Thursday, May 31, 2007

Be careful what you wish for!

Yesterday I was jabbering about being rushed and spending so much time in the garden. It seemed like there was a never ending list of chores to be done, all of them a pleasure, all of them things I love to do, but I was whining nevertheless.
In the course of the next 12 hours, my top two menfolk both wound up in the hospital. Suddenly all of that other stuff became so unimportant. All I cared about was them getting better. They will. They'll be fine. And all of the things that really NEED to be done will be done. Some will fall by the wayside, and nobody will even notice.

When my sister and I had our herb shop, we were very determined to succeed, and we did very well. We opened our full-time shop within two weeks of opening our renaissance faire shop for the season. We started holding weekly classes, and soon started accepting speaking engagements. We participated in lots of festivals and fairs, trying to find our niche and get our name out there. We learned to make soap, and sold it in both shops, eventually stretching to sell wholesale (which Maryanne still does). It worked, and the shop was successful almost from the beginning. But our kids and marriages suffered. We were always in a tailspin, cramming more and more into every day until there wasn't a minute to spare.
We had to stop. We changed our lives.

Now that we have our own separate businesses, we still work together, helping each other in tight spots. Our natural tendency to start stuffing our days has reared its ugly head again, and once again we found the month of May to be overwhelming, culminating in the last few days of May and the first weekend of June becoming almost impossibly full.

Imagine our surprise to find both of our men ill. The fast train ground to a halt, and the silence is palpable.

Ok. I get it. I'm listening. The roses need smelling and the lavender wands await weaving. Quiet, peaceful pleasurable pursuits. The rest is all a facade anyway.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Death by Gardening

I'm pretty sure there is such a thing, and I'm also pretty sure it has a hold on me. Every day, I stride purposefully past the basket of laundry, the debris from last week's great furniture swap, and the unread newspaper, and grab my trusty shovel and basket of gardening implements.
Oh, I try to resist. Really I do; but it is right outside the office window, and stretches out past the row of pines that might otherwise protect me from the siren's song. Each morning I NEED to see what is blooming and what survived another night of deer browsing. One of the new plants might need a drink! One of the weeds might need a yank. One of the groundhogs might need a good scare. It's pathetic. I can see that.
The heat drives me inside during the middle of the day, but after dinner the itch returns. I marvel at how good I've become with the shovel. Last year, the blade would only turn up small, delicate divots. All the force would toss me off balance while the rocky soil mocked my futile attempts. This year the shovel hits its mark and turns up big clods of dirt. By Jove, I think I've got it!
Each evening ends with a mud-streaked face, fingers sore and stained, and knees and back aching. The sunset is always beautiful from the deck where I cool off before going inside. Life is so good!

It's been a while since I've posted - not since the magazine deadline. We got the proof for the next issue approved, so it should start printing next week. I worried that this might be a scanty issue because of all the things herbies need to do in May, but that was all for naught. I wrote about our trip, there's another article about a traveling herbal seminar. Another came in about a legendary local herbalist from "way back", and we got so many recipes to use with our harvests! It filled up so beautifully, and we even got a new writer on board who will be reviewing books and interviewing authors in this and upcoming issues. We've already got a couple articles stored away for the Sept/Oct issue! With the new postal rates, we've decided that we really need to stick to 32 pages - no matter what. That may mean smaller type - heh heh heh. Anyway, that's where I've been, getting all of that put to bed. You're going to love this issue, of that I am certain.

Off to picnic with the crew - hope your weekend is green and dirty :-).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Planting Patio Herbs in Containers

From the Jul/Aug '02 issue of The Essential Herbal , and written by Johann McKee. (Be sure to read Johann's poem at the bottom of the post.)

Planting Patio Herbs in Containers

First of all, herbs need three things when grown in a container: sunlight, air circulation, and well-drained soil. The plants should be kept a little on the dry side so it is best to choose containers that have drainage holes.

There are many soil mixtures available now in garden shops. If you plan to mix your own, you might want to consider these four ingredients in equal parts: topsoil from your yard, coarse perlite (not vermiculite), peat moss, and coarse sand. Homemade compost can be substituted for peat moss.

Most herbs respond to a little fertilizer. The simple organic method is to use one cupful of dried cow manure or bone meal to a bushel of potting soil. There are many natural fertilizers available on the market; simply follow the directions on the container. Feeding the herbs twice a month should be sufficient.

Containers are the next thing to consider. The porous containers made out of wood or terra cotta seem to work best. The down side of clay posts is they tend to crack if left outside over winter. It would be necessary to store them in a sheltered area such as an unheated garage or basement if the herb contained perennials.

What herbs would you like to plant? For me, I would plant the ones that I would actually use and they would be oregano, basil, thyme, savory, sweetbay, sage, cilantro, parsley, French tarragon, and rosemary. Of these, rosemary, bay, and sage would prefer being in their own individual pots. The other perennials - oregano, tarragon, thyme, and cilantro could live together in one pot. Helpful hint: pinch back the tips or flower buds of the basil to keep it from going to seed, thereby prolonging its season.

Harvesting can be done anytime, but for best flavor, it is best to do it before the plant blooms. Snip them early morning after the dew has dried. Small bunches may then be hung to dry in a dark airy area. Other methods of preserving/drying include screens, paper towels and on cookie sheets in a 200 degree oven. When dry, strip the leaves and store in glass jars in a dark area. Fresh herbs may also be put in freezer bags and stored in the freezer.

Finally, herbs are not usually bothered by insects. Bay is the exception. Scale seems to love it and the only safe treatment is to wash each bump with alcohol or insecticidal soap. Santolina and pennyroyal can be planted close to culinary herbs as they keep bugs away. I have had a carpet of pennyroyal growing inside my garden gate for many years and the only bugs that give me grief are leaf minors on the chard and squash borers in the zucchini.
I hope some of this info is helpful to you. Please let The Essential Herbal know how it goes. Happy Gardening, Johann.

by Johann McKee

Hunkered down at the edge of Spring.

Through the shrieks and laughter of children
Playing in the warming sun

Through the songs and frantic chirps of birds
As they rush to build their nests

Through the groan and hum of tractors
As they plow the barren fields

Listen....listen......hear them?
Deep in the earth, the birthing cries
Of a thousand seeds, as they burst into life
And begin their upward climb toward a light
They can only sense
But have never seen.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Herb Faire FUN!

Landis Valley Herb Faire held their 20th faire this past weekend, and it didn't disappoint us. Never does. It is a profitable venue, but it is much, much more than that. Over the years we've found that it is a chance to meet other herb vendors, buy great original, handmade works of art, find unusual plants, and see our customers in person.
In the "old days" our customers were people we had already met - either from the Renaissance Faire or our own shop. It was a chance to visit with them in a different setting, and a great place to debut new products or books.

Now with the internet, all of that has changed. Many times we find that we have wonderful relationships with people we've never met. That means that a faire like this, that draws from several states, gives us the opportunity to meet many friends for the first time. It is terrific and exhilarating!

But... even more fun is the regular "gang" in our tent. We've known Susanna Reppert from The Rosemary House almost from the very beginning of our herbal sojourn. Barb and Fred Will from Sugar Grove Herbs we met within a year or two after that, and more recently, Mike "the Emu oil guy" - sorry, that's all I've got :-) has become part of this merry band. We all set up in the back half of one of the circus tents, and the atmosphere is almost party-like. We take money for each other, give critiques, and just contribute to the general hilarity. For instance, Susanna held off bringing a product until Barb sold all of hers - bringing a rousing cheer whenever Barb sold one. None of us are really in competition with each other, so there is a real joint effort.

And then there is Fred, the "tent husband". Barb very generously offers Fred's help (and Fred is just as generous!) whenever there is something heavy or too-high to be moved. A true gentleman of the highest order, Fred has some very special products of his own, coopering buckets and creating intricate barn stars - a barn decoration unique to Somerset Co. PA, where they live. You can see some of them in the background of the picture of our booth.

Late in the day, I wandered past the Heirloom Seed Project area, and saw Fred among a group of men, sitting and talking about their various historical reproduction projects that consume them. The scene reminded me of the old thresherman's reunions that we would attend with our grandfather way back when.

We came home (with raindrops just beginning to hit the windshield - what timing!) feeling very satisfied and content. A spectacular couple of days, filled with laughter, good people, and lots of sharing. It is such a cool thing to hang with other people who share your dreams and visions. Add to that the sharing of ideas and ways of doing things that you hadn't thought about, and you have a rejuvenation of spirit.

In such a busy time of year for herbies, this was a dream weekend.


and just because I think I have the most specialest kid in the world, here's a pic of Molly (in green) and her friend Lanie goofing around before the prom on Saturday night.
Good kids, they had fun dancing the night away. They went in a "gang" and just had a ball.
She'd kill me if she knew this was here. Hahaha.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Twisted Sisters Ride On - Baton Rouge

We just returned from a whirlwind tour of Baton Rouge, led by the intrepid Sarah Liberta, and her terrific accomplice Charlene Bishop. Those two women know where all the best food can be found, and were determined that we should get a sampling. It was a delicious trip - in every way. The purpose of the trip was to present a program at White Oak Plantation, owned and operated by Chef John Folse. I'll be writing an article in the next few days for the July/August issue of The Essential Herbal, so I won't go into too much detail, but that place is a plant lover's heaven on earth. Sarah is Director of Education on the plantation, and we took the still down for a demo, and did a quickie demo on making balms and salves while we were at it. Here you see Charlene resting under the jasmine arbor. Sigh....
We walked around the grounds a bit the first day to get a feel for the place. This is a view of a tiny portion of the lake. The plants that grow there are not seen in our part of the country, and we were astounded.
After finishing up the program, we headed back to Sarah's to hang out for a little while before heading out for yet another smorgasbord of Cajun gastronomical delights. They were lamenting the fact that lavender doesn't grow well in the humid weather of Baton Rouge, and they had never had the pleasure of making lavender wands - although both had a desire to try it. We came up with the idea of using another fragrant plant that does grow well there (again, gotta save some stuff for the article) and we sat around the table trying our hands at it. They turned out beautifully. Here, Charlene, Maryanne, and Sarah work on the wands and share in friendly chatter. Did I mention that this was a simply wonderful visit?
On the trip home, I looked out the plane window to see the quiltwork of farmland below that we call home. The windows were a little misty, and there was a slight cloud cover, but you can see Dauphin County, PA below. The fields are just beginning to fill out, and in another month will be varying shades of green, amber, and tans.
It was so much fun to be out as the Twisted Sisters again. It had been a while since we'd been introduced that way, and you know... that's just who we are :-).

Monday, May 07, 2007

Early May - a day in my life

May in Pennsylvania is breathtaking. April brought all the fleeting wild flowers that most people never see (the bloodroot, the trilliums, and various other beauties of the forest floor). May is spring for "everyman". This comes earlier or later in other parts of the country, but for us it is May. The practice of hanging small cones of flowers on neighbors' doors as a child was quite a challenge. That first day of May would have but some dogwood, tulips, and forget-me-nots. Dandelions would be everywhere, of course, and violets are common enough if you had the fortitude. Bunches of violets were only for special people. We have almost an equal number of yellow violets growing here. They are a bit unusual, but more common in woodlands than lawns and gardens, I suppose. Yellow violets are also edible - like the blue and purple and white, but may be mildly cathartic. They don't seem as tasty to me, but it might be the color. I enjoy eating the "pretty" ones more.
One week later, the lilacs, lily of the valley, and many more tulips are waving their beautiful heads. The bleeding hearts are in full bloom, and some of the early perennials in the garden are seriously thinking about sending out shoots. Trees that were completely bare except for buds a couple of weeks ago, are green and lush, filled with love-crazed birds, furiously building nests.
I went walking in my favorite woods alone the other day. I don't particularly like going alone, for several reasons. #1- there is nobody there to see the amazing discoveries that one is sure to find. #2 - it has always creeped me out a bit. I worry a little about animals and as much as the silence brings a sense of timelessness, it is just not as much fun.
The first thing I noticed was that whatever animal found the wild ginger to be irresistable last year, is still of the same opinion. You can see the blooms in the picture, and if you follow the leaf stems, you'll note that a couple of the leaves are completely gone. This was a very leafy plant last week.
The creek was low, so I wandered down the middle of it for a bit. Off in the distance, there is a dead deer, and the smell hit me. Eventually, I noticed that the smell lessened as I got closer, which meant that there was something else. I hate that. It's a part of nature, and of being outside, but I have to admit that it bothers me a lot.
So this day, being alone, I decided to hike up the far side of the creek, and back out to the road along a field, to avoid running into whatever I'd missed going in.
From above, the scene looks very different. The creek and the cabin are both very distant, it appears, and the foliage and flowers are different than what grows in the thick of the shade. The climb was good too, as my "mountain goat" tendencies come out on a climb, and I enjoy finding footholds.
This week we'll head to Baton Rouge. I am very interested in seeing what natives grow there. The camera is already packed, and it will probably also be an article for the next issue of the magazine.