This is the final piece for the artemisia essay I’m working on. This replaces the version below, which I wasn’t happy with.
Old-school gardeners like me often brewed up a sort of compost tea by dumping a heap of whatever compost they had in a bucket of water and then sloshing it about where it seemed it might be needed. These days, commercial compost teas are made with carefully curated, standardized ingredients. The teas are then aerated by churning to “awaken” dormant microorganisms that should promote plant health. The result is often used as a foliar spray, which should work more quickly than root applications.
I like growing mint. For one thing, it’s easy. For another, many varieties are available, some of which you would otherwise be hard pressed to find. Here we see Vietnamese mint, Spearmint, Mojito mint, and Peppermint.
These are all different species in the Mentha genus (part of the large Lamiaceae family, which includes such herbs as basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and catnip). Plants in the this genus have opposite leaves and square stems. And they are highly aromatic. (Mint oil is sometimes used as an insecticide.)
All of these mints began as small plants from Richter’s Herbs, based in Goodwood, Ontario. Mint tends not to come true from seed. Richter’s says that peppermint flowers in particular are sterile, so that true peppermint cannot be grown from seed at all. Best to start with seedlings rather than seeds.
I’ve started a batch of fall crop seeds. I’ll be growing these in a small greenhouse.
I’ve abandoned, at least for now, the plug system I was trying out last winter. The plugs became not just expensive but also annoying. Although the plugs are said to be organic (I’m still a little skeptical), I don’t like the way they don’t decompose and integrate properly into the environment.
Instead, I’m planting in almost pure coir (I did mix in a small amount of planting soil). Coir is nice because it is slow to dry out, but it also drains well, so the seeds shouldn’t rot. I buy the coir in compressed blocks. They about triple in size when watered, which I currently do in a wheelbarrow. Then I transfer to buckets. One block creates about three buckets of ready-to-use coir.
This gentleman, who was lurking in the garden the other day, is a praying mantis. Specifically, he is, I think, a European Mantis, Mantis religiosa. This is an introduced species from Europe that has become naturalized over much of the U.S. Our native California mantis is much smaller.
I say “he.” This guy can be identified as a male because he has seven abdomen segments, as opposed to the female’s five, and he has stout, long antennae, as opposed to the wispy version sported by the female.
Mantises are formidable and not very discriminating predators. Gardeners argue whether they are beneficial, but it just depends. They’ll eat what they can catch. If you have a lot of nasty gnats and mosquitoes, they’ll eat those, and welcome to them. But if those are in short supply mantises don’t mind feasting on butterflies or even an occasional small hummingbird.
This is shiso, a plant in the mint family. The stems and undersides of the leaves are purple, and the plant resembles coleus. (There is also a green-stemmed variety, and a frillier type.) Shiso, a form of perilla, originated in East or Southeast Asia, and is mentioned in a text from around 500 CE. The purple form, called akajiso, is used for coloring pickled plum (umeboshi) and as a distinctive flavor reminiscent of mint and cinnamon in a variety of dishes. The green type is probably better as a fresh green, but the purple kind adds an ornamental element to the garden.
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Our garden lies in what Sunset calls “one of Northern California’s finest horticultural climates.” We are located in an area of wet mild winters and dry mild summers — a Mediterranean climate zone. It’s region with unique challenges and opportunities. I love gardening here.
Approaches to gardening are strongly determined by scale. Our garden is a small family garden. Its core was formerly a swimming pool. Often we might be growing just a single plant in a container, or a handful of plants, where a larger-scale gardening operation might be planting long rows of crops. Over time we have adjusted to find the right balance for our home garden.
All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even
Watch it sprout.
A mind like compost.
— Gary Snyder
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