Strawberries and Calendula

This has been a good season for strawberries. We ate a lot of them and then froze another 8 quarts. There’s an easy way to freeze strawberries so the berries stay separated instead of sticking together in one big lump. Wash the berries, take their leaves off and pat them dry. Spread them out on a cookie sheet so they aren’t touching each other and set them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the strawberries into containers or freezer bags and then back into the freezer until you want to use them.

Garlic should be sending up scapes pretty soon. I always direct sow squash, beans and cucumbers seeds into the garden. I think they are heartier than transplants and they are doing great. My heirloom peppers are pitiful, doomed from the start.

Calendulas are blooming. Another favorite of mine! For now, I’m adding the petals to salads, smoothies and into whatever I put through the juicer. They have a mild taste and contain antioxidant carotenoids..lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. Later in the season, I’ll use the flowers to make skin products.  Calendula is known as the ‘Queen of Cosmetic Herbs’ and for  its healing properties. Tomorrow, my dog Flora is due for a bath. In the past she’s had skin issues. To keep things sweet, I’ll infuse a few flowers in some water and add that to her bath.

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Lilacs & Lemon Verbena


Lilacs are blooming. This one opened today and is so  beautiful I couldn’t resist snipping a little and taking its picture. It smells just as good as the standard lilac.
Lemon Verbena doesn’t look like much but it makes up for that with its extraordinary fragrance.  It’s tangy, not sweet and very fresh and clean. When I had my shop, I used to go to Gilbertie’s Herbs wholesale greenhouses, to buy plants to sell in the store.  Mr. Gilbertie showed me a gigantic lemon verbena plant that he had in one of his greenhouses for many years. He rustled a few of the branches and the most wonderful lemony scent filled the air. Lemon Verbena is only hardy in zones 8-10 but is easy to winter over indoors in a sunny windowsill. It has a woody stem and with a little simple pruning, the plant can formed into a pretty tree shape. If it is repotted as needed into a larger pot, it will get huge! I saw this little verbena at the garden center and decided to give it a go. Maybe it will get as big as a miniature tree some day, like Mr. Gilbertie’s.   Fingers crossed.

Country to City

Yesterday I just about finished the spring cleaning on the back gardens.  This morning we visited my middle daughter.  Last  summer she got married and moved to a city.  Luckily, there’s some outdoor space and she and her new husband made it really inviting!  They refurbished an old patio set of mine.  She sewed up some fabric pillows and  he filled buckets from a home improvement store with pots of herbs.   We had brunch on their patio… vegetable frittata,  fresh fruit and croissants.  It was  a great visit.  I miss my daughter and wish that she didn’t live so far away (I exagerate; it’s less than 1 1/2 hours away)  but it’s good to see that she and her husband are making such a  nice life of their own.

Edible Landscape

I’ve been really inspired by the Grow Food not Lawns movement. The past few years I’ve been transitioning my massive perennial borders and front flower beds into mixed gardens, integrating my existing plants with vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit. This combination can be beautiful and practical. Rhubarb, zucchini and most vegetables are so attractive and look great among the flowers and shrubs. Lots of flowers are edible and pretty… Bee balm, calendula, violets, nasturtiums, roses and lavender, to name just a few. Strawberries and creeping thyme are great ground covers and borders. Currant and blueberry bushes are easy to grow, attractive when they come into flower and even prettier when they set berries. Columnar fruit trees are another great option. Cabbage and kale are great fill ins. Lancinato kale has a lot of visual interest but it gets eaten up by little green worms here so I grow the Green Scottish Curled instead. Herbs offer so much in the way of flowers and color..echinacea, catnip, lemon balm, variegated mints, borage..The list goes on and this post is getting long. As the season progresses, all the little plants filling my tables under lights crowding the sunny windowsills will hopefully be big and strong and make their way into the gardens. Ideas are percolating for artful/ edible combinations and integrations. I’m hoping this gardening season is productive and beautiful for all of us!

Seed sprouting, Jojoba, Lyme

Easter was great.  Easter Monday was a beautiful day.  It’s been cold and rainy since then but the  indoor seedlings are thriving, sending out their true leaves.  Thanks to the good advice of my blogger friends, the Friariello di Napoli pepper seeds sprouted right up after placing the tray on the radiator for a few days.

The power company took down a big maple in my front yard.  It’s a sad sight.

This morning, I made some bug repellant.  Having had Lyme disease and living in a state where it has reached endemic proportions, I have to admit it scares me a bit.  I take precautions.  I don’t want to douse myself or my dogs with pesticides so I’ve been using something home made instead.  I add 25 drops of rose geranium essential oil to 4 ounces of Jojoba and keep it in a dark, glass jar.  I  apply the mixture all over myself before getting into my gardening clothes. Other essential oils can be added but  rose geranium is reputed to repel tics.  Jojoba is a good carrier.  It lasts longer than a water based carrier.  It’s light, easily absorbed by the skin and has the benefits of being antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and  offers nutritive benefits as well.  It never goes rancid because technically it’s a wax, not an oil.   After gardening, all my clothes go right into the washing machine.  I immediately take a shower.  It’s an annoying routine but better than getting Lyme disease again.   So far so good!

Cabbage Patch, Calendula & Diamataceous Earth

I may have been a little over enthusiastic in sowing the seeds for my cabbage patch.  I have over 60 little plants.  Cabbage is great for saurkraut, of course,  and if you make your own you can add all sort of good things to it…carrots, kale, onions..even oranges.  Delicious!  I like to stir fry cabbage in coconut oil. It is  sweet, a little crunchy and doesn’t smell like sulfur when cooked this way.  Onions, fresh garlic and sea salt taste great with it.   Pea pods make a great addition too.

I have a lot of calendula started too.  Fresh calendula petals added to stir fries, salads..even fruit salads make things look pretty and add extra nutrition.  Dried petals retain their shape and color when added to glycerine soaps, vinegars and oils.  In the garden, they  are workhorses and make terrific companion plants.

I notice the fruit flies beginning to hover and multiply over my seedlings.  A little food grade Diamataceous earth sprinkled on the potting bench will take care of that problem in no time.  It’s non toxic and safe for pets.  Once it gets wet it is no longer effective. In the past, I’ve had issues with ants and japanese beetles in my old house.  Last year I sprinkled Diamataceous earth in all the windowsills, along the perimeters of the cellar and on top of the beams.  It really worked .

Speaking of Cabbage Patches and little sprouts…my daughter is having a baby!  The first grandchild!  I added the last stitch to this happy little quilt last night.

Hyssop , Cactus Sprouts & Roof Rakes

This is what a roof rake looks like.   It has come in very handy.  I’m getting a lot of needlework and painting done in these long, cold nights.  My cactus seeds sprouted into 7 little cacti so far.  Still holding back on the major seed starting but I can’t resist starting a few early trays.  I planted some blue hyssop.  The bees love it but really I’ve planted it for my friend Arthur. When I had my shop, he would cycle in a mile or so every day to visit me .  On his 80th birthday, he brought in a cassette player and some big band music and asked me to have a birthday dance with him.  He loved Blue Hyssop.  It will bring happy memories and good energy to my garden.

Home remedies, Starting seeds & a Pug

Schools are already being cancelled for tomorrow because another foot of snow is supposedly on its way!  Milk sold out today at the grocery store but they have plenty of cactus seeds.

May 31  is the date here when we are deemed safe from frosts.   I save all plastic containers that can be used to start seeds indoors.  A  large, screw in hook is a handy device to create drainage holes.  It easily makes a hole in thick or thin containers without cracking the plastic.  It’s too early to start seeds for my garden but I thought it would be fun to try sprouting some cactus. (cactusses?, cacti?)

There’s been a lot of  cold and flu remedies, natural antibiotic and ‘master tonic’ recipes floating around on the internet.  I’m not sure I would subscribe to those claims but the ingredients looked interesting so  I made a quick vinegar tincture with garlic, ginger, horseradish and a little bit of  hot pepper.  That combination will surely open the sinuses but I’m thinking a couple spoonfuls would  give a good punch to a smoothie, dipping sauce or salad dressing.

I think our dog  Harvey might be feeling a little depressed over getting another snowstorm.

 

 

odds & ends

I’d rather be gardening….but that is a long way off !  Reading this morning’s  post of  one of the bloggers I follow, Johnwhays, renewed my resolve to enjoy these cold winter days and put them to good use.

I finished a pillow I was making and it adds a cheerful note to this funny chair that I painted and reupholstered earlier.  I removed the back from some earrings I had and gorilla glued them onto the ends of the arms.   I don’t go for “high style” here, (obviously, lol),  I lean more toward the whimsical….things that make me happy

I made my weekly batch of kefir in this big, 8 cup glass jar. For any of you out there that want to make your own kefir and haven’t gotten your own kefir grains or don’t want to deal with maintaining them..dehydrated kefir starter works great and it’s quick and convenient. Eventually, I will get a hold of some live kefir grains  but this is  fine for now.

A while back  I learned from another blogger, Agnes from Gaiainaction , that it’s possible to start plants from  grocery-store bought ginger and tumeric  and that she had done it.  I potted some up and will keep them moist.   Hopefully, if I can keep myself from poking at them, they will be growing in no time!

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Away with the Grey

The grey was getting to me.  Dark skies,freezing rain, slush…my daughter laying on the couch eating contraband poptarts..lights off and TV blaring… ugh, too depressing

Gone are the days when I could turn off the television and set her onto something productive so I lured her up from the couch and away from poptarts with the offer of an afternoon of beauty.  We started off with yoga….I have a nice instuctional video that has waves and sea gulls in the background. It drowned out the sound of sleet pelting our windows. Then, I mixed up an avocado and honey  facial. It was easy to make and  our skin felt  refreshed and rosy.  (it was a little chunky and awkward to apply, next time I’ll run it through the blender).

Next came  the “Dead Sea Detoxifier and Relaxant”.  In other words, a hot bath with sea salts added.  I added 2 tablespoons of castor oil to 1 cup of Dead Sea Salts.   Castor oil doesn’t  leave the greasy residue in the tub like the other oils.  Epsom salts can be substituted for the Dead Sea Salts and castor oil is optional.  The salts are high in minerals which are absorbed  by the body during the bath.  There’s a good amount of magnesium which relaxes muscles.  I added some lavender oil to the mix and lit a beeswax candle near the bathtub.

While my daughter soaked away, hopefully leaching some of the college toxins out of herself,  I spent the rest of my ‘afternoon of beauty” looking at garden catalogues .  Lavender and honey in the air, poptarts in the garbage..

Warm from the inside

 

I woke up to snow this morning! I never checked the weather report so it came as a complete surprise. I guess I’ll spend some time shoveling today before everything turns into a frozen, crusty mess..it’s still soo cold.
Yesterday I made a good, warming soup. A bunch of kale, 2 carrots, 2 small potatoes, a tuber of tumeric and a 3 inch chunk of ginger root all went into a pot with homemade chicken stock. Everything was brought to a boil and then simmered until the carrots were tender. When it cooled down a bit, I pureed the whole lot. It tasted good.. a little,spicy, warm and kind of exotic to my New England taste buds. Sea salt, black pepper and a teaspoon of coconut oil made it even better. I’ve been trying to think of ways to incorporate fresh tumeric into my diet..it has so many health benefits: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and there’s a lot of studies showing it may improve brain function and increase endorphins. I’m in! Maybe I wont feel crabby and sore from shoveling this snow:)
My daughter is still home with me for a few more days. Last night we watched the first of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy together and we turned this year’s Christmas cards into next year’s gift tags. Tonight is part 2. I do love having her back home.

Homemade Christmas Gifts

My house felt like a Christmas workshop up until Christmas Eve. The carols were playing, sewing machine whirring and the house was filled with the smell of warm cookies, beeswax and herbs.
All my homemade gifts were done on time. Cotton pillow slips and floursack towels were embroidered, washed and ironed. Beeswax votives came out clean and sweet, their wicks straight and trim. The rosebud and lavender drawer sachets smelled like my summer garden and so did the lavender soap. My daughter’s painting was finished, framed and varnished.
The last of the baking, apricot pastries, went quickly so I had time to try out a new recipe. I saw these Almond Bars on Everyday Cheer and I knew they would be delicious and easy… they were!
Christmas Eve was rainy and chilly but it didn’t matter. We had a fire crackling away, a delicious dinner and everyone was filled with a happy, expectant feeling.

Loose Ends


This has been a busy week! Mostly I’ve been cleaning, organizing and tying up loose ends so next week I can focus on Thanksgiving. Then our Christmas season begins. So exciting!
Oranges are tasting good right now. Citrus shouldn’t be composted but I don’t throw away the peels. The oils are naturally antibacterial and they smell so nice and fresh and clean. I spread them out on some paper and as they dry I add them to  white vinegar in a big jar. Soon this will be filled with the dried peels and in about 4-6 weeks, I’ll strain the peels out, put the liquid in a spray bottle and I’ll have a good, natural cleaner that won’t smell like salad dressing.
The tinctures I made this summer were all ready to be strained, bottled up, labeled and put away in the medicine chest. One of my favorites is lemon balm. It’s such a safe and gentle herb and it is said to have anti viral properties and be mildly relaxing. The tincture picks up that green, lemony scent. It’s delicious as a tea but it’s properties aren’t retained well in drying. It’s very easy to grow, kind of takes over really, but for some reason the tinctures and essential oils are  pricey in the stores. I think it would make an excellent cordial- another project for next year.

There’s going to be a lot of cooking, baking and holiday projects going on here. I arranged a separate work space for the projects because I’ll need my kitchen free. It’s been fun organizing my sparkly bits and pretty patterns and arranging it all together. Just looking at everything gives me so many ideas! The sewing machine will take up a permanent residence in the midst of it from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas week. This is such a wonderful time of the year!!!

November- Wormwood & Apples


Wandering outside in the garden today, Silver King Artemesia caught my eye. It’s a Wormwood, one of the few things harvested in November and I had almost forgotten about it!  I snapped a few stems and within minutes had them wound into a simple wreath. It has a fresh, clean scent. I hung it in the kitchen, on the door leading to my spooky old cellar.
Tomorrow, I’ll gather the rest of the Silver King. Dried, it makes a great addition to sachets, being a powerful moth and insect deterrent. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties so I use it to make a simple household cleaner. I fill a glass jar with fresh or dried wormwood and citrus peels and completely cover everything with white vinegar, so all the herb is submerged. This mixture sits for 4 weeks and is shaken daily. Then the herb and citrus are strained out of the vinegar and it’s all done. All this will take no time at all but today I had other plans.
I had a big basket of local organic apples and wanted to use them while they were fresh. I made apple turnovers. They freeze really well and are worth the effort. I used organic, non hydrogenated vegetable shortening and butter to make the pastry and rolled it a little thinner than I would for a pie. Also, I mixed a couple tablespoons of arrowroot flour in with the apples, sugar and cinnamon. That thickened the juice as the fruit cooked so the crust didn’t get wet or soggy. So delicious!
 

Kitchen works & Garden Update


This morning, I had a few chores that had to be done before I could go outside.  I  dug up Valerian root yesterday and wanted to get it cleaned and tinctured.  After a lot of soaking and rinsing, it was ready to be cut, crushed and set into grain alcohol.  Valerian is a great herb, one of the few sedative herbs that is actually nutritive for the body.   In rare cases it can cause excitability but I find it to be a good sleep aid. That may come in handy as I’ll be helping my Dad move out of my childhood home very soon and possibly in with me.   Valerian has a bad smell, sort of a sweet, decaying scent.  The whole house smelled of it, kind of disgusting.

Next was kombucha.  The batch I made 10 days ago was ready to drink and a new brew started.  I grew my first scoby from a store bought bottle of GT kombucha  almost a year ago.  Since then, I’ve accumulated a lot of scobies  and compost them in the garden.

Elephant garlic needed separating before being planted.  These came from a local farmer that I met last weekend at our annual garlic festival.

Once outside, I started some fall cleanup in the garden.  I picked a couple of things and then began prepping the garlic patch.  Suddenly, the sky got dark and rain came pouring down.  ugh

Herbs in the Home

One year ago, I was putting up “Going Out of Business” signs in the windows of the little store I had for 9 years.  I carried a lot of organic herbal products that I made and packaged myself. Many of the ingredients were grown in my own gardens.  It was a LOT of work making it all on a large scale and adhering to strict, high quality, organic and sustainable standards that I wanted to maintain. I gave up the whole business and selling part of things, but I still make everything for my home and my family. I thought it would be nice to start sharing some of the recipes of the things I make on this blog.

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This time of year, I used to sell a lot of herbal sachets. They are little bags filled with dried herbs that naturally repel mice and insects, particularly moths. They are used in dressers, linen cupboards, closets and packed among clothes and blankets in storage. They can also be used in suitcases, tossed in a sleeping bag or sent off to college in the clothes bins.
I make them with dried herbs from the garden. Lavender is one of the main ingredients because I love the fragrance and it is a natural moth repellent. I use lots of peppermint and pineapple mint. Any type of mint is fine. It acts as a fixative and is an insect and mouse repellent. Ground orris root is a fixative as well. It has a subtle, powdery floral scent and one tablespoon of orris root is added for every 5 cups of dried herb.  If orris root isn’t handy, no worries, mint will set everything up just fine. Dried rose petals go into the mix too. Dried citrus peels or chamomile flowers add a nice note. There is no set recipe here, the key is to make mint about 1/4 of the total mix.


Mix all the dried herbs in a bowl. Essential oils can be added, if you like. A tablespoon of vegetable oil for every 5 cups of ingredients can be added to enhance the natural fragrance of the herbs. Loosely fill muslin, drawstring bags. They can be used multiple times. Little bags are easily made using fabric scraps too.

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Garden Update, Echinacea root tincture

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Some of the trees are bare and I’m ankle deep in leaves.   Nights are cold and the days have been warm.  I’m watching the temperatures, hoping for more red peppers before the first frost. Cabbage will soon be sauerkraut.


I tinctured some Echinacea root today. This is a chunk of root from a 3 or 4 year old plant. What’s left will grow back nicely in the spring.
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It’s best to use grain alcohol when tincturing roots or bark. There’s no need to dry the root first. It actually makes a superior tincture with fresh root. Wash the root well, cut and macerate the pieces and follow the same procedure I describe for the whole plant tincture.

The tomato patch is looking grim but the fruits are still ripening on the vines. There are still a few bright spots in the gardens.


This season is coming to an end but I’m still picking a few things every day.   This has been a wonderful year in the gardens and I’m already excited and making plans for the Spring.
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Mullein

Mullein;  Verbascum thapsus

Mullein; Verbascum thapsus

I was surprised to see Mullein being sold with the perennials at my local garden center. They are beautiful plants, I let them grow wherever they will in my gardens. They are actually biennial and they self sow readily. The leaves are used most often. The flowers and root are used as well but the seeds are toxic.

The most common use for mullein is as a cough remedy. Continue reading

Calendula

Calendula flowers

Calendula flowers

Today I am harvesting my beautiful Calendula flowers!

Calendula is a tender perennial,  an annual where I live and so easy to grow.  I see them in 6 packs at garden centers, the seeds are sold everywhere.  They germinate very easily and quickly so I usually just direct sow them right outside in the garden.  No matter what type of gardening season we have, they always seem to come through with lots of vitality and a profusion of blooms.   They are wonderful in the vegetable garden because Continue reading

How to Make a Whole Plant Echinacea Tincture

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Echinacea is one of the best known herbs. It is so easy to grow and naturalizes beautifully. It attracts butterflies and bees to your garden and the birds love the seeds in the fall. Medicinally, it is widely used to ward off a cold or to give a boost to the immune system. Herbalists value it for its anti-inflammatory properties. It is also reputed to help alleviate toothache. The whole plant is safe to use and a tea can be easily made from the flowers and leaves. Continue reading

Borage Tea

“Borage for Courage” was the motto for this beautiful herb.   Tea made from the flowers and leaves is a traditional, gentle remedy used to relieve stress or anxiety.  Fresh leaves and flowers are used, as most of this delicate herb’s imageproperties are lost in drying.

Borage Tea:  Boil 1 cup of water per 1 Tablespoon of herb.  Pour water over the herb and let steep for 30 minutes.  Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired.