Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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November 2017 Newsletter Print E-mail

November E-Newsletter 2017

November is the month for giving thanks…to our veterans for our freedoms, thanks for the changing of the seasons, for our families, for the bounty of the harvest.  It also seems to be a month of unusually beautiful sunsets, like the one shown above taken from our front door.  Normally, November is a busy month for me in the gardens, planting bulbs, trimming frozen stalks, digging dahlias, storing away statuary and summer furniture, and removing all weeds that have dared to show themselves.  However, near the end of October I slipped a disc in my back, and have been stuck indoors most of the month.  Hopefully I can catch up next month, and if not, there’s always a few nice days during the winter, and many things can wait until spring.  In the meantime, jobs that I can manage are being ticked off the job list: the seed lists and planting plans are already done for the next growing season, and the Christmas cards are all addressed!
Mark your calendar:
     Indiana Hort Congress:  Feb. 13-15.  This is a super show for anyone involved in farm markets or commercial crop production, wine, agri-tourism, food safety, and organic or greenhouse growing.  Attend the entire conference, or go for 1 day.  The trade show is worth seeing for packaging, production machinery, wholesale seeds, irrigation equipment, etc.   Schedule and registration available at at Indy Marriott East.
     Philadelphia Flower Show:  March 3-11, 2018.  Established in 1829, this amazing show quickly became the largest indoor display in the world, covering 10 acres with gardens and garden-related displays.  This year’s theme is “The Wonder of Waters.”  Tickets can be purchased on-site, but book your hotel room now to get one within walking distance.
     Indiana Flower & Patio Show:  March 10-18, 2018 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds

Indiana Winners!
     Results of the All American Selections Display Garden Challenge are in!  Gardens from all across the United States entered for this highly coveted award.  This year’s theme was “Foodscapes: Interspersing Edibles in the Ornamental Garden.”  
     In First Place for the 10,001-100,000 visitors annually is the Purdue Extension Marion County Demonstration Garden in Indianapolis!
     The Master Gardener Assoc. of Tippecanoe County, Lafayette, won 2nd place in the 10,000 and under annual visitors.  In this same category, the Southwest Indiana Master Gardeners, Evansville, won Honorable Mention.
     Congratulations to all these hard-working, talented Hoosier gardeners!

Our Visit to Germany
     We were fortunate to be able to make our annual visit to our family (daughter, son-in-law & two grandkids) that lives in a village near Dusseldorf, Germany earlier this autumn.  It’s always a delight just to be with family, and we’ve grown to love their little town over the years and feel very comfortable there. 

Maybe seeing this red-white-and blue whimsical planted bicycle made me feel especially welcome.  There was rain off and on (which is why it is often called “Drizzledorf”) so I was only able to garden a couple of afternoons, tidying my daughter’s new perennial border and doing some edging, but it was fun.  Working in someone else’s garden is like doing another’s dishes…more interesting than doing your own! 

I enjoyed strolling around the village and window shopping, and I always purchase a dozen boxes of herbal teas and herbal cough drops that I can’t find at home.

And of course, I had to go to the farmers’ market.  I’m always impressed by the size of the veggies, like these kohlrabi that were over 5” in diameter and the healthy leeks, celery, and celery root. 


It was a good day to buy a bouquet of sunflowers, and I’m going to look for these bright orange winter squash for my potager next year.

And while I’m not a fan of uncooked tomatoes, these heirloom “flat” tomatoes were extremely flavorful.  I may have to look for seed for these as well.

I also enjoyed this spice store, although I’d need a translation to know exactly what the packages contained.  The prices are amazing, so I’ll make a list before I go again.

We did do a few interesting side trips while there.  One day we drove into the city to visit the Kaiserswerth castle ruins, which in olden days was an impressive fort defending the Rhine river.  We took a ferry across the river and then walked along the river to the castle.  I was not surprised to find beautiful hops vines growing wild all along the path.  Brewing has been an important German art for centuries, so it’s no wonder that hops vines can be found growing wild in many parts of the country.  Hops vines are aggressive and durable. (Read more about hops below.)     There are some lovely views and interesting stone work.


My granddaughter and I roamed all around the ruins and read all the informative signs.  I photographed various herbs that I found in the cracks between stones and thought about how they were an important part of medieval life.  Then we gathered at an inn located on the castle grounds for lunch. 

I ordered a Rhubarb schorle, one of many delicious drinks that can be found easily in Germany, but I can’t get here in the U. S.  My luncheon was a flambkuchen with a local wild mushroom, bacon, and arugula and although it was huge, it disappeared quickly because it was absolutely delicious!

We also went to a HUGE mall in Holland to get David a warmer jacket.  It was jam-packed with shoppers, really, there were lines of people waiting to get into some stores, so we didn’t stay long.


Another day we drove into the city to visit Classic Remise, a HUGE, HUGE car “show.”  It’s actually a fancy storage area for rare and ultra-expensive vehicles that is opened to the public.  A few cars caught our attention, but the vehicle that I liked most was this Porsche tractor!  I knew that Porsche made high performance sports car, but a Porsche farm tractor was unique.  Also David took a picture of me with a 1936 SS100 Jaguar in pristine condition worth one million dollars.
The guys were more interested than we gals, so we went to the food stand for more rhubarb schorle and cake.  Yum! 

It was plum season, so my daughter and I took advantage and had tea and plum cake a “few” times during my visit.  One sunny afternoon we took her dog for a walk, and “just happened” to go by the Schwartz Hotel at tea time.

And, I had to visit my favorite garden center, Bogie’s.  It is always a treat to walk through their extensive offerings and see what’s new.  I loved all the fall planters, all ready to greet guests by the front door.  These white planters in metal tubs are intended for cemetery décor. 

These heathers come in a variety of vibrant colors, and in that area will remain colorful throughout the winter.  Notice in the photo on the right, the sign for the greenhouse which reads “Warmhaus,” the pretty potted mum standards in the back, and the colorful mixed planters in the foreground. I love their innovative combinations of hardy annuals and perennials.  We did purchase a few perky violas and pansies to plant near my daughter’s front door. 

And later, we drove my granddaughter to her acrobatic equestrian class.  She loves the class, but for her the highlight is getting to groom the horse afterwards!
     All in all, we had some great times, delicious foods, and made lots of good memories.

Herb to Know:  Hops
     I am not going to give a detailed treatise on Humulus lupulus, the plant better known by its common name hops, because more information than you can ever imagine will be available throughout the coming year.  Hops has been named the 2018 Herb of the Year, and extensive articles are available on the Herb Society of America website, the International Herb Association website, and various other websites and blogs.  I’m just going to give you my observations.  First of all, it’s the only herb with the letter “u” as every other letter in its name.  I once won a contest by knowing that!

Secondly, it is an aggressive (I repeat AGGRESSIVE) vine that grows easily to 20’ in height.  It can also shoot up strong (I repeat STRONG) new sprouts 10’ in any direction from the original plant, so be forewarned.  Trying to dig up and remove an established vine is nearly impossible, because even a small piece left in the ground will quickly grow into a new vine.  I once tried, and found roots as big around as my arm!  It is a perennial, needing only soil, sunshine, and adequate water to flourish.  The picture at the top of this paragraph is a fairly recent addition to the herb garden at Minnetrista.  It looks innocent and adorable right now, but it will be interesting to see how, or if they can, control it in the future.

     Hops plants can be male or female, but only the females produce the desired flowers.  It is best to get a start of a vine that bears lots of flowers, rather than sowing from seed, so you can be sure you are getting a productive plant.  
     Pliny, the acclaimed Roman writer in the first century A.D., suggests growing hops for use as a vegetable, harvesting the young shoots in early spring to be eaten like asparagus.  I wouldn’t bother.
     Hops have been grown commercially for the brewing industry since early times.  By the ninth century, they were cultivated throughout Europe for brewing, except in Britain.  Curiously, the Brits believed hops caused melancholy, and preferred to use alecost (costmary) instead until the sixteenth century.  Englishman John Evelyn wrote in 1670 that “hops …preserve the drink indeed, but repay the pleasure in disease and a shorter life.”

On our visit to the Kaiserswerth Castle, I found hops growing wild, and extensively, all along the river path and throughout the trees and shrubs of the hillside.  The flower heads are the part used, and are often described as similar in appearance to miniature pine cones, except they are pale green.  They are also used to aid in sleep, fresh flowers steeped in sherry or made into a tea to be drunk at bedtime, or dried and put in a small bag for use as a sleep pillow.  I prefer the addition of lavender to help mask the scent of the hops, although some people do not find it objectionable.  A small bag of hops soaked in hot water and used as a poultice can ease the pain of rheumatism. The tea above is from Germany and includes hops to help one sleep.  The leaves can be boiled for a brown dye, but they do not contain the medicinal properties found in the flowers.  They can also be blanched in boiling water to remove bitterness and added to salads or soups, but I think they are too much trouble for little, if any, benefit or flavor.  The vines have also been used to make baskets, but I find them bristly to work with.
     However, if you need a fast-growing vine to cover something, hops will work.  They do drop their leaves in winter, and are prone to being eaten by caterpillars mid-summer.  Can you tell it’s not my favorite herb?

Recipe:  Easy Bruschetta
I’m still trying to use up all the tomatoes picked before frost, and this newest experiment was a winner!  We had it for lunch, but use smaller slices of baguette for appetizer portions.
     Lightly brush 4 slices of baguette with olive oil and toast under the broiler until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and flip over.
     Mix together:  1 c. diced tomatoes (I used a mixture of Roma and Orange Chef); ¼ c. finely diced bell peppers; 1 large shallot, finely chopped; 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh parsley; 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped; a dash of salt and pepper.
     Spread mixture evenly over bread.  Top with generous shavings of fresh mozzarella cheese.  Broil until lightly browned, and serve immediately.

December is fast-approaching, and once again, I wonder where the year has gone!  Take time to enjoy these last few autumn days as you prepare for another holiday.  And throw a little extra mulch over your favorite plants once the ground freezes.  My instincts (and the extraordinary black walnut crop) tell me it’s going to be a hard, bitter winter.  

Herbal blessings, Carolee