Thursday, October 15, 2015

End of Summer, Mandrakes and Hydrosols

Well its here -- fall I mean. For real.  It's a whopping 56 degrees and I have given up my flip-flops for the season.  Today is a legging and Ugg boots kinda day. I even had to coax the dogs out of the bed; they were curled up in tight balls, the blanket wound around them like a nest. Bodhi had pulled the quilt off and circled around until he was surrounded by the material.  But the offer of "outside" is too irresistible, so they bounded down the stairs and out into the brisk morning.

Since I was up and out with the boys, I decided to check the herb beds. In May, I had planted a lot of material, then left it to go wild. I am not a "neat" gardener. I am enough of a witch still, that I love the look of a slightly untended bed.  I put in lots of good smelling herbs, so I would have lots of material to brew.  There was rosemary, southern-wood, wormwood, calea zacatechichi, lovage, tons of mint (cat-mint, peppermint, spearmint, oregano) and a few oddities like myrtle and rue.  Then -- the bugs came and since I don't spray or use chemicals, I sadly watched them munch through my lovely little collection and wondered what would survive the onslaught. Amazingly, they ate the least smelly of the bunch (the myrtle and rue), but left most of it intact. However, the swarm was pretty intense, so I did not harvest much until late - like August kind of late.

 I seem to remember a bit of lore about cutting all your material before the morning of Samhain, least the spirits take it all back.  Although I no longer practice as a witch, I still adhere to some of the old ways, so I checked to see if there was anything left to glean.  Amazingly the lovage has come back with a fervor and will probably grant me a second round of brewing. Its green scent and amazing essential oil are boundless. Next year, I will try to remember to do it earlier in the season, so I can take advantage of its generous nature.

The mints are done - the peppermint is dried up husk of what it was this summer, and the spearmint is nearly done.  I am praying she leaves me a few leaves for Fet Ghede next month -- Danbala will need some for his basin regardless of the weather and I'd rather it be from our land than the grocery store.  I gleaned just enough spearmint to distill a gram of essential oil and a couple pints of hydrosol. Love that stuff - the whole house smelled wonderful for a day.

My "wild" bed is still going strong. The mugwort has flowered, so no more distilling there. I have found that when I do distill flowered material, it lends a bitterness to the hydrosols. You can clearly tell the difference between the early distillations and the ones I did later in the season. The first crop yields a clean, green scent while the last one has a deeper earthy vibe. Not unpleasant, but not what I was going for.

I decided to let the honeybees do in my anise bed this year. I had four huge plants, and I let them all go to blossom.  The honeybees took to them like fish to water; it was exciting to see so many of them.  And the bees were not at all disturbed by the carpenters and workers who stepped over them to get to the screen porch. The local beekeeper here in Norristown will let me know when she collects from her hives.  Curious to see if my donation offers any kind of flavor. Those little ladies were certainly busy up until this past Monday when I finally cut that bed back.

 The Dutchman's Pipe thrived out front - all that sunshine did it a world of good. When I put it out in April, it was really a dried husk - there were maybe two vines that hadn't wilted over the winter. You'd never know it today - its climbing the front of the house and flowering like mad. I am not sure if I'll take it in - I seem to remember reading somewhere that with enough sunshine, it can winter outdoors. This year, I found some starting in the bed on the opposite side of the house - the plant had really flowered heavily last summer, and perhaps some self-seeded. I'd love to have two of them - they make interesting accents in the front of the house, as well as provide lots of material to work with.  I'll have to do my research. If I do bring it in, I'll trim back the vines and dry all the leaves for sale in Mambo's Mojo. The blossoms are short lived, but are wildly interesting, making for great conversation with my local neighbor gardeners (they are big enough to be seen from the road.) I can't count how many times people have stopped when they see me out front, to ask that the plant is. Fortunately its readily available in the local shops here. I got my from the amazing Otts Gardens in Betchelsville, PA.

In total opposition, my mandrakes did not fair well this summer. Not sure why - I followed all the notes I had from other growers. I used sterile soil that had the right ph.  I fed them fish and kelp nutrients. Warm temps, not too much shade, kept them in dappled sunlight.  A total dud.

The small Fennish mandrakes (the smaller long leaf ones in the picture) were eaten by the squirrels and the large black mandrake was leafing out well, until something started eating it. I've moved that one back indoors, and will take in the white mandrake and the large Fennish mother plant today (the large long leaf one in the picture.)

I was cleaning out my garden cabinets, and I did find some seeds from the Mandrake Garden in England I had forgotten about. My buddy Harold Roth (he runs the amazing Alchemy Works site)  said he's planted old seeds and achieved germination. If ever there was an Azaka of the garden, its Harold.  He grows an amazing array of things in Elmira, NY for pete's sake. Talk about a short growing season!  For me, finding those seeds is an sign that I should throw caution to the wind, and plant them up. Harold actually tried to grow 100 mandrake plants one year -- nearly did, too.  Therefore (as far as I am concerned) he is the god of Mandrakes and I take what ever he says about these amazing plants as truth. I love trying to grow mandrakes - they are so unbelievably difficult that if you do get one to grow, it feels like a major accomplishment.

I did get my indoor rack cleaned up and ready for plants. The mapous are turning a beautiful gold - they will be dropping their leaves shortly as they rest for the winter. I need to make room for them in the foyer. The remainder of things are slowing down. Even if you are not aware of the season, your plants let you know what's happening. I am grateful we have space to bring them in, and to have them around for the cold months. Makes me feel like spring is around the corner. As I prep for Fet Ghede, I am reminder that this is the last fet at the house here. It's been an amazing seven years, but all things come to pass, and that means this place has done its work. I look forward to the next chapter of our lives.

And a bigger herb bed -- where I can plant mandrakes outdoors. Ayibobo!

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