Monday, June 22, 2015

Garden Pictures

Finally had a day where the oregano was dry enough before a complete day of sunshine on it to make my harvest. I do not like to harvest after the sunshine has released many of the essential oils within the plant. Unfortunately it was beginning to set flowers, but was not so far along that it impacted the size of the leaves of the plant. Here you can see a picture of most of my harvest. I've spent the afternoon tying bundles to hang in my kitchen for a few days to dry. Hoping to have it ready to put into storage by the end of the week - and again with the AC on in the house, 2-3 days of small bundles should be enough.

Our current day oregano is native to the Mediterranean; however there is a similar strain that comes from Mexico. It has been used since the days of ancient Rome. However, until after WWII, it was an unknown here in the United States. Brought back with the soldiers and others who learned to love pizza. It is a natural for any tomato dish, yet I also love it with scrambled eggs and chicken dishes. Add some dried oregano to your bread dough and have a wonderful Italian flavored bread. I blend oregano with several other spices to create my Italian blend, things like paprika, garlic, pepper, and basil. I like to use this blend with pasta even if I am not using a tomato based sauce and will often add it to my white wine sauces as well.

Oregano is not used much as a medicinal plant. Yet it does have some wonderful tendencies. Colic with a baby and no catnip in the house - try a tisane (tea) of oregano. Having muscle cramps after an extreme workout in the garden, try a tisane of oregano. Its antispasmodic and calmative properties have been used by herbalist for centuries.

PS - another picture of my calendula harvest from today. My 10 plants just keep producing and producing blossoms. Time to get out to the market for a bottle of olive oil to make my first batch of salve. More about salve when I start that process within the next week.

Happy gardening!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Working in the garden yesterday and I noticed that one of my parsley plants had already started to bolt. When a plant bolts, it is beginning the process to create seeds. If I were in the seed business rather than the herb business, that would be a good thing; however, since I want to be able to harvest parsley from that plant for the remainder of the season, I needed to take action immediately. Here is a picture of my parsley patch, but the bolting plant is just in the middle and not very visible.

So I'm thinking, why would parsley that I have just planted this season be bolting already? As I think back over the spring season, I know that I put my parsley out very early this year - mid-April actually. This is very early for my part of the country to begin planting anything except root vegetables. We then had a week in mid May where the temperatures went down to freezing. While we didn't have any frost to damage the plants, the cold temperatures could have given the plants the idea that they were experiencing winter.

Parsley here in my growing zone (zone 6) is a biennial and the parsley always bolts early in the second growing season. So that's the only think I can think of that would cause this to occur so early in the first growing season of the plant.

What did I do when I took action yesterday. I immediately cut back the plant that began to bolt, taking the bolted stem right to the ground. I then harvested my entire parsley crop, which I now have laid out to dry in my kitchen. With the humidity we've been experiencing here in south-central Pennsylvania, the AC is on, so it should be completed dry and ready for me to store in the next day or two. If I didn't have the AC on, I would be looking at another method of drying it for storage, mostly because when it is this humid, the herb just won't dry sufficiently to be put in a jar and placed in my herb cupboard. Perhaps using the dehydrator or freezing the harvest would have been the other ways I would have preserved my harvest for the coming winter use.

After making my first harvest of parsley, I decided I needed to look around the garden to ensure nothing else was moving toward the seed phase, and found that my oregano, the Greek variety that I have planted, is moving toward setting on flowers as
well. Another herb that needed the first harvest made immediately. For me unfortunately we had a little rain shower before I got to it, and this morning I woke to more rain, so it will have to wait for the next dry day, but it will be the first thing on my to-do list when that day arrives. Here you can see a picture of the oregano. The leaves are getting very small towards the top of the plant and you can begin to see how the flower pod is beginning to form. You always want to harvest before your herb gets to this point so maintain the best flavor of your harvest.

But back to parsley. This is a very misunderstood herb in my humble opinion. Everyone looks at it as more of a decoration in your cooking than a flavoring. And what about it's medicine qualities, way down on the list for many herbalists.

Parsley is one of our ancient herbs and its usage can be dated back to the 3rd century BC. While it may have a mild flavor when added to your favorite dish, it is also very high in vitamin C. It blends well with many other herbs without over-powering them or the dish you are adding it to. Just to chew on a fresh leaf is a great way to freshen your breath. Parsley is always a part of my bundle of herbs when I make up a bouquet garni, with the other herbs being chosen by the dish I'm making.

On the medicinal side of parsley, it has a multitude of uses. I use it in every diuretic blend I create, need some help to release the fluid being retained in your body, parsley is your herb. I also use it when helping someone with bladder infections as one of the ingredients in my blends. Beware though of using parsley in your blend if your kidneys are inflamed. You want to get your kidneys healthy before you begin to use parsley so you don't overtax them and make the inflammation worse. With Parsley being high in vitamin C and with the green leafy sprigs it is also high in chlorophyll, it makes a great addition to any antioxidant blend you are creating as well.

Happy Blending!!!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Gardening Experiment

I have been working to terrace a bank in the back area of my yard. However, I chose to use limestone stones to create the walls to hold the terraces in place and it is definitely taking me longer than I anticipated to move all those stones. Just imagine 8 pallets of stone weighing from 5 lb. to 100 lb. Needless to say, I am unable to move some of them and am thankful every day for my son and nephew for their help with these larger stones.

I was so excited to have this area of my garden ready for spring planting when I started this project last fall, mostly because it gets sufficient sun for veggies that other parts of my gardens don't get. While the first level of stone work for the top terrace is almost finished, it still remained to back fill with dirt and I knew this wasn't going to happen in time for late spring planting.

I then began to do some reading on alternative gardening methods. Reading on planting in straw bales which was very interesting to me as I could place the bales on the soil between the walls and still grow my veggies. As I continued to read, I saw information about using hay bales and how similar to straw bale gardening yet a little different. Mostly because of the nutrients the hay provide that the straw don't.

The big difference is that you must prepare the hay bales, helping them start to break down as well as killing all the seeds that are laying there waiting to sprout so you don't have a weed problem taking away the nutrients from your plants. This process takes about two weeks before you can plant.

As I had decided to try this new method of gardening, one of my friends from high school mentioned on FB that she was baling hay that day. So I reached out to see if what she was baling were actually bales and not the large round things the farmers around me are all using today. And sure enough, she still did the bales that I remember from childhood - and they were just the exact size that I could manage on my own. So I went and picked up six bales of fresh hay. Thanks Sharon!!! Placed them in the space between the first two stone walls of my terraced bank and began the process of preparing the bales.

The preparation process was very simple actually, just took time. The first day, you spread a nitrogen fertilizer over the bales, about 1/2 cup per bale, then water the bale until it is soaked thru. Everything I read said to use a fertilizer that was 45-0-0; however I could not find any fertilizers with that strong of a nitrogen base. So I used what I could find and it is 13-0-0. The first day, I did the watering with my watering wand, and let me tell you - to get the hay bale totally wet took quite some time - I was out there with the watering wand for hours. The next day, you just water. Again I used my manual watering wand, but decided I had to go and pick up a soaker hose as this watering was just to time consuming.

From the third day forward, I would spread 1/2 cup nitrogen fertilizer on each bale and turn on the soaker hose. The next day (day 4) I just turned on the soaker hose until the hay bale was wet through and through.

After two weeks of this daily process, I decided it was time to check out the hay bales and begin my planting process. I was truly surprised by how much the hay bales had begun to break down. They were still working deep in the center of the bale and as such were still rather warm. I'm only hoping this heat from the hay bale will not impact my plants, but only time will tell.

So after two week of watering, fertilizing and watering and watering again, I decided it was time to plant.

Here you can see my six hay bales fully planted. For most of the bales, I only planted two plants each. Pumpkin and squash in one. Cantaloupe and squash in another. Squash and zucchini in a third. Peppers in a fourth. Tomatoes and herbs in the remaining two. Now I wait to see how they grow and how they produce. Trust me, I'll keep you informed on my process and any things I will change for the future.

If you look closely at the photos, you can see my walls in the process as well as the soaker hose as it snakes along the hay bales. And of course the tomato cages at the far end. Keeping my fingers crossed for a success harvest in this gardening experiment!!!