Herb Time

OK, so it's sunny out and my day off which means I'm not going to write much!

Things are finally growing in the garden and we may eek out a few tomatoes and zucchini, but not sure if we'll have a chance to grow any other sun loving veggie. Going to have to buy some new starts today. Think I'll give basil a try. That said, the peas and broccoli are super happy and you can even see little baby broccoli heads starting! Exciting as this will be my first year for broccoli success.

Today I decided to collect and preserve some of the herbs. The mint will get leggy soon as it gets hotter and dryer (yes I'm being optimistic) so I picked some to dry and some to make mint water from. The mint water is delicious when it's hot out. I just steep a bunch of it as if I were making a very concentrated mint tea. Then I add that to a pitcher, fill with cold water and put that in the fridge for when we're thirsty and hot.

I also picked chives, which did I tell you I figured out how to preserve last year? If you try to dry them whole they shrivel up like dead grass. If you chop them fine then lay them out to dry, they stay nice a green and the taste is great.

The lavender is just about to flower so I rushed to pick as many stems with unopened buds as I could. I'll dry these and use them for baking this fall/winter. They are delicious in orange scones. I made a lavender ice cream last fall that was tasty too.

Lastly, I picked a bunch of lettuce as it's finally warm enough for me to crave salads. Fresh lettuce from the garden will actually last a long time in the fridge. I discovered two years ago how to make greens last longer. I just wash them well and then spin them dry. Next I wrap a bundle of them in paper towels and place that in a glass storage container. All of that goes into the crisper bin in the fridge and will last at least a week. That way you only have to wash lettuce once a week! To combat spiders, slugs and such that like to get in the folds of lettuce, I just soak it in the sink for a half hour or so.


"Barn Raising"

I've said it before and I'll say it again, community is important. We've had a rough year this year and this last two weeks have been especially difficult. One of the things that have seen me through this time are the relationships we have with friends, family and neighbors. My sister's constant encouragement in the form of texts, my sister-in-law and auntie-in law and their sheer presence, and friends who have met me at boxing class or spent the night. Then last weekend, I put the call out for help with our little house and yard. We had a ton of great friends show up and do all sorts of work around the house. One of our friends referred to it as a "barn raising like the Amish do." She said, "We should do this more often for each other." I couldn't agree more and am so grateful for all the work they did! Just call and if we can be there, we will gladly return the favor.


Some things thrive in the rain...

Although there are mole mounds melting down the slope of my front yard, standing water in our back path, and it's so wet I don't think I'll ever get to plant green beans now, some things are loving this weather. In fact, lots of stuff is doing quite well right now. I just might need to rethink my plantings this year and stick with the cooler, greener crops. I'll let a few tomatoes struggle on since they are my favorite, but we might as well write off the bigger peppers this year. This is a year to stick with onions, lettuce, broccoli, chard, cabbage, spinach, herbs, zucchini and peas. (Don't ask me why the zucchini seems to be liking this OK for now.)

Of course this also creates the perfect environment for slugs to flourish and I need to get out there more to keep on top of them. The chard has sensed that that brief dry sunny spell in March was actually summer and now we're into fall so it's time to go to seed... I've had to cut it back drastically to get some light to the struggling tomatoes and basil. We'll see if it comes back with a third crop of leaves for me.

Actually, I think I need to give up on basil for now. Here's a sad view of the basil.

 Much of the garden is really happy though and I just have to remember that, even though my favorites may not make it this year (the tomatoes, basil and yellow squash) some great stuff will! The lettuce couldn't be happier and the onions are about to burst forth flowers. The garlic seems to be holding up without any rot and this weekend promises good weather.

I have even started a batch of compost tea to encourage more growth. This is the easiest and cheapest way to fertilize. Just grab a shovel full of your rough compost (doesn't need to be the potting soil consistency yet) and toss it in a bucket. Fill the bucket with water and let it sit a day or two. Once it starts to get a nice foam at the top, scoop off the coffee-colored "tea". You just pour this directly at the base of each of your plants. I use an old plastic container and a Home Depot bucket for the job. I do this about once a week. When you've used all the liquid, you can dump the leftover compost back into the pile or around the base of your acid loving shrubs (like camellia or rhododendrons).

Keep in mind that the "tea" is very nitrogen rich, especially if you add rabbit droppings to it like we do. The best part of doing this now is that the green plants that love this weather love the nitrogen from my bunny poo rich fertilizing brew. Before your "fruit" producing plants start to flower, you'll also want to work in something such as fish bone meal to encourage flower production and to balance the nitrogen. Last year I used a ton of tea and didn't realize until too late that I needed the bone meal. My plants were HUGE and a nice dark green, but they didn't produce as much as I wanted...

Lastly, we use beer traps to curb the army of slugs that love this wet cool mess of a garden. So, we need to double my little beer traps and frequently refill them. I don't actually drink beer so I have to buy it just for the garden, but you can use whatever you have. I don't want to use Jovi's expensive local brews so I run to the store for the biggest, cheapest cans of beer I can get. I like to imagine that the store clerks think I'm a closet alcoholic as I stand in line with my magnums and snack food. Cheers to your garden!


Tea Trees and Hawthorne Remedies

The combination of too much rain and a day off has led me to some web research. I've been wondering for a few days if there is anything I should be doing for my camellias in general. I don't know much about them and so I Googled them and came to the realization that they are in the same plant family as the plant that tea is commonly made from. Actually tea is made from camellia sinesis and the plants in our NW yards are more likely to be camellia japonica. This got me thinking, well, could you make tea safely from my variety? I did a little surfing and found some great pruning tips from the American Camellia Society and then, surprise, another blogger's experiment with making tea from camellia japonica! I also found out that the leaves, berries and flowers from our hawthorne tree can be used for medicinal purposes.

I absolutely LOVE that, even after living here for almost 6 and a half years, I am still discovering things about this little piece of property! Several years ago we discovered that the bush/tree near our garden is a hazelnut tree too - although the squirrels and bugs get to the hazelnuts every year before we do. I like to imagine that the Copeland Family, who built this house and for whom the street is named after, actually planted all of these trees and bushes. I imagine that they knew a bit more about what plants were good for and specifically chose the plants they did for these reasons. For instance, they must have planted the catalpas they are so big! They surely thought about the summer shade these trees would provide and the light they would allow in in the winter. I'd be willing to bet they intended on harvesting hazelnuts for their own use and that they could provide a little morning shade when they planted that tree/bush. Did they know about the medicinal properties of the Hawthorne or did they just want to add more summer shade? I like how this connects me to the history of my house and to sustainable urban lawnscaping today. It's a full circle kinda thing. A thing to remind us that some not so new knowledge is better knowledge.

Here are two of the links I found regarding camellia's:
Tea making from camellia japonica http://pandragonathome.blogspot.com/2009/11/making-black-tea-from-your-camellia.html
General good info regarding care for camellias: http://www.camellias-acs.com/

The "Uses" section of this link provides interesting information regarding hawthorne trees: