Monday, March 19, 2018

Egg Decorating with Herbs - Natural Egg Dyes

Many herbs and spices also contain fun colors, so you can create lovely shades with items you probably already have on hand. Below is a list of possibilities. Feel free to branch out, and try any other herbs you have in your pantry.
·         Turmeric (brownish orange)
·         Coffee
·         Nettle or mints (tan green)
·         Calendula (tan yellow)
·         Hibiscus (makes blue gray dye)
·         Onion skins (purple)
·         Black tea
·         Elderberries (purple)

Try a tablespoon of herb/spice material, a teaspoon of vinegar (which works as a fixative to help the eggshells take color) and enough hot water to fill a pint jar. I heat the water in a tea kettle and pour it into the jars. Use caution when pouring hot water if children are nearby, and allow it to cool slightly before allowing children to work with the dyes.
I put it all in wide mouth canning jars which gave room for the egg scooper to be used to life the eggs out of the dye.
Let eggs soak in the dye mixture for 10 minutes or longer, even several hours, depending on desired shade (and patience). Natural dyes often give softer, earthier hues than conventional dyes.

Hibiscus creating blue gray dye on three different eggs three different ways

Do not leave them in overnight or the vinegar will soften the egg shell - yes I did do that!
There are a variety of ways you can decorate your eggs beyond simply dyeing them solid colors. Try these ideas for adding more variation and creativity to the eggs!
1. Wrap eggs in rubber bands - everywhere the band hugs the egg, there will be no dye, giving cool patterns.
2. Use a white crayon or a corner of a slab of paraffin wax to make a design.  Where the is wax there is no dye. (You can see my "L" in the large picture above.)

3. Wipe the color off the egg when it is wet and you get a painted farmhouse style egg (see hibiscus dye above)
light leaf pattern
4. My fave use a nylon to hold a plant leaf against the egg and when you remove the nylon the leaf pattern will be undyed.
The texture of the leaf is visible in the right egg, so cool! These were dyed with rose petals giving a pinkish brown.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Not all Herbs are created Equal

When choosing herbs to go into your garden or herb garden you must recognize that not all herbs are the same.  They need different growing conditions, they have different habits, they even come in different colors.  For the most part all herbs need full sun which is defined as 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, they enjoy a well-drained soil with a moderate amount of water.  Herb as weed-like so they can survive less than perfect conditions by growing more slowly or producing less leaves and flowers.  However, some actually thrive in different conditions, so it helps you know your plants a bit better.  I am going to present few terms you might find in books or on seed packets and what that means to growing certain herbs.


Some herbs are annuals, these herbs are not cold hardy and have a single season growing habit that produces flowers and seeds for next year.  Many, like dill, have seed you can use to cook with as well as the leaves.  However, these plants are always trying to make seed so harvesting and cutting flowers off will increase their size and deter their natural habit.  Chervil, summer savory, any basil, cilantro, and dill are all annuals, but are easily grown from seed sown directly into the garden patch.

Dill – sow seeds bi-weekly for a continuous crop of this annual, giving you leaves and seeds to use in cooking.

Fennel - bronze Fennel is pretty with darker leaves than it green cousin and it is an annual you can grow easily from seed. Here it looks great flanked by Swiss Chard

Hardy Perennials

Some are hardy perennials, these will come back year after year producing many branches to be cut and used or dried.  They sprout early and sometimes depending on the weather you can actually get a hefty harvest in April even in the colder north. Mints, lavender, catnip, lemon balm, oregano, all are hardy perennials.

Apple Mint

Pineapple Mint
Mints – you can enjoy the many sub species to get different flavors, like Orange Mint, Mojito Mint, Chocolate Mint or Lemon Mint.

Tender Perennial

Tender perennials can come back year after year, but generally are not hardy below 32 degrees so if you live in the north you treat them as an annual or bring them in for winter, but in the south you may, with protection, be able to winter them over. Examples of a tender perennial include, rosemary, scented geraniums, pineapple sage, bay laurel and marjoram.

Marjoram -- is a tender perennial and many people grow it as an annual and harvest it to the ground before the first frost in the fall.


Between tender and hardy perennials are the biennials.  These are herbs that come up a second year, but in that second year they are planning to flower and produce seed and not much else.  Many, like parsley and angelica, become less tasty during the second year and are often grown as annuals.

Parsley - this leafy plant grows in whorls close to the ground, but sprouts into a stock in the second year when producing seed.

Woody Shrub

Woody shrubs are herbs with a strong woody stem and can be grown in the landscape as a shrub or in the herb garden as a perennial.  These would include sage, winter savory and even the tender perennial lemon verbena. Some people consider lavender a woody shrub because it is often grown as a hedge, but the stems rarely get woody.

Common Garden Sage

Sage is attractive and comes in several varieties including purple and tri color, however the colored varieties are not as hardy as the original.

Tri-color Sage

Other Textures and Conditions

Some familiar herbs come different colors or textures, like tri-color sage, bronze fennel, golden oregano, variegated lemon balm.
Golden Lemon Balm
Some herbs love a dry area, like thyme which works great in a path or a rock garden.  

thyme in a stone walkway

You can also enjoy some great varieties here, with creeping thyme that has a great pink/purple flower; or variegated lemon thyme that adds color and other thyme varieties with different shades of green or white highlights like silver thyme, or Wedgewood thyme.
Golden Thyme
variegated lemon thyme
A few herbs even like wetter conditions, like Marsh Mallow or Meadowsweet.

Marsh Mallow - This bog dweller sends up tall spikes of lovely pink flowers and stately foliage. Reaching up to 6 feet in height, marsh mallow prefers full sun. Its seeds, flowers and leaves are edible, and yes its root is used to make marshmallows

Meadowsweet - Meadowsweet’s frothy cream-colored flowers and fragrant leaves are very useful. The plants grows 2 to 6 feet tall and is happy in moist or wet soil, in sun or part shade.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Weekend Recipe - Best Ever Jambalaya

This month the recipe theme is Jambalaya so here is another Jambalaya recipes.  What I find is that which sausage you want to use, what seafoods you add, and if you add pork and/or chicken is regional due to availability or culture.  This recipes I found in Taste of Home Magazine several years back, but I no longer have the date of the magazine, as I only saved the clipping.  I'm not sure I think it is the best ever, but you can be the judge.

Best Ever Jambalaya from Taste of Home

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 pound fully cooked Spanish chorizo links, sliced
2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
3/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
3 cups chicken broth
2 large green peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped

1 Tbls N’Orlean Spirit by Backyard Patch Herbs or any other Cajun seasoning
2 tsp pepper sauce (like Tabasco)
3 cups instant brown rice
1/2 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined


In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chorizo and ham; cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until browned. Add chicken to pan; cook 5-7 minutes or until no longer pink. Stir in tomatoes, broth, peppers, onion, BYP N'Orleans Spirit and pepper sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 8-10 minutes or until peppers are crisp-tender. Return to a boil; stir in rice and shrimp. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 7-9 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes or until rice is tender. Yield: 10 servings

To find any recipe featured this month - use the search box and type: JambMar
To find any theme recipe from this year type: recipe2018

For 2018 the monthly recipe themes will be:
   January - Chicken Soup (ChickJan)
   February - Beef Stew (StewFeb)
   March - Jambalaya (JambMar)
   April - Ham & Shrimp Dishes
   May - Bread recipes
   June - Garden Delights
   July - Grilling
   August - Salsa, Corn and Jelly
   September - Squash Dishes
   October - Pumpkin Recipes
   November - Chili
   December - Herbal Cocktails

Monday, March 5, 2018

Seed Swap and Seed Saving

Seed Keeper Company is coming to the Garden Club meeting in March – check out the Garden Club website for more details.  That got me thinking about my collection of seeds which is not organized at all.  I do keep them in a cool dark place (bottom drawer of a filing cabinet and in a recycled plastic cat litter container.)  But, as you can see, they are in envelopes, tins, plastic bags, seed packets, my own handmade seed packets, and my favorite -- paper bags.  Lots of paper bags, most with a single scrolled half name of the original plant on them. And I would not call them organized.

Many of these seeds are three years old or more and I felt it was time to either use them or give them away.  We are having a mini seed swap at the March Garden Club Meeting where members and guests can bring seed to share or just pick up seed.  I am going to provide paper bags and coin envelopes and people can pick up a few seeds and then at the meeting learn about the history of seeds and some seed starting and preserving tips from Carol and Kerrie of Seed Keeper Company.  They will also have Seed Keepers and other garden accessories available for purchase, so you can get organized too.  They have a soil thermometer that I absolutely covet!

How did I organize my seeds?

First I took them all out of the drawer and the plastic storage container and spread them on the table.  I placed those I thought were quite old to the far left so I could check the germination. 

The rest I sorted loosely into vegetables, herbs and flowers.  And then subdivided into species as needed. At this point I check seed for germination.  I placed 10 seeds on a damp piece of paper towel, folded it over onto the seed and placed them in a warm area (on top of my refrigerator and in my upstairs bathroom) and waited to see of they would germinate.  I get a loose percentage of germination rate by how many of the 10 seeds actually germinate and can give people a loose idea of how well the seed will do for them.  Since all seeds have different lengths of time they can be kept before they lose vitality this is an easy home method to check to see if you save that seed a bit too long.

Then I grabbed a few reference books.  If I was going to place these in bags to take to the meeting I needed to include information about the soil needs, growing habit and germination periods for the plants so others not as familiar with them as I am can enjoy them.  I chose to put this information on an Index sized card, rather than writing it on the bag or container, then I can transfer the seeds to different containers and never lose the information.  Now only a name needs to go on the bag, box or envelope.  I used the Park’s Success with Herbs by Gertrude Foster as my main source for info.  Nobody knew seeds like Park’s back in the day!

If you want a copy of that seed info card - download this PDF!

For the Swap I decided I would put a large amount into envelopes or bags and people could just pick up one small package with 10 to 20 seeds in try out at home.  For those with a larger garden I also kept some seed that I had in larger amounts, in paper bags.  Then they can scoop out some seed to grow.

These are the finished collections of seed.  I have kept a manageable amount for myself to plant both indoors and outside (back into the drawer they go.) And have two containers of seed to go to the Garden Club meeting.  These are well labeled and can be used by visitors to the March Garden Club meeting to enhance their own gardens or start a new one.

UPDATE AS OF 3/7/2018: Our Meeting has changed!  We will now have a talk on seed starting as Seed Keepers has had to reschedule, but we will still be enjoying the seed swap beginning at 7:00 pm

If you live anywhere near Villa Park, Illinois (that is a direct west suburb of Chicago) then please feel free to stop by, our meetings are free and open to members of the public, even if you are not a member of the Garden Club of Villa Park.  The March Meeting will be held Tuesday March 27, 2018 7:00 PM for the seed swap, 7:30 PM for the informational meeting featuring Seed Starting at 320 E Wildwood Ave Villa Park, IL  (Lion’s Recreation Center.)

I would not say my seeds are organized yet, but at least they are in manageable groupings.  I will get a Seed Keeper at the Garden Club Meeting and then I can file them with the information on my seed cards!  Wow aren't I organized!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Chamomile Foot Soak - Bath Blend of the month

Botanical bath and shower products inspired by the garden were not my first creations when I started Backyard Patch Herbs.  In fact I expected not to make many at all.  When I began I had Italian Dressing & Marinade, Marcy's Dill Dip, 6 herbal tea blends and one bath salt recipe and that was my entire catalog in 1997.  

Somehow that has changed and I now make a large number of Bath Products.  They are fun and simple to create.  I have formulated more recipes than I can ever put into my catalog of products so I have decided that I will share some of my favorite bath formulations each month.  Come back around the beginning of each month for another special body treatment.

One way to soothe and pamper tired, achy tootsies that rarely see the light of day in the winter is to soak them in a hot foot bath. 

Water temperature is a personal preference, but I find the hottest my feet will comfortably tolerate gives the most relief, and then you have warmed up your feet from the outside when the temps did down.

Chamomile Tea Foot Soak
You can make this with tea bags or loose tea in a tea infuser.  (I recommend BYP Nerve Soothing Tea if you have it on hand - you will get the benefits of Chamomile as well as the bacteria and fungi fighting qualities of sage and thyme with the pain reduction qualities of marjoram)

4 tea bags of 4 to 6 tsp loose tea in a tea infuser
1/8 cup dried parsley

4 drops Essential oil of choice (lemon or apple for scent, cinnamon for warming, thyme for germ fighting are all good)

Place all ingredients in a foot tub or shallow bucket and pour 1 gallon of boiling water over the ingredients.  Allow to steep in hot water for 10 minutes before slipping your feet into the water for a soak.

After a good long soak, dry your feet thoroughly and apply a moisturizing lotion before slipping on socks or slippers!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Recipe Theme for March - Jambalaya

I wanted to start the month with a recipe.  The weather here was warm this week, but today is back to winter and a warming Jambalaya is a perfect pick me up of rich flavors and hearty broth that can shake away the I-Am-Done-With-Winter feeling that seems to spread this time of year.

I love Jambalaya because it is generally a one pot meal perfect for the family.  And fancy enough to serve to company. Don’t confuse Jambalaya with Gumbo. Gumbo is a stew or soup that is traditional in Louisiana – it is almost always made with a roux to thicken the broth. In Louisiana every family has their own unique gumbo recipe. Jambalaya on the other hand is a rice-based dish which is usually made in one pot. It is considered by some to be a Cajun cuisine.  Originating from the French-speaking Acadian or “Cajun” immigrants deported by the British from Acadia in Canada to the Acadiana region of Louisiana. It is what could be called a rustic cuisine — locally available ingredients predominate, and preparation is simple and many time one-pot.

To make the best Jambalaya you need a heavy bottom Dutch oven.  We got a small food network one a few years ago and my husband realized he had never really cooked until he had a Dutch oven.  We soon needed a larger one, so as a gift I got him a bigger gray one.  Now armed with this and kosher salt, my hubby can cook anything!

We are going to start with a traditional Louisiana Jambalaya and then over the month branch into different variations on the Jambalaya theme.  This one does take some time, as you are going to make the chicken stock and cook the chicken as step one, then make the other parts which go a bit faster.

Traditional Jambalaya

1 small broiler-fryer chicken
1 stalk celery (cut into bit size pieces with leaves)
1 onion (quartered)
4 garlic cloves
2 cups converted long grain rice
1lb cooked and peeled shrimp
1lb smoked sausage (sliced) Andouille if you can get it.
1lb ham (cubed)
1⁄4 cup butter
1 cup yellow onion (chopped)
3⁄4 cup green bell pepper (chopped)
1⁄4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 large bay leaf
1⁄4 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large pot, cover chicken with water and add the celery, quartered onion, and the 4 cloves of garlic. Boil until tender, approximately 1 hour.

Reserve the stock. Remove the chicken from the bones & either cut, slice, cube or shred.
In 5 cups of stock, cook rice until liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. The rice should be slightly moist.

In a Dutch oven, sauté the sausage and ham until slightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove the sausage and ham from the Dutch oven and set aside.

Add butter to Dutch oven and sauté the chopped onion, green bell pepper and parsley until tender, about 3 minutes.

Into the Dutch oven, add the chicken, sausage, ham, the 2 cloves of minced garlic, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper.

Mix, and then add the rice and the cooked shrimp and mix thoroughly. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

To find any recipe featured this month - use the search box and type: JambMar
To find any theme recipe from this year type: recipe2018

For 2018 the monthly recipe themes will be:
   January - Chicken Soup (ChickJan)
   February - Beef Stew (StewFeb)
   March - Jambalaya (JambMar)
   April - Ham & Shrimp Dishes
   May - Bread recipes
   June - Garden Delights
   July - Grilling
   August - Salsa, Corn and Jelly
   September - Squash Dishes
   October - Pumpkin Recipes
   November - Chili
   December - Herbal Cocktails
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