Organic Gardening

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1/29/2015

Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future.

Fiddlehead Farm

The experience he had at the Arcata Educational Farm was Rowan’s introduction to a farming lifestyle and, even at that early stage, he knew it would be his guiding force leading forward.

When their work in Arcata ended, Katie and Rowan did some traveling, including some international farm interning called WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). They both believe it was then – when they were working on a farm in Argentina – that their thinking solidified around the idea of wanting to start their own farm.

After returning to the U.S., Rowan and Katie moved to Portland, Oregon, where Rowan began graduate school at Portland State University while Katie found work at Portland’s highly respected 47th Avenue Farm.

As Katie gained greater experience with a large commercial agricultural operation, Rowan worked on a graduate study program that would benefit not only his own farming future, but the future of many other beginning farmers.

“Much of my time in grad school was spent developing a proposed farm incubator program for the Portland area. I wanted to create a mechanism to help other people get started in farming while promoting scales of agriculture that I believe are beneficial to a community. But I also focused on the conservation piece… making sure that conservation agricultural practices and good stewardship are used. I went to grad school with the intent of doing something with community agriculture, and this incubator study seemed the perfect way to do that.”

Eventually Rowan’s research led to his current position as incubator farm manager for the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District – a position that helps support the legacy he and Katie are building at Fiddlehead Farm. But that legacy doesn’t come easy. Several years in and benefiting from Katie’s retired parents now living on the property and sharing the financial burden, farming remains a genuine challenge. And the biggest hurdles always are the same… dealing with the abundance of work and the scarcity of money.

Rowan believes there’s money to be made. “You can make a living… there’s money to be made, but it just takes a long time. Frank Morton [of Wild Garden Seed] said at a local conference that eventually the poverty starts to go away. You have to make it work with other things in your life. If Katie wasn’t committed to being a full-time farmer, we couldn’t pull this off. I’m just not around enough. And then if we didn’t have my additional income we wouldn’t be building the barns and greenhouses. But we’ve found our balance. I get enough hands-in-the-dirt time to keep myself satisfied, and we’re able to get enough help to keep her sane. That’s how we’ve made it work. I think that each farmer and each farm needs to find their own way of making the operation work.”

For Katie and Rowan or any other young farmers, one essential element of making ends meet and finding success is integrating yourself into the local farming community.

Fiddlehead Farm kale crop

Katie points out that beginning as a farmer means learning to be alone a great deal. “You have to be okay with a certain degree of isolation. Eventually you’ll probably add some employees or interns, but that takes time. I believe that one reason a lot of farmers don’t make it is because they feel like they’re alone and not part of a larger network of like-minded people.”

Rowan agrees, “We’ve been able to be successful as a farm because we came into it with a strong community. We’ve had no problem leaning on that community or being a part of that community to support other people when those times come. We certainly recognize that we’re not doing this in a vacuum.”

Being located close to the Portland metro area helps Rowan and Katie feel attached, which they see as an advantage that farmers living far from a population center may not benefit from. Also, when a person who is trying to farm sustainably is surrounded by neighbors who don’t share the same approach or goals, it’s easy to feel like an island.

Katie sums up community this way… “We know we’re all here for each other. We talk on the phone. We sell each other stuff. We can feel the community. When you find people you like and respect and they like you and have the same vision… you hold onto those people.”

Armed with experience, community, multi-generational support, established markets, personal commitment, and land they own, it appears that Katie and Rowan have put all the pieces together to have successful careers as farmers. But even with this degree of preparation, there are no guarantees for small family farms. In fact, the cards are stacked against them.

Enormous quantities of tax dollars go each year to support our country’s industrial food system, in spite of the fact that it’s been proven repeatedly that the way we grow and consume food in this country will eventually bankrupt us… both financially and environmentally.

But Rowan believes people are beginning to recognize the limitations of the current food system. “From a cultural standpoint, from an economic standpoint, from an environmental standpoint, I think people are beginning to see that things have to change. Or maybe I’m being naive. Maybe that’s just the Portland bubble talking, while most people remain completely ignorant about how it’s impacting their lives.

“To be honest, on this subject I’m kind of a doom and gloom guy, and I think it’s going to take a big market shift. Some sort of shock to the system that will ultimately lead people out of it.

“Food is so complicated. As producers I think we try and do as much as possible… we stick the seed in the ground, we grow our crop, we harvest it, and we bring it to market. That’s our piece, but it’s so much bigger than us. It’s so far out of our control that I think if you tried to look at it from a big scale all the time and tried to base your operation off of exclusively your own values, you’d just be swallowed up by it. It’s too big and too complex. And as long as corporations can invest money in our elections, we probably aren’t even going to get labeling of genetically modified organisms on food packages.

“But we can’t let that stop us. While we’re farming this land, we have a responsibility to do it in a sustainable way. Good stewardship of the soil and the water is about more than just us. Will our child want to farm this land? Who knows. But if she doesn’t, we both hope that someone else will. Our job is to create a farm that will sustain life for many generations to come. And that’s what we intend to do.” 

Order your copy of Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon's New Farm Movement.

Kindle version now available for $4.99.

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: A view of Fiddlehead Farm from the northwest corner of their property. Fiddlehead is located in the northern Willamette Valley where the valley rises to meet Mt. Hood.

(Middle) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Kale is a major crop at Fiddlehead. Originally, Rowan and Katie supplied a kale chip maker, but now the majority of their kale goes to local grocery chain, New Seasons Markets.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Garlic is another mainstay crop for Rowan and Katie... including seed garlic. They also make excellent garlic powder.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/28/2015

My family enjoys carrots and greens from the garden all winter. I will show you a 3-bed garden plan that can guide you to the same results. The picture shows Beds 1-3 with the arrows indicating where the crops in each bed rotate to the next year. You can see that the crops in Bed 1, rye and carrots, rotate to Bed 3 the next year, while the crops indicated in Bed 3 one year are grown in Bed 2 the next, as so on. Having a garden map showing all the beds in your garden and what is planted in them is the most basic of garden records you should keep. You will find more about this 3-bed plan at Homeplace Earth.

The secret to the carrots is to get them started early enough to be mature by mid-October or earlier. I want the soil to be well fed naturally and find that planting cereal rye, often called winter rye, the previous fall works well. I make a note on my garden map to plant the rye in this bed in rows, rather than broadcasting it. The rye puts a tremendous amount of biomass in the soil with its roots, adding to the organic matter. The time to harvest is when it has finished its life cycle and produced grain and straw, giving you seeds to eat or plant back and straw for mulch or compost material. At that point it can be cut close to the ground leaving the stubble, which is in rows if I remembered to do that. I lightly hoe between the rows of stubble and plant the carrot seed. I have to take care to make sure that bed is watered to get things off to a good start, but I don’t have trouble with rye inhibiting the germination. You sometimes hear not to plant small seeded crops after rye because of that, but I believe that is referring to when rye is tilled in green in the spring. Planting into the stubble in June is entirely different.

Winter greens — kale and collards — are transplanted in mid-August in the bed the carrots were harvested from in the spring. That means that I need to plant the kale and collard seeds in early July so that I will have good transplants. I start all my seeds in my coldframes or other containers outside, rather than planting in flats inside, keeping my coldframes is use all year. As soon as something comes out, something else goes in.

The winter greens will be out in the spring in the bed that the rye will be planted in (in rows) in the fall. The green areas on the map are left to your discretion. If you want to plant soil building cover crops there (good choice) you could first plant fava beans or field peas in early spring, followed by other legumes or buckwheat during the summer months until time to plant kale and collards or rye. You could also plant spring wheat there, followed by a legume.

If you have a good source of soil nutrients to bring in for replenishment rather than using cover crops, you could fill the beds with crops for eating, such as sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach, and bunching onions early and any number of summer crops once the soil warmed. A low tunnel over the kale/collard bed would give protection to other spring crops once the kale and collards are out. In Bed 3 you have time to plant winter squash or sweet potatoes and mulch them with straw from the rye harvest.

Now is the time to be planning your garden for the whole year. I hope you put some of these ideas into your plan so you have carrots and greens from your garden next winter.

Cindy Conner has produced DVDs about cover crops and garden planning and is the author of Grow a Sustainable Diet and Seed Libraries. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/27/2015

Those of us who plant our gardens from seed nearly always have a stockpile of seeds from previous seasons. About this time each year we ask ourselves, “Should I use the seeds I have on hand, or buy new ones?” Tempting as it may be to use last year’s seeds, they are not free. There is a cost in time and effort that comes with planting seeds that fail. At the very least, last year’s seeds can throw you off schedule if they aren’t viable. The simple reality is that you don’t know if your seeds will perform at an acceptable level unless you test them. You can’t tell by looking at them, and you can’t tell by the date on the packet. There are too many variables in the way seeds respond to storage conditions and how long certain varieties remain viable. You need to test.

Testing seeds is easy and inexpensive. All you need are some petri dishes, litmus paper, a pair of tweezers and your seeds. A medicine dropper also comes in handy. If you can’t find them locally, petri dishes and litmus paper can be ordered online from Indigo Instruments.

Carefully distribute your seeds over the litmus paper. 

In order to get an accurate test you need a sufficient sample of seeds. 25 will do. If you have fewer than 25 seeds, you need to test enough of whatever you have to get a meaningful result, at least 10. You simply put the litmus paper in the petri dish, and then place the seeds one by one on the dry paper with your tweezers so they are separated from one another (this makes counting easier later on). Once your seeds are distributed over the paper, carefully drop water in different spots until the moisture spreads throughout the litmus paper. You want it moist but not saturated. Too much water will make the seeds rot. Start with a few drops to see how they spread. Add more if the paper is dry.

Cover, label and date your seed sample. 

When you finish these steps, put the lid on the petri dish and affix a label that includes the seed type, number of seeds, and today’s date. When you’ve done this with all the seeds you wish to test, put them in a low traffic location out of direct light where the air temperature is comfortable. A shelf in your kitchen, pantry or office will do.

Count the germinated seeds after they sprout. 

Generally seeds begin to germinate in 7-10 days, although certain varieties can respond more quickly. Typically, if the seeds are going to germinate, they will do so more or less together, within 2-3 days of each other. After this flush has finished you will have an idea of what to expect when the seeds are planted in soil. If 20 seeds out of 25 germinate you have an 80 percent germination rate. If 15 out of 25 germinate you have a 60 percent germination rate. To get an idea of where to draw the line, take a look at the numbers below which specifies the minimum federal germination requirements for various vegetable varieties:

• Artichoke: 60
• Asparagus: 70
• Asparagus bean: 75
• Bean, garden:70
• Bean, lima: 70
• Bean, runner: 75
• Beet: 65
• Broadbean: 75
• Broccoli: 75
• Brussels sprouts: 70
• Burdock, great: 60
• Cabbage:75
• Cardoon: 60
• Carrot: 55
• Cauliflower: 75
• Celeriac: 55
• Celery: 55
• Chard, Swiss: 65
• Chicory: 65
• Chinese cabbage: 75
• Chives: 50
• Citron: 65
• Collards: 80
• Corn, sweet: 75
• Corn salad: 70
• Cowpea: 75
• Cress, garden: 75
• Cress, upland: 60
• Cress, water: 40
• Cucumber: 80
• Dandelion:60
• Dill: 60
• Eggplant: 60
• Endive: 70
• Kale: 75
• Kale, Chinese: 75
• Kale, Siberian: 75
• Kohlrabi: 75
• Leek: 60
•Lettuce: 80
• Melon: 75
• Mustard, India: 75
• Mustard, spinach: 75
• Okra: 50
• Onion: 70
• Onion, Welsh: 70
• Pak-choi: 75
• Parsley: 60
• Parsnip: 60
• Pea: 80
• Pepper: 55
• Pumpkin: 75
• Radish: 75
• Rhubarb: 60
• Rutabaga: 75
• Sage: 60
• Salsify: 75
• Savory, summer: 55
• Sorrel: 65
• Soybean: 75
• Spinach: 60
• Spinach, New Zealand: 40
• Squash: 75
• Tomato: 75
• Tomato, husk: 50
• Turnip: 80
• Watermelon: 70

If the seeds you are testing germinate below these standards you should strongly consider buying new seeds.

Certain seed varieties tend to rot when they are tested in this manner. These include pumpkins, melons, beans and peas. The latter two are highly absorbent and will need additional water as they dry out, and this encourages rot. There is no easy way around this. All I can suggest is giving them a try and judging from the results. Also, you may find that beets, chard and spinach are difficult to test. Give them a try to see if you are successful.

Now you know how to do this – it’s time to get started! It may be freezing today but planting season is soon upon us.

Next time we’ll take a look at solarizing your soil, a project which can yield miraculous results.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/27/2015

This is a must see film about the poverty America’s migrant farmworkers faced 55 years ago. It aired the day following Thanksgiving in 1960 on CBS Reports and was hosted by Edward R. Murrow.

Many of these scenes are far from pretty, children left unattended and uneducated while their parents go work in the fields all day harvesting vegetables and fruit for little pay, families of six living in their cars sleeping in the woods on the side of the road to follow the harvest, groups of families temporarily living in farm camps with only one source of water, bales of straw to sleep on, and zero toilets. This is not a feel good film.

It’s still a must see, however. By the end of this 52 minute film I was left with two things. One question and one strong feeling of motivation to continue growing my own food, supporting local farms, and praying for the hard working farm laborers before I eat each meal. My question - although this film is from 55 years ago, how have the conditions for the migrant farmworker changed?

Before getting into that last question and sending you to my blog to watch CBS’s 50-year follow-up to Harvest of Shame, along with links to all the other follow-ups produced by CBS and also NBC, and before sharing my personal and positive experience working on a farm harvesting vegetables, let me list some quotes that really stood out to me as I watched this movie.

• “One farmer looked at this and said, we used to own our slaves, now we just rent them.” – Murrow, film narrator, as crew leaders load hired laborers into the back of trucks headed out to the fields to harvest vegetables and fruits for the day.
• “This is as primitive as man could live.” – a priest talking about a settlement of former migrants called ‘the bottom’
• “Approximately 1 out of every 500 children whose parents are still migrant laborers finishes grade school. Approximately 1 out of every 5,000 ever finishes high school. And there is no case up on the record of the child of a migrant laborer ever receiving a college diploma.” - Murrow
• “The migrant farmer is the most poorly housed member of our society.” – Senator Harrison Williams, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor
• “We live anywhere, in a tent, under a shade tree, under a river bridge, we drink water out of a creek or anywhere we can get it, 5 or 6 families drink out of one cup, a tin can, or anything else. We’re to blame. We tolerate that stuff. If we stick together and say we won’t do it, we won’t pick your cherries until you give us some restrooms in the fields for the ladies, and some for the men, and some water fit to drink, we won’t pick them. We got them!” – a farmworker in a town meeting debating a strike
• “The migrant farmworker occupies the lowest level of any major group in the American economy. The soil has produced no Samuel Gompers or John L. Lewis.” - Murrow
• “Is it possible to have love without justice? Is it possible that we are … we think too much in terms of charity, in terms of Thanksgiving day baskets, in terms of Christmas baskets, and not in terms enough of eliminating poverty?” – Julian Griggs, a chaplain for the migrants

Now watch this movie while keeping in mind it is up to us to make a difference - which we can, will, and currently are - by growing our own food at home, with community members, and by supporting local and sustainable farms. And by reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

You can hear my personal and positive story about working on a farm and also watch all the follow-ups to Harvest of Shame on my blog, Mad Love Organix.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/26/2015

Aerogarden seed starting

I know it seems spring is far, far away in January. Luckily for us gardeners we get to start spring early! End of January into February is seed starting time indoors. I have outlined by month the plant seeds to start indoors between now and April for our Zone 6 garden.

Many big box stores will begin getting in their seeds this month. There are great varieties that can be ordered on line. Some of my favorites are Abundant Life, Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Territorial Seed gives a month by month planting guide along with detailed growing guide. Johnny’s gives a seed germination temperature guide. They will send you free catalogs or you can go on-line to visit their web page. High Mowing is offering free shipping this season.

Here is a a map that shows where many seed companies are located.

Seed packets will tell you how far in advance of your last frost date to start your seeds indoors. Look up your last frost date at Moon Garden Calendar.

January and February are cold season crops seed starting time. March and April is the time for warm season veggie and herbs to get their indoor start.

10-12 weeks prior (end Jan/beginning of Feb in our Zone 6 garden)

• Artichokes
• Arugula
• Bay
• Beans (dry & lima)
• Blackberries
• Blueberries
• Broccoli
• Cabbage
• Catnip
• Celery
• Chives
• Edamame
• Endive
• Escarole
• Fennel
• Fenu
• Fruit trees & bushes
• Garlic
• Horseradish
• Leek
• Lettuce
• Mache
• Mint
• Mizuna
• Onions
• Parsley
• Peas
• Potatoes
• Rhubarb
• Shallots
• Strawberries
• Summer savory
• Sorrel
• Spinach

8-10 weeks prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)

• Bee balm
• Celeriac
• Eggplant
• Kale
• Kohlrabi
• Lavender
• Leeks
• Lettuce
• Lovage
• Marjoram
• Mustard
• Onions
• Oregano
• Parsley
• Peas
• Rosemary
• Scallions
• Spinach
• Thyme
• Turnips

March

• Artichokes
• Broccoli
• Chamomile
• Chard
• Cilantro
• Comfrey
• Fennel
• Lemon verbena
• Lettuce
• Okra
• Onions
• Peppers
• Raddichio
• Sage
• Spinach
• Summer squash
• Tarragon
• Tomatoes

April

• Basil
• Beans
• Cucumber
• Lettuce
• Melon
• Winter squash
• Stevia

You can also start perennial flowers indoors as well. For any plant, look at the seed packet for when to plant according to your frost date. Then back up the time from there on when to start indoors. Typical seed starting is 6-8 weeks prior to the plant out date.

For more tips on small space organic gardening, see Melodie's blog at Garden on the Golf Course.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/23/2015

A few years ago our collaborator, Menkir Tamrat, introduced us to a number of Ethiopian peppers and mustards. One of the mustards he brought to us – Highland Kale — turned out to be particularly captivating. Since then, we have increasingly ramped up production of this “blue” mustard, and it has become a mainstay of our winter and spring crops.

Highland Kale or Gomenzer

An Incredible Mustard: New Uses and a New Name

In Ethiopia, “Highland Kale” is known as Gomenzer, and the seeds are typically used for their cooking oils. Indeed, in many cases another, more collard-like, green called Gomen is preferred by Ethiopian chefs. However, we were initially struck by the smooth, full flavor of Gomenzer, and also its tenderness and lack of bitterness. It is a versatile green that can be eaten fresh, and mixed into salads, or cooked in oil with garlic. We also use it in soups, often adding it last, so that it retains much of its texture.

When we took samples of this versatile green to chefs, and other friends, the response was overwhelmingly positive. With no commercial seed source available, we started to harvest seed, for ourselves and others.

When it came time to start selling Gomenzer through our primary wholesale customer – San Francisco Specialty Produce – we needed a “common” name that could be used to convey the essence of the product. What we came up with was “Highland Kale”. Although Gomenzer is strictly-speaking a “mustard” we used “kale” because the color and flavor is very reminiscent of Tuscan Kale, albeit  softer and milder.  The “Highland” part of the name refers to the origins of Gomenzer in the cool highlands of Ethiopia. Other names for Gomenzer (Brassica carinata) are Ethiopian Blue Mustard and Ethiopian Kale. 

Growing Highland Kale

Highland Kale seeds germinate and grow quickly, and thus it competes well with weeds.  For this reason, we use Highland Kale as part of our winter cover crop, and we also grow it in rows that are seeded by hand. We typically sell the shoot “tops” that are similar to Broccoli Raab tops (but much better tasting, as far as we are concerned). The Highland Kale tops are more leafy than Broccoli Raab tops. It is nice that, when the tops of the plants are removed, lower secondary shoots provide us with 2nd and 3rd cuttings off of the same rows. Thus it is important to not cut all the way to the ground when harvesting. Allowing regrowth can be very important, particularly when trying to get a financial return on this crop.

Highland Kale also makes a great micro-green and a great baby green. And one more characteristic worth mentioning is that Highland Kale’s flavor stands up well to warm, summer temperatures. While many types of mustard greens become bitter as the temperature warms, Highland Kale remains tender with minimal bitterness. Bolting, however, is more rapid, and Highland Kale plants grown in the summer do not grow as large, prior to bolting and flowering. 

Since all of these uses require many seeds, we make sure we let a couple of rows go “to seed” in the early summer. The great thing about harvesting Highland Kale is that the seed pods do not shatter easily on the plant, but shatter readily with a bit of rubbing by a harvester. So, it is easy to efficiently harvest seeds without fancy equipment. A set of seed screens is of great help, however, for cleaning the seed. Once cleaned, the seed should be spread out and allowed to dry. Packing up seed that is not fully dried will result in molding and should be avoided. Storing seed in paper envelopes is also recommended, to avoid molding.

Highland Kale is Now Available to Growers Large and Small

Of course, not everyone has the time to harvest their own seed, even when they need to use large amounts. For this reason, it is very exciting that Johnny’s Selected Seeds began selling a Highland Kale cultivar called Amara this year, that is available in bulk quantities. From what they tell us, Amara is a bit greener, and it does not have the tinges of purple that we see on the cultivar of Highland Kale that we have developed. While we have not grown our cultivar and Amara side-by-side yet, we are doing that now, as I just bought 5 lbs of Amara from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in an effort to keep up with the strong demand for Highland Kale we are seeing this winter from our produce customers. We also have a darker green version of Highland Kale that we grow in small quantities. It will be exciting to see all 3 cultivars side-by-side this spring!


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/22/2015

As you are flipping through the catalogs that are no doubt arriving in your mailbox this time of year, you may take note of what’s new and improved for the season that you could add to spice up your garden. I know I do! But hidden in there is a whole group of plants that are not so new, but hold a great promise: everlasting or dried flowers. Everlasting flowers are some of my favorites to grow for one simple reason: they have beauty that will last, and last, and last, making them well suited to their name.

I’ve been reunited with everlasting flowers in the past few years as I have shifted into being the main seed cleaner in our company. That sounds odd, but here’s why: many of these everlasting flowers are not grown for the flowers themselves, but for the amazing and often intricate pods they leave behind that I get to examine as I collect their seeds. Much to the chagrin of my husband, I find all these pods too beautiful to compost, and they end up in my attic for crafting. But, I will say, now that the fog of having a child has somewhat lifted, I have been using my discoveries (and other fun finds like pine cones, mistletoe, and fallen lichen) to make some pretty neat wreaths. I wondered if wreaths of dried flowers had grown passé until I went to set up an Etsy account and found that I was not alone in the slightest in my passion for dried flowers and pods crafting. In fact, there are a lot of us “pod-heads” out there!

Cleaning Moneyplant Seed

My love of these flowers started at a young age and I would imagine if I had to pinpoint it to one specific variety it would be Moneyplant (Luneria annua). After the bright purple blooms of this fast growing hardy biennial are spent, it produces wonderful paper thin translucent coins that the seeds are attached too. As a child I loved to gather the seeds and coins and now that I play a large role in the seed harvesting of our herb farm, I get to play like a kid every year. The wonderful thing about these decorative coins is that you don’t have to treat them in any way to dry them for crafting – they dry naturally on the plant. This is a great example of a two-for-one flower for your garden – it makes a wonderful fragrant background plant and cut flower for with a long bloom time in the garden and then can come inside as a cut flower, and then as a dried flower for crafts. If you like this silvery delicate paper look, you may want to try growing Roman Shield (Fibigea clypeata). The plants themselves are not particularly showy. They grow to about 18 inches in a gray-green shade, suitable for moon gardens, and have inconspicuous yellow flowers. But as the flower fades, they transform into dime-sized white velvet covered pods. If you pick them early in this stage, the velvet-like covering will stay on. If you wait a bit, these covers will fall away and you will be left with a stem flanked on either side by silver “shields”. The pods dry well and are surprisingly sturdy in either form.

I was reminded of the manifold uses of another in our everlasting flower collection when I had a customer place an order for 25 packets of Blue Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro). He was not a florist or crafter, as it turns out, but a beekeeper. It so happens that bees go crazy for echinops! Bees aren’t the only ones that have their eye caught by this one; the complex thistle like blooms with blue star shaped stigmas are always a hit with photographers as well. If you pick these beauties before the stigmas appear, they dry very well in a silvery blue shade. I have also used the small fresh flower as slightly prickly boutonnieres – a nice alternative to the typical rose.

Another that does double or maybe triple duty in the herb garden is elecampagne (Inula helenium). I love its gloriously large leaves reminiscent of a banana tree that become accented with composite yellow flowers on tall stalks. Most people grow this herb in the garden as a background plant for texture and scale, but its roots are also valued for their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, making every part of this hardy perennial a winner. As I was cleaning the elecampagne seed this year, I was struck by the beauty of the receptacle that is exposed when the seed is removed. I saved a bag of these and ended up using them on some of my harvest wreaths.

The true blue edible flowers of Nigella damascena or ‘Love in a Mist’ are a welcome early summer flower in our garden. They re-seed like crazy, but I don’t mind. We’ve devoted a whole bed to them so that we can use the flowers as garnish at our weddings and luncheons all summer long. And when their petals fall, they give rise to a truly interesting mini-watermelon-like seed pod surrounded by fine lacy leaves that dry a soft green-brown if bundled and hung upside down. Nigella orientalis or ‘The Transformer’ blooms yellow and has even more intricate pods. I like to add both varieties to my wreaths to give them a little bit of a whimsical feel. Another I like to use this way is teasel (Dipsacus sativas). This thistle can be found growing wild in our area or Oregon and is a great winter food source for the birds so I am always careful to leave some flowers behind. The large thistle heads (about 3 inches in height) were once used to raise the nap on cloth – and they will do their best to raise welts on your skin - they are incredibly poky! But, I love the almost gothic tone they add to an arrangement – beautiful and dangerous. The plant grows to about six feet making it a good background plant.

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Back to the flowers, though... this summer I had a rediscovery of two very unique looking flowers that have been part of our collection for many years but I haven’t fully appreciated: Flamingo Feather (Spicata) and Suworowii Statice (Limonium suworowii). These are actually similar flowers in a way. Both produce abundant pink plumes that spring upright from the plant. The do very well mixed in a sunny flower garden patch. Pick them when the flowers are still young and fresh and they maintain their color very well. I simply dried mine in bundles in the attic. A few more I suggest in the pink to purple color scheme: Xeranthemum (a great daisy-like flower), gomphrena (tight little ball flowers like poky strawberries), Goliath Red Shades (semi-double cheerful daisy-shaped flowers) and German Statice (sprays of tiny white-pink star shaped flowers in mass blooms). I haven’t even touched upon the yellows like ageratum (2-inch clusters of yellow fuzzy buttons), Fern-leaved Yarrow (full golden flower heads on stiff stems), and Yellow Daisy Strawflower (interesting mounded plants with bright yellow papery daisy flowers.) Then there are the staples of the everlasting garden – strawflower, statice, yarrow, and starflower you just have to have all those. They give you the filler, and also a whole lot of loveliness. For a full list of the collection we grow including pictures, go to Thyme Garden.

How to Dry Everlasting Flowers:

I am very unscientific with my drying technique, and so far it has worked out well. Here’s what I do to dry everlasting flowers.

• Pick flowers early in the day, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day.
• Look for buds and pods that are just beginning to open. Fully mature flowers may lose their petals or color as they dry.
• Strip the leaves from the stems. Cut the stems to a desired length (at least six inches long).
• Bundle in bouquets that are loose enough for some air to move through (about -12-20 stems per bundle, depending on size.) Secure with a rubber band or ribbon.
• Hang upside down in a dry and warm location out of direct sunlight (attics work, but basements typically are too wet – at least in our temperate rainforest climate). Flowers should be dry in about two to three weeks. I use paperclips and a hanger to maximize space and hang them directly from the beams.
• Optional: Spray with non-scented hairspray.

There are other techniques for drying flowers out there. Drying flowers in borax or sand is one common technique. For more foliar pieces like Eucalyptus, Lantern Plant, and Bells of Ireland, you might want to experiment with glycerin. There are several great YouTube videos out there on using glycerin, so I won’t go into detail here, but it really does work (and requires a little work too, which is why I haven’t done it in years.)

Happy Flower Gardening! I hope you are inspired to enjoy this wonderful variety of flowers in your garden this year and in your home and crafts everlastingly!


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