Go into the garden every day, no matter what.
That's the promise I made at the start of the season. It will be a daily ritual, a practice to keep me in tune with the growth and health of the garden, and a sure way not to miss a bit of garden gossip. Like a bustling city full of honking horns, buses whizzing by, and street conversations half-heard, there is endless activity to observe. Cucumber beetles rapidly working to destroy the cucumber crop. Birds ravishing the cherry tree singing loudly to their friends to join in on the feast. Earthworms patiently turning the soil underfoot. Never a dull moment, but you need to go to the garden every day to keep up.
That has been my biggest lesson gardening this year. If you're not there to enjoy the first ripe strawberries, the squirrels will be happy to take on that responsibility. In the unbearable heat, the delicata squash triples in size, shading out the other plants they had agreed to live harmoniously with just a few weeks earlier.
And the slugs! They seem so innocent because they move so slowly, but they are ravenous, eating the bean sprouts in just 24 hours. “Boy, those beans have a terrible germination rate; I should complain to the seed company.” Replant. “Why did only five plants out of 20 come up? They look so eaten.” SLUGS. I'm furious; how dare they. Replant. Put out beer traps (slugs love beer), set up a family watch schedule. Collective eye roll. Ok fine, I’ll take all the shifts.
It's a labor of love for these beans to hit our plates.
Don't waste food.
Another commitment, easier said than done. "Are you going to eat all that lettuce?" a friend asks when I proudly offer them a garden tour. "Hahaha, I might have gone a little overboard, but hey after all those articles about food shortages…" By early June, my son declares he is never going to eat salad again after he moves out of this house.
Learn to embody the garden, that is the medicine.
Embody / (ɪmˈbɒdɪ) / Give bodily form to a quality or feeling, perhaps spiritual.
When you pass through the gate, you are now driving at garden speed, down on your hands and knees peeking into another world where the gossip of the day is how ripe that first tomato is looking, if the butterfly has hatched yet, has the garter snake been by yet today? It's a tremendous relief to step away from the outside world and into another universe moving at a different speed, ladybug speed; even slug speed is ok by me.
Let the garden culture you, that first bite of freshly picked, still dirty carrot, the smell of roses gently blowing in the air, the stickiness of your fingers after the calendula harvest.
Harvest your bounty.
As the days become more abundant, plans to collect and preserve the bounty get sketched out.
Spinach cleaned and frozen.
Pesto blended, put in the freezer.
Broccoli and cauliflower, every morsel enjoyed.
Peas, couldn't keep up, chickens will finish the job.
For an herbalist, the daily haul of goods goes beyond the vegetable garden. There is tea to be made, herbs to be dried, tinctures to be blended. All the possibilities can be a bit overwhelming, especially with a pandemic on our hands, an economic crisis, and a social revolution unfolding. Can I make enough motherwort tincture for everyone in my neighborhood? A satchel of chamomile tea for every doorstep? Deep breath, it’s going to be ok. A friend stops by, "I'll make us a pot of tea to enjoy." Maybe that is enough for today.
Here in Vermont, it is the beginning of zucchini season; it arrives just after basil season and typically before tomato season. There are zucchini fritters, zucchini pasta, zucchini bread, and my favorite, Zucchini Cake:
Zucchini Sesame Chocolate Cake
- 2 cups gluten-free flour
- ¼ cup almond meal
- ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup coconut oil
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups grated zucchini
Heat the oven to 350. Oil a bundt cake pan, sprinkle it with sugar.
Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Mix together and fold in the zucchini. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Simple syrups are a fantastic way to preserve the aromatic plants in your garden. Today I made a chamomile simple syrup with local honey. It's nice to flavor sparkling water or add to a favorite cocktail. It's just about the easiest thing to make and can be used right away as a celebration of high summer or stored away for the darker days of winter when you need an aromatic lift.
Honey Chamomile Simple Syrup
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup chamomile flowers
Bring the water to a gentle boil in a small pot, add chamomile flowers, turn off the water and cover with a lid and let steep for 6 minutes. It's important to keep the lid on while steeping to keep the aromatic flavors from escaping. Strain out the flowers and retain the chamomile water in a small jar. Add the honey while the water is still hot and stir until mixed.
As I tend the garden inside the neat confines of the garden fence, I keep one eye on the other plants that have found their way to the edges of the yard. In the spring it's the dandelion, yellow dock, and burdock that call out and say hello, some of our favorite spring tonics. Now during high summer, there is an abundance of two of my favorite plants, motherwort and mugwort. If I didn't keep them at bay, they would jump the fence in an instant, soak up the compost and get cozy with the less adventurous vegetables.
We are in a great time of transformation; the world is demanding that we wake up. Sometimes that takes diving deep into our dream world and pulling spirit into our waking life. Said to enhance your dreams, mugwort is here to help you do that important work. Once the sun has set, harvest a few leaves or a few branches and place them under a pillow or over your bed. Close your eyes and dream big, the world is waiting.
Who knew there could be such adventures in a simple plot of dirt. Who needs noisy cities and costly flights overseas anyway. Go into the garden--a magnificent unfolding is underway; you just have to show up every day.