Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Backyard Garden Update

We crafted the raised beds back in late May and planted them over a couple of weeks.

We started with the two front (closest to camera beds) then added three more behind them.  The former sandbox in the far right was converted to an herb garden last year and added to this year.

The hubby made me two trellises.  One for cucumber (foreground) and one for coreopsis in the background.

Three of the raised beds were given to me by a friend in the garden club.  The two not so weathered are new.  Was going to make them from scratch, but found these at ACE hardware and they matched the others so we were thrilled.                                                                                                                                                                                     We still did not have enough room, so ended up planting extra plants in the "corners" between two raised beds, or at the ends.  May regret this when things start to spread.

Strung string between to posts for the snap peas to grow on.  These are for Chas.... I hate peas!

 Here is the Herb garden.  The larger plants are the ones planted last fall. The L-shape area was prepared with compost and additional soil to be able to take new plants.  The older area I prepped in a hurry last fall and only had enough soil for that small space.  We composted fall leaves and sticks and had more soil by springtime.

 I put in a rosemary and a lemon verbena in the ground.  I have not done that in years.  They grow so much better in the ground, but then you have to dig them up in the fall.

This year someone in the garden club had strawberry plants so I used my strawberry pot!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Herb of the Week - A variety of Mints

Recently at the Plant Sale I was asked about other mints to grow besides the Pineapple Mint we had at the sale. Now I tend to stick to the traditional for my herb garden where I mostly grow what they call true mints -- spearmint and peppermint.  But there are many other options as well.  The hybrid exotics, give one many choices, from Chocolate Mint, to Apple Mint to Ginger Mint.  Here is a run through of some of the exotic mints you might want to try in your garden and why.

Chocolate Mint
If you enjoy the taste combination of crisp mint and rich chocolate, you'll love chocolate mint (Mentha piperita). Closely related to spearmint, chocolate mint stands out from the crowd due to its purple stem and indulgent cocoa scent and taste -- without the calories. Chocolate mint can be used fresh or dried and makes a great addition to teas, baked goods, fresh fruit, and ice cream.  Besides it’s chocolate – what’s not to like.

Ginger Mint
Mentha gentilis, also known as ginger mint, is an easy to grow herb with a spearmint-like scent. The herb's leaves are veined yellow and can be dried or used fresh to add flavor to fruit salads, teas, and marinades.  Visually different from most mints it is a nice addition to the landscape.

Ginger mint is believed to have antiseptic properties and is used to help relieve tummy troubles. In addition, the herb is used commercially to repel rats and other rodents.

Apple Mint
Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) is a lovely, aromatic plant that can rapidly become obnoxious if not contained. When kept confined, this is a beautiful herb with many fantastic culinary, medicinal and decorative properties. Since apple mint can be invasive, it is wise to consider confining the plants to a container. You can put the plant in a container and then bury the container.

Consider planting apple mint alongside cabbage, peas, tomatoes and broccoli to improve their flavor. Use fresh leaves as a pretty and fragrant dessert topping, as salad additions – especially fruit salad, or to make tasty apple mint dressing. The fresh or dried leaves can be used in both hot and iced teas.

Water mint
This strongly scented herb (Mentha aquatica) smells similar to peppermint and requires high moisture to thrive. If you have an area prone to flooding and a place that stays damp this is the perfect plant for that spot and water mint is known for its pretty, sphere-shaped lavender flowers so you get a real treat for the eyes.  However, it's the leaves that hold the herb's medicinal and culinary benefits.

Water mint can be dried for use in teas to treat digestive problems, fevers, or headache and is also used as a sore throat and mouth gargle. The herb can also be used fresh in salads and other culinary dishes.

Corsican Mint
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) grows as a beautiful bright green, moss-like, ground cover with tiny light purple flowers. The herb prefers moist soil and shady areas. Its small leaves and low habit make it perfect as part of a fairy garden.

Corsican mint has an especially strong scent and taste and is known for its use in creme de menthe and other liqueurs. In addition, Corsican mint tea made from dried leaves is sometimes used to treat digestive illness, headaches, and fever.

Remember that mint are perennials and that they will grow prolifically as they reproduce by seed, runner and root multiplication,

Please keep in mind that while mint is generally considered safe to use, large quantities of any variety may be toxic. It's critical to consult your doctor before using mint or any other herb as an herbal remedy, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Celebrating Martha Washington

I have celebrated presidents in the past in February but I thought this year I would celebrate Martha Washington. Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington in 1759, was born 
June 13, 1731.

She is known for a few rather poignant quotes:

               The greater part of our happiness or misery               depends on our dispositions and not on our 
          circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one 
          or the other about with us in our minds
          wherever we go.

          I am fond of only what comes from the heart.

rarer image of young Martha Washington

Martha was also a normal 1700s housewife with books of recipes and notes for keeping a household. This example is for Honey of Roses is more of a honey infused with roses.  The intensity of the flavor from changing the rose as suggested would make this a wonderful flavoring and probably a good treatment for skin.

Martha Washington's Recipe for
Honey of Roses

Take a pinte of honey, boyle & scum it, & add as many bruised leaves of red roses buds (ye whites being cut of) as you may easily stir in. Yn cover it close & boyle ye pot in water, till you think ye goodness of the roses is in ye honey. Then change ye roses once or twice in ye same manner, & at ye last, strayn out ye roses & keep it for yr use. 

Her recipe is is bit more involved than mine, but I think you can get the same wonderful aroma and flavor with a simpler recipe.  The key is to make sure your roses have not been sprayed or treated with pesticides.

Rose Petal Honey
1 cup lightly packed rose petals—organic, pesticide free, rinsed & air dried
1 cup light honey—choose a nice, thick one if you can

Warm the honey in a hot water bath until it is easily pourable. Pack the rose petals into a 1 pint mason jar. Pour honey on top, stopping to rap the bottom of the jar on the counter to knock out air bubbles and make room for more honey. Once the jar is full, cap it and set it on a sunny windowsill.

Flip the jar once or twice a day to combine. Enjoy after at least a week, but leave the rose petals in the honey—they’re delicious, and the flavor will just get stronger

Use on hot buttered toasted tea cakes or just plain toast. Stir into oatmeal, or for if you are feeling adventuresome, drizzle over your lovers body and indulge.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Weekend Recipe - Tea & Champagne Punch

June 10th is officially “Iced Tea Day" in the US. I thought it would be fun to celebrate this occasion with one of the oldest iced tea recipes ever published. The recipe was published in 1839 in “The Kentucky Housewife” cookbook. There is a warning that comes with this though. Apparently, in 1839, being a housewife meant drinking a lot of alcohol because this one packs a pretty good punch.

"Tea Punch - Make a pint and a half of very strong tea in the usual manner; strain it, and pour it boiling (hot) on one pound and a quarter of loaf sugar. Add half a pint of rich sweet cream, and then stir in gradually a bottle of claret or of champaign (sic). You may heat it to the boiling point, and serve it so, or you may send it round entirely cold, in glass cups."

 (Courtesy of whatscookingamerica.net)

This is a classic pairing of champagne, sugar and cream. The effervescent bubbles of the champagne help to lighten the cream and the sugar really ties it all together. Adding the tea adds a certain bit of maltyness and astringency that really makes this a refreshing drink. And the best part about it, it is really easy to prepare in advance for those times you would like a nice punch for a gathering.

Unlike so many old recipes, I think you could easily make this, just as presented and use it at any summer picnic.  Here is a translation of the recipe for you:

Kentucky Iced Tea Punch
3 cups boiling water
3 tsp. black tea
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 750ml bottle of champagne or sparkling wine.

Brew 3 cups of black tea for 10 minutes, using 3 tsp. of any black tea with three cups of water brought to a boil.  Strain the tea and pour it over sugar in a large picture.  Add heavy cream, and entire bottle of champagne.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Muscle Saver Bath - Bath Blend of the Month

Much garden work is being done at my house as I put in gardens where none were before.  The shoveling, the raking, the building of raised beds, it is all good for me, but my muscles sometimes scream in protest.  This aromatic bath is good for relaxing muscles and relieving stress.  It is also valuable to those with arthritis.  I find this is very helpful when my hands start aching. Juniper berry’s essential oil breaks down the surface tension of the epidermis helping the skin absorb the beneficial aspects of the remaining herbs.
Muscle-Saver Bath 

1 tsp. juniper berries
2 Tbls. dried peppermint
2 Tbls. dried spearmint
2 Tbls lavender flowers and leaves

Place all the ingredients in a square of muslin or a handkerchief, tie up with string.  Or place in an unbleached muslin bag or coffee filter.  Place the bag in the tub while it fills with water.  The bag acts like a giant tea bag, turning your bath into a therapeutic herbal tea.  Use the soaked bag to scrub your skin.  If you prefer a shower, soak the bag of herbs in the shower and then use it like a washcloth.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

New Garden Update - some raised beds are in!

The weather is being more cooperative, so I put in two of the four planned raised beds.  I think the third will go in this week too!  I also have put in a "rock garden" of sorts as a walkway from the house to the garage planted with thyme. And I repotted and brought outdoors the scented geraniums I overwintered inside.

So first to the raised beds

Here they are in place.  We put cardboard in the bottom to stop weed and grass penetration then filled them with a soil mix of my own creation.

Soil Mix:
   1 part top soil (in this case from the rain garden - see previous post)
   1 part bagged soil (I would use leaf and other compost, but we have not lived here long enough to produce any yet, so I bought bags of "raised bed or vegetable garden soil" to add to my top soil)
 1/2 part compost - in this case Moo-nure, which is aged cow manure.  I find mushroom compost gets to hot for the roots of some plants so I have stopped using it as much.

I spread the top soil, the bag soil , then top soil again, then compost and raked it all together in the bed.

Then I let it sit for a week. I might have watered it also, but we had rain on the way so I did not bother.  In fact we had 3 inches of rain over several days.

With that impending rain, I felt it was the perfect time to plant those wild flower seeds, so I sprinkled more than a dozen different kinds of seed, from Sunflowers to larkspur on the prepared soil in the side yard.

You can almost see the seedlings poking up through the dirt.

Repotting Geraniums

I brought the scented geraniums in for winter and placed them in a sunny window., but they get leggy so when it comes time to take them back outside you have to do some extra things.

Steps to repotting a geranium (also works for other wintered over herbs, like rosemary and the like)

Step 1.  Make a potting mix just for the geraniums.  They like a sandy soil, so even if I use pre-made potting mix, I add course sand (also known as builders sand) to the mixture so the soil can dry out properly for the geraniums.

Soil Mix for Containers:
  1 part peat or coconut coir
  1 part leaf mold or other decaying compost / soil
  1 part nutrient rich compost like worm casings or commercial aged manure
  1 part course sand (omit sand if planting other herbs of flowers)
mixed soil with organic matter, soil and sand

Step 2. Fill the new container at least 3/4 full with soil and reserve more for filling in around the plant.

Step 3.  Remove the geranium from its current container and loosen the roots, removing as much existing soil as possible.

Step 4. Place in new pot and fill in soil around the plant being sure to cover all of the root with soil.  Firm the soil around the plant, but leave it a bit spongy.  Leave about 1/2 to 1 inch space at the top of the pot to catch watering water and allow it to soak into the soil in future waterings.

Step 5.  Water thoroughly, then place in a shady location for a few days before moving to the sunshine for the summer of outdoor living.

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