Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Home News Newsletters January 2016 E-Newsletter
January 2016 E-Newsletter Print E-mail

January E-newsletter 2016

A New Year, New Beginnings
      January is the month that many people begin to think about the coming garden season.  The holidays are over, and it is so cold outside that we’d rather lingerindoors salivating over seed and plant catalogs.  Adelma Simmons, the legendary herb writer, often said “It is in winter that gardens grow their best---on paper—while the snow drifts through plant rows, covers walks, and fills in stone walls.  Garden books are in pleasant heaps by the fireside, pencils trace black lines, guides, and green hedges.  One garden plan begets another, the planning as fascinating as chess.” I know I’ve spent many happy hours recently revising plant lists and planting schemes, and dreaming of colorful blooms and abundant veggie harvests.
January is named for the god Janus, who had two faces, one on each side of his head so he could look in two directions at once.  He is a good “god” for gardeners, since one face can look back, evaluatinglast year’s garden while the other looks forward to the coming season.  It’s helpful to look back to recall what plants performed well, to tweak color combinations, add more fragrant plants, improve the timing of succession cropping, or reduce the workload if it was overwhelming.  Maybe using more mulch, improving watering schemes to make it easier, or finding more disease-resistant varieties will help.
I’ve been reading lots of new gardening books, mostly about edible landscapes.  It’s exciting to think about new vegetable and flower varieties to grow.  The first seedlings for this year’s garden are transplanted into individual pots, making it easier to believe that spring is just around the corner.  The first crocuses generally appear in a couple of weeks, and I am more than ready to welcome them.

Upcoming Events:We hope to see many of you at these great gardening and herb events, which always makes the winter seem a little shorter.  Being with other plant lovers lifts a gardener’s spirit as much as browsing through seed catalogs, the first crocus blooms, and the arrival of robins.

Midwestern Herb Show, Feb. 12-14, Mt. Vernon, IL:  Three full days of herbal education and LOTS of vendors.  I'll be there with a jam-packed booth of herbal and gardening treasures.  Located at the Times Square Mall (corner of Broadway & 42nd St.)  Hours are 10a.m to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 12-5 on Sunday.  Speakers throughout each and every day and evening.  Chuck Voigt is the keynote speaker for two sessions.

IMA Hort Symposium, “Color in the Garden”: Feb. 20, 8-4:30
     A full day of informative speakers, including Scott Beuerlein, Irvin Etienne, Troy Marden, and Kelly Norris.  $110 includes lunch and break refreshments.  Early bird deadline for $10 discount is Feb. 1st.  Tickets available on-line at

Philadelphia Flower Show:  March 4-13, “Explore America, celebrating 100 Years of the National Park System” should provide plenty of inspiration for some of the most outstanding garden designers in America.  I’ve attended several years, and never been disappointed.  This year’s show also features a huge “Butterfly Showcase” and a miniature railroad that travels through replicas of some of our most famous National Parks.  Get your hotel room early!

9th Annual Spring Tonic: Saturday, March 5, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
     We always enjoy this event, held at the Orange Co. Community Center in Paoli.  Speakers are Bill Abel, “Growing Your Own Fruit,” Carol Michel, “Grow Vegetables, No Excuses,” the always interesting Tom Turpin, “Pollen is the Word, Spread It Around,” and Bob Baird “Design Antidotes That Work.”  Registration is $35 by 2/19 or $40 after that date.  Fee includes breakfast and lunch.  We’ll have a full truckload, so come see us! Need more info, call 812-278-6794 or visit Purdue Master Gardener website.

Grant Co Master Gardener Symposium: Saturday, March 5, 8:30-3:30pm  It's all about recycling, renewal and rain.  Learn about gardening with pallets, vernal pools, rainscaping.  Visit gardens, shop the vendor area, and do hands-on projects.  Registration includes lunch, morning snacks, goody bag and more.  Deadline Feb. 15. (765)651-2413 for more info or to register.  Info also on Purdue Master Gardeners Upcoming Events.  Wish I could be in two places at once!

Michigan Herb Conference:  Thursday, March 10, 8 a.m.-4:30
     Look for our booth at this event, to be held on the Michigan State campus at the MSU Plant and Soil Science Building.  This year’s theme is “A Garden Fiesta to Remember!” featuring the entertaining Lucinda Hutson, as well as Lori Evesque’s “Plants to Dye For,” Jessica Wright on “Cultivating the Recipe Garden,”and Merry Meyers teaches “Conquering Scientific Names in the Herb Garden.”  Big Silent Auction, Used Book Sale, Make & Take, Educational Displays, Flower Pot Raffle, fantastic herbal morning snack and salad bar luncheon included.  Info on-line at

Pansy Fest & Garden Show:  March 18 & 19
     We always enjoy having a booth at this fun show in Martinsville, IN and we plan to be there again so mark your calendar.  More details next newsletter.

Kentuckiana 24th Annual Spring Herb Symposium:  April 9th
This one-day herb celebration, “Some Like It Hot” is one of my favorite events.  The talented members of the Kentuckiana Unit of HSA work all year to make an impressive variety of handmade, hard-to-find herbal treasures, plus there’s always an array of gently used herbal items for sale.  Add vendors all around the perimeter of the big Plantation Hall at Huber’s Orchard  & Winery, morning tea, and herbal lunch, a gift bag, door prizes, and you have a first-rate party!  Plus there are two excellent speakers: Terry Gibson, “The Pepper Guy,” and chefLelia Gentle of DreamCatcher Farm.  Registration begins once their flyer is posted on their website at  I’m bringing a full truckload of goodies, so break open the piggy bank and meet me there!

Spring Symposium, Herb Society of Central Indiana:  April 9th
     This is always a special event, and I hate to miss it this year, but I’d already committed to the Kentuckiana event.  Susan Belsinger will be the featured speaker.  The décor is always inspiring, the herbal morning treat and lunch are always delicious, and the silent auction is huge.  Hamilton Co. Fairgrounds.More info in the next newsletter.

Van Wert Blooms-Saturday, April 16
     If you are an avid gardener, you’ll want to attend this full-day gardening symposium featuring P. Allen Smith as the keynote presenter, and other outstanding speakers (Maria Zampini, Pam Bennett, Irvin Etienne from Indiana’s own IMA, the hilarious Amanda Thompson, author of “Kiss My Aster,” and Barbara Wise who is known for her excellent blog, “BWise Gardening.”  Tickets (includes breakfast and lunch) are $45.  Hours are 8-4 and the venue is the Noswonger Performing Arts Center.  Don’t miss this one! I’ve already ordered my tickets on-line.   Just “google” “Van Wert Blooms.”   If you decide to go the day before, be sure to visit the outstanding Smiley Children’s Garden in Van Wert.  It’s definitely full of ideas for gardeners of all ages!

    January is the month most people resolve to start diets!  Remember that using herbs to replace salt, sugar and extra oils in food is a great way to add flavor and lower calories at the same time.  Also, when you have a bit of time, go through the herb containers on your spice shelves to see which ones are getting old or empty.  Make a list of the ones you’ll need to plant and preserve this year.  Pay attention to any herbs you purchase or use regularly, and resolve to grow them yourself.  Growing your own herbs puts high-impact flavor at your fingertips all summer into autumn and then you can dry or freeze your extra harvest.  The herbs you preserve yourself will have more flavor than those you purchase at the grocery, and cost only pennies per jar!


IL Herb Day recap
    Chuck Voigt and his crew at the Univ. of Illinois again put together a fabulous day of education and entertainment for the annual Herb Day in Champaign-Urbana.  If you were there, you know what a treat it was to be among other herb lovers, to hear interesting new topics, and to browse the marketplace.  Sadly, this was the final year for this amazing event.  January will be much bleaker next year, without Herb Day to anticipate and attend.  We wish Chuck Voigt the very best in his retirement.

Windowsill Herbs, etc.
It’s the gray, cold days of central Indiana.  Plants on windowsills are wishing for more sunlight, too.  Most of them are content to just take a rest for now, so do not fertilize or overwater in January or February.  If you expect growth from plants at this time, you will have to supply supplemental lighting.  Remember that it takes at least 2 hours of artificial light to replicate 1 hour of sunlight.  Most culinary herbs want 10 hours of sunlight, so that’s twenty hours of light bulbs.  Bulbs should be placed close to the top of the plants.  Placing pots on mirrors or aluminum foil to reflect the light upwards also helps.  It’s a good time to seed some quick-growing cress in pots to sprinkle on salads or soups, but don’t be tempted to start tomatoes or other sun-lovers this early.  I generally start pepper seeds in mid-Feb. and tomatoes two weeks later.

It’s a good time to go over your houseplants with a close eye, to look for insects.  The days have been cloudy, so you may need to pinch tips and add light to make the plants happier.  Also, check any bulbs or tubers you may have stored, to see if there are any soft or moldy spots.  If they are beginning to wrinkle, you may need to sprinkle a tiny bit of water onto the moss or sawdust that they are stored in.  
     Also, when the weather warms a bit, it is a good idea to inspect the gardens for perennials that may have heaved up in the garden.  Gently push them back down, and cover their shoulders with mulch.    
     It’s safe to cut butterfly bushes to knee-high, and to make sure they have a good layer of mulch.  We’ve had high winds this winter, and mulch may have blown away.  You can also cut off tall stalks of coneflower, etc. as the birds have eaten all the seeds out by now, but try not to step directly on garden soil.  I use a 2’ x 1’ board as a portable stepping to distribute my weight to help prevent compaction.   

Pantone’s Color(s) of the Year
     For the first time, Pantone has selected two colors, Rose Quartz (a very pale grayed, baby pink) and Serenity (a slightly grayed pale baby blue) as the “color of the year.”  Actually, what they’ve chosen is the blend of the two shades, allowing people to choose their favorite on the blended scale from the pure pink, through various shades of lavender that are formed by the blend, to the pure blue.  It’s supposed to represent America’s new embracing of gender shift.

Pleasant View Gardens introduces “Savor”
     This mega wholesale grower will be unveiling a “new” line of edibles that includes 84 vegetables and 58 herbs to appeal to the Millennials.  Their ad campaign line is “Grow your own adventure.”  Watch for them at various garden centers this spring.

“Random Acts of Flowers”
     FTD, ProFlowers and various other organizations and companies have teamed together to “rescue” floral arrangements from large dinners, parties, and other events and repurpose them as complimentary flowers for residents of senior care facilities.  It keeps beautiful flowers from being sent to the landfills, and brings a smile to many senior faces.  Already over 100,000 bouquets have been distributed (between Nov. 12 and Dec. 30th!) in the Chicago area.  Wouldn’t it be great if volunteers organized that in every community?

January is National Tea Month
     Invite a friend in to share a pot of tea to celebrate!  As most of you know, I’m a tea addict, so I’m always trying new combinations of herbs and tea blends.  I purchased a fantastic tea in Germany, “Salbei-Honig-Vanille,” or sage, honey, vanilla.  It is my favorite tea now, but I can’t go to Germany every time I want another box.  So, I decided to replicate it using 2 c. of my own dried sage leaves, ½ c. honey powder, and snipped vanilla beans.   The ingredients really need to age, and shaking every day helps spread the vanilla throughout the sage.   If you want it sweeter, use more honey powder.  Store it in a cool place, away from light.  I use 1 tsp. tea mixture per cup of boiling water.  You can see the crumbled sage leaves mixed with the honey powder, and the snipped vanilla beans below left.  The finished product and a cup of the tea is on the right.

     Sage is an excellent tea herb, known for improving mental ability and good health, especially as one ages.It is an easy-to-grow perennial, requiring only good drainage and lots of sunshine.  It can be started quickly from seed, or from cuttings.  The purple-blueflowers are beloved by hummingbirds, butterflies, and are delicious to top canapes or toss into salads.  The gray-green bumpy-textured leaves are traditionally used in stuffings, sausages and pork dishes.  In Italy, a common “sauce” for pasta is simply melted butter with lots of torn fresh sage leaves.  Amazingly simple, but amazingly delicious!

The flavor of sage can be strong, so you may prefer to combine it with mints, ginger, or other herbs to balance it for teas.  Or, cut it with stinging nettle, lemon grass, raspberry leaves, strawberry leaves, or other mild but healthful herbs.  Dark winter months are the perfect time to experiment with new tea blends, so be adventurous.  Do keep a record of your trials, so you can duplicate successes, or revise blends to improve the flavor.

While I was in Germany…..
     I can’t resist visiting garden centers, or just walking around photographing flowers and gardens when I am visiting my daughter and her family in Germany.  In general, I see trends there that I see the following year here. 

The trendy item this trip were these painted or dyed heathers, in very cheerful colors for winter containers or indoor planters.  Succulents were also in abundance, with lots of new shapes and colors. 

It always amazes me to see gallon rosemary plants priced at 2.99 euros, and the selection of orchids was enormous.


     We took a weekend trip to visit Bastogne, Belguim, the site of the Battle of the Bulge.  The museum there was outstanding.  I encourage Americans to visit.  You’ll be amazed at the details, the stories, the displays, movies, and the care taken there.  We drove out to see the fox holes still preserved in the beautiful Ardennes forest.(shown above)

Of course, we had to sample the special commemorative wine, and the local walnut liqueur, “NUTS” named in honor of General McAuliffe’s one-word response to the Germans’ demand to surrender.

Gooseberry-Elderflower Crumble
I had this scrumptious dessert in England, and liked it so much I made it for my birthday this month.  Yummy by itself, decadent served with whipped cream or ice cream.
Butter a 9” x 9” baking dish.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine 4 c. gooseberries, 1 ½ c. sugar, ¾ c. flour, 3 T. elderflowers (dried) and 2 t. vanilla.  Stir just until blended.  Pour into buttered dish.
Into same bowl (if there are bits left from first mix that’s ok) mix with a pastry blender  until it forms large crumbs:  1 c. crushed vanilla wafers; 3 T. room-temperature butter, diced; 1 T. flour; 1 t. elderflowers (dried).  Spread crumb mixture evenly over berries.  Bake about 30 min, until edges are bubbly and top is lightly browned.  Serve warm or cold.

That’s the news for January…just counting the days until Spring!  February will be a hectic month, with a full calendar.  Until the next newsletter, be sure to visit my blog at to learn what I’m growing in my new gardens.  

Herbal Blessings, Carolee