Posts Tagged ‘garden’

H is for Herbs

Of all the things I have attempted to grow in my garden, I have been most successful with herbs. In fact, sometimes it seems like they are the only things doing well. And already this spring, I have chives, mint, lemon balm and parsley ready to use. And the best part is, they seem to thrive on our poor soil and my benign neglect. In time, I may convert to all herbs.

A big project I have been working on for a year now is to turn the slopes of the vegetable garden into a perennial herb garden. I’m about half way done and excited about it. For the past 3-4 years I have tried to grow annual squash and beans on the slopes only to have the weeds invade. It got so I was putting more effort into weeding every year. That’s no way to have a garden! Permaculture, among other things, teaches that you should let the plants do the work for you, so I hit on the idea of planting the slopes with perennials. Less weeding for me – maybe almost none eventually, soil stability, soil improvement, great things to eat and use , a real win-win situation.

So here is what I am growing and what I do with it:

  • mint – We use it fresh, dried and make syrup from it, mostly for drinks
  • chives – fresh and freeze, for cooking
  • garlic chives – fresh and freeze, for cooking
  • hyssop – dry for tea, supposed to be good for colds
  • yarrow – nothing yet!
  • thyme – fresh and dry, for cooking
  • lemon balm – fresh and dry, syrup for drinks
  • tansy – bug repellent
  • tarragon – fresh for cooking
  • parsley – fresh and freeze, for cooking
  • comfrey – compost, companion plant, poultice for sprains and bruises
  • salad burnet – fresh in salads
  • lavender – dried
  • basil – fresh, freeze in pesto
  • rosemary – fresh and dried, for cooking and hair rinse
  • marjoram – fresh and dried, for cooking
  • oregano – fresh and dried, for cooking
  • summer savory – fresh
  • lovage – fresh and frozen, for cooking
  • betony – dried for teas, headache remedy
  • calendula – fresh on salads, dried, make calendula oil and moisturizer
  • dill – fresh and frozen, for cooking
  • sage – fresh and dried, mostly for tea
  • chamomile – dry for tea

To make syrup, I usually make simple syrup with sugar and add the herbs. I leave the herbs in until the syrup cools and then strain them out. I often freeze the syrup until I’m ready to use it, typically for cold and hot tea.

To dry, I either hand in the pantry or use my dehydrator. Stored in glass jars, the dried herbs keep all winter. I’ve become quite fond of sage tea with honey and lemon.

Herb lore is fascinating and every time I look at an herb book or web site I am quite sure I will never know even a fraction of the things I read about. It’s all so overwhelming. My goal for this year is to make more cosmetics and learn more about the medicinal uses of the herbs I have.

If you’re keeping track, I am way behind on the B-Z blog month! But I’m on spring holiday now, so am hoping to catch up in the coming week. 

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Four Apricots


Four apricots may not seem like much to you, but to us, it is a dream. You see, these are our FIRST four apricots from the tree we planted last year. It’s a small start, but it’s a start.


And they were delicious!

And, apparently four is the magic number, because we also have 4 apples ripening on our little apple trees. The girls can’t be more excited about it and I am thrilled that the trees are thriving and that we all an appreciate the little things.


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January Surprise!

The snow melted and what do you suppose I found underneath?!


Corn salad, mustard greens and spinach!


Enough to make a salad with…and there’s more out there. I saw some kale and red beets…maybe even some chard.

Don’t you love gardening?!

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July’s challenge was about winter gardening and seed saving. Challenges included:

1. Winter gardening

2. Planting carrots for the fall/winter

3. Saving seeds

I missed the deadline for the link-up to the website (here if you want to check out what others have done), but here’s what I’ve done:

1. Winter gardening

Kale and broccoli for transplanting in a few weeks.

Kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and some herbs for indoors.


I reseeded my polyculture beds with greens and other cold weather veggies.

Lettuce and arugula for the fall inside my bean tepee.


2. Carrot bed

Carrots and a few other goodies seeds and (hopefully) germinating. The sticks etc are to keep the cats out.

3. Saving seeds

I have saved some chive seeds and plan to try to get some lettuce seeds. I’ve let some of it bolt and I’m waiting for seeds to set. I also plan to save tomato, pepper and cucumber seeds, but I am afraid some are hybrid, so we’ll see. The corn is definitely a saver as are beans.

August challenge is out – preserving food. Whew, I have a head start on that one!!

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Friend and neighbor Andrea, who never tires of this description, says my garden does not look as bad as I think. I must admit that I am beginning to believe her. But you know how you can get used to a noise to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore? I fear that is what has happened with me and the weeds. So, when I look at my garden I don’t even see them , so now I think it looks great out there!

A few bright spots…

Olivia’s sunflower

Butterfly bush + Queen Anne’s Lace (Looks better than this photo!)

Rhubarb ready to harvest!

A rainbow of chard

2012 is more than half way over and I thought I’d check up on my resolutions and see how I am doing.

Garden resolutions for 2012:

1. Get soil tested. I didn’t, but I did find out how. There is a place you can send your soil for a small fee, but I am not sure it tests for contaminants. I’ll have to keep working on this one.
2. Grow potatoes in barrels. I didn’t get to this. I wanted to find a barrel that was  not plastic and was not pressure-treated wood and just didn’t find one. But I have 10 months to find one for next spring…
3. Figure out how to get manure and straw (where to get it and how to transport it). Nope. No clue. Possible I can still do this, though.
4. Build more raised beds. We did this! I now have ten 4×4 foot beds and one 4×8 for the strawberries. I love them!
5. Try garlic. Yet to come…
6. Build cold frames. We bought one instead. It’s functional, but a bit flimsy.

Flimsy cold frame now housing eggplant and peppers.

7. Put in fruit trees – cherry, apricot, maybe apples, but they are so plentiful and cheap here… We did this, too! And they are doing well.

Sour cherry.

8. Put in small fruit shrubs –  currants, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, gooseberries. All but the grapes…I think that counts as fulfilled!

Currants and gooseberries.

9. Make a solar dehydrator. Good project for next week!
10. Put in an asparagus bed. Done. It looks like a coffin, and it seems one of the asparagus died already.

11. Grow more herbs. Yes, to parsley, chives, mint and sage, I added tarragon, lemon balm, betony, rosemary, thyme, dill, savory, oregano, basil and marjoram.

Herb bed with sage going wild!

Savory and marjoram. Or is it the oregano? (I can’t tell them apart!)

So, running total so far…6 completed, 3 in progress and 2 that will not come to pass out of the first 11. Second half of the resolutions tomorrow and the grand total…

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Summer vacation and the liven’ is easy! We’re having wonderful weather and enjoying our days in the garden. Tonight’s dinner comes mainly from the garden, a necessary reminder of why I do it!

Today’s harvest

Menu 25 June 2012

radish* top soup

spring vegetable paella-otto with broccoli*, snap peas*, carrots°, mushrooms° and onions*

raspberries* and strawberries* with sweetened yogurt

Radish Top Soup

Radish leaves

This recipe comes from Marian Morash’s The Victory Garden Cookbook, which I love because the chapters are arranged by vegetable. When I have a glut of almost anything, Marian usually comes to my rescue!

I’m sure that following her recipe exactly yields wonderful results, but here’s what I do:

  1. Sautee some onions or leeks in butter and oil. I use about one medium onion.
  2. Add cubed potatoes, water and bouillon. One large potato, vegetarian bouillon.
  3. When potatoes are almost cooked, add radish tops. I use about 2 bunches worth of greens.
  4. Puree, adding milk or cream if you like. Season with salt and/or pepper.

It would be good peasant style, too I think, but I puree it.

Spring Vegetable Paella-otto

Once again, I must say that a real recipe would probably help tremendously, but I believe I’ve noted that if you want perfection you’re going to have to find it elsewhere.

So, here’s what I did:

  1. Cook rice in bouillon in more or less normal way. I couldn’t find any brown rice in the cupboard (I swear we bought some) so I used risotto rice, thus paella-otto.
  2. Sautee chopped onions, broccoli, and carrots in a big pan. I used my wok.
  3. Remove vegetables and then add mushrooms. I got daring and when mushrooms were almost done, decided to finish it all off at once instead of bit by bit. I added minced garlic, thyme and a little saffron (I recommend adding it to the rice cooking water, but I didn’t think of it until this point.)
  4. I added in the cooked rice and the rest of the vegetables and mixed it all together.
  5. It needs salt! And maybe more garlic. And regular rice, not sticky arborio rice. But it tastes good. You can really taste the flavor of each of the vegetables.


Berries with Sweetened Yogurt

The lots on either side of ours are empty, apart from the legion of weeds just waiting to invade. They send in advance troops in by seed, runners under the fence, with birds and the cat. Though I win some battles, they are winning the war, for now. Occasionally, though, they send me something I can use. Dandelions and nettles have come in and I’m happy about that (yes, happy – here’s why). But the other day we discovered a major encroachment onto our plot by raspberry bushes! Lots of them! Happy day!

It isn’t easy to get the girls to refrain from devouring every ripe berry they see whenever they see them, but they managed to pick a small bowlful today. I mixed them with the last few strawberries and served them with yogurt.

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Well, it’s the end of May and I’m finally getting around to posting about April’s challenge! That’s mostly because it’s taken me this long to complete it…kind of. It’s also because my time is limited and I’ve been spending it in the garden. The challenge was hard, too, because it has so many parts to it. Not that I’m complaining…I like a good challenge! Okay, enough preliminary small talk….

Challenge Round 1 Plant seeds.

I’ve been starting seeds inside for a few years and the big challenges for me are knowing how much to start with – I usually start with too much – and having room for it all. We started in two batches this year:

Batch 1

  • head lettuce
  • broccoli


The earliest starts

I know, I know…use grow lights. That will be on next year’s list of projects. Yes, things get a bit leggy and it will be much better once I have the grow lights, but things seem to have worked out okay without it for now.

Earliest seeds sown outside

Hardening off the lettuce and chard

New transplants

Batch 2

  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • squash
  • cucumbers

Corn started in TP rolls – just pop the whole thing into the ground.

What’s new this year – Chinese greens, broccoli, potatoes, polycultures.

Challenge Round 2 – Pest Prevention

This is still a challenge that I haven’t quite gotten up to speed on yet. I tried to grow some catnip to deter flea beetles, but it didn’t come up. I’ll have to try that again. I did manage to plant some marigolds among the tomatoes this year. That’s supposed to be good, right?

Round 3 Build a Trellis

Finally got around to making an A-frame trellis for the cucumbers. Our neighbors bought the empty lot next to them and cleared the brush. When I asked if I could take some tree branches and sapling trunks, they looked at me like I am crazy – it’s just trash to them – but said yes. I am quite proud of the little trellis I built out of them.


Round 4 Grow food for your chickens

If only we had them…

Round 5 Be lazy

Build good soil, mulch, let things reseed and grow perennials is what I took from the challenge post. Hmmm…I am trying to build good soil, however inept I may be at it. Still trying to figure out what to mulch with. Planted some asparagus, have rhubarb…most of the rest is annual. Love reseeding! Happens mostly with weeds, though.

But I think I ace this round based on pure laziness. I could have all the dandelions in my flower bed, but didn’t. I now consider it my dandelion patch and since we eat it, it’s a nutrient accumulator and its roots open up the soil,  I am telling myself that it’s not lazy, it’s smart!

This is just lazy…

Round 6 Share the Bounty

Giving some away…I give away lots of zucchini when the time comes, but let’s face it, giving away zucchini is not an act of sharing, it’s a necessity! But I am inspired to look into giving some of our harvest to a food bank or soup kitchen. More on that later, I hope.

So that’s the April challenge, long since passed, but still working on it here in my garden!

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We’ve been eating greens!

From left to right, that’s leaf lettuce, a spinach leaf, arugula, Chinese mustard greens and mizuna. I mostly planted arugula – lots of arugula!

I planted polycultures this year and so far, so good! They certainly look beautiful!

The garden is full of greens and we’ve had them lots of ways this week, so I thought I’d share them all.

grape and greens salad* with honey mustard dressing and sesame seeds

omelette with arugula*

boiled potatoes° with a mixture chopped greens*, garlic, olive oil and salt on top

pasta° with goat cheese° and greens*

more salad*, this time with nettle* pesto dressing

more salad*, with kohlrabi° and radishes°

What’s your favorite way to eat fresh greens? I am open to new ideas!

Recipe for Honey Mustard Dressing

Mix about 1/2 cup of oil with a touch of vinegar, ground dried mandarin peel, teaspoon of mustard and dandelion (or regular) honey to taste.

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Panic Attack

**I actually wrote this a couple of weeks ago and haven’t published it because I don’t like the writing. I still don’t like the writing, but it’s not likely to get much better, so here it is…

Remember that feeling when you brought your first child home from the hospital? You read the books, you thought you were ready, but suddenly you find yourself thinking,  “There is no way I can take care of this little creature!”

“Calm down,” you say to yourself. You’re pretty sure you know what to feed her, pretty sure that when she cries it means feed her or change her, you know she’s supposed to sleep a lot and you know pretty instinctively how to soothe her.  But you can’t help feeling just a bit panicked.

I feel like I just brought home 14 newborns. I went to the garden center and bought fruit and nut trees today. To be specific:

  • 2 apples
  • a pear
  • a sour cherry
  • an apricot
  • two hazelnuts
  • 2 goose berries
  • 3 currants
  • 2 blueberries

They can’t be harder than taking care of babies, right?  They’re just plants. Except if they need something they won’t cry. I don’t know what or when or if to feed them. It’s likely that they’ll be dead before I even know what hit them. And then a colleague asked me what varieties I had gotten, and I didn’t even know, giving me something akin to the “ I must be the worst mother in the whole world” feeling. Panic!!

Fourteen holes to dig, 14 trees and shrubs to put in.

Suddenly the yard looks too small…even though I know it isn’t.

Where are we going to put them? I had it all planned out, and not just in my head! But I am second-guessing my ideas, and my husband has ideas of his own. With any luck he will do some of the hole digging, so I guess I do have to let him have some input into where they go.

All but the blueberries, apricot, cherry and pear were bare root. I was especially panicked about them, all naked and vulnerable. I plopped them into the compost pile and we furiously dug holes all week. They are in the ground now, hopefully recovering from shock and putting out little roots. The ones in pots are waiting. It turned cold (it’s flurrying today) so they may have to wait a few days until we can get out there to dig.

Planting trees is a profound experience. You are forced to think five, fifteen, 25 or more years into the future. How big will it get, how much room does it need, what will be around it in the future… I found myself saying to my daughter that maybe some day she’ll be telling her kids, “I remember when I planted this tree with your grandma and grandpa.” And I couldn’t help but wonder what the world will be like for my daughter and her children and how planting a tree is such a hopeful thing to do.

It made me think that if everyone had a little plot of land to tend, to try to make it  productive and sustainable, the world might be very different.  You have to think about the future, the environment, how even if you do everything to sustain and nurture your land, it’s connected to  what others do, too. The neighbors – do they use pesticides, herbicides, etc; the town – will it cut down the forest behind us, or let it be cut down; the region – acid rain, what’s upstream; the planet – global warming

You can’t avoid it and it’s why people growing their own food is so radical and such a threat to the World the Way it is.

And by the way, here are the varieties:

  • 2 apples, James Grieve Red and SIrius
  • a pear, boscova lahvice
  • a sour cherry,
  • an apricot, St. Julien
  • two hazelnuts. Lombardy red and white
  • 2 goose berries,
  • 3 currants,
  • 2 blueberries, Emblue and

(maybe I am not such a bad mother to these trees after all)

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It’s been 3 weeks since my last post. What have I been doing ? You know, besides the usual?

[Digression: I started feeling really bad about not writing for so long.  And then I got irritated at feeling bad because this is supposed to be FUN! And mostly for me anyway, so why all the negative feelings? Then I read this and it really struck a nerve. If you blog, do read it. You’ll feel better about infrequent blogging!]

Knitting socks…this pair is for daughter #1 and

…this pair for daughter #2.

They don't look it in the photo, but they are the same size!


Making a quilt for a colleagues who just had their first baby.

Starting a few seedlings

(I know, I know…they are very leggy because I don’t use grow lights. It’s on the project list!)

Making more frames for raised beds.

Positioning before digging it in.

Ready for planting!

Chasing the cat out of the new raised beds. (See photo above – can you spot little cat tracks?)

Enjoying beautiful spring weather, celebrating the 100th birthday of Girl Scouts of America with a brisk sunrise ceremony, traveling to Warsaw to hear Jane Goodall (!) speak at a teacher’s conference, celebrating my daughter’s 10th birthday,  attending student art shows and music recitals..and NOT looking at my blog stats.






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