Sowing my Wild Oats

I realize I’ve been doing that thing herbalists do – talking about everything but herbs. Time to write about a plant. For me, it all starts with Oat. We associate it with breakfast, first thing in the morning, and I used it to build the soil from which all other herbs come, so it feels right to start with stick-to-your-ribs Old Man Oat. 

Many years ago, I stripped a few handfuls of the ripened seed of Avena fatua from withered roadside plants. Then I strew them all over my yard and neglected them completely. Before long, my harbinger of Spring each year in green-wintered Austin was the chunky tufts of blue-grey, contrasting with the comparatively diminutive grasses in my weedy yard.

My soil there was a heavy, mineral-rich caliche – a combination of clay and limestone. I sacrificed my lower back to double-digging one small garden bed. After that, I looked for no-dig methods. Oats to the rescue! It grows wild and well in Austin’s climate. After I finished harvesting it for medicine at the end of its season, I would cut it lawn-short, compost the tops and leave the roots to rot in the soil. All those nutrients it had sucked up from the ground returning to it, having been worked over by the oats’ magic. This is the most important harvest, the offering to the cycle.

One time a young farmer delivered vegetables to my house at a moment
when my garden’s coat of oats was particularly lush. “Oats everywhere!”
he cried, delightedly. He explained to me that what I had been doing for
years was a classic technique for soil-building and grinned when I
offered him a large bag of ripened seed from the previous year.
“Selected for Austin!” he said. “Well, I started from wild seed to begin
with,” I replied. Off he went, to sow his own wild oats.

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