Friday, July 23, 2010

Surprise Harvest

Today, I am harvesting seeds. Sweet peas, climbing beans of different kinds, broad beans, kale, cilantro, spinach . . .

I love the circularity of this. I love taking part in this wonderful, external cycle of seed-to-plant, plant-to-seed, seed-to-plant. It continues to amaze me that a kale seed the size of a pinhead can grow into a plant whose leaves I can feast upon all winter and which, one day in spring, will bloom with yellow flowers the bees will love. And, furthermore, that from those flowers will grow dozens of slender pods that by the end of the summer will have dried and cracked open, spilling thousands more seeds to start the cycle anew.

~Marian Van Eyk McCain in Crone: Women Coming of Age, Issue No. 3, 2010.

Three years ago, when we put in the raised herb bed, I tried again to grow dill. It's one of my favorite herbs. I'd tried and failed miserably to get it to grow in the old herb bed, but that was in a too-shady spot and my hope was that the newer, sunnier bed would be better for it. Failure. Three or four weak, yellow, two-inch long seedlings showed up and died. Fine. I'm a big girl and I can take "no" for an answer. Dill just didn't want to grow here. The next spring, I gave the space to pineapple sage, which went mad. This year, I moved the pineapple sage to a pot, unable to figure out any way at all to use that much pineapple sage, and stuck basil in that spot.

And, then, a funny thing happened. Dill started sprouting in every section of the herb bed other than the one where I'd originally tried to grow it. Giant dill. Huge, healthy dill plants, full of that amazing scent and flavor. Lots of huge, healthy dill plants. Lots. Dill plants that I certainly didn't plant, at least not in those spots and at least not for the past two years. Dill that I've used all Summer long with a sense of wonder at the ways nature works.

Now one of the things I love about a herb garden is the sense of orderliness, the geometry of each herb in its place, the narrow mulched paths in between them. I'm pretty ruthless about pulling up Italian parsley when it begins to crowd over into the curly parsley's spot or about weeding the Greek oregano back into its own spot when it begins to get too familiar with the marigolds. But I couldn't make myself pull the dill, so it's grown all summer, two plants in the parsley, a plant in the sage, one or two in the rosemary patch -- you get the idea. And, now, just before Lughnasadah, the feast of the first harvest, it's gone to seed in great, glorious headfulls of hundreds of dill seeds.

"So, good, finally you're dead," I say to the dill, "and now I can pull you and restore some order." But, of course, I can't throw those seeds away, even though there are enough of them to populate several herb beds the size of mine. "Maybe I'll give some away to friends, " I think, justifying myself as I fill a large bag with the brown heads full of seeds. "And I can use some dill seeds for flavoring over the winter," I continue. "Maybe I'll use some in seed bombs for guerilla gardening. These are obviously strong seeds, seeds of survivors, even if they do apparently need to sit in the ground for a long time before they wake up and grow."

[W]e, the elders are the seed-savers of our culture. And seed-saving, in many forms, is now an imperative. For in these rapidly-changing times, there is much we are losing and much more in danger of being lost. That includes not only the native plants and animals which are disappearing for ever but the domesticated plants too. With the spread of industrialized agriculture, many traditional varieties of fruit, vegetables and grains have been irretrievably lost.


What will you harvest? What will you leave behind? Will any of it have come as a surprise to you?

Will you really, finally die
after I use all the Sweetmeat squash seeds
you gave us years ago? Your fat, happy seed children.
I still plant lettuce seeds, Buttercrunch, that came from your serious saving.
Will you fade when the envelope is empty
of life rattling around in seed form?

. . .

Food to share, food to dry, to can
before the shrivel and pucker of pods
where the next generation of seed babies
snuggles down in the cold nursery of winter
to await the next incarnation
while decay enjoys its own feast
and compost works its slow resurrection.

~Bethroot Gwynn, quoted in We'Moon 2010: Gaia Rhythms for Women: Reinvent the Wheel.

Photo by the author. If you copy, please link back.


Christina said...

Dill seed can also be used in pickling, though if you've got the heads, those would be better.

Lavanah said...

My herb beds are chaotic madness, fertility more or less unrestrained. As a result, when I mow the lawn on one side of my house, rather than the smell of cut grass, you get the smell of pizza (oregano and basil) and on the other side, you get the palate cleansing smell of peppermint.

Teacats said...

Another one whose herb bed has gone into the deep summer madness stage -- St. Johns Wort has literally invaded everywhere! And the parsley has bloomed too! And far too hot here in DFW to do anything about it! Oddly enough -- this is the first time that a garden has gone wild here -- and I find it appealing at the moment! I find myself torn about cleaning and restoring order -- or just enjoying a bit of wild!

Jan at Rosemary Cottage