to say, we both felt a lot better after recounting only a few of our blessings. The universe will continue to provide, and we’ll go on being grateful. We highly recommend opening with a stoked list before your own business meeting, or just as a way to perk up a dreary day.
It seems lately, that each time I go for a trip, I come back feeling an increasing urgency to keep up with the demands of spring. It’s not a stressful kind of urgency, but the voice of a season that says in each breath, “Look alive.”
This time the excursion was to Brooklyn, to visit foodie Daniel Delaney, artists Brandon Cox & Jennifer Grimyser, and the sustainable butcher shop The Meat Hook. I came back to find the ducklings about twice as big as when I left them, excitedly trampling the chicks as they raced between the food and water dishes to maintain a constant grain slurry in their bills and all over the bedding and the other birds. The chicks, with their more reasonable growth rate but innate sense of pecking order, preferred not to eat out of the provided containers, but to chase the ducks around trying to peck the food off of their sloppy bills. Sixteen birds in one box meant the shredded paper bedding needed to be changed twice a day and they couldn’t make it through the night without drinking the water dry. This had to stop.
The next day we went to the feed store and bought a mason jar feeder and waterer and some straw bales. We got another box set up and moved the chicks to a home with higher walls so they could practice flying safely. We figured the ducks should get the new, deeper waterer so that they could submerge their bills. An hour later we realized that this allowed them to spill most of the water they were drinking, putting almost a whole quart onto the floor of their cardboard box. Oops. But the straw is working out quite well. It doesn’t get as compacted or soiled as the shredded paper, and is better for the compost pile. And it’s probably safer for the ducks to eat, although they will munch on both (have you figured out that ducklings are a handful?).
For the past few days it’s been rainy, which keeps us from focusing on most farm tasks. Today’s precipitation let up enough for us to address some wanting farm tasks. Since their move, we had been ignoring the state of the duckling’s cardboard box, but this morning it was definitely leaking and reeking, no doubt about it. The results of our emergency meeting concluded that a purchase of a huge plastic storage container was in order. The swell and smell are solved, and now, instead of having to scoop out their nasty bedding, we can just dump the contents into the compost.
Next on the agenda was dealing with our laying hens’ lice problem. We got our hens as adults with clipped beaks. They do this at some commercial hatcheries to prevent chickens from pecking each other when they’re kept in those inhumane and stressful factory farm conditions. However, clipped beaks also prevent them from effectively cleaning themselves, and as a result, our chickens are being plagued by poultry lice. These parasites are host specific and can not be transferred to humans. But they seem to be irritating and can potentially spread to our young chicks and ducks, so we’ve made it a priority to get rid of them. Our research shows that it may be impossible to do without Monsanto-made poisons. So far we’ve tried dusting with diatomaceous earth and today, spraying with orange oil. We applied it to one hen today, and noticed that hundreds of lice began crawling away from the skin only to be met by the inaccurate, blunt pecks of her sisters. It’s nice that they try to clean each other, but they’re not very good at it. After spraying that one chicken, she seemed so damp and grumpy that we decided not to soak the rest until a sunnier day when they could dry themselves properly.
By lunchtime I was feeling like I’d had enough of dealing with dirty birds, but then we had our latest version of the egg sandwich – Happy Farm duck eggs on whole wheat sourdough with steamed garden greens and feta cheese. Biting into a bright orange, perfectly runny yolk is a certain kind of bliss, the taste of which forbidding you to enjoy another lifeless, factory farm egg ever again. This winter in Austin, I got so hooked on these “yard egg sambos” that I found I didn’t feel quite right if I didn’t have one in the morning. Four months later and I’ve hardly skipped a day. I’m not sure if you’d call it an addiction or a passion, but in either case this is precisely when I realize it’s all worth it.