Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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January E-Newsletter Print E-mail

January E-Newsletter

     Unbelievably warm weather dominated the early part of the month, and few complained!  Although I did not take advantage of the warm days to accomplish outdoor tasks as I should have, I rejoiced in the record number of consecutive days of sunshine because it means the greenhouse furnaces were not running.  Plus, sunshine just makes me happy, especially since January is normally bitter cold and gray.
     Since we last spoke, I traveled to Tennessee for a nephew’s Christmas wedding, and of course, mixed in some plant-hunting and shopping.  (See more below.)  The holidays were joyous, and once New Year’s Day was over, I settled in for a concentrated session of writing that was extremely productive.  (See more below!)


Once that project was finished, the greenhouse lured me with thousands of seedlings that were ready to transplant.  You can see some of the 2500 we moved from seeding trays to four-packs above.  There are hollyhocks, violas, pansies, yarrows, and more!  I’ve also been placing lots of orders for new items for the shop, and patented plant material that I cannot reproduce myself.  I’m really excited about several European perennial introductions that I’m importing!  More about those fantastic plants in next month’s newsletter.
     Eventually, January did show her true colors with frigid temperatures, blasting winds, and snow, but then it turned warm again, so I headed to the Univ. of Illinois Herb Day. (See more below!)  I arrived home just before another snowfall, so I spent the next days transplanting.      

The rosemarys are in full flower (See the photo at the beginning of this newsletter that I just took this afternoon!), primroses (Yes, I know I'm constantly raving/harping about primroses, but rightly so!) and geraniums are blooming, and the sweet olive fills the greenhouse with fragrance, so I’m totally content.  Now it’s going to be in the 40’s again!  That’s just Indiana weather.  One never knows for sure what to expect, but since the month will soon be over, we’re now anticipating the groundhog’s prediction for spring!


“Herbal Passions” is complete!
     I’ve just finished writing the third installment of “herbal fiction” that chronicles the romances, adventures, and perils of herb farm owner, Callie Gardener.  I have to admit, it didn’t take the route that I intended when I began, but I’m very pleased with the outcome. It took some unexpected twists and turns and those of you who have grown to love Callie and her farm may be surprised!  The manuscript has gone to the editors, and the book should be available when we open on April 3rd…..possibly even for my speech on March 10!  In addition to lots of herbal lore and gardening information woven into the story, there are over sixty original recipes for main dishes, side dishes, and other herbal treats!  I've been cooking up a storm!  Watch for  Herbal Passions on our website!

Advanced Master Gardener’s Training
     I’ll be speaking at the Advanced Master Gardener Training Program on March 10, to be held at the Madison County 4H Fairgrounds in Alexandria, IN.  It’s a full day of programs beginning at 8 a.m.  We’ll have a full booth set-up, with lots of new items we’ve never carried before.  Registration is only $10, due by March 2.  For more information e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

     You may recall that in 2010, I traveled to the famous Baker Creek Homestead, the home of wonderful heirloom seeds, an historic village and display gardens.  (See the July 2010 newsletter!)  The farm hosts a fantastic Spring Planting Festival each year on the first Sunday in May, drawing over 6,000 enthusiastic gardeners!  I’ve wanted to attend it, because it is filled with exciting speakers, over 140 vendors, 50 craftsmen, lots of live music, and so much more. (For more info and photos see   There’s an interesting vegetarian restaurant and cute shops housed in historical buildings, as well as a barn and family homestead.  I also loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum which is nearby, and a stop at the amazing St. Louis Botanical Gardens is on the way!
     So, I’ve decided to offer a bus trip to attend this special spring event at Baker Creek, the Laura Ingalls Wilder House and museum, the St. Louis Botanic Gardens (on the day they’re having the big Iris Society plant sale!) and a couple of other special stops.  We’ll also do a special evening program at the hotel.  This will be a five day trip, beginning Friday May 5 and returning to Carolee’s on Tuesday, May 9.  If we get enough interest, I will let those who indicate an interest the cost and detailed itinerary.  Reply quickly, since housing in the area of the festival is limited, so we'll need to get deposits made quickly.

Win A Prize!
     You’ve always been terrific in voicing your opinions, so I’m asking for your help once again.  The name of everyone who responds will be put in a hat, and someone will win a prize.  You much answer all three parts to be eligible.
a)  Do you, or are you interested in learning how to sprout seeds (to eat, not to plant)?
b)  Do you have, or are you thinking of purchasing a countertop compost pail?
c)  What plant are you most interested in adding to your garden?
Respond by Feb. 1 to be included in the drawing.

My Recent Tennessee Trip
     December is always a good time to travel south, and this time our destination was eastern Tennessee.  Our first stop was in Berea, KY, known for its abundance of artists and crafters, and its unique shops and studios.  The highlights for me was a lovely display of rosemary plants for sale in the campus bookstore, and a wonderful health food store, Happy Meadow Natural Foods, that had a sale on fresh vanilla beans.  Needless to say, I had to bring home a few, plus some new gardening magazines.  You can visit them on Facebook.
     The next stop was in Johnson City, TN where I discovered Evergreen Greenhouses.  This was a large enterprise, with a mammoth selection of plants for this time of year.  There was a huge selection of foliage plants, unusual succulents, and benches of color for the holidays. 


I especially liked the reindeer , teddy bear and puppy dog topiaries, and tiny plants planted in Christmas ornament balls.  They also had a lot of unique planters that would have made great gifts!    


Jonesborough is the oldest town in Tennessee, and the historic downtown area is a delight.  The well-maintained buildings are so attractive that each is a picture post card.  I especially enjoyed this little herb garden, tucked beside an old home. 


The town is especially known for this Storytelling Center, and the storytelling conference that attracts thousands of talkers each October.  The town has lots of interesting shops that carry a variety of antiques, collectibles, and handmade items.  I purchased some unique hand-made Christmas ornaments. 


The shop I liked best was Scott County Lavender (no surprise there!) which was filled with an array of lavender-stuffed sachets, culinary treats that feature lavender, and lavender-embroidered linens.  I had a lovely chat with owner, discussing the lavender varieties that we liked best.

IL. Herb Day
     I just returned from the always inspiring Univ.of Illinois Herb Day.  This year was especially fun, because my friends Ann McCormick (The Herb N’Cowgirl) and Linda Franzo (The Passionate Platter Cooking School) were speakers.  I always totally enjoy Jason  Powell  (Petals from the Past), whose slides of old roses make me want to order hundreds and totally renovate my gardens!  Meeting Mary Otto, who spoke on herbal remedies for pets, was a pleasure that I won’t soon forget. The event is hosted by my good friend, Chuck Voigt, who seems to know every herbie in the world and is able to twist their arms to present at his event!
     This year, the weather did not cooperate quite as well as it could, but a good turnout packed the house anyway.  There were lots of quality vendors, an incredible herbal buffet, and five informative presentations.  Green plants, lots of door prizes, and just good herbal interaction among the attendees made the day perfect.  And spending the evening with friends talking plants was icing on the cake!  Who could ask for more?  If you missed this year, mark your calendar now to attend on Jan. 19, 2013.  I’ll be there and I hope you will, too!

2012 Schedule
     No, this season’s schedule is not yet finalized, but the farm will be opening Tuesday, April 3 and probably closing Saturday, July 14.  If your group plans to schedule a visit, please do so as soon as possible.  I will be attending the Floriade and Keukenhoff in the Netherlands in mid to late May, so I will not be accepting group visits during those dates.  We appreciate any promotion that our customers give the farm, so tell your friends about us, mention the farm on Facebook or in your blogs.

Ginger!  A Perfect Herb for Winter!
     Ginger is a tropical plant, native to either China or India.  There are writings by Confucius from about 500 B.C. and records of early Arab traders taking ginger root from the Orient to the Greeks and Romans.  Invading Roman soldiers carried to more northern parts of Europe.  Soon it traveled via the Portuguese and Spaniards to parts of Africa, Mexico, the West Indies and the Caribbean.  Ginger’s popularity grew and spread until by the 14th century, it was second only to pepper as the most-used spice.
     It’s scientific name, Zingiber officinalis, is thought to originate from the Sanskrit term “singabera,” meaning “shaped like a horn.”  That may have evolved through the Greek word “zingiberi,” to the Latin “zingiber.” 
     Ginger has large spear-shaped leaves that grow upright.  The decorative leaves grow as high as three feet in ideal conditions, which is a hot, moist climate.  When mature, it produces yellow flowers that are tinged with purple. There, harvesting can begin as quickly as nine or ten months after planting a section of rhizome.  Most of the crop is dug, scrubbed, sun-dried, and ground to a powder.  Only a fraction of the crop is sold fresh. 
     Only the rhizomes, which have a complex aroma and flavor, are used in cooking.  The root should have a hint of lemon and a sharpness that is pleasant.  Most experts report the rhizomes grown in Jamaica have the best flavor.  Rhizomes grown in Kenya are darker and less flavorful.  Fresh ginger root is a common ingredient in many dishes, including stir-fry, curry, salads, pastas, and meat recipes, especially marinades.   The root is usually peeled and then it can be sliced, diced or finely grated.  When choosing fresh ginger root for cooking or planting, look for pale, smooth skin.  The root should be heavy.  Older ginger may be wrinkled and light, indicating that much of the essential oil has evaporated during storage.
     Dried ground ginger is essential for gingerbread, cookies, cakes, scones and pickles.  It is the flavor for traditional ginger ale, ginger beer, and many teas.     .
     Crystallized ginger is another useful product.  Fresh ginger is sliced and preserved in heavy sugar syrup, allowed to dry, and then rolled in sugar.  It can be nibbled fresh, chopped to be added to scones, biscuits, cookies, cakes and other desserts.
     Pickled ginger is often found in Oriental groceries.  Thin slices are pickled in sweetened vinegar.  Red pickled ginger is colored and sweetened so it is slightly tangy.  Japanese pickled ginger is usually milder than the Chinese versions.
     Ginger has historically been used for nausea, upset stomach, motion sickness, flatulence, coughs, and flu.  Recently, it has been promoted as an aid for acid reflux.  Its essential oil is used in the perfume industry and in commercial flavorings.
      So, why, you may ask, did I tout ginger as the perfect herb for winter?  There are several reasons.  First, if you’d like a winter growing project, select a fresh root from the grocery store.  Lay it horizontally on good potting soil, in a fairly large pot.  A small pot will be inclined to tip over when the leaves get large.  Half-bury the root, water a bit, and place it in a warm, sunny location.  Within days, small green tips will begin to grow and make you smile.  By the time spring arrives and danger of frost is past, you can move it outdoors to grace your patio.  When the plant is large, it can be divided.  I generally replant half and harvest half, discarding withered roots in the center. 
     Secondly, winter is a good time to bake and the smell of gingerbread or my Fruited Ginger Cake!  Prepare a 10” tube pan or two loaf pans by buttering and flouring.   Prepare 1 c. diced fresh pear, peeled; 2 c. diced apple, 1 c. finely chopped candied ginger, 1 c. raisins, 1 c. diced baked sweet potato, ½ c. coarsely chopped walnuts.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Cream together until fluffy:  3 stick butter or margarine, 3 c. sugar, 1 tsp. ground ginger, and 2 tsp. vanilla.  Add 5 eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.   Alternately add:  3 c. all-purpose flour, ¾ c. ginger ale, folding gently just until ingredients are barely blended.  Add fruits, sweet potato and nuts, folding just until blended.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake tube cake 1 ½-1 ¾ hours, until tester inserted in center comes out clean.  Loaves will take less time.  Cool about 15 min, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely.  Store 2-3 days wrapped in plastic wrap.  To keep longer, store in wrapped in refrigerator.  Slice into 1” slices.  Makes 20-26 servings.
This fragrant, delicious cake will also make you smile.
     Third, in winter we all desire a yummy, warming drink when we come in from the cold or huddle near the fire.  I nearly float away from the amount of tea I drink, and sometimes I just crave something different.  That’s when I make chai!  Here’s my favorite recipe.  It just makes one cup.
Mix together:  1 tsp. black tea; 1 large pinch finely chopped candied ginger (or 1 pinch of ground ginger); 1 green cardamom pod, smashed; 1 pinch ground cinnamon; 1 tsp. sugar; 1 pinch vanilla powder (or use 1 tsp. vanilla sugar to replace last two ingredients)  Place in a warmed teapot.  Add 1 c. hot milk and allow to steep (covered to keep hot) for 4-5 min.  Strain and serve immediately.  (I do a 10x and keep it in a jar, or to give as a gift.  Just be sure to mix well before using, because the ground spices tend to settle in the bottom.)


Recipe from Illinois Herb Day
     I always poll attendees for their favorite dish served on the massive herbal buffet.  Considering that there were “Maple Apple Pork Chops,” “Apple Rice Pilaf,” “Oven-Crisped Sesame Chicken,” “Gorgonzola Potatoes & Peas,” “Mixed Bean Cobbler,” “Minted Fruit Mold,” and more it was no wonder the voting was close!  This year’s winner was a side dish with a surprising combination of grapes and carrots!
Carrots with Grapes
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 lbs. carrots cut into strips; 2 t. chopped fresh basil (or 2 tsp. dried); 1 clove garlic.  Add water to cover and cook for 20 min, or until just tender. 
     In a separate saucepan, melt ½ c. butter.  Add 1 T. chopped fresh chervil (or 1 tsp. dried) and ¼ tsp. celery salt.
     When carrots are tender, drain and discard the garlic.  Add 2 c. seedless white grapes, halved; 2 T. fresh lemon juice; and the butter mixture.  Toss to coat and heat just until grapes are warm.  Makes 12 servings.

That's all for this month.  I'm doing lots of cooking, reading, basketball watching, and garden dreaming.  I hope you are enjoying the beautiful days of winter, when the snow falls like God is sifting confectioners' sugar from heaven! 

Herbal blessings,