Harvesting Throughout the Seasons
Different seasons, different botanicals
One aspect of herb farming that we took for granted when we started with this project is that even if you plant a bunch of different botanicals at the same time, they will not all be ready to harvest at the same time… When we started the planning process for our plants, we quickly realized that different plants thrive and mature during different parts of the year. Evening primrose, for example, blooms and is in full vitality from about early June to the end of July, while calendula blooms pretty much as soon as they pop out of the ground and keep going until you, or the frost, kill em off. But while the fact that the different herbs are best to harvest at different times of the year is not only challenging, it also a beautiful experience in learning how to properly care for your plants towards your desired purpose.
The whole process starts in the Spring (pretty self-intuitive) where we need to plan the different herbs we want to grow for our formula, where to plant them, what needs to get done to prepare the soil, when the right moment is to actually plant them, when they will mature, best practices in harvesting, drying, and processing, etc. And that’s for one plant. When you have 15-20 different botanicals, this part is the most daunting.
It’s daunting because there is soooo much planning that goes into it. And you have to simply pray that the weather cooperates with all your plans. This past summer, for example, (2018) was the second hottest on record for our farm’s location in Burgundy. So all the planning that we did in the Spring had to be revisited and adjusted multiple times throughout the summer. At one point even our well ran dry! We follow biodynamic farming principles which means that when you run out of rain and well water...well you have no other option but to hope that the plants will survive the drought. Thankfully ours did, although the echinacea, chamomile, arnica, and blue cornflower had it the hardest.
During the late-Spring/early-Summer while most of your new plant-lings are just starting to grow up, you do already have a number of plants that are early bloomers. For example, this is the best period to harvest nettle for their leaves and upper stalks (seeds are in the fall). This is because the most nutrient-dense parts of the plant are in the upper half as it grows. Once you let it go to seed, the leaves become smaller, more bitter, and less packed with antioxidants and minerals. It’s such a great plant, its fibers can even be used to make cloth!
Another botanical that comes out to the party early is dandelion flower. Dandelion is super versatile because the flowers, leaves, and roots all have its virtues. This versatility is why its one of my favorite herbs. It’s leaves are ready in early Summer and provide powerful antioxidants and a great source of Vitamin A, while the roots are primarily used for herbal tea and coffee substitutes, it can also serve as a strong antioxidant for a cleanser or a mask!
Once Summer kicks into high gear, obviously this is probably the busiest time for harvesting most medicinal herbs. The calendula are coming in in droves, yarrow is blooming in full force, elderflowers are showing off their beauty, and evening primrose and borage are boasting wonderfully fragrant flowers. Calendula are probably the most time-consuming since you’re looking for the flowers and they bloom every 2-3 days in the summertime. Then there’s the challenge of drying them properly which takes much longer than leaves since the bulb is packed full of moisture and constituents. Once you macerate the dried flowers, the calendula provide incredibly soothing and nourishing benefits.
Then, in the Fall (which happens to be right now), you are essentially wrapping up the season and getting everyone ready for the Winter. This includes performing the final harvests of all your herbs, preparing the beds with winter crops (if you choose to do so), and putting things in place in order to get a head start in the Spring. For us that means preparing new beds (we’re expanding!), building a drying shed to dry the herbs faster, planting winter crops to provide more nourishment for the plants next year, and gathering more supplies for the preparation in Spring. We are planning on implementing further biodynamic best practices so that we can continually be improving our product and the manner in which it is produced. Making sure that everything we do has a positive net impact on the farm and therefore the planet.
During the Winter we won’t be spending much time on the farm as that’s when we’ll be focusing on the actual product in New York (and getting it into your hands). But as we are now on the farm and it is basically Fall (technically still Summer…), we want to make sure that everything is in line for us to pick things back up in the early Spring in order to have a bountiful 2019 season. If anyone out there is interested in lending a helping hand, just let us know!