Tag Archives: herb garden

Biodynamic Gardening and the effect of the solar eclipse

First, I must apologise for silence this week.  It has been hugely busy all week, and the days I would usually write a blog have been taken up with dealing with gas men quoting for boilers, delivering Easter treats to Godchildren and then trying to catch up on the chores which have been left alone while doing the other things.  This madness is not going to let up over the weekend, but I thought while I wait for the next gas man to arrive, I would write a blog post.

eclipse

As I am in the Northern Hemisphere and in Europe, as I type, we are in the process of experiencing a solar eclipse.  The last time there was such a visible spectacle was in 1999, and I remember being part of the awed crowds watching the process (through appropriate methods to safeguard the eyes, of course).  As far as I can tell, if you have seen one eclipse, you have seen them all, so I am not that concerned about the whole process (though it is interesting watching the birds and the squirrels in the garden – they are very confused indeed!) but one thing that did get the old grey cells exercising was whether the solar eclipse would effect biodynamic gardening methods.

veg patch

You may not know about biodynamic gardening, but it is a subject that is really peaking my interest at the moment.  I am not sure if I am going to pursue it, but I want to know more, and so I have been doing a bit of digging around on the internet.   I found a really interesting article in the Daily Telegraph (interestingly, printed on my birthday in 2009) which detailed the writer’s experience with biodynamic agriculture.  It was an enlightening read (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/6202917/Why-biodynamic-gardening-makes-sense.html) .

This form of gardening was promulgated in 1924 by Austrian Rudolf Steiner, and is effectively a process to deepen our understanding of the life forces that underlie nature’s processes in order to produce food of the highest quality.  I can’t help thinking that it is gardening on the same basis that healing using herbalism is for medicine.  Supporting the life force in order to get the best result.  I guess that might make me sound supremely “crunchy” but it makes sense to me.

lunar planting

Most people are aware of the organic principles of natural sustainability and not using any chemicals.  Biodynamics requires a very strong basis of organic husbandry combined with a few practices that “normal” gardeners might find to be a bit odd, including planting according to a lunar calendar, preparation of the soil in particular ways and clearly,  very open mind!

I recall that the Royal Horticultural Society did some field trials using chemical, organic and biodynamic methods and the results were quite remarkable.  Biodynamic planting, according to the lunar calendar, really made a difference to the health of the plants and the yield they produced.  Something definitely works then even if we aren’t sure what.

What about the solar eclipse?  If the moon moving through various constellations has such an impact, what about the moon moving across the sun, obliterating it from sight?  From my research it is considered sensible to leave all gardening alone for a while – though to be honest, a lot of the sites I found were less than fullsome in their explanations.

biodynamic books

I think that I need to do a good deal of research into the methods of biodynamic horticulture before I decide whether to make my vegetable and herb patch a biodynamic experiment.

Mind you, if I could find a method of biodynamic pest control which meant that slug and squirrels went elsewhere for their snacks, I would be on it like a flash!    I would also be more than happy to be called “loony”.

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

autumn

And annoying neighbours burning wet leaves and effectively smoking you out of your own garden.  I tell you, if I wasn’t so tired from all I have done today, and interested in rotting my leaves down for soil improvement purposes… I would return the favour.  When their washing is on the line.  Just saying.

Anyway… Autumn is officially here.  The nights are drawing in, the leaves are turning brown and falling off (they don’t really turn pretty colours in the UK… they just go brown and hit the deck), and in theory, the garden should be full of stuff to harvest and store for the winter.  Obviously, this year we haven’t had a chance to really get our garden producing anything much because we haven’t been in it long enough.  I can tell you we have had a lovely crop of tomatoes, our chilli peppers are looking great, we have some aubergines (eggplants) coming on in the greenhouse, we have had 6 cucumbers from 1 plant, which I think is pretty awesome… Over all, I am really happy with what we have managed to produce.

pretty veg patch

But… ooh the plans that I have.  First of all though we need to dispose of a box hedge which is in the way, and then I am going to dig myself a veg patch.  We are going to grow those veggies which we love to eat – peas, beans, courgettes, pumpkins, onions, lettuce, radishes, potatoes (but in bags, not in the ground), carrots (the same as the potatoes), beetroot, spinach, maybe I will try some brussels sprouts (though maybe not… cos they can be tricky little blighters.)  The patch is going to have a border of dwarf fruit trees (which we already have and which are currently in pots) and a little fence as well – with strawberries growing by the little fence as well.  Can you picture it?

One of the beds which currently houses a whole load of fuschias (shudder – I loathe the things) and other assorted items which have self seeded there, will be cleared and it will become my medicinal herb bed, with a backdrop of the most gorgeous peonies.  Lots of lovely things will grow there… and will no doubt feature in future blog posts as well!

shrbbery

All of the specimen plants which can be moved, will be transplanted across the lawn to the perennial border.  That needs a serious haircut on all fronts.  And I have some bay trees which have got all wild and wooly this year and need significant taming.  (I wish it looked half as nice as the one in the picture at Sheringham Park!!  Maybe in a few years time…!)

So, autumn might be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… but it is also the time for fervent planning and plotting, as well as dreaming of future produce.  So tonight I shall dream of full cornucopia… and a medicine cabinet full of home made remedies.

A more modern day Herbal Heroine…

If you are as addicted to Gardening television programmes as I am, you will have definitely heard of my next Herbal Heroine.  Her name is Jekka McVicar, and frankly, she is the Goddess of all things organic and herbal.

jekka

I think I first became aware of Jessica McVicar from watching the televised coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show.  She has won 14 Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medals at Chelsea, and she owns a Nursery specifically growing the herbs for which she has become famous.   I own her book “Jekka’s Complete Herb Book” and I think it was one of the first books I purchased when I was forming an interest in Herbalism.

 

What I like most about this modern day heroine is the amazing amount of knowledge she has, and how easily she passes it on to those of us who are eager to learn.  Her passion is infectious, her writing style is very easy and her expertise is obvious.  She and her husband run a large nursery near Bristol which is packed full of organic herbs.  A recent development has been a Herbetum which features raised beds full of native and more tropical and exotic species.  It must be a treat for the senses.  I really, really want to go and spend some time (and let’s face it, money!) there.  I think hubby might need to come with me to restrain me so I don’t go nuts.

herb garden

Although Jekka is not a herbalist, but rather a gardener of herbs, I love the fact that her Complete Herb book  tells you everything you want to know about each herb.  For example, Chervil.  It tells me where it is native to, what varieties are available, how to propogate it, care for it, cultivate it, harvest it and what pests and diseases to look out for.  It explains what medicinal effects it can have as well as other uses it might have.  And then, the best bit for someone who loves cooking almost as much as she loves gardening, the culinary uses.  What a fantastic resource.

 

When I have established my herb garden at our new house, I will be dipping into this book on a regular basis.  Then I can not only grow the herbs properly, but use them in fabulous ways as well – not just to support health, but to add incredible flavour to my families food.

 

 

Grow your own!

I am something of an evangelist when it comes to gardening.  I am very, very enthusiastic about it, but I have had variable results from my production attempts.  Still, enthusiasm counts for a lot in these matters, and I urge you all to go out there and try to grow something you can eat.  Obviously, for a herbalist in training, I am going to suggest you start with growing herbs.

from the Daily Mail

from the Daily Mail

The best thing about herbs is you can grow them anywhere.  In pots, on the windowsill, in raised beds, in the ground, or my personal favourite option, all of the above!

 

Planning a herb garden might seem daunting, but there are loads of websites to offer you advice on where to start.  I like Garden Organic (http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/todo_now/herb_gard_now.php) but you could also try The National Herb Centre (http://www.herbcentre.co.uk/) and The Herb Society (http://www.herbsociety.org.uk/).

from smallyardlandscapes.com (I would LOVE something like this!)

from smallyardlandscapes.com (I would LOVE something like this!)

So, where do you start?  Well, first of all, I would start now, clearing unwanted weeds and plant out of the way.  Doing it at this time of the year means that the frosts can work on the soil and break it down into a friable consistency, and with the ground being wet (at least in the UK, that is kind of an understatement) the weeds are easier to get up.

 

Once your space has been cleared, then measure it accurately, and make a scale drawing of the place.  Make sure you include a pathway or stepping stones so you can get around the space so you can harvest your herbs easily.  Next step is probably one of the most fun, and that is to make a list of the plants you would like to have.  Note the height and spread of the plants from your plant and seed catalogues because ideally you want the tall herbs to be at the back of the bed and the smaller ones at the front or some other kind of arrangement where the tall herbs will not cast too much of a shadow over the others.  Make sure you take into account the room the herbs will need to grow, and remember to plant herbs with similar soil requirements together.

from fresh-herbs.co.uk

from fresh-herbs.co.uk

What soil do herbs like?  Most herbs need to have a sunny position, reasonably sheltered, and some of them need really poor soil.  This is why I like to use raised beds and pots.  You can make the soil into whatever the plants require.

 

Incidentally, if you are on a budget and are thinking that you have to spend a fortune getting plants from a catalogue, you don’t.  Seeds are relatively inexpensive (and I get a HUGE kick out of seeing life created from seed to full grown plant) but what about using those herb pots from the supermarket?  Take the herbs out of the plastic pot, separate the single stems, plant them out separately and bingo… a herb bed with the herbs you will use in your cooking, and possibly to make remedies as well.  A friend of mine did this last growing season to great effect.

from loveofherbs.co.uk

from loveofherbs.co.uk

The best advice I can give you when starting to garden?  Don’t do it all at once (something I am incredibly bad at) and have fun with it!