The soil beneath our feet

Since just even looking out the window means feeling cold and wet at the moment, I will just share a little snapshot from how it looked yesterday afternoon, and then move on to another subject.

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SOIL  is the Topic!

Dare I say, without soil, there would simply be no life. It is one of our most important natural resources alongside air and water. And in the same time, without life, the soil would by definition not even exist.

The definition (according to Wikipedia) of soil is: Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life.”

soil

Just to remind us, here are a few things that the soil does:

  • It is a medium for growing plant life.
  • Soil absorbs, releases, holds and filters water.
  • The soil holds and releases nutriments by processing recycled material from dead organic matter.
  • Soil exchanges with the atmosphere by emitting and absorbing gases like carbon oxide and methane (have a look at this blog post for some information about how this makes your garden important in inhibiting climate change).
  • The soil contains “hard matter” like mountain rock, and thereby provides minerals.
  • It is a stabilizer of climate since it stocks the warmth of the day, which is then released by night.
  • Besides carrying animals and humans at its surface, the soil is also home to a huge amount of life living IN it.

Connecting this to our gardens it is not hard to understand why pesticides and chemical treatments don’t belong in the context. But many still have a little of a hard time seeing what it says about some other parts of the picture. Let me give an example…

We recently helped to prepare the planting season for a couple with a garden consisting in about ten raised beds for vegetable, and a beautiful 15 m2 greenhouse (in real glass). Since about ten years they have mainly grown tomatoes in the greenhouse, and in the beginning they were really happy with the fact that their tomatoes developed so well in the greenhouse. They didn’t catch the disease that sometimes attained the outside tomatoes. With time they noticed that this didn’t work any more though. The tomatoes inside were more often sick than the outside ones, and it seems like the raised garden beds needed to have the earth changed every two years to work well. Of course – this is huge work, and for someone with a pleasure garden it removes a lot of just that – the pleasure.

Visiting their greenhouse we could see dirt, not soil. Dirt has a pale colour, it is dusty and it contains little life. The striking proof – not a single weed! It was really, really hot inside even a spring day like this. The earth was dry. No chance that microorganisms or funghi could live here.

What had happened here? Well, coming out of winter, the greenhouse had been abandoned since last season. The earth had not received a single drop of water since. Many people with a fixed installation don’t think about watering their empty greenhouse soil in winter, but it is really important. Once a month is enough. Hey, it’s not empty just because YOU didn’t plant anything! Microorganisms who work so hard for a healthy balanced soil still lives there, and even weeds are good signs saying that the environment is life friendly.
Moreover, all organic material had been carefully removed at the end of the growing season, leaving nothing at all to worms and the other inhabitants of the earth to feed on. Consequently, neither was there anything to protect the surface of the soil from the harsh heat that occurs even in spring in a closed greenhouse.

To restore the balance we started by opening the greenhouse as much as possible and with an overall clean. We gently aired the earth with a fork. Then we invited life back in. We brought manure, compost, layers of leaves, and started to create a lasagne. Then we toped off with an infusion of comfrey and lots of water.

As for the raised garden beds things where looking better, there were weeds and humidity! Digging in a bit we noticed a lack of worms and any abundant signs of life though. Here’s an example of what happens when you only take, and forget to give back to the soil.

I nature this giving and receiving cycle is everlasting, and everybody contributes with their specific task. Plants grow, they live, they flower, they give fruit, they drop their leaves, or they die and are composted. Some have really deep roots, like trees seeking minerals in the depts of the earth, and then they give them back to the surface with their falling autumn leaves. Some benefit from the surface nutriments and have shallow root systems, protecting the surface of the earth with their ground covering growth.

In a potager where we tend to accumulate a concentration of plants with many needs, and combining it with the fact of removing both harvest, plant residue and weeds, we actually owe a lot in return if we wish to “fair play”.

In fact, no matter the initial quality of the soil, all soils needs to receive additional organic matter at a regular basis. In a garden this can take several shapes, but we need to keep a balance of carbon and nitrogen rich material. It’s possible to use almost anything we have nearby – old manure, hay, straw, lawn and other fresh plant parts. If the structure of the earth is good, with a balance of moisture holding earth particles and pores, the roots will have a good environment. They can then easily spread and absorb oxygen, water and nutriments. It also gives the biological life in the earth something to work with, helping to make the nutriments available and airing the earth with their presence.

Going back to the example of the couple with the raised garden beds, they could have put in a chemical fertilizer, but their plants would probably not become healthier and more resistant to disease, since life in the soil would still not have enough to work with. If the nutriments are not made biologically available by natural soil activity, bacteria, fungus etc. we will still not have a functional environment.

Gardening techniques that improve the earth structure are therefore important. Mulching and green manure are the most important ones. Not only does it create material going back to the earth, but also by occupation of the space, it keeps us from once again removing something – weeds! This is generally welcomed by the gardener spending less time on the task, but thus also by the soil. Actually not “tidying up” after each harvested crop is another way of leaving for example roots and above ground material at the spot to go back to the earth. And last but not least, not walking on the cultivated earth keeps an airy structure and keeps you from interrupting the different layers of the soil by having to use tools to air it up again.

There is a lot more to say about this subject, but I will stop there for now. I just want to add that there are some simple garden boosters that can be helpful to know about, especially now in spring. Did you know that an infusion of comfrey not only stimulates germination and the development of the upper areal parts of plants, but that it also reinforces the immune defence of the plants and in the same time stimulates the earth’s microbial life?

You might also want to try the effect of yarrow on your compost. It has been shown that yarrow, even in homeopathic doses, stimulates composting processes! How great that these  two are both common plants easy to find and use!

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Perfect weather

Perfect weather

Today I woke up to another wet day. Yesterday was already a day of rain and thunderstorm, and half of the day before too… I wouldn’t be able to do any plant-picking today either. Meanwhile the herb-dryer is empty and I have a few demands waiting for the newly harvested plants of the moment. A bit stressed by these thoughts I went out after a longer breakfast than usual.

And what did I notice? Well, that the rain had seized and become soft microscopic drops suspended in the air, floating around, creating a dense fog making the air pleasantly easy to breath. That the humidity seemed to give the fresh raspberry-leaves a glowing green and that nature all around seemed to be as beautiful as ever swept in by the soft mountain mist.

PAUSE. Rest. Appreciation, Meditation, Strength in recumbence, Simply being, LIFE. These are just some words that come up in my mind. And also: Important

It was a simple, yet so powerful moment. These little things seemed to fill me with the immensity of Life. It reminded me of how I often have I hard time just Being instead of Doing, and of how important the Being is to the balance.

By observing, I notice the immobility, the patience, the meditation of life around me. Forever living in the present moment. Nature in its eternal meditation.

Thank you. I marvel at this miracle of balance, and all of a sudden I feel my inner strength and value coming forward. I no longer feel little and stressed about what I should or could be doing in other conditions. I feel how every living thing is valuable by just Being. Taking time to appreciate, only doing a few “practically useful” things of my day and RECHARGING is just what I need to do. The weather is perfect.

Wishing you all a nice afternoon!

Spriiiing with extra i’s

Spriiiing with extra i’s

Each spring here in France surprises me. It’s a long story. It goes on, and on and on some more! There are SEVERAL MONTHS of spriiiing (one i isn’t enough really)!!! As you can see on the head picture, it’s a beautiful spectacle playing out all around.

 

Depending on your own provenance this might seem just normal, but since I’m born and raised in northern Sweden, about 120 km south of the arctic circle, spring is for me supposed to be a short affaire of something like a week or two. Up there, spring doesn’t get a whole set to play. Firstly because winter plays the main act and always draws over a bit, and secondly  because summer impatiently puts across that she need not be too late if she is supposed to have time to play her piece before autumn. Suitably the word “spring” translated in Swedish means “run”. Yes indeed, spring up there runs a race with time!

Anyway, what I really wanted to share today are some pictures showing what spring is bringing us at the moment around here.

P1040215The rhubarb that has struggled a bit to get nicely implanted has come along strongly this spring. Look at this giant! I will have plenty of shopped rhubarb leaves to spread around my kale plants to hold of cabbage worm later on!

 

Above you can see three perennials. The first to the left is the kiwaï that is looking perky and thriving in company of  some strawberry at its feet. I don’t know how soon one can hope for it to carry fruit. This will only be it’s second summer at our place, and we bought it as a young plant of one year.

The second picture is of an Echinacea. I am coming to an end of the stock of dried flowers from last year and I’m eager to see it in bloom again soon. It’s such a wonderful plant! Beautiful, full of health benefits and low maintenance. It’s mostly known for the use if it’s root, that can help prevent colds, but the flowers can also be used in the same purpose, even though they are a little less powerful. It also has a lovely flavor!

The third picture is of our chocolate mint that starts to show its nose above the mulch. We moved it to a new spot this spring and would need to find some more space for it to spread since it has a good demand in infusion.

 

Three different stages of evolution of raspberry. The first circle shows our “favourites”. They give big and juicy fruit during a long period. We liked them so much that last autumn we tripled the length of what was already planted, and in the middle circle you can see the cuttings coming along (with a double row of pansies planted in front). The third circle is raspberries that doesn’t seem to give much fruit, but being planted on a mound facing south, with some big trees that cover from cool evening air, they give lots of leaves early in the season, and that’s appreciated too!

 

Above some  other projects coming along; first picture is a new massive (not finished) decorated with some old iron details that a nice friend brought us recently. I have been looking for bringing in some metal here and there so I was happy to play garden designer and make this arrangement that reminds a bit of a snake (or the Loch Ness Monster maybe) at the border…

Second picture to the right is from the “fruit hedge” or future “mini-forest-eco-system”. The Cassis are beautiful and in flower, all the autumn and spring planted trees are coming along well and I’m little by little planting different perennials and ground cover at the feet of the trees. So far it’s strawberry, yarrow, monarda, pansies, lungwort, tansy, wild garlic, chives, absinth and rhubarbe. The tricky thing is that the trees don’t give shadow and shelter yet, so the ground climate will change quite a bit with time.

The third picture to the right is from the flower lines. They are almost prepared for planting (right side). I didn’t have enough mulch last autumn to make a nice winter layer and prevent weeds, so they have been cleared all recently and are now waiting to be fully covered by a new layer of hay. The Sage to the left has grown well since last year and will probably give a nice harvest. They will soon get the company of some lavender and Echinacea where there’s room.

 

Seedlings are also coming along this time of the year of course. Look at these babies waiting to get transplanted. They are still going to be kept a while in what I call “the hot frames” though. Last morning there was frost despite a nice warm influence that has brought us some 25 degrees Celsius during the week. Tomatoes, flowers and different type of cabbage on these two pictures.

BUT! Don’t underestimate what is shown on the picture underneath! Wild flowers and plants of all kind are lovely and filled with vibrant energy this time of year. One can just feel nourished by the delight of looking at this beautiful composition! Before the garden is awake you shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to serve yourself in the wild. I have said it before and will say it again – wild plants grow where the environment and conditions are exactly right for them, developing a maximum of specific nutriments, while cultivated plants have to settle for what we offer them. Food is medicine!

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Giants of nature

Since spring makes us practice patience this year, we took the opportunity to go south for a bit, to the area of ” La Drôme”, the passed weekend. Even down there they hadn’t come much longer in terms of flowering and greens. We made a lovely forest walk though and came across these magnificent giants leading up to the actual wild woods.

CèdreIf I’m not mistaken these are Atlas cedars (the word Atlas meaning “the Carrier” in greek). It’s hard to make justice on a photo to such big trees, but several of the trunks must have measured over a meter wide, and as you can see the branches was inviting as natural hammocks. It’s just incredible to creep up on the branches of such giants, opening up to the strength and wisdom of nature.

I love trees. Thinking about how they are silent witnesses to generations passing by, scenting their seeming everlasting patience throughout storm, sunshine and fog, and embracing their strong life force and compassion fills me with respect and reverence.  Yes, I think trees, like other plants, shows compassion. We are just about to start understanding a small bit of the exchange trees actually have between each other. They are not all about competition like we have thought here in the west since a long time  now. No, they actually share lots of information and communication which benefits to all. Think about it, how often will you see one lonely tree in the middle of a field in a true natural area?

Some might know that a single isolated tree can have more difficulty to thrive than in a group of trees growing together, but many think that you have to plant them all at the same time for it to work. I recently learned that this is not necessary and that if you wish to implant a young tree next to an older one, the only thing you need to do to facilitate the implantation is to prune the older tree before preparing for the new one. Since the old tree has established a certain amount of roots according to the need of its foliage, cutting away a part of the mass above ground will cause a correlative part of roots to die. This is pure adaption to the new needs of the plant. However, the situation will come in profit to the new tree since the dead roots will start to decompose, leaving free space to the roots that the new tree will develop, and also slowly releasing the nutriments from the old roots and leaving a more airy structure to the soil.

Of course less disease, more stable humidity, mutual protection from the elements and variated foliage are other pleasant advantages (both for the trees and us humans) if one chooses to plant trees or bushes together.

“Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky” – Khalil Gibran

Back in action

Back in action

There has been a fall, a winter, and even a change of hour for summer time since last. The project of Neorigins has celebrated its’ first birthday (in march), we have started to sell our dried plants in a couple of new places, and now we are finally ready to take on the blog again. Welcome to follow us more regularly from now on!

This year the winter don’t seem to be entirely willing to let go. Here in the mountains of Auvergne it still makes me put on my long johns every morning, and not once I have even taken them of by midday yet. Furthermore it hailed this morning!

I think it’s great that we have had a real winter though. The cold cleans what needs to be frozen away in the ground, the frost exploses those soaked lumps of clay that we struggle to eliminate, and the snow has brought some well needed humidity as well.

That being said, the spring is more than welcome by now! The fact is that in matters of the vegetation, we are a whole month late compared to last year (the spring of 2017 being unusually warm on an early stage though). According to my dated notes from the wild-picking, I had both raspberry leaves and stinging nettle by this time last year, while these past two weeks I have been struggling even to find dandelion leaves !

Things start to slowly come around now though and I have good hope for all the seedlings hiding away in the greenhouses. I have waited and been starting of late this year, but since our greenhouses aren’t heated in any way, I prefer not to be too early. I still managed to sow cauliflower (in February) that waited indoors for too long, and ended up as tall, thin and pale. I finally restarted a new round yesterday.

We have also installed a whole new greenhouse which will be used as a nursery for replanting seedlings directly in the earth before final transplantation, and started the project of building a herb dryer. It will be a bussy spring!

Well, that was a small update to what’s going on around here. We’ll get more into details soon! Have a nice week everyone!

PS. For those in proximity of Ambert (63600), we will give a tasting of some of our infusions at the store “LE BIO SENS”, situated at 25 Rue de la Filètererie, tomorrow the 10 april, 15.00-18.00. Welcome!

 

Herbal harvest

Herbal harvest

How I have waited for this time of the year! I just love aromatic herbs, and now is when many of them are at their best. It’s oh so fragrant, oh so beautiful!
With their lovely fragrances, each so specific to the plant in question, it would be a suitable task for a poet trying to describe their taste. Most aromatic herbs are also part of a medical tradition, as well as surrounded by diverse folkloric stories and beliefs. These are just some of the herbs in our garden…

BasilI think basil is a culinary icon. I just love it, and it’s the aromatic that I wait most impatient for each summer.
Basil exists in lots of varieties today, but the only one that should be used in a true pesto is the kind named Genovese. Historically there are many thrilling traditions associated with basil. In India it has been considered a holy plant, part of religious ceremonies, and people thought that the creator of the earth lived inside the plant. Another quite fun story is that the ancient grec apparently thought that one had to scream and shout in order to make the basil seeds germinate. I haven’t tried that technique, but I have everything between the traditional basil Genovese, to purple basil, thai basil and my very favorite – the holy basil growing in the garden. I find the holy basil spicier than classic one, yet sweeter in the same time. It goes with everything from a tomato salad to some fresh strawberries with a little sugar. A must-try if you haven’t discovered it yet. There are many others, but I tend to like the varieties I mentioned above the best. Basil lasts for harvest a long time once it has started to produce. I tend to use most fresh, dried its use is completely different. If anyone has the experience of freezing basil to conserve I would love to hear about it.

Some other herbs have already given their major harvest and will be conserved by drying. That’s the case of my oregano and marjoram. It was with both joy and sadness that I cut the lovely flowering bushes that they have formed. Thank you nature for this fragrant and beautiful gift!
Yet others, like the lemon balm (first picture above) and my two varieties of mint will even have time to re-grow three times during the summer season.

On the middle picture above there is also an herb called Perilla that I have become found of in infusions. Perilla is the parsley of the Japanese, and the green variety is even included in sushi from time to time. Yes, it exists in two shapes, green or red, the green one being the most aromatic. I haven’t found any seeds of the green Perilla even though I am keen on growing it to try. Apparently its taste is something between cumin, coriander, mint and lemon all at once! The red Perilla on the other hand is quite discrete but has nonetheless a pleasant flavor, and is antispasmodic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and contains lots of vitamins. The foliage of the plant also makes it a beautiful eye-catcher in the garden.

The third picture is Chrivil (Cerfeuil en francais). I think it is my Swedish origin that makes me so keen on these licorice-like flavors. I am a big fan of its really, really thin leaves with refreshing taste. Try it to fish or in a light yogurt sauce to accompanie  the barbecue. Chrivil is an annual that is also an excellent companion planted near the salads. It’s scent makes slugs less eager to feast on the salads, and since it is a bit sensible to heat, they share the same preferences for exposure.

P1040039I am also happy to see that my Rosemary is beginning to thrive and grow stronger. Rosemary means ” the dew of the sea” in latin, and naturally grows at the beaches of the Mediterranean sea. Not a climate much like ours at almost 1000 meters altitude in the middle of the mountains, with other words. Last year, I had the chance to have a piece of an already accustomed Rosemary plant though, and it seems to be a successful cutting. I have made two other cuttings on my plant this summer and hope to enlarge the population.
Rosemary is full with health properties and is very pleasant in infusions. Included on its list of benefits is that it stimulates the memory and helps relief stress and anxiety.

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And here are the young sages sown this year. They are coming along fine but will not really give much before next year. In the middle of the rows I planted marjoram this spring but it seems to have been less successful – I can hardly find any that are still there actually.

Anyway, my conclusion of the day is that we should all enjoy the fragrant gifts of mother nature this time of year, and keep marveling at the rich and surprising tastes she serves us with!