I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Virginia — a state nicknamed “the birthplace of America” due to it being home to the first permanent English settlement. From the start, agriculture has been the foundation of this state — Native Americans farmed tobacco and the first colonies harvested corn and wheat.
Today, agriculture remains the top largest private industry.
Because of this, small farms are said to be the backbone of Virginia; and I had the privilege of living out my dream by volunteering of a local herb, flower, and seed farm.
To learn more about the lessons I learned on my first farms days, read my Part One. Meanwhile, my documentary continues as I was welcomed back for more hard work.
↠ Volunteering on the Farm ↞
A Lesson on Harvesting Basil I’ve had basil in pots on porches and it never worked out — I could pick a few good leaves, but once it flowered, the plant was done; and while I knew not to let basil flower, that information did not tell me how to prevent this. Today, I learned the trick harvesting sweet or purple basil. When the basil begins to flower, do not simply remove the flower — Instead, cut the stem a significant amount down (below a few nodes). This will encourage new growth and, hey, you get those nice big leaves, too.
A Lesson on Harvesting Calendula Calendula is a flowering plant, and it can be used for medicinal purposes because it is packed with antioxidants. Similar to yarrow, it is great for the skin and heals wounds; however, while yarrow can be stuffed into wounds, calendula can be applied on top of the skin to help with ailments, such as sunburns. (Though, I have not learned yet how to actually apply calendula to burns, I am positive my sunburn-suffering skin would be much appreciative if you left a message below detailing more!) Also, noteworthy, calendula helps the stomach and intestine — It can improve digestion, reduce inflammation in the gut, and repair the gut wall. Research tells me it can even be used to combat certain cancer cells, among still more benefits. Plants are amazing.
Back to my lesson: Because calendula becomes sticky when plucked, it is wise to wear gloves. Further, when harvesting it for medicinal value, pluck yesterday, today, and tomorrow’s blooms — and pluck them right off the stem. Blooms that are too far gone should be plucked also but cast on the ground.
A Lesson on Harvesting Orange Calendula There are different medicinal values between orange and ivory calendula blooms . . . and sadly I learned this by mistake. After plucking an entire row of orange calendula, I began to pluck the ivory accidentally. Turns out there is more medicinal value in the orange compared to the ivory (I think I overheard the ivory has more pollen?) so the ivory stems should instead be cut for flower. Huge oops — so much so I was worried I would not be invited back to the farm!
A Lesson on Composting Farming can be a rather ruthless business — at least this is what I thought in the beginning. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one plant for another to ensure the strongest can survive without competition. This means snipping, pinching, or plucking the weaker plant out. Often the ground between the rows then becomes littered with these sacrifices but this business encourages more growth from the plant so, in the end, it will be stronger. Also good news: Dropped flowers such as these can be turned into compost. A circle of life at its finest!
A Lesson on Harvesting Strawflower There are flowers with petals that feel like dry and papery — or well, straw-like — and they are strawflowers. I never knew these plants existed and I absolutely love them for their unique features. Another unique trait about the strawflower: They love dry, hot environments, which most flowers do not fair well in. PS–Strawflowers have so many color choices too! It’s hard not to fall in love with these flowers!
A Lesson on Harvesting Flowers I have been anxious over cutting flowers too early but I learned a lesson that brought huge relief: It is better to harvest too early than too late.
A Lesson on Harvesting in the Rain As we continued to harvest, the once-light drizzle turned to a heavy rain. Sure, I was super happy because I love warm rain; however, the harder it fell, the more challenging harvesting becomes. One reason why is because the blooms become water-laden, which causes the stems to break and so all of us made a dash to save the flowers! The beauties on the right actually had a stem break from the heavy rain but even so, they are positively breathtaking!
A Lesson on Harvesting Seeds Harvesting seed here is a top goal the farm owner has because then she does not have to rely on purchasing seed but instead can continue to support her plants independently and in a full-circle type of way.
My time spent on the farm was predominantly cutting flowers (which is absolutely fine with me) but when I had a chance to harvest seeds, I was eager to learn. To harvest, the plant has to be super dry and at the end of that year’s harvest. We started by cutting this plant down and placing — as delicately as possible — the stems in a large bin. The only problem is with a plant that is made to reproduce at the end of its life, seeds are thrown everywhere so keeping them contained and not littering the ground is rather difficult. Sure, the falling seeds would not be a problem if the same plant was to return in this spot the following year, but it is beneficial for the soil to cycle through different plants so these were not set to return in this exact spot again.
With my time to go, I realized yet another reason why nature is breathtaking: By the end of the day, the rain had soaked my clothes and once it stopped, the sun re-dried them and know what? There is something incredibly gratifying in that.