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.🙏)
Clear a corner. The greenhouse is a refuge, a temple, a secret garden, a retreat, an atelier, a salon, a wine tasting room, a place to watch rain drops run down the poly or glass, a snake and spider bug hunt, a place to bury your hands in potting soil, a biome of life… through the looking glass. Wine spritz, spiced cannabis tea, iced Turkish coffee… you’ve created another world. How will you populate it…
Food Forest Floor: Groundcovers ~ Nitrogen Fixers & ‘Weeds’. What goes on the ground under a ‘food forest’? The truth is that the lowest tier of plants should be providing shade just inches above the surface. But when you are just starting a food forest the ground can be fairly bare. Here are some groundcover suggestions that will improve or preserve that top soil until the lush installation takes over. As for planting instructions: for the perennial, nitrogen fixing plants, scratch the surface of the soil with a rake and hand cast the perennial seed. Water to set into the marred ground. Water very lightly every day unless it rains. You could see sprouts within the first week. Watering will increase growth, but you can reduce to “when the ground is dry” once the plant is growing. For the annual ‘weeds’: find them in your favorite deserted lot. Look for pig weed, purslane, knotweed, low mallow. Collect in fall when seed sets in paper bags and spread on ground after winter snow is off. Keep the area mowed using chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, string trimmer or hand mower. Hand pull from immediately around the shrub and tree bases. Leave some groundcover flowers for all-season pollinators. #thegardenisnotclosed