Cold Climate Gardening and Permaculture Guild Ebooks

Hey again friendly folks of the interweb!

Wow do I miss being able to walk in the forest more often these days …  Starting to wonder how much longer I can live this city life! And I’m sure I’m not alone in this kind of wondering. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit of a kick towards learning wilderness skills like starting fires with bow or hand drills. Wouldn’t that be a good one to learn!? Surprising how pivotal it was in our human history to be able to make fire, and yet how few of us could do it today without matches!

So, as promised, I’m including links here to my two gardening ebooks! The first is about growing food in a colder climate. It also includes some great resources (references, resource list) on what experts are doing and how to learn more. If you’re new to permaculture, I give some hints about that as well. It’s only $3 CAD!

http://www.amazon.com/Extending-Your-Growing-Season-Integrated-ebook/dp/B00RW016SG/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1439391300&sr=1-2&keywords=Gina+Cormier

And recently I published the second ebook on gardening … this one I am especially proud of because of its emphasis on permaculture techniques. The goal was to address how to grow a guild in one small bite-sized text that also provides examples and theory. It’s enough to get you started on guild gardening, but for those who want to go deeper, I include abundant references and quotes from experts. Let me know what you think! I worked hard to make the topic accessible to any climate, so that anyone in the world (ie. not just US and Canada) can find their biome and relate the information to their area.

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Companion-Planting-Understanding-Ecological-ebook/dp/B00VIZIM56/ref=pd_cp_351_4?ie=UTF8&refRID=1XYF6T18B1PX37GZETH4

Have a great summer!

Biodynamic Gardening Simplified, Part Two: Moon Phase and Moon Path

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“The mechanics may appear complex
but the premise is simple.
This planet,
and everything on it,
is an integral part
of both the solar system and the cosmos:
every last blade of grass
is affected by the whole.”
-The Biodynamic Association of India

“Biodynamic agriculture works from two poles—the cosmic and the earthly. Understanding and using the rhythms of the cosmos for sowing and planting in conjunction with the practice of soil fertility, makes organic farming truly work.”
-Peter Proctor

“Lunar gardening is fun.
It will increase both your pleasure
and profit. Who knows?
You, too, may have a green thumb!”
-Louise Riotte, Planetary Planting

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Yes, we are now officially living “off the rock,” and it’s about time I sit down and write more, as promised, about gardening with astronomy and lunar rhythms—“planetary planting” as Louise Riotte might say. What’s more, I’ll show some pictures here detailing what kind of planning and methods helped us grow tomatoes and peppers in a northern coastal garden this past season.

good old paper and pencil method …

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In my first post on this topic, Biodynamic Gardening Simplified Part One, I explain some of the background to this practice that gardeners have followed for thousands of years without necessarily calling it “biodynamic.” But here’s a quick recap: it’s based on the idea that every planetary body in the universe affects its surroundings through the pushes and pulls of gravity that occur as these bodies move through space.

A website called Lunar Organics gives a nice summary:

“Humankind started farming in the Nile valley over 10,000 years ago. Our ancestors watched the rhythms of the heavens, and made connections between the patterns in the night-sky and the effects of the moon, planets, and stars on their bodies, the oceans, and on their gardens.

Over the centuries as farming spread, they determined the best times to plant and harvest their crops, as well as for animal husbandry, beekeeping, and timber felling. This knowledge was handed down through the generations in oral and written tradition.”¹

In other words, you only need to pick up a farmer’s almanac from a grocery store these days if you want proof that gardeners and farmers have long been observing nature—including the sky, stars, and planets—so by now, methods exist for working with nature to achieve the best growing results whether you’re sowing lettuce, drying garlic, or even cutting timber.

It’s not essential that you fully understand the astronomy of biodynamic growing in order to practice it for yourself. You can simply buy a good calender (the ones on the Lunar Organics site looked nice! I think they are in the UK. Keep in mind you may need a different calendar if you’re in the southern hemisphere). You can just follow the timing on the calendar and learn more at your own pace if you choose. This point brings me to the calender I drew up for our project here in Newfoundland, but let me add that you do not need to draw your own version of the calendar to use it! Sorry the images aren’t more clear:

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I based this calendar off of one I bought; I needed something more colourful (easier for everyone involved to read) and also that gave more space to write daily tasks, so I copied the information onto large poster-board paper for each month.

I love following the lunar planting method for it’s merits alone, but in truth, my favourite part of using a biodynamic calendar is the way it helps when organizing and planning garden tasks; I find it way easier to garden by assigning specific tasks to specific days.

It may be true that depending on the time of year, what’s in your garden, and what stage of growing it’s at, you don’t need to think too much about when exactly you’re going to weed the carrots or thin out the spinach. When it’s Spring, you just plant the seeds, right? It seems pretty straightforward … and yet many a seasoned gardener would add that it’s not always that simple … but don’t be daunted. Experimenting and having fun is still what it’s all about in my books, so there is no right or wrong method. Your approach to gardening can be as unique as you choose. But for someone such as myself who does not come directly from a farming background or have ten years of gardening experience, and even for the expert gardener, there will always be questions to ask, options to weigh, considerations to ponder …

“Should I plant a batch of spinach greens now or next week, or in the next couple of days?”

“What can I do to minimize the harm from transplanting for these tomatoes?”

“Why didn’t more of these onion seeds germinate?”

Having a calendar of any kind will help to organize tasks in a way that suits your schedule before the growing season arrives, making gardening so much easier. Your schedule might be full of other commitments, but with the biodynamic method you usually have at least 2 – 3 days of “buffer time” to work with for each task. For example, sowing spinach in early April might occur anytime from the 11th to the 13th … or from the 20th to the 25th) You get a guideline to follow, and you get the added bonus that you’re taking natural rhythms into account and improving the success of your crops. It’s very motivating! In my opinion it adds to the joy of gardening, so although it may seem complex at first, it’s simply another tactic under your belt for achieving the results you want in your garden.

That said, “you don’t have to follow this approach blindly—it’s a methodology, not a recipe.”² If you can’t fit something into your schedule reasonably, you do it when you can, and things will still turn out okay. Nobody’s perfect! Additionally, I’ve never heard of a biodynamic practitioner so hard-lined about these methods that they discouraged constructive questioning, trials, and objective assessments of the method’s validity.

In our case, we used the poster-board calendar as a starting point to map out the tasks for the season, and to get an idea of what we would need done by when (ex. places to transplant seedlings into, such as cold-frames or the greenhouse, by March or May.)

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greenhouse in progress ^^

Tired

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cold frame early Spring ^^^

Then we completed the tasks; we sowed seeds and transplanted seedlings on days that closely corresponded to the days recommended by the calendar and at the times said to be most ideal for that particular task or variety of plant.

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(If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, keep reading and/or read Part One)
This method can go even further such as into harvesting, storing, and drying times, and there’s even biodynamic fertilizer preparations you can learn to make. I didn’t go that far with it last season, but we did follow the calendar for mostly everything related to seedling or transplanting. It also helped that we had a south-facing window to start seedlings in, that we bought healthy, high quality soil mixes for seedling starts, that we mulched manure with newspaper underneath the beds to encourage worm activity, and that we had some pretty decent weather.

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It was by no means a formally controlled experiment. I didn’t do any scientific-type trials to compare seedlings, for example, such as comparing cabbage sown under a leaf/water sign with cabbage sown under a fruit/fire sign. But in short, I believe that this method is a useful supplementary approach, and I would not doubt that it had some effect on our plants.

Other planning techniques involved companion planting and ideas from books about year-round growing.

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(Vegetables & Their Companions)

To continue with the theme and carry on from where I left off last time, biodynamic gardening works largely with these four influences:

1. Moon Phase
Is the moon waxing or waning?

2. Moon Path
Is the moon ascending or descending?

3. Moon Constellation
Which constellation is the moon passing in front of?

4. Plant Aspect
What type of plant are you growing and what part of the plant do you intend to use?

As for the last two, Moon Constellation and Plant Aspect, I covered these in some detail in Part One (the idea is that if you want to plant a root crop such as carrots, you aim to plant them on a day—of many during one month—that corresponds to a root/earth constellation.) So, that leaves Moon Phase and Moon Path to delve into!

Although they have similar influences, Moon Phase refers to the way the moon looks from the earth (full, crescent, etc) whereas Moon Path refers to how the moon ascends and descends in the sky (also visible across the horizon.)

Moon Phase

Moon phase, also known as the synodic cycle, takes roughly a month to come full circle—no pun intended. There are four quarters and each quarter is about a week long depending on the month. Each week marks a phase of the moon as it goes from new to full and back again. There’s about two weeks from the time between new and full moon, and again about two weeks for it to go back to a new moon again. Here’s a representation of that using the calendar:

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The first quarter begins on the day of the new moon, when you cannot see the moon from earth. Start of first quarter and new moon marked here:

First Quarter, New Moon

During the first and second quarter, the new moon becomes more visible from earth each day. It is waxing, and the second quarter ends when the moon is fully visible from earth (full moon, roughly two weeks later) marked here:

Full moon, End of Second Quarter

The third quarter begins on the day of the full moon, and throughout the third and fourth quarter, the moon is waning as it becomes less and less visible from earth daily.

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There are countless sources that mention how the cycles of the moon affect life on earth, and gardening in particular. To include a few examples relating to the full moon:

There’s more moisture in the soil 48 hours before a full moon and the growth of plants increases; during the full moon, seeds germinate quickly and vegetation that is mown or cut will regrow quickly as well; in warm conditions, the added moisture can contribute to fungal growth (add anti-fungal cinammon to the soil and/or keep soil well-aerated if planting seedlings around this time); insect activity increases; absorption of liquid manure is better; there is an increased tendency for rain.

The new moon, on the other hand, seems to indicate less moisture content with flow of water and sap in plants reduced …. etc

I especially kept track of the fourth quarter on our calendar (coloured in the day numbers with a blue marker) because if you read about planting by the moon, you’ll come across advice that this quarter is an unfavourable planting time—about a week before the new moon. I read about this “barren” phase after already sowing a batch of onions during the fourth quarter. I’d been disappointed and actually thought the seeds, despite being nearly brand new and from a good source, were not very viable. But when I planted a second batch of the same seeds during a different quarter, the germination rate was much higher. This happenstance was my only (albeit accidental and admittedly unscientific) test of the method, but it was enough for me. I didn’t see any other factors that would have influenced the germination rate so strongly, didn’t even know while seeding the first batch that it wasn’t a good time, and was relieved to see that the seeds weren’t “duds” after all. From then on I didn’t plant any seeds during the fourth quarter.

Moon Path

We can easily observe the phases of the moon, but what does the ascending or descending moon look like? Well, have you ever noticed that the moon is not always rising to the same height in the sky? Or that it sometimes seems lower on the horizon than you’ve seen it before?

We live in a three-dimensional world, so when we consider that the moon is moving through the sky across a path of constellations, we must remember that this path is not just a two-dimensional circle somewhere above our heads like a space halo. The sky is not a piece of paper; it has many more potentials, so the path the moon travels is at an angle, allowing the moon to travel both sideways as well as up and down. There’s an end point to this ascension, when the moon is highest in the sky along that path; and to the descension, when it’s at its lowest point in the sky and can only go back up again. You can observe this path, otherwise known as the sidereal cycle, by making a mental note each night of where the moon sits on the horizon: you’ll notice that sometimes it is at a higher or lower point.

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Now, how is this path related to planting a garden? A variety of sources explain that as the moon ascends over several days like this, the gravity of it moving through space creates an upward pull on any body of water, causing the water to rise higher (as with the tides of the ocean). The reverse happens when the moon is descending; any body of water becomes lower. For example, sap—and moisture in all plant life—slowly and perpetually rises during an ascending moon. If you really pay attention, you can also witness the effects an ascending moon has on plant growth—it is a time of “pulling up” and growing, so sowing seedlings is said to be more effective in these ascending weeks as well.

One source—that also includes a list of farming activities for ascending and descending moons—explains with an analogy from Rudoft Steiner, renowned biodynamics scholar, that the upward and downward cycle of the moon path is comparable to the rhythm we use for breathing.³ The inhalation, or “drawing inward,” happens during the moon’s descension, when growth potentials focus more on the soil itself than on the above-ground plants. Plant sap and water is also more concentrated below the surface at this time, so it is ideal for pruning or taking cuttings (it harms the plant less to prune at a time when sap is not high and flowing through every limb). The descending moon, according to prominent researcher Maria Thun, is the ideal time for transplanting and the best time to encourage root growth.

I’ve found that not all calendars take into account both Moon Phase and Moon Path together. In fact, the calendar I bought said nothing about the transplanting times I’d read through Maria Thun’s work, so I marked them on the calendar with a red-shaded number for the date to indicate the best time to transplant:

transplanting times

(note that April’s transplanting time is at a time when the moon is waxing; this demonstrates how moon phases (waxing vs. waning) and path (ascending vs. descending) do not necessarily correlate. Their influences, like so many factors, occur independently of one another.)

In order to do this marking, I read Maria Thun’s calendar from the year before (I’d seen it on a farm on Saltspring Island and had pictures of a few pages) where she explains that the descending period begins when the moon stands in the highest part of the zodiac, which is the entry into the Gemini constellation. From that point, the moon is descending until it reaches the transition between the Scorpio and Sagittarius constellations, the lowest point, and goes back up again. Every biodynamics calendar will tell you what constellation the moon is in on any given day, so marking the transplanting time was not too difficult … that is, once I got it through my head that the ascending and descending (sidereal) was a completely different influence than the moon’s phases (synodic).

None of the tomatoes we transplanted into the ground had a problem establishing roots and growing into full-grown plants although the soil was dry and lifeless and at one point experienced an ant invasion. We also put comfrey water in the holes and gave them tomato-specific organic liquid fertilizer regularly, and there was manure (nitrogen), newspaper (carbon), hay (carbon), and wood chips (carbon) buried under this lifeless topsoil to attract worms. Here’s an example from another gardener who benefited from paying attention to the moon’s path, but for pruning rather than transplanting during the descending moon:

“Over the summer we did a test where we pruned half our large camomile patch on a descending blossom day and half on a random ascending day. The patch cut on the descending blossom day continued to grow and send out more flowers for months. The other side completely turn[ed] up its nose and died.”4

There is much more information out there that you can reference on the gardening conditions for each moon state and on recommended times for different garden activities. This post and it’s predecessor (posted back in June 2013) are my own contributions, and hopefully may serve as somewhat of a one-stop compilation of the basics, based on the sources I’ve seen, with the intention of sharing an understanding of biodynamic methods. There are a variety of calendars to choose from when planning your garden, so if you’re going with a biodynamic one, you may now have a general idea of how to use it and what you might want included in the version you choose.

For more information, the links below are also some great places to start. Comments and suggestions are always appreciated. And by the way, there are also a lot of articles online about cutting your hair with the phases of the moon too!

SOURCES:

Cited in Post:

1. http://lunarorganics.com/

2. http://lunarorganics.com/biodynamic_gardening.html

3. http://biodynamics.in/Rhythm.htm

4. http://maungakereru.blogspot.ca/2013/04/ascending-and-descending-moon.html

Also used:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/gardening/article-2144010/Do-plants-grow-better-garden-light-moon.html

http://www.universetoday.com/20289/phases-of-the-moon/

Planetary Planting, Louise Riotte

Maria Thun’s 2012 Biodynamic Calendar

http://www.ehow.com/info_8106502_moon-phases-plants.html

Bye Newfoundland—It’s been great.

(All Photos Copyright plantgirl2)

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We’re finally settling in to the new urban environment, so with the culture shock, busy autumn behind us now and the seasons changing, I have some time to do more updates on how harvest season went. What grew well and what didn’t have time or the right conditions … 

Happy belated Halloween!! Mark and his little bro Stephane found this adorable cat hiding in a pumpkin:

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Before leaving, we wrapped a bunch of unripe green tomatoes in newspaper to help them ripen, and in the end we actually did get to eat Mark’s favourite variety, the Hillbilly! Great on sandwiches.

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I was happy with the way the Gaspé Flint corn grew—definitely worth it in a short season. We didn’t get a lot of corn but I can see how we would have if the soil was better and we’d been more attentive to it. Tomatoes were the main focus, but other things were also a bonus. We did get quite a few green beans and a few squash from the three sisters bed though:

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Here’s a dish of the a sweet, home-grown Delicata squash with olive oil, onions, garlic, apples, and raisins, and cinammon:

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The garlic we grew in the alternate location did okay, but because we were rarely there to weed it or care for it, grass growing around it choked some of it out so it didn’t reach the size it might have been able to otherwise. Also, we planted so many more garlic cloves than the amount of bulbs we harvested out! We wondered if someone may have been there before us and taken a few as it is an open piece of land. Either that or the actual bulbs got choked out from the grass?

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The pink dried beans variety, Mennonite Triple K, turned out beautifully. Heritage Harvest Seeds sent me them in lieu of a Cranberry variety saying they were similar, and I was not disappointed! I love their pattern and they had no problem drying even though we were on the road. I barely had time to take their little seed pods off the plants before we left on September 21st, but that was better than the black beans which didn’t have time to ripen before then sadly. I didn’t plant enough dried beans to have for cooking chili or anything, but will probably use them for seeds (and maybe cook a few too just to see how they taste).

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When we left the greenhouse, this sunflower was eight feet tall and pushing to get out the top of the plastic:

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We had to leave it there and I wonder if it flowered fully at all … Russian Mammoth sunflower it’s called. I was surprised at how tall it grew from just a container, but also that it grew so tall and didn’t flower when it had such a short maturation time. I’d be curious to know if it did flower after we left …

Also would’ve loved to have found out what became of these purple brussels sprouts … see the little baby sprouts starting where the stalk and branch meet?

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I realized I didn’t follow up anymore about the apple grafts we did! (re: Nesto, Rhubard Sunhats, Grafting, Medicinal Salve) To recap, we took scion wood (the piece of wood from the variety you want to have) from three different apple trees in three different locations, and grafted them onto two different apple trees belonging to people who told us we could do whatever we wanted with their apple trees because they rarely make apples and when they do they’re only small crabapples. 

So we grafted about 10 scion cuttings onto each tree. It was amazing to see when the scion wood actually started growing and producing buds and flowers! We thought it only worked in a couple of cases, but as the season went on, we noticed that more of the grafts took to the main tree and kept growing, and some even made apples!

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It was interesting to see how these much larger apples could grow on a tree that normally grew only crabapples (I’d heard of it before but it was nice to see it first-hand). The owners also said that the crabapples were even more plentiful this year. I’ve heard that having another variety around for the bees to cross-pollinate all the flowers can be good for fruit production …. The new apple tasted pretty good; basically like a regular apple. The tree that had the extra big fruit also had about six or seven successful grafts whereas the other tree had maybe only one or two and was the first grafting we ever did on our own. What I’d be interested to know is what will happen next year? Will there be more fruit on both? And in the years to come? Maybe we’ll hear from the owners someday that they’ve got big red and yellow apples now both on the same tree with the crabapples! It was a fun experiment to try. If you watch a few tutorials online, it’s really not that hard to do a graft. Before leaving, we showed the process to a lady in her 70s who was just gung-ho about trying it next Spring. We learned about different grafting techniques during a permaculture course and also used Stephen Hayes tutorials.

Besides the recap of harvesting, I must say a few things about the trip from Newfoundland.

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solo times, and friends we met ^^^

The first day of the adventure, we paid an impromptu visit to an organic farm in Eastport where the host was so kind he let us stay for the night and we had a potluck with him and a girl from Germany who showed up through couchsurfing. What a night! A big highlight for me were his innovative greenhouse speakers:

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Second day of the trip we were somewhere between Grand Falls and Deer Lake around supper time when Mark hit the brakes unexpectedly to scope out a roadside path. We ended up driving the van up this dirt road and camping out for the night next to a beautiful salmon river (green tent on the left). A moose had been there recently:

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moose track!

I woke up the next morning, put my shoes on halfway, shuffled over to the river, and felt this strange movement around my toes on the right foot. I was half asleep and brushed it off, but after hobbling back up to the van, I felt the movement again and remembered that I’d left my shoes outside the tent, so there definitely could be something in them. I balanced on the van and removed the shoe to reveal:

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I’m not really the squeamish type, but I screamed. Mostly I just felt bad for almost squishing the poor thing.

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just woke up camping and discovered a frog in my shoe

Then we drove to the west coast of Newfoundland to a small little town where my grandfather was born. I had never been there before and we’re lucky we found it; although it’s marked on the map, there are no roadside markings for this town, so we asked directions and found it via a dirt road next to the remains of an old railway track. This visit was unforgettable. We met a man who grew tomatoes and grapes in his greenhouse there, and along with his wife, was the only remaining year-long resident of this little place, so he was the perfect person to talk to about my family. We chatted over something like 30 cups of tea and discovered that we’re cousins! (I did some research and have to guess that it’s second cousins twice removed). We were so inspired to see that he was also growing big tomatoes in a greenhouse!!! We figured we must have been related …

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As we were leaving though it was completely heartbreaking to see this sign along the highway:

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Don’t even get me started on how foolish it is to spray this herbicide ….

This trip reminded me of how lucky we are to have the opportunity to explore our home country like this. Just look at it!

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Experimenting with gardening in Newfoundland has also been quite a privilege. We’ve learned that we can build a pretty good garden on our own. And yes, if anyone is still saying it’s not possible to grow organically in Newfoundland (some people told us that), do not believe them!!

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I am still planning a “part two” to the post Biodynamic Gardening Simplified and about details on the planting calenders I used for this whole project! Thank you to the reader who gave me feedback that the first biodynamic post was too short for a novice to the subject. It’s always interesting to hear comments from people (constructively critical and encouraging) … In this planting adventure I have been aiming to learn and share as much as possible as I go along on a subject that is virtually impossible to master. There is ALWAYS something more to learn about plants, nature, and the billions of species out there in the fascinating biodiversity of earth.

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One more pic of tomatoes—and a little tribute film

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Harvesting Season: The Tomatoes Ripen in Time for Award Ceremonies

(All Photos © Plantgirl2)

We’re leaving in three days and tomatoes are coming out of our ears.

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We’ve given lots away and made many tomato sandwiches. As you can tell, we’re still enjoying the new camera …

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Recipe: on toast with butter, coconut oil, or mayonaise, plus salt, pepper, and fresh basil. Fresh cucumbers optional. Very simple and delicious with homegrown tomatoes.

Also made salsa with what we didn’t give away or eat on sandwiches:

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And peppers stuffed with squash, eggplant, cheese, garlic, and spices:

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I thought that we grew only sweet peppers until I bit into one—what a surprise. Many of our peppers were very spicy, so I must have lost track with labeling somewhere along the way because I’d thought none of the hot ones made it past seedlings. Though several did look a lot like hot peppers, I couldn’t be sure until I ate one. I think they were the Hungarian Hot. Here they are still on the plant:

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Of the some 26 tomato varieties we grew, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing 21 ripen! Some did far better than others. For example, we ate only one Purple Prince, but it was spectacular. We put it on open-faced salmon burgers with mushrooms and cheese:

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Here’s the amazing Purple Prince before slicing:

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I love the way it looks stitched together

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Varieties grown specifically for colder climates (Farthest North, Cheeseman’s, and Siberian) did good, but we were surprised at how well some of the others did too. We did also transplant longer-season producers about a month earlier (in mid-May). Siberian was a steady producer but not as prolific as Farthest North. Cheeseman’s was just a beast; we lost track of pruning it somewhere along the line and ended up with way too much greenery and not enough little fruits. That variety wasn’t worth the effort in our case considering the pruning and space needed for a small quantity of albeit cute little egg-shaped cherry tomatoes. It could have been an issue of too much nitrogen in our soil though or something site-specific.

Of all varieties, we must say that the “winners” for producing in short-season or otherwise adverse situations according to our experiments were:

Yellow Taxi (most prolific determinate and Gina’s “BEST sandwich tomato”):

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Black Krim (first to ripen, decent producer, Mark’s “BEST tasting large tomato”):

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Also Black Krim but from a different plant (I think it was constrained by vines while growing):

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Ananas Noir (most prolific, colourful, and beautiful beefsteak variety):

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Yellow Ruffle (novel and prolific):

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Black Plum (most prolific cherry/plum tomato):

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and Vitamin’s Hungarian Pink (Gina’s “BEST tasting larger tomato,” fairly prolific):

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Also special mention goes to Brandywine (rivals Ananas Noir as tastiest and most beautiful beefsteak):

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And the award for absolute “BEST tasting tomato of all” goes to ….

Lollipop cherry tomato (although not very prolific in our case, it was our favourite tasting):

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Snow White Cherry also looked similar, and Mark said he thought they tasted a lot alike.

The tomatoes that we have not yet seen ripen (but still might?!?) were: Fuzzy Peach, New Moon, Yellow Zebra, Green Zebra, and Hillbilly … Hillbilly is Mark’s actual favourite tomato and was started early among the long-season producers as it should be but fell victim to damping off and had to be started again in the second batch that was only transplanted mid-June. This is the second year that we tried to grow Hillbilly but didn’t see it ripen! One day …

As for the zebras, we did see three Red Zebras ripen, but they were very cracked around the tops:

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I noticed one or two of the Yellow and Green Zebras rotting too (“blossom end rot”), so I think they appreciate a much drier climate. In fact, we had some heavy rains around the beginning of September and a lot of the tomatoes had splits. Still edible and delicious, but splits meant they didn’t store as long. The water makes them split.

Here’s a photo reel of other tomatoes!!!

German Lunchbox:

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Candy Old Yellow (it gets a pink tinge as it ripens that you can just see in the second photo):

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Tennessee Green:

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Tigerella:

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German Strawberry:

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Pink Accordion:

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Siberian:

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Zebras (all green still):

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We even had a few midget melons that although we picked them a bit early, they were sweet and yummy and orange like canteloupes.

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And of course, the Delicata plants, ruler of all squashes, produced a few good fruits in time for us to pick them before leaving. Hope they were ripe enough:

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I’d recommend this Red Express cabbage (purchased from Hope Seeds) just for the taste raw. 

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All in all, we were very excited about what we were able to grow despite the barriers—the largest of these being the lack of a previously well-established garden spot with good soil built up over time (could have been avoided somewhat if we didn’t order topsoil from Canning’s Cove) and having a 60 kilometre round trip to get to the garden. I think it helped that we had some great liquid organic fertilizer (Gaia’s Garden brand), and also that we sheet mulched the beds underneath with manure and newspaper to attract worms. Who knows, perhaps the biodynamic approach to planting had a hand in it as well. I think it did. A bit more on that yet to come … 

The magic of the whole situation is summed up well by this picture from a little visitor we had who enjoyed the tomatoes maybe even as much as we do! She understood.

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Tomato Variety List:

Cheeseman’s

Yellow Taxi

Ananas Noir

Farthest North

Siberian

German Lunchbox

German Strawberry

Lollipop

Snow White Cherry

Black Plum

Vitamin’s Hungarian Pink

Red Zebra

Yellow Zebra

Green Zebra

Hillbilly

Roughwood’s Golden Plum

Yellow Ruffle

Pink Accordion

Brandywine

New Moon

Fuzzy Peach

Tennessee Green

Candy Old Yellow

Purple Prince

Tigerella

Ropreco

Other Misc Harvest Pics:

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Saving Seeds:

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A Breath of Fresh Air in Upper Amherst Cove

(All Photos Copyright plantgirl2)

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Hello!

We have been cramming in every single bit of sight-seeing and enjoyment we can into our last weeks here.

We visited the botanical gardens at Memorial University in St. John’s two weekends ago, and this past weekend were at the Bonavista Social Club’s second annual Garlic Festival! Beyond that, I was hired full-time for two weeks organizing books and Mark has still been working full-time too, so we have been completely “flat out,” but I’ve finally got a chance for a quick update here to say there is still more to come …

We got a “Lemon” cucumber which was very exciting and I found it even tasted a bit more citrus-y than your average cucumber, or maybe apple-like, but mostly cucumber-y. Here’s a clip:

And of course we took like fifty photos of it too:

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We’ve had lots of fun testing out the new camera! Especially on the flowers at the botanical gardens. Beautiful place there … 

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Also, on the way to Bonavista, we passed by Blackhead Cove …WOW.  Huge waves there. 

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Then the festival this weekend was a lot of fun. There was a garden tour by Ross Traverse who is quite the guru of Newfoundland gardening—what a treat! Below is Ross (left) and Mike Paterson (beside him), who runs Paterson woodworking from the same property:

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Mark was testing out the “super vivid” feature on the camera here:

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The Bonavista Social Club is located in Upper Amherst Cove; the food is so wonderful due largely to the cooking of Mike’s daughter Katie, who studied as a chef, and because they grow their own vegetables to serve in the restaurant! I also spotted loads of wild chanterelles in their kitchen … They keep livestock too—there were chickens and goats free ranging around, and the evening featured a fantastic pig-roast via subterranean oven. They dug the “garlic pig” a big grave atop hot coals with a couple of chimneys to release the smoke. Here’s before and after digging it out to eat it (see the pig on the right wrapped in tinfoil): Thank you pig!

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We even got to have a little tour of wild mushrooms, so I learned more about the wonders of mycology. Also learned of a yearly event called the Newfoundland Mushroom Foray which is now on my to-do list of places to go upon returning one day to the island.

The next day after the festival we hiked the Skerwink Trail. Wow. Not to be missed! There were huge sea stacks and breathtaking views of the ocean and of the quaint and colourful town of Trinity, a place where many of the old houses are repainted and restored so the town feels a bit like it must’ve felt when people first settled there … arriving by boat from Europe straight from the Atlantic I’d say … and just into the little shelter of the cove. Here’s some of the views of the sea stacks and from along the trail:

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We’ve been eating green beans from the garden lately, and zucchini. I’m forming a new appreciation of green beans—especially steamed with coconut oil and salt.

The bees were so helpful in pollinating the melons in the greenhouse so our melons are now larger than softballs. Not sure if we’ll be able to see them ripen but even one would be exciting to see. Same with the delicious “Delicata” squash that is also nearly mature now. Will post garden pics soon ….

One of many great things at the Bonavista Social Club was that they are growing open-pollinated, heirloom tomato varieties and were encouraging of us to take a couple and save seeds from them. So we will now add to our tomato seed collection: “Red Alert” cherry tomatoes, especially recommended by Ross Traverse for this climate, so that helps build our “catalogue” hehe … whichever seeds I’m low on, I will be saving again this year if I can and continuing to build up the collection. For example, the Black Plum cherry tomatoes we grew this year are from the last seeds I had of that variety, so I’ve already got more seeds in a jar ready for saving. I may try to post a “how-to” on saving seeds if I get the time, but I also intend on writing a bit more about biodynamics again as well as more of an explanation on how we approached the biodynamic method through our calenders … that might be after the season ends.

One other piece of very valuable information that we learned from the fine people at the BVSC was a soil technique for growing tomatoes here. As Ross emphasized, having enough nutrients in the soil is the main factor influencing a good crop, especially around here where a lot of the soil is acidic, rocky, and depleted of nutrients. So, if we were to do another gardening project here and had more access to compost, instead of building beds directly on the ground in the greenhouse, we would use fish bins as tomato planters! I hope the folks at the BVSC don’t mind my sharing their method, but it was inspiring: into a large fish bin, they put 1/3 regular garden soil (with previously added lime), 1/3 compost, and 1/3 decomposing kelp straight from the shore. The kelp (and caplin as people often used in gardens years ago) here is a huge natural advantage: it has loads of nutrients and also neutralizes the soil to make it less acidic. The advantage of the fish bins is that it’s a lot easier to replenish your soil and deter pests. Soil left in a greenhouse for a few years is more prone to pests and will lose nutrients over time. Why not just start with a fresh new growing medium every year that’s very high in nutrients? That way you get a much better crop. Loved that. Okay okay here’s a picture:

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It was also encouraging to notice that their tomatoes were around the same stage of maturation as ours are here …

Benevolent bees, Wild mushroom video clip, and What to do with five-foot tomato plants in a short growing season

According to CBC, gardening has become the number one hobby in North America!

There is still time to go out and get your wild summer chanterelles here in Newfoundland. I’m including a video at the end of this post where I ramble about microclimates and mycelium while identifying wild fungi. Together, summer chanterelles and winter chanterelles make up two thirds of the wild edible mushrooms I’m able to identify for eating. The other is oyster mushrooms. I recommend being 100% sure it’s edible before eating.

We were thrilled the past couple times we went to the greenhouse because finally, BEES have beecome regular visitors. The patch of blooming fireweed nearby helps because it’s always loaded with bees, and we took a few blossoms and put them inside the door to lure them in—maybe it worked!

Either way, it was gratifying to be in there last weekend while three happy bees buzzed around pollinating cucumber, melon, and even a few tomato flowers. Not only did they save us the effort of pollinating those flowers by hand ourselves, but the bees also gave us the gift of witnessing a natural pollinator choosing to interact with the plants in a greenhouse system we’d worked hard to establish.

… sure, bees pollinate gardens all the time … no big deal, right?

Bees are like the pagan equivalent of miracles. If you’re wondering what’s so great about bees, and/or you’ve never heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, read:

Why We Need Bees

Back to the happy bees in the greenhouse: they spent most of their time crawling all over the borage flowers in there. Borage is an insectary (attracts beneficial insects and is recognized since ancient Greece as a promoter of cheer and courage.)

PRUNING TALL TOMATOES IN A SHORT SEASON:

We came to terms this week with the idea that we have to stop the tomato plants from growing any taller. Some of them continue to reach beyond five feet and put out new flowers. The first frost in this area happens on average in early to mid-October and could even be earlier; also, our goal is to hit the road the third week of September … we hope for nothing more than to begin a road-trip (and the winter) with bellies and mason jars full of ripe heirloom tomatoes! Mark joked last night that for all we’ve put into this garden, we probably could’ve bought a couple plane tickets back to the farm where we worked in BC, bartered for a few crates of heirloom tomatoes, and flown back. But then again, we wouldn’t have learned to grow them from seed by ourselves, and we would’ve missed out on a lot of fun and adventures including getting in touch with our east coast roots. No pun intended.

From what we’ve read about top-pruning tomatoes, if we let the flowers at five feet high continue to turn into little tomatoes, they’ll compete for energy with the tomatoes lower down on the plant that are already nearing full-size. Allowing all that fruit a chance to try to ripen could take a lot of energy from the plant—and more time. It’s bittersweet to have to “limit” the plants, but since we have a short season, we went in and cut the tops off of the main stalks—especially the indeterminates, the ones that produce fruit continuously rather than in one big batch like determinates.

Here’s Mark holding the cuttings from one tomato plant alone. It was an extreme case; a vigorous variety called “Cheeseman’s” that we let get way out of hand …

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A few days after pruning, here was our reward:

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The ripening has begun.

The reddish Black Krim—the first of our tomatoes to reach full-size—is now ripening. And a few of the early cherry tomatoes (Farthest North variety) are turning red too.

Today marks approximately 60 days from the time we transplanted most of the tomatoes into the greenhouse. Being that every plant has its own number of days to maturation (either from transplant or from seed), there are tomatoes in there that are said to reach ripe and ready at 90 days from transplant. With that in mind, by my tomato-math calculations, we should be experiencing exponential throngs of tomato-ripening (!!) peaking anywhere between September 2 and 12 (80 to 90 days from transplant dates). Tomato sandwiches will reign again.

BERRIES:

In other news, we went out looking for bake-apples. We found batches of bake-apple leaves and plants thanks to Mark and his navigating skills in the Labrador-esque terrain of rocky, barren boglands:

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(that’s Mark next to the tree in the middle)

But the plants had no berries, so instead we followed a moose trail through the woods nearby and swam in a freshwater pond that had a foot-deep bottom layer of sandlike muck. It made my feet really soft.

So no bake-apples, but we did find cranberries! Although they weren’t ripe (we ate them anyways), it was nice to see them growing in the wild as I’ve never eaten cranberries other than from a freezer bag or a can. It seemed like it’d be hard to pick a lot of wild cranberries, so I can see why they’re cultivated for large-scale production.

On Friday while picking blueberries, I got to swim in the Atlantic ocean for the first time. I had thought I was following the quad trail to a vast and rocky beach “at the point” somewhere along the Bonavista Peninsula. I hadn’t planned on swimming, but nothing cures the clingy humidity like a dip into cold water; and although I didn’t have a swimsuit, after hours in the heat, the lack of other people around, fighting flies, and crouching over the thorns of one-too-many juniper bushes, all I could think about besides blueberries was my next shower …

I took a “wrong” turn somewhere and stumbled upon a little valley between two slanted rock walls that led down to a small piece of bottle-necked shoreline. There was actually real sand (rare for most nearby beaches) and thousands of tiny purple mussel shells. It was a fun little dip since the waves pushed and pulled just like at the ol’ West Edmonton Mall indoor waterpark (only real and much saltier), and I had to be careful not to go too far into the water as I didn’t want to be pulled away into the open sea! The view of the open ocean was narrow and non-peripheral due to the rock-walls flanking the swimming path, so my ears were perked and on continuous “awkward alert” for approaching motor sounds … especially since it was the last week of the food fishery (the legal time-slot people here can fish for food), so more boats are usually on the water. One boat drove by, incidentally, right after I got dressed. The unfortunate part: at one point I dropped our five-year-old digital camera into the water, completely submerging it for a second before pulling it out again. That camera has been through a lot of wear and tear (that was its second saltwater encounter), so we really thought it would work again after, but alas, not this time …

That was actually the point of the last two paragraphs … to explain why the only pictures I have for the next couple of weeks are shot from my cell phone. I’m vowing to be more careful with the next camera. It might even be waterproof.

Without further ado, here’s my foray into an instructional video clip:

Microclimates with Creeping Snowberries and Summer Chanterelles

Further notes on identifying chanterelles: the gills are “decurrent” and run down the stem kind of the way a person’s earlobe can be attached or detached.

For more info, here’s a link:

http://www.mushroom-appreciation.com/chanterelle-mushrooms.html


 

Saskatoons, Chanterelles, St. John’s Wort, Garden

(All Photos Copyright plantgirl2)

After posting last week’s “rant” from the library, I browsed the shelves for some poetry and came across a book in a nearby section called Defining Moments: Disasters—a chronicle complete with pictures and descriptions of some of the world’s worst disasters in the last two centuries.

If after using the phrase defining moments myself, I can pick up a book at the library moments later with the same title, I guess we can call it cliché. Confirmed unoriginality aside, it was eerie to come across more disaster drama after the whole “doomer” talk.

But, on to smaller and better things …

BERRIES!!!

Lots of berrypicking happening for us now—the first blueberries of the season are out! They’re early this year as we’ve had a warm summer. We may have to go on a hunt into a bog for bake-apples … I’ve never seen them in the wild before. The bake-apple is a northern berry hardy to up to -40 celsius. So far I’ve only eaten it in jam and syrup.  

Then there are white currants found on Meghan’s land!

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I’ve also never seen white currants before but I made a jar of jam out of them with a bit of honey and it’s delicious. They turn orange after cooking (orange seeds).

Most of the jam I’ve made so far has been from the many saskatoon berries we’ve been picking. (They’re also known as serviceberry, and here as chuckley pear). So far as we can tell, locals either aren’t interested in picking them or don’t know they’re edible—at least we haven’t met anyone else picking them and have gotten a few stares and inquisitory comments.

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Okay, and in the garden, we’ve had some more firsts for the season:

broccoli heads forming

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zucchini

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red cabbage heads forming

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squash pollinated

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baby corn cobs growing

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carrots and beets have finally gotten a bit bigger

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cultivated strawberry has flowered and pollinated!

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ground cherry forming and looking like a little lantern! (I think it’s in the same family as the tomatillo, but is smaller, sweeter, yellow, and tastes like pineapple)

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first cornflower flowering

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I love borage. I’ve been reading about this plant and how it’s said to bring about feelings of elation. Apparently Celtic warriors drank borage-flavoured wine to give them courage before battles!

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And of course,

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A probably-poisonous mushroom that looks like pacman in the woods. According to Mark, all the little mushrooms around the pacman mushroom are the dots you eat in the game. 

NOTE (I found out later on a mushroom hike that this yellow one is probably in the Amanita family.)

We’ve also found clusters of summer chanterelle mushrooms!

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I may have a video to post soon about finding them!

We were gonna dry them all but then changed our minds and made pizza ………. we’re still drying some though.

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As mentioned before, we were so pleased to find the medicinal herb St. John’s Wort (apparently named after St. John the Baptist) growing everywhere in the driveway here. We had no idea what it was and only found out after Mark was reading an article on medicinal plants in a copy of the Downhome magazine we had lying around. After additional online research, we identified it and have since harvested tons for drying (primarily for tea), tincture (distilled solution in vodka), and salve (good for muscles, carpal tunnel syndrome). St. John`s Wort is also said to enhance serotonin uptake or some such neurochemical explanation and is largely recognized as the #1 natural anti-depressant and mood elevant. There are various precautions to consider regarding using/over-using/abusing the plant depending on what source you consult. Much will also depend on the person. Incidentally, as I was collecting the St. John’s Wort, I had the radio turned up and someone on CBC was talking about a study that showed Prozac to be no more effective than its placebo. Hrmmm … I’m sure there’s a market for St. John’s Wort salves, tinctures, and even tea and would love to be able to sell such products at some point but unfortunately there are probably several hoops to jump through to do something like that legally.

Pics:

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Sources:

http://theepicentre.com/spice/borage/