Tag Archives: harvest

GWM August 2011

It’s still very dry. The farmers around here are using sprinklers. Yes, I know the weather forecast whinges on about the “awful rain”, not proper summer weather – where do most people think food comes from? What do they think their bodies and food is mostly made of/ do they not realise that we are 70% water? Probably not … no wonder the Earth is in such a mess if we know absolutely nothing about our own makeup!

We need the rain. Climate change has made huge differences to how crops grow, how our garden crops grow, the flowers we can grow, everything. Shropshire – north of me here in Hereford – now has a commercial olive orchard! Yikes! Do you realise what this means for the previously indigenous plants? Most people have been on holiday to France and Greece and Spain nowadays, places where olives are indigenous as they are not here in Britain. What sort of climates do those places have? Hot and dry. That’s why you go there on holiday, to bake your skin into cancer. Now think of all the British plants … apples for instance such as Hereford is famous for. They need rain to be good. Climate change has changed all that. You don’t think we can change it back, do you? We’ve had that, messed it up, it will only get worse. We now have to learn how to live with what we’ve done.

Biodynamics does help. No, it does not cure global warming! However, along with good organic practice, it does help the soil and the plants to adapt to global warming. Some of our native plants – and all the insects and animals that depend on them – will disappear; go extinct because of what we’ve done. Really makes you feel good, that thought, doesn’t it? But more will survive, changed but alive, with the aid of biodynamics. Our garden here at Archenland is a proof of that.

As I said at the beginning, the farmers around here are using sprinklers to keep their crops growing. My watering regime is not as intense as theirs although I grow most of my own vegetables. Vegetables, food crops, need a lot of water; a) it’s the major part of their make-up; b) they need it because we take them out of the ground, grow most of them as annual plants, so they draw up the food and moisture from the soil but do not die and do not put it back in the soil at the end of the season because we eat them!

You know that I use the biodynamic preps. These help to reduce the need for watering. The main one that does this is Prep 500, Horn Manure. By aiding the soil fauna and flora it helps the soil adapt to hold more moisture. I help it further by composting every darn thing I can and adding this back to the soil. As I said, vegetable and crop growing takes food and water from the soil which harvesting the crops does not give back. So one of the major parts of our gardening work here is to make compost; another is to find, collect and compost organic cow, horse, chicken and pig manure. We are pretty fortunate, able to get the stuff. The farmers need it too, for the same reasons we do, so we cannot take too much; fortunately there are several farms and horse-keepers we can ask for the stuff.

Composted weeds and kitchen waste + composted animal manure are a great help to the soil, and the roots of the plants. They provide nutrients (food) and help with water retention; they also help the mycorrhiza to grow and function well. These incredible fungi help the sugar and water exchange of all plants. For instance, in soils with a basic pH plant roots on their own may be incapable of taking up phosphate ions that are demineralized. The mycelium of the mycorrhizal fungus can access these phosphorus sources and make them available to the plants they colonize. Both Prep 500 and the compost preps aid the growth and colonisation of the mycorrhiza in your garden with; they in their turn help plants cope and adapt to the unsuitable conditions we have created with global warming.

You can use the compost preps very easily by using the Mausdorfer preparation; see my previous article on composting with Cool Heaps – the little and often method most gardeners have to use. This is much easier than working with the 6 preparations individually; to do that you need a really big heap of compost that’s ready all at the same time – we gardeners rarely have that! You can use the Mausdorfer in your Bokashi and your wormery too as I say in the article.

Using Prep 500 directly onto your soil, preferably about once every couple of months between September and the end of March for the northern hemisphere – the other way around for the southern hemisphere, i.e. from March to the end of September – will enable your soil and all the soil-life to adapt and work with the new climate conditions.

Using biodynamically prepared compost will do the same.

Doing both will make a difference. Like me, you won’t need to water so much in order to keep the plants growing and producing food for you; and producing beauty; and the nectar and seeds that feed the insects and birds and so maintain the cycles of life.

We’ve been working the land here since June 2000. At first the soil was in poor condition; we worked hard, lots of compost, lots of manure, lots of spraying with Prep 500. The land improved dramatically, our farming and gardening neighbours noticed; some even asked what we were doing and began doing it themselves. It’s got better each year … as the global warming effects have increased. I’m hoping that the watering regime will get even less; it certainly has gone down over the years although this early summer was very bad indeed with no rain for months just at the time the plants need it to put on growth.

If you are just beginning with biodynamics it’s OK to start with Prep 500 right now. I know I said between March and September, and it’s only August, but if you’re beginning you just get on with it. The land will thank you so go for it so don’t get hung up in rules and regulations! You have to adapt your thinking too as well as your gardening techniques, rules and regs are guidelines not set in stone; the sun will still rise tomorrow even if you go against perceived wisdom! Your garden is your best adviser along with your own instincts. We’re not much encouraged to use our instincts nowadays, it doesn’t make money for the experts if we don’t rely on what they say, buy their books and their expensive products! You do know the definition of an expert ??? An “ex” is a has-been, a “spurt” is a drip under pressure … says it all really!

Do go for it, get spraying with the 500, get some Mausdorfer (or cow-pat-pit) and get it onto your land, into your compost heap. Don’t chuck all that good compostable material and remember that newspapers and egg-boxes and such are vital to the heap too – see this composting article for some easy good advice, and keep adding Mausdorfer or cow-pat-pit to it. Get as much of your waste stuff in heaps to go back and feed yourself, rather than ruin the Earth further by going into land-fill.

We really can help the Earth cope with the damage we’ve done 🙂

Corn King’s Song

Corn King, come and dance
Over fields and meadows and away.
Beckon to Sun and beckon to Self,
Crowned with the harvest
And sacred to Earth.

Lead us in the eternal circle
To honour Our Mother
Who gives and receives.
With steady step through golden autumn
Set yourself free.

Turn one last time
And sing us your song,
Echoing far through open fields,
Before your steps turn to Our Mother
And your light to darkness yields.

© jsmorgane (Oct 2010)

Lammas Bread

Lammas

A time of harvest & honour

The word Lammas comes from a word meaning “loaf mass” from the Anglo-Saxon “hlaf-masse” or loaf-mass. It is the first harvest festival of the year and many Celtic traditions bake a special loaf for this day. Here is a Scottish recipe.

Lammas Bread

Ingredients
  • 1 lb flour – a mix of flours tastes good
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cream or tartar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 pint milk
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
Method
  • Place the flour in a large bowl and add a pinch of salt, plus the cream of tartar and the baking soda.
  • Pour the milk into another bowl, and stir in the vinegar.
  • Then add the milk-vinegar to the flour mixture a little bit at a time to make your dough.
  • Knead this a bit and then shape into a fine, round lump.
  • Score a cross on the top of the loaf and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 for about 35 to 40 minutes.
  • If you would like a sweet bread add in honey raisins & dried fruit

Even if you’ve never made bread before have a go. You can vary the recipe with herbs from the garden – lavender and rosemary, together or separately make excellent flavourings; sage bread is savoury and delicious; onion bread is good with soups as well as cheese.

Lammas Bread Corn King

As a shaman, I always honour my food – the ingredients as well as the finished meal. This means sourcing them well, with concern for how they’ve been grown, prepared and marketed for all food comes from the Earth who is our mother. If we mistreat her body with chemicals, force her to bear more vegetables and/or animals than she naturally can, starve her of water, pound her skin with heavy machinery and take no notice of her seasons then we rape her as surely as any man does with an unwilling woman.

So I source my ingredients locally as far as possible, grow a lot myself, know how the animals are treated who give me my meat and milk. I even know how the bees who give me the honey are treated, and that they are local, feeding from local flowers and orchards, not being air-bussed into California from Australia !!! And the flour I use is grown here in my country, in Britain.

This sort of honouring is far more important than any prayers and rituals I may use as I’m cooking and/or eating. It’s the sort of honouring that respects the Earth and tries to listen to her, to work with her rather than forcing her into what may be convenient to me.

Sometimes I make a corn king shape for my Lammas loaf, remembering the song John Barleycorn, and eat the bread with a glass of ale from one of our local micro-breweries. Sage bread is especially good for this.

Contact Me WordpressFacebookFlickrTwitterLinkedinYoutubeStumbleUponWordpressGoogleAmazon

Lammas: Corn King

Corn King by Charles Vess

The corn king, John Barleycorn for us here in Britain, is the god who sacrifices himself for the goddess, for the Land, for the good harvest to come next year. He appears in other traditions around the world, for instance as Adonis, Osiris or Tammuz.

This image is very lovely.

The Gaelic name for Lammas is Lughnassadh, celebrating the Irish sun god Lugh (pronounced Loo), and variant spellings are Lughnasadh, Lughnasad, Lughnassad, Lughnasa and Lunasa. In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu, which may have been funeral games in honour of Tailtiu who died of overwork clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture.

The Brythonic sun-god is Llew Llaw Gyffes. His name becomes Lugus with the Gauls. Llew’s totem is the eagle – a sun-bird – and all forms of his name refer to “light”. More modern forms are names like Luke, Luc in French, Lucifer which means light-bringer. I live near a river called the Lugg, this too is a form of a word for light. Llew is killed and reborn, wiser, see my here for his story.

In Celtic myth-lore the goddess often changes her guardian/spouse – see the stories of Culhwch and Olwen, Blodeuwedd, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, and many others. Sometimes the change of guardian goes from father to husband, as in Culhwch, where the prospective bridegroom must kill the father in order to obtain the daughter. It is an initiation ritual that proves the new guardian is up to the job while, at the same time, removing the old king from the scene. This is what is happening in the John Barleycorn song-story.

I also find these images of corn snakes very evocative. A friend of mine has one – a lady in that case, so a corn queen rather than king. They’re very beautiful. I’ve added a painting by Wendy Davies of twisted gold torcs … the snakes remind me of them.

The Ballad of John Barleycorn

This is the old version by Traffic

There were three men come out of the west their fortunes for to try

And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn should die.

They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throw’d clods all on his head

And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time till the rain from heaven did fall

And little Sir John he throw’d up his head and he so amazed them all.

They let him lie till the long midsummer, till he looked all pale and wan,

Then little Sir John grow’d a long, long beard and so became a man.

They hired the men with the scythe so sharp to cut him down at the knee,

They rolled him and tied him around by the waist, served him most barbarously.

They hired the men with sharp pitchforks and they pierced him to the heart.

But the loader he served him far worse than that for he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him around and around of the field till they came upon a barn,

And these three men made a solemn mow of poor John Barleycorn.

They hired the men with the crab tree sticks and they beat him skin from bone.

But the miller he served him far worse than that for he ground him between two stones.

There’s little Sir John in the nut brown bowl and brandy in the cask.

And little Sir John in the nut brown bowl proved the stronger man at last.

For the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox nor so loudly blow his horn,

And the tinker he can’t mend his kettles nor his pots without a little drop of John Barleycorn.

If you follow the verses through you’ll see how it begins with the ploughing, sowing and harrowing of the field, then goes on to sowing with the “seed of the king” – which really is meant to be taken both ways, as corn seed and semen. And the field too is meant as the earth, the soil, and the womb of the Earth, of Sovereignty.

In verse two, little Sir John raises up his head, the first green of the corn breaks the surface of the earth, we know that there is hope, there is return, the food is likely to grow this year and we will not starve. At the end of the verse little Sir John grows a beard, the tassel of the corn appears.

In the third verse, the harvest happens. The corn is cut, scythed, it is made into stooks and bound to the cart to be carried off to the barn.

In the fourth verse they wheel the cart around and around the field, partly to pick up all the stooks but also in a ritual walking of the field which has given them the grain they hoped for, an honouring of the Land. The corn is beaten with “crab tree sticks”, that’s branches of the crab-apple tree which is an ancient tree but also a good wood for threshing the corn. Threshing is the meaning of “beat him skin from bone”. And finally the miller grinds the corn between the great millstones.

In the last verse the ale is made, the corn is transformed and transmuted from a plant into a health-giving drink. Ale was (and is) good food as well as drink, there is much goodness for the body as well as the pleasures (and pitfalls!) of intoxication J. The reference to fox hunting is repellent nowadays and is probably a fairly late insertion, like the tinker. The original may well have referred to hunting, but for food animals not “the pleasure of killing”.

So, the song is about the growing of the corn, harvesting and making ale. It makes its references as if the corn is a person and, in ancient days, it would have been the king. Human sacrifice took place in all lands. Human life was, and still is to most humans, the most precious gift that could be given to the gods, the power of blood is known worldwide.

With its habitual de-paganising zeal, the Christian church recycled Lammas as the harvest festival. Traditionally on this day a new loaf of bread was offered at mass as the first-fruit of the harvest. In the good old days when bread was truly your harvest fruit – you tilled the land, planted the grain and watered to soil to make it grow – the making of the Lamas/Lughnasadh loaf was packed with mystical symbolism. The breadmaker and those who ate it were acutely aware of their relationship with Mother Earth – a relationship not of words but of conscious interaction. Quite different from buying a loaf in your local supermarket off the bakery shelf! These days bread-making is a mechanised process and you have had nothing to do with the planting, growing and harvesting of the grain.

Contact Me WordpressFacebookFlickrTwitterLinkedinYoutubeStumbleUponWordpressGoogleAmazon

Lammas: Old Country Customs

Just like the Sun God whose heat nourished its growth, the grain which goes into bread must be cut down in its prime to be useful. Death is necessary for life to flourish, otherwise  life dies. In the past humankind the world over acknowledged this relationship between death and life – harvesting grain for bread and seeds for next year’s crop – through ceremonies and rituals.

Corn Dolly from Winterspells

The presiding figure was often female, the Corn Dolly, made from the last corn to be cut. In northern Europe she was known as the Corn Mother, in Scotland as the Carline, meaning Old Woman. On the island of Islay she was the Old Wife, the Cailleach, which is the title Ceridwen takes. After harvest Islay’s Cailleach was hung up on the wall until ploughing time for the next year’s crop. On the first day of ploughing the mistress of the house divided her among the men going to plough the field. They took the Old Wife in their pockets and fed her to the horses when they reached the field, thus ensuring a good harvest next year.

This picture is from Winterspells – very beautiful.

In Wales (north Pembrokeshire) a plaited tuft of the last corn was known as the Hag (wrach). The reapers would throw their sickles at the last patch of standing corn and the one who succeeded in cutting it down received a jug of home-brewed ale. Sometimes the lucky reaper would try to bring the Hag into the farmhouse without being seen. The inhabitants would be waiting with buckets and pans of water to drench him. If he managed to get the Hag in dry and undetected, the farmer had to pay him a small fine or sometimes a small cask of the best beer. Then the Hag would be hung up on a nail and kept until the following year.

Some harvest celebrations are rather curious, like the biblical Pesach (“hobbling”) ceremony performed at Beth-Hoglah in Canaan, where devotees danced in a spiral imitating the partridge’s way of hobbling. In ancient Greece male dancers hobbling and wearing wings performed an erotic partridge dance in honour of the Moon Goddess.

Other celebrations take life and death literally, like the Indians of Guayaquil in Ecuador who used to sacrifice human blood and men’s hearts when they sowed their fields (In one year they were said to sacrifice hundreds of children to make sure their crops flourished!) The Khond, a Dravidian race in Bengal, ritually sacrificed choice victims and distributed their flesh among every family in the tribe to bury it in their fields. Human sacrifice, whether real or symbolic, plays a key role in the harvest culture. Frequently the victim was a total stranger, chosen for sacrifice not out of any personal animosity towards him but merely because he happened to be passing by at the “right time”.

And, look up the rites of the Corn King and the Eleusinian Mysteries. If you fancy an excellent story that’s also telling the rites read Mary Renault’s “The King Must Die” and you’ll find the story of the Eleusinian mysteries about 1/3 through, after Theseus comes down from his trials on the Isthmus. Remember, the ancient Greeks were Celts too.

Contact Me WordpressFacebookFlickrTwitterLinkedinYoutubeStumbleUponWordpressGoogleAmazon

Time to Harvest

bloodiedquill

I’ll be wandering a bit off the writer’s path for this post. Right now, our sights are focused on the harvest, particularly because this is the first year my youngest has participated in the growing and harvesting.

It’s mid-September and here in southern Manitoba we’re only just beginning to get our summer temperatures. While Care gardened from containers this year (with some crazy results!) we’ve watched others with traditional gardens lose their tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and peas to the cold and damp. Our containers held peas, carrots, yellow and green beans, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.

I can not garden. I am known by friends and family as the one that kills even the silk plants (seriously, I had a silk arrangement that the leaves kept falling off of) so I tend not to attempt such things. However, my youngest seems to have green thumbs, fingers, toes and perhaps an entire leg, so we purchased several large bins, 100 litres of large gravel, and 625 litres of soil and created our little patch of green.

The tomatoes took off like gangbusters almost immediately, growing to their current height of 4′ – far above the plant cages we have supporting them. Each of the three bins holds two plants, and we’ve had only a handful of vine-ripened fruit from them. There are a lot of green fruit still on the vines, and we’ve picked about 5 pounds so far. We’re trying to ripen them in a dark – and dry – place, hoping not to lose any more to rot.

tomatoes July
Tomato plants in late July.

Care has expressed an interest in canning her tomatoes. Our family eats canned tomatoes on Eggy Bread (aka French Toast) instead of syrup, we make macaroni and tomatoes, we make soups; we’re a tomato family. With the fruit from our plants being so small and ripening oddly, I don’t think we’ll get enough to make a big batch, but perhaps we’ll be able to put up a few pints to show for her hard work in our little garden.

The cucumber plant has exploded in the last week, developing six new flowers which have turned into tiny cukes. Three others are larger and can be picked any day now. We’ve already had ten others from just the one plant. Then again, cucumbers like lots of water. 😉

The tiny carrots grew well, despite being crowded and my not being familiar with this type. Once we thinned them out, they reached maturity at 2″ in length and about a half inch in diameter. We had several dinners with fresh carrots and beans, once with peas as well. The beans are done now, even though the yellow bushes are trying to flower again. The peas only produced enough for a half-cup, shelled. Next year I think we’ll skip the peas.

The lettuce was done before we even managed to pick any. Unfortunately, it looked nearly dead due to the rain early on, and while we were away for a few days, it went crazy. By the time we were back, we only managed to salvage a dozen leaves from four plants. We may skip it next year, too.

peppers August
Pepper plants at the beginning of August.

The peppers are going crazy right now. The plants have grown at least a foot in the last week, and where there were no bells before, there are now at least ten – both red and green varieties. Unfortunately I don’t think the reds have time to ripen fully, and I’ve never had to force those to ripen off the plants before. Any advice towards that end will be much appreciated… please leave a comment if you have any ideas!

early harvest
Lettuce, carrots, beans and cucumbers from first harvest, Lughnasadh.

By the end of next week, I believe we’ll have to have the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers off the plants, as I don’t imagine the unseasonal temperatures will last much longer. We’ll share our harvest at our Mabon circle, gifting our grove-mates with little tomatoes and cucumbers. The plants we will leave for the goddess to take back into herself, for sustenance as she rests over the cold winter months.

It’s been a good year, even if it has been crazy.