This is a quick Mid-August Martian zero-dirt soil update 2022. If you are unfamiliar with the Martian zero-dirt soil project or the Bioreactor here are links. This post is largely images for a visual update.
It’s mid July. That means it’s time to start harvesting the early spring crops! The replacement seedlings are in the greenhouse now. But first I need to not only HARVEST available produce and root vegetables, I need to figure out how to PRESERVE them after I harvest them. This is the learning curve. Squash and zucchini WILL NOT preserve without canning, vacuum sealing and freezing or just freezing. There is no way around this. Crops like potatoes, onions, garlic, and shallots do fine in peat moss wrapped by burlap and stored in a cool cellar. These are “dry roots”.
What I call “wet roots” like turnips, beets, parsnips, and carrots do not. Trust me on this point. Three rats and a pulp basket full of rotting disappointment later in the root cellar sobers you up. 19th Century farmers stored that in ice cellars or in a super cool spring room. Ironically, there is No such luxury in a 21st Century urban farm. One can only have so many freezers. I have three. AEP reminds me every month in my bill every summer and fall.
So, the wet roots, tomatoes, and greens are being, harvested, washed, chopped, laid flat and vacuum sealed flat for easy freezer storage for use in the winter. Tomatoes and select herbs are being processed and canned. I will make my 40% quota yet! I just have to be creative with how and when I process them. Some are eaten immediately. Some are preserved. I am getting better at discerning which is the better choice.
When we finish the eventual remodel of the west wing of this house I am going to install a lab, a mud room/animal washing station, and a temperature controlled walk-in freezer/dehydrator palace that would be the envy of every 19th Century farmer. Solar powered, well insulated passive heated and cooled, and efficient. One has to have dreams. Until then one has to have reasonable expectations.
Last year we finally installed the double herbal parterres in the pergola lawn between the hornbeam allee to the East and my potager garden to the west. We framed out the Parterres with boxwoods for two reasons: to protect from foraging pests and animals and to provide structure for creating zones. It has been an interesting experiment and I have enjoyed it immensely.
The south parterre (behind the pond) is the medicinal herb garden. This parterre has two – not three – triangular sections and has fewer cultivars so there was room for the bio filter to fit in the third triangle. It also contains plants that have water loving roots. Most of the flowers and herbs in this parterre are used in teas, tinctures, and flavoring.
The north parterre is a full knot parterre with three triangular sections. This is the culinary parterre. Full of cultivars that are used primarily in cooking and infusions. It is also conveniently located closer to the house.
The medicinal parterre contains basic cultivars like Yarrow, Stevia, Savory, Peppermint (in a pot!), Mojito Mint (in a pot!), Lavender, Echinacea, Chamomile, and Basil (it likes water!), and Aloe. Most of these are dried and used in teas and as dried additives.
The culinary parterre contains a wider array of culinary herbs. Thyme (French and English), Tarragon, Sage, Rosemary (in pots With trellises so the Rosemary can climb and to bring them in over winter), Parsley, Marjoram, Oregano, Leeks, Fennel, Dill, Coriander, Cilantro, Chives, Chervil, Basil (one can never have enough basil).
I was delighted to discover that nearly all of these herbs are perrenials. They came back on their own. With the exception of Basil and Rosemary. Our Rosemary rarely survives the winter in the house. I need to do more research on that.
Some Drawbacks and Benefits of the Parterre
One of the main drawbacks of the parterre system is space; The boxwood has a wide foot print. The boxwoods make it difficult sometimes to use my burlap mulching method. It’s not worth the effort to try to fit burlap into those triangular spaces.
Additionally, since all the herbs reseed, there is never a time where the beds are bare. in this instance, traditional compost and mulch works best. The boxwoods make stepping into the parterre a bit difficult, especially as they grow. Reaching over the boxwood hedge to get at tender herbs is a challenge sometimes.
The Benefits of the Parterres
The benefits of the parterre are numerous. The beds are always handsome. The boxwood holds in moisture and shades delicate plants.
The boxwoods keep large pests and animals out and make it harder for burrowing predators to get in there. Cats are the exception. They LOVE to lay in the Yarrow and Lavender and crush it down.
I love that the boxwoods keep chickens and ducks out of the parterre and protects delicate herbs from hungry poultry. And ironically, the boxwoods make it easier to weed the parterre triangles. Weeding in the parterre SMELLS divine. Boxwood and fresh herbs just go together well. Perhaps that is why so many monasteries paired herbs and boxwoods during the Middle Ages.
I cannot say enough about the aesthetics of the boxwood knot parterre. Boxwoods are really low maintenance and during the winter they give the gardens at Mezzacello a lot of visual interest. I have grown to appreciate the unique ecosystem they present in my urban farm.
I am glad we did it. I would do it again. What’s your herb story? Share with me. How do you manage your Rosemary?!