Sunday, July 26, 2009

Herbal Iced Teas

German Chamomile

Well, it's another rainy, gray day in central Maine! This has been the rainiest summer I ever remember. And to be honest work in the garden this week has been...well, nonexistent. It's so darn wet out there; I haven't even harvested most of my raspberries. I've picked enough to make some muffins and freeze a few. But not only did I get soaked picking because the foliage is soaking wet but the mosquitoes are unreal! There is a great Maine product that works amazingly well, Buzz-Off. It is DEET free and as the label says, it is "The natural cure for a natural nuisance". It works like a charm but I still hate putting repellent on because you smell like it. Granted this smells way better than something dreadful like "OFF". As a matter of fact the first ingredient of Buzz-Off is Lemongrass Oil. So that brings me back to herbal iced teas.

Lemon Balm,Melissa officinalis

My favorite garden teas (aka herbal iced teas) are made from lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, (which is a spreading perennial in the mint family and has a beautiful deep green color and the most wonderful lemon fragrance. It is considered the "soothing" herb), spearmint (my favorite mint), and chamomile (any plant that is light hearted to look at and soothing to the soul has got to be good! No wonder Peter Rabbit's mother gave it to him:) Be sure you grow the annual, German chamomile variety. It is the tea vareity and it self sows and is very easy to grow. When you crush the flower it releases the most wonderful apple like scent. It is another of my favorite, must have garden plants. (Note: I have read that some folks are allergic to chamomile. That is something to consider if making herbal tea for friends. So ask first before including this herb. I have never experienced a negative side effect from Chamomile but I put that info here just in case.) I also enjoy a little anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, also known as licorice mint. It has a wonderful anise fragrance and the prettiest violet,blue flowers. It's also in the mint family although it doesn't spread like a true mint does.

Anise hyssop - picture taken from:

I usually combine a variety of herbs together but sometimes just make a single herb tea. It's fun to add things like johnny-jump-up flowers and lavender flowers too. Other herbs that are delicious to add and are also medicinal are things like a little sage, thyme, and bee balm. Bee balm is the local plant that tea was made of when the Bostonians (maybe other areas too?) were boycotting the imported English tea during the Boston Tea Party times. Bee balm, Monarda didyma, is also known as oswego tea. Red bee balm is one of my favorite flowers. The red color and the wild nature of the flower are just so beautiful and unique. And humming birds just go nuts for this flower. It is a perennial and so easy to grow and it multiplies nicely. In my mind it's the Goldilocks plant, doesn't spread too much or too little but just right. It's native and has been used for many medicinal reasons.Here's a link on growing bee balm: My plants receive filtered shade and are on on a spot with a slight incline. Red Bee balm, Monarda didyma

To make herbal iced tea is so easy. Pick or cut your herbs. Rinse them just to get off any garden soil, bugs, or whatever. Find a big glass jar (Not plastic please! Eating and drinking out of heated plastic is a major health threat. Sure hope you don't heat your food in plastic containers or with plastic wrap in the microwave! Try using bowls, plates, or glass instead. And cover with wax paper not plastic wrap! There have been many well documented studies linking the heating of food in plastic to cancer. ) OK...back to that nicer activity....making wonderful garden variety herbal iced teas. Get your big glass jar. Stuff it full of the herb(s) of choice. Fill it with water. Put on the lid and put it in the sun for a few hours. I usually do this first thing in the morning and then forget about it until early to mid afternoon. You could certainly boil some water in a pan and then put your herbs in the hot water and let steep for a while. I just like the idea of making sun tea and using the powers of the unfiltered sun. Take the herbs out and here's the important part. When you bring your tea back inside, or take it off the stove that is when you add your sweetener, if you want sweetener. If it's for me I don't add sweetener but if it's for my family or guests I usually add a very small dash of honey. Then put it in the refrig to chill. I often put a fresh piece of each herb into that now cooling iced tea just so I know what's in it and because it looks pretty. Serve over ice,or not. Serve with a sprig of mint or lemon balm or a floating johnny-jump-up, or not. And enjoy. I've heard of putting a johnny-jump-up in each ice cube section of an ice cube tray before you fill with water so you have little floral ice cubes. To be honest that's way to Martha Steward for me but I bet it does look nice.

Of course you can serve your herbal tea hot if it's a rainy or cool day.

It is also fun to experiment with using herbal teas with other drinks. I love to make lemonade with 1/2 plain tap water and 1/2 mint tea. Serve with a sprig of mint as well as a slice of lemon.

Want organic herbal teas in winter? Easy to do! Just harvest your herbs on a dry day (yeah right! easier said than done this year) when the morning dew has dried and before the heat of the sun kicks in, usually by 10 or 11:00. Cut the top third to half of your plant and dry. To dry I just hang in small bunches from kitchen shelves. You can also dry on clean screens that you use only for food drying. Or if you have a dehydrator you could use that too. I don't because it requires electricity so I save my dehydrator for things that wouldn't dry by this old tried and true hanging method. Once the leaves are crispy dry, store in a dry, clean glass jar out of sunlight, label the herb it is, and you have herbs for winter teas. It is worth the time to strip the leaves from the stems but you don't have to.

I can't end this posting of making herbal ice tea without discussing the subtle influences of herbs. The joy of drinking your own herb teas starts way before you take your first sip. Certainly planting is fun so I don't want to skip that over. But when you go outside, clippers and jar in hand and begin picking your herbs you have stepped into heaven. The aromas are just wonderful as is watching the bees moving from flower to flower. Just the act of connecting with your garden and all that entails on a leisurely visit such as this is well...the best and downright therapeutic.

Next week...who knows! Let's hope for some sun this week and maybe I'll feel like posting about the science of composting like I promised last week.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Raspberries and compost

Day lilies

You know summer is really here in Maine when the yards, fields, and roadsides are lined with these wonderful day lilies! I just love these plants! They are hardy, spread nicely, require little if any care, have nice green foliage before and after flowering, and they always look so beautiful.

Lavender in full bloom

I didn't want to forget to get a picture of lavender in this blog. It's been blooming for a few weeks now and is just spectacular this year! Must love the combination of compost I gave it and all the rain we've had. This lavender is a Munstead lavender plant, Lavandula angustifolia. Munstead lavender is hardy here in Maine so it's a great choice to grow. The leaves and flowers are edible. You can add 2 TBSP of minced leaf (and flowers too if you'd like) to a simple cake recipe to add a nice flavoring. You can also add it to a simple confectioneries sugar and water topping that is easily drizzled over that simple cake. It's also delicious in lemonade and iced tea. How about we discuss herbal iced tea and lemonade in our next post?

Raspberries are in full swing!

The other day I picked the last of my strawberries and went over to pick the first of our raspberries! We will have tons again this year. I've read how you are suppose to prune out dead branches in the fall but to be honest I can never tell which ones to prune then. They look the same to me. But in the spring you can tell the dead ones because they don't have green leaves growing on them so I prune them out in the spring.

I freeze a lot of raspberries. The secret to freezing berries is to freeze them in a thin layer on a cookie sheet until hard - a few hours. I've even left them on a cookie sheet over night and they are OK. After they are hard you then gently pop them off the cookie sheet, put them in freezer bags, suck out the air, seal and voila! your raspberries are ready for the freezer. I will try my hand at raspberry jam this year. Or I may try jelly. I don't really like the little seeds.

Raspberry Shortcake: But for now we are making strawberry biscuits (see an older strawberry posting for the recipe) and instead of putting strawberries on top we are putting warmed raspberries on top. Of course you can add whipped cream but I won't.

Raspberries and Yogurt: Another thing I love with raspberries (frozen raspberries is almost just as good in this as fresh) is to go to the local farmers' market and get some local goat milk yogurt. Add a ton of raspberries, a good dash of maple syrup, and some vanilla and we have a mouth watering and healthy treat. Delicious! If you have a farmers' market near you, go visit them. Bring your reusable bags (insulated ones are even better for this trip) and see what your local farmers have. For a while I didn't go. I figured I had a garden I didn't need to go to the farmers market. Boy was I wrong! The best bread in the world is there, as is the best yogurt! I can even buy goats milk soaps....all home made of course. If you haven't tried goats milk soap, it's a luxury that you must indulge in! If you eat meat you can also get humanely raised, antibiotic free, local meat. I hear it's delicious and is certainly way better than supporting those gosh awful factory farms that all of our grocery store meat comes from. Another thing I usually look for while at the market is an unusual vegetable that I'm not familiar with to try. As a matter of fact, that's where I learned about garlic scapes. onto the practical side of gardening....compost!

What can you make out of several wood pallets?

A rustic compost bin of course!

Compost - what comes to mind when you think of compost? You may think of the fertilizer you can buy in a bag from a large box store or local garden center. Or maybe you think of the stuff a farmer delivers in a pick up truck. Some municipalities also collect composting materials and either sell it for a very reasonable price or give it away. Check your town for more information and/or to request they provide that service.

But do you know that compost, aka gardeners' gold, is a mixture of decomposed green plants and food from plants that you can use to make compost yourself! Composting is not only easy, it's fun and a heck of a lot cheaper than buying the stuff.

Now for the dirt on composting or Compost 101: (taken from

There are many ways to make compost. For more details go to Google and just type in "making compost". I got the above site that way. I have a large enough back yard so I can be fairly lazy about making compost. If you live in a suburban neighborhood or have neighbors close by you need to consider the look of your bin or pile and the fact that you don't want to attract critters.
With that said, in the past I have just had a pile way out back that I threw stuff in. One issue with that is it takes longer, looks awful to most people who look at it, and can get moldy which can cause harm to your dogs if they eat it. So maybe that's not the best way to go. This year we made a bin out of wood pallets. I read somewhere that a large amount of trees that are cut down are used to make wood pallets. Something we just don't think about! So why not recycle those pallets for a good purpose. I have to be up front and say that this is not the prettiest compost bin I've ever laid my eyes on. It's good if it's out of sight a bit. We also made ours really large - 4 pallets wide. That is because we have a ton of maple trees on our yard that we rake leaves from in the fall and I want a place to house all those leaves. We'll see. If we don't fill it all we may remove a pallet section. But for now, the above picture lets you see what our pallet bin looks like.

Now to make compost, like I said, there are lots of ways. The best way is to have a proper mixture of brown and green plant material. The goal is to get the pile hot enough to kill any seeds, spores, weeds, etc. I have never been successful at getting my pile hot enough. When I was volunteering at MOFGA one day I put my arm into the compost pile and couldn't believe how hot it was in there!! I guess if I ever got lost in a snowstorm and came across a well made compost pile I'd take cover in it! I know; gross.

A great compost recipe and method is available here: Rather than repeat that information, just go to that site. It's easy to read and explains how to layer nitrogen rich material (green plant matter such as grass, garden trimmings, and food stuffs - no meat, oil, cheese!) with carbon rich material (brown plant matter like leaves, hay, straw, shredded paper).

Here's a great composting site geared to kids but the visuals are just great. Easy to read, understand, and follow. And fun!

When do you know you've got compost? When compost is finished it should look, feel and smell like rich, dark soil. You should not be able to recognize any of the items you put in there. Then it is ready to spread into your garden.

Below is another homemade compost bin. A friend of ours dog got sick from eating from her compost pile. So we decided not to put food into our open compost bin. Also we are fairly lazy when it comes to compost making. I hardly ever turn a pile. So this is where we put food scrapes. We just got a big Rubbermaid type garbage can. Drilled holes all over it and in the bottom too. and the food goes in there. Every once in a while I'll put in a layer of leaves or hay .

Compost bin from garbage can

Next is another link with pictures and information on other types of compost bins that are good if you are worried about space or what a compost bin in your yard looks like:

Compost Aerator

I also use the compost aerator tool there in the above picture to stir up the compost in my garbage can compost bin. It works great and is very easy to use. It mixes up the composting stuff in the can. They are available at or

Also available at these and other places are compost pails to have near your kitchen sink. You need to have something handy to put your veggie and fruit peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds, bread, pasta (remember no meat or dairy or oil). Once your compost pail is full empty it into your compost bin. If you don't want to spend money on a compost pail just use an old coffee can or a large Tupperware type plastic container. Just be sure whatever you use has a lid! Or else you'll have fruit fly mania! Be sure to keep the lid shut securely.

Compost Sink Side Pail

Well, it's a beautiful day outside and I'm done my mid-day break so I'm going to end here. Next week I'll post about the science behind compost as well as compost tea for plants and iced herbal teas for us humans, and whatever else that may be coming up in the garden. So until then happy gardening, cooking with your garden produce, and I hope you make it to your local farmers' market!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Potatoes, Thinning, and Tomato Pruning

1st Raspberry!
Raspberry picking is just days away!

This week brought the first real summer sun of the season! Finally summer has come to Maine. 3 days of beautiful blue skies and plenty of warmth and sunshine. Some rain tonight and then hopefully more sunshine is coming! So it was a busy few days in the garden.

A few carrots from 1st thinning

These carrots and a few more went to Boston to my daughter Erin. Carrots have always been what she most anticipates from the garden. They are her favorite garden treat. As a little girl with beautiful blond curly hair she would sit in the garden and literally eat my entire planting. She would yank those orange beauties right out of the soil and eat them! I just couldn't stand watching her eat them without first cleaning them so I just had to give her a bowl of water to rinse them off!

Something that needs to be done as tomato plants begin to take off is to remove "suckers." Below are two photos of the same tomato plant. I went through a week ago and pruned suckers from all my tomatoes and forgot to take photos. But today I found another good example to photograph for you to see. In this first photo notice the tiny stem coming up from the middle of that "V". That's a sucker. You break that off. The reason these need to be removed is that they, the suckers, take energy from the plant and tomato plants need lots of energy for making those lovely tomatoes! So yank that puppy right off! Gently of course. I pinch them off.

Tomato Sucker

Now in this next picture you can see the same "V" but the sucker is gone. I picked it off. You want to keep an eye on tomato plants and do that at every "V" you find that has one growing out of it. BUT....if you've missed a sucker and it's grown to the point that it has flowers on it or even tomatoes on it then leave it. After all you want flowers and tomatoes!

Tomato with sucker removed

NEW POTATOES! YUMMY! As much as I love digging potatoes later in the summer and fall I love to dig the season's first "New Potatoes" even more. New Potatoes are just that, new to the year; they haven't been stored. They are dug and eaten. Usually they are quite a bit smaller than the ones dug later in the season or the ones you buy at the grocery store. I love the marble sized ones but you can see by these photos I waited too long and they are a big bigger than marbles. But they will still be wonderful. I love them boiled, with skins left on, and served with a dab of butter and fresh peas! Add some mint or chives if you like. Absolute heaven! I usually just grow some red potatoes and some Yukon Gold potatoes. I've grown fingerlings and purples too but my family seems to enjoy these best so that's what I've stuck with.

Newly dug Yukon Gold potatoes

Red Potato Plants, Newly Dug New Potatoes, and Pitchfork for Digging

You need to be careful digging potatoes. You follow the stem to the ground level. Which can be a challenge since you have tons of hay piled up around each plant. You pull the hay back and I usually stick my pitchfork in about a foot or more away from the plant and turn up the soil. If you dig closer you may fork a potato and you don't want to pierce a potato. If you do that's OK, just be sure to clean it well and eat it soon. You can't store pierced potatoes. Anyway, once you overturn the soil you can gently but firmly tug the plant up out of the soil. Some tiny potatoes will cling to the plant's roots. Some will fall off and you have to use your hands to dig through the soil looking for the hidden gems. Then the plant, if it's healthy (disease free) and not infested can just go into the compost pile.

Leeks that need to be thinned

Above is a photo of a row of leeks that is in dire need of thinning. The great thing about thinning is if you wait just long enough you can get some that are large enough to use for eating and small enough to still be very tender and delicate tasting. By thinning things like carrots, beets, and onions such as leeks you make more room for the remaining plants to make nice big roots. Since we eat the roots of carrots, beets, and onions we want to give the roots plenty of room to develop the roots that we are going to harvest. Below is a photo of the first thinning of leeks. As you can see they will need another thinning but this is a good start. I used the beets and leeks that I thinned for a stir fry. I would have also used the carrots but you know where they went to!

That's it for now. Off to make another batch of strawberry jam and a strawberry shortcake. We are still getting a ton of strawberries!

Next week....compost tea and building a wood pallet compost bin. Have a great week and remember to take time to smell the flowers and spend time in your garden or at your local farmers' market. Support local, organic agriculture!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Replanting, Killing Grass, and Cilantro

Time to pull some stuff up and replant

Time to pull up some old lettuce and replant some veggies that aren't really coming up. All this wet and slugs has put quite a damper on some of the veggie plants! So anyway, here's a photo of a spot that was where my 1st and 2nd planting of lettuce was. Now it's a 3rd planting of carrots, another try at spinach, and some more parsley. This is my 4th try at spinach! You can see my 3rd try to the left of the carrot row.

Here's another replanting. I pulled out a ton of chervil and now replanted some more lettuce, basil, cilantro, and radishes. You can see some old chervil in the foreground. It's gone to seed. Don't want to take it all out because it'll self sow and come back up next year!

How to kill grass
The only time I use plastic is to kill off large areas of grass to begin a new garden spot. Works like a charm and no chemicals needed. Just cover the spot at the beginning of summer. Leave the black plastic on through the summer, fall, and winter. Then remove the plastic, save it for another spot, turn the area where there use to be grass over in the spring and it's gorgeous soil!! And no need to deal with sod clumps because they are so decomposed that they just turn into the soil. The best! I can see the edges of the plastic need to be pulled again. That happens.

Now, on to cilantro, which is also coriander. Yes, cilantro and coriander are the same plant. I've read that the leaves are referred to as cilantro and the seed is referred to as coriander. But to be honest I wouldn't bet my last dime on that distinction. My daughter and I love cilantro. My husband and son hate it. I wonder if it's a gender thing. Any guys out there who love cilantro? From what I can gather you either love it or hate it. So take that in mind when growing and using cilantro. I tend to serve it on the side. I love it in salsa and guacamole. Every once in a while, usually when I'm cooking Thai food I'll slip some in to the cooking dish. But I'm usually busted as the guys can usually tell. I keep hoping they'll get use to it and like it. I don't know if that's going to happen.

Cilantro is really easy to grow. Just throw some seeds in well prepared soil and it just grows! Like magic :) It's an annual. Plant some seed every few weeks so you have a steady supply. I use cilantro in Mexican and Thai food. But here's a recipe for cilantro that came out of the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) newsletter and was written by Roberta Bailey:

Cilantro Puree and/or Cilantro Pesto -
(for freezing)

**This will be good to add to homemade salsa once the tomatoes start to ripen!

In a food processor process 2 cups of cilantro leaves, 1-2 cloves garlic, and 1/4 - 1/2 Cups extra virgin olive oil. Puree and then freeze in small amounts.

To make this into a pesto just add to the above puree more garlic (another clove or 2) a Tbsp of fresh lime juice, 1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/2 Cups walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts......This pesto can be served over toasted bread chips or pasta, or even add to fajitas. The recipe says it can be frozen but if you freeze the pesto leave the cheese out and add when using.

Coming potatoes and thinning alliums - yummmmmmmm!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Weeds, Weeding, and Mulching

Happily mulched tomato plant

Happy 4th of July!

With the fireworks and barbeque's of July 4th comes the unavoidable truth of any garden and that is WEEDS and weeding! As the summer solstice (June 21st) approaches and wanes the weeds can really take hold of our gardens. It is very important to try to stay on top of weeding. There are several ways to interpret the task of weeding. We can look at it as a dreaded chore, meaning we won't do it. Or we can try to enter a bit of a zen type state and see weeding as a wonderful excuse to get into your garden and stay intimate with it.

Seeding and planting are mostly behind us except for some 2nd or 3rd plantings of things we want succession harvests of such as lettuce, beans, coriander, radishes, carrots. Composting and mulching are probably done by now too. If we planted some cool season crops we've been able to harvest some things like lettuce, radishes, greens, asparagus, and some herbs. Peas have started to come, as has broccoli and garlic scapes. We've probably even had to deal with some pests like flea beetles, potato beetles, cucumber beetles, and aphids.

So now let's turn to weeds and weeding. Weeding is important for several reasons. The first is totally aesthetic. I don't know about you but if my garden gets away from me for some reason and I return to see nothing but weeds my first reaction is to walk away in frustration and disappointment. That's never a good thing. But if your garden is fairly weed free you are more likely to spend enjoyable time in it. It just looks nicer and is inviting. We want to be invited into our gardens. That encourages us to stay connected with it. Also, weeds compete for nutrients and water. They take them away from the plants that we want to grow, our vegetables, herbs, and flowers. So we do need to get those weeds out of there and keep them out of there. That's where mulch comes in.

If we've mulched our gardens then the task of weeding (notice I am not using the word chore) will be much, much easier! If you've never mulched you should strongly consider it. Mulching does several things for our gardens. It keeps weeds down! Just for that reason it is so worth it to mulch! It also keeps the soil moist. Granted this year in Maine we don't need more moisture! It's rained for the past month and more is predicted. But this is a very unusual summer here. Usually moisture is a big issue in any garden. Roots need to have consistent moisture and mulch will help with that - a lot! Another reason for mulching is that mulching adds to the soil. The mulch eventually decomposes and works like adding compost to the soil. And mulching looks nice. And like I said, there is something to be said about a garden looking nice. So again, if you don't mulch put it on the top of your "to do" list. In my opinion it is an absolute must for any successful garden and gardener.

What to use for mulching? There are lots of choices. Experiment to see what you like and what you have available. To me the absolute Cadillac of mulches are ground up coco hulls. You can get this in bags from places like Agway and local garden centers. The smell is heavenly and it's a wonderful deep brown. But it is very expensive! I rarely use it but if I see it on sale I may buy a bag or two just to put somewhere to experience that wonderful smell and color. I first learned about this mulch from Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry CT. I use to visit there when I was in college and have always remembered that wonderful mulch.

But let's get back to reality. Reality dictates that we want to use what is local and available and inexpensive. All of which coco hulls are not. We have the tried and true option of hay. The problem with hay is that it's a perennial grass. So the odds of it introducing weed seed into your garden is very high. But I use hay and I use a lot of it. I get it from a farmer down the road. I transport 3 bales at a time in my car. I don't have a pick up truck so need to do it this way. I bring 2 sheets with me. I lay one down in the car, put bales on top and then cover them with the 2nd sheet and tuck in sides. Works like a charm. I usually need to make 3-4 trips a year. And I like to use older mulch hay. It's cheaper. If your hay gets kucky (black and gewy) in the middle that's OK to use just try to avoid inhaling any mold spores. What I do is I use hay in the pathways. After the garden is planted and on a day that isn't windy I mulch my paths. I first put down a few layers of newspaper and put a heavy layer of hay over that. I never have hay sprouting up. The secret is the newspaper barrier. I use newspaper because it will stop any hay seeds from taking root in the soil. That's why it's considered a barrier. I also use hay because it decomposes back into the garden soil. Newspaper is plant based (another reason to purchase recycled paper products!) But I also use hay without newspaper over my potato plants. But the secret here is that I put about a foot of it down. So it's so deep that light doesn't penetrate through and allow any seeding to take place. I put it down right over the potato chunks right after I plant them. Personally, I don't like to use plastic because it's made from fossil fuels and it also makes the hay slippery. Hay also has that gardeny look, whatever the heck that means. But it just does.
Hay in the paths and straw around the bean plants

Then there's also straw. Straw comes from annual grass, oats. So if you see straw sprouting up at least you know it's an annual. But that is an issue with straw, it sprouts. Sometimes it bothers me but mostly it doesn't. But I do pull it and keep it at bay. I love when it seeds; it's so pretty. But just like a weed you can't let the straw take over your garden. So that is definitely an issue. You could put newspaper under it. That would make perfect sense. But since I use straw in the plant beds and I tend to plant really close together putting down newspaper first would be quite a "chore". So I don't. When you mulch your plants be sure to do this after a nice rain fall. That way the soil is moist and your mulch will keep that moisture down in the soil. I sometimes will water my beds after I mulch so the mulch is wet as well as the soil. But that's probably overkill. The reason I don't use straw in my pathways is that it is usually twice the price of hay, sometimes even more. I get my straw from a horse stable/supply place. It's a great excuse to drive into a more rural area and look at gorgeous horses! Again, experiment to see what works for you.

Anther option is grass clippings. Now this is an excellent choice but one I don't usually use. I know, go figure! The reason being I'm too lazy to rake the lawn after it's been mowed. If you have one of those grass catchers on your lawn mower than by all means use your grass! You can use it without newspaper as long as you're mowing your lawn before any seeding is occurring. Which I think most of us tend to do. But like anything else there's always that, but...
I've read that leaving grass clippings on your lawn is good for your lawn. Just like in a garden those clippings decompose and return nutrients to your lawn. That's another reason I don't collect grass to use. Yeah right!

Some folks use compost as a mulch. That's a great idea but to be honest I use almost all my compost at the beginning of the season when I'm planting. I do save some to make compost tea (more about that in a future post) but I usually just don't have enough to mulch my garden with it. Well, I can put handfuls around plants but I don't usually have enough to put several inches over my entire garden. I already put tons in and worked it into the soil at the beginning of the season when I was preparing my beds and planting. But if you have tons or access to tons then by all means give it a try!

So... weed away!

Coming next coriander...I promise; and pruning tomato suckers!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Peas, Pests, and Garlic Scapes

Peas! Peas! Glorious Peas!

Pea Pods before the 4th of July!

Peas are in and tonight they were just delicious! Here's a picture of peas with edible pods. Shell peas will be for dinner tomorrow night. Below is a photo of the cover of The Victory Garden Cookbook. I use this cookbook all summer long. Not only does it have recipes but it also gives information on growing and harvesting veggies. Each chapter of the book focuses on a vegetable and is in alphabetical order. Last night I realized that I was going to pick peas today so last night I pulled this cookbook out to look up recipes for peas. I wound up making a scampi recipe with peas and served it over wild rice. It was pretty darn tasty. Another favorite is to cook shell peas and serve over rice with some butter and mint...yummy! The secret to cooking peas is to barely cook them. They should retain their beautiful and bright green color and still be crispy. No soggy yellowish peas please!

Great Cookbook!

Since there are so many peas and I hate canned peas and don't have freezer space to freeze them I will be bringing them to the local soup kitchen tomorrow. On Thursdays they serve soup and sandwiches and said they would love some garden produce. I have a ton of lettuce, radishes, dill, beet greens, and strawberries so I'll bring some of them over. It was easy to find places to bring produce to. I just typed in "soup kitchen" into Google. Then I typed in "food pantry" and then "homeless shelter". For each entry I also typed in my town and state and each time up came a list of organizations in my town. They each had a contact phone number so I called. I will go tomorrow to the one that answered and said they'd like some. Now the thing with bringing produce to places like food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters is the produce needs to be of excellent quality and newly picked and cleaned very well. The staff at these places have all they can do just to get the food ready. Cleaning produce is very time consuming so they really appreciate when it arrives clean and ready to go. Don't ever bring anything that you wouldn't eat yourself. onto pests. Below is a picture of some shiny Mylar ribbon that I put over the corn patch. Last year I planted 3 plantings of corn before I found out about this product. The crows kept pulling the newly emerging corn plants right out of the ground! The crows won't cross this shiny ribbon! It works like a charm. I get mine at Johnny's Selected Seeds since it's so close by. But I saw a similar product at Agway.

1st and 2nd corn plantings

More pests!! See the bean plants below?! UGh!!! I've mentioned a few times that slugfest '09 is a big hit in my very wet garden this year. Here are a few of what should be my dilly bean plants. I figured you should see the not so good plants as well as the ones that are doing well. I haven't done the beer trap yet because it won't stop raining! I have lots of seed left and as soon as this rain passes (it's only been the past 27 days!) I will replant.

Slug damaged bean plants

And even more pests!!

Striped Cucumber Beetle ... Hate them!

Today I noticed the dreaded striped cucumber beetle on my pumpkin plants! When I went to squish it, it flew away. Bugger!! Then I noticed tons of them! Not good! You've got to get rid of these things as soon as you see them. They were just having all sorts of party fun and orgies all over these poor pumpkin plants! So I hopped into my car and went to Johnny's to see what I could use on them. I think it's important to apply organic ingredients. But just because they are organic doesn't mean that you can just be willy nilly with them. They do kill insects after all. The thing that worries me with applying anything is the bees. I don't want to kill bees! So I am very careful not to apply when a plant is in flower. Try to get to the plant before it flowers.

I have ignored these awful pests in the past and regretted it. They are what we call, vectors. Vectors are organisms that carry disease and inject it into an unsuspecting host.Well, according to a website I just read, in this case the disease is carried in and transmitted through the insects' fecal matter. I know; gross! Anyway, in this case the host are the squash plants. And the disease that these dreaded insects carry is called, bacterial wilt. So the disease is a bacterium. Bacteria are living organisms too. They are tiny but they can be very powerful. Now the thing with bacteria is that most of us believe bacteria are bad and that we should kill them at all costs. Because of irresponsible media coverage and hype we are misinformed to believe that all bacteria are harmful. Oh contrair! Most bacteria on Earth are beneficial and down right essential. Think about what would happen to all the dead creatures if we didn't have certain bacteria that act as decomposers. Ewwww! I don't even want to think about how high the piles of dead stuff would be! Bacteria is the reason dead stuff returns to the Earth that they came from. Bacteria also keep our intestines and skin healthy. But...when it comes to this creature and the bacteria it carries; well that's a different story. Bacteria wilt is a deadly disease and if it's injected into your squash plants it'll kill them. So...get rid of these insects ASAP! Here's a good link if you'd like to read more about this insect, disease, and their fascinating relationship with your squash plants:

Other things that are going on in the garden:

Now onto a way to attract those bees I was worried about. Below is a picture of a radish gone to flower. I love radish flowers! They are so delicate and are even pretty cut and put in vases. I let some radishes go to flower because the bees seem to love them. Well, bees love most flowers. So consider leaving some of your veggies go to flower. If they are not hybrid plants then you can let them go to seed after they flower and then collect the seed and store it for planting next year. I'll talk about that in a later post.

Radish plant gone to flower

Below is a photo of a garlic "scape". Tall garlic plants get this curly thing on top called a garlic scape. You can cut the curly q's off and eat them. They have a delicate garlic flavor and are wonderful. A friend of mine likes to dice some of these up and sprinkle them over buttered toast. I like the garlic scape pesto. I've also had dilly garlic scapes. I may makes some of them this year. If I do I'll post the recipe I use and how they turn out.'ve just got to visit this website I found before you read any more about garlic scapes!! It's so fun! Go to: Be sure to watch the video clip, Craig Discovers Garlic Scapes. Be sure to also watch the Garlic Top Salad clip (which shows up under the above clip after it's played). Also watch, How to Dice Unruly Garlic Scapes.

Garlic Scapes

Here's a recipe The Amateur Gourmet posted from the NY Times, "White Bean and Garlic Scape Dip!" I just have to try this!

Taken from "The garlic scape serves as the stem from which the seed head of the garlic bulb is formed. As the bulb begins to grow and mature, garlic stalks also begin to lengthen. During the growth period, the garlic scape begins to curve. Contained within the garlic scape is a great deal of flavor, although the stalk never does reach the level of the pungent garlic bulb itself. Initially, the garlicscape is relatively tender, making it ideal for use as an ingredient in several dishes. As the plant continues to mature, the garlic scape gradually begins to straighten, creating more support for the bulb. At this juncture, the garlic scape is much tougher and ceases to be usable for most recipes."

I also read that even though the scapes look just beautiful in the garden cutting them off sends energy down to the bulbs making the bulbs stronger and I'm assuming bigger. So cut those scapes off and make some pesto! BUT..... if you want to try to get your garlic to self sow then don't cut all the scapes. If you leave some of the scapes they will flower and then make tiny little bulbets. These will fall off and garlic will grow next year. The bulbs you harvest will be smaller than the "real" garlic you plant. But you'll have lots of surprises (garlic plants) sprouting around your garden. You can use these as a mild garlic flavor in the spring when garlic bulbs aren't ready to dig. And garlic is a great companion plant that helps keep the bad buggies away.

For all those scapes you do harvest here's the pesto recipe. It is delicious! We just had some on fresh fresh bread. Will have some tonight on some pasta.


Makes about 1 cup

10 garlic scapes (I used the largest I had in my garden), finely chopped

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (to taste and texture)

1/2 cup slivered almonds (you could toast them lightly, if you'd like) or use walnuts

About 1/2 cup olive oil

Sea salt -optional - I never use salt so didn't use this

Put the scapes, the cheese, almonds and the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or use a blender or a mortar and pestle). Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients. If you like the texture, stop; if you'd like it a little thinner, add some more oil. Optional -season with salt.

If you're not going to use the pesto immediately, press a piece of plastic against the surface to keep it from oxidizing. The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days or packed airtight and frozen for a couple of months, by which time tomatoes should be at their juciest.

I'm going to make another batch to freeze to use with Broschetta once the tomatoes are ripe.

Another way to use Garlic Scape Pesto is to mix it with some Hummus and spread on Syrian bread...yummy!

Coming next....cilantro!