Farm Update: Summer 2019
Summer in the Garden
We arrived on a Saturday. Groggy and grumpy from the overnight trans-atlantic flight (not unusual for anyone who’s done the New York-Paris route), we reached the farm in the late afternoon just as the heat from the sun began to crispen instead of roast. Having dropped the bags off in the house, the first stop was to survey what the Spring had sprung. Our first impression was not the best… the earlier rains had given life, lots of life: our beds were full of weeds.
I feel like, as a pseudo farmer, weeding is this cumbersome topic that every gardener/farmer knows all too well, but doesn’t like talking about. It’s not talked about because it’s quite boring. Your crops look crappy and overcrowded, and the aesthetics of the lines of, say, adzuki beans are overshadowed by finger-grasses, bindweed, and green carpetweed. This isn’t exactly appealing, and, honestly, it just looks like extra work. When you’re not there to consistently survey the early growth of your plants, you risk the chance that the native weeds begin to take over. And this is exactly what happened.
Anyway, this wasn’t going to bring us down. The raspberries reemerged beautifully this summer; the comfrey spread and rooted itself (once it establishes a “home” it doesn’t like to move), and the lavender was bushy and bountiful. The new bed of calendula we grew from seed had burst from the soil. Our compost heap warm and full of life. The rain water canister full. Much to be grateful for and the garden was certainly ready for some attention.
Despite the usual care of the garden, one of our main objectives was to prepare the proper drying, processing, and storage capabilities for our plants. We more than doubled the size of our plots this year (more on that here), which meant that our production would be significantly higher, needing a more standardized process to handling the herbs not only for our serum, but for our next skincare products to come to life.
In an effort to conserve rather than consume, we found old brasserie bread racks that were perfect for holding drying plants, and so we built shelves. Yup, by hand. We cut down wood studs into the sizes we needed and stapled breathable nylon onto the frames to create the drawers we needed to dry our plant material.
There is an art to drying. You need to regulate humidity, temperature, air-flow, and timing. On top of this, some plants are more finicky than others, like calendula which needs to avoid any direct sunlight or you risk the vitality and potency of the plant, and therefore the sought-after beneficial properties for skincare. Getting it “right” is a delicate balance of the aforementioned factors, where it becomes obvious when you see the final product of someone who has mastered the craft. Dehydration is one of the oldest forms of preservation, used by prehistoric communities to conserve seeds, fruits, and plants for non-immediate use. It also continues to be the preferred method for flowers and plants in retaining the inherent properties of nature.
This year we planted a whole list of new botanicals we hadn’t worked with before, so we were curious to see what had come of them. The adzuki beans, seemingly the happiest in their new home, weren’t bothered by the abundance of weeds and came out beautifully, as did the milk thistle, roses (rosa centifolia muscosa), burdock, chamomile (our 3rd try, finally!), hops, oat, thyme, and rosemary. Watching the garden come to life slowly is truly wonderful to experience, seeing all the varieties of bees and other pollinators enjoying the abundance of new flowers and remembering how empty the space felt before we started this whole project, stirs a real sense of satisfaction and achievement.
And then came the heat. Oh boy, farming really gives me the strongest desire for rain I’ve ever had in my life! During our time there we had 100+ degree days (or 38 degrees C) where watering everything became the main focus of our efforts. We have drip hoses installed in some of the beds, but not all, which means that we need to manually water the rest of the plants and this is not only time consuming, but also exhausting walking back and forth to the rain-water canister with the watering cans. The water in our drip hoses comes from a well, and if you remember that last year we had the second hottest summer on record where our well went dry, you can imagine how concerned we are about this summer having repeat temperatures. We’re still determining what the best watering system for us could be, and hope to have it squared away for the next season.
The rest of the time was spent harvesting and pruning raspberries and raspberry leaf, yarrow, cherries, lemon balm, chamomile, comfrey, lavender, calendula, borage, and a whole bunch of other plants. The drying racks having been built, we wanted to use them! The compost heap we started last year is finally complete and will be ready for use next year. Also, the veggie garden had exploded so we were able to enjoy all sorts of fresh veggies like spinach, chard, potatoes, radishes, peas, and lettuce. Being back in New York I really miss having all this fresh biodynamically grown food right outside, ready to be eaten whenever!
Despite the weeds, heat, and what always feels like a time shortage, the trip was a big success and we’re looking forward to reaping the benefits of the work we put in. And of course we are excited for the harvest for the new batch of Extrait de Maison serums! I’m very much looking forward to incorporating the new plants into the new products that will come out in the fall. If you stick with me, you’ll be the first to know what we’re working on. 😉