Sunday, October 19, 2014

Make your own teas from garden grown herbs

Savory in foreground, thyme on left, edible day lilies in background
Sunday, October 19, 2014

You can make your own teas from common herbs growing in your garden or to spice up store bought teas.  A few common herbs you may have growing in your garden for your own home grown tea-bergamot, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, mint, rosemary, sage, stevia for sweetening, thyme.

Bergamot, or bee balm, has a scent reminiscent of Italian bergamot orange.  You can dry or use fresh, steeped for 10 minutes by itself or add to store bought black tea to give it the same type of flavor as Earl Gray tea.  Bergamot was used as a tea substitute in the colonies after the Boston Team Party in 1773.  Its flowers are also a great bee attractor and come in white or numerous shades of red and purple.  Native Americans used it as spice for fowl and medicinally for its antiseptic properties, headaches, fever, and upset tummies.  Bergamot is of the mint family so can be aggressive in the garden.  M. didyma contains the highest concentration of oil.  

Chamomile is used in potpourri for its scent, in supplements, tonics and teas for its calming properties, in facial steams/hand soaks to soften and whiten skin.  Use the flowers fresh or dried for tea.

Lavender leaves or flowers can lend a floral note to teas.  Lavender tea is used to sooth nerves, headaches, and dizziness.  Its use as a potpourri is legendary.  It is also great to put in closets to not only provide great scent, but also protect clothes from moths.  It is also used as an antiseptic tonic for acne or to speed facial cell renewal.  Lavender is also a typical ingredient in Herbes de Provence.

You can also make a syrup from lavendar to add to desserts, adult beverages, homemade sodas, and teas.  Boil 6 stalks of lavender in 2 cups of water and 1 1/2 cup of sugar at a simmer for 15 minutes.  Let sit in refrigerator overnight, strain into bottle and keep refrigerated. 

Mint comes in many flavors-grapefruit, pear, pineapple, lemon, lime, and orange.  There is even a chocolate mint!  Mint will take over a garden if left to its own devices.  Either put a ring around it at least 3” deep to keep it from spreading underground, cull runners frequently or put in a pot.  Mint loses much of its flavor when dried so fresh is your best bet.  Bees love mint flowers!

Other herbs that impart a citrus note are pineapple sage, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon grass.  Pineapple sage is used for depression and anxiety, to aid digestion, and is antiseptic and antifungal.  Lemon balm tea is commonly used for cold relief and to relieve tension and depression.  Fresh leaves have the best flavor.  Lemon verbena is also used for cold relief, upset stomach, and is mildly sedative.  It is a wonderful addition to potpourri and is grown as an annual.  Lemon grass is a tropical plant which any part of the stem can be used as a tea.  It is considered revitalizing and antiseptic.

I have not found a rosemary that survives the winter here in our Zone 6, but I keep trying.  ARP and Barbeque are two types that are rated down to Zone 5 that I am growing this year.  I am going to add some extra straw cover in early winter to give them more protection.  I just love the scent of this herb and as an addition for cooking.  Rosemary is thought to aid in digestion and joint pain.  Use fresh or dried.

Thyme is thought to be beneficial for hangovers, digestion, coughs and colds, along with being one of the staple culinary herbs.  Teas can be made with fresh or dried leaves.  English wild thyme is the strongest for medicinal qualities, but any can be used.  Thyme also comes in lemon, lime, and orange as well.
Bicolor sage

You can also add a fruit to your tea for a new twist.  A neighbor recently shared that she had some blackberry sage tea that was heavenly.  You can easily make this yourself!  Use dried sage and either fresh or thawed frozen berries.  Simply crush the berries for a teaspoon of juice and add to your steeping sage tea.  Yum!

The only limits to homemade tea from homegrown ingredients is your imagination!  Herbs have so many healthful properties.  It just makes great sense to take advantage of their benefits and taste in warming teas.  A beautiful finishing touch would be to add edible flowers or a sprig of the herb as a garnish.

Stevia is a recent arrival to the US herb scene, but has come on strong in popularity.  It is a super sweet, super antioxidant, with zero carbs, and zero calories.  Stevia is native to tropical regions; it is well suited to container growing.  The trick with stevia is a little goes a long way.  Add too much and it goes from sweet tasting to bitter.


If you want real tea, you can grow tea plants in pots.  They are easy to grow.  Otherwise, there are great herbal options!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What we are harvesting in the garden mid-October

Eggplant, hot peppers, sweet peppers, and tomatoes harvested today


Saturday, October 18, 2014

The garden continues to produce well; more than we can eat fresh.  We are harvesting tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), eggplants, lettuce, sprouting broccoli, sorrel, mustard greens, strawberries, figs, and all herbs.  We are preserving the extra peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and herbs.

Our tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are still yielding well.  For tomatoes, be sure to take all the tomatoes off the vine before it frosts.  You can either wrap the green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool place to ripen, make them into relish, or eat them as fried.  For fried green tomatoes, we like a Cajun batter.  Gives them a nice, spicy flavor.

Any plant that has a disease, do not compost!  Throw away.  Composting may not kill all spores and you could be spreading the disease next season wherever you use the compost.

Peppers love this time of year.  They are native to the mountains so October is perfect for them.  They will continue to produce even after frost.  The Cajun Belle and one of the Pimento pepper plants have died.  I still have the spicy Ancho Anaheim, Poblano, Cayenne, Pimento and Jalapeño peppers that I am harvesting from weekly.   I harvest them when they start to get some color in them and let them finish ripening on the counter.  Removing the fruits encourages the plant to replace them, giving you more peppers.  Peppers get sweeter when they ripen, but are good to eat even when green.  

For the sweet peppers, the yellow banana, Nikita, and Belgian are still producing.  The yellow banana is doing the best right now; it is loaded with peppers.  I would say the best tasting is the Belgian.  The yellow banana and Belgian will be in the garden next season.  I do like the Nikita, but it is a hybrid so it won't come back true to seeds I save from this year's crop.

Basil is doing very well right now.  Basil are very tender annuals and will turn black with the first frost.  Make sure to harvest all the leaves prior to the first frost.  You can dry basil, make it into pesto or freeze it in water.

You can also dig them up and bring them in for the winter.  Place them in a full sun spot.  You can put them back outside again in the spring after all danger of frost has passed.

Dill, sage, rosemary, bay, stevia and tarragon are all robust.  The tarragon maybe a little too robust!  Tarragon smells wonderful.  Even if you can't eat all that you can harvest fresh and dried, it makes a wonderful potpourri.  I just use dried, whole stems in a vase to freshen an entire room.

The greens are doing very well that I seeded in mid-September.  They love this time of year, cool with plenty of rain.

We are also still getting fruit from the garden.  Strawberries are ripe again from the everbearers and Alpine strawberries.  Our fig tree is also still producing figs.


Fall is a bountiful time for gardening.  I have planted many winter hardy varieties of lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, and cabbage to keep the garden producing into December and hopefully beyond.  With the portable greenhouse, we should have greens all winter.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Onions-everything you need to know to grow 'em

Potted Egyptian walking onion

Sunday, October 12, 2014

In America, there are wild Alliums known as wild garlic or ramps.  The onions we cultivate in our gardens today likely originated from a wild Asian onion, but has been grown so long, the road back to the original is lost. Two thousand years ago, there were many varieties that we would recognize today. There were round onions, white onions, red onions, flat onions, long onions, keeper onions, sweet onions, spicy onions. 

Onions have been important for their perceived health benefits in times gone past and proven health benefits today as well as the fabulous taste they add to an array of dishes.

Onions are easy to grow, have little to no pest problems and are a perennial to boot!

Onions have shallow roots, like to be moist, but can’t stand being waterlogged. You should enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. As common sense would tell us, they also like loose soil. Organic matter helps this along. Onions can be grown in the ground or in pots. My perennial Egyptian walking onion has been growing in its pot for 8 years.

In the Midwest, seeds can be started indoors in early February and transplanted outdoors in March. Transplanting should be done 4-6 weeks before the last spring freeze for spring planting.

Since onions are perennials you can also plant in the fall, October for our Zone 6/7 garden. For multiplier type onions or Egyptian walking onions, fall planting will provide a bigger harvest next spring and summer.

The more popular method of starting onions is planting “sets” that are young onions that are put out in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked, just as the daffodils begin to fade.
Bulbing onion flowering in late spring

You can place them close together and pull for scallions until the bulbing onions are 5-6” apart. As the bulb reaches full size, you can pull the soil away from the top of the onion to help the bulb and neck cure for harvest.

You can also plant the bottoms of store bought onions. If you get enough of the bottom, the onion will take root and give you an onion next season.

Onions tell you when they are ready to harvest, when half of their tops fall over. What can be easier than that? Like garlic, they should be lifted rather than pulled from the ground and leave them in shade for about a week to harden. I use a trowel to dig under the bulb and pop them out. You don’t want to knick them or they will not store well. If you do, keep them in the fridge and use them first.
Onions and garlic ready for harvesting

So, how do you choose which onions to plant? The best bet is to talk to your local nursery to see which grow the best in your area for the ones that thrive in your climate.

There are 3 types of bulbing onions-short day, intermediate day, and long day onions. Intermediate and long day varieties have been around for a long time. Short day onions are relatively newcomers.

Onions are sensitive to daylight hours. They start forming bulbs when daylight hours hit a minimum. For long day onions, it is 15 hours. For intermediate, it is 12-13 hours. Short day onions are 9-10 hours.

I would have thought long day onions would be for further south, but this is wrong. The north gets the really long summer days (think of Alaska in June with no darkness). Long day onions should be planted in states north of the Oklahoma/Kansas border (approximately 36 degrees latitude).

Long day onions are planted in states in the northern part of the US. Intermediate in the middle and short in the South.

Short day onions are planted in the fall and form bulbs in the spring. Intermediate and long day onions are typically planted in the spring as sets, not seeds. Seeds require sprouting indoors and transplanting.

So, if you want a sweet onion and live in the Midwest, Vidalias are not the best bet since it is a short day type. A better choice is a Walla Walla or a Sweet Spanish.
Close up of onion flower
The other thing to keep in mind is that, like wine, onions pick up the terroir they are grown in. You can grow the exact same onion as you buy in the store or at a farmers market but have a different taste because of the differences in your soil.

There are many fun onions to grow besides the round ones. There are the flat disk like Borrettana Cipollini or the Red Baron onion that is a red scallion type onion. Of course, there is the onion made famous in French cooking, the shallot-French, Gray or Sante are well known varieties.

Then, there are onions for keeping over the winter like Rossa Di Milano, Early Yellow Globe, Sweet Sandwich, and Granex Yellow.

Onions will also keep over another year. When onions I planted last spring did not get to decent size, I left them over the winter. They gave nice bulbs in the summer.

Another type of onion is the Egyptian walking onion (pictured above in a pot). It is a perennial that you can pull year round. They do not form bulbs. They are about the size of a large scallion or leek, getting an inch or two wide and 3” long bulb. They also grow great in a pot. When they get their bulblets, they remind me of Medusa. Really cool.  You just snap off the bulblets and plant them for more onions next year.  They also multiple underground year on year.

They are one of my must haves in the garden since they can be harvested year round. Their bulb is great as a cooking onion and their greens as a chive.

Onions are a great addition to the garden. They are perennials, easy to grow and have little to no pest problems. I really like the perennial type onions, the Egyptian walking onions and multiplier onions like potato onions. The Egyptian you can just leave in place and harvest from year round. The multiplier potato onion has a very long shelf life indoors for a storage onion. When you harvest it, just leave behind the smaller onions and they will multiply again for next year’s harvest.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

October Garden Planner


Saturday, October 11, 2014

The October garden is very productive.  The summer vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, basil and cucumbers continue to produce at a reduced pace.  The cool season crops like lettuce, carrots, radishes, peas, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are coming into maturity throughout October and into November.

Basil will turn black when it gets close to 35 degrees.  I pull all the leaves when it is forecasted to get close to freezing or any chance of frost.  You can chop basil, put in an ice cube tray and cover with water to then use any time your recipe calls for fresh basil.  It stores best when frozen in water.  You can also make into pesto and place in freezer bags with just enough for a meal.  Gives a whole new meaning to “fast food.”  Pesto is great over pasta, fish, or as a condiment on sandwiches.

Other herbs will do just fine through frosts like parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives, savory, and sage.  It takes good snow cover to stop these herbs.  Many winters you can harvest these herbs the entire season for cooking.

I will wait until it gets down to 32 degrees before I strip off the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  You can freeze or dry these veggies.  Tomatoes are a high acid fruit so you can also easily can sauce from them without using a pressure canner, a stockpot is all that is needed.   Be sure to follow any canning recipes exactly so your canned goods don’t spoil.

Make sure you pull the tomatoes from the vine before the vine dies.  Wondering what to do with the green tomatoes?  You have a couple of options.  You can make fried green tomatoes-yum!  Just use some fish fry seasoning; we like Andy’s Cajun Seasoning.  You can also wrap green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool, dark location and many will ripen.  Check about weekly to cull any that spoil.  They won’t taste as good as fresh off the vine, but are better than store bought.

October is garlic planting month for the Zone 6 garden!  Plant in the waning cycle of the moon.  Garlic loves loose, well-fertilized soil.  Loosen the soil down to about 6 inches, mix in a couple of inches of compost, and plant your garlic cloves about 2-3” deep.  Garlic leaves are one of the first greens you will see in spring.

Now is also a great time to divide any perennials you have, whether they be herbs, edibles or ornamentals.  This will give them all fall and winter to put down strong roots.  Perennial greens (like chard, sorrel, cultivated dandelions, salad burnet) are always the first up in the spring.

It is still not too late in early October to transplant fall crops like cold hardy types of lettuce, cabbage, chard, pak choi, broccoli, kale, parsley or perennial herbs.  Meijer, Lowes, and Home Depot have 6 and 9 packs ready to plant if you didn’t start your own from seed.

To extend the season, you can order a mini greenhouse to cover your pots or a part of the garden you have planted your cold hardy greens you want to harvest all winter.  You can also purchase row covers that cover plants and provides protection from frosts, but not hard freezes.

Winter hardy kale, spinach, Austrian peas, carrots and winter onions don’t need to be covered and can be harvested all winter (as long as the ground isn’t too frozen) and into spring.


I’ll put our portable, plastic mini greenhouse over the greens in my Earthboxes sometime this month.  One watchout with green houses-they get very, very hot in sunny weather so be sure to open them to allow circulation in fall and early winter.  They will need to be closed up when winter really sets in December sometime. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Homemade adult beverages from homegrown ingredients



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bitters are a combination of alcohol, herbs, spices and other flavorings.  They were once sold as medicine.  Today, they are used to add unique, fun flavors to cocktails.  Use your imagination to create your own signature adult beverages!

Bittering agents:  Barberry root, Burdock root bark, Black walnut leaf, Dandelion root, Gentian root, Quassia bark, wormwood

Aromatics: Fresh and dried fruits, Apple peel, Chile peppers, Fresh or dried citrus peel, toasted nuts, Hibiscus, Hops, Lavender, Rose, Allspice berries, Caraway seeds, Coriander seeds, Fennel seeds, Cardamom pods, Cinnamon sticks, Fresh or dried ginger, Juniper berries, Lemongrass, Dried lemon verbena, Dried mint, Black or white peppercorns, Star anise, Vanilla extract, seeds or pods.

Recipe:
1/4 to 1/2 cup main aromatics, or more to taste
1-4 tablespoons supporting aromatics (choose 2-5)
1-4 tablespoons bittering agents (choose 2-4)
1 cup high-proof alcohol (150-160 proof)
1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 2 teaspoons water

Place aromatics and bittering agents in a canning jar and add the alcohol.  Seal and shake well.  Store in a cool dark place.  Shake daily and taste for up to 21 days.

When taste is to your liking, strain through cheesecloth.  Stir in dissolved sugar water.

Keep in sealed jar at room temperature.  Use a dash in cocktails, soda water, coffee, tea, and almost any sweet or savory dish!

You could go on the hunt for old fashioned bitter jars to store them in.  Stored in interesting jars can make beautiful displays or gifts.
You can get a sense of the taste by steeping the combo you are thinking of trying for 5-15 minutes in boiling water.  The only limitation is your imagination!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

What's happening in the early October garden

Dwarf tomato in the background, marigolds in the foreground


Saturday, October 4, 2014

This is a time of year that most summer vegetables are winding down and cold crops are growing strong.  Petunias, dahlias, red hot poker plant, and marigolds are blooming with abandon.  With frost, many summer vegetables will die and cold season crops will get sweeter.

We have fertilized for the last time; fertilizing encourages new growth which is more susceptible to frost damage.  You can also remulch your garden beds to give an added blanket of protection to prolong the season.  The mulch will break down over the winter, providing additional organic matter.

Our zucchini and cucumbers quit producing in the last couple of weeks and the vines are dying.  To extend the harvest, it is a good idea to replanted zucchini and other summer veggies in mid-August to keep these plants at top producing vigor until frost.

This year, I did not plant a second crop.  I have pulled the cucumber and zucchini vines as they have stopped producing.  

Our tomatoes and eggplant are still producing well.  For tomatoes, be sure to take all the tomatoes off the vine before it frosts.  You can either wrap the green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool place to ripen, make them into relish, or eat them as fried.  For fried green tomatoes, we like a Cajun batter.  Gives them a nice, spicy flavor.
Yellow banana pepper

Any plant that has a disease, do not compost!  Throw away.  Composting may not kill all spores and you could be spreading the disease next season wherever you use the compost.

Peppers love this time of year.  They are native to the mountains so October is perfect for them.  They will continue to produce even after frost.  To prolong the season, I put the pots up against the house on the sunny south side.  You can also bring them indoors and they will produce for weeks inside.  My jalapeño produced until January.  When spring comes and you put them back outside, they will get a jump start on producing next year.

I still have Ancho Anaheim, Poblano, Cayenne, Pimento and Jalapeño peppers that are ready to harvest.   I harvest them when they start to get some color in them and let them finish ripening on the counter.  Removing the fruits encourages the plant to replace them, giving you more peppers.  Peppers get sweeter when they ripen, but are good to eat even when green.  None of my peppers this year seemed fast to ripen.  I did get a good many off the plants, though!

For the sweet peppers, the yellow banana and Nikita did very well.  The Nikita was the first to ripen and had many early in the season.  About the time the Nikita slowed down, the yellow banana came on strong.  It is back to the Nikita going strong.  Having the two kept me well supplied in sweet peppers.

I harvested the basil and dried them this year for use in my herbal seasoning blend since I still had a good supply of pesto frozen from last season. The basil plants are quickly regenerating.  You can get several harvests off of in one season.  

Basil are very tender annuals and will turn black with the first frost.  You can dig them up and bring them in for the winter.  Place them in a full sun spot.  You can put them back outside again in the spring after all danger of frost has passed.
Earthbox with sprouting broccoli on left and new lettuce on right

I planted some chard, spinach, lettuce I had started in trays, Giant Red and Ruby Streaks mustards (both are edible), and reseeded Earthboxes with winter lettuce seed mix in mid-September.  

I started seeds in the Aerogarden, a hydroponic seed starting system that has an excellent germination rate.  I also put into flats some 9 Star broccoli.  This is a perennial broccoli.  It looks like a cross between a broccoli and cauliflower plant.  
Week 2 in Aerogarden

All are doing well.  Many lettuce seeds have sprouted.  The transplanted lettuce, spinach and chard are large enough to harvest leaves.

Cabbage, kale, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, chard, onions and other cold crops are get sweeter with cool weather and a nice frost.  If the taste of these are too strong for your palate right now, give them another chance after frost.  Our Egyptian walking onions are lush and green.  The bulbs are filling out nicely.
Tomato on left, Egyptian walking onions on right

This is also the perfect time of year to reseed your lawn or transplant perennials.  I have several perennial herbs started in the Aerogarden to transplant at our lake house.

Many herbs are perennials-garlic, sprouting onions, lavender, oregano, chives, sage, tarragon, thyme, savory, salad burnet, and rosemary.  Last year the winter was cold enough that my bay laurel and rosemary were both killed.  I replanted in the spring.  Hopefully, they will make it through this winter!

Fall is a great time to cut back your herbs.  Save the stems, place loosely in a paper bag, put in a dry location, and in about a month you will have all the dried herbs you and many family members will need for the next year!

We are also still getting fruit from the garden.  Strawberries are perennials.  The ones we planted this spring are sending out many runners.  You can remove the runners and replant where you would like more strawberry plants. The everbearers and Alpine strawberries are still producing berries.  Our fig tree is also still producing figs.
This week's harvest-a variety of peppers, tomatoes, eggplant

Fall is a bountiful time for gardening.  I have planted many winter hardy varieties of lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, and cabbage to keep the garden producing into December and hopefully beyond.  With the portable greenhouse, we should have greens all winter.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hugelkultur gardens-raised mound gardens



Sunday, September 28, 2014

I have read about this type of garden and am definitely go to try it out soon.  Fall is the best time of year to build one!  It is an ancient form of sheet mulching from Eastern Europe.  With this type of raised bed garden, you don’t even need to water.    Hugelkultur is German and means “mound culture.”  It is great way to use fallen trees and brush.

Basically, you build a mound out of logs and brush as high as you would like.  You can dig it in a foot or just lay them right on top of the ground.  Start with the biggest logs you have.  You can build the pile 1-2’ of logs and brush.  Then, stomp on it.  Then add leaves, the sod you cleared for the hugel garden, compost, garden waste, manure, and dirt, making a mounded heap with about 45 degree sides.



The taller the mound, the less the need for irrigation.  Some are over 6 feet tall!

As the logs and brush decompose, they create little pockets and organic matter; tilling and fertilizing themselves.  The garden fertility improves over time and the need to irrigate reduces over time.  You can plant in it the first year, but you will see improved results over time.  To help it along, plant legumes as they are nitrogen fixers.  Peas or fava beans in the spring or fall and green beans in the summer.

The best would be to prepare the hugel garden in the fall so it will be ready for spring planting.  Another way to get a jump start would be to use new wood on the bottom and well rotted wood on the top layer.



You can edge the garden with logs, stones or nothing at all.

There are very few trees that are not the best candidates for this type of garden like cedar, black walnut, any treated or painted wood, black locust, or black cherry.