Out With The Old! Really?

As the first article of the new year, I feel it should be profound and pithy. Sort of set the right tone for the year. But that just puts unnecessary pressure. So, I’m not going to try. It is what it is.

Looking ahead to the upcoming months, I’m going over a growing list of projects I’d like to either start or move forward to finish. Still, I’m drawn to reading up on old practices and traditions. They are what links the past to the present to the future.

Here we are in 2015 with technology and inventions that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. And yet, at the same time, I keep hearing ancient advice and solutions to a great deal of life’s conundrums. Yoga, meditation, acupuncture, herbal remedies, ancient grains such as amaranth and quinoa, Ayurvedic medicine …

I’m not talking old wives tales or misguided thinking ( human/animal sacrifice anyone?) but it is rather impressive that many of the old advice holds up to modern examinations. Often, there is now science to back them up. Clearly, we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel nor do we need to reject the old ways. We just need to refresh or tweak some practices and bring them forward to current lifestyles. Just consider how hip it is to meditate or do yoga. Better workout clothes and celebrity endorsements have been most effective. But lets not forget the mounting evidence supporting them. We’ve rediscovered the benefits of the likes of quinoa, garlic, turmeric, coconut oil and so many others – all of which have been consumed through the ages in various parts of the world. Those ancient cultures couldn’t have explained how the foods helped but they figured out that they did. We now know the why and the how. I remember learning early on in my days as a microbiology major that turmeric has bactericidal properties. Being all too familiar with Indian cuisine, it suddenly made so much sense that this spice was an ingredient in so many recipes. There are numerous such examples from different countries and cultures.

So it is in the garden as well. An ancient, universal practice in itself. I enjoy finding old books on gardening – they have taught me more than one would expect. Often, valuable practices have succumbed to trends and modern inventions. Along the way, we lost track of these important nuggets of knowledge. A shame.

These past few weeks I’ve been exploring old garden wisdom. The experience has been comforting. Like getting comfortable with a grandparent and listening to stories of the ‘good old days’. I thought I’d share some ‘discoveries’ with you. Some are functional, several are fun and others are plain funny. You decide.

In The Garden:
Bury garlic cloves at the foot of rose bushes. It is supposed to enhance color and scent of the roses while keeping away greenflies.
Sow with the moon. During the waxing phase, sow for plants that should emerge out of the ground and grow towards the sky. This would mean all flowers and vegetables like lettuces and beans. During the waning phase, sow the plants whose root system needs to grow strong – like potatoes, radishes, cabbages, tomatoes, cucumbers, gherkins and all fruits. I know this is practiced even today by many gardeners. I have only mentioned synodic planting here. There is also sidereal and biodynamic planting. I find it all interesting but not particularly practical for myself.
Do not plant cucumber and melon seeds next to each other. The melons will lose their sweetness and taste bland.
Companion planting is an age-old practice. In my experience some work and some do not. Here is one new to me – asparagus plants will protect tomatoes from disease when they are grown nearby. This is because have a substance called asparagine.
When the blade of a garden tool gets rusty, rub the whole surface with the cut side of an onion sprinkled with sugar. The sweet onion juice will remove the rust and prevent it from forming again. I think I’m going to try this out.
Add a cup or two of oil to a bucket of sand. Stick in hand trowels and rakes when not in use. It will keep the tools sharp, rust free and clean. I have been doing this for years. It works. Note: I pour used motor oil in the sand.

Out Of The garden:
When buying melons, the smell must not be sickly as this indicates that it is overripe.
To preserve lemons, keep them immersed in fresh water. Change water regularly. Makes the fruits juicier.
When cooking cauliflower, add a piece of stale bread to the water and this will combat the classic odoriferous aroma. I tried this and it does not work.
Artichoke stalks are edible. Just peel and cook them with the artichokes. Season and eat.
Unlike onions, garlic sprouts should not be eaten as they are hard to digest. Remove and toss them.
A drop of wax at the end of apple and pear stalks will help the fruit last longer.
Walnuts will stay fresh longer if put in jars filled with sand.
To make dried walnuts taste like fresh ones, soak them in fresh milk for a few hours. Hmmm, would that be skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk?
For minor skin irritations or dermatitis, boil lily petals or bulbs in milk, puree and apply.
Powder of dried sage makes a good deodorant for use in shoes. Particularly sneakers. Personally, I’d just put a bouquet of sage leaves. The thought of fine powder all over the floor when the shoes are put on or taken off …
Quince pips contain mucilage ( a kind of gum). Soak the pips in water for a few days. A translucent jelly will appear. This jelly can be applied to the face for cleaning and softening.

There are so many more such antiquated/archaic/time-honored observances. I’m certain you know of some good ones yourself. Please do not hesitate to share. At the very least, it makes for good conversation. At best, we become a part of the link to our ancestors. It is all good.

Happy New Year to all!
In keeping with the old-fashioned ways, I’m not adding photos. Only watercolor imagery!
Garlic
Garlic
Carrots
Carrots
Echinacea
Echinacea
Lily
Lily
Nasturtium
Nasturtium
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

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One thought on “Out With The Old! Really?

  1. Lovely column. Will bury spades in bucket of sand with oil from now on. As I child, I was taught that native Americans predicted rain when the leaves on trees blew upside down, showing the silver under sides. I think this works.

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