Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
With the windows down, sunny blue sky on the horizon and Third Eye Blind on the radio, I drove up the New York Thruway the first week of August for my second visit to Raven Crest Botanicals, an organic herb farm.
I arrived Monday afternoon to the open arms of Susanna and Thomas, eager to have more help harvesting the over 3,000 medicinal and culinary herbs and plants on Susanna’s property.
While collecting herbs, I learned that, depending on the time of year and the type of herbal remedy needed, there are different parts of the herb that are harvested: aerial parts, root, blossoms, leaves, and buds. Thomas explained that midday is the best time for harvesting because it is when all of the chemical processes and energy is present in the plant.
Shortly after I woke on Tuesday morning, I learned why farmers love the rain; watering crops takes a long time! I watered the permaculture beds, tree guilds, strawbale gardens, vegetable garden and potted plants for almost two hours that morning. It was soothing though and I enjoyed being in nature.
I spent some time reading on the hammock outside under great, big trees and met Susanna’s friends Ashley and Peter that day. Peter is from Denmark and has the kindest eyes I have ever seen. He listens to every word you say with genuine interest and sincerity and has a remarkable aura. Ashley, his soul mate, goes by “Rainbow Goddess” when she is cooking her amazing raw food, but I think she is more like a ray of sunshine. Her presence can brighten any room.
Later on, Thomas and I went up to The Vines to humanly take care of the Japanese Beetle problem on the grapes. We would tap them off the leaves and into a bucket of soapy water. The soap in the water breaks the surface tension and creates a painless exit for the invasive species.
By Wednesday, I had settled into a morning routine. I would get up around, go for a run on some country roads of Albany County, and then come back to the farm and water the herbs.
Thomas and I harvested sage and chamomile and “garbled” the herb Eclipta (the oil is great for hair). Garbling involves removing the stems of dried plants and crumbling them into smaller pieces for storage…and it’s so much fun!
On Wednesday, I met Ben, a natural builder from the East Coast. We got along right away and he told me how he went to “university” in the UK as we humanely got rid of Japanese Beetles on The Vines. Ben explained how he has been in the construction trades for around a decade, but got started in natural building a few years ago when he grew tired of “pouring concrete all over the world.” He is currently helping to organize a community farming project in upstate New York and plays some mean Led Zeppelin on guitar.
I had one of many full-circle moments on the farm on Wednesday when I realized I had harvested almost all of the ingredients of my favorite tea that Susanna makes, her Happiness Tea, made from anise hyssop, Tulusi, and calendula blossoms. On my first visit, I had planted some medicinal herbs, now I was watering and caring for them and also harvesting and drying them. I was slowly seeing the whole process come together.
After my morning routine, Ben, Thomas and I began putting lists together and calling stores for the supplies we needed to build the new rocket mass heater.
It took all day to find the supplies we needed; even specialty stores told us that our do-it-yourself project had a “weird set up.” When we stopped for lunch half way through the day, it took us a good twenty minutes to find a restaurant that wasn’t a corporate chain. Look for small business owner restaurants next time you’re on a main road; it will take longer than you think.
On Friday, it finally rained! No watering for me. Instead I got to make some medicine, Elder Wisdom tincture and aromatherapy sprays; Lovely Lavender Facial Mist, Peace and Calm Facial Mist and Sacred Mountain Facial Mist. I made some jewelweed oil with Susanna, which is used to treat poison ivy, skin irritations, rashes and insect bites.
On Saturday, I hung out in the strawbale house with Thomas and Ben and we listened to The Beatles. Yoav arrived later that night and made me laugh like a crazy person, as he usually does. That morning though, I had an epiphany while eating breakfast alongside a ruby-throated hummingbird.
On Susanna’s front porch, there are two rocking chairs and a hummingbird feeder hanging on a post near one of the chairs. After my run in the morning, I liked to eat my granola and yogurt breakfast on the porch and watch the hummingbirds. On Saturday morning, a particularly bold hummingbird kept flying over near where I was reading, about three feet from my face, stare at me, and fly off. He would come and go, cock his head to the side at me, like a dog, and fly off. As I watched him, I realized he was as curious about me as I was about him. In that moment, I was made to feel small by a creature no larger than my palm. Not in a bad way, in a mind-opening kind of way.
We coexist with millions of beautiful creatures on this planet who are just as curious about our existence as we are about theirs; and that is something we must always keep in perspective.
On Sunday, after running and watering the plants one last time, I left the farm to go back to New Jersey. I drove away with an insatiable appetite to contribute to the world and make it better, and I have my friends at Raven Crest Botanicals both to blame and to thank.