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.