July in the Garden

July is winding down, a cooler month than usual, but there is a steady ripening toward fruition nonetheless. Work in the garden has slowed down somewhat. Not because there is less to do, just that there is more to do elsewhere. The time I do spend in the garden continues to surprise me. I love how my plans and the seeds I sow enter into relationship with whatever nature has in store for me. This spring-seeded clover seems to get along just fine with the volunteer plantain. Both are wonderful edible and medicinal plants.
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Plantain (Plantago major) likes to grow in heavy, compacted soil. I have plenty of that, which means I also have plenty of plantain. I gather a basket most visits and bring it home to infuse into oil and dry for tea. I’m so grateful for this exceedingly common and abundant plant.
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The other abundant volunteer this year has been the Queen Anne’s Lace, aka wild carrot (Daucus carota). A member of the umbelliferous Apiaceae family and the wild progenitor of carrots, this plant must be approached with extreme caution. Without proper ID skills it could be easy to confuse it with poison hemlock or water hemlock, two of the most deadly plants in North America. (The former famously killed Socrates). In fact, stories are told of how trained botanists have made this, their last, fatal mistake. Some foragers avoid the entire family altogether to stay safe. I don’t think this is necessary. Once you have the skills, it is not difficult to differentiate the plants, but I absolutely agree with herbalist Howie Brounstein who teaches his students to always “Be humble with the umbels!
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At the very least, one can always admire its stunning beauty.
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I have been gathering the flowers and using them in salted herbs, as a hydrosol and this week I’m experimenting with making a Queen Anne’s Cordial. It will be ready to taste in another couple of days and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
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The yarrow I planted last year has flowered and it is a delight to gather armfuls of this amazing, aromatic plant.
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I dried some for tea and I also made this hydrosol, rich in the blue essential oil azulene, a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the skin, reducing redness, swelling and irritation. A potent antioxidant, it protects the skin from damaging free radicals and rejuvenates skin cells.

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From a distance, the garden appears full of mostly white flowers, but there are splashes of colour throughout. These ingredients went into something I’m making exclusively for the August CSA!
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I had a friend come and and give me a hand in the garden this week and we harvested the first of the garlic. There’s 10 lbs here and I figure I have about another 30 or 40 lbs to go. I’m pleased with how it looks so far. Now I just need to find some space to dry it all!
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What’s happening in your garden?


June in the Garden- Part Two

OatsI love planting oats as a cover crop, as they serve multiple functions in my garden. They condition the soil and suppress weeds, and the seed heads are gathered in the immature, ‘milky’ stage for medicine. Milky oats provide a rich, nourishing remedy that supports the nervous system, aiding all those feeling a little run ragged and worn out.

See that crop circle in the middle of the top picture? That’s where I forgot to rake the seeds into the soil when I first sowed them. They just sat on top of the soil and never germinated. Oops! I went back a week later and broadcast more seed into the circle making sure to rake them in well. The seeds germinated quickly, so that the circle is filled in now and caught up with the rest.Oats

ValerianThe valerian is blooming. I catch the scent each time I pass. I love the creamy-white flower heads. So do the pollinators! I started the valerian from seed last year and they’ve really taken off. I’ll harvest some of the roots for medicine this fall and replant the crowns. My hope is that valerian will be a fixture in my garden for many years to come.Valerian2

redcloverRed clover is a short-lived perennial that flowers in its second year. Seeded last year, this patch has grown in lush and thick. Another excellent cover crop, clover is also a nitrogen fixer, adding this essential fertilizer to the soil through a symbiotic relationship between rhizobia bacteria and the roots of nitrogen fixing plants. Medicinally, red clover is a nutritious herb high in vitamins and minerals. Traditionally it has been used to support the female reproductive system and balance hormones, as well as aiding in respiratory issues such as bronchitis and whooping cough and to treat skin conditions and swollen glands. I think the deer have been enjoying the clover too. I see evidence of grazing and areas of flattened clover where the deer have lain down in the patch. That’s ok, there’s plenty for all of us.

DaisiesThese cheerful ox-eye daisies were kind enough to volunteer in my garden this year and I was happy to leave them to flower. I’ve been gathering them and drying them for tea and infusing them into oil to make a wonderful smelling massage oil for sore muscles.

FullPondRemember the freshly dug pond from last post? Well, we got 85 mm of rain in 24 hrs this week, which was more than enough to fill it up. I haven’t had time to seal it with bentonite clay yet, so this water will eventually drain, but it leaves me optimistic about the water harvesting potential of this feature in the garden.

YHAThe other exciting thing happening in the garden this summer is the Young Herbalist Apprenticeship program I am running for a small group of 8 and 9 year olds. The 7 of us meet every Wednesday morning for herbal learning, work and play. On this morning the group learned the patterns of the pea family.

It’s such a joy to spend time with children in the garden, exploring and discovering the wonders of the plant world together.

I can’t wait to see what July brings!


June in the Garden- Part One

The days are long and full. I wake up with the sun and am in bed not too long after the last vestige of light has left the sky. As much as possible, I try to let the weather dictate the rhythm of my days. Overcast days are perfect for putting transplants in the ground. Bright sunshine in the morning calls me out into the fields to harvest clover and daisies. Rainy days mean catching up on household chores and emails.

June feels like a speedy month to me and I’m looking forward to a few blistering hot July days when it’s just too sweltering to move and everything slows down to a crawl. In the meantime here’s a look at what’s happening in the garden right now

scytheI’m finding my scythe to be an essential tool in the garden. I use it to control plant growth and create my own mulch. Plus, I’m totally prepared for the next peasant uprising! (It was custom made for me, from here.)

elderyberryI planted elderberries in this section last year and three balsam poplar trees this spring. Eventually this area will become a shade garden for woodland plants. The growth around the bushes was starting to take over so I scythed the weeds down and applied compost to the base of the trees.elderberrycompostTo keep the weeds under control going forward I sheet mulched the whole 80 foot stretch that marks the boundary of the future woodland shade garden with cardboard and straw.sheetmulchAs well as suppressing weeds the mulch should remove the need for additional irrigation.
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I’m underplanting the elders and poplars with a variety of herbs. First I open up a hole in the cardboard…
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…and dig down into the soil making room for the seedling. I may or may not add a little extra compost to the hole.
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Then I replace the cardboard and straw and move onto the next one. This is Japanese catnip. I also planted sweet Annie and sage in here.
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pondbeforeThis is the wettest spot on my half acre. It’s flooded with spring thaw well into May and gets pretty boggy after a hard rain. They’re hard to spot in this pic, but I planted two alder trees here and will plant two more in the fall. They love the wet, are nitrogen fixers, coppice well and provide wonderful medicine from their bark and leaves. I’ve had a water feature in mind for this site since last year, but never found the time to get the project started. Fortunately I was able to recruit coerce my guy into spending his one day off a week digging a big hole in the ground. He’s really the best!
pondbefore2He used the dug soil to create a berm behind the alders. I’ll get the berm planted with a variety of things and my hope is that it will act as a sun trap, creating a nice warm microclimate for some more sensitive species.
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By late afternoon he dug all the way down to the water level! The next step will be to seal it bentonite clay and wait for a rain to fill it up. I’m so thrilled to be getting this water feature established. Ideally the pond will provide habitat for a variety of beneficial species, further reduce irrigation needs and create microclimates. I can’t wait!
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Up next: What’s growing in the garden and what I’m harvesting.


Celebratory Spring Giveaway

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The dandelions are bursting, the lilacs are budding, the fruit tress are blossoming, the spruce tips are, uh, tipping and the nettles are knee high.  It’s spring, glorious spring!  To celebrate the season and to say thanks to my readers, Facebook friends and everyone who has helped to encourage and support the Wild Garden I’m having a giveaway contest.

One lucky winner will receive a 120 ml bottle of Chamomile Liqueur, 125 ml jar of a delicious Digestive Electuary and a woodsy scented 60 ml spray bottle of Cedar Hydrosol, along with a little handout explaining each item and how to enjoy them.

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment here or on the Facebook Page between now and Monday the 26th at 5pm.

This contest is now closed. Congratulations to C. Lapointe!

Happy Spring!


Food and Medicine from the Forest

People often ask me when I became interested in wild edibles and medicinal plants and how I got started learning about them. I have a few different answers depending on the context. All of them are true. Sometimes I tell people that it was a minor medical emergency in the middle of the night during a time when I was coming to understand the deeply unsustainable nature of the conventional healthcare system. I wanted to learn about all the possible low impact, non-toxic alternatives that can support my health and well-being, that aren’t reliant on cheap fossil fuels. And other times I tell people that I got started as a small child learning from my grandmother and father.

Growing up, my Oma would make one of my favourite summer snacks. I didn’t know what it was called at the time, only that she would dip  flat-topped clusters of flowers into batter, fry them quickly in hot oil and sift powdered sugar over them. My friends and I would inhale these delicious treats and later my Oma would receive phone calls from worried parents whose kids told them they had been fed strange flowers. It was only as an adult that I learned that they were elderberry fritters my grandmother was feeding us.

My father has been a nature lover his whole life. As a boy, he and his friends would set off into the woods with no more than a bed roll, lighter and tin can, camping out, eating what small animals they could catch and whatever wild food they could find. Spending summers with him, he would take my step-brother and I out for walks in the fields and forest behind the house and teach us the names of trees and plants. He taught us how to suck the sweet nectar from red clover flowers, and the perfect stage to eat the juicy milkweed white from the young pods.

Though there were many years between those early childhood experiences and when my own passion/obsession for plants kicked in, those formative moments stayed with and shaped me in ways that it comes as no surprise to find myself where I am now, doing what I’m doing. Those first encounters with the plants connected me to the earth, grounded me and instilled a love of nature in me, so that I can follow the thread forward in time and see my present self, not as one who has been radically transformed, but simply someone who is on a journey.

So it seems only fitting that another step on this journey has me teaming up with my dad to put on a workshop at his place in Fesserton, Ontario. He’s been puttering in his 5 acre woodland for some years now, transplanting native woodland plants like ramps and blue cohosh, clearing out some areas for a thriving vegetable garden and most recently he has become very interested in mushroom cultivation, inoculating logs, IDing existing mushrooms on site and experimenting with different techniques. My favourite Christmas gift last year was the bag of dried oyster mushrooms he gave me.

He has a  life-long learning and intimate knowledge of trees and working with wood, along with many decades of observation and awareness of the natural world. Coupled with my plant obsession and interest in perennial agro-forestry as seen through a permaculture lens, I figure we have at about 80 years of experience between us!

If you live near or in the Georgian Bay area (or know someone who does) you might be interested in the workshop we’ll be hosting together on Saturday May 24th.

The morning portion will consist of some basic theory of sustainable agro-forestry/perennial silviculture including coppicing and non-timbre forest products. If we have time we might go over chainsaw operating and tree felling skills & safety. Then we will dive into the fun,  hands-on portion with mushroom cultivation. After lunch we’ll finish the day off with a woodland edible and medicinal plant walk. Everyone goes home with their own mushroom log.

If you only want to come for the plant walk in the afternoon that’s an option too.

All the details and registration options can be found here: http://thewildgarden.ca/event/food-and-medicine-from-the-forest/

Participants will receive the address and link to a map upon successful registration.

Come spend the day with my dad and I in beautiful Georgian Bay!

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