It’s been a while since our last article on Nature Culture. Gardening work has kept our mind, body and soul occupied with the constant challenge of staying in alignment with nature and it’s Creator. The many semi-raised beds we cultivate all year round have been buzzing with growth activity. Seedlings we planted this spring have become full grown plants with flowers and fruits showing everywhere. Additionally, many of the plants we put in the ground last fall, amazingly, are still producing vigorously. Early summer is one of the most wonderful times to be a gardener. We continue to grow and research propagation methods for more than one hundred plants that include flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs. Each of them represents an example of small communities living in harmony. We can learn a lot from watching them. “As life develops below, it does the same above”. It is how the great divine design of life sustains itself. As gardeners, we are merely caretakers to natures creations entrusted to us by the Creator.
In this article, I want to talk about a couple of items growing this year that have especially attracted my attention. They are…tomatoes, (which most of you who have read my previous articles know I am quite fond of), and a member of the greens family known as Swiss rainbow chards. There are deeper lessons to learn from these plants and the assistance they provide to developing the human body, mind and soul. But first however, you must “grow them” to “know them”.
For now, let us focus on the magnificent tomato. Some of you see it as a vegetable and others see it as a fruit. Regardless of how you classify it, tomatoes are one of the most popular and tasty summer garden items we know of. We wait all year to see and eat varieties of this delicious and versatile produce. Mostly red, but now plenty of multi-hued kinds of tomatoes come in yellow, orange, purple, dark red, pink and many other shades. They are used in raw salads, stir fry, soups, sauces, casseroles and juices. Medicinally, they have been said to be especially beneficial in preventing cancer and strengthening the immune system.
No matter how you slice it, my favorite use for this juicy blessing is the famous, age old, “Tomato sandwich”. I could eat one every day of the summer. When the tomatoes are fresh and ripe, you just can’t beat it. My father introduced the tomato sandwich to me and my brother when we were very young. Back then, he would cut a couple of thick slices of his favorite tomato…the “beef steak”, and put them between two slices of white bread spread with mayonnaise and sprinkled with salt and pepper. That was it! When you bit into that sandwich and the juice of the mayonnaise and tomato ran down the side of your mouth, the taste was simply divine. These days however, we have modified the recipe to include whole wheat bread, healthier salad dressings, many more herbs, lettuce and sometimes even avocado and grated carrots. Never-the-less, the tomato remains the main character and is piled high, dripping with juice that will run down the side of your mouth and demand that you use a napkin or plenty of paper towels.
This year, I continue to experiment with new varieties of tomatoes and productive ways to preserve and cultivate their seeds year after year. Raising tomatoes is much like building communities of humans. Important elements are; good environment, (that is…sun, clean air, fresh water, healthy soil). Well preserved seeds placed in this type of environment can produce strong healthy seedlings. Seedlings, like babies need tender loving care. We start ours in seedling trays and transfer them to cups as they get bigger. This is what we refer to as a nursery phase. When they are big and strong enough and the weather starts to get warm, we select the best and healthiest plants to be transferred to the garden beds. We feed them compost made from organic materials and care for them throughout the growing and flowering stages. During this time, we tie their vines up on stakes and trellises and when necessary, spray them with organic pest repellents. By the time they deliver fruit, we are like proud parents. As we consume them all summer, they energize us and sustain our vitality. When we can them, dry them and freeze them, they provide us with nourishment throughout the fall, winter and next spring. Saving their seeds ensures us of a next year’s crop…As always, God willing.
Swiss Rainbow chard has lots of health benefits. It’s a green we grow often. Chard is a widely known nutritional powerhouse, also an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber. The thick stalks are red, white, yellow, orange or green. The leaves grow large and beautiful and have the texture of spinach.
We planted several rows of chard last fall around October 2016. It is now July 2017. Chard grew and we ate from it all winter long, (when the weather got below freezing, we covered the rows with low clear plastic tunnels), then they continued to grow into the spring, and now we are still harvesting luscious leaves from many still flourishing chard plants. I even dug some of them up in the early spring and removed them from their original bed and into new beds and still they thrived. There are yellow, red, orange, white, green and purple chards. (That is why they call them rainbow chard). They can be eaten raw as salad, stir fried, stewed or even juiced. We have tried all those ways and find this plant to be very valuable to our daily menu…especially now that we have been able to keep them growing twelve months of the year. Some of them are now bolting, (Going to seed). When they finally flower and give seed, I am going to collect the seeds and replant them next season. To sustain ourselves and to move closer to “doing for self”, we must learn to save seeds. They represent the babies that will ensure our future survival.
July 10, 2017