Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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December newsletter Print E-mail

Carolee’s December E-Newsletter

     November just flew, didn’t it?  Our final day at the farm was Nov. 7th.   I want to send a big “thank you” to all those who came to shop and say “farewell.”  It was fairly hectic, since I had all the clean-up from our final day, the last of the plants to move from the barn and displays into the greenhouses, and then hurriedly finished packing for our trip to Germany to visit our children and grandchildren the very next morning!  We wanted to arrive in time to see the little ones march in the St. Martin’s parade and sing their holiday songs.  What a treat!  A few days later, we all went to Italy together, where we saw how true, traditional parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar are made in Modena.  David and the other menfolk visited the Ferrari museum, a Maserati museum, and we did lots of touring in Bologna, Parma, and Ravenna.  We had fantastic food and lots of gelato.  I was able to fit in one garden visit (see the article below.)  The others attended a huge White Truffle Festival near Florence.  I stayed at the villa with the little ones, but they brought back truffle-filled tortelli, truffle butter, truffle-filled sausages and lots of photos for me, so I didn’t miss anything important! Then we all went back to Germany for the Christmas markets and lots of playtime.  We had a wonderful visit, but it was difficult to leave.  The little ones are growing so fast! 

 Carolee & Eleanor on the slide

     We just in time for Thanksgiving dinner with family, and then I spent a few days catching up paperwork, moving germinated flats from the heating mats, and seeding new ones.  A pile of seed catalogs awaited, too, and even though I place my commercial orders last autumn, there were still plenty of new things to tempt me into additional orders.  Now, I’m working on next year’s schedule, workshop plans, and writing.
We’ve had fairly mild temperatures so far this late autumn.  Last year, we’d already had several snowfalls and some bitter cold temperature by now.  I was surprised when we returned from Germany to see that there were plants blooming in the gardens.  In fact, I was able to collect seeds of verbenas, henbane, marigolds, and other slow-pokes, and also to plant a few more fall bulbs. 
     I know I practically harp about primroses every year, but we have them blooming again with their jewel toned blossoms.   They are one of my favorite plants for shady spots.  I enjoy young blooming plants in the house for several weeks in March and April, and then plant them outside once the danger of frost is past.  They continue blooming for weeks, and then take a rest during summer’s hottest months.  And then, when the mums are gone and things seems so dreary, the primroses’ deep purple, cheery yellow, rosy pink, white or red pop out to color your world until they are covered by snow!  They’ll rest over the winter, and be back to put on a colorful show in March!  I brought a few leftover potted primroses that were back in bloom into the house yesterday.  I tucked them into a basket, put a bit of moss on top to hide the plastic pots, and put them on our coffee table in the living room.  Since they don’t require much light, they’ll continue to bloom for weeks.  Who needs poinsettias?
     Several varieties of rosemary are currently in bloom.  I love to tuck rosemary sprigs into napkin rings to make the dining area smell delicious.  And, I always make cranberry-rosemary muffins for the holidays.     Tomorrow, I’m going to harvest a lot of parsley to dry for winter use.  I use the microwave to dry parsley, because it stays too nice and green.    There are sorrel, salad burnet and young chicory leaves that I can combine to make a great green salad, and I should make some Mexican food, because the patch of cilantro is perfect right now!
Although the farm is officially closed, but if you need a copy of “Herbal Beginnings”, an herbal sweatshirt, bunches of lavender, bags of lavender flowers, or gift certificates, please e-mail me to set up an appointment.  Just about everything else is packed up, in preparation for moving to new display areas within the barn.  Sorry, no plants are available at this time.
     Don’t forget to use our on-line store for Christmas shopping.  We’ll do our best to ship items quickly.

We are already making preparations and purchases for next season.  If there are products or plants you want, let us know.  We are here to help you grow the best!  What workshop topics interest you most?  We’ll be working on our plans and schedule until early January, when our newsletter goes to the printer.
      If you are a vegetable grower, think about growing an extra row or plot for your local food pantry.  Many of them are empty, and the need continues to grow.  There may be opportunities for you, as a veteran gardener, to help some needy family in your neighborhood learn to grow food crops successfully.  


     In the heart of the beautiful town of Ravenna, Italy is a hidden courtyard garden filled with herbs.  As I stepped through the wrought iron gates tucked into the massive stone & brick walls, I felt as though I had stepped back through time.  Once it was part of the strolling gardens near the palaces that belonged to the famous Rasponi family.  Over the tops of the walls, the tower of the nearby Cathedral rises, as well as the tops of several noble houses and former palaces.  The thick walls deflect the noise of the city and enclose the fragrances of the herbs that grow there.  The central path is flanked by beautiful pomegranate trees, whose leaves were flaming orange.  Numerous fruits hung along branches, and here and there an over-ripe pomegranate had split open, revealing scarlet red seeds.
     Along the brick walls, various fruit and herbal trees vie for space with antique roses filled with large rosy hips.  The main paths radiate from a large central fountain, and two secondary paths form circular rings.  The shape of the beds, and the plants that fill them have been restored to the original designs.   There are traditional medicinal herbs and the culinary herbs that have enhanced Mediterranean cuisine for centuries mixed into the beds.  Wormwood rubs shoulders with lovage.  Cardoon and the largest caper bush I’ve ever seen surround a pretty iron bench on three sides.  Horehound, lemon verbena, rosemary trees and foxglove filled curved beds.  Castor beans towered over comfrey, thyme, and savory.
     I wish now that I had counted the herbs, because there were dozens and dozens.  Hyssop, holly, chicory, lavender, oregano, and other more common plants were tucked near the sorcerer’s verbena.  A huge elder filled one corner, and an unusual persimmon filled another.   Hops covered a trellis on one wall. Had we visited earlier in the season, signs indicated that carrots, dill, basils and other annuals would have been included.  The signage was excellent, and if I’d had more time, I’m sure I would have added to my herbal education.
     In the archway leading to the garden was a set of doors opening to a delightful apothecary shop.  A dapper elderly man in white shirt and vest was prepared to make blends to ease a cough or heal a rash.  The shelves were filled with jars and boxes of herbs, lovely soaps, hand creams, lotions and other fragrant products.  I purchased several unusual herbal teas and would have indulged more, but I knew my suitcase space was limited.
     If you are fortunate to visit the charming town of Ravenna, don’t get so caught up in the amazing mosaics, the architecture, or the food that you forget to enjoy the Garden of Forgotten Herbs and the little herb shop in the wall.  Once you’ve been there, I doubt you’ll ever forget it.  I know I won’t.


     If you have a novice gardener on your shopping list, consider giving them a copy of my friend, Jim Wilson’s  (formerly of Victory Garden TV show) brand new book, “Homegrown Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs…a bountiful, healthful garden for lean times.”   Jim just sent me a copy, and it is filled with sound advice on vegetable, fruit and herb gardening.  The focus is on “Ease, Economy, and Enjoyment.”  Luscious color photos and boxes of “Smart Gardener” hints fill the informative pages that cover everything from site selection, soil preparation, economical seed starting and lots more.  Each vegetable gets a page of instruction and hints, and the most popular 18 cooking herbs are covered as well.  There’s an emphasis on organic methods, harvesting help, and bits of info on starting community gardens.  You won’t easily find more reliable food gardening information than what Jim’s extensive gardening experience offers.  187p., $16.95 cover price.  Available at most book stores or on-line.

     Indiana pork farmers are struggling to make ends meet for the third consecutive year.  I’m doing my best to help them by fixing pork often.  It is such a luscious, moist, lean meat and you can’t beat the price right now.  Here’s an easy recipe that I do in the oven, but I bet it would work even better in a crock pot once the pork is browned!
Roast Pork with Sage & Onions
Fry 5-6 slices bacon until crisp in a large skillet.  Remove bacon strips and set aside.  Season a pork roast (I use a tenderloin, but you can use any roast, about 3-4 lb.) with salt & pepper, then brown in the bacon drippings until golden on all sides.  Place the pork into a roasting pan (one with a good lid.)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
     In the skillet, sauté 2 large onions, thinly sliced, until golden.  Add 1 c. chicken broth, 2 bay leaves and 1 ½ tsp. dried sage.  Stir with a wooden spoon to scrape all the pork dripping lose from the skillet bottom.  Pour over pork.  Add 6-8 scrubbed red potatoes.  Snip 4 slices cooked bacon over the top.   Cover and bake about 1 hr.  Remove pork to a platter, cover with foil and let rest at least 10 min.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions and potatoes to a serving dish.  Sprinkle the final two slices of bacon bits over the potatoes and onions before serving.
     Remove bay leaves and discard.   Place the roasting pan on the stove and bring the juices to a boil, stirring in 2-3 T. flour that has been mixed with ½ c. broth, white wine, or cold water.  Stir until it thickens to form gravy.  Remove from heat and add 1 c. sour cream.  Check seasoning, adding freshly ground pepper or salt if needed.  .
     I’ve also made this using sweet potatoes cut into 2” chunks instead of red potatoes.  Sometimes I add 3 thinly sliced tart apples with the onions, and substitute apple cider for the broth.  And, for Christmas, toss in a handful of cranberries!  This could be a very economical alternative to the traditional roast beef or ham.  Serves 6-8.

I hope your holidays are filled with lots of things for which to be thankful, that you give more than you get, that you take time to do something special for those that are less fortunate, and that you have time to enjoy the black lace of tree branches against the coral sunsets of the season.  Many of the most magical things in life are free!  Herbal blessings, Carolee