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Deb's Garden Notebook

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." John Muir

When I was a young child growing up in rural Maine, my grandmother introduced me to the beauty and magic of plants and animals. I spent hours wandering through nearby fields, woods, and abandoned apple orchards, delighting in the wildflowers, birch trees, ferns, and fragrant apple blossoms. At the age of 15 I began my love affair with gardening which has continued to this day. My passion for working with seeds, moist soil, and living plants, helps me feel more alive, connected to the beauty of each moment, and present to the medicine I am growing and gathering. There is always something happening in Avena's garden, every day, in every season. The winter birds, such as red polls, eating the hawthorn berries, a rare visit from a snowy owl in January, the return of the hummingbirds in May, the first Echinacea flowers in July, and the excitement of gathering Schisandra berries in September. Join me regularly as I share something of the beauty and magic that is occurring in Avena's garden. May these short offerings delight your senses and nourish your heart's longing for connection, joy and peace.






November 22, 2009

Another warm sunny day. We are so blessed. The grass around the farmhouse is
still green. The witch hazel trees in the garden are still covered with
yellow flowers-the last tree to flower in fall. Today my friend and
biodynamic vegetable farmer Tom Griffin helped me add 6 different biodynamic
compost preparations into our newly made compost pile. 



November 20, 2009

Lauren pruned several more branches of the hawthorn trees today which are
still covered with red berries. Over the next few days it is my job to sit
and by hand separate the berries off the stems. We then dry the berries
before tincturing them. They hold their color beautifully when dried at 80F.



November 19, 2009

The warm weather has allowed our neighbor and his colleague to spend a day
and a half digging a small water drainage ditch so that the water draining
off our south facing slope has a specific way to flow around our compost
piles. This work has created another large garden area for us to plant more
elderberry trees and other interesting perennial and medicinal fruits.
Today we built another large compost pile using 2 truck loads of local cow
manure, leaves, straw and lots of green plant material from the garden. Once
the tall windrow was finished, Lauren covered the pile with straw. Always
good to cover the compost pile with something like straw-creating a
protective skin. Never use plastic to cover your pile as plastic does not
breath. We are required by the USDA organic standards to turn our compost
piles 5 times. Thanks to our neighbor and his tractor we are able to
accomplish this.


November 9, 2009


Bless these warm November days. 60F today.  Honey bees were out of their hives, enjoying the sun and visiting the last of the orange calendula flowers and blue rosemary blossoms. In the garden we continue to cut back dried plant stalks along with shoveling compost onto all the annual garden beds, raking the compost and then covering each bed with straw. Having the annual beds all prepared for next year’s spring plantings helps the spring work load be more manageable.




November 4, 2009


Dug 3 pounds of fresh poke root today.  We chop the roots and let them dry wilt for 24 hours before adding organic olive oil. We have found this way makes a much better quality poke root oil. The roots and oil will infuse for 2 weeks at 100F. Then the oil will be separated from the roots, and bottled. Poke root oil, used topically, is effective for reducing swollen glands and breast cysts.




November 2, 2009


We harvested 28 pounds of fresh red hawthorn berries from the hedgerow of the 48 trees that surrounds Avena’s main herb garden. Lauren used the pruning pole to cut various branches and a friend Leigh and I sat in a sunny spot in the garden and hand picked the berries off the branches into baskets. This work requires care as the big thorns on the branches hurt if one gets poked. We then laid the berries out on screens in our drying room. Once dried Gretchen will then make them into Avena’s hawthorn berry tincture.




October 22, 2009


We harvested close to 80 pounds of Echinacea roots from Avena’s garden. We are glad to be done as this past week has been seasonally cold.  Our friends from Hope’s Edge Farm, our local biodynamic vegetable CSA, came to help us dig up our 13 large rosemary plants this past week so we could get them inside the plastic hoop house and protect them from the cold wind. Rosemary plants can take a mild frost. But cold winds can burn and even kill a rosemary plant. I am especially grateful for all the helping hands that have helped us with our harvests and with bringing in the rosemary plants.



October 15, 2009


We started hand digging our Echinacea roots today. The temperature has dropped drastically, only in the 40’s. We are grateful that our outdoor hose is hooked up to warm water so that our hands can stay warm while breaking apart the roots and washing them. Special thanks to Lydia who came over from Vinalhaven Island to help Lauren and myself with the harvest.





October 13, 2009


Another sunny day. Lots of Avena staff came out to the ½ acre oat field, including Heidi’s 2 young daughters, and Meghan’s mother, to help us collect the last 100 pounds. Which we did, thanks to lots of helping hands!!





October 8, 2009


We began our fresh Oat seed harvest today. Five of us hand-harvested 95 pounds of the green milky seeds. We each choose a 200 foot row of Oats and with our baskets worked our way down the row, stripping each plant of its seeds. The work is very rhythmical and satisfying to watch as each basket becomes filled with these beautiful green seeds, so nourishing and beneficial to the nervous system. One of my teachers once said that using oat seed tea or tincture over several weeks helps quiet the mind and the nervous system enough so that a person is able to hear the sounds in nature, like the sound of the wind blowing through the oat seeds.



Gracefully Moving Into Autumn With Herbal Support

 

The season of autumn brings lots of changes. Externally, the weather shifts, turning cooler, less humid, and windier.  The “winds of change” can blow erratically, heralding in different types of weather, sometimes dry, sometimes wet, sometimes hot, sometimes cold. For some people autumn feels refreshing, for others the erratic nature of autumn is unsettling. I have observed over many years that fall is one of the hardest seasonal transitions for many people, both physically and emotionally. Fortunately there are nourishing herbs, foods, and lifestyle practices that are supportive for this time of year.

 

As the days shorten, this decrease in sunlight affects people’s spirits in different ways. Fall is a time of letting go and of evaluating the projects we have worked on throughout the summer and are now bringing to completion or closure. It can be a time where people feel dissatisfied and judgmental towards themselves and others, especially if they are not content with what is occurring in their lives. Autumn offers us the opportunity for clear and thoughtful reevaluation and releasing of what no longer serves us, both internally and externally. Fall is a good time of year to engage in a mild fast using vegetable soups or kicharee, herbal teas, healing baths and oils, meditation, movement, and breathing exercises. A traditional ayurvedic preparation, Triphala, a powder of 3 dried fruits-amalaki, bibhataki and haritaki, is an excellent formula to use consistently throughout the fall, to support colon, lung and bowel health. Stir ¼ tsp of the triphala powder into ¼ cup of hot water and drink an hour or so after dinner. Follow the triphala with a cup of pleasant tasting herbal tea or a cup of warm water. Triphala’s taste is unusual and takes getting used to. If you use Triphala consistently for several weeks, your whole body and mental state will feel clearer, grounded and settled.

 

Another ayurvedic  herb that can be taken before bed (for several weeks or months) to relieve agitation, calm the mind and promote a deep restful sleep, is ashwagandha. Traditionally it is prepared by stirring a ½ tsp of the powder into a cup of warm milk.  Almond milk along with ashwagandha, a pinch of cardamom, a dropperful of Avena’s rose petal elixir, and a spoonful of honey makes a yummy and nourishing bed time beverage. I recommend supporting the body’s eliminative mechanisms with Triphala for 2-4 weeks before starting ashwagandha.  Ayurvedic practitioners say that ashwagandha, when taken daily for a year, gives one the strength of a horse. The bowel needs to be functioning well before giving rebuilding herbs such as ashwagandha, which is why triphala is recommended before using ashwagandha.

 

For people who feel destabilized by the autumns’ wind and cooling temperatures, warming foods that taste sweet, sour, salty and mildly spicy help to ground and settle the body and mind. Eating 3 meals at a similar time each day and rising and retiring at a similar time also help create a feeling of calm and stability.

 

Fresh ginger tea with a touch of lemon and honey  and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary is a rejuvenating and warming  tea to drink before or with breakfast. Avena’s Immune Tonic Tea, containing cinnamon, licorice, ginger, astragalus, codonopsis and rehmannia roots, is especially warming and strengthening to the immune system and lungs, and tastes delicious.

 

Fall and winter foods and spices include steamed leafy greens, sea vegetables, root vegetables, winter squashes, cooked apples and pears (spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom), garlic and onions,  rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, bay leaf, cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, long pepper, cayenne and fennel seed, and good quality protein that suits your constitution.  Limit your intake of raw salads and cold foods (ice cream) in fall and winter as they can cause gas and inhibit digestion in the colder seasons.

 

Baths can be warming and relaxing, especially for people who become easily cold and tense in the fall and winter. Massaging the body with warm Sesame Oil before bathing is an ayurvedic practice that when done daily, or several times a week, deeply warms, rejuvenates and detoxifies the body. Massage the body, including the bottom of the feet in a warm bathroom,  sit quietly for 10 minutes allowing the oil to penetrate the body, and then enjoy a relaxing bath or shower. Some essential oils to add into the bath or shower include lavender, rosemary, bergamot, cypress, or sacred basil.

 

Many years ago I learned from a practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine  to simmer medicinal mushrooms and roots in a large pot of water for an 8-10 hour period, and then pour the concentrated liquid into ice cube trays, place in the freezer, and store the individual herbal ice cubes, once frozen, in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. Throughout the fall and winter you can melt 1-2 ice cubes/day into miso soup or any vegetable soup you may be eating.  The roots I use are burdock root, astragalus root, and codonopsis root and the mushrooms are shitake and reishi.  These herbs and mushrooms support the health of the lungs, digestive tract and immune system. I call this formula Immune Soup, and recommend it to many people to use at the onset of fall all the way through to spring, especially for people who are vulnerable to respiratory infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, chronic colds and flus, and for people who lack vitality or feel ungrounded and sad. This soup is also used by many people before, during and after chemotherapy to support  their immune systems.

 

Many spiritual teachers remind us that fall is the time of year to cultivate a deeper  appreciation for the life we are given and an opportunity to let go of the attitudes and habits that no longer serve our spirits and life’s purpose. Every breath we are given is a blessing. May you move into fall and winter gracefully, with your heart open and full of gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 


August 16, 2009


Hot and humid day. Went for an early morning swim just as the sun was rising. The new hive looked less busy than the old one but by evening, the entrances to both hives were full of fanning bees. As I entered the main garden tonight, what really caught my attention was the hummingbird activity. Over the past 2-3 weeks the juvenile hummingbirds have begun to chase each other all around the garden. Tonight they were especially active amidst the white blooming marshmallow flowers (Althea officinalis)

and the recently opened lavender bee balm flowers (Monarda fistulosa). I felt totally delighted this evening, watching and listening to these amazing tiny birds, whizzing and squeaking amidst the medicinal herbs, occasionally pausing on a branch of the witch hazel or willow, ever so briefly, and then off again, creating quite a joyful raucous in the garden.




August 15, 2009


6am. Lots of bee activity in both hives. Bees going out and coming in with pollen.  In a few days we will place another 5 frames in the bottom box of the newly caught swarm and get a look at how they are settling in. We are hoping enough nectar flow will be happening in the garden and in nearby fields that the swarm will be able to fill the 2 bottom boxes with the honey they need to feed themselves through winter. 

.



August 14, 2009


Well, so much for keeping the hive inside for the day. Their urge to forage is strong and many found their way out through a small space between the cover and the box. Hundreds of bees covered the outside of the hive when Bobby and I came to look at 1pm. After much conversation, we decided to move the hive next to the original hive instead of waiting until dark to move it. We observed lots of foraging bees coming back to the hive and knew our window of re-orientating them to their new home and location was short. Though the outside box was covered with hundreds of bees, we carefully picked up the board we had placed the box on, and with full awareness gently moved the box. Neither of us got stung. Another beekeeper, Hugo, came in the evening, and after placing new foundation on 10 frames, we placed a second hive body on top of the first one. The bottom box is full of what looks like thousands of bees. We are delighted!!  We are hoping they will stay.




August 13, 2009


The hive swarmed this morning. What a sound!! And what a day!! We are so fortunate the swarm decided to settle 30 feet off the ground in a maple tree in the nettle garden, not far from the original hive. Bobby and Gretchen, both bee keepers, were totally up for catching the swarm which they did successfully around 5:30pm. Bobby climbed the tree with a rope, tied it to the branch, and with Gretchen on the ground holding the rope, Bobby sawed off the branch with the swarm. As the branch swayed and shifted on the rope, a large percentage of the swarm, disturbed, began flying all around. They lowered the branch with the swarm, and placed the branch on an empty hive box. We all watched, waited, photographed, as much of the swarm settled again on the branch. After a short while, Gretchen and Bobby shook the swarm into the box and Gretchen with her bare hands placed 5 frames in the box amidst thousands of active bees. She only endured one sting on her finger. Bobby and I came back at 9:30pm, and moved the hive box under the tree and closed off the entrance with cheesecloth and metal wire-our attempt to keep the hive inside tomorrow and help them settle into their new home




August 6, 2009


We have been talking about placing a second honey super on the hive because the numbers of bees appear to be so large. I have been observing various bees fanning the hive during these hot days and evenings. Their little wings are amazing to watch, moving so quickly to cool down the hive. Last night in the full moon light I sat and observed the bees on the outside of the hive, some fanning, some just hanging out. The hum of the hive is quite loud and beautiful to hear.




August 3, 2009


Spent time this evening weeding in the upper garden where 3 large beds of blue hyssop(Hyssop officinalis) are in full flower. The hyssop flowers are buzzing with honey bees. I am delighted to observe this medicinal flower hedge so covered with bees




August 1, 2009


Our new bee hive is extremely active and has grown enormously. During the last 2 weeks, as the sun is rising, I go out over the bridge to the mullein garden and watch the bees beginning their day. Already by 6am hundreds of bees are flying in and out of the hive, bringing in pollen and nectar. The Greek Mullein(Verbascum olympicus) garden is a very short distance from the hive and the flowers are in full bloom right now. These flowering stalks are covered with hundreds of bees by 6:30 and the bees pollen baskets are a beautiful salmon color-the color of the mullein flowers pollen. We placed our first honey super on top of the 2 hive body boxes which are full of honey. Remarkable for a first year hive! I am convinced that placing this hive in the herb garden has contributed to the robustness of the hive.




July 15, 2009

 

The last five days have brought us sun!! We have been very busy harvesting lemon balm, St Johnswort flowers, feverfew, motherwort and yarrow.  We began our mullein flower harvest for the ear oil drops and mullein flower elixir today. The gathering of mullein flowers early in the morning is one of my favorite garden tasks. The slow rhythm of hands reaching for the delicate yellow blossoms is meditative and quieting. And the sweet smell of the mullein flowers fills the early morning air with a floral fragrance that attracts several pollinators-especially our honey bees.

 

 

 

July 4, 2009

 

An amazingly sunny day. Our new bee hive is very active. Every day I am delighted to watch the bees coming and going from the hive. The new hive has been placed at the far end of one of our gardens so viewing bee activity is now easy. Was in the garden by 5am this morning and worked until dusk. So happy to feel the warmth of the sun on my arms and to finally be harvesting baskets of herbs.

 


July 3, 2009

Photo of apprentices and Deb


Deb and Apprientices

 

 

 

 

 

July 2, 2009

 

The hawthorn hedge is just coming into bloom, two weeks later than last year. As soon as the sun appears we will begin our hawthorn flower harvest. The trees and perennials in and around the gardens are lush and green from the 11 inches of rain we received during the month of June-a record rainfall for June. The peonies have been beautiful and the lemon balm plants are the largest I have ever seen from all the rain. The five of us working in the gardens are managing okay. Some days we wonder if perhaps we are living in England instead of Maine.

 

 

 

June 27, 2009

 

Last year we transplanted several beds of Arnica chamissonsis into four different areas of the garden. I am seeing that the arnica plants growing in the wettest area of the garden are the most productive, much to my surprise. Some of these arnica beds are in standing water because of the 8 inches of rain we have had so far this June. A few hours of sun here and there in the past 2 weeks has allowed us to harvest several pounds of flowers and prepare over 7 gallons of arnica oil of which I am most grateful.

 

 

 

June 21, 2009

 

Summer Solstice. Several rosa rugosas are blooming in the new rose garden and we have begun collecting the petals early in the morning for the rose petal elixir. The center thyme circle is in full flower. Tonight I walked barefoot on the creeping thyme plants-so soft-and lingered amongst the thyme plants, watching the night fall and the fire flies dance. 

 

 


May 15, 2009

 

Two male ruby throated hummingbirds arrived to Avena’s gardens a week ago, May 8. I spent  10 hours working in the garden the next day, extremely happy to have their company. They were quite active, especially visiting the blue-flowering catmint hedge that lines the butterfly garden. Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) is a low growing perennial that forms clumps 12-15 inches tall, making it a lovely border plant. It prefers dryer soil and full to partial sun. It is a very aromatic herb, different than “Catnip” which grows 3-4 feet tall. The fragrant blue flowers begin to bloom around the time the hummingbirds return, making it an important perennial to consider growing on behalf of these tiny birds who migrate all the way from Mexico and the northwest corner of Cost Rica. Catmint flowers and leaves makes a lovely tasting tea, fresh or dried, helping ease belly aches and indigestion.

 



May 7, 2009

 

The two large Willow trees adjacent to Avena’s farmhouse are in full flower and incredibly fragrant. Yesterday we planted several small True Solomon Seal roots (Polygonatum canaliculatum) in a semi-wooded area behind the large kiwi arbor. The well established Solomon Seal plants in another part of the garden are 2 feet tall and about to flower. These flowers are important nectar sources for the ruby throated hummingbirds when they first arrive. The lungworts (Pulmonaria officinalis) and bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are also early spring flowers that the ruby throated hummingbirds appreciate. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first hummingbirds which for us on the coast of Maine is between May 1 and May 15.



April  25, 2009


Spring is arriving in Maine . The first delicate purple pulsatilla flowers (Pulsatilla anemone) are blooming in the garden along with the first violets. The two large Willow trees adjacent to the apothecary are leafing out. The phoebe’s are nesting on our porch and last night I heard the melodious song of the hermit thrush. The greenhouse is full of hundreds of seedlings. And our first herb harvest has begun. We prune the branches of the high bush cranberry shrubs which line our old stonewalls, and then sit with sharp knives and scrap the bark off the branches. The inner bark is very green this time of year as the sap is rising-perfect time for harvesting this bark which herbalists refer to as Cramp bark. The bark is especially helpful for easing menstrual cramps. It takes me approximately 1 and a half to 2 hours to scrap 1/3 of a pound of bark.  One pound of fresh bark is used to make one gallon of cramp bark tincture.  The rhythm and focus required for scraping bark is a special mindfulness practice-the opportunity to sit, breath and be present.

 


March 31, 2009


In the past week the robins have begun singing at dawn and the song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and male wood cocks have returned. Every day snow is melting and the daffodils are just beginning to push up through the earth. Most of the large rosemary plants wintering in the greenhouse are covered with bright blue flowers and my work is now focused in the greenhouse.  I follow the Stella Natura Biodynamic Planting Calendar when planting seeds. Today the moon was in an earth sign which meant a good day for planting root crops. I planted several flats of ashwagandha and codonopsis, and smaller amounts of two new Chinese herbs-Dong Quai and Red Sage- whose roots are used medicinally. The Stella Natura calendar is available for purchase through Camphill Village Kimberton Hills at (610)-469-9686 or http://www.stellanatura.com/.  I have used this calendar along with several biodynamic preparations for many years. The calendar is a useful guide and the preparations continue to enhance the vitality of Avena’s farm, soil and plants. The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Assoication’s website is http://www.biodynamics.com/.

 

 

 

April 2, 2009

 

What is Biodynamic Farming and Gardening. The following description is from the quarterly journal Biodynamics: Agriculture In Service of the Earth and Humanity.

“In the early 1920’s a group of practicing farmers, concerned with the decline of the soil, sought the advice of Dr. Rudolf Steiner, founder of anthroposophy (and Waldorf Education), who had spend all his life researching and investigating the forces that regulate life and growth. From a series of lectures and conversations held at Koberwitz, Germany, in June 1924, there emerged the fundamental principles of biodynamic farming and gardening, a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos. This approach has been under development in many parts of the world ever since. Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who worked with Dr. Steiner during the formative period, brought biodynamic concepts to the United States in the 1930’s. It was during this period that the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association was founded in 1938.

Biodynamic agriculture is a way of living, working, and relating to nature and the vocations of agriculture based on good common-sense practices, a consciousness of the uniqueness of each landscape, and the inner development of each and every practitioner. “

 

 

 

 
Spring Equinox March 20

This is the time of year when day and night are equal, and in the northern hemisphere we begin to say farewell to winter and welcome in spring. Daylight feels stronger and gardeners become active again. Though Avena’s gardens are still covered in snow, I can feel the stirring of spring as the tree buds begin to swell and as I drink the pure, clear maple sap from my neighbor’s trees. Sap is a traditional spring tonic drink. This is also the time of year to plant our seeds of intention for the new gardening season. May we include prayers for the birdlife and bees whose health is diminishing because of humans use of pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals and lifestyle choices. Consider becoming active in your community, school system or garden club, teaching organic gardening practices and sharing books and resources.

Two favorite gardening books include Gardening At the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson and Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture  by Toby Hemenway, both of which are available for sale through Avena.  Two excellent books on biodynamic gardening include Culture and Horticulture by Wolf Storl and Grasp The Nettle by Peter Proctor.  A recently published book called
A Spring Without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply by Michael Schacker is an informative book I just started reading.



 
March 5, 2009

Yesterday I watched a large crow sitting on the kiwi arbor for what seemed like a long time. Time in the garden turns non-linear, spacious, even other-worldly. Three large snow storms in the past two weeks have dumped over two and a half feet of snow here on the coast of Maine. The only way in to the garden is on snow-shoes or skis.

 

 

March 1, 2009


For several days I have been sorting through seeds and seed catalogs, delighting in Johnny’s Selected Seeds brightly colored photographs, studying the more unusual medicinals in Horizon Herbs catalog, and laughing at the humorous remarks written in FEDCO’s seed and tree catalogs. My lists are long and include medicinals, vegetables, and flowers for window boxes, hanging baskets, a cutting garden and pollinators. A favorite flower that I have grown from seed for many years is the red flowering Hummingbird Sage(Salvia coccinea), offered by Johnny’s and Horizon. I sow the seeds in the greenhouse mid-April, and transplant over 200 seedlings into the garden  early June. This plant prefers full sun, well-drained soil, and will bloom continuously until a hard frost in October. I highly recommend growing this annual for attracting hummingbirds. And speaking of hummingbirds. I recently returned from Costa Rica where I spent 8 days working alongside biologist Bill Hilton, banding ruby-throated hummingbirds and learning lots. For more information on Bill Hilton and ruby-throats check out www.rubythroat.org. 

 

January 27, 2009

Cedar Wax Wings at Avena

 

The first thing I do when arriving at Avena each morning is to walk to the hoop house where 13 large rosemary plants are wintering at 40F with the help of a gas heater. This morning much to my delight a large flock of cedar wax wings covered the top of our large Willow tree adjacent to the garden. What first caught my attention was this sreee sound that filled the air. Lots of sreee sounds. I counted at least 50 cedar wax wings. They mostly travel in flocks, looking for berries. And berries they have found at Avena. Our 45 Hawthorn trees still have bunches of red, frozen berries covering them.

 

December 7, 2008

 

 Our first snow. Light, delicate and gentle. The garden beds are covered with a few inches of this first snow. An enormous ring around the moon last night alerted us to a change in weather. The snow fell during the night. The ground is frozen. The air is still. Winter is here.

 
October 6, 2008

We are busy in the gardens cutting back perennials, sheet mulching paths with recycled cardboard and straw and harvesting the last of the sacred basil plants for tea and massage oils. I recently read a quote from the 2008 summer Biodynamics journal by the famous German biodynamic farmer Ehrenfried
Pfeiffer. The garden and this quote have been an anchor for me as the world outside of the garden appears to have gone mad.

Pfeiffer says "...Our future depends upon our choice between death forces and life forces; upon whether or not we will return in humility to the soil. The great questions are: Will we return to a philosophy of life which lays stress upon growth? Will our youth be educated in the spirit of growing things, and of services to life? Will they learn that it means more than money to plant our seeds and harvest our crops? If the right inner attitude towards the soil penetrates the human race again, a renaissance of rural
life will begin, and not only will new resources be created for our
population, but spiritually we will be 'safe'."

October 1, 2008

The hummingbird sage plants (Salvia coccinea) are still blooming
prolifically despite the drop in temperature and the shorter days. These annuals, native to the southwest, are an important nectar producing flower for the hummingbirds, especially since they keep blooming into the fall, providing the migrating hummers food. Today the gardeners rejoiced happily as we watched one female ruby throated hummingbird feeding on the red flowers of the hummingbird sages, aware that most likely this was our last
sighting of hummingbirds for the year.

August 31, 2008

 
Fluffy Feathered Hummingbirds
The young hummingbirds still have fluffy downy feathers on their chests. I enjoy watching as they feed on various flowers and then stop to rest on dead tree limbs, dangling vines, or the vertical flower stalks of the 4-5 foottall Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia) or the 7-8 foot tall Lion's Tail (Leonotisleonurus). This morning I stood watching a small young hummer sitting 2 feet from me on a dead branch of a high bush cranberry shrub (Viburnum opulus), preening itself and cocking its head as other hummingbirds flew by. Then suddenly it also took off, chasing its sibling or cousin. Over the years of tending this garden, I have come to leave certain dead limbs of shrubs and trees for the hummingbirds and for the one who loves to watch them.

August 30, 2008
 
 
Late Summer Flowers For Hummingbirds
The late summer garden at Avena is filled with tall flowering plants and flowers going to seed, all tangled together, creating a feeling of great abundance. The lively activity of the young hummingbirds is seemingly everywhere in the garden, in the surrounding damp areas that are thick with the native orange jewelweed (Impatiens canadensis), and around the deck of the farmhouse that contains potted nasturiums and sacred basil plants, bothof which the hummingbirds enjoy. A climbing pink flowering honeysuckle vine(Serotina) covering a corner of the deck is frequently visited from early morning until dusk.

As I sit on the deck writing this piece I am constantly distracted by the hummingbirds continuously zooming by, sometimes close enough that if I was quick enough I would be able to touch them. Sitting quietly and watching them from 5:45am until 7am has become my morning meditation. I am acutely aware that by mid-September they will have headed south.

The following herbs and flowers attract hummingbirds and are currently blooming in Avena's garden. Bee balms (Monarda fistulosa, M. didyma, M.citriodora), catnip (Nepeta cataria), catmint (Nepeta mussini), evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), hanging fuschia baskets, honeysuckle vines (Lonicera periclymemum), red hummingbird sage (Salvia coccinea), lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus), marshmallow (Althea officinalis), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) nasturiums (Tropaeolum sp.), and phlox (Phlox peniculata).

August 26, 2008
 
 
Boneset and Bees
Almost every visitor to Avena¹s garden this summer has commented on the extraordinary abundance of bees they see when walking in the garden. From the time the sun has warmed the early morning air until sunset, numerous varieties of native bumble bees fill the garden. As I was taking a final walk in the garden today at sunset I noticed that the boneset was still being visited by bumble bees.

Boneset (Eupatorium perforatum) blooms for most of August and is frequently covered with both bumble bees and honey bees. One of our native medicinal flowering plants, boneset is a hardy perennial to consider planting in a damp area on your land for both the bees and for medicine. We harvest the white flowers and leaves when the plant first begins to bloom. They can be dried for tea or tinctured fresh. An excellent remedy for lowering a fever and reducing the intense body aches that often accompany a flu. Boneset tincture combined with the tinctures of solomon¹s seal root and teasel root is my favorite remedy for healing broken bones and torn ligaments and tendons.

 
August 21, 2008

Monarchs and Mullein
My favorite early morning spot in the garden is near the Greek Mullein beds where the first sunlight creeps down over the hill into the garden and begins warming the sleeping Monarch butterflies and bees. Once the air temperature is above 50F the Monarch¹s wings are able to move and they begin their search for nectar filled flowers. I stood watching a monarch this morning as she first began to move her wings, attached to a Greek Mullein flower. Suddenly a bumble bee landed next to her, also interested in feeding on the nectar of the mullein flowers. I giggled as the butterfly began to rapidly flap her wings at the bee, as if to say "these flowers are my breakfast, go elsewhere bee" and that is exactly what the bee did.

August 10, 2008

BeeBalms, Hummingbirds and Kitchen Sinks
I spent an hour this morning, sitting near a large bed of raspberry wine-colored bee balms, watching a young hummingbird move from flower to flower, taking in the nectar these flowers so easily provide. Every few minutes it seemed she chased off another young hummingbird from her flower territory, and then quickly returned, focused on feeding herself. The shape of the bee balm's flower is a perfect match for a hummingbird's bill. This particular bee balm grows well in both full sun and partial shade and spreads easily by roots. A 12 foot long bee balm bed planted by our kitchen sink window, in partial shade, allows Avena's bottlers and medicine maker to enjoy watching the hummingbirds daily activity over the 3 week period this wine-colored bee balm species is in bloom. For any gardener looking for flowers to attract hummingbirds and bees, this particular bee balm species (Monarda didyma, cultivar raspberry wine) is one I highly recommend.

 

August 1, 2008

Young Hummingbirds in the Garden
August is the month in Maine when the young hummingbirds, having fledged in mid-July, become the most active and entertaining bird to watch in Avena's garden. The young females vibrant green gold color and unmarked throat is similar to the adult females. They are smaller than the adults in size and a bit more adventurous in their exploration of flowers. The young males resemble the adult females except their bill is shorter, they are even smaller than the young females, and the markings on their throats are heavier- yet still pale. The ruby to orange-red color which distinctly marks the adult male ruby-throat begins to appear once a male is at least one year old.

My favorite way to observe hummingbirds is to find a place in the garden or in a wild setting full of flowers which they like, such as the orange-flowered jewelweed (Impatiens canadensis), and sit. Early morning, between 5:30-8:30 is a great time, though they are present and buzzing
around the garden until dusk. If you are unfamiliar with their rapid squeaky twitters and squeals, ask a gardener or birder to bring you to a place where the ruby-throated hummingbird feeds, and you will quickly be delighted and intrigued by this tiny bird¹s sounds, speed and raucous behavior.

June 30, 2008

Hawthorns, Hedgerows, and Hummingbirds
The first garden I planted on Avena Botanicals 30 acre farm in 1997 is surrounded by 45 Hawthorn trees. I was looking for a long lived tree that would create a living fence, offering deer protection to the garden, and a tree whose flowers could be harvested for medicine for the apothecary. Inspired by the hedgerows in England, I chose hawthorn. Eleven years later, these magnificent trees are well over 13 feet tall and have created a hedgerow that attracts various birds, including the ruby-throated hummingbird. These tiny hummingbirds often land on the tips of the hawthorn branches, surveying the garden for their next meal of nectar. Sometimes they pause for a brief moment, and other times they linger, inviting me to stop what I am doing and give my full attention to this moment of soft sweet air and ruby-throated hummingbird, delicately balanced on the tip of a tree branch.

May 31, 2008

May is the month when the ruby throated hummingbirds return to Avena's garden. In late April I begin to eagerly anticipate their arrival. Always the first sighting is pure joy for me. I clap my hands in delight, turn my head 180 degrees as quickly as possible to see which flower they are headed towards, and then sigh (and sometimes shed a tear of relief). These pollinators, my very favorite, have traveled several thousand miles from their wintering grounds in Central America to Maine, where they breed and enjoy summer. Truly a miracle.

The early spring flowers they feed upon at Avena include Lungworts (Pulmonaria officinalis), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra species), Apple (Malus species), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Catmint (Nepeta mussini) and hanging fuchsia baskets. The window box just outside our kitchen sink also contains fuchsias and allows us to observe these tiny birds up close. They are like the Zen Master's bell for me. Whenever I see or hear them whizzing by I stop, in awe, and pay attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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