Why Natives? The Wyoming Sunflower Helianthus maximilani or the Perennial Sunflower will soon be gracing every open space, every road barrow pit, and my garden. Why my garden?
Nothing is like the warm, golden color of these natives.
Fast Food for the Road: The flowers feed late pollinators, preparing them for migration, hibernation or egg-laying. Seeded flower heads feed migrating song birds as they head south for winter.
Disguised: The “flower head” is actually hundreds of tiny flowers. Look closely.
The Good Bugs: Our native sunflower attracts one very special pollinator: the bee fly (I love this name ~ Bombyliidae). You’ve seen them. Fuzzy little flies with a long proboscis that looks like a stinger, but is used to take nectar. These little insects will fill the centers of the sunflowers, their legs and fuzzy bodies packed with golden pollen. And here is the ecological role of these peaceful creatures: The Bomby is able to detect small holes in the soil where grasshoppers have laid their eggs. The Bomby bee fly hovers over the hole and drops its own eggs into that hole. The Bomby larva hatch first and consume the grasshopper eggs. I love native team members. The first and most important practice in permaculture is observation. Observation is done to understand and apply what nature has developed over tens of thousands of years. This reduces waste of resources and introduction of toxins or other human long-term damage. As practitioners we support, evenencourage natural processes. And so every year I collect the native sunflower seeds and strategically plant them in the gardens near the fruit shrubs, and I offer them water so that they will grow strong.
Yummy: Collect the little sunflower heads when they have gone to seed. Remove the sepals, or leaves, from around the flower head. Brush oil – like olive flavored with garlic or sesame oil. Bake or grill the entire flower head. The flower head will soften and then it can be eaten whole.
My cows are less appreciative of the gifts of the sunflower. They simply put the entire flowerhead in their mouth and pull the crunchiness in, crushing the sweet oily goodness.
My heroine & guruette:Alicia Bay Laurel #AliciaBayLaurel . In 1970 she wrote the handwritten, hand-drawn Living On The Earth. In recently re-reading it I became very unhappy with myself. So today I sought redemption. I split Russian olive firewood. I had forgotten the Zen of wood chopping, hurt my shoulder, regrouped and finished in the breath of it. I turned off the furnace and the fire is built and ready. Humble but proud, I then made my first attempt at homemade hummus…it turned out amazing!! Im adding avocado and will try very hard to not eat the entire batch for dinner!!! Next: making flatbread from scratch. Don’t get me wrong; there will always be a grocery list (especially with our growing season!!) This was a really good day. Tomorrow: More wood; buffaloberry jam; plumbing new rain/irrigation barrels… as the next sub-freezing snow event floats in. (My deepest thanks to Don who replaced the old busted ax handle and sharpened the blade.🙏)
One beautiful fourteen inch tall chickpea plant, bright fingered leaves of a legume…tiny dragon-faced flowers… she was the only survivor of last year’s chickpea experiment. She gave me six little chickpeas.
This year I have more hope and more experience, and a new plan. Soon the shelves in my greenhouse will be full of one gallon pots, planted with dry garbanzo seeds. They will get a full 100 days of growth. I will move the plants to a bed when they reach 5-6 inches tall and space them about six inches apart so they are close enough to support each other as the pods begin the weigh the leaves down. They will get more bare, poor soil; legumes live to give. Like my Mother Grape Vine – all of us, really – require a struggle to fruit.
The chickpea plants will get watered very little after they reach 4 inches tall. They will have a clear plastic tent and I promise to watch the weather for cold temperatures ~ snow in June; of course. The plants are frost tolerant and in fact they like things under 80 degrees. Four to six successful plants should provide me with lots of hummus ~ protein, fiber, vitamin C and all the benefits for my body of olive oil, cumin, lemon and the favorite bits: marinated artichoke, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, smoked trout, homemade basil pesto. Pita bread with just a few flakes of black pepper.
The Basics Into The Amazing: Basic Hummus
Add just a sprinkle of baking soda to the water
Low, long boil for the chickpeas from dried beans only
Beans are ready when the skins are peeling off in the water and they can be mashed with your fingers
Do not over cook
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15 oz can)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 medium clove of garlic
½ tsp salt
½ cup tahini
If you have any question about your homemade tahini, this is the ingredient you want to spend money on.
Cold water – dribble in to hummus to help make it smooth
And the second most important ingredient in Hummus: tahini. The flavor is so important that I may cheat and buy tahini. I will plant sesame seeds. I will harvest the seeds. Needs shift. Back in Grandma Helen’s day a woman would sit on the porch and remove the hulls of peas, beans and seeds. A cuisine meditation. Then women left the home to work. The cost of living climbed. Money bought the services of foreign women to prepare these kinds of things. Machines took the work.
But in “retirement” – which only means I don’t go into an office to work – I can sit in front of the woodstove next fall and remove the damp hulls from the sesame seeds. I will roast them and store them in jars in the dark cool shelves. If I can grow them….it’s all an experiment.
Nature knows. Sesame seed plants also want poor soil, dry conditions, no help. The two plants will be planted together. I will trim leaves from the chickpeas to release nitrogen into the soil for the sesame. The two will bloom almost together.
Tahini can be made with hulled or unhulled seeds
Soak the seeds, pat dry, remove the hulls by hand. Leaving the hulls on can give the end product a bitter taste.
To make the tahini you can hand grind or use a small food processor to create a cream of the seeds.
Drizzle oil into ground seeds. Olive oil is usually used, but try other oils like avocado.
Add salt to taste.
Pumpkin, pickled and frozen beets, pinto beans, chickpeas, sesame, garlic, grapes, chokecherries, currants, buffaloberries, rose hips, elderberries in “perfect timing” years…. It is always an experiment; the weather is never ever predictable. But there is such a full, sweet feeling working with the plants, preparing the fruits and seeds and the warm fragrance in the cabin when the meals are in the oven. I will always have a grocery list, but something more and something different every year makes the moment so much more full of comfort… compensation for the muck, the sore muscles, the scratches and scrapes, the never-quite-clean fingernails, the snowstorms…I’m planting the chickpeas in the next couple weeks, but I’m saving half of the seeds to make my first homemade hummus. Ill post a photo and how that experiment goes.
For now: the cows are still stuck near the shed in pools of MUCK. So it’s time to take them a little hay, some grains and try to move them away. The ducks go into their shelters when I ask them; they are just starting to lay (duck eggs make pumpkin custard so rich). And the snow drifts are just beginning to evaporate. Next week I will also be collecting more willow cuttings for new trees, planting some in the wet drain ditches and selling some to a long-time customer. And I might even get a chance to work on my paintings. Escape garden rules. Plant something to feed the family; plant something new to feed the mind; plant something that feeds your heart….but do it all inside, for now.