The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Working in the Herb Bed

After 2013 heavy rain
Having a self-sustaining herb bed has been a goal of mine for many years. I started working on this one about four years ago. It is definitely a process to take a piece of 'lawn' and turn it into something useful and sustainable. First we tilled it up, then I covered it in brown painters paper and a hay mulch
April 2014
to try to kill out the grass and weeds. But we had a heavy rain and it washed all of the mulch and tilled up topsoil away. Then we tilled it again, and had another flooding rain that washed the topsoil away. Some people would say I needed

a new location, and that may be true. But we are limited on space in our yard due to the size of the land around the house, the little seasonal branch that runs through here, and the topography. Right on the other side of the branch the land goes uphill and is much drier. Most of the rest of the yard is the garden, or driving area. We have tried to pack as much as we can into this small space. So this is what I have to work with, and I will keep trying.

April 2014
I actually have quite a few things started and add a few more each year. This year I am getting very serious about having certain things growing. Some of these plants are for culinary use, some for medicinal, some for animal feed and some for both or all three. I have tried a few plants that I would really like to be able to grow for the qualities they have, but they just aren't sustainable in our growing zone, which is zone seven. Some of the plants I have been able to establish are doing quite well, and some are doing so-so. Here is a run down.

I haven't tended to my garlic patch enough to get a good start of 'modern' garlic. There are a few growing from the patch I harvested last summer, but they are small and few. What is growing is what I call my 'old fashioned' garlic. I have two patches. One came from a neighboring homestead where it has been growing for at least 40 years, and the other came from a fence row by an old church. I don't know how long it has been growing there. Both of these older varieties are growing very well after only one year. I think I will stick with them instead of the more common smaller leafed varieties. 

Let me back up for a minute. When we moved here six years ago, I increased my book collection for growing, harvesting and using medicinal herbs. From this collection of books, I planned out the herbs I wanted to grow along with their preferred locations, soil types, sun/shade requirements and companion planting needs. From this I made a 'map' of my herb bed, or what I dreamed my herb bed would become. It is now very wrinkled and stained from being stuck in my pocket so many times when I am out digging or planting. I knew that I would need a way to identify each plant until I 
learned what they were since I have never grown many of these plants before. We came up with using wooden builders stakes with the name of the plant painted on with black enamel paint. Now some of the stakes have been in the ground long enough that the bottoms are rotting off, so eventually I will need to find something more permanent, but for now this works. This year as I add more plants to the bed, I get out my beautiful (to me) wrinkled, scribbled on map to see where each plant should go. This little piece of paper represents dreams come true to me. It's the culmination of long-term dreaming, planning and working toward a goal. So, on with the tour.



Next we have the peppermint which is spreading everywhere, as it is prone to do.



I have two leeks. I know that is funny, but they have come back after last year. I would like to have a patch of them so I will leave them and see if they go to seed and spread. I have done this with several plants hoping to create a self-seeding bed of the annuals I have planted.



The multiplier, or walking onions are right next door. They are doing okay for a small patch. I hope they 'multiply' much more this summer so I can start harvesting some next year.


The marjoram is doing great. It has been here for three years now. It almost dies off in the winter, but not all the way. Once the weather warms up a bit, it comes right back and spreads a little more each year. It is a beautiful plant. The parsley that I let go to seed right next door has yet to show any signs of coming up so I probably need to replant it. I know the seeds are very slow to germinate and the weather has been unseasonably cold, so I haven't given up hope of seeing them start to grow.




The lemon balm is just beautiful. What else can I say?







The rosemary turned a little brown during our very cold winter. I have been thinking of trimming it back and letting it regrow itself.



The elderberries I planted last year are doing very well. I added two more plants that I ordered this year. The more I read about elderberry syrup for coughs and colds, the more I want to make sure I have a good stand of it.


The green tea is growing well since I planted it last summer. I think the elderberries may want to invade this space, but I will keep it at bay enough to let the tea have it's spot. You will notice that many of my plants are fairly close together. That is by design. I hope to fill this entire bed with wall to wall plants. If my entire dream does come true I will have to pull a few up to keep some walkways available. That would be great.

 









I have two kinds of sage growing. One of them has been here for two years, the other was planted last summer, and both were started from seed.


In between the comfrey and garlic I am adding some chamomile and savory this year. The chamomile is both German and Roman. I wanted to see which one does better in this location and growing zone. 



The chives that were planted here by the garlic last summer came back up which surprised me. I hope they will become a regular site each year now.




This is a witch hazel bush. It has been here for three years now and still isn't very big or tall. It is a slow growing plant.





The horseradish is doing great, it spreads a little each year. I think it has been here for three years now.



 









I have added some dill between the lemon balm and the horseradish. I also plan to plant more dill to see if I can get a bigger patch established.

A few years ago I planted cilantro here. It promptly went to seed and died. I thought that was the end of it. Last summer I was out pulling weeds an came upon this plant that looked a little familiar and out of place. I almost pulled it up, but stopped to smell a leaf first, when I realized the cilantro had reseeded itself. That was great! The only problem is it doesn't like our hot weather and goes to seed way before my tomatoes and peppers are ready to make salsa. It has come up again this year, and I have added two more plants to enlarge the patch. I am going to try drying it to use in my salsa this year so I don't have to buy any. Last year I bought some for one batch of salsa, but for the second batch, I used the seeds, which are called coriander. They tasted okay, but Frank and I prefer the leaf flavor, so this will be one of my new experiments.



The oregano has come back this year for the third time, so I think I can count on it being here. 




Last year I let my basil go to seed hoping it would come back, but so far, there are no signs of it. I have added rue, savory, swiss chard and arugula as new plants this year. We will see how they do.

 
Right after I planted this catnip, along came Brother. I have never had catnip and cats together before so his behavior was very interesting. He started rubbing and chewing on it right away. Then he went over and laid out on his back all stretched out. It was funny.


This old stump is kind of a decoration, but it is actually sitting here waiting for some wild yams to grow on it. I have yet to get any of the seeds I've bought to germinate, but I will keep trying.


I have probably missed a few plants, but I will keep you updated on the progress of this project. I hope to start harvesting and storing herbs from this bed this summer, so I have much more to learn. I'll let you know what works and what doesn't as I go along. The next thing I need to create for myself is a calendar or schedule of harvesting times. I know some plants need to be picked before they bloom, or others have blooms that need to be picked at a particular stage to receive the most benefit from the plant. There is always much to learn and do and I am ready to get at it. I believe this will be an invaluable skill in our future, and I do know, that I don't know enough at this stage. 

Until next time - Fern


22 comments:

  1. Hi Fern! Thanks for sharing about your herbs! I can hardly wait to read how you will utilize them for yourself and the animals! The goats love to eat the leaves of horseradish! We have it growing wild here. Have a great week! Blessings from Bama!

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    1. Thanks, Felecia, I didn't know that about horseradish. Isn't learning great?

      Fern

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  2. Cilantro is short-lived, so I freeze the leaves whole in plastic containers and use as I would fresh. It works well. I can also vouch for the elderberry in preventing colds and flu. I made elderberry syrup and gave 2-3 oz to each member of the family every day as well as a dose of zinc and probiotics. We had an illness-free winter. I mean not one cold, stomach flu, sinus infection, nothing. I've been picking elderberries from the plants that grow wild in the ditches along gravel roads (I was shown how to do this by my grandmother) and this year bought plants for my garden. Remember to use only the berries of the elderberry plant. The rest of the plant is toxic.

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    1. This is good news, Smitty, thank you for sharing. I hope to make our own syrup this summer.

      Fern

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  3. FYI: Dried cilantro has no flavor at all, but I have success with freezing it. Just wash and dry very well, chop and wrap tightly in serving size logs. Do not thaw before using, just drop in blender with salsa ingredients. Tastes almost as good as fresh. I have also read that making a paste with olive oil and cilantro freezes well, but I haven't tried that yet. Since we don't like canned salsa, I plan to make frozen salsa chunks this year that have a chopped mixture of jalapeƱos, onion, and cilantro just ready to pop in the blender with home canned tomatoes. Hope it works! May God bless your garden this year (mine too)!

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    1. I know a few folks that have used dried cilantro and said it was okay, you just have to use more. And then I have read several different folks that recommend freezing. I am trying to get away from freezing things as much as possible so I don't have to depend on electricity.

      Your technique of making salsa sounds interesting. We canned our salsa last summer and it is great. We're going to run out before the tomatoes and peppers are ready this summer, so that means we need to make more!

      Thank you for the comment. I appreciate the opportunity to learn.

      Fern

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  4. Your herb garden is wonderful.
    I've had trouble finding cheap plant markers and finally settled on mini-blind slats. Someone is always throwing one away so I garbage pick a few slats. I use 8-10" pieces with one end cut to a point to put in the ground and use a permanent marker to label.
    I've never had basil not come up from plants gone to seed - and I mean hundreds. They do like hot weather best so give them time.
    For some reason I don't like cilantro but I do like coriander seeds. To use them I heat them in a dry cast iron skillet until they pop - then use in whatever recipe needed. Mexican and Indian recipes call for them a lot.

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    1. Thanks, Bellen. It's good to know there is hope for my basil. I keep thinking it will show up. I'll let you know how it goes.

      I've never heard of popping coriander seeds. It sounds interesting. Yet another learning opportunity. Thanks again.

      Fern

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  5. This may seems like a dumb question but looking at your plants made me think of rattlesnakes. Here in Cali you have to worry about them in the foothills but we are in the valley. Just wondering if that is a concern for you. Also since you are preparing so well, is there a prep for snake bites?

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    1. We have ground rattlers (which are small but are usually found in 'packs'), copperheads and water moccasins on the poisonous side. About the only snakes we usually see around here are black snakes which are great for eating mice, but they also like eggs and baby chicks. We have a saying about snakes, "The only good snake is a dead snake." My research hasn't led to any specific preparations for snake bites. But now you have given me something else to research, learn and share. Thanks!

      Fern

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  6. Hi, I don't post often but read your blog almost daily. Thanks so much for your effort and willingness to share your life. As to cilantro, I just purchased seed of a new variety that is supposed to be slow bolting. The seed is from Territorial Seed in OR. The weather isn't warm enough here yet to plant but look forward to the time I can get in the garden. Also, I have read but haven't tried freezing the cilantro suspended in water in ice cube trays. Cheers, SJ in BC Canada

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    1. It's good to hear from you, SJ. I think I have read about the cilantro you are talking about. I know the one that is coming back year after year is quick to bolt. I would like to try growing some seedlings that would be ready to pick about the same time as the tomatoes and peppers. That is definitely the hot time of year here, so I don't know if they would do anything but bolt. It would be interesting, though. Thanks for reading.

      Fern

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  7. Thank you for the tour of your herb garden. I always enjoy seeing what others are growing. I've moved my herbs to pots this year since I've had such trouble with keeping them alive in the past.

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    1. Some of mine have done well and some haven't. It's definitely a learning process, Kathi.

      Fern

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  8. What a fabulous "cooks" tour of your herb garden! We have Chives doing well in our bucket garden and peppermint but the cold killed the sage that was three years old. We have started more basil's and dill. It is so wonderful to have fresh herbs!
    A note on the name stakes. I use a dremel to gouge the names into the stake then paint the hollowed mark. It seems to help the paint last longer and even if it fades you can still read it.
    As to your cat...catnip seems to be the feline version of Medicinal marijuana! Our house cat does the similar laid back thing when she eats or rubs on her catnip plant!

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    1. Thanks for the plant stake idea, Fiona. The antics of the cat were funny. I look forward to trying more fresh herbs when I cook, and learning how to preserve them as well.

      Fern

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  9. I enjoy reading your blog. I also live in zone 7. My 3 rosemary plants froze out this winter so have had to replant them. Something we have had quite a bit of luck with is fennel. It's a beautiful plant and the seeds are good for stomach problems.

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    1. I think my rosemary will make it, although it doesn't look too happy right now. Fennel is on my list, I just haven't gotten it started yet. I'm glad you are enjoying your stay. Please keep sharing. There's so much to learn, and you know the old saying, "Two heads are better than one." With the internet and blogging it's more like hundreds of heads are better than one. Thanks for the comment.

      Fern

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  10. Every time I read your blog I feel like I get a kick in my seat to get things rolling. Thanks for the inspiration! I've been wanting to build an herb garden for years. Guess it's time I find a place and get started. lol

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    1. Well, SFG, I'm glad you find some inspiration here. I really enjoy the comments folks make because it keeps me motivated and I learn a lot. Let us know how your herb bed shapes up. I'll be watching for a post over at your site.

      Fern

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  11. Very nice herb garden! I have 2 perennial beds in my garden with most of my herbs there. But I would like them closer to the kitchen door :) Thanks for sharing on The HomeAcre Hop! Hope you can join us again today :)

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. I am looking forward to learning more about growing my own herbs.

      Fern

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