Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Carolee’s September E-Newsletter

There’s no doubt about it…..autumn has arrived.  The lawn is littered with fallen black walnuts, the air has a bit of chill, and the jeweled colors of the annuals have intensified to attract the last of the pollinators.  Grasses are dropping seeds and goldenrod explodes with color.
     I love the autumn wreath, made with colorful leaves, miniature gourds, cones, nuts, and dried yarrow on a twiggy base that hangs above the fireplace; the basket of ornamental gourds on the coffee table, and similar arrangements on the dining room and kitchen tables.  On the shelf above the stove, the summer décor has been replaced by a collection of brown teapots, the wooden pumpkins my dad made for me, and clusters of autumn leaves.  Here and there are more wooden pumpkins and jars of pumpkin/spice candles.
     It’s only natural to crave hearty soups, home-baked breads, crispy apples and lazy campfires as we complete the harvest from the herb garden.  The cupboards are filling with jars of dried herbs, herb blends, and tea mixtures….all bounty from the beds and pots at the farm that will be savored throughout the cold months ahead.  They will provide inspiration for dozens of new recipes and flavor combinations, cold remedies and fragrant baths…..reminiscences of summer that will make winter bearable.

HSCI Education Night-Monday, Oct. 1st
     The Herb Society of Central Indiana will host its annual Education Night at 6:45p.m. on Monday night, October 1st at the Clay Township Center (corner of College Ave and 106th St.) in Carmel.  The theme is “Winter Comfort with Herbs!”  It’s an opportunity to do some interesting and useful “make-and take” projects, gather information, network with herb-lovers and sample some delicious herbal refreshments.  This event is open to the public, and it’s FREE!  Hope to see you there!


Cleveland Area Gardens
     Another MG rally took us to the Cleveland, OH area for a few days in late August.  Our first stop on the way over was at the Gardenview Horticultural Park in Strongsville.  Founded in 1949 by a single individual, its stated purpose is to “locate and obtain choice, rare, and uncommon plants from all over the world and arrange them in English Cottage Garden settings.”  The garden is totally dependent upon donations, and since it is difficult to spot, hidden behind a solid wall with just a small sign near an iron gate on a very busy street, it is struggling.   I was looking forward to seeing the herb gardens, as listed on the internet, but the owner assured me there are no herb gardens.   This year’s drought also took its toll, and of course, August is generally not a month most gardens look their best.  The clusters of the arum’s red berries were showy.  I’d like to go back to see the Spring Garden, filled with tulips, daffodils, azaleas and crabapples and the plantings along a pretty stoned waterway, which was nearly dry during my visit.


The description of “an historic herb garden with plants used for scents, dyes and flavoring pioneer cooking, surrounded by a split rail fence” on the internet next sent me to the “Oldest Stone House” Museum in Lakewood, OH.  The small house, built in 1838 is quaint.  The herb garden is non-existent…..


Rockefeller Park in Cleveland meanders along a curving major street and along quiet side streets.  It features dozens of individual gardens, each celebrating one nation’s culture, all tended by volunteers.  Nearby, one can visit the Rockefeller Park Greenhouses, which contained immaculate walkways through pretty tropical settings and desert plants.  Outside, a lovely garden of annuals and perennials exhibited the skill of the city’s gardeners.    


A visit to Cleveland would not be complete without the opportunity to savor the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, which features what many feel, is the most beautiful herb garden in the U.S.  It did not disappoint me.  Even though I have seen this outstanding garden several times, at various seasons, I always find something new and inspiring.  


 After a long study of the herb garden, I wandered through the Home Inspiration Gardens, the fun-filled Hershey’s Children’s Garden and the cool, calm Woodland Garden and Hosta Hill.  I intentionally skipped the Japanese Garden, but I should have taken time to visit the Topiary Garden and the Restoration Garden.  However, I had too many other items on my list to tarry, so off I went.
     Despite my best efforts, and the GPS telling me “You have reached your destination!” I never did find an old Rockefeller estate that was listed on the internet as having extensive gardens that had been restored and were open to the public.  


  Luckily, the Holden Arboretum was much easier to locate, and it was a perfect top-down day to drive through the hundreds of acres of rare trees and native plantings.  Of the 3500 acres, over 600 have been planted and developed for use by visitors. Around the Visitors’ Center, there is an extensive butterfly garden, planted around ponds, that features many native plants and a display garden.  Miles of trails are used for hiking, dog-walking, and cross-country skiing.  There are large collections of lilacs, false cypress, viburnums, conifers, rhododendrons, and hedges.  If you bring children, there are “Discovery Packs” to help kids explore and learn.
     Chagrin Falls is one of those cutesy-pie towns filled with shops and restaurants.  It’s upscale, famous for its historic waterfalls and one of the only English Nanny & Governess Schools around.  However, my favorite reason to visit Chagrin Falls is the Village Herb Shop, owned by my friend, Kathleen Gipps.  If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop in and wander through the jam-packed rooms.  My other favorite reason is Rick’s Café, home of some of the best food you’ll find and really nice people!

On the way home, we stopped at the Gardens at Washington Park in Sandusky, OH.  No sign of a drought here, due to the efforts of the community’s garden clubs.  The Floral Clock is impressive.  The Sunken Garden provides a cool retreat from the afternoon sun after strolling past various pictorial beds that use a variety of colorful plants that are sprinkled throughout the park.  At the end of the park is the famous Merry-Go-Round Museum, a delight for all ages! 


Our final stop was a visit with Gail Dick, better known as the “Hedgehog Lady”!  Since she first brought her hedgehogs to the farm for our “Hedgehog and Hollyhock Day,” Gail has become a good friend.  She’d invited me to see her new plantings, as she turns her property into an “edible landscape” using van-loads of herbs and berry plants from our farm, as well as fruit trees and seedlings from local sources.  Despite feeding a large family, she’s still producing enough to stock a roadside stand by the mailbox, which also features maple syrup and firewood in addition to veggies and eggs.  Large fenced pens of healthy turkeys, ducks and hens beyond the rows of raised beds provide lots of nutrients for the compost piles, along with the kids’ 4H pigs, a miniature donkey and other unusual animals that live on the homestead.  The immaculate hedgehog house is home to hundreds of darling critters.  Being around this energetic young mother and businesswoman makes me feel like a slacker!  Visit her on the web at Critter Connection.

Did you know……
Fresh cucumbers are really, really good for you!  They contain most of the vitamins humans need each day.  A few slices eaten in the afternoon will perk you up better than caffeine.  If you’ve had a wee dram too much alcohol, a few slices eaten before bed will prevent a hangover.
     In the garden, put a few slices of cucumber in an aluminum pan.  The chemical reaction that takes places produces an odor that repels grubs and slugs.
     A slice of the outer skin gently rubbed on walls will remove marker and crayon marks made by the kids.
     Indiana grows 11% of the peppermint in the U.S.  We rank fourth in peppermint (23,000 acres) and fifth in spearmint (2500 acres) each year.

As autumn arrives in the garden…….
1.  It’s a good time to collect seeds and store them for next year’s garden. 
2.  It’s also a good time to take advantage of season-end garden center sales, and stockpile mulch to put on the garden after the ground freezes.
3.  It’s time to plant hardneck garlic….not the soft-neck that is available in grocery stores.
4.  It’s a great time to make a cold frame, so you can plant late-season salad crops (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.)  that will last far into frosty weather with that little bit of protection a cold frame provides.
5.  Start thinking about creating a space indoors for tender plants that will come inside soon.  (See below.)
6.  Plant mums now….the sooner they go in the ground, the better their chances of returning next spring.  Cut off faded blooms once they are finished, and give them a good mulching.
7.  Enjoy the sedums that are just now blooming and adding so much to the garden’s appeal this time of year.  The butterflies will thank you!
8.  Plant hellebores in shady spots…they’ll begin blooming in late March.  Witch hazel planted now will also provide lots of late winter color!
9.  Weed!  All the weeds are trying just as hard as your flowers are right now to make seed.  Remove them now to save hours next spring!
10.  Deadhead garlic chives to prevent them from seeding everywhere.

Frost is on the Way!
Prepare an area in the house or garage for wintering plants indoors now, so it will be ready when you need it.  The easiest place is a south-facing window, as long as there are no overhangs or trees that block the sunlight.  Next is a west facing window.  Even with these two, you may have to provide some supplemental lighting if we have an extensive period of gray days.   East or north facing windows will not provide enough light for most plants (African violets and begonias will be happy, but herbs need more sunshine.)
     There are several options for creating a plant space.  If there are deep windowsills, you’re in business by simply providing saucers for the pots, just remembering never to leave a plant in standing water.  However, most homes do not have sills deep enough to hold plants of any significant size, so other options are required.   My favorite is a simple metal storage shelf.  I assemble it with the shelves upside down, so each forms a tray.  Line it with plastic trash bags, so any water drops will not fall to the floor.  Place a layer of Styrofoam peanuts (these are much lighter than stones or gravel) to sit the pots on.  If additional lighting is needed, fasten standard shop lights on the undersides of the shelves.
      Another option, if you have only a few plants is the old-fashioned TV trays.  These can be moved from one spot to another or from window to window.  If needed, I can move it under a lamp in the evenings to provide more lighting.   I also like to commandeer an old metal appliance cart, which I can wheel to sit in front of glass doors.
     Remember, it takes two hours of artificial light to equal one hour of sunlight.  Winter days are short, and windows don’t often get a full day of sun.  An herb plant normally likes 8-10 hours of bright sunlight.  If it gets 4 hours of bright sunshine in a west window, you’ll still need to provide 8 more hours of artificial light to equal 8 hours of natural sunlight.  Of course, mint plants can thrive on 4 hours, so additional light would not be required.
     The goal is to keep plants healthy through the winter months.  We do not really expect them to do a lot of growing.  They will generally take a rest period after they first come indoors, so don’t fertilize them heavily.  In December, January and February, I rarely fertilize at all.  Then, when sunny bright days return in March, I start to expect plants to grow actively again and begin a regular feeding program.


An herb to know…..
     The rains that came in August allowed gazillions of weed seeds to sprout.  As I was weeding in a section of my garden at home, I was surprised to find several young burdock plants growing under the lilac.  Rather than be upset, I grinned as I cut the leaves with their stems close to the ground.  They are best when about the size of a pencil, or just slightly larger.
     The burdock, Arctium lappa, is native throughout Europe.  It was brought to America by colonists, most likely intentionally, although it would be easy for the sticky “burrs” that give the plant its common name to have hitchhiked on clothing, bundles, or livestock.  The gray-green leaves generally emerge in spring and grow quickly to the size of rhubarb leaves.  They are noticeable not only for their size, but for the flannel-like texture and white undersides.  Eventually, tall branching stems produce a pinkish thistle-like bloom emerging from a pretty green ball thickly covered with needle-like spines.  In autumn, the balls turn milk-chocolate brown and release from the plant easily to grasp anything or anyone that happens to touch them.
     It is the young stems that I want, so I cut and discard the leaves.  I don’t mind stained hands, but if you do, wear gloves whenever you work with burdock.  Peel or use a knife to scrape and remove the grayish skin until the stems are bright green.  Drop each stem immediately into cold water.  The water will become discolored.  Replace with clear, cold water at least two, maybe three times, waiting 10-15 minutes between changes.  Drop the stems into a pot of boiling salted water, and cook just until tender, about 5 min.  Don’t overcook or they will lose their pretty green color.  Drain and serve with melted butter & freshly ground pepper.  Leftover cooked stems are delicious served cold with your favorite salad dressing, or added to any salad.
    The burdock root has been used medicinally.  It is dried and ground, or used in tea as a diuretic.  In the Middle Ages, many claims were made about the plant’s varied healing powers, such as it being a remedy for serpents’ bites, leprosy, rabies, and many other ailments but most of those have now been discarded.  The most interesting was that if one put a piece of raw root near the navel of a pregnant woman, the baby would turn to it and stay in the womb rather than be born premature, but it might cause the child to be born feet first.  If the baby was overdue, putting a piece of root on the soles of the mother’s feet would cause the baby to turn head downward and to fall out!
     In England, during World War II the County Herb Committees organized groups of people to collect hundreds of pounds of useful herbs, including burdock.


I’ve been spending a lot of time dreaming up new recipes using elder, the 2013 Herb of the Year.  Here’s one that everyone agrees is elegant enough for company, but so good your family will request it often.  And, it’s pretty!
Chicken with Elderberry-Orange Sauce
½ c. orange juice   2 T. dried elderberries plus 1 tsp. dried elderberries
¼ c. all-purpose flour   generous dash of salt
freshly ground pepper   6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 T. oil     2 T. elderberry jelly (if not available, use apple)
2 T. honey.    3 T. elderberry wine (or red wine, or water
orange slices for garnish
     In a microwavable container, combine orange juice and 2 T. dried elderberries.  Microwave for 2 min.  Allow to sit in the microwave while doing the next steps.
     Meanwhile, finely grind 1 tsp. dried elderberries.  Mix with flour, salt and pepper. Reserve 1 T. of this mixture.  Place the rest in a shallow pan.
     Microwave the orange juice & elderberries and an additional 1 min.  Stir.
     Between plastic wrap, pound chicken thighs with a rolling pin to an even thickness of ½”.  Dredge in seasoned flour and set aside.
     In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat oil to frying temperature.
Place floured thighs in skillet and brown thoroughly on each side.
     While chicken cooks, add jelly and honey to orange juice mixture.  Microwave for 2 min. 
     Mix reserved 1 T. seasoned flour with elderberry wine (or red wine, or water) whisking until smooth.  Stir into orange juice mixture.  Microwave for 2 min.  Stir.  Microwave again for 2 min.
     Remove thighs to serving dish.  Garnish with orange slices.  Pour a little of the sauce over the top.  Place remaining sauce in a small pitcher or creamer and pass.  Makes 4-6 servings.

No frost yet (knock wood) so I’m still taking hundreds of cuttings, and filling screens with herbs to dry.  Next month, I’ll be moving plants back under cover; planting bulbs, packing up the barn for the winter, and hopefully have time to begin some writing.  Till next time, enjoy the color, flavor, and sounds of autumn. 

Herbal blessings,