Saturday, February 28, 2015

Almost Over and Some Rosemary Talk!

We Have Blue Sky Today, But Still Cold!
Well, I can say with certainty that I will not miss this February nor winter for that matter.  While we didn't get all of the snow that New England got, we did have one of the coldest Februarys on record here in the 'Burgh.  Brrr!  I really think I have had a brain freeze as well.  While I started off the month getting a bunch of little projects done, I have come to a grinding halt and haven't gotten much done at all for the last two weeks.

And winter isn't done with us yet.  Tomorrow we are getting a snow and rain event.  I think maybe a bit more rain than snow hopefully.  But who knows.  Looking forward to seeing the entire garden and looking for signs of herbal life soon.  Hopefully it is spring where you are, we are not quite there yet!

BTW, we (Kathleen Gips and I) were talking about our rosemarys on the windowsill on Facebook this morning and this next bit of time is when you can lose a rosemary in the blink of an eye.  Mine are still doing fine on the western windowsill.  Hope yours are doing well.  Here is an article from Mother Earth Living about The Essence of Rosemary: Help Rosemary Survive the Winter.  Talk to you next month and maybe I'll be out in the herb garden!

Prostrate Rosemary Still in Bloom!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Celebrating the 2015 Herb of the Year-The 411 on Summer Savory and Winter Savory, Part Three!

One of My Herbal Favorites, Homegrown Herbs!
Well, since it is brutally cold outside and the ground is covered with snow again, let's continue our celebration of the savories, both summer and winter!  Here is one of my favorite contemporary herb books, Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung from 2011.  In this book Tammi gets right to the point about each herb.  So here are her thoughts.

Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis)  grows to 12 to 20 inches as a small, bushy plant.  It is covered with pale lavender flowers that look like it sparkles with all of the blooms.  It is an herbaceous annual, but if it likes its location, it will reseed itself.  So I would call it a half-hardy annual for me.  The several times I have grown it in my herb garden, it has been happy enough to reseed into a some hedge.

Summer savory is from the Mediterranean region so it prefers hot and dry.  It does well in my herb garden. So I guess it can withstand clay soils and humid conditions.  Sow seeds indoors and they will sprout in about two weeks.  You don't need to do anything special to have the seeds germinate.  Transplant them outside in late spring.  Plant 10 to 12 inches apart and water lightly to moderately.  They do well in full sun or partial shade (I would say morning sun and afternoon shade if possible.) and well-drained soil.  Again, summer savory does well in our clay soils.

Harvest the stems of the plant throughout the summer even after it begins to bloom.  Summer savory is a wonderful seasoning for lamb, potato and green bean dishes and use just a touch in your salad.

Medicinal uses include that summer savory is recommended for digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts.  It is also used for throat conditions and skin health.  You can use it both fresh and dried.  Home herbalists make infusions, traditional tinctures and a cider vinegar tincture from summer savory.

Winter Savory (Satureja montana)  is a native to Turkey and North Africa and is a hardy evergreen herb with lovely white flowers in mid to late summer. 

It is a woody plant that grows to about 12 inches in height with purple, blue and "occasionally" white flowers.  I have only had winter savory bloom white.  I have come to realize that winter savory does get through very cold winters like the winter of 2014 killed my two existing winter savories.  I didn't realize that I had lost both of them until I started doing research for this series.  So maybe winter savory needs to be in a container for me, especially the ones that are hardy in the higher zones.  It is also tolerate of acid soils.

Propagation of seeds is very successful when started indoors and then transplanted in the garden in mid to late spring 12 to 15 inches apart.  Once transplanted give them low to moderate water.  Winter savory works well in combination with hyssop, lavender, thyme and sages.

Cut the aerial parts of the plant with clippers.    It is most used in culinary use for soups and stews.
Winter savory also goes with cabbage, potatoes and other root vegetables.  The dried herb is used to cover the outside of goat cheese.  The flowers of both summer and winter savory work well in butter and are delicious with vegetables.

I really like Homegrown Herbs and if you have not seen it, maybe it should be included on your wish list.  Well, the cold weather and snow aren't going to let up now for the last couple weeks of this month at least.  Will probably just keep giving you the herb books I have been reading and what they say about the savories!  So make yourself a cup of herbal tea and join me on our savory adventures!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It Is FREEZING Here! There Are Signs of Hope Though, Herbally Speaking!

Chives Are Making a Comeback!
We are very cold here today!  Coldest we have been this year to date.  Looking out at the future forecasts, there is a sign that spring will be here eventually.  The chives bless their herbal stems are poking out of the ground.  We are at least sunny but windy and cold.  It will be interesting to see what will survive.

Have just been doing other projects that need to get done.  Got my order from Renee's Garden Seeds last week.  Our favorites, nasturtiums and sunflowers.  We have to do our vegetable seed order this week to Johnny's Selected Seeds or Pinetree Garden Seeds, two of our favorites.  So if you don't hear from me, don't worry, still thawing out!  Talk to you later. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Dynamic Garden, Herbally Speaking in the Herb Quarterly Magazine, Spring 2015 Issue!

The Spring 2015 Issue on Newsstands Now!
Really I don't think I have been this excited about an issue of Herb Quarterly magazine for a long time.   In this particular issue (Spring 2015) there is an article called The Dynamic Garden by a Canadian writer, Sheryl Normandeau who talks about "dynamic accumulators", herbal ones and how they replenish the soils nutrients by using them as green manures, mulches and composts.  This is not a brand new concept, and I had always heard about comfrey as a super herb for the compost pile.  I just hadn't heard about the other herbs.

First of all you want to take a soil test.  Ideally that would have been in the fall so all of the amendments could have had time to be incorporated for spring planting.  Spring is also an acceptable time as well.   There are lots of DIY tests but the one I would recommend is through your local extension office.  You pay a reasonable fee and get the kit and take several samples in the garden you want to test and then send that bag to the designated university testing laboratory.  You get your results in the mail or maybe even online in about two weeks.

My Favorite Organic Gardening Book!
My favorite book in discussing organic gardening principles is by Doug Oster and Jessica Walliser called Grow Organic.  A very down to earth (pun intended) read and by my first horticulture teacher, Jessica Walliser and her radio partner and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist, Doug Oster!  Horticulture was one of my favorite classes when I got my certificate at Phipps.  I remember Jessica would come into class, stand in front and would grab her notes so tightly.  She would then start talking and would not quit for 2-1/2 hours!  She is a dynamo!  She gave the best soil lecture ever.  Here are some of the points you need to remember.

All dirt is made up of sand, silt and clay.  You can't change the soil texture, but you can change soil structure.  Structure is how those particles, sand, silt and clay stick together.  How they stick together determines how water, air and nutrients get around in the soil.  You want to use organic matter whenever possible, because only one to six percent of a soil sample is organic matter.  Balance is important in your soil and don't use the same organic matter each year, mix it up.

Remember nitrogen is for green leaves, phosphorus makes roots and fruits and potassium improves vigor and hardiness.  Some of these dynamic herbal accumulators are thugs in the garden so what better use for them than to reincorporate them back into your soil!

Now back to the article.  I'm only going to talk about a few accumulators and hopefully you will go buy the issue and read about the rest of them.  Garden accumulators either have taproots or fibrous roots that reach down or out to grab nutrients.

Borage (Borago officinalis) is a happy problem in our garden as it invites pollinators in (especially bees), but its large taproot is difficult to transplant in other locations in the garden.   Its taproot works to break up compacted soils and then stores potassium.  If it is happy, it reseeds readily.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) My gardens are being overrun with this dynamic accumulator.  Their fibrous roots reach out in the upper soil layers and store phosphorus.  I don't always get around to harvest as much as I should during the year.  Maybe this will be incentive for me to help my soil.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) I have started to grow my mints in containers.  This is one that is still in my garden and I will leave it now that I know it accumulates potassium and magnesium.  It is also a great companion plant when planted amongst the cabbages and other members of the cabbage family may deter the white cabbage moth.

Even Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis) and Winter Savory (Satureja montana) are dynamic accumulators of potassium.

There are several more herbs discussed in the article like the savories that are not spreaders.  You can use these accumulators both fresh and dried.  Once the gardening season is over, you can chop up the accumulators, leaves, stems and roots and add them back into the soil.  You may also plant the spreading accumulators near the compost bin so you have easy access to putting them right into the compost pile.  You can also use them as you go in the growing season, especially if it is a perennial accumulator, such as lemon balm or peppermint.  Don't take more than one-third of the plant.  Just as you wouldn't take more than that for harvesting during the growing season.

So thanks Sheryl Normandeau for writing such an interesting article.  Well, I hope I have peaked your interest to go and get the current issue of Herb Quarterly.  Hopefully, you can find it on the newsstands.  Not many of those left!  My local grocery store usually carries it.  Barnes & Noble also carries it.  Thanks for reminding me, Linda!

We are having springtime weather.  It really lifts the spirits.  Getting the seed orders in.  Hope you had a great day.  The Herbal Husband took me out for an early valentine's dinner!  Talk to you later.   

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Scenteds Inside!

'Goldfinger' on the left; 'Mabel Grey' on the right
'Lemon Meringue'
'Wooly Peppermint' Top
'Wooly Peppermint' Bottom
'Lemon Balm'
'Lemon Crispum' is Struggling!
When I flipped the 2015 Herbal Calendar this morning to see February's topic, it was scented geraniums or pelargoniums.  We are always running around the herb garden trying to dig up the plants we think will make it inside for the winter.  Sometimes we make great decisions and others not so much.  We have never had too much success with pineapple sage or Peruvian sage coming inside.  The Peruvian sage was blooming beautifully this year when we brought it in and then collapsed once it got inside.

We do take cuttings of scenteds, but sometimes The Herbal Husband likes to dig the whole plant.  I have found with scented pelargoniums that they need a bright light source to survive the winter.  The Herbal Husband always is trying to prove me to be incorrect!  We don't have much window space in this house that is south or west.  East has the Christmas (Thanksgiving) cactus on it.  West has the upright rosemary and a prostrate rosemary.  So the south window in the living room has three scenteds, from the left 'Goldfinger', which was used by Victorians in finger bowls to perfume the water, 'Mabel Grey' "a stronger less sweet flavor from larger leaves and overall plant size from 'Lemon Meringue'" as described in the Mulberry Creek Herb Farm catalog which is shown in the second photo and then 'Lemon Meringue' which is very, very upright and columnar in shape and has a very intense fragrance of lemon.  It also has a stiffer leaf.

So the next scenteds described are in the basement with artificial light.  'Lime' is doing OK because it has that extra bit of cuticle on the leaf and is shaped like a small shrub.  I know that's not the right word, but it has leaf structure similar to the 'Lemon Meringue'.  Then the 'Wooly Peppermint' which should have collapsed by now and hasn't.  A couple of years ago, it was in the exact same spot in the basement and went to one or two leaves.  It was moved to the garage and it came roaring back.  This one will get a big trim before it goes on to the patio because it has become spindly on top.  We don't put the 'Wooly Peppermint' into the garden, because it is the one scented pelargonium that needs shade.  The other lemon scented in the basement is 'Lemon Balm'.  It is again very upright and it just smells like lemon balm without all of the seeding!

The last photo is of a two year 'Lemon Crispum' which is on life support.  It struggled in the basement and when I finally spotted it and moved it to the garage, it was too far gone.  So that upper left corner is still alive and we will take cuttings and start again.  Here are the propagation from stem cuttings tips from Jim Becker & Faye Brawner's book, Scented Geraniums.

"1.  Fill a 2-1/2-inch (6-cm) pot with a soilless mix for each cutting that you plan to take.  Very lightly settle the mix with your fingers and then water the pot until the excess trickles out of the drainage holes.  The soil should now be about 1/2 inch (1 cm) below the rim of the pot.

2.  Select a healthy, established stock plant from which to take the cuttings.

3.  Select actively growing shoots that are firm and not floppy.  You can take cuttings throughout the growing season, but success is more certain in spring and fall.  Don't use the oldest woody (brown) portions of the stem.  Each cutting should include at least three stem nodes, but four or five are better.  A node is the point on the stem at which the leaves are attached.

4.  With a single-edged razor blade (especially good for thick stems) or very sharp scissor-type gardening shears, make your cut just above a node on the stock plant.  If the stems are long enough and you need more propagating material, you can also take cuttings below the tip.  Don't leave a stub; it can become a target for disease.

5.  Recut the cutting to just below its lowest node.  This is the spot where root formation is best.

6.  Remove the leaves from the stem that will be under or chose to the soil surface.  it is best to bury at least two or three nodes.  Also remove any stipules that are found at the base of the leaf stems, since these can rot if buried.

7.  With a sharpened pencil, make a hole in the center of the soilless mix deep enough to bury the lower nodes and insert the cutting.  Settle the soil around the cutting by gently rewatering the pot.

8.  Place the potted cuttings in a spot out of the wind or direct sunlight.  If the weather is cool, place them on a heating mat.  Rooting is quickest and most successful when the soil temperature is 70 to 80 degrees F. (21 to 27 degrees C).  The soil should be kept evenly moist through out the rooting process."

Really scented pelargoniums do very well inside in our winters.  They do very well on our drafty old windowsills and give you a breath of summer when you need it.  There was a lovely article about scenteds in the latest issue of Country Gardens magazine.  They were offering a cookbook and of course, I had to have one.
The Scented Leaf Cookbook by Betty Mathers
It is clock full of all kinds of recipes using scenteds written by Betty Mathers of Iowa.  One of my friends, Elizabeth on Facebook suggested that I could start using the cookbook already because I had some scenteds inside!  Guess I should get busy!

Today (February 2) 'Mabel Grey' Decided to Bloom!
We didn't get a whole lot of snow yet.  Maybe the worst is yet to come.  Hope you are staying warm and cozy wherever you may be.  Thought I had better do a bit more posting than I did in January.  Will try!  Doing a lot more reading which could translate into posts!  We will see.  Talk to you later.