Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spring at last!

I'm not the only person who has been saying that this was a long and hard winter. Even my sister-in-law in New Zealand says the same. We are truly grateful that spring has finally arrived! This must seem very weird for those of you in the northern hemisphere who are now hunkering down for winter! But it does seem that global warming is causing chaos with our seasons, with extreme temperatures on either side of the world.

The prolonged cold and wet caused many repercussions for me. Firstly because our winters here in the Cape are very rainy, it meant that I spent half the winter mopping the floors. 12 muddy paw prints, morning, noon and night kept me very busy indeed. No need to go to gym, when you also have to take three dogs for a good long walk every day. The normally lush and gorgeous herb garden was a muddy, bare space for much longer than usual. Only stinging nettle provided verdant greenery. I didn't manage to prune all the trees, so now the olive trees are wildly waving about in the wind, full of flowers and minus the possibility of a bird flying through the middle without its wings touching any leaves, as they say it should be. The plum tree, and apple tree were only half pruned. It would be very funny if they had the best fruit ever! Usually the harvest from either tree is wretched - one or two plums and a dozen or so wormy apples.

Melissa in the vegetable garden jungle
Now that we have had a few really warm days all the plants have responded with alacrity and have burst into leaf and flower. I have never seen Melissa (lemon balm) with such big leaves, the nasturtium leaves are the size of side plates, Chelidoniums are at shoulder height, together with rocket plants in flower and the odd poppy, which makes for a lovely wilderness in my veggie patch! I had a francolin with a chick hiding in this lush jungle for a while, so to give them a safe haven, I avoided weeding for quite some time.
Needless to say I have been harvesting herbs to make tinctures from the fresh plants. From the soil to the alcohol takes less than an hour, and we herbalists believe that making fresh tinctures like this, captures the essence of the plant when it is at its peak. The results speak for themselves. For example, fresh tincture of Melissa is a superb remedy for those pesky cold sores that make us look terrible and feel even worse. Within minutes of application the burning and tingling are gone and the blister starts to fade.
Another herb I tinctured fresh was St John's Wort. Strangely enough I had reason to use it fairly soon and was astonished at what a powerful anti-inflammatory effect it had - relieving an agonising pain with minutes. (I don't keep pain killers in the house and resorted to taking this tincture out of desperation.) Tincturing this herb is like magic. The minute you add the alcohol to the fresh green leaves, blood red colour starts oozing out, and the final tincture is red.

I made many batches of my delicious nasturtium pesto. It freezes so well, that even six months later you would never guess it had been frozen. Have a look for the recipe in this blog if you'd like to try it. As I said the nasturtium leaves were huge this year....

I wasn't fibbing when I said how large my nasturtium leaves were.

Finally Spring was heralded by a swarm of bees that decided to make their home in the owl box that my neighbour Andy Vermeulen made for me and put up high on the wall of my house. Here they are with the swarm getting bigger by the day. I'm not too sure what to do about them and have been asking people for their advice. I believe that bees like a calm environment, and today the garden help must have made a noise dragging a garden chair around just under the bees, and he got stung by very angry bees.

Any advice will be appreciated. Happy spring everyone!!

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