November No More
The urgency of being in the garden continues to wane, and it is a good feeling to focus on other aspects of farming for a while. Things like harvesting, storage, bookkeeping and such. It’s also time to start making sense of what happened this past season by reviewing my notebooks and entering the details into a much more manageable record.
By mid month, I had my two beds of garlic in the ground topped with mulch. Last year my onions were in the ground at the same time, but this year I’ll plant these in February after the winter crops are finishing up.
The slight wet and warm weather also made it possible to move a few native plants from the forest into some beds I have been developing around the property. The chickens thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with the project and we had some good talks as we scratched and dug the soil together. Those days of moving plants were pure bliss as arranging plants in the landscape is a great way to observe and mimic how nature does it, and working with nature is so much more relaxing than working against it.
We are extremely fortunate that our field is nestled near a very thick and productive forest, and so far I am pleased with my efforts to blur those lines between natural and planned agriculture. Another bonus is plants from the forest don’t cost any dollars, only time, and the more general diversity I can maintain, the better overall my foundation for the future will be.
This year, I am also investing in saving seeds. I am still refining what the workflow looks like, but for now, I’m just dropping the tops of flowers into plastic cups with the names of the plants on slips of paper. I used to think it wasn’t worth it to save seeds because they are a relatively cheap expense, but if you want the level of diversity that I do, the cost can quickly accelerate.
This interest in saving seeds started when my good friend founded a free seed library in Napa, California, and our discussions of this project have helped me understand the importance of managing the abundance that growing provides.
Biologically, saving seeds helps with regional adaptation. The thing is, many of the seeds we buy off the shelf are often grown in distant climate zones that have different bugs, rainfall, and patterns of sunshine. So plants grown from these somewhat foreign seeds wake up to find they need to adapt in order to survive. Those that thrive are likely be even stronger, more well adapted, the following season. There’s a lot more to this, including the potential to influence future crop traits, but for now, selecting the strongest from your own garden plot is a great way to improve things moving forward.
Socially, sharing seeds builds community by creating a space to tell the stories behind each variety and connect the dots between each person in the community. Sharing makes the monetary value of a seed less important than the social value.
There’s a beautiful story of when African people were coerced onto ships set for America, the women wove seeds into the braids of their daughters hair. It’s certainly a story of resilience and that despite whatever hardship slavery brought by forced immigration, a botanical heritage would not be lost. I love that story.
And finally, seed saving improves food security, a very trendy but necessary phrase these days. Instead of relying on bank interest rates to generate future wealth, plants have their own interest rate, based on survival, and it’s always going up, especially with the insurance of community involvement. So it’s basically money in the bank.
For now I’m starting slow and just harvesting the tops of flowers and storing them in containers to dry. It’s not exactly the perfect system because the wild birds keep finding them and tipping over the cups. It’s certainly something I want to explore more rigorously next year.
And lastly, a friend gave me a dehydrator, which at first I thought I would never use, especially since I had already given one away the last time I moved, but I was surprised at how many things I could do with it. I made quick work with drying many herbs for tea and other culinary uses and now have a really great stock of different varieties of spicy pepper flakes. I suppose this means over the winter I’ll need to figure out a bigger pantry.
Without the physical labor of farming taking up most of my time, I am sure surprised at how many things I can busy myself with, but I try each day to learn to rest because I know spring will surely be here soon.