Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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 November E-Newsletter 2012

     At the farm, the first seed orders have arrived, and have been seeded into flats.  I’ve taken hundreds and hundreds of cuttings, which are slowly growing new roots.  The fall-planted garlic has broken ground, and I’ve potted lots of volunteer lettuce seedlings from the Cook’s Garden into big pots that are now in the greenhouse so we’ll have salads all winter.  We’ve stowed all the perennials plants for the winter.  On sunny days I’m gathering seeds, trimming, and edging the gardens, knowing that spring will be hectic. The Barn and Cottage are packed up for winter, and now I’m working on shopping lists for all the winter gift shows to restock their shelves.
     On blustery days, I develop new recipes or write.  I’ve written some new articles for the spring website update, and I’ve slowly begun the fourth herbal fiction book, “Herbal Blessings,” so Callie’s story continues!  There’s really not much “down” time on an herb farm!

Organic Day-Univ. of Illinois
     In addition to a lovely organic lunch, attendees at the Univ. of Illinois “Organic Gardening Day” also visited the vendor area (I left with a bagful of wonderful gardening books!) and had a chance to win bags of 15 different sweet potato varieties and numerous other door prizes!  It was a terrific way to spend a dreary, drizzly November day. The enthusiastic audience learned about a variety of topics during the educational sessions. Speakers detailed the distances required for successful seed saving of various crops, ideas for edible landscapes, effective organic practices and methods, and more.  My favorite topic was “A Rainbow of Sweet Spuds” which discussed the research being conducted by Prof. Chuck Voigt on sweet potatoes.  He explained that there are dozens of varieties, including potatoes with purple, cream, yellow, orange, and white flesh.  Many of them can be successfully grown, even in northern Illinois and Indiana.  The most common problem is that most of the varieties commonly offered locally are not the ones that can produce mature potatoes here.  He suggested some of the best varieties are the heirloom Red Yam, Heart o’Gold, Hernandez, and Jewell among others.  A source for these is Sandhill Preservation Center in Iowa. 
     For years, my mother has grown gorgeous sweet potatoes.  I don’t know what variety they are, but they produce big, moist, deep orange fleshed potatoes.  I simply pick a couple of nice ones from her many bushels, suspend them in a jar of water and put them in a sunny window.  Very quickly, dark green shoots begin growing.  When they are about 4” tall, I break the shoots off and root them in water.  Once they are well-rooted, I plant the shoots in pots.  When danger of frost is past, I plant them in one of the raised beds in the Cook’s Garden, or sometimes I grow them in a half barrel.  Here’s a photo of this year’s crop!  There’s plenty for several Thanksgiving dinners!

Tomato Trial Winner
     A big “thank you” goes out to all those who critiqued the trial tomatoes that we gave away last April.   There were mixed reviews, but Tie Dye was not a winner.  The others all had people who raved about them.  We took all the names of those who responded and put them into a hat to draw the winner. Wamsley, Ossian, Indiana!  Congratulations, Ermina.  You'll be receiving a box of garden goodies soon!


Clara Curtis Dendranthema
     I love daisy mums, but so many of them do not winter over for me.  Several years ago, I planted “Clara Curtis,” a salmon-pink member of the mum family, and I’ve been delighted since.  Right now, my regular mums are pretty well finished.  Frosts have sent the spirits of my annuals to plant heaven and turned what’s left here on earth to basic brown.  There aren’t many flowers left in any of my gardens at the farm, but at my house Clara Curtis is the star of two borders still in November, after many frosts and the worst drought in Indiana history.  If you love daisies, and late-flowering plants that extend the season like I do, add “Clara Curtis” Dendranthema to your spring plant list.  If salmon-pink isn’t in your color scheme, choose “Mary Stoker” for straw-yellow, or “Pink Bomb” for a true pink.  An easy-to-grow perennial in sunny locations, the dendranthemas grow 2’ and the clump spreads each year, providing lots of material to move to other locations where a burst of very late color is desired.  They are a terrific cut flower, long-lasting with long stems.  It’s one of my very favorite (along with primroses and toad lilies, of course!) plants for late fall interest.

     If you’ve never tried a Cobrahead garden tool, you must!  I spend long days in the garden, and most of the work I do uses a Cobrahead, for weeding, bulb planting, pulling up clumps of grass, digging planting holes, finding threads of crabgrass, cultivating, making seeding furrows, and more.  Once you have one, you’ll love it.  Be sure to put it on your Christmas “Wish List” or purchase them for any gardeners on your holiday shopping list.
     Neal Valdez, Cobrahead whiz kid, has graciously offered to give a Cobrahead to one of my readers.  To enter, just send me an email saying what you like best about gardening.  They’ll ship one directly to the winner!

Burpee’s Welcome Home Packets
     Speaking of good gifts, the Burpee Seed Company is doing a great thing for our returning troops and their families.  Each returning soldier can have this Welcome Home Packet of seed varieties that can yield up to $1600 worth of veggies.  So far, over a million pounds of veggies have been grown from the packets by military families.  It not only saves money, but growing a garden is a family activity that helps returning troops settle back into life at home.  Many soldiers report that watching their plants grow helps relieve the thoughts of the death and destruction they experienced in combat.  Hats off to Burpee for this great program!

1.  Keep collecting leaves and mulch to apply to beds once the ground has frozen.
2.  Bulbs should be planted by Thanksgiving, to give them a little time to begin forming roots before the ground freezes solid.  I don’t like to plant them too early, or the squirrels find them as they are burying nuts.  They still manage to find some as they are digging up nuts.  Red pepper flakes sprinkled in with the bulbs at planting time sometimes helps.  Also, planting miniature daffodils in with crocus & grape hyacinths helps, as no one eats daffodil bulbs.  Small frittilarias, such as megalaris (guinea flowers) helps, too, as animals and rodents don’t like their scent and will avoid them, thus protecting other more tasty bulbs.
3.   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.     4.  There’s still time to harvest parsley to dry for winter use.  I use the microwave to dry parsley, because it stays so nice and green. 
5.  There are sorrel, salad burnet, chard, chives, arugula, radicchio 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!
6.  I’m taking cuttings of the scented geraniums I moved indoors before frost.  It’s a good time to do it, and it will help keep the plants bushy and compact.  One of my favorites is this variegated Prince Rupert, with its intense lemon scent and flavor.  I use the leaves for tea or put them in cookies, pound cake and other baked goods.  And the leaves are just pretty to use as a garnish!
7.  Take a walk around your garden to identify microclimates that are protected and hold heat.  These are good spots to “stretch” zone limits, or to put some plants that you’d like to bloom after frost.

An Herb To Know:  Sage!
     Thanksgiving is often a time when people all over America begin searching in their cabinets for that long-lost jar of dried sage.  I’m sure most of you grow your own, and will flavor your stuffing with freshly chopped leaves, or possible leaves that you dried this season.  However, there are lots more uses for sage!
    There are over 900 members of the sage family! Many people are familiar only with the common gray-leaved cooking sage. Common sage and pineapple sage are the two most frequently used in the kitchen. Common cooking sage has bumpy gray-green leaves, and is most recognized as an ingredient in stuffings, biscuits, and breads. Common sage also has a long history as a tea ingredient. In olden days, the Chinese were willing to trade one pound of black tea for seven pounds of dried sage. Sage tea is thought to aid digestion and increase longevity.  It was also used as a hair coloring to cover gray hair and ground to use as toothpaste. Sage tea refreshes the mouth and strengthens gums. It also has the reputation of contributing to good general health, mental ability, and wisdom.            
     Common sage and pineapple sage are the two most frequently used in the kitchen. Common cooking sage has bumpy gray-green leaves, and is most recognized as an ingredient in stuffings, biscuits, and breads. The leaves of purple-leaf sage, tri-color sage and variegated sage are pretty through the first frosts.  These can also be used in cooking, and are not only more compact than common sage, but also more attractive in containers on the patio.  Common sage also has a long history as a tea ingredient. In olden days, the Chinese were willing to trade one pound of black tea for seven pounds of dried sage. Sage tea is thought to aid digestion and increase longevity.  It was also used as a hair coloring to cover gray hair and ground to use as toothpaste. Sage tea refreshes the mouth and strengthens gums. It also has the reputation of contributing to good general health, mental ability, and wisdom. 
     Many of the sages are among the most beautiful plants in the herb or perennial garden. Th e bright red flowers of pineapple sage are not only gorgeous, scented, and tasty, but they attract hummingbirds to the garden as well. The hummingbirds also love the velvety deep rose blooms of rosy-leaf sage and the pretty blooms of “Coral Nymph,” “Lady in Red” or many other annual, tender perennial or perennial sages. The beautiful sky-blue blooms of bog sage are loved by bumblebees, flowering in late August and often reaching 5’ in height!  It is one of the few sages that can tolerate a soggy site.  It is not always hardy through the winter, but always self-seeds so that I have those gorgeous blue blooms to enjoy.
     Many sages have scented leaves, such as honeydew sage, fruity sage, Clevelandii sage, tangerine sage, and grape-scented sage. There are many ornamental sages that are not used for cooking, but are delightful in the landscape such as the cultivars “Blue Bedder” and “Victoria,” which also make great cut flowers or dried flowers.  “Purple Rain,” “East Freisland,” and “Rose Queen” are easy-to-grow reliable perennials.  Many of the sages that are native to other climates are treated as annuals or tender perennials in gardens where winters are long and cold. Mexican Bush sage and the Greggii sages are tender here in central Indiana, but worth growing for the hummingbirds. Clary sage, a biennial, has long been used in the garden, and as a flavoring for tobacco and a fragrance for the perfume industry. It also has been used in various eye treatments, thus its folk name, “clear eye.” Silver sage, another biennial, has gorgeous fuzzy silver leaves and in its second year produces a tall stalk of silver “bells.”  “White” sage is not hardy here, but worth growing for smudge sticks for cleansing rituals.  Sages can be found in all colors and heights.  When I moved to Blackford County, I grew 72 different kinds of sage!
     Most of the sages prefer full sun and average to well-drained soil.  Grow sage for good fortune and success in life!  Eat or drink it for longevity and wisdom!

Stuffed Onions
This is an excellent side dish for Thanksgiving, to accompany roasts or grilled steaks, or it can be the main dish for a luncheon.  It can be served hot or cold for a picnic!
     Peel 4 large or 6 medium white onions.  Slice off the top 1/2” from each onion and reserve tops.  Place onions in boiling water.  Cover and cook gently for 30 min.  In a separate pan, sauté 1 c. chopped or ground meat (beef, pork, turkey or veal.)  Drain meat and allow to cool.
     Chop the tops from the onions and mix with 2 T. chopped garlic chives; 1 tsp. thyme; 1 tsp. oregano; 1 T. chopped parsley; 4 T. grated cheese, ¼ c. bread crumbs and 1 egg, slightly beaten.
     When onions are just tender, drain and cool.  Carefully removed the center of the each onion, leaving about a ½-3/4” wall.  Chop the cooked onion that was removed.  Add the chopped onion and the cooked meat to the herb/cheese mixture and mix well. 
     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Use the mixture to stuff each onion, mounding it nicely.  Place them in a greased baking dish.  Sprinkle each onion with 1 T. grated cheese.  Bake 30 min.  Serves 4-6.

As we come into another Thanksgiving season, we must remember to give thanks for all our blessings.  Not only for family and food, but for the love of a devoted pet, good friends, and the many choices we have in life here in America. There are people who would love to get one single seed catalog, and be able to place an order.  There are people who would give anything for a little plot of land on which to grow any kind of crop.  There are people in other countries who long for enough security and peace, to know that if they plant seeds, they will be able to see the harvest.  We are blessed, as Americans, to live where we do, to have the freedoms we enjoy, and to have the security to garden year after year.  Count your blessings this Thanksgiving, and give thanks for all the little things we sometimes take for granted.  And, pray for our country daily!

Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone!  May your turkey be moist, the pumpkin pies perfect, and may all of your families travel safely.

Herbal blessings,