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Is there a Hoophouse under that Cucumber vine?

hoophouse covered in bolivian cucumber vines

Yes, wow! Bolivian Cucumber (‘Achocha’ or ‘Caihua’) grows like no cucumber I’ve ever seen. Planted on one side of the hoophouse, it grew across the top to the other side, then out both sides and over the top on the outside.

We’d never heard of Bolivian Cucumber (native to Bolivia/Peru) until we were given a few seeds last year. We grew them this year for fun, just to check it out, having no idea what a beautiful monster it would grow up to be.

So vigorous! Covered in flowers which attracted all kinds of insects, then loaded with little cucumbers. It slowed down during the heat of Summer luckily, or we’d have been overrun both with vine and fruit.

achocha in basket

The cucumbers are different, smaller and not as juicy. A bit sweeter though, I think. If you let them grow to maturity, they become hollow and are typically stuffed like peppers and roasted.

Medicinally, Bolivian cucumber is used to treat high blood pressure, high blood-cholesterol levels, arteriosclerosis, circulatory problems, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, tonsillitis, and as a remedy for intestinal parasites.

(Again, wow. All that from a humble cucumber.)

While researching, I found a reference to the fruit and leaves being boiled in olive oil and used topically as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. I haven’t found any further topical-use information, but I suspect it may be a language-barrier thing with me not speaking Spanish.

achocha, cut up with seeds removed

I picked a big handful of the best leaves and all the cucumbers growing outside the hoophouse yesterday, before they get hit by frost, to try making an oil.

If you’re as intrigued as I am with this plant, check out the write-up at ‘Plants For A Future’, one of my favorite online plant resources. Than visit John from Growingyourgreens.com’s garden to see his Bolivian Cucumber patch in this video with great visuals of the plant plus growing and eating information (and very cool, he grows a different variety than what I have- different leaf shape and spiky fruits!).

 

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Connect with Plant Magic

collection of herbs drying

Fingernails are growing back, getting long again. Guess my gardening season is officially over.

Yeah, I’m bummed, but as I pack away the herbs I’ve dried and take stock of whatever tinctures, oils, or vinegars I’ve made, I’m as happy as the first planting day in Spring.

I like being around plants all the time, and it feels really good having a stash to get me through my garden-less Winter! Reminds me I’m part of and connected to Nature even when I don’t feel it (like when it’s been bucketing cold rain for days and I’m hiding indoors attached to a computer screen).

Using herbs makes me conscious of this connection too, whether I’m working to create a satisfying dinner or sumptuous skin balm. Their different personalities, colors, textures, aromas, and how they combine to become something unique is a kind of magic to me.

Plant magic. Cooking with, eating with, crafting with, living with, learning from, and caring for plants, our oldest friends. Get connected. What could be more natural?

 

 

 

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Bee Balm harvest, Happy farmer!

sheri the herbal mixtress

A life-changing event happened for me a few weeks ago. Herbalist Tony(a) Lemos (director of Blazing Star Herbal School) saw my photo of a Bee Balm plant I’d identified as having powdery mildew and told me I was mistaken. It wasn’t the disease powdery mildew but part of the natural leaf pattern and perfectly fine to use.

It took me a little while to process this. Actually, my brain is still turning it over. For years I’ve been rushing to get what Bee Balm I could harvested before what I called “the funk” (whitish spotting) appeared on the leaves. Then, I’d chop the plant down.

bee balm leaf

To think I’ve been wasting so much of one of my favorite plants for so long makes me actually pretty distraught. I am so grateful that Tony(a) gave me a shout!

So this year I waited and watched. The splotches have mostly faded away, just a bit left on one plant, and there’s been a big spurt of growth. It’s only a small exaggeration to say they had become little shrubs, full of bunches of new leaves with a couple flowers here and there.

I’ve never seen Bee Balm grow so big in my garden- though I have seen them that big when growing wild- and I guess now I know why. You don’t have to cut them down mid-season! (argh… )

Their exuberance crowded and shaded the Peppermint and Chives growing in the same bed allowing me the excuse/opportunity for another harvest. Just leaves. I left the flowers for the bees.

bee balm harvest

I’ve never had so much Bee Balm in my stash. Can’t decide what I want to make first!

 

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Calendula is not (only) for you

calendula flowers

It’s starting to make me uncomfortable, seeing herbs described and defined by what they can do for us. And if we think they’re especially useful, they’d better watch out- we’ll hunt and gather them to extinction.

Plants were not put here for people, as the old story tells. They were living on this planet for eons before we came along and were keeping pretty busy without us.

Calendula flowers, for example, provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. Calendula roots form active partnerships with fungi, benefitting the soil. The fact that Calendula has so many health and beauty benefits for people doesn’t mean that we have more rights to it than any other being.

I hope people can learn to think about plants in a bigger way. We’ve done so much taking. There’s a lot of giving back to do.

 

 

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Ready for Winter Downtime

Calendula still blooming in November garden

It is sad when garden time comes to a close. But we’re a bit tired after a long season and are looking forward to a little downtime.

The Hadley garden has already had frost. All that’s left are some greens growing under fleece, as well as a few Scotch Bonnet and Habanero plants still ripening their peppers under plastic cover. It’s getting cold now, though. We’re almost done.

The Northampton garden hasn’t had a frost yet. There are Calendula, Alyssum, and amazingly Nasturtium and Holy Basil flowering. Thank goodness! I’m still seeing honey bees.

That’s Calendula pictured above. Her orange-yellow color is so bright, it shines in my November garden like sunshine. This happy, pretty flower is one of the first to greet me in Spring and the last to leave in Autumn. I’ll miss hanging out with her in the garden.

Luckily, I’ve got a good stash of dried Calendula flowers to get me through the Winter!

 

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