Sunday, November 16, 2014

FROSTY NOVEMBER

This growing season is coming to a close.  We finally had frost--although during the first week of November marks it as a late frost.  However, at this point we haven't had a hard freeze.  So although we're working on cleaning up the gardens, I look around and there's still a lot to admire.  The garden clean-up got me thinking about horticultural terms.  Like any other subject, gardening has its own terminology.  Some of it is pretty basic and clear, some is not.

Annuals are plants that grow, flower and produce fruit or seed in one season and die off at frost.  Basil, being extremely cold-sensitive is always the first thing to go.  Other warm weather lovers, like zinnias, mexican sunflower and brazilian buttonflower (with big, fuzzy purple flowers) got zapped.  Some annuals did not - which leads us to half-hardy annuals.  These are annual plants which will tolerate some frost, but are not truly winter hardy like perennials.  The nice thing is that they are hardy enough to extend the garden season, perhaps by several weeks, depending on the weather.

So, still blooming are pincushion flower  with dark purple blooms studded with white dots (resembling pins), cheerful yellow and orange calendula and snapdragons.  One day, when it warmed up, I saw a couple bees happily roaming over the calendula flowers.  Calendula and particularly  snaps, will tolerate quite a bit of cold.  Sometimes they look frozen, but the sun comes out and they pop right back.  I love snaps for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they survive so long.  In mild years, I've had snaps blooming at Thanksgiving.

Our greenhouse toad is back and settling in for his long winter nap.  He's not hibernating yet.  He's buried in the dark in the back corner of the greenhouse, but his head is still sticking out.  On sunny days, it still gets quite warm in the greenhouse, so he can emerge when he gets warm and crawl back in at night.  Soon, he'll bury himself completely and I usually don't see him until we turn the heat back on.  Compared to even a protected spot outside, I guess the greenhouse is like a luxury toad hotel.  Although I refer to it as he, I have no idea if the toad is male or female.

I've been working hard in the shop and I'm now beginning to stock it with holiday items.  Generally, I think the retail Christmas push starts much too early - before Halloween in some places!  I like to enjoy fall first and then bring out the holiday items.  For DIY'ers, it is a good time to stock up on supplies and containers.  That way, you'll have everything you need once you're ready to create your herbal gifts.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

RENEWED TRENDS

It's been interesting to note several trends that have developed over the time since we opened the farm.  The first, which I noticed a couple years after we opened the shop, was a renewed interest in herbs for medicinal use.  It makes sense for several reasons.  For thousands of years before the development of pharmaceuticals, people used what they had to treat diseases and injuries - namely plants.  Prior to WWII, plant based medicines were the norm.  The trend never disappeared in Europe.  They continued using plant based medicinals and researched their effectiveness.  The knowledge filtered back to the U.S. and was part of a consumer-led resurgence of interest in medicinal herbs.  When you read about all the side effects of some prescription medicines, who wouldn't prefer to start with a more natural, less aggressive approach.

After the recent recession, I talked to so many people who said, "I've never had a garden before - but now I'm going to start."  This was in addition to the many people who had always grown fresh herbs and vegetables for their families.  Our vegetable sales really increased during this period.  I don't know if everyone stuck with it when the economy improved, but it certainly is satisfying to produce your own food, not to mention the cost savings and improved flavor and quality.

The latest trend is an extension of the local food movement.  It seems that people have gone beyond just growing their own food to producing their own soaps and body care products.  We have seen increased sales in supplies, containers and essential oils in the last year or two.  More people seem to be concerned not only with what they put in their bodies, but also what they apply to them.  Customers who are purchasing supplies almost unanimously talk about the chemical ingredients with multisyllabic names in commercially produced soaps, lotions, shampoos, deodorants, etc.  Producing your own gives you control over the process and ingredients used, resulting in high quality items.

The common thread running through these trends seems to be a strongly renewed interest in the use of natural, organic products in our lives.  The trend seems to be back to the basics - and that everything old is new again.

Our newsletter will be coming out during the first half of November.  Be on the lookout!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

THOUGHTS OF FALL

On the pleasant, warm, sunny days, I can fool myself into thinking that summer's not over yet.  I know the calendar says October, but many of the leaves have not changed color yet, and as of this posting, we haven't had our first frost.  When I look around the gardens, it still looks like summer.  Loads of flowers are still in bloom - bright nasturtiums, yellow & orange calendula, deep purple pincushion flowers, true  blue plumbago and hummingbird sage, fragrant at night nicotiana, perennial hyssop, salvia and catmint on its second bloom, a few late roses, upright verbena which is still attracting the last of the butterflies and profusion zinnias which have bloomed non-stop for three months.  A pretty good display for October.

And of course, there are the plants that are at their peak at the end of the season.  Although my pineapple sage did not get as tall as it sometimes does, it is loaded with bright red tubular flowers.  Another one blooming up a storm is mina or firecracker vine.  We grow it on an obelisk in the garden at our entrance.  It's covered in sprays of yellow, orange & red tubular flowers.  Both of these plants are hummingbird favorites.  We don't get a lot of hummingbirds here, but I didn't see any this year.  Hope they're not going the way of the butterflies.  One of the best end of season plants is Mexican bush sage.  Tall and full, it's now covered with fuzzy, purple flowers.  Excellent color and texture in the garden - it always attracts a lot of attention from visitors.

Right next to Mexican bush sage in the greenhouse bed is russian sage, with its small purple flowers.  On a sunny day, I saw bees still working energetically at the russian sage and nearby on some thyme that was still blooming.  I did see more bees this year than I have recently.

The hard pruning I did on some lavenders that suffered badly from last winter's extreme weather really paid off.  They filled in well, which I expected, but their second bloom was spectacular.  Several of them bloomed as profusely as they usually do in the spring.  Hope this winter is easier on them.

Every year, (if I'm paying attention) I cut a big bunch of greek columnar basil before frost to bring inside.  It has long stems, with plenty of flavorful leaves and kept in water on the kitchen counter, provides fresh basil well into the winter.  I cut it last week, when they called for possible frost, but all the basil survived.  Basil roots easily in water, so I can always put up a couple stems after it roots to keep the crop going.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

FALL IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER

Lots of signs now that fall is arriving.  Some mornings when Lucy and I first go out, it's cool, if not downright chilly.  Lucy is full of energy - much more than in the summer, when she lies around all day conserving energy.  And the goldfinches are back at the coneflowers.   We have a big stand of them in front of the greenhouse.  Every year, in the fall, a pair of goldfinches come daily and feed on the coneflower seeds.  They must have told their friends and neighbors, because this year, we have at least a half dozen.  They feed happily and also like to visit the shallow birdbath near the pergola.

Keep the birds in mind when you clean up the garden this fall.  I leave seedheads stand if I think the birds will enjoy them.  I know that last winter, they were happy for every seed they got.  Frost isn't too far away.  If you have annual herbs you want to harvest, do it soon before frost hits.  Afterwards, if you want to cut back the foliage on herbaceous perennials, like mints, tarragon and oregano, go ahead.  Some people let them go and cut them back in the spring.  That's fine, too.  Usually, I cut back in the fall.  Unless it's been a harrowing year, then I wait till spring.

One group you don't want to cut back in fall is woody-stemmed perennials like sage, lavender, thyme and rosemary (actually a tender perennial).  Wait till spring to trim these as the foliage provides some protection for the crown of the plant over winter.

The butterfly population was better this year than last.  But we did not have any monarch caterpillars on any variety of our garden milkweeds.  I don't think there were any on the wild milkweed either, simply because I only saw a handful of monarchs this year.

At least our toad population increased.  The big greenhouse toad is back and I've also seen a smaller one outside.  He's been hanging around greenhouse #2.  Maybe he'll move inside for the winter.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Funny Summer!

The summer progresses - quickly, as we're now about 2/3 of the way through.  I'm glad the blasts of hot humid weather are lasting only a few days so far.  I can take it for a few days when relief comes after in the form of really nice summer days with blue skies, lots of sun and low humidity.  It's also good for the herbs that I harvest from the gardens and dry.  In humid weather, the herbs and flowers will re-absorb moisture from the air.  Unless thoroughly dry, they should not be stored away in jars or plastic bags because mold can develop, making them unusable.

It's a funny year, plant-wise.  Some things are going like gang-busters and others are just limping along.  In the vegetable garden, we had a huge crop of sugar peas earlier in the season.  Our first batch of beans were good, then they petered out with the how weather, now I see more blossoms, so I think they'll pick up again.  We've picked a few tomatoes, but peppers are really slow.  Perhaps not enough hot weather for them.  Same with basil - all of mine are finally growing and looking good except for the patch of Genovese.  Did have enough tomato and basil for one batch of tomatoes and mozzarella with basil - one of my summertime favorites.  Next up, bruschetta.

Culantro, a heat tolerant substitute for cilantro, is another one that looks pretty much the same as when I planted it. (My sister reports the same.) This is the first year we've had culantro, so I don't know if it's not hot enough for substantial growth or it just takes longer to get established.  And of the four hyaconth bean vines we have planted in front of the shop, the two in the middle are doing well and the two at the ends are not.  Our helper asked why.  I told him plants are like people - some are stronger than others.

After talking to a customer recently, it reminded me to encourage people to cut back perennials after blooming.  She mentioned the overgrown look in her garden,  Many perennials decline in appearance after flowering.  Cutting them back hard encourages the growth of new foliage, giving them a neater appearance.  Some, like hyssop, catmint, lavender and Jupiter's beard will produce a second, usually lighter batch of blooms.

Flowers in the Herb Garden

Owning an herb farm, I guess it's obvious I love herbs.  I was attracted to them for both their fragrance and the fact that they are useful plants.  I love to use herbs in cooking and I also appreciate the ornamental qualities.  In fact, I love flowers in general - on herbs and also on plants grown solely for ornamental purposes.

Flowers have so much to recommend them.  Though they may be missing one trait, they have another to appreciate.  I think I can find something to admire in each one.  First, I just adore fragrant flowers.  Fragrance is such a beautiful, but ephemeral quality.  Some of my favorites include dianthus - with its spicy yet sweet scent, lily-of-the-valley (how can such a tiny flower smell so divine,) dame's rocket, stocks and moonflower.

Sometimes it's just the actual beauty of the flower - like the big, pink oriental poppies that bloom in the spring.  They're so delicate, with pale petals like tissue surrounding the blue-black center.  When they're blooming, I sometimes stand and admire them.  And there are a whole host of what I would call the cheerful slowers.  Bright orange and yellow calendula flowers also cheer me up.  Ditto for Mexican sunflower with its yellow center and bright orange ray petals.  I include pansies and johnny-jump-ups in this group - who can resist a flower with a face?

Some blooms have a nice textural quality, like the fuzzy orange-red blooms of emilia or tassel flower and the red, chenille-like tails of love-lies-bleeding.  Some flowers are delicately lovely - like bleeding heart, blue flax and tiny black and white nemophila.

I like flowers like calendula, lavender, anise hyssop, joe-pye weed, hyssop and swamp and scarlet milkweeds because they act as host plants and/or nectar sources for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

I like flowers produced by summer bulbs, but I don't goow any except calla lily, since you must dig the bulbs each year.  I make an exception for callas, because of their simple, almost architectural quality.  So simple and so beautiful.

Mid Summer

I'm still seeing the effects of the harsh winter in the harden.  The hydrangeas in front of our house are usually covered in beautiful blue flowers in June-early July.  Like so many other people, we had to cut them back hard - to about 18-20" due to die-back.  The only one we didn't cut back, the smallest one at the corner of the house has five flowers!  That seems to be it for this year. However, the remaining plants look quite healthy, so hopefully will bloom again next year.

Butterfly bushes were another plant with significant die-back - on ours, the roots survived and pushed out new growth from the base, but everything above ground from last year died.  They will bloom this year - mine have buds although no open flowers yet.  The funny thing is how short they are.  In the bed in front of the greenhouse, we have joe-pye weed, which is about seven feet tall at this point.  Next to it is a butterfly bush which is actually shorter.  Haven't seen that sonce the first year or two when we planted the butterfly bush.

Some things were extremely happy with the cooler spring weather and all that ground water from melting snow.  My St. John's wort was huge - probably twice as big as last year.  It bloomed prolifically at the end of June - around the feast for St. John, which is how it got its common name.  We don't have much shade, but in our side border near the neighbor's tree, I have pink anemone.  They will not bloom until later this summer, into fall, but the planys are really big and full.  And the sugar pea vines in our vegetable garden were actually taller than me.  We never had that before!

But the heat loving plants like basil and peppers were really on hold until we got the first blast of hot weather before July 4.  They had taken hold, because we had good rainfall after planting, but they weren't really growing.  Finally, with this hot weather and the recent rain, I'm finally seeing some growth.  Next problem, some basils got eaten by Japanese beetles, so I had to pinch then back.  It's always something!