Harvesting Catnip and Rue seeds.

This week the catnip and rue seeds have ripened and are at their peak for harvesting. These two plants need very different approaches in the harvesting process.

When harvesting seeds, all plants, and hence the seed, needs to be very dry. If not the plants and seeds tend to retain moisture and may develop mold. So instead of being able to harvest first thing in the morning when the temperatures are cooler we have to wait for around mid day when the plants have totally dried off before we can start. This makes the job more unpleasant if you don’t like too much heat.

Seeding catnip plants
Catnip seed ready to harvest

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is grown in full sun in large beds. Its not bursting with seed. Fortunately its not to difficult to harvest the plants, we do this with a scythe and lop the plants off. In most cases they will regrow a fresh crop of leaves for late fall harvest, often they will flower again. It also means that harvesting is fairly rapid with most of the seed separation done later in the seed processing shed.

The other problem with heat is that the harvester tends to sweat more, and is wearing sunscreen a very important factor for working in the direct sun. The downside is that this tends to make the skin sticky. Add to that the person is working in hot sunny weather so they tend to sweat as well, making them even more sticky. Now place that sticky person in a field full of catnip plants bursting with seeds. The result tends to be a very interesting plant/person hybrid or someone that looks as if they have a very unpleasant disease. It also tends to mean that a lot of seed wasted in the shower drain. Sometimes it can take hours to remove all the seeds afterwards, and never ever put your hands in your hair while harvesting!

Seeding rue Ruta graveolens plant.
Seeding rue Ruta graveolens plant.

Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a different matter. It’s a semi shrub like bush with seed heads that need to be cut off individual, while a scythe can be used it usually more effective to use snips. This means that the harvest takes a lot longer. The later processing is faster because there is not as much extraneous material but the bulk of the work is done outside in the sunshine not in the shade of the shed. Additionally rue plants exude a sap which can be very irritating to some peoples skin and cause very unpleasant dermatitis or ‘rue rash’. Intolerance can also build up over time so just because someone was ‘immune’ last year does not mean that they will be this year. So to overcome this problem the harvester must have long sleeves, long pants and gloves. Not the most desirable attire in hot summer weather. We tend to draw lots each year as to who harvests the rue. Which takes much longer to harvest that then catnip due to the selective ‘pruning’.

This year the short straw has fallen to me, so I am just waiting for the dew to evaporate off the rue bushes before I gear up and go harvest in the heat. This is one of the days when being a farmer is not quite so pleasant.

14 Reasons CALENDULA should be part of your summer garden.

It’s the sunshine flower!

1. It has wonderful bright rich golden flowers that bloom continuously throughout the summer. Ergo its really pretty.

2. It grows fast from seed and will be flowering within 8 weeks from seed, sometimes faster. Just scatter the seeds and lightly cover them. It does need regular water, but a soaker hose wound through the bed and turned on for 30 minutes every day will have the whole area looking like a golden field very shortly.

3. It can be seeded continuously throughout the summer months if desired ensuring that there are always bright sunny flowers in the garden.

4. The butterflies bees and especially the native bees LOVE it. They can be seen busying visiting the flowers every day and it provides essential nectar and pollen at a time when most native plants have stopped producing.

5. It has wonderful scented leaves and flowers. They have a special tang of their own making them very attractive and delightful to smell.

14 Reasons CALENDULA should be part of your summer garden.

6. While we like the smell of the flowers and leaves the deer and rabbits don’t so they leave the plant alone. Great for gardens that have wild animal problems.

7. It likes full sun and tolerates the heat very well. Its great to look at out the window when its too hot to go outside, it helps bring the garden inside just by admiring it.

8. It can help repel aphids, snails, slugs and cabbage looper if planted close to susceptible plants.

9. Leaves are edible and very nutritious, rich in vitamins and minerals. Can be used in salads or used in stir fry, soups or other dishes. They have a interesting sweetness followed by a salty taste which is quite unique. Some people love it some hate it. Try if for yourself and find out.

10. Petals can be used in cooking as substitute for saffron. Used to color rice dishes as well as potatoes, soups and desserts.

11. Flowers are used as a herbal remedy for many different maladies most commonly its used in the form of a cream for skin conditions, wounds, sprains, bites stings and other skin problems.

12. Makes a wonderful cut flower, lasts well and provides an interesting scent and sunny cheerfulness in the house.

13. Needs very little care once established. Although dead heading will encourage plants to flower more and more.

14. Its hard not to feel happier and smile when you look at a bed of calendula flowers!

calendula or pot marigolds
Row of pot marigolds (calendula) in our field

I love these plants, they are one of my favorites. I always grow our rows where they can be seen from the house so that we can all enjoy them even when its too hot to go outside. We harvest our flowers every two days during the summer months and every day there are more flowers coming along.

Often known by their common name of Pot marigold they are indeed a member of the marigold family. However I find these flowers much more charming. I don’t like the smell of marigolds while I know some people who do, they seem to be few and far between. Also marigolds tend to attract small insects, often thrips in large numbers. If you shake your marigold plant you can see little white dots flying out of it. Pot marigold does not have this problem. Additionally rabbits eat marigolds. I was told long ago that they did not and to plant them around things I wanted to protect to keep the rabbits off. One morning I looked out my window to see a rabbit with a huge marigold bush in its mouth. It proceeded to eat the thing down to nothing. So much for that idea.

If you want to grow pot marigold (calendula) its not too late this year, or plan for next year. We offer seed here.

Beating The Heat On A Small Farm.

This past two weeks we have had an ‘excessive heat warning’ and now even though the heat is reducing a little its still HOT out there. This makes life on a farm difficult to say the least. While some people seem to enjoy working outside when its hot I don’t and neither does anyone else on our farm. So we have to plan a strategy.

In the late evening we take a walk through the fields to check everything out and see how the crops are doing. Any immediate problems are addressed. This usually means fixing an irrigation leak or removing an errant weed or two. We make a note of what crops are in need of harvesting.

We get up with the sun, usually around 5am and get out in the fields by 5.30am to harvest the crops earmarked for that day. How much that is will depend on what the weather is going to be like for the rest of the week. If its going to be hot and we have a cooler day we will harvest everything we can fit in our fridge and process them during the week. Otherwise we harvest only what is essential to be harvested that day.

We plan our harvesting by the suns location. All harvesting in our side field is done first as the sun will hit that first as it rises over the trees on the east side of the property. Then we follow the line of shade across the fields harvesting as we go to try and stay in the shade as much as possible. It does not always work, sometimes a crop takes longer to harvest or we just cant keep up with the sun line, but most times it works pretty well.

Then we all scurry back to the house by 10am at the latest for a late breakfast. On really hot days we try for 9am unless we can work in the shade. Then we spend the rest of the day working on what we just harvested and getting as much into the dryers as possible, the rest goes in the refrigerator to be worked on the next day. If we have time we also try to get some office work – and blog writing done too. Office work always comes last as it’s not as perishable as crops. While this means that often our blog does not come out every few days it does mean we have a really great crop harvested and dried at its peak.

Keeping hydrated when working in the heat is always very important. We lug gallons of water down to the field and stop frequently to drink. This is extremely important for everyone who is working or even just being outside in the heat and sunshine. Staying safe and keeping cool is important. never stay or work outside if you can’t tolerate the heat.

main farm field
main field baking in the sun