This time of year we watch our Red Shiso crop with the vigilance of a beloved canine guarding a bone. As the foundation for every one of our Flower Essences, Red Shiso is the one plant we grow that we can’t do without it.
Red Shiso is also extremely frost sensitive, so we need to get it harvested before even a mild frost. The rub is that the longer Red Shiso grows, the deeper the maroon color and the pinker our Flower Essences, and we like them pink. So we are always weighing the danger of frost against a too early harvest of not so red leaves.
Late September is when we almost always harvest the crop. Sometimes I have miscalculated about frost danger, and we have had to harvest in the dark of night with frost expected in the early hours of the next morning. Sometimes we have harvested until midnight then covered the remaining crop with frost cloth. Sometimes after a sleepless night of plummeting temperatures, I have gotten up at 3 or 4 am to get sprinklers going on the crop. The water can warm the Red Shiso just enough so that it doesn’t freeze. No matter the scenario, we ask the Elementals to help, and they do what they can. Sometimes what they can do is say, “GET CUTTING!”
This year it looked like smooth sailing. The weather forecast late last week was reassuring with its promise of mild frost free nights for a ten day period.. We thought we might get to October before harvesting the crop.
This year’s Red Shiso was grown around a spiral of Dahlias with a central fort like structure of Kikinda squash . All of us have spent happy hours inside the Kikinda fort surveying the Dahlias against a backdrop of gorgeous maroon.
And so it was that we were blissfully enjoying the glory that is this year’s Red Shiso garden when Jim came home from his day job as a sixth grade teacher to report that local weathermen had revised their forecast to suggest frosts could be expected in colder spots on Saturday night.
I would like to pretend that we are not in one of those frost sensitive colder spots, but we are. We get frosts weeks earlier than folks on the other side of town whose farms hug the Connecticut River.
Typically frost rolls off Morgan Hill to our north then meanders through the Cherokee Trail of Tears garden then on through the main vegetable garden to settle right where this year’s Red Shiso was sown.
It was Thursday afternoon when Jim rang the alarm bell. We headed for the Red Shiso field STAT. Vicki, Sam, Jen, Sarah, Lizzie and I began to cut the beautiful maroon stalks and pile them on waiting sheets. Baby Henry was settled on a blanket in the nearby grass and six year old Grace was given a job of carrying the cut stalks to the waiting sheets.. Everyone was needed. As dusk fell we hauled what we had cut to our Red Shiso building to hang bundles to dry.
We cut and hauled and bundled and hung into the evening then had to wait out a rainy Friday then cut again all day Saturday. By Saturday night we had most of the Red Shiso harvested. We sat with the Elementals to ask for their protection to what remained in the field.
Saturday night came with its promise of frost, but a fog developed at dawn to protect the Red Shiso from the predicted cold. I was grateful for the reprieve but also grateful we had begun the harvest when we did.. It always takes longer than I expect to harvest the crop. In fact, only yesterday, Wednesday, Sarah and I cut the last of it.
Now the Red Shiso is all safely in its barn. We are tired but grateful. Mixed into with our gratitude is a reverence for the cycles of nature that connect us to dear mother Earth and to each and every person who has ever been part of the harvest cycle. There is such a feeling of sisterhood and timelessness when we all are in the Red Shiso barn tying the bundles to the rafters.
Sarah and I have talked of late about how we can sometimes venerate the light over the dark, so we have decided to make an effort to relish all the great things that happen in the dark. Today I relish that the Red Shiso needs the dark to hold its color as it dries. It is the complete darkness inside the Red Shiso barn that preserves its beautiful color, so our Flower Essences can be their beautiful cherry pink..
Our nights grow darker each day now, and I look forward to being thankful for each gift this darkness brings. Thanking the darkness that preserves the Red Shiso feels like a great place to begin this new practice of being grateful for the both the light and the dark.
I would also like to thank all the lovely women who have helped us with our Red Shiso harvest over the years-
In vaguely chronological order, Thank you to the women whom I have been privileged to harvest and hang Red Shiso with: Teddy, Adrienne, Jayn, Sue Dam, Lynn, Catherine, Catherine, Kathy, Cindy, Lizzie, Liz, Patricia, Vicki, Emily, Jane, Deb, Sophie, Lily, Alli, Molly, Thembi, Laura, Emily, Kelly, Sarah, Sarah, Lauren, Jen, Sam and Grace. I salute you!