by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
June lays claim to the longest day of the year and the most violent thunderstorms, it is the month of bluebird babies, spindly-spotted fawns and box turtle crossings. Although we have been expecting another hot and dry summer, we suddenly find ourselves wearing warm flannels and digging the blankets out of the closet. But the rain and a long cool spring is exactly what we – and our garden – were hoping for.
We didn’t let the cool spring stop us from hitting the river on a few choice, sunny days. But before we headed out onto the river for a much-needed float, we join our friends on the Stream Team for Water Quality Monitoring on the North Fork of the White River.
In addition to testing the water, we also counted and catalogued a myriad of sometimes-microscopic invertebrates that live in the water beneath the river gravel. It was a fun and eye-opening experience. You can volunteer or help out on water quality studies like this or join in a host of other activities that help protect our beautiful rivers. Check out this page from the MDC or call them and ask about a Stream Team near you!
Of course, cool weather is perfect for chickweed, which makes an excellent salve for those itchy bug bites of summer. To make your own, simply gather an armful of chickweed and dry it on screens in the shade for a few days before crushing it up into a canning jar and covering with olive oil. Place the jar in the sun every day for a week or so, then strain and use. Chickweed is an excellent itch-fighter all by itself, but we added dried comfrey leaves to the infusion to aid in the healing of bites that get scratched open (and often get infected!). Once the oil is ready it can be used as is, or made into a salve or lotion with the addition of a little melted beeswax.
Another plant I have come to adore in the garden is buckwheat. This cool-season annual legume is a super fast growing cover crop and green manure that takes absolutely no skill to employ in the garden. Just scatter the seeds after the last frost and watch them go!
Buckwheat fixes nitrogen, acts as a living mulch, attracts scads of pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden and in our case, seemed to shield the young garden starts from bad weather and the hot sun. In this picture, buckwheat that has been growing in the corn for several weeks is being laid down into the rows.
The stems of buckwheat are brittle and break easily. Once broken, the plant quickly dies and the stems can be left in the rows as mulch or the whole plant tilled under. Since the bees were thick on the flowers, we didn’t want the buckwheat to die back just yet, but at the same time it was much taller than the corn. So we gently bent the buckwheat to the ground by hand so as not to break the stems, and they just kept on going! At some point they will be sacrificed to the soil, but for now, they’re still feeding the bees, nurturing tons of beneficial insects, and blocking out weeds in the garden.
Out in the meadow a brightly flowering plant caught my eye and I left the garden to investigate. I found this Purple Milkweed in full glorious bloom being ravished by a pair of Great Spangled Fritillaries! The butterflies were so immersed in gathering the sweet nectar from the blossoms that they actually let me touch them. In next week’s post, I’ll talk more about the amazing relationship between these butterflies and violets.
I hope to see you then!
© 2014 Jill Henderson ~ Feel free to share with a link back here. Thanks.
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.