Sunday, October 28, 2007

Eighteen months in and I still see us very much in the “start up” phase of our permaculture project here in Brittany. That means that we are relentlessly pushing forwards with an ever imposing list of “things to do”, seemingly leaving us next to no time to look over our shoulders. We’d like to find an equilibrium where we’d plan to have a day a week in our woods a day in the vegetable patch and so on but other stuff, the occasional emergency (see my next blog!) and the speed with which time rushes by, mean that this is still a great idea, rather than how we manage our weeks.

We’ve realised a few times that maintenance of existing elements is at least as important as starting new ones, the latest example being our vegetable patch. We’d been saying for over a week that we needed to spend a day there working together before we finally found time. While there was an impressive amount of produce, especially as this is its first year, most of the pathways were overgrown with grass and weeds and there was so much to do that I stood there with shoulders drooping, not knowing where to start. I started ranting to Gabrielle about how we clearly needed to do more work to knock the patch into the low-maintenance permaculture ideal we hoped for until she pointed out how long it was since we’d last done anything more than cut vegetables or salad to eat: with the wedding, honeymoon and an operation each, it was well over a month. Even low-maintenance systems need some maintenance!

And it’s not just maintenance; this time of year is harvest time for many crops. Tidying up the vegetable patch involved harvesting a fifth of a tonne of pumpkin, with the biggest weighing in at 40 kg (88 lbs). We also picked some later-planted sweet corn that we’d left as it hadn’t ripened but was now ready to eat. The perpetual spinach has won our own “permaculture plant of the year award” as being a summer-long cut-and-come-again crop of a really useful vegetable. Also known as spinach beet, it’s actually from a different species than spinach, related rather to chard and sea beet, but can be cooked and eaten in the same way, is easier to grow than spinach and probably has less oxalic acid. (Oxalic acid—if eaten in excess!—interferes with the body’s uptake of iron and calcium.)

To the other extreme, we’ve been harvesting thousands of tiny seeds from our Love-in-a-mist plants. Why? To save and use as a spice which often features in Indian food recipes. Hold the front page though. I’ve just been doing some research as I type this blog (I actually learn quite a bit as I check my details when blogging) and we’ve made a mistake. The Latin name of Love-in-a-mist is Nigella damascena but Wikipedia tells me that “the related Nigella sativa (and not N. damascena) is the source of the spice variously known as Nigella, Kalonji or Black Cumin” … oops! The Plants for a Future database and book reckon that the Love-in-a-mist seeds are also edible as a condiment, with the flavour of nutmeg. That said, it isn’t the same as the seeds we thought we were saving, also known as black cumin, which is the aromatic spice used in Mediterranean and Indian cooking. These seeds (sativa) can also be sprinkled in airing cupboards to repel moths and there is a belief that eating the seed will make a woman's breasts plumper. One last bit of info from PFAF, Love-in-a-mist plants are “said to be a poor companion in the garden, in particular it seems to inhibit the growth of legumes.” Oops again!