Tuesday, March 26, 2024

How Tuesday - make newspaper seed balls for Easter or Spring planting

I started getting seed catalogs before Christmas, I am thinking they were hoping you would get them as a Christmas gift, or that you would want to escape your family for a few minutes and start reading and choosing your seeds, either way it got me thinking about seed a bit sooner than I usually do.

As a result I started planning what to do with all the seed I collected from the yard and the flower garden this year.  One of the great things to do is make your own seed balls.  If you and the kids are bored and getting some cabin fever, you can make these as a project too.

There are recipes available that use compost, seeds and clay.  I like those and have done them for programs as a giveaway, but this version using newspaper is easier and can be done in smaller batches.

Why we’re OK with this method: In an anaerobic landfill, newspaper takes a long, long time to break down. Not ideal. But in a garden, yard, or otherwise open area in need of fortifying (i.e., an environment with plenty of oxygen), newspaper should degrade just fine. Plus, it’s craft-project-friendly. In other words, less messy. Slightly.

I’ve heard reports that newspaper seedballs do better when planted rather than thrown. 

Newspaper Seed Balls (yield 20 balls)

10 Sheets of newspaper

Paper shredder


An immersion blender (or a food processor that you’re prepared to commit to the seedball cause)

about 1/8 cup seeds, especially wildflowers and herbs



1. Shred the newspaper using a paper shredder. Or if you are really bored, tear the paper by hand or cut with shredding scissors like I did.


2. Soak the shredded newspaper in a bowl of water for a bit—a useful step but not crucial.


3. Transfer the whole soggy mess to a food processor or to a stainless-steel bowl in which you can safely use an immersion blender. CAUTION! Newspaper ink can stain plastics, including your food processor, so if you’re going that route, you might pick up a cheap second-hand model. In some ways, an immersion blender is ideal because the only bits that touch the newspaper are stainless steel and easy to clean.


4. Blend. You might need to add extra water but don’t go overboard. You’re aiming for chunky pulp not watery goo.


5. If you’re using a food processor, transfer the pulp to a bowl. Whichever method you’re using, relocate to an area where you can catch the messy drippings. Grab handfuls of the pulp and squuuuuueeeeeeeeze the water out. Dispose of the water or reuse it for future batches. Dump each squeezed handful of pulp back in a bowl.


6. Add your seeds to the pulp. I used about 1/8 cup for ten sheets of newspaper, which was plenty. Knead well.


7. From here, you can press your seedball pulp into mini cupcake molds or use cookie cutters and press the pulp into them to make fun shapes. Both of these versions are kid- and gift-friendly. Or you can simply pinch off heaping tablespoons and roll them into balls between your palms: quick and dirty. 


8. Let dry. A windowsill in the kitchen did the trick but an outdoor spot in partial shade should work, too. It will take a couple days. I recommend giving them a week before placing them in a container.


9. Toss into an abandoned roadside. Pot them to grow. Give them to a friend. Or store for future use. Newspaper seedballs will keep for months so you can make them and gift them and then plant them in spring.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

12 Herb Growing Tips

I love herbs, they are part of my every day. They are in my hand cream, shower soap, shampoo, breakfast tea, evening meal and scenting my home and patio. Now you do not need to go quite as far as I do to enjoy herbs in your garden. Here is a list of 12 tips that you can use to get you started including herbs in your garden.

1. Plant Perennials. Edible plants that come back year after year save planting time, and maintenance is usually limited to annual weeding, fertilizing and mulching. Hardy perennials like sage, lemon balm and mints will thrive where winters are cold, sorrel is a terrific perennial salad green, horseradish grows almost anywhere. And don’t forget the self-seeding annuals. You can have an easy crop of cilantro and calendula by letting them drop seed at the end of the season, just leave a marker so you do not dig up the patch before they sprout.

2. Include Essential Kitchen Herbs. You will regret it if you skip the traditional culinary herbs even if what you want is a medicinal garden. The rewards of growing culinary herbs such as basil, dill, oregano, sage and parsley, which are easy to grow and sometimes pricey to buy, will give you good meals and something to trade with later.
mints, sage and edible flowers

Grow Good Things to Drink. In addition to growing what you eat, try growing tasty beverages. Making simple syrups from Lemon balm or lemon verbena makes fun lemonade and great summer cocktails. Apple and Pineapple Mint are perfectly refreshing for summer iced tea. Did you know you could make a rhubarb stalk tea that is a tart substitute for lemonade?
Lemon balm with a dragon fly

Experiment with Herbs you have never grown or never heard of. Look for a variety of thyme, sage or oregano that has a different color, texture or flavor, like lemon thyme, purple sage or golden oregano. They will break up the landscape as well as introduce new ideas. There is nothing more lovely than a vinegar made with purple basil and the taste is just as great as the regular sweet basil. Choose the herb of the year for 2024 Common Yarrow.
Common yarrow It will thrive in poor soil during dry periods and still produce blooms. It was introduced to America during colonial times and is considered a naturalized native plant.

White yarrow

Growing Tips 
Common yarrow is a perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9 and thrives in sun but can tolerate shaded areas. Growing upright 2-3 feet tall and spreading to 3 feet, it is best placed near the back of ornamental gardens and may need to be staked in windy areas. Cutting back plant stems before flowering in late spring can help control the height of the plant.

 You can grow it in pots as well. Check out these Yarrow posts. 5. Interplant Compatible Crops. Basil is said to make tomato plants ripen better and faster, so I always interplant a few basil with the tomatoes. Other plants can be added for color or companion planting to keep away bugs and other pests. Here is a link to a post on Companion Planting.
6. Succession Sow for Steady Harvests. Cilantro is a great herb for making salsa, but many people complain that it goes to seed long before the tomatoes are ripe. Solve this problem by sowing seed two weeks apart through the end of August. This will give you a constant crop of tasty leaves. You can do the same with Dill to provide dill weed to go with all your summer vegetables.


7. Create Many Mini-Gardens. Just because you do not have a large garden plot or a space that gets all the required sun, does not mean you cannot make a garden for yourself. If you have a small area to the south or west that will get the needed 6 hours of sunshine, place a small patch of herbs I that space and enjoy the wonders of a good harvest. Establish deep, fertile beds wherever the sun beckons, and use large containers to make use of sunny spaces on your deck or patio.

Kitchen herb garden at Chicago Botanic Gardens

8. Try Vertical Gardening. If you have a small patio or balcony use your upward space to make the most of what is available. Create terraces with stacked pots or cement blocks, or even recycle a wooden palate for vertical space. By adding 3 to 4 inches of compost at the beginning of each new season, you can grow herbs and vegetables I a tight spot. Nasturtiums look very nice spilling from a pallet.

9. Use Herbs for Free Fertilizer. Take advantage of free, nitrogen-rich fertilizers you can craft from herbs such as comfrey, parsley and chamomile. Make a fertilizer tea by steeping leaf cuttings in water or just add these to your compost bin to enrich your spreadable compost.
compost bin

10. Weed Early and Often. Most garden crops require weeding at least three times: Plan to weed five to seven days after sowing or transplanting, again seven to 10 days later, and a third time three to four weeks after the crop has been planted. By that time, the plants should be big enough to mulch and should have plenty of leaves to shade the soil’s surface cutting back on weed growth.
11. Preserve the Harvest. Much less garden produce will go to waste if you freeze the extra in small batches every few days. For example, add chopped chives diced tomatoes or squash and freeze for quick cooking later. Combine green beans with dill in a small zip seal bag and drop into the freezer when your garden gave you more than a meals worth. You can also create seasoning ice cubes by chopping herbs and measuring into an ice cube tray, top with water and freeze. Once frozen, pop the cubes into a zip seal bag and you have a winter worth of pre-measured herbs for soups and stews come winter.

Drying is the easiest way to preserve your herbs. Cut the stems at the peak of flavor, generally early morning after the dew is lifted and bundle with a rubber band. Hang to dry out of the sun and use to create blends, season foods and decorate and scent your home.

So go try out a few herbs in your garden space and share with us how it went!  You can share thoughts and ideas here or on our Instagram page: www.instagram.com/backyardpatch43 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Natural Control of Ants

We are still getting used to our new house.  My last house had a seasonal ant infestation that I took care of with natural means and was able with a few modifications to keep them out of the house for the most part.

Here I had to start over.  We had the usual spring infestation when the ground warmed and they came in looking for food.  With a bit of work. I was able to end that in quick order.

Generally, I sprayed a vinegar mix in the areas they entered and sprinkled baking soda in the pathways to keep them from coming back.

Recently I have a new one, in my office by the window.  This is weird because the window is in a bumpout that does not reach the ground on the exterior of the house, so I am trying to figure out where they are getting in, so I can stop the invasion, but until I do I am using a number of different applications to keep them under control.

Controlling Ants Naturally

1. Distilled White Vinegar

A white vinegar and water solution is a common method to wipe out ants for good. Ants don't like the smell of vinegar. It not only repels them; it can also kill them. Depending on how much you can bear the smell, mix at least one part vinegar and three parts water. Some people use 100% vinegar in a spray bottle or a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar. You can stop with just plain white distilled, but since it is my office I opted for a thyme and lemon scented vinegar.  I can kill germs and the scent is more nose friendly as it is my office.

Ants search for food using pheromones, leaving a trail for other ants to follow. To get rid of the trail, spray this mixture anywhere you spot ants. Don't forget any entry points, like window sills, backdoors, or baseboards. Use the solution to wipe down and sanitize surfaces. If used once a week or so, you should see a marked improvement.

2. Citrus Fruits

Ants hate the smell of citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, and oranges, so they're an excellent natural repellant. Save your lemon or grapefruit peels and scatter them around entryways. They act as natural deterrents without causing ants any harm.

3. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is one of the best household remedies for creeping critters in your home or garden. The odor of peppermint is strong enough to ward off insects—ants, flies, and mosquitoes—without being pungent enough to cause headaches or nausea.  I created a spray using peppermint essential oil using it to wipe down the windowsills, wall areas and baseboards.  The scent is very relaxing.

Another option is to use an oil incense burner near the ant infestation source to keep them from coming back. 

4. Cinnamon

Studies show that cinnamon has a compound known as trans-cinnamaldehyde that effectively repels and kills ants. Place ground cinnamon around common entryways and its strong smell will act as a natural repellent. You can also coat cotton balls with cinnamon powder or cinnamon oil and place them near ant-prone areas. I sprinkle cinnamon on ant hills that are too close to the house or along the foundation so they relocate away from the house.

5. Salt

Spread table salt near nooks and corners to keep ants away. A line of salt or baking soda creates a barrier that repels ants. A spray of salt water solution can also help kill ants by dehydrating them. I use this once I figure out where they are coming in then I spray them as they enter and leave and take care of them.

6. Cayenne or Black Pepper

Like many people, ants find the smell of raw pepper to be irritating. Sprinkle pepper around the areas where ants access the house. A Texas A&M study found that a water and pepper solution was effective at killing ants.

7. Borax (sodium tetraborate)

Borax and boric acid are not the same chemical compound despite their similar-sounding name. But both may be equally as effective at killing ants in the home.  However, it is 
imperative to keep borax away from pets and children as it may be harmful.

To use borax, follow these steps:

  • Put on safety gloves.
  • Make a solution of 1/2 teaspoon borax, 8 teaspoons sugar, and 1 cup warm water.
  • Stir until the sugar and borax are dissolved.
  • Saturate cotton balls and place them around your home in areas where you commonly see ants.
  • After use, wash containers thoroughly or discard.

Find borax in the laundry section of Walmart or the grocery store or at your local hardware store.

So once I kill them at the entry point.  I will need to take care of the entry point.

How to Keep Ants Out of Your House

1. Seal all entry points. Caulk and seal any cracks or exposed crevices where ants can access the house.

2. Keep sweets in airtight containers, tightly wrapped with foil or plastic, or in the fridge. And stop throwing food items out in the office trash that may not be picked up as often as the kitchen trash.

3. Regularly clean countertops, floors, cabinets, and pantries. Also, keep pet food properly stored between meals and regularly clean pet bowls.

4. Take out the trash and make sure that the trash cans are covered. Inspect the cans for residue that might linger after taking the garbage out and clean them regularly.

We know they came into my office due to a tossed out frosty cup in my office trash.  The sweet was a magnet for the ants. I took out the trash, treated the wall so they lost the scent track to the trash can and then went looking for where they came in.  My office is nowhere near the kitchen or the pantry or anywhere else that food is kept so the fact I still have the ants after removing the Frosty cup means there is another source that requires investigation.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Fennel and Rosemary Tea - Herb Tea of the Month

This is a curative blend that should be taken in moderation and avoided if you are pregnant or nursing and if you are prone to epileptic seizures.

Fennel and Rosemary Tea

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ tsp fennel seed, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves

Boil water add fennel seed and simmer for 10 min.  Pour fennel water over the rosemary leaves and step 5 minutes strain and sweeten with honey.  Sip slowly while warm.

Have a cup of this tea a day for a week after your main meal, then give it a 7 day rest before taking it again.  You don’t want to overdo it with these herbs.

Rosemary is rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sodium. The scent of rosemary is said to improve memory and drinking it can assist with digestion as well as thin blood and control blood pressure levels. 

Fennel is a source of malic acid which improves digestive function and potassium which helps it lower blood pressure. It also has a calming action which alleviates stress and anxiety, improving sleep quality. 

And finally both herbs can help with cold symptoms, sore throat and headaches.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Angel Toner - Bath Blend of the Month

 This blend of ingredients is a special little infusion that is great for your skin. Toners are a thin, water-like formula meant to be used in-between your face wash and other skincare steps to "prime" the skin for skincare. Previously, toners were heavy on the alcohol and were perfect for people with acne as they were very drying.  But these days they are not only for removing excess oil from the face, but contain a variety of soothing, brightening, and anti-aging ingredients.

Angel Toner

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 5 Tbls rose petals
  • 4 Tbls sage leaves
  • 3 Tbls raspberry leaves
  • 2 Tbls rosemary
  • ¾ cup rosewater

Heat vinegar to just under boiling and pour over herbs.  Place in a jar with a plastic lid and allow to steep 10 days shaking every day.  Strain.  Add rosewater.  Store.

To Use: Place a small amount of toner an a cotton ball or pad and smooth over skin after washing and before applying moisturizer

Monday, February 26, 2024

Six Great Plants for Spring - how to grow and use them!

Whether you're an experienced gardener or just starting, growing your own herbs and vegetables can be a rewarding experience. Not only does it provide you with fresh, flavorful ingredients, but it also allows you to connect with nature and enjoy the satisfaction of nurturing plants from seed to harvest. In this post we'll explore the planting, growing, and culinary uses of six delicious plants: Rainbow Swiss Chard, Arugula, Sweet Pea, Strawberries, Parsley, and Chives.


Planting: Arugula prefers cool weather and grows best in well-draining soil. Plant seeds ¼ inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows spaced 6-12 inches apart. It can be grown in full sun to partial shade.

Growing: Keep the soil consistently moist, but avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot. Arugula grows quickly and can be harvested in as little as 4 weeks. Harvest by cutting the leaves when they are young and tender, before the plant starts to flower.

Using: Arugula has a peppery flavor that adds a delicious kick to salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes. It can also be used as a garnish for soups and pizzas.


Arugula and Pasta

4 cups arugula leaves washed, drained and trimmed
1 pound uncooked rigatoni or other small pasta
2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
3 garlic cloves pressed or minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
salt & red or black pepper to taste

Tear arugula into generous bite-sized pieces. Lay the leaves in a large, heat resistant, shallow serving dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until it reaches that barely tender stage. Remove and drain. While the pasta is cooking prepare this easy tomato sauce: Heat olive oil and stir garlic around until softened and fragrant. Add tomatoes and seasonings and heat to a simmer. Remove bay leaf.  Pour the hot, drained steaming pasta, over the bed of arugula.  Spread the tomato sauce over the pasta. Let a few bright green leaves show around the edges of the pasta. Do not toss together. Serve with grated parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6.


Planting: Chives are a perennial herb that grows well in containers or in the ground. Plant them in well-draining soil in a sunny location. Space the plants 6-8 inches apart in rows spaced 12 inches apart. They can be started from seed, but I recommend getting nursery plants to be able to harvest sooner.

Growing: Keep the soil consistently moist and fertilize yearly with a balanced fertilizer. Harvest the leaves as needed, cutting them down to the base of the plant. Chives can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Using: Cut the flowers in spring and use in salads or to create onion flavored vinegar. Chives have a mild onion flavor that pairs well with a variety of dishes. Use them fresh as a garnish or add them to salads, soups, and omelets for extra flavor.

Spring Herb Popcorn 

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels 
  • 2 tbsp butter melted, can sub olive oil 
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill chopped
  •  1/4 cup fresh chives chopped S
  • Sea salt to taste

Pop the popcorn kernels using an air popper or other device. When the popcorn is finished, transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with melted butter or olive oil. Shake the bowl to distribute the butter or oil more evenly. You will need to do this before adding the herbs so that they have something to stick to and won't fall to the bottom. Add the fresh herbs and shake the bowl again. Add sea salt to taste, and enjoy


Planting: Parsley is a biennial herb that is best grown from nursery plants, as the seed is difficult to germinate. Plant plants 6-8 inches apart in rows spaced 12 inches apart. Parsley prefers well-draining soil and full sun to partial shade.

Growing: Keep the soil moist, but once a starting fertilizer, it should do well if the soil is rich without any additional fertilizer. Harvest the outer leaves as needed, leaving the inner leaves to continue growing. Parsley can be harvested throughout the growing season. Although a biennial, it should be treated as an annual and removed from the garden at the end of the season.

Using: Parsley is a versatile herb to use fresh or dried.  Fresh parsley is very rich in Vitamin A and potassium. It is moderately rich in Vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, and phosphorous. It is also a good source of dietary fiber. It adds flavor to soups, stews, sauces, and salads. It can also be used as a garnish for a decorative touch and to freshen breath.

Creamy Parsley Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbls sour cream (or plain yogurt)

Combine all ingredients except sour cream in food processor, blender or bowl and mix well.  With machine running (or using whisk if preparing by hand), slowly add sour cream, blending thoroughly.  Refrigerate in an airtight jar and shake well before serving.


Rainbow Swiss Chard

Planting: Rainbow Swiss Chard is a cool-season crop that thrives in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Plant seeds ½ inch deep and 2-3 inches apart in rows spaced 12-18 inches apart. Ensure the plants receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.

Growing: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Thin the seedlings to 6-8 inches apart once they reach a few inches in height. Mulch around the plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Harvest by cutting outer leaves when they reach 6-8 inches tall, leaving the inner leaves to continue growing.

Using: Rainbow Swiss Chard can be used in a variety of dishes, from salads and soups to stir-fries and omelets. Its colorful stems are edible and add a vibrant touch to any dish.

 Sauteed Swiss Chard with garlic

  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard, approximately 6 to 8 stems
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup water
  • kosher salt, to taste

Prep the Swiss chard. Remove the stems at the bottom of the leaves and slice them up. Roll the leaves into a cigar-like shape and slice across horizontally into one-inch wide strips. Cook the garlic and stems. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Then, add the water and chard stems and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until softened. Add the leaves. Cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, until the chard leaves wilt down. Before serving, sprinkle with kosher salt, to taste.


Planting: Strawberries are perennial plants that can be grown in containers or in the ground. Plant them in well-draining soil in a sunny location. Space the plants 12-18 inches apart in rows spaced 2-3 feet apart. There are three types: June-bearing strawberries produce a large, concentrated crop in mid-June to early July; Ever-bearing types produce two crops, one in early summer and the second in early fall; Day neutral plants produce fruit throughout most of the growing season.

Growing: Keep the soil consistently moist and mulch around the plants to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Remove any runners to encourage the plants to focus on fruit production. Harvest the berries when they are fully ripe and red. The June-bearing produce the largest yield per season, but in a short period of time.  The plants begin flowering in May with fruit appearing about four weeks later.

Using: Strawberries are delicious eaten fresh, but they can also be used in a variety of desserts, jams, and sauces. They pair well with chocolate, cream, and other berries.

Lemony Strawberry Butter 

• 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter
• 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
• 4 tablespoons minced strawberries
• 1 teaspoon minced fresh lemon balm
• 1 teaspoon minced fresh lemon verbena

Combine all the ingredients. Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.  it is great on scones and biscuits..

Sweet Pea

Planting: Sweet Peas are a climbing plant that requires support such as a trellis or fence. Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows spaced 12 inches apart. They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Keep the soil consistently moist and provide support for the vines to climb. Pinch off the growing tips of the vines to encourage branching and more flowers. Harvest the pods when they are young and tender for the best flavor.

Using: Sweet Peas can be eaten raw or cooked. Add them to salads, stir-fries, or pasta dishes for a sweet and crunchy texture.

 Sweet Pea Guacamole 

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh green peas
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, minced 
  • ⅓ cup chopped cilantro
  • tortilla ships, raw vegetables, or crackers

Sprinkle a pinch of salt over garlic and mash into a paste using the side of your knife. Add mashed garlic to a food processor with the peas, lime juice, and a generous pinch of salt. Pulse mixture until a coarse purée forms, scraping with a rubber spatula occasionally. With motor running, stream in olive oil and blend until smooth. Taste, and adjust seasonings. Add jalapeño, onion, and cilantro. Pulse just to incorporate. Serve guacamole with chips, vegetables, or crackers.

Growing your own herbs and vegetables can be a fun and rewarding experience. Whether you have a large garden or just a few pots on a sunny balcony, these six plants are sure to add beauty and flavor to your home. Experiment with different varieties and recipes to discover the joys of homegrown produce!


Thursday, February 15, 2024

Razzlemint Tea from Morning Sun Herb Farm - Herb Tea Blend of the Month

I like this recipe as it has rosehips for great vitamin C, lemongrass for germ fighting and raspberry leaf for lots of other ailments. With a strong hot of mint, it is cooling and sweet making it a great tea to enjoy when it is hot or when it is cold.

Razzlemint Tea from Morning Sun Herb Farm (https://morningsunherbfarm.com/)

1 teaspoon dried spearmint

1 teaspoon dried peppermint

1 teaspoon crushed rosehips

 1 teaspoon dried lemongrass

1/2 tsp orange peel

1/2 tsp raspberry leaf

dash of cinnamon

Mix ingredients together well.  Bring cool water to a boil.  Place 1 tsp of the tea blend in a tea infuser, pour 1 cup of boiling water over and allow to steep for 3 – 5 minutes, preferably in a covered container. 

For iced tea, allow to steep up to 10 minutes, then allow to cool to room temperature and add ice and a squeeze of lemon if desired.

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