March

March task:

If you have not already done so, decide which herbs you are growing from seed this year and which you will be growing from “starts”. Plant your seeds and record either with photographs or sketches the first stages of germination and early growth. Which herbs are you already growing? How have they fared through the winter? Do they have any signs of new growth? Make records of what you find. Repeat the exercise for all the plants on your list which are growing wild around you.

Okay (belatedly), what do we have here?

Tansy – sprouting happily from rootball kindly donated by Sarah

Seedtray #1 – top to bottom, left to right: 5 Onion, 3 Leek, 3 Chicory, 2 Marsh Mallow, 2 Calendula (thanks Charlie for the seeds!)

The same lot several weeks later, view twisted 90 degrees, Chicory and Calendula from the other 6 planted out (dubious if Marsh Mallow did anything – something came up but it might have been a weed). Weird how Onion and Leek put out a ‘folded over’ shoot which then yanked the seed casing out into the air, like the plant did a somersault before replanting itself upside down!

St. John’s Wort and Skullcap (growing from seedling and root segments respectively, again donated by S) in the pot; seedtray #2, left to right: 2 Fat Hen (seeds harvested in the Autumn), 4 Yellow Pepper (straight from a supermarket vegetable). Was scared for St. John when the winds picked up and I started leaving him outside for long stretches – he was flapping wildly from side to side for a couple of days but toughened up considerably through the process and looked very Here To Stay afterwards.

Same seedtray a few weeks later, with Peppers only just coming out (they took ages – maybe needing the bright light & warmth we’ve been getting lately). Didn’t realise I put that much Fat Hen! Seems more of the seeds were viable than I originally expected, given that they’d been thoroughly dried out and left in a paper bag for 6 months while I decided what to do with them (still working on that!). They look nice and vigorous – I may use them to border the veg patch and compete with the forest of Green Alkanet. Hopefully they won’t take over themselves…

Egg-cup seedtray left to right: 2 Borage, 2 Rocket, 3 Radish, 5 Carrot (thanks Mary!) Radishes came up ridiculously quickly and will get planted out soon. Everything else now showing signs of life (all of these from shop-bought seed). I was worried about the egg tray disintegrating from all the water and damp soil, but it seems to have held up quite well for the time being

This was my first year growing plants from seed, and I found the process enjoyable and satisfying. As a forager more used to hunting out and harvesting from plants in their prime with relatively little effort or forethought, the act of sitting with these baby plants, effectively holding their hands from day one and investing considerable time and effort in their future (planting, watering, moving in & out of doors etc.) was a new experience for me. I liked the tender feelings of ‘caring for the little ones’ it brought out in me and I feel like a better, more understanding Steward of plants when out & about as a result, having seen what each must go through in order to make it to adulthood. On the other hand, sometimes I felt pretty wearied by the responsibility I’d burdened myself with, and a conviction has hardened in me that plants should be able to fend for themselves to a large degree without constant intervention from outside. To my mind domestication makes a mockery of the evolutionary processes that shaped every form of life on this planet over millions of years. It appears to turn things upside down by selecting not for strength and resilience but for weakness and dependency. I want to relate to plants as wild beings, independent of me for the vast majority of their lives! And here I am applying for work in garden centres… I guess I’m just a lazy forager :) Feral Kevin touched on this recently with an entertaining/illuminating comparison between thistles and cabbages:

People say [preparing and eating thistles is] a lot of work.  For a vegetable this amazing I disagree.   Is it more work than, let’s say, harvesting cabbage?   — totally.  With thistles you have to use gloves and cut off the leaves and peel off the prickles, then further peel the fibers down to the core.    However, they required no tilling, weeding, pest control, fencing, planting, digging, mowing, or fertilizing.   Taking that into consideration, you’ll find that producing something edible from cabbage is much more work.    The thistles just grow.   A thistle plant has a more potent life force than cabbage or domesticated vegetable.   The cabbage needs special soil, weed control, protection from slugs and animals, fertilizer, and lots of water.   Thistles just grow in direct competition for other precious resources in the wild environment here.   They just grow.

Speaking of which, I was out walking with the family and a camera the other day, so here’s the current state of play of some of the wild-growing herbs on my list:

Left to right: Dandelion, Horsetail, Hawthorn (showing both white globules and open flowers), huge Burdock, Meadowsweet (verified by red stem and that weird medicinal taste), Lesser Celendines on their way out, happy Nettles growing from a bag of dirt, White Dead-Nettle and Cow Parsley.

My herbal ally Yarrow has been busy creating a small jungle in the back garden:

I’ve sat with it a couple of times, used the leaves in soups and an omelette and given it friendly greetings whenever I’ve passed it by. Otherwise it recently came through for me on some issues I was having with a gardening client. I was having real trouble basically fighting not to internalise the nervous energy he kept throwing at me – all the needly tricks of getting you to work harder, faster and more stressfully (and, incidentally, for less pay) – I felt in danger of getting swamped and letting go to cave in meekly to all his demands. But I remembered people talking at the Sanctuary Herb Festival back in September about Yarrow’s properties as a herb for boundaries, both physically in its vulnerary action (helping to stem blood flow and heal wounds) and energetically in preserving personal boundaries. So the evening after working 5 hours for £20, I drank a pot of tea made from flowers and leaves I dried last year, looked up national minimum wage rates and was surprised to discover that:

Most workers in the UK over school leaving age are legally entitled to be paid at least the NMW and all employers have to pay it to you if you are entitled to it. It makes no difference:

  • if you are paid weekly or monthly, by cheque, in cash or in another way
  • if you work full time, part time or any other working pattern
  • if you work at your employer’s own premises or elsewhere
  • what size your employer is
  • where you work in the UK

You are entitled to the NMW even if you sign a contract agreeing to be paid at a lower rate. This is regardless of whether you sign of your own free will or because your employer persuades or makes you. The contract will have no legal effect and you must still be paid the proper rate. (link)

…and eventually left a shakey message on his phone asking for an extra tenner to raise my hourly rate (originally £10/hr) from £4 to the minimum of £6. I felt much calmer and more sure of myself after drinking the tea, and it helped me arrive at a healthier ‘here I am; there you are’ relationship with the client, who agreed to pay me the extra £10 (saying he was happy with the work I’d done), although he hasn’t asked me back to do any more work since…

Pictures of violet syrup and bramble vinegar to go up shortly…

Here are the most recent additons to my (liquid) medicine cabinet as of May 17th:

Left to right: Bramble vinegar (root segments left to soak in cider vinegar for a few weeks – more like a few months…), remains of Violet syrup (recipe), Cherry bark/blossom elixir (equal weight bark, blossom & sugar + vodka to cover – based on), Dandelion flower syrup x2 (recipe – see April)

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