seed saver

Register for our Gardening Workshops at The Cracked Pot Homestead!

Cracked
Here are the workshops we are currently offering…you can register below…..

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Edible, Organic Container Gardening for cool season veggies and herbs

2 dates available…..Thursday, August 14th (6pm-8pm); and Saturday, August 16th (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

This hands-on workshop will give you the know-how and confidence to grow a kitchen garden container that will impress your friends and family and give you lots of healthy produce. Take home a small container you planted yourself.

You don’t need much space to grow something healthy to add to your dinner plate. A patio, deck or front porch may be the perfect place to grow veggies, small fruits, herbs and edible flowers.

We will learn about:

  • Containers, type and sizes that are best
  • What type of soil to fill them up with
  • How to lighten them up
  • Starting with seeds or transplants
  • How to use companion planting
  • Natural fertilizers
  • Watering practices
  • Edible plant combinations
  • Best way to sow seeds in containers
  • When to harvest

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Tomatoes – Canning, drying and Freezing

2 dates available…..Tuesday, August 19th (10am-noon); and Saturday, August 23rd (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

Tomatoes are one of the most prolific and easiest of the garden produce to preserve and use all winter long. We will put our aprons on and get right into all the ins and outs of harvesting, peeling, cooking, water bathing, sterilization of jars and equipment for the canning process.

As long as we are on the subject of tomatoes, lets make an easy Italian sauce using fresh herbs from the garden and oh ok, we will make some salsa too.

We will also learn how to freeze tomatoes and then the best way to dry them so you can have plenty of tomatoes for those months when the summer garden is just a memory.

***Take home a jar of tomato goodness along with some recipes.

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All about teas

2 dates available…..Thursday, August 21st (6pm-8pm); and Tuesday, August 26th (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

We all love our tea, especially sweet tea here in the south…but there is so much more.

Come explore all the possibilities and learn how to brew the perfect cuppa tea. We will cover tisanes, simple medicinal tea, pleasure tea, sun tea, cold infusion, hot infusion, and decoction. Learn what plants make the best tea for medicine and which part of the plant to use, aerial parts, nuts, berries, roots and when to harvest for best results. We even have ways to herbally sweeten tea.

***This is a hands on class, we will gather materials, make teas, sample teas…talk about teas…did I mention this was all about teas?

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Pesto Party

2 dates available…..Thursday, August 28th (6pm-8pm); and Tuesday, September 2nd (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

Pesto is a sauce that was made traditionally with a pestle and mortar in Italy using 5 main ingredients…Basil, olive oil, nuts, garlic and hard cheese. We now use blenders and food processors to get the same delicious results. Plus many different vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds can be incorporated to make variations of the original pesto sauce. This is an easy and nutritious way to spice up any meal as a condiment or as a stand-alone sauce for pasta using fresh produce from the kitchen garden.

We will go out into the garden to collect and discuss flavor combinations of herbs and veggies to make our pesto. After gathering up what we need we will make different kinds of pesto, sweet and savory. There will be lots of eating, laughing and discussion of pesto adventures.

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Grow your own medicine chest

2 dates available…..Thursday, September 4th (6pm-8pm); and Saturday, September 6th (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

Learn what herbs to grow and use for poison ivy, stings and bites, tummy aches, headaches, colds and other maladies.

Hands on simple ways to use them to treat your family naturally. We will learn the proper way to make medicinal tea from herbs that you can grow yourself in your garden or containers. We will learn when to harvest, how to dry them and will also make a salve to take home.

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Lemon Herbs

2 dates available…..Tuesday, September 9th (10am-noon); and Thursday, September 11th (6pm-8pm)…..$45.00/person

You know the ones I’m talking about, Lemon Verbena, Lemon balm, Lemon grass, lemon Thyme and more. The flavor is so intense and so summery and everyone loves them…but, what to do with them all. A natural question I get all the time.

So…I decided to put together a class to demonstrate all the wonderful things you can do with these lemony herbs. From tea to cleaning products to spice mixtures to yummy tea sweets, to bug deterrents to the bath and beyond! We will explore all the possibilities. Of course you will take home something you help make and recipes so you can re-create.

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The Incredible Edible Yard

2 dates available…..Tuesday, September 16th (10am-noon); and Saturday, September 20th (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

So many edible plants so little time. Take a walk on the wild side and learn about the edible plants already growing in your yard. From trees to weeds your yard is brimming with nutritional wonders right before your eyes.

We will sip tea and watch a power point presentation in our air conditioned barn, then we will trek around my backyard to see what it growing for some hands-on foraging experience.

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Propagation, the Art of Multiplication in the Garden

2 dates available…..Wednesday, September 17th (10am-noon); and Saturday, September 27th (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

Save $$$ by learning to make more plants through the art of propagation.

One of my favorite gardening hobbies is propagating new plants. There is something magical about clipping a piece of green plant, sticking it in water, soil or pearlite, or laying a branch on the ground and presto in a couple of weeks roots emerge and a new plant is born. Trust me it can be addictive!

I think I inherited this trait from my Grandmother who was always cutting, rooting or sticking seeds in the ground or in a pot.

In the gardening world, to propagate simply means to multiply plants by the use of seeds, cuttings, division or layering. This is great news if you are looking for ways to shave a few bucks off your plant budget, fill in your garden beds, produce gifts for your gardening friends, pass along a heritage plant, reproduce a plant that is hard to find from your friend or neighbor’s garden, or just can’t bear to throw all those pruned clippings away.

The two methods we will concentrate on are cuttings and layering. These are two easy ways to propagate from existing plan We will go out into the garden and take cuttings to propagate and layer existing plants to make more. This is a hands-on class and you will be able to take home a soon to be new plant (s)

Examples may be Roses, hydrangea, boxwood, woody herbs and perennials

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Shrub Vinegars

2 dates available…..Thursday, September 18th (6pm-8pm); and Tuesday, September 23rd (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

Shrub you say? Yes! It is an old fashioned way of making flavored vinegars for drinking and just one more way to use what your kitchen garden or local farmers produces. The word “shrub” is derived from the Arabic sharbah, which means “a drink.”

This is a hands-on class to learn all about this trendy old-new twist on herbal, fruit, spice and even vegetable infused vinegar. Refreshing in summer drinks (alcoholic or not) while adding nutritional and medicinal value.

We will learn the cold process and heat process method and the best part is you can take a jar of shrub and recipes home with you!

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Simple medicinals

2 dates available…..Wednesday, September 24th (10am-noon); and Thursday, September 25th (6pm-8pm)…..$45.00/person

There are those who believe mixing a number of herbs together will give you that ‘magic bullet’ approach to wellness. But what if I told you about a simpler way to use herbs?

What if we trade the complexity of many herbs for the simplicity of getting to know one herb that can do the work of many herbs? Let’s explore the one herb at a time reasoning because it gives us a chance to really understand an herb wholly.

We will talk about using herbs the God put all around us for our benefit and just how easy it is to use them. We will learn the best ways to use these simple herbs and how to make a tincture using the folk method that you can take with you.

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Become a Seed Saver

2 dates available…..Tuesday, September 30th (10am-noon); and Thursday, October 2nd (6pm-8pm)…..$45.00/person

If you find seeds in your pockets before doing laundry or in the cup holder of your vehicle or you just can’t resist plucking a spent flower or bulbous seed capsules on your plants or someone elses…you might be a seed saver. Collecting and saving seeds is an age-old way of ensuring crops and flowers for the future.

Okay now that you have admitted it, why not come take a class in the what, where, when and why of seed saving. Seed saving is easy but not always fruitful. Some seeds are sterile, some cross the minute you turn your back (yes there is a lot of hanky panky going on in the garden) and some need to go through a process to germinate. Then there is the “is it an heirloom” question and what if it is a hybrid?

Do you know the best way and place to store seeds? And, what about all the GMO stuff? These are just a few of the things we will delve into and there might be some seeds in it for you too ;)

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#8 coldframe under snow copy#8 coldframe under snow copy#8 coldframe under snow copySustainable Kitchen Gardening Year ‘Round#8 coldframe under snow copy

2 dates available…..Thursday, October 9th (6pm-8pm); and Saturday, October 11th (10am-noon)…..$45.00/person

Keep the goodness growing even in the winter months…with a little planning and timely planting you can grow something to eat every day of the year. We will go over a power point presentation first, then go out into the garden and gain some hands-on experience.

I will show you some proven ways from my own garden that have been successful for me, including raised beds, poly tunnel, row covers, coldframes, etc …Ideas you can use in your garden.

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We reserve the right to postpone (change dates) for weather or unforeseen reasons, we will contact you in advance.

Click to Register for Workshops via Email

 

Directions to Workshops
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Email Cindy with questions or comments

3 ingredients, mullein flowers, minced garlic and olive oil

Make your own Mullein Ear Oil

 

mullein, verbascum thapus

mullein, verbascum thapsus

I took great care to bring one mullein plant with me when we moved to our homestead.  Even thought Mullein,Verbascum thapsus, is a wild

herb that grows here and there along country roads and hillsides, I wanted to make sure I had one conveniently located in my herb garden.

Ironically, another plant came up after I claimed my new gardens and built beds in an old horse paddock. I was thrilled.  Mullein is a bi-annual

so the first year is a fuzzy rosette than the second year a towering gray-green leafed monster with fat flower spikes taller than me.  Such a drama Queen

in the garden, shouting ‘look at me’!

mullein flowers- harvest in the morning just after dew has dried

mullein flowers- harvest in the morning just after dew has dried

She is lovely and I pluck her flowers regularly to make ear oil.

Mullein flowers make a wonderful ear oil to sooth inflammation, aches, itchiness, help loosen wax build-up and with the addition of garlic (natural antibiotic) fight infections.

Old-timey ear remedy for man and beast, dogs, rabbits, goats, even cats – although they are a bit fussier.

3 ingredients, mullein flowers, minced garlic and olive oil

3 ingredients, mullein flowers, minced garlic and olive oil

So easy to make…3 basic ingredients:  Fresh Mullein flowers, fresh clove or two of garlic and olive oil

Step one:     Pluck fresh flowers in the morning just after the dew is off.  (I used only about 1/4 cup of flowers for this batch)

Step two:    Chop one large clove or two medium (per 1/4 – 1/3 cup oil approx)  (I used one large clove and about 1/3 cup oil for this batch)

fresh flowers can be added as they open if needed

fresh flowers can be added as they open if needed

Step three:  Place the chopped garlic and flowers in a jar and cover with olive oil and put the lid on.  I sometimes add additional flowers to the mixture as the plant produces them if I think I need to.

Step four:  Label jar with date, amount of ingredients

Step five:  Set the mullein garlic oil in a warm spot (atop refrigerator, water heater, sunny window sill) for about 3 weeks, swirl it (or lightly shake) jar every couple of days if you think about it

Step Six:   Strain mixture through cheesecloth, old tee shirt, unbleached coffee filter into a glass jar with lid – nice if you have a jar with the dropper in the lid.  Label and date.

***I made a small amount – 1/4 cup flowers, 1 large clove of garlic and about 1/3 cup olive oil is what I used.  You can make bigger batches if you need to – just make sure to use enough oil so no plant material is uncovered.  I don’t refrigerate mine but you can.  I date the bottle and keep in a cool dark cabinet for 6 months to  a year unless it starts to mold or smell funny

Use a couple of drops in ear as needed laying on side with ear up long enough to allow oil to get into ear.  Place a cotton ball in ear to catch excess oil.

Oh what a relief it is!

 

 

 

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Make Jelly from Queen Anne’s Lace

I have always loved Queen Anne’s lace, wild carrot, Dacus carota. She was supporting cast in the first short story I wrote for a college creative writing class. My future husband used to go to a sweet little flower garden called Rowe’s garden in Charlevoix, MI to buy flowers with Sweet Pea and Queen Anne’s lace for me when we were dating. On the way to our church rehearsal he stopped to pick me a bouquet from a patch of these roadside lacey flowers to carry down the practice aisle (the beginning of many romantic adventures)

basket of foraged herbs

basket of foraged herbs

After Several days of rain, the sun peaked out this morning so I was off to the meadow (some would say pasture or field) to harvest the first blooms of this incredible herb. Some folks are worried that they might confuse this plant with a deadly one called Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum). Both are in the same family and have white umbel type flowers and look similar in stature. However there are so many differences that once you know the facts, it is easy to confidently identify Wild Carrots.

***If you are ever in doubt about harvesting wild plants…don’t until you have positive plant identity.

Here are some ways to know the difference:

Queen Anne's lace growing in my garden.  Notice the bloom (going to seed) in center that looks like a bird's nest

Queen Anne’s lace growing in my garden. Notice the bloom (going to seed) in center that looks like a bird’s nest

Wild carrots smell like well carrots, especially the root – our garden-variety carrots probably came from this wild plant. A tall biennial plant (3-5) feet with hairy stems and alternate two-pinnately divided with narrow segments. This herb grows in dry fields or meadows in full sun to part shade. You will see it often growing along roads. The flowers are umbrella-shaped white cluster (resembling lace) and often have a dark purple to reddish spot in the middle (Queen Anne’s blood from legend) which was designed to call in pollinators…pretty cool, eh? The blooms appear from summer to autumn When the flower is finished it rolls up like a bird’s nest (another common name) and the seeds look like dill or fennel seeds. If you choose to grow this herb in your garden, cut the flowers and use them or she will reseed happily everywhere. I usually grow one or two in my garden for the beauty of the flower and arrangements but harvest from nearby fields.

Notice the smooth stems with purplish blotches or stripes, an quick indication of poison hemlock plant

Notice the smooth stems with purplish blotches or stripes, an quick indication of poison hemlock plant…photo credit King County Gov

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a biennial that can grow to 10 feet the second year, usually likes a wet or moist area but I’ve seen it growing in other places. The stems are smooth, hollow, and hairless with purple blotches and/or stripes. The leaves are 1-16 inches long (1 leaf per node) compound and fern-like (resemble parsley) with a musky, urine or mousey- like scent when brushed against. The while umbel flowers (1-3 inches in diameter) bloom in late spring to summer. The root is a long white taproot with fibrous secondary roots (similar to parsley), seeds are pale-brown oval, flat on one side, wavy ribs on the other. All parts of this plant is highly toxic to people and animals and was reportedly used as a means of executing criminals in ancient Greece. Socrates is said to have died from hemlock poisoning.

Queen Anne’s lace, Dacus Carota is actually an edible herb. The roots can be eaten like carrots (best in early spring). The whole plant can be dried when it begins to bloom (for infusions or tea). Seeds can be gathered in fall to be used in medicine and to flavor soups and stews. The flowers can be fried like fritters for a carrot-like flavored side dish. The flowers also make a delightful jelly that is delicious on homemade biscuits or muffins fresh out of the oven!

Queen Anne’s Lace Herb Jelly

Adapted from a recipe in Dorry Baird Norris’s Cookbook ‘ Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook’

Dorry used to live here in Franklin, TN and would teach fun herb classes in her home. Fond memories…

2 cups very firmly packed Queen Anne’s lace flowers, cut from the stems.

4 ¾ cup boiling water

3 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 package of Sure-Jell light

4 ½ tablespoons lemon juice

Rinse flower heads in cold water to encourage bugs to vacate.

Snip the flowers and pack until you get 2 cups worth than place in a bowl or I used a 2 quart mason jar.

Pour boiling water over flowers, cover container and let steep for 15 -20 minutes Strain the flower and liquid through a coffee filter.

Measure 4 ½ cups of infused flower tea and pour into large non-reactive pan.

Mix ¼ cup of sugar with surge-jell light and bring to a full rolling boil, quickly stir in remaining sugar and bring back to boil. Stir constantly and allow 1 minute of boil.

Remove form heat and stir in lemon juice. Skim foam from top with a metal spoon and pour into hot jelly jars. Clean the top lip of jars with a damp paper towel. Cover with sterile lids and seal. Some folks will water bath for 10 minutes but I usually don’t since I used hot sterilized jars and lids. This recipe made 6 jelly (1/2 pint) jars with a little left over for tasting.

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ENJOY!

tuwanda

Tea Garden in a Pot!!

Click below to view my gardening segment for this week on Nashville Channel 5.

A short ad will appear ahead of the segment…so please be patient.

Thanks to Tuwanda Coleman and the NewsChannel5 team!

http://www.newschannel5.com/category/125220/video-landing-page?clipId=10209345&autostart=true

tuwanda

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Make a Sustainable Okra Seed Angel

Saving Okra seed is as easy as picking mature pods (way past their prime) and letting them dry. Many folks use these cool pods for craft projects like Christmas Decorations. So this past year I decided I would make these re-useable, multi-purpose ‘Okra Angels’ for gifts.

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They are easy to make:

  • Use a hot glue gun to attach two Bay leaves on the okra pod for wings
  • Make tiny wreaths just by winding Sweet Annie branches (Artemisia annua) into circles to form halo
  • Glue a raffia loop to the top and Okra angel is ready to hang on tree or cabinet knobs, door handles, chandeliers, etc

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After the holidays are over:

  • These angels can be placed in pantries or closets since Bay leaf is a natural insecticide for moths and weevils that love to live in the pantry
  • Sweet Annie is a natural moth deterrent so perfect for closets.

Late Spring when its time to plant warm season crops:

  • Break the Okra angel open and collect the seed

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  • Soak the seeds overnight in water to help break down the thick coating for faster germination

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  • Plant the seeds in the garden

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A great way to save seeds while enjoying them all year long!

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Thanks for watching me on News Channel 5 “Talk of the Town” today!!

1517395_651063861629053_7037173892185367637_nMany thanks to Tuwanda Coleman and the Talk of the Town team for inviting me on the show!

For more “Cracked Pot” wisdom please check out my book shown on the right side of the page.

Attention Homeschool Families: Come to my Workshops at Fern Top Nature Preschool!

Where:  Fern Top, 7731 Fernvale Rd, Fairview, TN  37062

When:   May 2 and May 15, 2014

Time:    10am to noon

Cost:     $5.00 per person or $25.00 per family

(NOTE: Special low pricing to support homeschool families)

Bring:    Insect repellant, lunch, drink and a discovery attitude

Register:  Pre-Registration required at hyssophill@aol.com or 615.294.7088

  

Friday, May 2nd 10am

Eat Your Yard!

Join me on a walk around Fern Top to help identify plants that are edible, medicinal or play an important role in sustainable gardening practices.  We will collect plant material as we do this to bring back to the pavilion to make a mini herbarium to take home.

 

Thursday, May 15th 10am

Herbs Herbs Everywhere

I will be exposing the truth about herbs that grow all around us.  She will talk about plants that you may be familiar with but don’t really know what to do with them.  After we discuss how to grow these herbs, we will come back to the pavilion and make easy nutritious herbal snacks to show how easy it is to incorporate herbs into our daily lives.

Purchase Workshops below via PayPal

Individual @ $5.00/ea click below

Family @ $25.00/ea click below

Please tell us which Workshop you want to attend by clicking “Special Instructions to Seller” in PayPal

 

 

Learn more about Fern Top Nature Pre-School at www.ferntopnaturepreschool.com

crown or root - looks like a sea creature

Asparagus, Planting the Crowning Glory of the Kitchen Garden

Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis is a perennial vegetable in the onion family that I look forward to each spring in my kitchen garden.  This vegetable brings back memories of my childhood when I had to help pick a half-acre every other morning for weeks in the spring.  My mother assured me that it would whittle my waistline and keep me limber. That promise didn’t mean much to a sixteen year old but now I hope its true as I tend my own asparagus patch.

Buying asparagus at the store is usually expensive and sometimes tough and wilted; why not grow your own crop?  It will give you something to look forward to during the cold gray days of winter.  Once you’ve had fresh homegrown asparagus you will wonder why you waited so long.

Since we have moved and I couldn’t take my asparagus with me, I ordered 50 crowns to insure we are ‘putting down roots’  in our new kitchen garden.  I ordered Jersey Supreme (great all male crowns for warmer climates) from  Nourse Nursery http://www.noursefarms.com/  and went to work.  I dug down deep in two 6′ x 6′ raised beds placed where my chickens coop and yard had been…seems like a good start for most anything don’t you think? In one of the beds I totally dug down the entire area and layer the crowns in an intensive zigzag pattern and in the other I dug trenches – we will see which works best.

 Planting and growing asparagus is easy once you understand the basics of this perennial herb.  Here are some tips to get you started:

 Where to plant:  Choose a sunny site that receives 6 hours of full sun or all day-dappled sun that can be left undisturbed for at least 15-20 years. Although beautiful in the garden, asparagus once it goes to seed can shade sun loving plants so consider planting it on the North side of your warm season crops.

Soil: Prepare the bed, as far in advance as possible to be sure it is weed and rock free by planting time.  Add sand and compost for good drainage, a raised bed works well.  Be sure to test the soil, as asparagus likes a pH of 6.5-7.5

When to Plant:  Early spring as soon as the soil can be worked…when a handful of soil crumbles nicely.

Start with seeds: Asparagus can be started from seed indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost.  Harden off and transplant young plants into the garden in the spring. Easy to do but if you are inpatient like me you will probably want to buy roots or crowns.

How to Plant crowns:

In garden soil:

  1. Dig a trench 8-10 inches deep by 18 inches wide.  If your soil is heavy or has lots of clay don’t dig trench as deep.  Add a couple of inches of mixed rotted manure, compost and soil.

2.  On top of that lay the asparagus roots in a zigzag pattern 10 to 12 inches apart.  This forms a wider row of about 2 feet.

3.  Cover roots with a couple inches of soil and water well.

4.  Each time the asparagus starts coming through the soil, add two more inches until the trench is once again level with the    ground.

spread the roots out and lay with the buds up in the trench

spread the roots out and lay with the buds up in the trench

 In a raised bed:

  1. If you are planting in a raised bed simply dig a large and deep enough hole for each crown and follow trench directions or
  2. Start with a new raised bed and dig the whole area below ground level.  Lay the crowns in a zigzag pattern and follow directions above.  I find in a raised bed I can place the crowns closer together as it is a more intensive way of gardening in general.

 

 

shovel a couple of inches of soil on top of crowns and water well.

shovel a couple of inches of soil on top of crowns and water well.

***Buy crowns that are 2 to 3 years old from a reliable farm or nursery. The crowns are long with lots of fingerling roots that look like some kind of sea creature.

A bundle of 25 crowns from the nursery

A bundle of 25 crowns from the nursery

 

crown or root - looks like a sea creature

crown or root – looks like a sea creature

Fertilizer:  Add compost spring and fall or add a 10-10-10 fertilizer when picking is finished (follow directions on package or figure 10 pounds per 100 foot row).

When to Harvest:  A full harvest is usually not permitted until the third year (depending on how old the crowns are to start with).  The rule of thumb is; pick none the first year, some the second, tons the third year.  When the spears are about the thickness of your finger and tall enough that the head is still tight (6-8” tall) they are ready to pick.  Gently bend the spear over until it breaks easily.  This way of harvesting leaves the typical tough end you have to cut off from the grocery store in the garden.

After a rain the spears will need to be washed a couple of times in cold water to get the sand and dirt off from under the little triangle leaves on stalk.  Give each spear a good sloshing action in the water.  A thin layer of mulch in the spring should remedy gritty asparagus.

It is always best to eat asparagus while it is fresh but it will last up to a week in the refrigerator if you bunch the spears with a rubber band and stand them in a container with water in the bottom.

When to Stop Picking Spears: stop the harvest when the spears get spindly and woody and allow the remaining spears to shoot up and leaf out (look like ferns) reaching a height of three to five feet.

 Cut the dead asparagus ferns to the ground in late winter or early spring (if you have a lot you can use the lawn mower), rake them up and burn or dispose of to kill any leftover pest eggs trying to coast until spring when they can raise havoc.

 Water:  An inch or two per week during the first year then only during dry spells like the rest of your kitchen garden.

Pests:  The asparagus beetle is the major pest.  This troublemaker usually shows up in April and May so be on the lookout for him and his friends before they become a problem.  Kill and destroy organically by hand picking or use an organic pesticide like Rotenone spray.

Companions:   Basil and parsley.

Varieties to Plant: For heavier soils try ‘Jersey Knight’, for warmer climates, ‘Jersey Supreme’.  For fun try ‘Purple Passion’ which is not the most productive perennial vegetable but it is worth some space in the asparagus patch just for its color.  These tender spears will be something to look forward to each spring and make a delicious addition to salads.  As with most color packed veggies, the color may fad with cooking but the flavor remains.

If you love asparagus plant at least 10–15 crowns per person.

Because asparagus needs a cooling off or dormant period, it is tough to grow in zone 9 and warmer.

Maintain weed control in the asparagus bed, it is easy to forget about this area of the garden after the harvest is over.

Benefits:  If you are looking for a healthy vegetable/herb to eat, asparagus is hard to beat for nutrition.  It is so low in calories that by the time you chew and digest it you are looking at negative numbers on the calorie scale.  Loaded with fiber it helps to lower “LDL” cholesterol and has a healthy dose of anti-oxidants, B-complex and K vitamins along with plenty of folates and minerals.

Asparagus is a cleansing, bitter herb that helps the kidneys, bowels and liver.  Because this plant contains asparagusic acid, it helps the body rid itself of internal parasitic worms and toxens.  Eating Asparagus may help with cystitis, kidney disease, rheumatism and gout.

Note:  Don’t worry if your urine has a strong stinky smell in as little as 15 minutes after eating a few spears.  It is caused by the asparagusic acid and is perfectly normal.

Preserve:  The best way to retain flavor and color is by freezing.  Canning will give you a fair product.  Pickling is a wonderful way to can asparagus and add extra flavor with herbs and spices.

Simple ways to prepare asparagus:  The easiest way is to simply steam the spears, whole or cut up for about 8 minutes or until they are just tender.

Roasting on the grill or in the oven with a little lemon balm or lemon grass infused olive oil brushed on is another great way to prepare the stalks.

Cut up raw asparagus and add to salads.  Serve spears on a vegetable tray with a dip or make a veggie wrap.

 

Mom’s Creamed Asparagus on Toast

  • 4 cups asparagus spears cut into 1” chunks
  • 4-5 cups milk
  • 1 T butter
  • 2T cornstarch or 3 T flour dissolved in about ¼ water or less –
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook asparagus in water till tender (don’t overcook), drain water.

Add milk and butter.  Heat until milk is hot (don’t boil).

Add cornstarch mixture gradually until milk is thickened.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on buttered toast or hot biscuits.

Growing up, we ate asparagus everyday while it was in season.  Creamed and served on toast or biscuits was a quick and filling meal.

 

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking…do I really need a living roof?"

Singing the Real Estate Blues

When we moved to our farm, we were greeted by Eastern bluebirds, who perched on the wire fences on both sides of our driveway.  One pair started making their nest in the eve of the barn but after careful consideration opted for another place to nest.  They probably figured that out after the first downpour and looked for a slightly used woodpecker hole nearby. Perhaps they were new parents.

We decided this year (1st of March) to put up bluebird nesting boxes in hopes of giving our lovely neighbors homes of their own that would be ideal locations for them.  I never realized what particular home shoppers bluebirds can be.  I’ve observed several pairs going in and out of the four nesting boxes, checking out everything and seemingly not settling on any one of them….yet.

One nesting box that a friend gave me for my birthday last year has a living roof…so cute and apparently tasty as the squirrels have eaten most of it this winter.  I placed it on the corner post of our deck thinking that the little wren who sings his heart out everyday for me on that post might be interested in getting hitched since he could present his bride with this solid home in his favorite hangout.

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking…do I really need a living roof?"

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking…do I really need a living roof?”

Alas, the bluebirds found it and have been considering it and shooing away every other bird who even looks in that direction.  Mind you it is not an ideal place for the Eastern bluebirds who prefer open meadows where they can scan for insects (up to 60 feet) and to top it off, these colorful crazy bluebirds are constantly peering in our house as if they are considering it as well.  I will look up and there are four beady eyes looking at me.  Its like they have sticky feet adhered to our windows. If they weren’t so pretty I might think about a restraining order for stalking.

I know the male is supposed to wave around some nesting material then head on in and the female is suppose to follow and the deed is as good as signed but I haven’t noticed this.  What I have observed is both male and female enter at one point or another while the other watches closely for troublemakers.  This goes on for a couple of hours then nothing.  Later on another couple comes and does the dance.  I can tell them it won’t suit them because of all the human activity going in and out onto the deck but I don’t think they want my opinion.

Mr. Bluebird checks out the real-estate while the Mrs. waits in anxious anticipation

Mr. Bluebird checks out the real-estate while the Mrs. waits in anxious anticipation

My hope is that bluebirds will fill all the bluebird houses that we have put up for them and many happy bluebird children will enjoy our farm as much as we do…  and if they eat a multitude of Japanese and cucumber beetles (or any other problematic bug) in the process, well that wouldn’t hurt my feelings.

"Well?  How's it look?"

“Well? How’s it look?”

"This door is a little snug"

“This door is a little snug”

"But, is it in the right neighborhood, what's the bug population here?"

“But, is it in the right neighborhood, what’s the bug population here?”

 Cool Facts from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/eastern_bluebird/lifehistory

  • The male Eastern Bluebird displays at his nest cavity to attract a female. He brings nest material to the hole, goes in and out, and waves his wings while perched above it. That is pretty much his contribution to nest building; only the female Eastern Bluebird builds the nest and incubates the eggs.
  • Eastern Bluebirds typically have more than one successful brood per year. Young produced in early nests usually leave their parents in summer, but young from later nests frequently stay with their parents over the winter.
  • Eastern Bluebirds occur across eastern North America and south as far as Nicaragua. Birds that live farther north and in the west of the range tend to lay more eggs than eastern and southern birds.
  • Eastern Bluebirds eat mostly insects, wild fruit and berries. Occasionally, Eastern Bluebirds have also been observed capturing and eating larger prey items such as shrews, salamanders, snakes, lizards and tree frogs.
  • The oldest recorded Eastern Bluebird was 10 years 5 months old.
  • Nesting Facts
  • Clutch Size
  • 2–7 eggs
  • Number of Broods
  • 1-3 broods
  • Egg Length
  • 0.7–0.9 in
  • 1.8–2.4 cm
  • Egg Width
  • 0.6–0.7 in
  • 1.5–1.9 cm
  • Incubation Period
  • 11–19 days
  • Nestling Period
  • 17–21 days
  • Egg Description
  • Pale blue or, rarely, white.
  • Condition at Hatching
  • Naked except for sparse tufts of dingy gray down, eyes closed, clumsy.
A rose that once covered the well house at Hyssop Hill in Franklin that came with the Henderson family from England with the first settlers of this country.

Roses R Herbs

Roses are herbs, who knew?  They are the world’s most beloved and sought after blooms and have captured the imagination of many artists and poets throughout time.   Yet not many people know that the flowers, leaves and hips (seed pods) of this incredible plant have been used for centuries to cure everything from depression to infertility and all manner of other maladies.  The scent of roses preserved in essential oils is used in skin products and aromatherapy to soothe our souls.

(A rose that once covered the well house A rose that once covered the well house at Hyssop Hill in Franklin that came with the Henderson family from England with the first settlers of this country.

at Hyssop Hill in Franklin that camwith the Henderson family from England with the first settlers of this country.)

It is said that Cleopatra wasn’t really a beautiful woman but she knew how to use the powerful scent of roses to swing Antony’s attention her way.  That is why she had tons of rose petals strewn on the floors of the palace and covered her body with rose oils and lotions so that the scent would waft into the air and do their job to make the strongest of men lovesick. 

To this day roses represent romance and love.  Unfortunately most of the scent has been hybridized out of typical florist’s roses in favor of big beautiful blooms on strong stems that will stand up in modern arrangements.  Thankfully there are many old roses available on the market today that are rich in scent just like the ones we remember as children growing in Grandmother’s garden.

Rose petals have long been used as food.  I’ve read that the Romans actually grew roses for food and steeped rose petals in wine as a cure for a hangover. 

 My grandchildren and I like to test roses in my garden to see which one tastes better.  They all have their own ideas. One likes ‘Maggie’ an old garden rose (OGR) that has a lovely aroma and another likes the ‘Dortmund’ (a red climber from the 1950s) and one thinks double blooming knockouts are the tastiest.  We gather rose petals to make sandwiches on crust less bread slathered in cream cheese for our tea parties on the back porch.  We also add them to salads, which makes eating vegetables way more fun.basket of roses collected from our collection

A few years ago Jim Lonwrote a book called ‘How to eat a Rose’ and in it he gives you ideas and recipes for using roses in the kitchen. Jim shows you how to use garden roses to make rose petal jelly, cakes, cookies and refreshing drinks.

Rose water is easy to make yourself from fresh or dried aromatic rose petals (organically grown) and can be added to yogurt, cake batter, drinks, and rice or frozen into ice cubes and served in ice teas.

Simple Rosewater

  • • Cut 18 to 24 fresh, fragrant roses in midmorning (dried rose petals also work well).
  • • Remove petals and rinse with cold water in a colander.
  • • Place petals in a large enamel or stainless-steel pot with a tightly fitting lid.
  • • Pour just enough boiling water over the petals to cover them.
  • • Put the lid on the pot and steep until water cools.
  • • Pour liquid into a glass container with a lid and refrigerate overnight.
  • • Strain out petals and store rosewater in a glass jar with lid in the refrigerator.

Suggested Uses:

  • • Pour rosewater into ice cube trays until frozen, and then pop them into a freezer bag. Use rosewater ice cubes to add flavor to culinary dishes or drinks.
  • • Fill a spray bottle with rosewater and keep it in the refrigerator to spritz yourself after a hot day in the garden.

Rose water can be used in lotions, baths or keep some in a spray bottle in the refrigerator to give yourself a cool, refreshing, skin softening spritz after working out in the garden.

Rose hips – the orange or red bulbous seedpod left after the rose bloom is long gone is full of vitamin C and may help keep your immune system strong during the flu and cold season.  Harvest in the fall and dry for winter use in tea, jam, fruitcake and even wine.   During World War II School children collected rose hips to make vitamin C syrup when citrus fruits were unobtainable.

rose hips

For crafters, roses fresh and dried hold all sorts of possibilities from potpourri to wreaths to the making of rose beads.  Fresh garden roses are of course beautiful in arrangements or floated in a bowl of water.

 Roses are easy to grow and come in so many sizes and forms that I have never understood why Gertrude Stein would say; “A rose is a rose is a rose”.  Part of the beauty of roses to me is the fact that they are all so different.  In fact I now understand why so many people who grow roses have so many.  It is hard not to start collecting. 

This rose was passed along to me from my friend, Norm…it has been in his family for as long as he can remember

This rose was passed along to me from my friend, Norm…it has been in his family for as long as he can remember

If you are just getting started in rose growing, decide what you want in a rose then do some research.  Think about space and amount of sun.  Do you need to grow up on a trellis or tree or want to cover an arbor or do you have an area where you can create a living fence of shrub roses?  

 Do you like the old scented varieties?  Maybe you would like a thorn-less rose or a rose that blooms all season long.  Color and shape of flower might be important to you.  Perhaps you want a rose to use medicinally or one that will produce abundant hips.  

 Are you willing to spray fungicides and other chemicals on schedule to get the perfect rose?   I don’t spray poisonous chemicals on my roses so they are safe to eat. A rose may not live in my garden if I have to fuss over it because I am not willing to spend that kind of time on black spot or any other disease issue.  There are so many wonderful carefree roses that are happy to follow my rules that I long ago pulled up fussy roses and burned them.  

 Most of my roses are old or antique or new varieties like ‘knock-out’.  I also have old roses that I have observed in other gardens and asked for cuttings because I liked the way they behaved or they have been passed along from friends and family.

Found at my husband's family homestead in Northern Michigan…thought to come with the family from England in the 1700s.

Found at my husband’s family homestead in Northern Michigan…thought to come with the family from England in the 1700s.

 Often times a rose can be part of our heritage and passed down through the generations.  I have three special old roses, two climbers and one shrub that date back several generations.

 If you want to grow the traditional roses used medicinally plant an Apothecary’s Rose, R. gallica ‘Officinalis’.  For roses with plentiful hips you can search the countryside in old fence lines for runaway dog roses, Rosa canina.  This rose is often used as a rootstock for grafting hybrids, especially in England and has naturalized here in this country.  Both of these are easy to get started by digging up a piece of sucker or you can order from companies that sell old roses.

Found this runaway Dog Rose, Rosa canina growing in a fence line.  This rose has been used medicinally since Roman times.  In the fall it will be covered in bright orangish hips… Herb of the Year worthy indeed.

Found this runaway Dog Rose, Rosa canina growing in a fence line. This rose has been used medicinally since Roman times. In the fall it will be covered in bright orangish hips… Herb of the Year worthy indeed.

 

Most old roses are easy to propagate with cuttings.  This is how I do it:  Use new growth (summer) that is cut about 6-10 inches in length just below a leaf node.  Strip off a set or two of leaves and bloom if it has one, scrape up the lower section of stem where the leaves were attached with a clean sharp pair of clippers and stick it in a container of pearl lite (or other soil less medium).  I don’t use any root tone product but you can. 

 sweet pea Sweet Pea has a lovely scent and blooms all summer.

Set the container of labeled cuttings in a shady spot if it is in summer and move to greenhouse, cold frame or garage in the winter so they don’t freeze.  Keep moist. Test for roots after several weeks by gently tugging up ever so gently until you one day you feel resistance and the leaves will start growing.  Not all of my cuttings take but the percentage is pretty fair.

 Just to let you know how easy this is, I took cuttings once from a friends rose and stuck the tips in a moist paper towel in a plastic storage bag and forgot all about them until two weeks later when my son comes in from the van carrying this bag of sticks and asks if I was planning to do something with them.

 They looked like they still had some life in them so I made a fresh cut at the bottom, pulled off some wilted leaves, scraped them up and stuck them in some soil less mix, watered and set them in the greenhouse.  To my surprise three out of the six rooted nicely.  It is one of my favorite roses and I have no idea (nor does my friend) what kind of rose it is.

Roses like well-drained soil (pH of 5.5 to 6.5) with lots of organic matter so their roots can easily spread out and grow.  Most prefer full sun but some can handle part shade.  You can plant roses in the spring but remember to keep them well watered in the heat of summer.  Planting in fall is a great time in the south so that roots can develop before the heat of the next summer.  Fertilize with good compost or 5-10-5 product about a month after planting.  Monthly feeding with fish emulsion or compost tea is nice.  I usually add compost around the base in early spring and forgetaboutit.

 DSC_0348

Rose pests include thrips, leaf hoppers, aphids, rose slugs and my personal favorite, Japanese beetles.  Dormant oil in early spring can smother insect eggs before they hatch.  Garlic, garlic chives and feverfew are good companions for roses to help discourage bugs. I like to pick off Japanese beetles and plop them into a container of vegetable oil or just hold the container below and tap them and they dive right in.  My Jack Russell gets all the ones at the bottom.  If you are considering a trap, put it as far away from your roses as possible because it will call the beetles in but they will usually have a little dinner before heading into the contraption.

 If your rose gets black spot or mildew and can’t bear to get rid of it…you can try to organically treat it by making a spray of baking soda and water, 3 Tablespoons per gallon of water and needs to be reapplied after rains.  It also helps to keep the area under rose free of old diseased leaves.  Always water roses at the base and early in the day is best.

 Michael Shoup of Antique Rose Emporium once said in a lecture I attended that we should all relax about our heirloom roses and allow them to ebb and flow with the seasons.  Try to plant roses with other perennials and shrubs so that if they go through a time of not looking so pretty it’s not so noticeable.

Nothing says welcome to my garden like a Lady Banks in early spring

Nothing says welcome to my garden like a Lady Banks in early spring

 

Pruning roses is easy and the best way to learn is to just do it.  I like to prune mine in late winter.  I first take out any dead canes or anything that is crossing or wildly going off in the wrong direction.  I then start cutting just below leaf nodes going in the directions I want and according to the overall shape of the rose.  I make cuts with a slight angle.  Cleanliness is important so in between roses I dip my pruning tools in a container of rubbing alcohol to disinfect.

 After the first flush of blooms (if it is a repeat bloomer) I go ahead and cut back again (not as hard, more of a trim). This cuts off old blooms and some of the damage that the Japanese beetles have done.

 When you think about how long roses have been around and all of the great uses this plant offers you can see why it’s the 2012 Herb of the Year!

Known as the sweetheart rose, this 'Cecile Brunner' is a lovely short climber for smaller gardens

Known as the sweetheart rose, this ‘Cecile Brunner’ is a lovely short climber for smaller gardens

 

 Check out your local nurseries for roses or shop online for old roses at

http://www.heirloomroses.com/

https://www.antiqueroseemporium.com/