Herbs are not usually ready for harvest in the early spring but a few weeks ago, one of my students and I needed to do a bit of cleaning in the garden and found ourselves in the middle of a smell-a-thon. It was early in the morning with the sun beginning to rise in the garden and melt the light frost, which hung off the plants and Agribon tube tunnels. It was brisk and windless. Selma and I needed to ready a bed for planting that had a patch of wintered-over coriander. Last November we had built a hoop house around the patch as it had self-seeded and looked too good to just let die. Amazingly even after the snow-laded winter, it bounced back in March and was ready for harvest a few weeks ago.
We opened the small hoop next to our Food Pantry row and a giant waft of coriander greeted us. Though chilly outside, within the blanket of the Agribon the coriander was warm and moist.
“How is this possible,” said Selma. “It was just winter a few weeks ago.”
One of the things that has pleased me about our garden at Green Chimneys is how we have been able to turn common wisdom on its head by extending the seasons and times we have been able to work in the garden. From harvesting lettuce in December, to carrots in January, to turnip greens in March, we have been able to show how the earth (and garden) is continuously alive.
With our pruners we cut the bottom of the herb and placed it into a bucket. Selma kept huddled on one side of the hoop as the heat rising from the soil kept her warm. She initially wanted to put on gloves but I told her that it would be more fun to use her bare hands as she would better be able to smell the herbs. She didn’t understand until I told her to smell her hands after a few cuttings. She did and a big smile erupted on her face. I told her that we would be giving the coriander to the kitchen, which would use it for future meals. Our progress was somewhat slow as she kept putting her hands to her nose to take in the fragrance. We were able to harvest a pound of the herb.
After finishing that task, we went to the herb row where we have our perennials including thyme, sage, oregano, mint and lavender. The sun had yet to fully warm this area and a blanket of frost still covered many of the herbs. We needed to trim the thyme, which had escaped its bed and was beginning to enter the walking path.
I told Selma to cut a line with her pruners straight across the bed so that the thyme would appear as a fuzzy line on top of the bed’s rail. The thyme had gotten thick and woody so it was hard for her to get a straight line and she became frustrated quickly. I told her to relax, not worry and to smell some of the different herbs that were in the garden; I gave her some of the thyme she was trying to cut as well as lavender and mint.
“What do they remind you of?” I asked. She could not recall exactly. “This [the lavender] reminds me of home,” she said. “Perhaps your mother or grandmother used to have a perfume that they would wear,” I suggested. “Or maybe a soap that you use or they had at home.” She perked up. “Yes that is it. Could I smell it a bit more?”
I agreed and then we got back to work to cut back the thyme. When her hands became tired, she went back to the lavender for a sniff and remembrance of things past. With this bit of help, Selma was able to work steadily and well. As a reward I gave her a little sprig of lavender to keep. After we finished, we took our buckets of thyme and coriander to the kitchen to be used in a future meal for the school. Selma kept the lavender near her nose for most of the walk.