Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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February E-Newsletter Print E-mail

Feb E-Newsletter 2012

     As most of you know, I journal.  Nearly every day for over forty years I’ve written in a 3-ring binder.  Some days it’s just a few lines about the weather, what looks especially good in the garden, or what major happenings are in the news.  Sometimes pages of observations, worries, plans or dreams flow out of my pen.  I find writing helps keep things in perspective.  The big dragon problems of the past didn’t slay me, so today’s black clouds seem less threatening. 
     This week, I pulled out several binders and read the entries for past Februarys.  Generally, on those Februarys I was tired of struggling through snow drifts that trapped the plows and the gas truck, scraping ice, and longing for a bit of green!  Last year, it was minus 14 degrees on 2/10!  What a different February this has been!  More sunshine than usual, no snow cover, and green sprouts appearing everywhere.  I’ve even done some garden weeding on warm days, since the chickweed is rampant and already flowering.  Some years, the seeds I planted in the greenhouse were sluggish to germinate, and those that did were even slower to grow under snow-laden skies.  This year, I’ve already transplanted over 5,000 seedlings as of 2/17!  And the forecast is for this weather to continue!  I feel like I’m living in Tennessee or some other state that barely has winter.  The hellebores and primroses are blooming, the crocuses are beginning.  Spring feels just around the corner.  What a giggle!

Opening Day:  April 3rd
     Mark your calendar now for the Opening Day at our farm, Tuesday, April 3rd!   As you can see from the mountain of boxes, we’ll have lots of new, exciting items for your garden and home!  Enjoy new displays and refreshments in the Big Barn Gift Shop.  Stroll over to enjoy the early bloomers in the Cottage Garden and the Cottage Country Shop.  The cold frame will be filled with hundreds of new plants.  We’ll have a display of culinary herbs ready for your windowsill, door prizes, and more.  Next month, I’ll write more about plans for this day.  Make plans now to come and bring a friend or two.  We appreciate every bit of support.  The full schedule for this season (April 3rd-July 14th this year!) will be posted on the website soon.

Gateway to Gardening, March 3
    The Kosciusko County Master Gardeners are sponsoring a day of speakers and fun at the Rodeheaver Auditorium in Winona Lake, 9-3p.m.   We’ve participated the past two years, and it’s lots of fun as well as information.  We’ll be bringing a truckload of garden treasures and herbal delights.   Registration is $30 and includes continental breakfast, lunch, handouts and four presentations. (“Floral Art-Using Your Imagination;” “Field to Plate-Putting Food on Your Table;” “Bonsai;” and “Rain Barrels”)  Register by Feb. 28 or pay an additional $10.  email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 574-372-2340

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.  You don’t have to be a master gardener to attend, although if you are, you’ll receive credits.  Registration is $35, 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

Trowel & Error Garden Club-March 12
     I’m speaking at the Blackford Co. garden club on Monday evening, March 12 at the Senior Citizens Center, 7:00 p.m.  If you live in the area, join us to see some of the newest garden plants, and other tidbits of garden interest.  E-mail me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you plan to attend so we’ll have plenty of refreshments!  Trowel & Error sponsors an annual plant sale, supports the local community garden and donates the produce to the local food pantry; donates a scholarship to an area student with an interest in horticultural; maintains the garden at the Blackford Co. Historical Museum, and meets monthly to improve our gardening skills and knowledge.  Join us!

Flower & Garden Shows
It’s that wonderful time of year when “Flower & Patio” or “Home & Garden” shows spring up across the country.  The Fort Wayne Home & Garden Show will be March 1-4.  The Indianapolis Flower & Patio show (back at the state fairgrounds this year) is March 10-18.  It’s a great time to get new gardening ideas, see new products, and enjoy the blossoms.  And, like everything else, if gardeners don’t support them, like the wonderful Cincinnati Flower Show, they could disappear!

LIKE Carolee’s Herb Farm on Facebook!
We’re going to use the farm’s Facebook page for special announcements, discount offers, and contests, so if you haven’t “liked” our page yet, do so today.   Spread the word and help keep us in business!

January Question—We really do listen to you!
Thanks to all who answered last month’s our 3-part question.  We have incorporated the results into this season’s planning.   We really do listen to your suggestions and do our best to meet your needs!  If you don’t respond, we can’t make changes for you!   We value your input!  All the names of those who answered all three-parts of the question were put into a hat.  The winner of the gift box is Debra Fuller of Muncie, Indiana.

February question:  This is important to us, and to our planning to meet your needs and desires, so please take a moment to respond.  What’s the main reason you come to Carolee’s Herb Farm?  What’s most important to you?  Is it to find unusual herbs?  To see the gardens?  To play with Wicca?  The free cup of tea?  The gift shop?  Herb products?  Variety of perennials?  Inexpensive prices?  Gardening information?  Planting ideas?  Country experience?  Or something else?  Tell us the #1 reason, but feel free to add others and rank them.  The more input the better.  Everyone who responds will be eligible for the drawing for a gift box & gift certificate.  Please respond by March 10.

Herbal Passions
     The third installment of “herbal fiction” that chronicles the romances, adventures, and perils of herb farm owner, Callie Gardener has completed editing and gone to the publisher!   Several people have proofed it, and pronounced it the best yet!  More suspense, more romance, and a surprising ending have them asking for the next book, Herbal Blessings, which will be the final book in the series!  In addition to lots of herbal lore and gardening information woven into the story, Herbal Passions has over sixty original recipes for main dishes, side dishes, and other herbal delights plus cultural and lore on twelve special herbs!  Watch for it on our website!

The May Bus Trip
Sadly, at this point we do not have enough people interested to warrant making deposits for the trip.  It’s a shame, since we really had some interesting gardens lined up, and the Spring Plant Festival at Baker Creek is a fascinating event.  I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder House and Museum.  I always look forward to the fellowship on the bus, and it would have been fun to see the gardens in spring rather than late summer when I saw most of them before.  Our offer of the magical trip to the Netherlands did not receive enough support, and we were hoping a shorter, cheaper trip might be successful.  However, it appears that is not the case.  A big “thank you” goes to those who did e-mail quickly to express interest. 

Seeds---they aren’t just for growing!
     This is the time of year when gardeners everywhere are filled with the desire to seed!  Our fingers itch to dig in the soil, our eyes long to observe the magic that happens when seeds germinate and grow.  However, even though we long for spring, the calendar denies that it is time to plant, unless there are good conditions for indoor growing.  So, instead, let’s take a look at some interesting seed facts and fancies.
     Early man/woman didn’t have a very full schedule of meetings and deadlines.  The days were spent searching for enough leaves, roots, fruits and berries to stay alive.  Early on, humans gathered seeds that were eaten immediately.  Quickly, they realized that seeds could be stored for times when food was scarce.  They were lightweight to carry and lasted a long time.  Later, with the discovery of fire, seeds were cooked in water or broth to make a gruel or porridge. Still later they were ground for breads.  The dough was cooked in coals or wrapped around a stick, or flattened like pancakes to cook on hot rocks.  As cooking progressed, seeds were used to flavor and add texture to buns, cookies, cakes, salads and sauces. 
     In medieval times it was common to serve a dish of caraway seeds at the end of a meal to aid digestion.  Chopped dates mixed with sesame seeds and shaped into little cakes were a common treat for celebrations.
     In later centuries, when a housewife was faced with the prospect of spending days in the field beside her spouse painstakingly sowing the spring crops in addition to all the usual household chores of the day, a quick meal was important.  Or, if she lived on a larger farm where seasonal help arrived to plant the crops, preparing sufficient meals for enormous appetites could be a challenge.  Without much thought, she would have relied on baked seed cakes because they were nutritious, relatively easy, and they could be stored for days without spoiling.  Seed cakes, called bannocks in Scotland where they were made of oat seeds, were a traditional part of May Day celebrations.
     Early colonists in the New World chewed caraway, fennel, dill, or anise seeds to allay hunger during long church sermons.  Mothers of young children brewed dill, anise, or fennel seeds in hot water to make a tea to soothe babies’ colic and upset stomach in adults.  Mustard seeds were grown and ground for the famous mustard plasters used to treat chest complaints.  Growing seeds for household use was just as important as growing the potherbs and seasonings, medicinal cures, and perfumes of the day.
     Today, seed cakes are nearly unknown, except for poppy seed cake.  One may find caraway seeds in rye bread, dill seeds in dips, and celery seeds in potato salads, but otherwise, seeds (besides wheat, corn and other grains used in pasta and bread products) are not generally part of our diet.
     Some of the most commonly used seeds throughout history for food are sesame, poppy, caraway, dill, anise, celery (which Ann McCormick assures me is more often smallage seeds rather than true celery!) cardamom, fennel, mustard, cumin, and nigella.  I would add basil, since I discovered making basil caviar (see our February 2011 E-newsletter).  All of the above seeds, except cardamom, can easily be grown in the herb garden, harvested, and enjoyed year round!  Add them to salad dressings, biscuits, cookies, and crackers for a burst of flavor.  They are not only nutritious, but serve as an excellent source of fiber. 
     Note:  If you do not harvest your own seeds, be sure to eat only organic seeds that have not been treated with chemicals.

Herbs for the Pantry
     I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking this winter, testing recipes for the new book, Herbal Passions.  Normally, I have cupboards filled with jars and bags of dried herbs from my garden, far more than I need to get me through the winter.  However, this year due to lots of traveling, I just dropped the ball with some herbs and did not harvest and store enough.  As you can see from the photo, many of my jars are nearly empty & many empty jars have already been removed.  So, imagine my surprise when I strolled into the grocery to the herb and spice area.  First of all, one of my necessities, winter savory, was not even offered!  And secondly, the prices were astounding!  Six dollars for a slender jar of common garden sage or thyme!  The few minutes it takes me to harvest, dry, strip and jar the leaves of herbs from my garden looks like one of the best money-saving tasks I do!  And it’s fun!  And it’s amazing aromatherapy!  Believe me, I will do a better job to be sure I have all the herbs I need before frost next year!
     A little research informed me that for decades, most of the basic herbs offered in stores in the U.S. came from Eastern Europe, where they were harvested by workers earning only pennies a day.  That has changed over the years, and now it is difficult to find people who are willing to roam the hillsides to gather herbs when they can be working at a higher paying job or collecting welfare.  Therefore the price of “store-bought” herbs, as my Gran would have called them, has skyrocketed.  So, once again I rise on my soap-box to proclaim “Grow your own herbs!”
     Growing herbs is easy, highly productive, and greatly satisfying.  Herbs flavor our foods without adding calories, and actually reduce the need for oil, sugar, and salt, so they contribute to a much healthier lifestyle.  In addition to seasoning our food, most herbs have wonderful medicinal benefits, trace elements that do not occur in many of our basic foods, and other nutrients that help our bodies maintain good health.
     Growing your own herbs means that you do not have to worry that they were harvested near Chernobyl, or sprayed with chemicals that the USDA does not approve for food crops but are commonly used in foreign countries.  Growing your own means that the vitamins and nutrients are not lost in transit crossing an ocean in a hot cargo ship.  Also, herbs, like seeds, are only required to have a “packed for” date rather than a “grown in” date.  Herbs may languish in a warehouse for years before they are packed into jars and sent to your local store!  “Grow your own herbs!”

A Bit About Our New Plants!
     I’m writing a full article for the website “New Plants for 2012,” but until then here’s just a little bit about some of the plants that I’m excited to be growing this season. My hellebores are already blooming, and I just love them.  This year, I’m adding double-flowered varieties.  Tall Garden Phlox has always been a staple of the perennial border and for butterfly plantings.  We’re growing several new varieties in new colors and heights.  The old-fashioned poker plants have been refined and we’re excited to be growing “Nancy Red” and “Cobra” for our hummingbirds.  Veronica “Fascination” has extra large two-toned (purple tops, lilac-pink bottoms!) blooms.  We’re adding several new sedums and some new succulents.
     The trend in miniature gardens is skyrocketing!  We’ve been touting miniature plants for years because they are so charming and fit into small spaces and containers.  For those with little gardens, they offer diversity and beauty.  Look for lots of new minis.
     I love peach-apricot shades, so I’m adding yarrows, snapdragons, and hollyhocks in that color.  We’re also adding new dianthus, foxgloves, delphiniums that should perform better in our climate, and expanding our already hefty list of toad lilies.  There are dozens of other perennials, so start looking for places to plant!
     If there’s a plant you’re especially looking for, let us know.  We’ll try to help!    

Did you know?
*That 2010 was the first time in the world’s history that more people lived in cities than in rural areas?
*That a recent survey showed that female gardeners rank purple as their #1 color choice for flowers.  Red is #6.  It’s the opposite for men!
*Many experts predict that more than 10% of garden centers will close their doors this year

Although some days it almost feels like spring, winter will still be with us for a few more weeks, and hearty, easy main dishes are appreciated.  After learning to make pasta from scratch at a cooking class in Italy, I decided to expand my skills to gnocchi, those scrumptious, tender little potato dumplings that every Italian grandmother makes blindfolded.  It was lots easier than I expected.  I’d asked my son-in-law, Mark, who travels all over Italy to suggest a typical dish from the Amalfi coast for a scene in the book.  He gave me several ideas, and I played with this recipe until it’s just the way we like it.  Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is one of many of the main dish recipes in the new book, Herbal Passions.  The photo on the left shows the "snakes" of dough ready to be cut into 1" pieces.  The photo on the right is the finished dish, garnished with shaved parmesan.


Callie’s  Gnocchi alla Sorrentina
This is a quick version of an Amalfi coast tradition!   It’s especially quick if you use leftover or instant mashed potatoes.
     In a large bowl:  1 ½ c. mashed potatoes; 1 egg; 2 c. all-purpose flour; ½ tsp. ground dried basil.  Mix together until it forms a ball.  You may need to add just a bit of water if the potatoes are dry, especially if you “bake” potatoes in a microwave rather than boiling them in water.  If potatoes were not already seasoned, add a bit of salt and pepper.  Knead until smooth and elastic on a smooth surface so you don’t need to add any flour.  Roll into “snakes” about ¾” in diameter.
     In a small saucepan, heat your favorite tomato-based spaghetti sauce.  Slice a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese thinly and quarter the slices.   Grate ½ c. parmesan cheese.  Rinse and pat dry 12-15 basil leaves.  Tear into bite-sized pieces.  (If fresh basil is unavailable, sprinkle finished dish with basil leaves packed in oil, or a bit of basil pesto.)
     In a large kettle, heat 1 can chicken broth and 1 can water with a dash of salt to a gentle boil.  Cut snakes into 1” pieces and drop into broth, stirring gently to keep them from sticking together.  Cover and cook until dumplings are tender, about 15 min.  Remove from broth.
     Toss dumplings with tomato sauce, cheeses, and basil leaves.  Drizzle with good olive oil.  Serve immediately with crusty bread and a salad!  You may also add black olives, if desired.  Serves 8-10.

Herbal Blessings’