the second half of february blessed us southerners with mild temperatures and plenty of rain. nature took advantage and green of every shade burst forth onto the drab grey stick season palate. this winter was particularly boring for our homestead, devoid of exciting planning. since we are moving and travelling all summer, we will not be growing a garden this year. in a way it’s been a boon, as my attention has been focused on the plants that i did not sow, those that pop up naturally in our yard.
because we rent an apartment in a large home in the middle of town, we don’t have a ton of land to care for. my main outdoor space is a narrow strip of side yard that i converted from a mess of invasive vines to a swale that holds stormwater. i also have three raised beds i built around the back of our home, that are now planted with perennial herbs and flowers. i assert that homesteading isn’t limited to those with land and animals, but instead a mindset and variety of value-guided practices that we can all adopt no matter our living situation.
a central tenet of my homesteading practice has always been resourcefulness – making the most of what i already have. i’ve long lamented not having a home and land of my own, and this leads to me feeling like my life is lacking. this spring i say no more. i’m taking a conscious interest in my little patch of earth and diligently watching springtime arrive on our homestead. this has certainly made my life feel full and helped me appreciate what i do have instead of focusing on what i don’t have.
spring on our homestead has been quite eventful! through the warm-ish and rainy month of february, one of our cold-strain shiitake mushroom logs fruited quite a bit. andrew was harvesting a big mushroom a day and sauteing it up with eggs for breakfast, or steeping it in water to make a medicinal and earthy tea. i continued my usual policy of not eating mushrooms, but admired the beautiful fruits as they grew out of an old hunk of box elder.
the first bits of green to pop up were my lone comfrey plant and a pot filled with chives. if you are lacking space, i would recommend growing either of these plants! they are both perennials and will return year after year, filling in bigger as the years go on. i grew my chives from seed, sowing directly into the pot they still live in. i keep the pot out with my raised beds all winter, and the chives live on. i love chives in any egg dish, in salad dressing, and as a garnish for soups and pastas. their pretty purple flowers are also edible, and we use them in salads throughout spring. they are a culinary staple all spring and summer in our home.
comfrey is a medicinal staple – i cut and dry it’s large leaves over and over throughout the growing season. i use comfrey to make a vinegar tonic for my hair, and also as an ingredient in my all-purpose salve. i bought a starter plant last spring and plopped it right in the yard – it doesn’t seem fussy about being in partial shade. i don’t water the plant either, because it seems to do well enough sitting on the back lip of our swale. comfrey is quintessential permaculture plant – its early blooms provide food for the bees and its big leaves can be cut and dropped as green mulch many times per season.
on top of the things i’ve planted and tended, there’s been no shortage of other useful plants in our little urban yard. many of these plants earn the name weed like dandelion, chickweed, and dead nettle, and i’ll bet you can find them growing in your yard too.
the first flowers to bloom were the wild violets. i’ve seen many herbal recipes that use violets, but i’d never used them in my practice and didn’t know much about them. one sunny afternoon, i gathered all my herb books and laid in a patch of blooming violets. i read the violet entry in all the books, and learned that the flowers and leaves have a cooling and soothing action, especially in skin care. the leaves are edible and can be used in smoothies or salads.
i picked a small mason jar of violet flowers, sticking my nose in the jar to smell after i dropped each flower in. they smell quite lovely. i made sure only to gather a flower or two from each patch, never harvesting more than 25% of the flowers growing. i’ve since noticed that this harvesting flushed even more flowers to bloom! in some cases, harvesting promotes further growth – one of the great benefits of harvesting sustainably.
as i was wandering around picking violets, i found a ton of dandelions blooming out by our raised beds. where the violets bloomed in the cool shade of the decades old water oak, the dandelions were blooming in the full southern sun. i revisited my books to read about dandelions, and learned they have a mild analgesic action when applied topically. i picked a nice bowl of dandelions to go with my violets, still unsure of how i would put these flowers to use.
i decided to make some floral bath salts for foot baths. warmer weather means more days outside on my feet. i’ve already been feeling effects of life in boots, complaining nightly that my feet hurt. violets seemed like a good choice for their cooling action and dandelions for mild pain relief. i ground the flowers with epsom salts and left the mixture to dry for two nights on parchment paper. i finished by mixing the floral salts with sea salt. awesome.
after the rains, we started seeing the edible spring weeds arrive in the yard. right now it’s flush with henbit, purple dead nettle, and chickweed. these weeds grow all over the us, so get to know them this spring. always positively ID a plant before you eat or use it – preferably with someone who knows plants well.
i’m still incorporating wild foods into my diet and working with my own stigmas and anxious tendencies around food. so if like me, you aren’t brave enough to eat a salad made with greens from the yard, try this – add them to a smoothie in place of spinach or kale! picked fresh from your yard they will be more nutritious than what you can buy at the store, and free. i use this smoothie recipe as a good base, and substitute fruits and greens depending on what is available.
the last green i’ve been harvesting is plantain. while over at our friend’s house wandering around looking at plants, we discovered a huge patch of narrow leafed plantain! i gathered a whole basket-ful to dry, only taking one or two leaves from each plant. plantain is a wonderful herb for dry skin and the main herbal ingredient in my lip balm. my goal with my business is to get to eventually only offer products with herbs that i grew or harvested myself, so this springtime harvest felt like a huge win.
besides harvesting and learning about plants, i’ve also been practicing resourcefulness by reaping the other fruits of being outdoors. sunshine on my skin feels much better than our cold, drafty victorian style home on these spring days. every morning i’ve been stepping outside with my coffee to listen to the birds sing and scan the sky for weather clues. some afternoons we throw a picnic blanket in the yard and lay outside reading and sipping kombucha. it’s important to take advantage of the bug-free spring weather while it lasts.
i’d love to hear how the other homesteaders out there are ringing in the springtime ❤