Adventures in Gardening Series: Wrap up on the Hippie Heart: Growing lentils and flax

The Hippie Heart got a crew cut

We’re clearing out our cool season crops for the warm season ones, so it’s time for some reporting on the new beds we’ve been profiling under the “Advances in Gardening” series. We’ll start with the Hippie Heart.

The Hippie Heart is a heart-shaped bed where I was intending to experiment with planting seeds straight out of the pantry, ill-advised as that might seem, just to see what happened. Erik grumbled at this plan–and for good reason, since a lot of seeds we can buy in bulk bins may be hybrid, sterile or irradiated. But I wanted to try it anyway. This first season I planted the Heart with bulk bin flax seed and lentils from a boxed lentils. The results were mixed. Sort of interesting. Not super-productive, but not a failure, because I learned lots.

First, both flax and lentils are very pretty plants. In its prime, the Heart was an attractive thing The flax grew straight and tall and made lots of periwinkle blue blooms that turned their faces to the sky.  (The mature were knocked over in a storm, so if I plant it again, I will do so with supports). The lentils, which were planted around the edges of the heart, made pleasant, rounded shapes, not big and sprawly like so many legumes can get. The folliage is delightfully delicate, almost lacy.

Fascinating flax

The flax proved fertile. The flowers died back and left pretty little round pods, each of which holds a few flax seeds. Of course, we didn’t plant enough flax to really do anything with it. I have a few bunches of harvested flax now, and if I beat the pods, I might harvest a cup of flax. This doesn’t seem worth the effort. The dried stalks are very pretty, and I might bring some of it inside to put in vases. Also, the chickens like them a lot, so the bulk of it will probably end up chicken fodder.

The harvest is in

What’s more important to me was the experience of growing flax. I hold it in my hands and say, This is linen. This is flaxseed. This is linseed oil. Henry the VIII’s shirts were made of this stuff, as were my grandmother’s best napkins. Rembrandt mixed his paints with this–most oil painters do, since linseed oil is a common carrier for oil pigments. Heck, he was painting on linen, too.  The linoleum of our kitchen floor is made with this. And at this moment, all over LA, raw foodie are subsisting on dehydrated flaxseed crackers.

Flax pods. They rattle, and kittens like them!

I love growing a plant with that much cultural relevance and history. It doesn’t matter so much to me if it’s practical, though I may not do it again, not on this scale.

The fate of the lentils

The lentils were less successful.  They came from a box of Sabarot green lentils. They were planted in November. Months passed. They didn’t flower, didn’t flower. I began to figure they were sterile seeds. At the very last moment, in May,  a few tiny flowers appeared here and there, but by that time I had to take it out. So that is the risk of growing from unknown seed raised for commercial consumption. It was a risk I took. In the future, though, I’d consider planting lentils from real seed, because the plants are compact and attractive.

A cover crop option?

Here’s a side thought–being a legume, lentils help draw nitrogen into their soil via the roots. If you want to boost the nitrogen in your soil, you can plant legumes, then cut them down when they flower, leaving the roots with their nitrogen nodules in the soil for the next crop to feed upon. (If you let them grow beans, they consume much of that stored nitrogen). This process is called cover cropping, and though it sounds like something only a farmer would do, you can do this in your garden beds to rest and rejuvenate them. The thing about these boxed lentils is that they didn’t flower for months and months, and then hardly at all, so they’re an ideal cover crop: they give you plenty of time to knock them down at your leisure.


What’s next?

While I liked this experiment, I don’t know if I want to continue with pantry seed–though I do have a lingering desire to grow sesame plants! I’m not even sure if I want to continue planting annuals in that bed. Edible perennials are always preferable to a lazy gardener like myself, so I might be leaning that way.  Will let you know what we figure out.

Previous posts on the Heart:

http://www.rootsimple.com/2011/01/advances-in-gardening-series-progress.html

http://www.rootsimple.com/2011/03/advances-in-gardening-series-were.html
http://www.rootsimple.com/2011/03/hippie-heart-horizontal.html

Plantain for rashes

It’s hard to take a decent picture when both of your hands are covered in green slime!

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

A couple of days ago I made a mistake: I attacked a stand of rogue borage without gloves. You know how it is when you think you’re just going to make one pruning cut, and then end up hacking for an hour in a mindless frenzy? Borage is covered with irritating little hairs which made my hands and forearms itch and burn. I really should have known better.

Plantago major

Fortunately, our yard provides the cure for such indiscretions in the form of a nice patch of common plantain (Plantago major). This broad leaf plantain, as well as its narrow leaved cousin, Plantago lanceolata, are fantastic for easing the irritation of itchy rashes and bug bites. I harvest the leaves, dry them, and make them into salves for year round use, but when plantain is growing, it’s easiest to use it fresh. All you have to do is pick a leaf, chew on it a little, and rub the pulp on your skin. Really rub it so you get the green juices out. You’ll feel relief immediately.

Keep this in mind when you’re out in a park or hiking. Plantain grows everywhere–it’s a universal weed, and it’s particularly fond of lawns. Once you know what it looks like, you can find it easily.

Do any of you have a favorite natural cure for rashes or bug bites?


Meet us this weekend in the Bay Area

This Friday, April 29, we’ll be talking and signing at Book Passage in Corte Madera: 7:00 PM

Saturday, April 30th, we’re gathering for a forage at Sutro Heights Park, San Francisco. It’s supposed to be a pretty day. Bring drinks, and we’ll gather a salad to share. Feel free to bring more food, your guide books, gathering implements, things to sit upon, and most especially, any local knowledge you have. Very casual. Meet up at the lookout point. 12 noon.

Contest Winners!

An excuse for another kitten photograph

It’s the release day for Making It, and we’re celebrating by giving away two copies of the book.

First, we want to say again how much we enjoyed reading all of your tips. They are excellent, without exception, and should be compiled into a book or something. We’re pondering on some way to highlight that post so that future readers can find the tips.

Second, we’re glad we don’t have to choose among them–because that would be impossible.

So we went to an online random generator and asked it to generate 2 numbers between 1 and 203.

It came up with 42 and 119.

(Yes, 42! This delights Kelly’s inner geek. Erik doesn’t know why it delights her.)

Then we counted the comments, grumbling over the fact they are not numbered. Twice.

And the winners are:

42:

Rachel said…
Birds will not peck at the same fruit/vegetable they pecked yesterday. They’ll go for a new piece every time!

119:

Tina said…
I like making stock out of veges that are not going to get eaten and then freezing them. I make it concentrated so that the stock doesnt take up much room in freezer.

So Tina and Rachel, congrats! If you’ll both email [email protected] with your shipping addresses, we’ll send you a book. Please write soon, or you’ll have to wait for your books until we get back from our tour.

And for the rest of you, thanks for entering, and don’t worry! We’ll be doing more giveaways in the months to come.

Gathering in Portland: Looking for ideas

Hey all,

We’re visiting in Portland on Tuesday, May 3rd and Wednesday, May 4th as part of our book tour. On the Tuesday we arrive, we’re going to be on KGW’s “Live at 7″ program. We’ll be done by 7:15 and have nothing to do afterward. Would anybody like to meet us downtown?

Our idea is that we could settle ourselves at a pub or cafe, and anybody who feels like it could come and hang out with us. We’ll talk about manure the whole night. It’ll be fun!!!

One thing we really need to make this happen is a suggestion for somewhere to meet–otherwise we’re at the mercy of Yelp. We’ll be at Pioneer Courthouse Square, so somewhere within walking distance (or do-able by public transport) would be preferred. It should be quiet enough that we can hear each other speak, and casual enough that we can take up tables whilst nursing a beer or coffee.

So Portlandites(?) Portlanders(?), tell us what you think. We’ll let you make the call.

Giveaway: What’s your favorite tip?

We want to give away a copy of our new book, Making It. To make this contest interesting for everyone, we’re asking you to give us a homesteading-type tip to enter.

Leave us a comment on almost any subject you’ve had some experience with: gardening, fermenting, brewing, sewing, livestock, foraging, cleaning, cooking, building, general common sense–really, it can be just about anything. And the tip doesn’t have to be big and profound. Something like “X is my favorite variety of winter squash” is just fine.

You can also tell us of a mistake you’ve made, something you’ve learned the hard way–a mistake is just an inverse tip!

This way, the comments on this page will be a fascinating read in and of themselves. Only one person will get a book, but we’ll all get lots of good advice.

-We’ll choose the winner using a random number generator.

-The contest will close this Monday night at 10 PM PST. We’ll announce the winner on Tuesday.

-If we announce your name, we’ll ask you to contact us via email to arrange shipping. This way contestants don’t have to put their contact info. in their posts.

So keep an eye out for that post on Tuesday!

ETA on Sunday: We love your tips!!! And we’re amazed at the response, so much so that we’re going to give away two books instead of one. Keep ‘em coming.