Gathering the Seed Harvest, 2015

Posted by Judith Lowry on

This year brought an abundant harvest of the annual wildflower hayfield tarweed, Hemizonia congesta ssp. lutescens, growing in such pure and extensive masses that we were able to gather it in a modern imitation of the time-honored indigenous way - substituting tennis racquet for a seed-beater, and stainless steel bowl for gathering basket. We learned some fascinating lessons about this ancient way of harvesting wild seeds. At the same time, we gathered other species growing with tarweed and setting seed at the same time, which includes one native grass, meadow barley, one perennial wildflower, blue-eyed grass, and two more annuals, dwarf plantain and sky lupine.

The process is often described as "seed-beating,"  but it is really more like a gentle stroking to dislodge the ripest, loosest seeds into the bowl, those that are just about to drop from the plant to the earth below. This method has advantages that are not obvious at first. Most wild crops, like hayfield tarweed, ripen sequentially, meaning that the earliest blossoms have become ripe seeds while later blooms still ripen. One major advantage of this kind of collecting is that the unripe seeds stay in place on the plant to ripen another day.

 Also, insect populations are allowed to continue functioning in place. Other methods, like vacuum harvesting or mowing, seriously disrupt their lives.

This field, which is serpentine to some degree, was a revelation of what some North Bay wildflower fields may have been like. 

Based on this field, we're offering in packets only a new wildflower mix called "Mostly Tarweed." You can see the interesting and unique vegetation architecture of this field in this video, also called "Mostly Tarweed." There are so many lessons to be learned from the remaining flower fields of California, each with its own set of species, its own reaction to drought, its own insect life, and its own way of rippling in the wind.

Original post: September 21, 2015

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