Virginia is for Farm Lovers: Lessons on an Herb, Flower, and Seed Farm (Part Four)

The summer was coming to a close, which meant leaving my dream job of volunteering on an herb, flower, and seed farm to return to my full-time job. The realization of this made me appreciate my experience and be eternally grateful for this opportunity.

I admit, leaving the farm was both extraordinarily hard and heartbreaking — for a variety of reasons which span from personally to worldly. The fact is I am in a constant state of panic and fear when it comes to thoughts on our plant, the land, and the environment. More needs to be done to protect it, and working on this farm has instilled in me an even stronger belief that more also needs to be done to protect those that farm on the land.

The truth is there are half as many farms today than there were hundreds of years ago.

Virginia alone is a powerhouse when it comes to agriculture — The farming done in this state is some of the most diverse in the country.

Therefore, this is what I held onto as my summer volunteering days were disappearing — the opportunity to take part in something larger than myself and the opportunity to learn. I hope you’ve taken away knowledge too from my Part One, Part Two, and Part Three lessons and so, on that note, here is my last bunch of farm lessons . . .

↠ Volunteering on the Farm ↞

The harvesting board was ready again and slowly but surely I have grown in harvesting strength (read: speed) to where my name L shows a little more . . .

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A Lesson on Harvesting Mugwort
Mugwort is a massive plant — bushy and tall — so when I was told to harvest it, I was quite excited. Holding a large bin, I set to work cutting the tops of the plant that had begun to flower. This mugwort was being cut for its medicinal value — Research now shows me that it can boost energy, help the stomach, aide intestinal conditions (such as diarrhea, constipation, cramps, and vomiting), and more.

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A Lesson on Catnip
Speaking of harvesting medicinal plants, I want to take a moment to talk about the powers of catnip — and yes, that is catnip as in the catnip your kitties go crazy over (which, by the way, fresh catnip serves as an aphrodisiac for cats so I learned it is actually quite frustrating to them to be around it.)

Back to humans: Catnip is a digestive aid because it is helps bloating and gas. It also calms the nervous system and is seen as a mood stabilizer; therefore, it can be used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and headaches. Importantly (at least for females), it is anti-spasmodic for smooth muscles, such as the heart and uterus. This means it helps alleviate cramps.

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To use when that time of month rolls around, test catnip properties by using half of the suggested amount but for me, I take a palmful of the leaves and flowers (seen on the far left), drop them into a mug, and pour boiling water over them — the way one would to make an herbal tea. Another interesting catnip fact is the entire catnip plant can be used all the way down to the roots!

Catnip has a light woody, natural taste so it was recommended for me to pair it with peppermint mint (seen on the right) — Peppermint is known to cool, too. Oh, and another recommended pairing: Nettle because it replaces iron due to loss of blood.

A Lesson in Harvesting Camomile
Speaking of medicinal, Camomile is a war-horse in the medicinal world. It is known to be similar to yarrow because it is calming, camomile is a great sleep and digestion aid. It is also packed with antioxidants that research now tells me may lower disease risks, such as heart disease and cancer.

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When harvesting camomile for medicinal purposes, it is best to pluck the blooms that have the white petals falling directly under the disks/middles. Rain came on suddenly though so it was a dash to get as many of the farm’s flowers plucked, cut, and gathered so I tried to fill my bucket with as many camomile blooms as quickly possible . . . which, let’s be honest, I’m new to this so I’m extremely slow compared to everyone else who is experienced here!

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A Lesson on Other Medicinal Herbs
I’ve written before where my most prized farm lessons are ones that span medicinal herbs. I learned medicinal herbs fall into three categories: unnerving, sedative, then hypnotic.

Looking at other specific herb lessons, I was taught lemon balm is wonderful for the nervous system and skullcap helps with panic attacks.

A Lesson on Harvesting Gaillardia
Gaillardia flowers are from the sunflower family and come in practically every color. Also noteworthy: They are said to be drought-resistant.

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A Lesson on Harvesting . . . Grass
Yep, you read that right: Grass.  I harvested bunny tails (pictured first below), fire explosion (pictured second below), and another type that I am forgetting but all are grasses. Grasses! The farm’s owner told me through a smile, “A part of me does die when I plant and harvest grass” but it’s for a simple but important lesson that I learned: All plants are beautiful, even grass.  Tall grasses can be used in bouquets while the shorter ones can be used in boutonnieres. I confess, those first ones are quite pretty!

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A Lesson on Harvesting Dara
Dara is in the carrot family, which is known for wilting so great care has to be taken when harvesting it. Only the large and fully bloomed Dara are ready to be cut; otherwise, the little blooms will wilt. Looking at the big delicate blooms, they are very similar to yarrow.

Okay now sad Dara facts: Other farmers are growing pollen-less flowers, which is exactly as they sound. These flowers lack pollen so pollen does not drop on tables when people put them in vases at home. I say this is sad news because by choosing to farm pollen-less flowers, these farmers are choosing sterile flowers, which means bees, butterflies, birds, and more do not get any food. What is even worse is these animals do not damage Dara . . . so now imagine rows and rows of beautiful flowers like these at other farms but not one feeding a bee. When the owner told me all of this information, she confessed there is nothing sadder than going to a sterile sunflower farm and not seeing a single bird. I agree whole-heartedly. Further, knowing humans have engineered flowers to be sterile — The combination of these facts is honesty a travesty. This is also why I respect this farm owner, her farm ethics, and her farm so very much.

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A Lesson on Bouquets
The flowers here are purchased for businesses (such as florist shops and restaurants), people (who want beautiful flowers at home), and weddings. When picking flowers for weddings, the top most care goes into the color and size. While I did not graduate to wedding bouquet, boutonnière, and arrangement flower-cutting, I did learn that before flowers are arranged, they need to rest for six to eight hours after they are cut.

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A Lesson on Harvesting Garlic
Super cool lesson I learned involved garlic: Garlic is sun-sensitive, which is how it got a reputation involving vampires.

At this farm, garlic is harvested from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. — This time allows for morning light sun rays and also cooler temperatures versus the afternoon and evening heat.

When harvesting garlic, the garlic is not far in the ground so with a light tug on the green bunches, the garlic can be removed. From there, we immediately placed them in covered black bins so that our once packed garlic lines turned to these nice, fresh soil rows.

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Overall, volunteering on this farm did more than reaffirmed my love of plants. My time taught me to put aside some preconceived notions about certain plants, to embrace the beauty of others, and to welcome all lessons plants teach.

In the end, plants are truly remarkable — not only because nature can produce something so stunning but because plants can cure; they are medicinal. At a bare minimum, too, they cured me — That quiet time cutting flower stems is one I cannot describe. It is cathartic and the mind slips deep within itself in the most simple and beautiful way. At the start of this global pandemic and time of uncertainty and fear, plants healed me — They provided stability and reassurance. They would be there — today, tomorrow, and the next day — and I could help plant, cut, and harvest them as best I could and they would never complain but instead continue to grow. There is so much beauty in that.

Farm work is also incredibly rewarding — With hard work, rows upon rows of plants can be weeded, pulled, and cut down, leaving glorious mounds of soil ready for new plants to go in.

And farming taught me patience — Not all jobs need to be done quickly and over-the-top. Some can be done methodically and silently, and in fact — I would rival to say these tranquil jobs are the best.

There are so many lessons I learned from my time on this farm that I could live a lifetime dedicated to the cause and still not learn all, but I suppose this is merely the start and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Until next summer and more farm lessons . . .


Virginia is for Farm Lovers: Lessons on an Herb, Flower, and Seed Farm (Part Three)

It was another warm summer day, and I was thrilled to return again to a local herb, flower, and seed farm to volunteer. Not only did this work allow me to live a childhood dream, but it also brought an incredible feeling knowing I was taking part in something larger — Virginia’s legacy when it comes to agriculture.

In my Part One and Part Two lessons, I’ve written how Virginia farms are the backbone of the state, and so I wanted to tell a bit more about agriculture here.

In Virginia, there are over 43,000 farms. Of the over twenty-seven million acres that make up this state, farms are spread across a whooping seven-point-eight million acres. That’s one-third of the land here, which is quite impressive.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and consumer services

I have a deep love for farming, and this may be based on how I was raised because my family has come from generations of farmers. For the past 120 years, a forty-one acre working farm has been passed down the line and, therefore, to my grandfather. On this farm there have been a variety of animals but the two constants were chickens for a poultry supplier and cows for Angus beef production.

There were also a wide range of vegetables grown on the land — such as the massive potatoes that I remember most because as a little girl, my Papa would dig them up and my sister and I would have to pull them from the hot, dry dirt; and fruit — such as the plump and juicy red strawberries that I may or may not have snaffled when my Papa’s back was turned. The farm is now owned by my uncle and aunt, and if you’re one of the kind souls who have subscribed to our YouTube channel, you will have seen this piece of paradise because it is where they have allowed Andy and me to store and work on our 1965 Clark Cortez motorhome. Back to farming though, my most fond memories come from visiting this farm so it is no surprise that I yearn for that feeling again, which is why I was ecstatic to learn different lessons on a different farm and so, with that, let’s continue . . .

↠ Volunteering on the Farm ↞

A Lesson on Harvesting
When harvesting plants, you want to start with the freshest crop first and then move to the older crop. This reduces the risk of spreading disease.

A Lesson on Cerinthe
Cerinthe is succulent-ish plant with big, thick waxy leaves. My research now tells me that this pretty plant attracts hummingbirds. Aren’t plants lovely?!

A Lesson on Harvesting Sunflower
I confess, I have never been a sunflower fan but I think that’s because I thought there was only one standard-store variety. Looking at the beauties, I learned, there are several varieties, and this deep red one is absolutely stunning!

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I also had no idea that the green leaves of the flower steal water from the plant so, once a stem is cut, it is wise to remove the leaves to allow the cut flower to live.

Also, sunflowers are best cut before they truly have a chance to open. For example, while stunning, the massive one below is actually past its prime — By the time it arrives at the florist (which is pretty quickly) and is purchase by a customer, the bloom will gradually fade so sunflowers are best cut much earlier. I may or may not have learned this by cutting the stems of full pretty blooms only to have them be cast aside, to which I may or may not have said — with great inhales — that farming is ruthless work. In truth though, if sunflowers are not able to be harvested in this peak un-opened bloom period, they can be left because they are wonderful food for birds.

A Lesson on Harvesting Poppies
Poppies are unusual flowers — They are extremely delicate and wilt almost immediately when cut, which is why they do not hold up well in bouquets or boutonnieres. If a vase full of poppies is still desired, know there are facts that should be heeded when cutting. First, poppies cannot be placed immediately into water when cut because they secrete a sap that will prevent the flower from sucking up water. Instead, sear the stem end to prevent sap from escaping — This can be done by blowtorching two to three-inches stem end for about ten seconds. Now the poppy can take up water and will not immediately wilt!

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Note the different bee types: Here is a tiny bee on this poppy compared to the earlier chubby, fuzzy bees!

Last poppy lesson: Before I volunteered here, I also did not like poppies. The only poppies I’ve seen are the very ordinary red poppy . . . then I met this rattle poppy. Rattle poppies are known for their large feathery petals and light lavender color and, oh my goodness, there has never been a more beautiful flower!

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A Lesson on Harvesting Milky Oats
Milky oats get their name because if the oats are squeezed, they have a white milky sap inside. Research now shows me they are great for nervous conditions (from stress to anxiety to panic) because they relax the body — which, I don’t know quite yet how to use them for these purposes so if you do, leave me a comment!

Another interesting fact: The milky oat stems are hollow so they can be used as straws!

A Lesson on Avoiding Pests
Back to how at this farm there are no pesticides, which is great . . . until you meet the cucumber beetle. The cucumber beetle is a little beetle that nearly destroys amaranth leaves. Strangely enough, working on this farm I’ve gained a new perspective on plants — Normally people go into the store and purchase those with the prettiest blooms; now though, I’ve been looking at the leaves. One would think these eaten leaves aren’t “good enough” — which is why we have to cut them off for florist shops. I admitted to the owner that I found the leaves pretty in a delicate, lacy way. I’m not alone either — She told me one local restaurant owner came to the farm, saw these green leaves, and immediately had to have the plant based on the unique quality. Looking past the leaves though, amaranth throws extraordinary blooms (that appear more as plums) that either dangle down the stem (such as this dark pink variety) or grow up from the stem (such as this golden variety)!

A Lesson on Planting Sunflower
There are crops known as “the three sisters” — corn, beans, and squash. These three compliment each other because the corn grows up, the beans twist along the corn’s stalks, and the squash covers the ground. For flower farms, sunflowers can be used in replacement of corn so here, we planted a long line of sunflowers. Once the stems are tall and thick, other plants can twist around the stems and/or other plants can benefit from the big leaves for shade.

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A Lesson on Preparing Beds
This bed of bells-of-Ireland — which always reminds me of octopus tentacles — was done for the year so we cut it back to prepare for next year. To keep the bells, we cut the plant practically as low as we could (slightly above the root!) and removed these thorny stems (which will be used for compost). By cutting the plant that low, it tells the bells not to send out more growth and instead rest and recuperate for next year. How smart are plants?!

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Even more intelligent (and beautiful) plants are ahead in my Part Four post!


Virginia is for Farm Lovers: Lessons on an Herb, Flower, and Seed Farm (Part Two)

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.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Interested in more farm lessons? Read my Part Three!


Virginia is for Farm Lovers: Lessons on an Herb, Flower, and Seed Farm (Part One)

I am passionate about exploring — and not only exploring but absorbing all the world has to offer. Since the start of COVID though, travel has come to an abrupt halt and this has left me seeking adventure in my home state of Virginia so what better way to explore it than to focus on the top highlight of my state and that is farming.

First background on me: Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to work in a florist shop.  I remember the first job I applied to: My mom drove me to a busy downtown Richmond florist.  I had just gotten my license but I was crippled by the mere thought of driving through the city’s one-way streets.  “If you get this job, I am not going to drive you to and from work every day,” my mom threatened and so we made a deal that this would be a one-time nicety.  The sad part of this story is that I never got a call back. And it broke my heart.

However, as I’ve grown older, I realize I do not want to work in a flower shop — Cut flowers die. I yearn to be there before the shop.  I need to get my hands dirty planting seed, I want to see the green sprouts rise above the ground, and I dream to cut flowers and tote the bunches of beautiful blooms back in buckets so that those blooms can bring happiness to others. Yet, it is not solely flowers — I have an overwhelming love for herbs and so I desire to learn their healing properties. However, overall, I crave to work outside with both — to feel the sunlight warming my back, the rain drenching my clothes, and the weight of extra layers when the temperature dips.  My body demands physical labor. Essentially, I want to work on a farm.

This is why over the summer last year I set out to fulfill a long-held dream, and what better place to achieve this than in Virginia where agriculture is the state’s largest private industry by a vast margin.

In fact, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “Virginia agriculture reportedly has an economic impact of $70 billion annually and provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.”

Not only this, but Virginia’s agricultural production is reported to be one of the most diverse in all of America. 

Virginia agriculture also has unbelievable statistics: There are 43,225 farms; yet, for every consumer dollar spent on food, less than fifteen cents actually goes to the farmer. This is why it is so intensely important to buy local.

Another interesting fact: About thirty-six percent of Virginia’s primary farm operators are female . . . and I happened to find a local farm that is owned by a self-taught female who is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to plants . . . and who (incredibly) said I could volunteer.

Her small Virginia farm grows herbs, flowers, and seed in a low-till and chemically-free way so in my overwhelming enthusiasm to work and learn, I documented my farm lessons. Why I waited to post these writings, I am not sure, but get your tools ready because we are farming . . .

↠ Volunteering on the Farm ↞

A Lesson on Planting, Raising, and Harvesting
I was invited to help on the farm during “harvest time,” which is two days a week. Farming solo is hard and so having help makes the job much easier. Here, several farmers move quickly and efficiently to gather all flowers and herbs before the hottest part of the day arrives. To give you an idea how how much is cut during those hours, this harvest board shows only one day’s harvest, which can be more or less depending on orders:

The reason I fell in love with this farm is because of the passion behind it: The goal is to raise the plants from seed then harvest the seed so that the seed can be re-planted again in a cycle-of-life process.  Farming this way allows the plants to adapt to the area, which is important because when plants are imported from a different state or country, they struggle to survive due to not being native.

A Lesson on Working on Farms
One of my first lessons came in learning how to work.  Because farm work is intense — as a job and on the body — proper precautions need to be taken.  One is to reduce the body’s amount of movements, such as reducing bending, picking up and putting down tools, even pulling rubberbands in and out of pockets.  When movements have to happen, it is important to activate core muscles, which allows work to be done more efficiently.

A Lesson on Bunching
Who would have guessed there is a recommended way to tie a rubberband when harvesting plants?  Not me . . . until I was taught. Instead of placing the band around all stem ends at one time then twisting it to go around again — the band should instead be looped through one stem end then the entire rubberband (smooshed together so nothing more is inside) wrapped around the bottom of all stems before placing the final loop through another stem end.  By wrapping this way, when you find the end, the band is super easy to pull off and the plant stems do not risk being damaged. It’s wizard work going on here, y’all.

A Lesson on Bees
The owner also has several different bees and, I confess, this was one of my favorite parts of being at her farm. She does not use pesticides or other chemicals — which many farmers do. When these chemicals are used, it prevents animals — such as bees, butterflies, and birds — from getting food and while people argue these animals damage cash crops, the farmer I volunteered for feels there are more than enough flowers to go around. I have to say, that mentality is beautiful.

Back to my lesson though: Her farm is a buzz of movement and sound from numerous animals, though it does take awhile for this buzz to happen — When harvesting in the morning, sleepy bees splay their bodies on flowers to warm. I learned bees love hot temperatures so they get cold when night sets in. By the time the sun comes up in the morning though, they become happier, warming their little bodies before being able to set off again.

“Would you like me to still harvest the Echinacea then?” I asked the owner.

“No,” she said lightly. “Let’s wait and allow the bees to warm.” Y’all, it was then I realized I found my people.

More on Echinacea in a moment though . . .

A Lesson on Harvesting Snapdragons
My first harvest was with snapdragons and there is one very important lesson dealing with these plants: As snapdragons grow, their stems are pretty much straight; however, the moment they are cut, the stems become crooked.  And apparently no one likes crooked snapdragon stems.  To keep the stems straight, cut the stem and then flip the snapdragon so that the blooms face the ground.  Only once all snapdragon cuttings are done, the flowers can be turned right-side up before going into water. The stems may still bend a little but not as severely as they would without the flip.

A Lesson on Harvesting Echinacea
Now back to Echinacea: This plant can be used for many medicinal purposes, such as those for colds; upper respiratory issues, illnesses, and infections (coughs, bronchitis, etc.); and inflammation.

Another fact: If the petals are pulled off the stem, the orange disk becomes a super cute and different “flower” too!

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A Lesson on Harvesting Yarrow
You know that moment when you are told a name for something you have always loved but never knew its name?  Mine’s yarrow.  Similar in bloom to Queen Anne’s Lace, one difference that I adore is that yarrow has the most perfect green leaves — They look like tiny dainty ferns.  Not only is yarrow a beautiful flower, but the plant is also extremely medicinal.  It can be used to stop bleeding — Apparently during war, yarrow was stuffed into open wounds.  It also helps regulate body temperature so it is great at reducing fevers, and — as if there needs to be more — it helps with joint pain.  Again, I love yarrow!

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A Lesson on Drying Yarrow and Lavender
There are different ways to dry plants according to use.  I dried yarrow and lavender for ornamental, not medicinal, purposes.  Here, I took three bunches and — facing the bloom-side down — I placed two bunches on the back of a drying string and another bunch at the front of the string before tying a rubberband around all stems.  This allows ventilation around the giant bunch, and so they remain in a drying room until dried . . . which I have no idea how long that takes.  (Leave a comment if you know!  Otherwise, more lessons for another day, I suppose!)

A Lesson on Preparing Ground Covers
It sounds ridiculous but I was most grateful to learn a lesson on ground covers. I have had many planting days of using ground covers only to have spidergrass weave in and out and damage not only the covers but the plants. Then I’ve had many planting day where I threw out all covers in frustration only for every weed to make a home in the plant beds. And I hate wedding. Now I’ve learned instead of using weed barriers, geotextile fabric is the way to go.  I read this is common for draining systems but because the fabric is thicker than weed barriers, it serves an amazing purpose in gardens (and farms).  How to create all of the holes though so plants can come through?  Prepare your minds: A blowtorch!  This makes creating the holes faster and circular and — the biggest plus — no raveled or frayed ends.  Sheer brilliance.

A Lesson on Transplanting, Well, Plants
From cutting to planting, the first plant I transplanted was Zinnia, which is an annual flower that loves the heat so much so that it blooms all summer.  There are many different colors (such as the Oklahoma blush and salmon that I got to plant) but transplanting any plant is the same . . .

The most stressful part in any plant’s life is transplantation (is that even a word?) because it is not natural — Nowhere in nature will plants be plucked from the ground and re-planted into a new hole.  Because of this, great care needs to be taken and this is where I learned the most important lesson of the day: Do not pinch or even lightly hold a plant’s stem when taking it out of a planter. This will cause the plant’s xylem stem cells (the vascular cells that bring water, nutrients, and support to the plant) to bruise and that causes the stem to collapse upon itself, which then causes the plant to die.  Avoid this by lightly pinching the two opposite-side leaves closest to the roots then delicately lifting the plant from the planter.  Worst case scenario: A leaf is ripped but the plant regrows leaves; it cannot re-grow a new stem. Life-changing lesson here.

A Lesson on Planting Tomatoes
I also helped plant Pinkie tomatoes, which look like teeny tiny cherry tomatoes.  Tomatoes are hardy plants but there are ways to make them more hardy and less leggy as they grow: It is suggested to put the roots deep into the ground and then lay a portion of the stem parallel to the ground before covering the roots and stem with soil.  Tomatoes can grow roots across the length of their stems and this makes the plants stronger.

After hours passed, it was time for me to go home and so — covered in sweat and dirt with a light sunburn — I called Andy. I was bubbling with excitement about every flower, every herb, and every lesson . . . so much so that by the time he returned home that evening, my excitement was still uncontainable and so I made him sit down to hear all of my stories again. He’s a good man and I love him, but what I also love is farming so head on over to my Part Two farm lessons . . .