Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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December E-Newsletter

     December has been a confused month, with sunny days that reminded us of May and allowed me to get in some much-needed garden work, a lovely snowfall that turned everything magical and put me in the holiday mood, thunderstorms that drenched and rumbled giving me a good excuse to catch up some work in the upstairs office, followed by dropping temperatures that reaffirm that winter is actually on its way, and now spring-like fifties again!  And they say April is fickle!
    We’ve done more than normal entertaining, because we decided not to travel this month.  I’m really happy to be home to enjoy all my decorations and the tree, for the first time in six or seven years!  As you can see from the photo above, I collect nutcrackers!

     If you come to my house any day of the year, this Gardener Nutcracker will greet you at the front door.  For the holidays, he is joined by 51 others, who decorate the mantle, the tables, the stairway, the shelf above the kitchen stove, and the buffet.
     This nutcracker had to be converted, to appease my Marine husband, from a generic military man to a Marine with accurate insignia.

     The little gardener in green is technically not a nutcracker, but a puffer.  By placing a cone of incense inside his tummy, he blows smoke rings!  I have both white sage and lavender cones that I purchased at a Christmas market in Düsseldorf.  I think I’ll have to get more of these (both puffers and incense) when I go back to Germany.

     Speaking of Christmas markets, the ones in Germany are famous worldwide.  I find them absolutely fascinating, and adore all the ornaments and decor made with natural materials, the pots of blooming hellebores, carved wooden toys, ornaments, nutcrackers, colorful birdhouses, and much, much more.  I couldn’t resist buying this Playmobile Christmas Market at the toy store in my daughter’s village.  I love all the tiny details, like the ¾” tall green dinosaur and the miniature coach with horses in the toy stall on the right.

     Many of the ornaments on my tree were made when we were too poor to buy any.  Some were painted by my children, such as the Raggedy Anne, painted by Andrea in 197!  The wiooden stars were made from toothpicks, little wooden hors d’oeuvres forks, cardboard, and string.  I think they look lovely on the tree!  Just above the wooden star is a beaded circle.  These intricate ornaments were made by South African women who were even poorer than we were.  We sold the ornaments at shows and sent the money back to them.


The Santas and Snowflakes were crocheted by grandma.  We made dozens of these felt candles to sell, which use a hair clip as the base to fasten on the tree.   I love ornaments with memories attached!

Charlie’s Garden photos
     I’m always thrilled to hear from fans of my books, or of the farm!  I especially love it when they send photos of my “babies” growing in their gardens.  Charlie Krusz did better than that.  She sent me before and after photos of the herb garden she tends and said I could share her great idea of using broken clay pots as identifying markers.  You can't see it, but each herb's name is painted on the broken pot.  Isn’t that a cool idea?  For her creativity and generosity, I’m sending Charlie a gift box of garden goodies.

CobraHead Winner
     I hope many of you get CobraHead weeders in your stockings.  I wouldn't want to have to garden without mine!  Judith Wilson, Indianapolis, IN is going to get one for sending a delightful answer, complete with photos to our November question, “Why I like gardening!”  I hope to post her entry in next month’s newsletter, and I think you’ll agree it was a winning entry and does a great job of putting some of the emotions gardens feel into words.  Thanks to CobraHead for supplying this terrific prize!

Not All Holiday News is Cheerful
     As the mail arrives, or I’m out and about doing holiday errands, I learn that more business we love are struggling, and some of them no longer have the resources to continue.  Recently, Raintree Nutrition announced that is was closing, mainly due to the increasing rising expenses and pressures of government GMP regulations and the FDA restrictions.  For those of you who are interested, the owners are going to put their formulas on their website, so you can make many of their products at home—at least until the government puts a halt to that as well.  While supplies last, they are selling the last of their inventory at 15% off.  To get this discount, go to
     On a more local level, Ashton Farms is closing its Muncie location.  Even though I grow thousands of plants, I always purchased a few items from this family-owned business.  It’s a big loss to the gardeners in our area.
     Ferry Morse, a beloved American seed company since 1856, has been sold.  Immediately after the purchase its factories in Kentucky and Oregon were closed, and over half of its employees nationwide were sent to the unemployment lines.  The new owner, Seed Holdings, Inc. also purchased Jiffy International, the maker of the little seed-starting peat pots.  It is not clear yet whether the Ferry Morse brand will continue, or be merged with other Seed Holding brands.

Easy Centerpiece
     No time to make a dazzling centerpiece?  Simply choose a favorite bowl, basket, tray, or even an old granite roasting pan.  Fill it with evergreens.  Add a colorful toy…I used a Raggedy Ann from the grandkids toy chest upstairs, but I could have chosen Mickey Mouse, Elmo, Thomas the Train, teddy bears, or used them all!  Add a few shiny balls and candy canes, and maybe a red bow if you have time & nimble fingers!  You’re done!


Vintage Décor
     When I was in 7th grade, our home economics teacher , Mrs. Dale, gave us a holiday assignment.  “Make a holiday decoration from something you find around your house.”  I rummaged in our attic and found an old oil lamp (it was old then, and I’m not telling you how many decades makes it really old now, but I'm a long way away from 7th grade!)   With some felt, glue, and polyfiber it was transformed into a Santa.  Originally, I filled the glass chimney with wrapped peppermint candies, but in the interest of safety for little hands, it now stays empty.  It has survived many moves and brings back lots of great memories.

Did you Google One of These?
In this day of technology, we can see a lot about gardening trends by seeing the “TOP 10 Most-Searched Plants”  In a recent study it was found that Lavender was the most-searched plant, followed in order by Salvia, Russian Sage, Dianthus, Sedum, Bleeding Heart, Peony, Hosta, Astilbe, and Clematis.  The “TOP 10 Most-Searched Perennials” (in order) were Russian Sage, Dianthus, Bleeding Heart, Jacob’s Ladder, Astilbe, Salvia, Hibiscus, Clematis, Lavender, and Lungwort!  Interesting!  How many of these do you grow?

Encouraging Youth Gardening
Bonnie Plants, major supplier to the big box stores, has sponsored the “Great Cash for Cabbage Program” for three years.  The company supplies cabbage plants in 2” pots  (11 million since 2002, 1.5 million in 2012 alone!) to  third grade students.  Once fully grown, children submit photos of themselves with their cabbage to a panel of judges in their state.  Bonnie Plants awards each state’s winner a $1,000 bond, which goes toward the student’s future education funds.  Indiana’s winner this year was Abby Shinovich in Putnam County.  Third grade teachers can sign up for the program at

Save the Date for HERB DAY!
The University of Illinois Herb Day is scheduled for Saturday, January 19.  Details and registration forms are not yet available, but you don’t want to miss this fun, educational event.  Carolee’s Herb Farm will again have a booth there, filled with lots of herbal treasures.  Due to traveling, I may not get next month’s E-newsletter out in time to give more information, so contact Linda Harvey, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

A Tasty Gift to Give
     I love gifts that last, and especially those that are made with love.  Here’s an easy chai recipe.  During the holidays, I keep it in this (are you noticing a theme?) favorite holiday teapot.  Make a batch, divide it into small plastic bags, and tuck them into a gift teapot or festive mugs.  It’s delightful on cold winter mornings.
     1 c. Darjeeling or any good black tea  1 T. ground cinnamon
     1 T. coarsely crushed green cardamom pods 1 T. ground ginger
     1 c. sugar      1 T. vanilla powder  (If vanilla powder is unavailable, make vanilla sugar by adding 1 vanilla bean snipped into 1” pieces into 1 c. sugar in a container with tight-fitting lid.  Shake daily for three days, sift out vanilla bean and add sugar to recipe in place of plain sugar.  Save the pieces of vanilla bean to add to any cup of tea.)  Store mixture in airtight container.  Turn upside down occasionally, since the ground spices tend to settle to the bottom, and you want a good blend of flavors with each cup.
     Be sure to add the directions to a gift:  “To prepare chai, heat 1 c. milk almost to boiling.  While milk heats, heat a teapot by rinsing interior with hot water.  Add 2 tsp. chai ingredients to the teapot with the hot milk.  Cover teapot with a cozy or towel to keep warm while it steeps for 3-4 min.  Strain into mug.  I find this plenty sweet, but traditionally, it would be sweetened with honey.
     I often vary the recipe by making other flavored sugars…..anise hyssop or clove basil are good choices.  Or try lemon verbena, rose geranium, or apple mint.  Enjoy!
     The holidays mean extra entertaining.  One of my new favorites to serve guests is this easy crabcake recipe.  It can be made ahead and refrigerated, ready to bake just before serving.  Make them tiny (1”) for appetizers or large (3”) for a main dish luncheon or supper.  We love them with aioli sauce, but a tarter or sweet/sour sauce also works well.


Carolee’s Crabcakes
     In a small skillet, melt ½ stick butter.  Add:  ½ c. finely chopped onion and ½ c. finely chopped celery.  Cook just until soft, but not browned.
     Meanwhile, remove the crusts from 3 slices of bread and cut into cubes.  Place in a small mixing bowl and pour ½ c. milk over, stirring until milk is absorbed.  Place all the crusts plus 1 slice of bread into a food processor and turn into fine crumbs.
     Finely cut up 2 pkg. imitation crab meat (flake or lump style) unless price is no object, then use 2 lbs lump crabmeat.  Place in large mixing bowl.  Squeeze any excess milk from the bread and add the bread to the crab.  Add 2 eggs, ¼ tsp. ground cayenne, ¼ tsp. dry mustard, and cooked vegetables.  (For a spicier version, double the cayenne and mustard.)  Mix well.  At this point mixture can be refrigerated for 2 days, or continue.
     Lightly oil or spray a baking sheet.  Form the mixture into small 1” diameter balls.  Roll into bread crumbs until nicely covered.  Place on baking sheet and slightly flatten to ½” thickness.  Cakes should not touch one another, so they brown evenly.  Or, make golf ball-sized balls, roll in bread crumbs, place on sheet and flatten to ¾” thickness.
     Bake in 400 degree pre-heated oven until nicely browned, about 10 min. for the small ones and 18 min. for the large ones.  Makes about 48 small, 20 large ones.  Serve with Aioli or Tarter sauce.  I also like them cold in a sandwich!
That’s the news for this month.  I wish you especially Happy Holidays, filled with Herbal Blessings.  I’ll be traveling a lot in January, so be sure to watch for next month’s E-newsletter to hear all about my adventures. 

Hugs, Carolee