Tag Archives: gardening

A Garden Surprise and a New Garden Hero

I was waiting for these currants to turn red, the way you do when you’re growing red currants.  They have stayed this pretty blush color for a long time.  Now some of the berries are shriveling up like raisins.  This was a clue to me that these fruits were not going to turn red.  I had this flash of memory back to the time I was agonizing (in the most enjoyable way) over which currant varieties to buy.  I couldn’t help but be attracted to the champagne currants for their ethereal paleness.  I was completely blinded by the romance of them.  In the end I decided that they probably wouldn’t taste as good as the red ones.  I tend not to like pale versions of food.  Except for cauliflower.  I don’t like white eggplants, white asparagus, or wax beans (pale yellow).  So I ordered the red ones.  I ordered three plants.  One died.  I finally planted the two surviving ones and this year (the first time in three years) it produced a few clusters.

So here we are today with two champagne currants.  Isn’t it strange how sometimes what we want comes to us even when we decide we really don’t want it?  I’m going to cut these today and see if they taste good.  They may not because they’re quite old at this point.  Still, I’m not sorry that the universe handed me my fanciful plant wishes – just look how the blushed berries are illuminated by the sun?

If we get to keep the house then I’ll plant a couple of red currants as well.

I have a link to share that I saw on my friend Ann’s blog Thoughtherder which you should check out just to read about her adventures in not using shampoo.  She posted this video of Ruth Stout and I am so charmed by this lady!  You really must watch this film of a wonderful gardener named Ruth Stout.

Thank you for sharing that, Ann!

I have another link to share with you.  If you do any foraging for wild food you will be amused and you will feel yourself in excellent company: Stalking Boletus Edulis – Or How Mushrooms Caused Me to Engage in All Seven Deadly Sins

I still haven’t foraged for any mushrooms but this only serves to wet my appetite for hunting mushrooms.

We got our first real harvest of tomatoes yesterday and they are so good!  Especially the Black Krim which is one of my very favorite tomatoes of all time.  This weekend I canned dilled beans/carrots/zucchini.  7 quarts.  Yesterday I canned 11 jars of blackberry jam and have a discussion I want to start about reaching gelling points with other canners.  Next up, hopefully this weekend, my mom and I will try to get a box or two of pickling cucumbers from Sauvie Island to make my garlic dill pickles.  We’re out and it’s devastating!

What’s going on in your kitchens and gardens this week?

Flowering and Fruiting in the May Garden

Lilacs are something I didn’t see that many of when I lived in California but here in Oregon the landscape is covered with them and May is when they flower.  I have several in my garden but since I didn’t plant them myself I don’t know what kinds they are.  I have two white ones and this is the first time this one has put off more than a couple of blossom clusters since I’ve lived here.  I love it.  Philip isn’t crazy for the scent of lilacs in the house, he thinks they’re overwhelmingly soapy.  I love it.  The scent on this one isn’t particularly strong, a disappointment to me, but at least it’s beautiful.

This is the first time my red currants have produced any berries.  The plants (I have two) spend an awful long time in their pots so it’s not surprising.  Now that they have a good deep spot of soil to reach into they are much happier and I’ve got several clusters of berries on them.  Not enough to do much with but it makes me happy anyway.

Borage is an amazing plant to have in the garden.  Bees love it so it helps the pollination of everything else to have it growing near all your fruiting plants.  This one’s very small but they do get enormous and they’ll seed freely.  Some people think this is a nuisance but I don’t.

This is my bed of tomatoes and calendula.  I’ve got: 3 Siletz, 2 Jaune Flamme, and a Sungold.  I need to have black tomato varieties too.  So I’d better get another bed cleared of quack grass.  Yeah, no problem.  I’ll get right on that.

I’ve never done square foot gardening but my mom is giving it a try in this bed.  She’s got it marked up and soon will plant it out with seeds.

It’s good to mulch your strawberry beds.  My mom covered ours with straw and with the sunshine we’ve been getting (not a lot, but enough) and the slightly warmer temperatures have given them an enormous boost of growth and though you can’t see it well in this picture, they are blossoming.  This is a bed of ever-bearing which means it doesn’t produce quite as large a berry or as large a June crop but will continue to produce for a few months.  Last year I was getting berries through October.  Just a few here and there.  If you want to make jam or pies with your strawberries you’re better off planting June-bearing varieties that tend to produce large amounts in a single crop and often the berries are of larger size.

Not pictured is my 8×4 bed of pole beans- the first few bean sprouts have emerged.  I love green beans and I don’t think you can have “too many” because if I can’t keep up with fresh eating I love to marinate and can them.

What’s going on in your own garden right now?

Getting Back into the Garden with Mom

Most people clean their gardens up (and “put them to bed”) in the fall.  The reason they do this is so that when spring finally hurls itself at them, they can simply dig in and plant their earliest crops without first having to remove all of last year’s dead tomato plants or weeding the quack grass that was allowed to root itself in firmly.  It’s a great tradition.  I haven’t done it for years.

It is taking so much work to do this ritual cleaning now, in the spring, that we are in danger of not having enough beds prepared for planting this year!

In spite of being so far behind in all my yard maintenance (roses haven’t been pruned in two years) it is shaping up and looking better than it has in a long time, thanks to my mom.  My mom has a way of getting me out in the garden even though I’m just embarking on writing the third draft of my novel.  I have barely been out in my garden for a year.  My mom moves in, I say “Hey, even though we might have to move this year, we should plant some things anyway.” and she takes up the idea and before I know it Philip is digging holes, I am wrestling with quack grass, and she’s planning and plotting for our next best garden move, without us knowing quite how it all happened so fast.

I love this about my mom.  She is whipping us into shape without actually bossing anyone around.  It has felt so good to get out there, to see what’s growing and changing every week rather than hiding out in my eyrie of an office looking down at it from a distance.  It’s not that I ever forget how much I thrive by getting my hands dirty and being around my plants, it’s more a question of finding the energy, the motivation, and of keeping in the habit.  I’m still tired all the time from parenting a special needs kid, writing a novel, working for money, and trying not to drop every other ball in my life, yet I am now also spending more time in my garden.

Some of the things we’ve been doing:

  1. Cutting back the rampant brambles.
  2. Fighting the good fight against the heinously encroaching quack grass.
  3. Mulching the strawberries.
  4. planting pole bean seeds (Helda, Lazy Housewife, and violet podded stringless).
  5. Transplanting mullein volunteers.
  6. Pruning the fruit trees.
  7. Mowing the lawn (a big deal because Philip and I LOATHE lawn but can’t afford to get rid of it until we can afford to hire a rototiller and the materials to plant the vast lawn with other things-not a project to undertake if we’re going to have to move in the next year).
  8. Planting herbs (finally got some comfrey and planted it, among other herbs)
  9. Putting down cardboard and straw between the raised beds.

That’s quite a lot for people with little energy and a lot of distractions!  Yesterday my mom informed me that this coming fall we’re going to properly put the garden to bed and avoid all this hard work in the spring that we’ve been doing.  I just know she’ll get me to do it, if she says it’ll happen it’ll happen.  So how does she do it?  Easy- she is not in great health and has limited energy and battles with vertigo so seeing her out there mowing the lawn in the surprise sunshine makes me realize that if she can get out there and do that, then I can get out there with my shovel and other dastardly tools of quack grass destruction and put in at least a half an hour!  (Yes, it’s guilt at its gentlest and most effective)

I have at least five more 8×4 raised beds to clear of solid quack grass and top up with dirt.  That’s a lot of really hard work.  Quack grass is a formidable foe, in case you haven’t encountered and don’t know.  If you don’t recall, last year I broke my shovel on the stuff.  I think a nice blessing to bestow on a new born child is “May she/he grow strong like quack grass!” (translation “Should he or she grow as strong as quack grass he or she will outlive all nuclear events in the future!  Mazeltov!”)

The more I do out there the more I want to do out there.  I try to have modest garden goals (just a bed of beans and a bed of tomatoes will be plenty for a modest year of gardening) but I always get carried away.  I want a big section of beets, carrots, pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers; plus I need lots of my own summer squash and winter squash and…

I forget that I can get all these things from the farmer’s market too.  But nothing, I think most gardeners will agree, is more satisfying than going out in your own garden to see what’s for dinner.  I want it all.  Oh, right, forgot about all the dark leafies I need and the lettuce and…

No matter how much or how little I get planted or harvest, the important thing is that I’m out there to see the lilacs budding up and then opening, that I see the ladybugs flood the yard like they do every early spring, and that I see the shape of my monastery garden re-emerge.

Thanks mom!

Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden

My mother has a certificate in herbology and a lot of experience growing, using, and foraging medicinal herbs.  She’s shown me how to make salves and at one time made me and my siblings all herbal first aid kits which included tinctures and salves she made herself.  My favorite item from that kit was her comfrey salve which I found very useful for many applications.

I believe everyone should grow medicinal herbs in their gardens.  You don’t need to be an herbologist to make use of medicinal herbs safely.  A couple of good herb books is all you need.  I am no enemy to modern medicine and depend on it for a number of things I could never find relief for with herbal medicines.  I believe in an integrated approach to medicines: take the best from the East and the West, take the best from the present and the past.

I always grow medicinals because they are generally gentle, cheap, and can be incorporated into your everyday health regimen.  There’s another reason I think everyone should grow some medicinals: what if commercially produced medicines were to become unavailable to you?

You should have on hand some herbs that you can use in emergencies to do things like reduce fevers, bring swelling down in sprains, heal cuts and bruises, treat burns, calm nerves, detoxify your liver, disinfect wounds, and reduce the symptoms of influenza.  Growing herbs to meet all these basic needs is neither difficult nor need it take up too much space in your garden.

How do you choose the essentials?  My mom and I love this game.  There is a dizzying number of medicinal herbs and plants that you can choose from to grow in your own yard, so how do you narrow it down?

  • Make a list of common issues you and your family experience: skin issues, headaches, colds, anxiety, persistent coughs… think of all the things you routinely find yourself needing to treat and include all first aid things you keep on hand.
    • Consult a reliable herbal book.  Look through the lists of herbs, read what each of them do, and discover which herbs are the most recommended for the needs of your family.  Most libraries will have several you can check out if you don’t have any of your own.  I will list some titles you can rely on for good information (these are all books I personally own and trust):

      “Herbal Remedies for Vibrant Health” by Rosemary Gladstar

      “Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine” by Steven Foster and Rebecca L. Johnson  (published by National Geographic)

      “The Essential Natural Health Bible” by Nerys Purchon

      “The Complete Herb Book” by Jekka McVicar

      • When you have a list of all the herbs most likely to fulfill your family’s particular needs and those of general first aid, cull the list down to the ones that will grow well in your climate and ones you have room for.  Don’t exclude culinary herbs from this list, many of them have great medicinal qualities that improve your health simply by being used frequently in your cooking.  Thyme, for example, is a powerful antiseptic properties in addition to adding great flavor to soups and other savory dishes.

        While I believe choosing the herbs you grow should be based on your personal needs, there are herbs I believe everyone should be growing in their gardens regardless of who they are.  I’m going to give you two lists to start with.  The first will be a list of the herbs I think every single garden should be growing, this will be the bare essentials.  The second list is the one my mother and I have come up with for our own garden.

        Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden:

        Comfrey – absolutely essential for healing cuts, bruises, burns, and sprains; the roots are great made into tea for your bath as it will soften and heal skin.

        Calendula – great for all skin issues (softens, cleans, heals), anti- inflammatory, antifungal.

        Thyme – strong antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antispasmodic properties.

        Sage – sore throats, antiseptic, immune booster, colds, and treats nervous exhaustion (I should be drinking this every day!).

        Peppermint – stimulating, refreshing; good for relieving indigestion, tension headaches, and spastic complaints of the gastrointestinal tract.

        Aloe Vera – soothes cuts and burns, nourishes and moisturizes skin.

        Elderberry – reduces severity of influenza symptoms, immune system stimulant, reduces fevers, colds, and ear and throat infections.

        Rosemary – good for digestive ailments, increases circulation, colds and flus, mouthwash, dandruff, and may ease depression and fatigue.

        The only one from that list that not everyone may be able to grow in their own garden due to its size is the elderberry.  Elderberry can be kept pruned to a reasonable size but left to its own devices it will become a big tree.  If you have room: plant it!

        Here is a complete list of what I will have in my own medicinal garden with the items I already have planted asterisked:

        Echinacea, lovage, rosemary*, comfrey*, beebalm, arnica*, calendula, balm of Gilead, borage, sage*, tarragon*, winter savory, feverfew, peppermint*, nasturtiums, parsley*, thyme*, vervain*, elderberry*, mullein*, oregano*, marjoram*, plantain*, roses*(for rosehips), and lavendar*.

        There are so many amazing and useful herbs you can plant in your garden.  Aside from the benefits these herbs offer to you personally they are also great for attracting beneficial insects that will increase pollination in your other plants and help keep in balance the pests that hurt your soil and plant health.

        What herbs do you grow and what are you planning to add to your garden this year?  I want to know!