Capricorn Season :: in the garden

Capricorn is often seen as a pessimistic sign and usually associated with hard work.

My garden-based interpretation of Capricorn season as a time of Earth-based work. Depending on what season it is where you are, this could be a time for: adding mulch to garden beds, making compost and, planting seeds for the future (both metaphorical and physical).

Here, it is the height of summer, tomatoes are just starting to ripen and the first wave of sunflower blooms is occurring. The soil needs extra nourishment to continue on producing and another round of sowing seeds too.

Bumble bees enjoying the abundance of sunflowers in bloom.

If it is winter now for you, maybe this is the time for composting and planning for the upcoming growing season – planning is a very favorite activity of Capricorn.

During Capricorn season (December 21st to January 19th) and new year celebrations there is lots of discussion about planting (metaphorical) seeds and setting goals + intentions for this new year.

Seed saving dry beans for next year’s garden.

How does Capricorn factor into your birth chart? What planets or houses traversed the sign of Capricorn at the moment of your birth?

If you haven’t already, take a look at this section of your natal chart. This will help as a guide to how to best embody and work with the sign of Capricorn as well as working with the powers of the sun and venus which are both currently in this pragmatic & practical sign

And one last thing :: Happy New Year, many blessings for 2022!!


In the Flowers

In a couple of weeks we will have to mow this field and transform this section into the lawn-landscape that the owner prefers. Mowing down these flowers isn’t something I am excited about but, I accept this as part of my duty as a landscaper and part of our trade for getting to live here.

So, before that time comes I wanted to appreciate and share this field of flowers as the wildlife refuge that it is 10 months out of the year:

If you want to see a bumble bee go to a standof thistles and wait.

For now this is just part of the job of a landscaper …

… that is until the permaculture revolution takes hold of this planet (once again).


Tour of our Pollinator Garden

From the darkening days of northern California I have flown once again in the southern hemisphere where flowers abound. Don’t get me wrong, I love autumn with the falling leaves and plentiful composting supplies as well as the holidays of Halloween & Thanksgiving. But, it is pleasant to be able to run around the garden without shoes on and photograph the many flowers in bloom.

Echinacea, yarrow, and daisies (Equinacea, millenrama + margarita en español) are a few of the most photogenic flowers we have in bloom at the moment.

The first two are highly used in herbalism and although daisies do have their uses we mostly admire them for their abundance, beauty and benefit to the local pollinators.

As my trip from California to central Argentina lasted several days and I spent a few nights “sleeping” on buses & planes, I am in recovery and slowly getting back into my garden chores as well my work life too. Flora Libra #5 is in the works and will be quite different from the last few issues. Of course I will still be focusing on plants but instead of gardening, the theme will be a bit more witch-y … more on that soon!!

I know I am not alone in taking time to travel and see family/friends this season so, I wish you all safe adventures! Remember to give yourself plenty of time for rest and recovery, even if you don’t plan on traveling, as r & r are so important for maintaining a healthy body and strong immune system!

E-journal · Gardening

November, December: my time in California

5 weeks in my hometown went by so quickly! I feel there is so much left to do. But, maybe this is normal for all gardeners and those who work on projects that will take years, or decades to be completed.

And the work days on Rabbit Ridge::

This year my family bought a few acres of land in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Back in summer I visited the land for the first time and this trip we focused on a few key projects in what will someday be a food forest and cabin.

Like so many projects I write about on this blog, this project is a work in progress and will possibly never be completely finished. I wonder if it is even possible for a food forest to be completed as the objective is to create a living and evolving ecosystem. This is all to say that this post is … to be continued!


Harvesting and Making :: creative ways to use your herb harvests

uring long walks around neighborhoods and gazing into front yards I have noticed something – a lot of people are growing herbs. Rosemary, Oregano and Lavender are all common plants in this dry climate and all are flourishing during summer but, I am not so sure how often people are actually using the herbs they grow. So, here are some of my recipes for common garden plants that might be growing in your yard of a garden near you.

Herby Pesto

Oregano, mint, rosemary, shiso, and of course basil are all leafy herbs that go into my pesto recipe. Month by month the available herbs in the garden will shift and with it does this pesto recipe but here is my general guide:

-1/2 cup roasted nuts like pine nuts, walnut, cashew, peanuts, or hazelnuts
-2 cups fresh mixed herbs (leaves only) rosemary, oregano & sage
-1 cup of softer herbs like basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, or shiso
1/2 cup olive oil or sunflower seed oil -3 garlic cloves (optional)

You can either finely chop the ingredients by hand or use a food processor. By hand takes a lot longer but works well for camping trips or if electricity isnt available. The food processor is great too but remember to add ingredients slowly to avoid straining the machine’s motor. This pesto keeps well in a fridge for weeks and a freezer for months, enjoy!

Dried Seasoning

Warm summer days are ideal for drying herbs. You could even dry them outdoors in a shady & dry place if there isnt too much wind. At the moment I have access to a oven so I place recently collected herbs on a cookie sheet & into a warm oven. The pilot light along will slightly warm the plant material and in an hour or two the oregano, rosemary or sage are dry. Then I separate the leaves from the rest of the stems and branches, discard those and get to work on the dried leaves. You can use your clean hands, kitchen scissors and/or a mortal & pestle to further pulverize the herbs. If the leaves don’t crumble easily they probably need more time drying.

Comforting Tea

Lemon grass & rosemary are my go to herbs these days. Fresh or dried the leaves make lovely teas and infusions.

Cooling Waters

During the summer months and days of 100 degree weather is pretty much normal and cold non-alcoholic drinks are necessary to thrive in this heat. I love to make cold teas & sun teas with berries and herbs collected from the garden. My favorite lately are blueberries & mint as well as stevia leaf & lemon verbena. Happy Gardening!!


Container Gardening

Even if you don’t have much space, you can still make a green oasis at your home. Ceramic & plastic pots make great places to grow the garden of your dreams. In fact, some herbs prefer growing in containers! In this post I am going to share some of my favorite container plants and how we use and grow them.

Take a peak just outside the backdoor of my parents home you will see our collection of potted plants. They are all located right beside the kitchen door and adjacent to the hose so they never go unwatered or forgotten. In this picture you see mostly culinary herbs like mint, shiso and ezpazote. Instead of planting them in the main garden where the sun can be intense in summer, we are keeping them in pots & close to the kitchen. This way the leaves are always fresh and easily on hand for garnishing dishes fresh out of the oven or to throw into a green salad.

Mint :: is growing in several pots around the yard. Most grow mint in pots to keep the vigorous grower contained and limit its ability to overtake other plants. We grow mint in a plastic pot to help it maintain the humidity it needs (and is hard to come by in this dry climate). We use mint dried in tea, fresh in mojitos and in herbal pesto. Yum!

Aloe :: this succulent medicinal loves to grow in containers as it needs great drainage. We do have aloe plants planted in the ground but they just do not thrive as these potted plants do. Aloe is essential for skin issues and sun burns so we always have a couple of plants nearby to be cut open and the sap lathered onto a rash or whatever the skin ailment is. These big ceramic pots are great for filling in areas like this rocky patio where we often sit with drinks on summer evenings.

Pots for planting :: much of our container garden is dedicated to starting young plants, like these valerian and calendulas, that just aren’t quite ready to be planted out in the garden. In these ceramic pots and in our nursery area the plants are protected from intense sun and are watered often. In a couple of weeks they will be planted into the herb garden out in the front yard.


Forest Gardens :: a never-ending work in progress

I have been blessed to have had the chance to be a part of two food forests in the past few years. One of them, the forest garden I will focus on for this blog post, is a collaborative garden in my parent’s backyard. Over the years my mom and I have planted a small medicinal garden and orchard in this suburban setting. It is our familial food forest and a constant project with no clear end.

I call it a food forest or a front yard – backyard garden but we certainly don’t grow all of the food we need in this space, no way! We started gardening in this suburban yard three years ago, we’ve planted fruit trees, herbs, and tended to the trees already going here and have lots of plans for future additions.

The previous owners composted, planted roses and installed a creative rainwater encashment system that diverts all the rainwater from the roof directly into the soil instead of the sewer as most homes in the area were designed to do. All of these remains and two greywater systems have also been added to the water-wise landscaping. More than anything we have planted and seeded perennials, both native and adapted plants to green the landscape, provide shade for humans, shelter for animals and medicinal that we use in many ways.

The success of this garden, as with any garden, depends on working with the landscape, adapting to the conditions of hte climate & making small, thoughtful changes. Not all gardener’s work in this fashion, others may prefer to destroy everything, plow, flatten, and begin with a fresh (though desolate) slate. But that wouldn’t be forest gardening.

Forests grow in layers, by building upon what is already there. Forest grow out of the compost of fallen logs and leaves. The soil at a forest’s floor is plowed by insects, birds and mammals who bury seeds for later. Humans are seed burying creatures too and can be an integral membr of the forest (or garden) too, if we choose to be. Learning how to be a part of a garden, instead of master of the garde, is a life ong learning experience.

For both my Mom and I the lessons of tending to this garden have been unique. My mom has learned to live with the sometimes untidy look of a well mulched garden and the transition from a purely ornamental to a functional, medicinal space. Many decorative plants remain and that has been my personal challenge, to learn to appreciate ornamental plants that have no culinary or medicinal use. With time I’ve come to appreciate that decoration and beauty are medicine for the eyes and soul. I’ve learned that any garden design must include beautiful flowers and foliage in amongst the medicinal and edibles.

Of course there are many edible, medicinal flowers like nasturtium, lavender, roses, calendula and much more. And even non-edible flowers like hydrangeas have a climate enhancing effect when planted in a garden. Most flowers are useful in flower arrangements. Bouquets make a thoughtful gift and the production of organic cut flowers has been a positive side-gig for many gardeners over the centuries.


The Gardener’s Path

Everywhere I go, I want to be close to a garden – and, hopefully – interacting with that garden in some way. But sometimes I get too plant-minded and end up ignoring the humans around me. Slowly, I am working on that, learning to come out of my shell and bring others into the garden.

This weekend I had the opportunity to work with my closest family members on a terrace garden and pathway. My mom and I worked on the terraces themselves and my sister and dad focused on bringing materials from downhill with the help of a wagon.

By the end of the day I was very impressed with how much got done as a result of this teamwork.

And am making plans for another family work party on the land soon! Next time we hope to plant some native & drought resistant herbs!!

This post, just like this blog, is an ongoing project and always being revised and updated. On that note, I will be updating this post soon with more pictures & paragraphs on gardening soon.


Backyard Herbalism : Growing Calendula

Beginner herbalists and gardeners just getting started with their herbal garden find no better plant than Calendula officinalis. This herb/flower is much loved by bees & butterflies, has many medicinal properties, and is a useful pest deterrent to plant alongside tomatoes & other crops.

calendulas drying

Calendula is an easy to grow herb that I have been planting for many years, so I have a few suggestions for plantings, caring for and using this magical herb:

Sew seed in a pot first:

calendula in pots

For a healthy and thriving calendula plant, planting first in a small pot and then transplanting into the garden is key. These are cold hardy plants that can be sewn during spring, summer, and fall though they do best when planted in humid & warm months. Calendula needs plenty of water which is easiest to provide if the young plants are all in one easy to water location. When the plants have several healthy leaves, they are ready to transplant into their permanent location.

Transplant in garden bed:

calendula transplanted

As mentioned previously, calendula need humid conditions to get established and the herb has aromatic properties that help deter pests. For both of these reasons I recommend planting calendula alongside tomatoes, kale, and other plants that are prone to insect infestation. Calendula plants need as much water as other vegetables so, planting in a well watered garden will ensure an abundant harvest of the prized calendula flowers.

Collecting and drying calendula flowers:

drying the calendula flowers

Two to three months after transplanting the calendulas should be producing plenty of flowers with new ones blooming daily. The best tile to harvest the blossoms is from mid morning to noon. It is important that the flowers are totally open as they dry much better that way. Calendula flowers are best dried flat in a warm but not sunny area. You can use a dehydrator if you have one but a shelf inside the house will also work. I myself have a covered outdoor shelf where I dry all my herbs and seeds in baskets or on cardboard lids – see photo below.

dried calendulas

In the world of herbalism. supplies and tools are endless but in reality you can make do with what you already have. When I was traveling I used to dry herbs in cloth bags in the sun, not ideal but the point is you do not need anything fancy to begin processing herbs and making herbali medicine. Drying calendula flowers in on a piece of (clean) cardboard on your kitchen counter will work just fine.

After 5 to 7 days the flowers should be dry, you will be able to test their dryness by touch. Store the dried flowers in a brown paper bag labeled “Calendula Flowers” and the month & year. Or, instead of storing, you can use them right away. Calendula has many medicinal properties and can help with menstrual cramps and stomach pain as a tea but my favorite way to use calendula is as an herbal oil.

Making herbal oil with Calendula:

calendula oil making

Herbal oils are simple to make and have many applications in day to daylife. An herbal oil is base oil, like olive oil, that has been infused with the medicinal properties of an herb. My favorite method is cold infusion. In the case of calendula this entails filling a jar half full with dried calendula flowers, then filling the jar entirely with your oil of choice. You can use olive oil, fractionated (liquid) coconut oil, jojoba oil, even sunflower oil! Each oil has different properties though all will soothe and moisturize the skin especially when infused with calendula. Once the oil & calendula floes have been soaking in a dark and cool cupboard for about a month it is time to separate the flowers from the oil. You can do this by using a tea strainer or a piece of cloth like muslin. Now that the oil has been separated it is ready to use as a massage oil or facial moisturizer.

You can use this oil on any part of your body, especially skin with sun damage or another form of irritation. Just be sure to start with a small drop rubbed between your hands before applying. You really don’t need to use much to receive the healing benefits and too much oil can stain clothing.

My personal use of Calendula oil:

Calendula oil is widely known to have healing effects on the skin, hair and nails and I can attest to this. I started using herbal oils about 4 years ago and my skin has made a huge transformation. Previously I suffered from a combination of dry and oily skin as well as adult acne – all of which have been immensely lessened by using calendula oil and salves. Typically I use the oil all over my body when feeling aches and on cuts or burns. Calendula oil made with my homegrown calendula flowers is practically my cure-all for skin related issues. I so hope that calendula can benefit you too!


The Garden on Portola Way

Wherever I am, I will be working in the garden. And this month I am staying with my family in California and potting around their backyard garden. November may be the end of the growing season for most of North America but, here in California, November is the time to plant leafy greens for the fall and winter garden. My favorites are swiss chard, arugula, lettuce, and kale.

Fortunately the weather has been rainy, so I am making the most of this rare humidity to plant some perennial herbs around the yard. Lavender and Lemon Verbena can stand up to the dry weather common most of the year and also produce aromatic leaves/flowers for our herbalism products.

And lastly – Microgreens!!

I will update this post as progress continues but here are the micro-broccoli plants just bursting out from beneath the soil. I have written about growing microgreens in a recent edition of the Flora Libra Zine, so I won’t get too much into the details at this moment just to say that growing micro-greens is easy and nutritious!