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

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

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.

 

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.

Simple Ingredients – Simply Delicious Meal

The other night I had two friends stop over in the afternoon, we sat and sipped tea and chatted about all things family and gardening.  It wasn’t long and  I

thought I should be a good host and offer dinner.  To my surprise they took me up on it so off to the garden I went.  I harvested some Swiss chard and kale and thought for

a minute about what I could do with that.  I decided very quickly on quiche since I had lots of fresh eggs in the frig…so great having chickens in the back yard.  I love cooking with friends and family, we talk (food mostly), sip wine or tea, cut veggies, snip herbs …  It is good bonding time and you can’t do this in a restaurant.  Not to mention it is economical and so healthy.

I started out by sautéing onions ( 1 large from garden in storage) and  6 asparagus (cut into bite size chunks) then I added 2 chapolte chopped peppers (in the freezer) top with a fresh paste tomato (picked in October and placed

in window sill to ripen)

While the veggies are cooking it is time to make a quick crust:  1 and 1/2 cup of flour in the bottom of pie pan, add 3 Tablespoons whole flax seed.  Mix together and add 1/2 cup coconut oil melted.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

 

Mix in with fork until blended.  Add 1/4 cup of milk

Blend with fork and finish with hands.  roll around pan to capture all the flour and seeds.

 

Pat out in pie pan with palm of hand… push up sides of pan and flute edge with forefingers and thumb.  Par-bake in preheated oven for 10 min (gives a little more crunch to bottom of crust but optional  step)

Pull 5 fresh eggs from refrigerator, crack into mixing bowl (compliments of LaVern and Curly from the backyard)

Whisk eggs until frothy

 

Add 2 cups of milk, beat a little

Go back to stove and add chopped greens, stir in and cook until they soften a bit.

Combine veggies with egg and milk mix, add 1/3 – 1/2 cheese of your choice (I used Romano from the freezer), grind about 1/2 teaspoon of summer savory(dried from the herb garden), a little black pepper and salt (optional) – into mixture.

Snip fresh rosemary onto top of quiche along with some shredded cheese and you are ready to bake.

About 45 minutes should do it…

Stick a clean table knife into middle of quiche to test for doneness, if it pulls out clean – it is ready. if not let it bake a little longer.   Serve warm with a sprig of rosemary on top.  Enjoy!!!

Such an easy dish and a great way to use so many things from the garden.  My friends told me it was delicious and I knew it was a real hit when they asked me if I wanted seconds! 🙂

Helebore (Lenten Rose)

Lenten rose or Hellebore is a perennial herb that loves shade, will take sun, tolerates drought conditions, deer proof, and has varieties that bloom as early as Christmas!

The bell shaped bloom varies in color from cream to chartreuse to shades of pink to deep purple-black and combinations in between.  Hellebores are evergreen throughout the year and on average can be trimmed after the first of the New Year to make room for new leaves and emerging blooms.

 

Black Elderberry – a Wonderful Edition to the Edible Landscape

Looking for an edible shrub for the landscape that is beautiful to boot?  Check out this Sambucus, ‘Black Lace’ otherwise known as Black Elderberry.  The dark, almost black leaves are lacey indeed and at first glance look a bit like a Japanese maple.

In the spring, this shrub shows out with pink delicate blooms that turn into rich burgundy-red berries in late summer into fall. 

Easy on the eyes and easy to grow in full sun or part shade this shrub will cover about 6 feet by 6 feet of real estate in the landscape and the deer are not partial to them.  Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ is a hardy ‘Proven Winners Color Choice Shrub’.  I bought one at our local True Value Garden Center in Franklin but look for it where Proven Winner Shrubs are sold.

The only problem is sometimes the birds beat me to the anti-viral, immune boosting  berries.  I guess they know a good thing when they see it too!

To see more daily dose herbs click on daily dose of herbs at the bottom of this article 🙂

Caging the Raging Tomato Plant

Growing tomatoes in a small space or raised beds takes some creative thought. To tame tomato plants and make them behave in an orderly fashion is not an easy job but this year I’m determined to be the boss and not let these killer plants run all over me or the garden. First, let me introduce you to my tomato sandwich. This caging system uses two 4’ x 5’ sections of heavy duty hog panel from Tractor Supply Company. I’ve staked them with metal fence posts on each end to hold them in place two feet apart. On the ends I’ve zigzagged garden string and/or wire to form extra support, close up the ends and keep the raging tomato plants trapped inside. Five tomato plants were planted in the 2’ x 4’ space. As they grow I will just train them up and tie them to the hog panel if needed. The large squares make it easy to harvest tomatoes from either side and later for easy storage in the garden shed. Next I decided to reuse some of the TSC products from the winter garden. The same plastic sun fence stakes I used for a mini greenhouse is now transformed into a tomato cage to hold 3 tomato plants. Notice one end is still supporting sugar snap peas which were planted on the trellis made from these same fence products in March. The peas will soon be gone but the pea trellis turns into the end of the tomato cage. I love it when you can use one product for several functions. I recently purchased these square cages from my local Tractor Supply Company. They are a bit flimsy but no more or less then the round cages everyone has for sale. I like the square shape. It fits better in rectangle raised bed boxes. I don’t think it is tall enough and it would be nice if they had another square cage to attach to the top of these to extend their height for the big raging tomato plants. I am interested in seeing how all of these cages work…I’ll keep you posted.
Lastly I have leftover re-bar stakes (from TSC) that I am tying tomatoes to. I placed empty recycled wine bottles to keep birds away and cover the blunt end of the stake. I doubt that these stakes are tall enough but they are much stronger than the wooden stakes I used last year and it is nice to add a little blue color to the garden.

Pomanders: A Christmas Tradition

Every Autumn I find myself drawn to the lemon and lime section in the produce department. I start imagining the smell of citrus, cloves and cinnamon, which takes my mind on a quick journey down Christmas Lane.

What is a pomander you ask? Good question! According to the dictionary, a pomander is: (noun) a mixture of aromatic substances enclosed in a perforated bag or box and used to scent clothes and linens or formerly carried as a guard against infection; also : a clove-studded orange or apple used for the same purposes.

Now you know, right? Well, in case it still isn’t that clear, let me try to shed even more light on the subject. The history of pomanders goes back to the Middle Ages. Sanitation was not what it is today and people did not bathe as often as we do now. So some clever folks came up with a way to make life more pleasant by combining various herbs and spices to help mask undesirable scents and also by using certain herbs and spices to protect themselves from unwanted infectious viral and bacterial situations. They would wear perforated containers filled with an herb/spice mix, usually in a ball shape on their person; usually close to their noses where it could sweeten the air they breathed.

The Victorians brought pomanders or pomander balls into high fashion, combining practicability with beauty. They expanded on the uses to include household decorations, closet and drawer perfume/insecticide, Christmas ornaments and even wedding bouquets.

The tradition of pomander balls as Christmas ornaments is still in fashion today and a lovely way to add fun and scent to your holiday season. I have made these for years and it is an especially wonderful activity for the whole family. They are easy to make from lemons, limes, tangerines, oranges or apples. My favorites are lemons and limes. You can buy them by the bag full and they are just the right size to hang on the Christmas tree, in a garland, in doorways, mix in the mantle decorations or pile them up (after they are dried) in a rustic bowl with or without potpourri. I have even made mini topiaries with them! You can store them away to use year after year. They take three or so weeks to dry so get busy and make pomanders, start a new tradition with your family and make your home smell oh so festive!

How to Make Pomanders


Ingredients:

* Small to mid sized unblemished fruit – apples, oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines
* Large headed cloves*
* Ground cinnamon, (nutmeg, ginger, ground cloves)*
* Knitting needle, skewer, or nail
* Thimble or masking tape for fingers – optional
* Orrisroot – note: orrisroot is used to act as a preservative and scent enhancer Orrisroot is dried, powdered material from the Iris bulb. Some people are allergic to this so if you are concerned you can skip it or add sandalwood oil as an alternative preserver.
* Ribbons or raffia, tissue paper or paper bags

1. Use knitting needle, skewer or nail to pierce the skin of the fruit. You may want to use a thimble or cover fingers with masking tape. Insert cloves close together but not touching in straight vertical lines or patterns, covering as much of the fruit as possible. Be sure to leave spaces for 1/8” ribbon to run down two sides, crisscross at bottom and come back up opposite side of fruit for hanging purposes if you choose to do so. Otherwise cover entire fruit with cloves.
2. In a glass bowl, combine powdered orrisroot (again you can omit or use sandalwood oil), ground cinnamon and other ground spices if you like – experiment to find which combination you like best. For 6 limes I use approx. ½ cup cinnamon and 8 drops of sandalwood oil. If you add the other ground spices try 1 tablespoon each (including the orrisroot) to the cinnamon mix. Pour spice mix in a zip lock bag. Place the clove-studded fruit in the bag, rolling around until entire fruit is covered with spice mixture.
3. Shake off excess spices, use ribbon or raffia and hang pomander ball on drying rack, doorways (I’ve used the kitchen cabinet knobs or the chains on the ceiling fans!), etc. If you are not going to hang them, then wrap each pomander in tissue or small paper bag (newspaper may work as well) and store in a cool, dry place for about 3 weeks. Be sure to check occasionally. Should one start to mold or rot, toss it out.
4. Display and enjoy your pomanders – Keep in mind this is not rocket science…be flexible and creative!

* You can find large containers of cloves and powdered cinnamon usually at Sams or Costco. Yarrow Acres in downtown Franklin, Tennessee has essential oils. You can order cloves, ground spices, etc. from the San Francisco Herb Co. Email address is http://www.sfherb.com/

For more information on “all things gardening” please check out my “Cracked Pot Gardener” book page at http://www.cindyshapton.com/book.html

Until next time….Make gardening fun or it will become work!!!