The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

The Samhain of our Lives October 28, 2018

Just last week, we had our first hard frost. After homesteading for a number of years, you grow to be vigilant for the signs of the first frost. The air smells different somehow in the two or so weeks leading up to it. The bird and wildlife patterns change.  The nights have a crisp bite to them that they didn’t even a few days before. And then, just like magic one day, the frost is there, glistening in the morning light. The garden radically changes overnight–even for those things you covered–the entire landscape lies in disarray.

 

Sunrise at First Frost

Sunrise at First Frost

I could feel it on the air, and for the last few mornings, have been going to to see if it had arrived. That morning, I turned the corner and first saw it first on the strawberry patch–white and glistening. The frost is beautiful, magical, and yet, destructive. While the garden was growing powerfully the day before–with the last harvests of our remaining tomatoes, eggplant, beans, squash, and gourds all ripening and growing abundantly–this morning, frost covers all.  By mid-day, the garden of yesterday is but a distant memory. The garden of the frost is a disaster zone for summer crops–the tomatoes are wily, the half-ripened crookneck squash spongy on the top where the frost hit, the eggplant fallen over in sadness.  By the second day, the leaves of these plants are withered and dead, former husks of what they had been less than 48 hours before.  The first time you see this destruction, its really something to behold.  It is shocking in how the cold can do so much damage in such a little time period by a temperature difference of only a few degrees.

 

Samhain is certainly here, and already, my garden has gone through increasingly hard and bitter frosts. The temperatures continue to plummet, the leaves drop from the trees, the animals and birds fatten up, hibernate, or fly south–and winter sets in.

 

This year though, this Samhain, it seems a little different. Maybe its the general collective despair and demoralization present right now, at least here in the US, which is affecting so many (and what I was responding to in my post a few weeks ago). Maybe its the latest UN report that suggests that–if we are lucky–we have about 12 more years to stave off the worst of climate change, but only if we act now. Maybe its reading that report and knowing that action, at least in my own country, won’t happen.  And, knowing, I will have to live to see the results of inaction, results that will irrevocably harm the live and lands I hold sacred. Maybe its the growing open conversations I am having with my new college students about their own futures and their fears.  I’ve been teaching college for over a decade, but it has only been in the last 1-2 years that I’ve heard my college age students start to openly discuss these things and their impact on their futures.

 

This Samhain, the changes in the landscape and in my garden, seem to reflect the changes going on culturally.  We’ve had more than a few hard frosts.  We’ve had bitterly cold days.  Some of our favorite summer plants are dying off. I think a lot of people are asking–is this a sign of things to come?  Are the darkest times, at the Winter Solstice–still to come?

 

Kale loves the frost!

Kale loves the frost!

In my frosted garden, I turn my eyes away from the summer crops, the eggplants, squash, and tomatoes that cannot handle even a 33 degree night with cover. Instead, I look to the carrots, onions, spinach, lettuce, celery, kale and cabbage that we had planted in late July. These plants are much more resilient, and all of them are doing fine despite the glistening of frost on their leaves. Some, in fact, had been enhanced by the frost–the cabbage leaves are more succulent, the kale more sweet. Rather than harming the plants, the frost had simply made them better versions of who they already were. This, too, seems to be a powerful lesson, both for the garden and for our larger culture.

 

It seems that I’m not the only one smelling frost on the air more culturally, and processing what to do about it. A few days ago, I saw a new thread on a permaculture forum written by a 22 year old girl who was asking serious questions: “Given the state of the world, do you really think permaculture offers us what we need to save the world?  If the older leaders refuse to act, can individual action save us? And if you are using permaculture this way, how do you stay focused when all of this is happening around us?” It was a good question, a reasonable question, and had a range of useful responses. One of the most powerful responses was from a man who had seen a world war, had worked industry, and had retired to a little one-room cottage in the woods. He shared some of the things he had seen in his life and said, “Its the cycle of life. The reason we practice permaculture is that it gives us hope. This is a season, others will come and go. I always ask is how do I respond.  And my response is to hope.” I wonder, too, if that’s why so many of us practice druidry.  It gives us connection, it gives us peace, but most of all, it gives us hope.

 

The practice of druidry, of living by the seasons, helps me process the inevitability of the crisis of climate and culture that seem to be bearing down at present. Samhain is in the air, both for us this year, but also for us culturally.  It might be that this time will pass and spring will arrive quickly.  Or, it may be that the world will have to endure the difficulties of winter, for some time to come.  Most of us think, or already know, that we are in for the latter, but I must remind myself of all that I learned as a druid gardener, all that I learned from celebrating the wheel of the year is present here this Samhain.

 

So much wonderful food in the greenhouse!

So much wonderful food in the greenhouse!

As a druid homesteader, I respond to the frost–and the incoming winter– by good planning and good design. The “problem” of winter  becomes a “solution” if I simply plan accordingly. I choose my plants more carefully for the fall and winter season–knowing some are resilient and designed for the cold, and others, like the tomato, fall at the first brush with frost.  I start these plants in July, when summer appears to be endless.  But soon enough, the fall will come, and these plants will thrive.

 

Using shelter and layering, the plants can survive much more than a bit of frost. Our little greenhouse will have a third layer of protection this wee, and our spinach, lettuce, bak choi, and arugula will be able to be continually harvested till January or later. Carrots and potatoes will stay in the ground waiting to be unearthed anytime the ground is unfrozen enough for us to do so. The greenhouse itself, combined with a second inner hoop house and then a thick floating row cover offers shelter. Embedded stones and a back covered wall allow the design of the greenhouse to be even more resilient, pulling in the warmth into the stones when the sun is out. The stones radiate that heat into the soil in the cold nights. Nothing will succumb to the frost or cold in that greenhouse unless it goes considerably below freezing. And if it does, we will make our final harvests, put wood on the fire, and wait till mid February or early March when the soil to warm enough to plant again.

 

Further, as a druid gardener, I think about the “problem is the solution” from the permaculture principles.  With the right plants and planning, we can thrive and grow.  Our world *needs* to change. The current course of our society is radically unsustianable, and every bit of communication from this wonderful earth is letting us know that with in creasing frequency.  Finding new ways to live, to be, to inhabit this world will require us to adapt to the harsh realities that Samhain brings.  We can’t be tomatoes in the coming years to come: we must be kale, cabbage, carrots, tatsoi, arugula, spinach–all of the plants that can withstand the harsh winter and still offer abundance.

 

As a druid, likewise, I have many lessons that help me think about and process this difficult time. I have celebrated the turning wheel of the year and the seasons for many, many years. I know that looking to my ancestors and honoring the season in the moment brings me quietude and peace.  I also look to my ancestors to re-learn how to live more sustainably and simply, in line with the living earth. I know that winter is coming, and it will be dark, and harsh, and cold.  But somewhere in my bones, woven into my DNA, I know my ancestors got by with much less than I did, and they thrived–if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.  I also know of the beauty of winter when it arrives; I know of the freshness of the snowfall and the cold nights where the stars glisten.  And most of all, I know that spring will come once again.  The maples will once again begin to run, the crocuses will once again bloom.

 

 

In the meantime, I’m going to shore up this greenhouse and plant more kale.

 

Making Sauerkraut: Step by Step Guide November 21, 2013

I’ve been working hard to build my food preservation knowledge this year. I’ve talked a good deal about canning on this blog already, but I want to spend a bit more time in the realm of fermentation, specifically, on making sauerkraut. This was my first real foray into fermentation (other than my dandelion wine, which is coming along nicely)!  I’m glad to say that it was a huge success, and I’m excited to share the process with you.

 

The Lessons of Fermentation: I think a lot of us in present-day America resist fermentation.  Your milk starts to spoil, your fruit rots, your spinach wilts and gets slimy…entropy sets in.  Planned fermentation, however, can lead to excellent things–yogurts, wines, hard ciders, krauts, miso, shoyou or soy sauce, and so much more. I am finding that when you begin to guide fermentation (rather than let it guide your food to the compost heap or garbage) you can grow to appreciate these natural processes even more. Its part of the cycle of life–bacteria and enzymes form a critical part of the cycles of life broadly on this planet, and we can use those to help us preserve our food. The spiritual dimensions of fermentation should also be noted–I have begun to see my kraut fermenting away on my counter as an alchemical process, a transformative process where niter and salt are combined to create something new and incredible.

 

How to Make Kraut

These instructions require very little in the way of expensive equipment–you really only need something to pound your cabbage with, something to put your cabbage in (a quart or 1/2 gallon mason jar works well), something to hold your cabbage down as it ferments (like a smooth stone, washed clean), and something to keep dust/bugs/etc out of your kraut (like a cloth). I’ll walk you through the simple steps of making kraut, and provide a few recipes along the way.

 

Step 1: Obtain cabbage. A friend gifted me with a huge bag of over a dozen heads of purple cabbage. I like cabbage, but there is only so much one can eat at once!  So I decided to make some kraut. You can use pretty much any kind of cabbage that you want; different kinds of cabbage give you slightly different flavors of kraut. You can also mix red with green.

Cabbage!

Cabbage!

 

Step 2: Determine other ingredients. The only other thing you *need* for cabbage is salt, however, you can also add a bunch of other stuff to make things interesting. A few combinations I really like are:

–Red cabbage, ramps, and dill weed (if you don’t have ramps, you can use garlic or leeks instead)

–Green cabbage, carrots, and caraway seed

–Ginger and red cabbage (also try this with little slices of apple for a sweet/tangy ferment!)

You can also try different kinds of salt, pepper, and other spices for unique blends.  The typical ratio of salt to cabbage is 3 tablespoons salt to 5 lbs cabbage, so you don’t need as much as you think!

 

Step 3: Cut up your cabbage and add additional ingredients. You want to slice your cabbage fairly thinly; you’ll be pounding it down, so if its too thick, it makes it more difficult to pound. If you are using red cabbage, you’ll also delight in the beautiful patterns you can find on the inside of the cabbage as it grows.

Beautiful Cabbage

Beautiful Cabbage

Cutting up ramps for kraut

Cutting up ramps for kraut

 

Step 4: Mash, mash, mash!  Now you will need a large pot or pan and some kind of mashing tool. I found my wooden masher at a thrift store for $1.00. You want to mash up your cabbage quite well–as you mash the salt into it, it will start producing juice. This is good–keep mashing it till you see that its no longer stiff and goes a bit translucent. It usually takes about 10 minutes of mashing to get to this stage.

Mash!

Mash!

 

Step 5: Transfer into Jar. Once you’ve mashed it up well, you can transfer it into your jar – use your masher to press it down a bit. You can use a canning funnel to get it in there easier.

Kraut going into Jar

Kraut going into Jar

Step 6:  Make Sure Cabbage is Below Water Line (use that rock!). The idea is that the cabbage should have produced enough water at this stage that it can be completely submerged by the water. Push it down with the masher, and then add the stone so that it holds ALL the cabbage below the water line. This is important to prevent mold on the cabbage as it is fermenting.

 

Step 7: Add Towels and wait! Add towels to the top of your jars to allow air to pass through freely. Now you just have to wait a few weeks till the kraut gets to the taste that you want. Every few days, check your kraut. If it starts to get any mold (which is quite common) skim the mold off of the top (taking the rock out if necessary to clean it and replace it). In a few weeks, you’ll have amazing kraut!  You can keep tasting it till it ferments down as much as you want it to (less will result in a crisp kraut, more will result in a softer kraut). Once you get it where you want it, refrigerate it to keep it from fermenting further.

Jars of kraut fermenting

Jars of kraut fermenting

 

Step 8: Enjoy.  This stuff is better than what you can get at the store!