Fall On The Farm
Harvesting the Bounty of Summer and Preparing for Winter
Fall in the Maison/Made garden is a transformative period. Some plants are providing their last harvests, some are already seeding, and others have already begun the process of concentrating their vitality to their roots. It’s funny, on the surface the garden at this time of year may sometimes seem lackluster, but in reality the activity has simply shifted. Rather than springing out of the ground the full life-force of the plants out in the open, this vitality has simply moved inward, into the stems and roots, preparing for the oncoming rest of hibernation during the colder months.
Autumn is a season of change, of introspection for both garden and gardener. We reflect over the past season, taking note of which plants flourished, which needed extra care, how the weather challenged us, and what we can do to prepare for next year. We were hard at work, as the Biodynamic calendar actually begins in the fall. It is now, in autumn, that the majority of the work is done to prepare for the arrival of spring and summer. We do this for the garden to be able to provide our plants the best environment to prosper in and, in doing so, allow them to produce the potent properties and vitality for our skincare.
We prepped and primed our compost, planted cover crops, collected seeds for our seed bank, protected plants with mulch, prepared the Biodynamic preparation 500, and harvested calendula, lemon balm, burdock, milk thistle, rosehips, and adzuki beans. We also planted new crops like black raspberry, and laid the foundation for a new irrigation system. Since we split our time between New York and Burgundy, we try to make the most of the time we have to best prepare the garden for the winter and give ourselves a leg up for when we come back in the spring.
The compost is one of the best weapons for a vibrant and vital garden. It produces the potting soil we use to replenish our beds and takes 2 years to become ready and fertile so next year will be our first year where we’ll be able to use our compost to boost the mineral, organic matter, and fertilization content of our beds for our plants. We are literally giddy with excitement to see the difference! In order to best prepare our compost, we (of course) followed the Biodynamic preparations using yarrow, chamomile, nettle, oak bark, dandelion, and valerian that were buried in the ground for a specific period of time, after which they have the appearance of well-ripened compost (except for the valerian which is in liquid form). We make 6 holes into our compost heap and each hole receives one of the different preparations. They then sit in the compost over the fall and winter and help bring the most life and vitality to the earth in the heap so that its ready for our plants in the coming season.
Biodynamic Preparation 500, aka Horn Manure, is THE classic preparation for Biodynamic agriculture and a prerequisite for Biodynamic certification. The manure from healthy, grass-fed cows is inserted into a cow horn and placed into the earth for the duration of the winter in order to benefit from the activity that happens below the ground: humus formation, mineralization and decay. In the spring we will unearth the horns you see in the pictures and “dynamize” the material using rainwater. This mixture will then be sprayed onto our beds when we seed new plants, in order to help fertilize them and nourish the soil from which they will grow.
Cover crops are one of the best methods to ensure soil health and vitality in the actual beds over the winter. They prevent soil erosion and de-compaction from the elements of wind and water and suppress weeds from taking over. Some, like the ones we planted (rye, oats, alfalfa, and red clover) actually convert gaseous nitrogen in the air to liquid fertilizer in the earth and mine minerals to the top layers of the ground, both of which our crops that we plant in the spring will benefit from. And to top it off, they can all be used in products for the skin as well!
This year, inspired by some of our Biodynamic friends in upstate New York, we also decided to start our own seed bank. It will allow us to have a collection of all the plants we grow, and begin to stockpile for those seasons where we experience little to no growth (although unlikely since we just had some of the hottest, driest seasons on record, a good precautionary measure). Part of this process is to let some of your strongest, best-looking plants go to seed, rather than collecting when they’re at their flower stage, so that you can collect the seeds. Here we have milk thistle, nettle, lavender, calendula, evening primrose, adzuki, and red clover. The others are already sealed up and stored away.
Of the plants we planted, some need the entire growing season in order to develop the parts of the plants that we harvest specifically for skincare. One good example of this is burdock, which is an unassumingly formidable plant, whose roots assemble a number of beneficial properties such as a high content of polyphenols (antioxidants) and polyacetylenes (antifungal and antibiotic) - great for unbalanced skin. When ingested, burdock is known as a diuretic with great qualities for the liver and the kidneys. In any case, we’re very excited about incorporating our own burdock into our formulas. Typically burdock is a long, singular taproot, not the case for us this year clearly if you look at the picture. This shows how dry and compacted our earth was this season, having been one of the driest summers on record. In addition, we also collected the last of the calendulas, milk thistle seeds, elderberries, lemon balm, rosehips, blackberries, figs, and adzuki beans. The adzuki beans will be in a product that Carolina is currently working on for next year, so we’ll be sure to highlight them in the coming months.
New to the garden are these little seedlings you see here which we are quite excited about: Black Raspberries. No, not blackberries, but a berry that looks like the offspring of a traditional red raspberry and a blackberry. These plants and their fruit are loaded with polyphenols like anthocyanins and phenolic acids, in significantly higher amounts than red raspberries. We just planted them so they will take root over the winter and then hopefully grow like our other raspberries next spring and summer. Very much looking forward to using them in some products later next year.
Now is the time of year to provide some self-care to the garden, just like we do for ourselves and our skin. It’s arduous work, but it allows us to elevate the level of quality in our products, knowing exactly where our ingredients come from and how they were treated so that they can perform best for the skin.