By Paula White
I was inspired to write this article after hearing several indigenous people from various tribes in the state share their cultural knowledge. Through reading the sources listed at the end of the article I learned a little more about the traditional ecological stewardship and land management practices of the Ohlone and their contemporary efforts to reclaim ancestral lands. I take full responsibility for any errors and omissions.
Fall is harvest time. I currently am harvesting apples and making apple sauce, one of the easiest ways to use a lot of apples, especially the ones that are a little too small, kind of wormy, or have squirrel bites. Just wash, quarter, and core the apples, put them in a large kettle, add some water, and simmer. After a couple of hours, drain them and put them through a food mill or other strainer. Apple sauces freezes very well.
Now is a good time to plant cover crops such as fava beans, clover, pea species or buckwheat. These plants will add nutrients back into the soil. The whole point is to plant the seeds and then wait for the rains. Before the plants flower, cut them off near ground level and dig them back into the soil. This has a similar effect to the indigenous peoples’ practice of burning natural areas to both clear unwanted brush and provide soil nutrients for next year’s harvest.
While your soil is resting, you can take the time to plan your next crop by getting seeds. Richmond Grows offers free seeds through its seed lending library. You may be wondering how you can return a seed after it has been planted. Well, the loan period is much longer than the standard three weeks for a book–after your plants have grown, flowered, and fruited, you can save some of the seeds and “return” them to the seed lending library. Due to the pandemic, the seeds are currently available by curbside pickup. There are plans to reopen the seed library in April 2021. I also came across a blog by Quinton Cabellon on traditional indigenous crops, called My Native Garden.. You can get native seeds here: http://shop.nativeseeds.org.
Get ready for the rains by installing a rainwater catchment system. I’ve been putting it off but definitely need to get this done before the end of the month. I thought about it while reading about the Ohlone owned Lisjan garden site in East Oakland, which features a rainwater catchment system that stores 5500 gallons of potable water. This site, owned by the Sogorea Te Land Trust East Oakland, grows sage, tobacco, mugwort, soap root and a variety of fruits and vegetables. It is one of many efforts by tribes across the state to reclaim land stolen by European colonizers.
Finally, I’m looking forward to the reopening of Makamham, or Cafe Ohlone, the first restaurant to serve traditional Ohlone food. It is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but you can still check out the menu and plan a delicious feast once they’re able to serve food to the public again.