Saturday, January 14, 2017

After the holiday break, we're settling into winter here on the farm. I must say, the weather hasn't been too bad thus far. It seems like whatever system that moves in either veers to the west or east and just touches us lightly.  I hope that continues, although you know winter has some tricks up its sleeve.

The herb shop is open part-time now. Our hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9am to 5 pm. This time of year,we get lots of customers working on projects. Essential oils, supplies and containers are big sellers. Also folks come in looking for moisturizing products to relieve dry winter skin. Bulk herbs and spices are popular as people try out new recipes or make hearty cold weather dishes.

Another thing keeping me busy is writing a gardening/plant column for The Essential Herbal. Founder and editor, Tina Sams asked me to contribute on a regular basis, writing about herbal topics from a growing point of view. I've always enjoyed writing so it's been fun.

But mostly, I'm thinking about spring. I told my sister that spring is just around the corner, because I started my first batch of seeds. Early things, like pansies, a seed grown lavender, echinacea and some other perennials. Here are the babies under lights in the basement.

Then I went looking for other signs of spring. On one of the warm days, the second greenhouse toad (referred to as toad Jr.) came out of the dirt. I tried to get him to turn around before I took the picture by scratching his head. He seemed to like the scratching, but wouldn't turn around.

And check out these fat, fuzzy buds on our star magnolia. They will become clear white star shaped blooms before the leaves emerge on the tree.

And although the top of my horehound plant is dead, there's lots of new growth at the bottom.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

John and I would like to thank everyone who came out for our holiday open house. Our customers are so loyal! This time of year, there are so many things going on and such demands on people's time. We appreciate the fact that you made time to visit and support us.

The greenhouse and herb shop will be open Tuesday -Saturday from 9am to 5 pm through December 21. We still have plenty of gifts available in the shop, along with supplies and containers if you're making your own. We also have some potted culinary herbs for sale, along with live topiaries. Potted herbs are available only on December, so get them now if you want some fresh herbs to enjoy throughout the winter.

After a Christmas break, the herb shop will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9-5 beginning January 5.

Wishing you all happy herbal holidays!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

When customers purchase essential oils in the shop, they often inquire about making their own. My reply is always the same - you can do it, but it's more or less a curiosity. A case in point. Tina (of The Essential Herbal) and Maryanne (Lancaster County Soapworks) stopped by one day. We were doing some garden clean-up, and Tina asked if she could have the rose geraniums I just pulled out. She took a garbage bag full of foliage to distill. Out of that, she got 2-3 drops of essential oil. She did however, get a nice amount of hydrosol. This is the aromatic water produced as a by-product of the steam distillation of plant material. Though not as strong as essential oil, it is fragrant and useful. But you obviously need huge amounts of plant material to produce even a small amount of oil.

All our annuals, except snapdragons, are done. Some plants, like rosemary, need cooler nights to start flowering. Creeping rosemary blooms more readily, but my upright one which survived last winter outside, mostly intact, is now starting to bloom. Rosemary will take a lot of cold before it dies, so I'm hoping to see more flowers over the next few weeks.

On a walk with Lucy, I spotted this praying mantis egg sac in the wild area at the back of the property. We saw a number of mantises this year. One was quite large - one of the biggest I have seen. Also saw one in the side border when we were cleaning up. It was moving slowly in the cooler weather, but we nudged it along out of the cleanup area and it was fine.

About fifteen years ago, John's aunt gave me some saffron crocus bulbs from her plot. I was very excited. I had grown a few before at our old house, but this time I was anticipating a good crop. It was not to be. Voles ate them all and I got nothing. This fall, when John rototilled the garden, he must have unearthed a couple bulbs. Three appeared, produced flowers, and I was able to harvest about a dozen threads.  I saw a show once about harvesting saffron. It showed why it is so expensive - it is incredibly labor intensive. Women harvest the entire flower, then remove the three stigma each one produces. A huge pile shrinks down to a fraction of its size when it dries. Lucky it just takes a pinch for flavoring.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The change of seasons is always a time for transition. The weather changes (some years more slowly than others), work shifts from the gardens to indoor tasks, and I must adjust to 'empty greenhouse syndrome.'  After months of seeding, planting, watering and maintaining plants, I'm down to just a few flats of culinary herbs that we sell for winter windowsill gardening and topiaries. Instead of spending hours on plant maintenance daily, I'm down to a couple hours a week. In another couple months, I'll start seeding for spring and the crop will slowly rebuild.

It's also a good time to remind yourself that your houseplants and any tender perennials you winter over inside are moving from active growth into a more dormant period. So cut back on watering and fertilizing. Few plants need much fertilizer in the winter months. If you do, use a half strength dose.

Topiaries are one of those things that seem to have universal appeal. Grownups and kids alike are fascinated by miniature trees and plants shaped into a different form. It must be the combination of a familiar plant grown in an unusual way. I always tell people the main requirement for growing topiaries is patience. It takes time for them to size up. After they are formed, occasional trimming is the only necessity.

The fall/holiday newsletter will be coming out in a week or so. We do offer email newsletters, in addition to paper copies. If you would prefer your newsletter by email, let us know your name, mailing address and email address and we'll make the switch.

Toad Sr. has returned to his winter residence in the back corner of the greenhouse. He hasn't burrowed into the dirt yet to hibernate, but he seems quite comfortable lazing in his spot. I'm interested in seeing how many of the smaller toads we had this year find their way into the greenhouse for the winter.

Friday, October 21, 2016

With this lovely, warm weather, it's hard to believe that it's nearly the end of the growing season. I've watched the weather, so I know it's back to reality soon. But even cooler, sunny fall weather makes it a pleasure to be outside. I've been working outside sporadically, but since we haven't had a killing frost, it's more like summertime work - weeding and cutting back.

Some herbs look better than they have since much earlier in the season. My parsley always does better  in the fall. It does well in a cool, wet spring, then seems to decline in the heat and bounds back as cooler temperatures move in.

I have a second crop of beautiful dill foliage. This is from the seeds that dropped from the dill flowers earlier this summer. I love that sharp, tangy note that dill has and it's so good, particularly with fish dishes.

I have a large upright rosemary that wintered over outside (with some trimming.) But I also plant creeping rosemary. I like the way it spills over the edge of the bed and it flowers so readily with its pretty blue blossoms.

Besides outside work, I've been busy in the shop. It seems strange to do when it's been so warm, but I'm starting on holiday preparations. But I do like to wait until November to start decorating. I saw a holiday commercial this week - before Halloween! That's rushing the season, I think.

I'm also working on the fall newsletter. That will be coming out by mid-November and will have information on our holiday open house and many of the herbal gifts we have available for the holidays. Our selection of potted culinary herbs will be ready about the time the newsletter comes out.

In between working inside and out, I try to get around and enjoy and appreciate the flowers that are still blooming in the gardens.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

With the pleasant weather, we've been working on fall clean up. Cleaning in the gardens, plus cutting back perennials and removing spent annuals. If annuals still look good, I let them go until frost and enjoy them as long as I can. One big job was removing the shade cloths from the greenhouses. We put the dark fabric on in the late spring to reduce the amount of sunlight in the greenhouses. This makes it more comfortable for both plants and people during the summer. Then in the fall it comes off again. The next big job is burying stock plants in the garden to winter over.

For about the last month, goldfinches have been regularly coming and feeding on the seeds of the coneflowers on the garden. We have two big stands of echinacea which we do not cut back so birds can have the seeds. There used to be a pair that came regularly, but word must have gotten out because now there are at least six goldfinches that come to feed.

With the mild weather, many things in the garden still look attractive. Winter savory is blooming with small white flowers. Eucalyptus, with its blue-gray foliage looks great and I'll let it go until frost is in the forecast and then cut it and bring it in to dry. Many foliage plants, like santolina and germander look good. And the late blooming plants are hitting their prime.

Mexican bush sage gets tall and bushy and puts on quite a show with its fuzzy, purple flowers. The blooms dry well and tolerates some light frost. We have it in front of the greenhouse and it always draws comments from visitors.

And finally, our pineapple sage looks good after struggling during the hot, dry weather. Although it did not grow very tall this season, it is blooming nicely with lots of tubular, red flowers. You can freeze flowers in ice cubes to add to drinks. Or sprinkle a few flowers over a green salad. The flowers have a sweet, delicate taste.

For the next week, there's no prediction of frost. So get out and enjoy your garden while you can.

The herb shop is open Tuesday - Saturday from 9am to 5pm.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Success! After two years without hatching any monarch caterpillars in our garden, we finally had a good crop. I noticed our perennial swamp !milkweed was defoliated and I hoped it was because caterpillars were eating it. And sure enough, I saw half a dozen in one section of our pollinator garden.

I didn't check all the wild milkweed we have growing in the back corner of the yard. Hopefully,there are some more on that. I know our customers are very concerned about the fate of the monarchs and butterflies in general. For  two years, we have sold every monarch host plant we grew. People are definitely trying to make a difference, an I'm optimistic it will help.

Now that the season is coming to a close, our annual hyacinth bean vine is finally starting to look good. It just sat through much of the summer's heat and dryness. Now that it's cooling down and we got some rain, it has perked up. For awhile, I didn't think it would get any beans.  I can tell it's very late, since it has both flowers and beans at the same time. Like other beans, let the pods dry on the plant, before you harvest them for seeds for next year.

I'm wrapping up my harvesting and cleaning up the gardens. One task is to cut off the spent blossoms of garlic chives before they go to seed.

The summer blooming white flowers are very popular with pollinators and are edible. The seed heads start green, like the photo, and the seeds ripen to black. If not removed before they ripen, they will seed everywhere! It reminds me of people's complaints about lemon balm. Although a vigorous plant, lemon balm's tendency to spread is caused by the large amount of seeds it produces and broadcasts. Garlic chives is just as bad. So off with their heads!

Overall, I can't complain about the harvest this year. Some things were very productive, others not. John commented on how nice the snapdragons look as they start to rebloom. But the little gem marigolds, which usually look so nice in the fall, never took off this year. I cut back calendula, in hopes that it will bloom some more. It was not as productive as it generally is.