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Herbal challenges

The thought of an orderly, scented kitchen garden like I've seen at The Huntington gardens or in books is so appealing. Ranks of herbs -- thyme, oregano, basil and parsley -- lining neat pathways in easy reach for cutting. A garden right outside the kitchen when you need a pinch of marjoram for a sauce . . .

At Fink Farms, it never works out like that.  Unruly bunches of herbs grow into each other, or bolt or shrivel in the sun without water.  When we first started the farm, we were growing herbs in the main garden with the tomatoes, and beans and lettuce greens.

I decided to set up a separate herb area along the cinder block wall, first because of squabbles about what should go where between the then three partners and secondly because I'd read that herbs like adverse conditions.  Since we were composting up the main garden, I thought perhaps the herbs would do better in less rich ground.


There were problems with that thinking:
  • There probably isn't enough time left in my lifetime to turn the denatured, suburban dirt in the garden plot into "rich" soil.
  • Outside the garden plot, there is only hard, denatured, suburban dirt. That's several steps past "adverse conditions." It comes nowhere near a virgin Italian hillside where the goats roam free and fertilize the soil.
  • Taking the herbs out of the main garden plot means taking them away from water.  Our watering system is a long, maze-like trail of soaker hoses that lead from a single faucet and a timer to keep us legal with the Department of Water and Power. It's hard enough to keep water flowing to the end of the soaker hoses, which spring leaks or get caked with mud. Without the hoses, someone has to carry watering cans of water to the herbs.  Regularly. It doesn't happen.
So, it's survival of the fittest . . . or survival by accident.  By the cinderblock wall, thyme struggles, although the rosemary bush a yard or so to the south thrives. (Of course, the rosemary bush is planted over a dead cat . . . ) The mint in a huge pot died in the heat and drought. The oregano growing at the shady threshold of the door into the garage is doing well. The dill has survived a take-over by the volunteer butternut squash plant, but it's bolted into flower. Three types of basil have survived, maybe because of shade from the butternut squash plant.

The bottomline is that we have enough basil and oregano to dry.  Enough to replenish the stock in our two kitchens.  (To dry, we bundle into small bunches, rinse in the sink and let the moisture dry off. Then we put the bunches into paper lunch bags, staple the top of the bag and the dangling strings closed.  We hang the bags in a dry place for 10 days.  When the herbs are dry, we can rub them off the stems into the paper bag and toss the tied stems into the compost heap. We can put the leaves into jars for use as needed.)

We watered the thyme well today, and trimmed back the flowering tops.  Hopefully in a couple of days with some additional water, the thyme will come back and we can dry more that as well.

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We worried about when to harvest the butternut squash. There's no greening, yellowing, reddening, deepening or other particular sign of ripeness once the squash grow to a certain size. Google Extension Service suggested harvesting before the first frost.  In California, that would be the day before Never.
In Nature's wisdom, the plants told us. The huge green vines that had sprung up on their own, just turned brown and shrank back on their own, leaving six heavy butternut squashes dangling from their red and yellow net bags. (We'd strung them up to keep them away from the wetness of the earth and the mouths of the snails.) We cut them down and divided the harvest.
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