Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wandering through another beautiful day

Last evening after a sweep through the garden, I stood in the shower, letting the water rinse the small clods of dirt out of my hair (I'm an enthusiastic weeder), and the bits of green stuff off my shins that had embedded themselves.  I realized that I was smiling as my brain reviewed the day; a day filled with nothing special, but many, many small joys.
On a really perfect day, I get to jump from project to project, driven only by my imagination.  The weather was unusually stunning for the tail-end of July.  Low humidity and low 80's with sunshine and puffy clouds, a rare and scrumptious treat between heat waves and heavy, damp air.
Need to find just the right place for this butterfly weed.  Soon.

Almost every morning starts with a quick check of the computer while listening to the bickering and calling of many types of birds.  Now that the butterflies have arrived, I can see them bouncing around on the buddleia outside the window.  Then the overnight orders are packed and put into the mailbox.  Coffee finished, the day begins.
At this time of year, that probably means that the trip back from the mailbox pulls me into some new project or inspiration.  Oh, the holy basil needs to be pinched back.
The rows of holy basil are thriving.

Lots of ripe elderberries, maybe I should start drying them... Some of that comfrey should be laid out on sheets upstairs... where's my camera?  I should get in there and pull that crazy vine that's taking over the echinacea plot, and while I'm at it, maybe start a tincture?
Yesterday the project of the morning turned out to be a pile of cucumbers that needed to be picked.  I've been wanting to try drying them (my sister and I both have way too many cucumber plants) to powder for winter projects, both culinary and cosmetic.  First try, thin slices laid out inside the back door to take in the full sun without contact with the wildlife.
Oh!  Better label that salve that was poured into jars last night and get it set up on the website.
Next, down the hill to help with wrapping soap for a couple hours.
At some point, the gist of this issue's field notes starts percolating in my head.  I'd intentionally put off writing it until after we got back from the trade show, expecting something meaningful to occur to me from that.  It did.
The fig tree is none the worse for wear after being transplanted this spring - whew!

The kitchen was filled with the scent of fresh melon that needed to be cut up for the fridge - and sampled.
In the early evening, I took the cucumber slices out back to work on, getting them ready to go into a warm oven for a few hours to finish. 
Piles of thin slices of dried cucumber.

I heard my sister and her husband talking while they worked on the herb patch across the field.  The dogs were "helping" them.  Snippets of words, laughter, barking and every so often, "No!"  Those crazy dogs...
Into my own garden, I watched juvenile rabbits running and hopping outside the fence.  My arm brushed against the Greek columnar basil, and the scent filled the air.  Weeding around the row of black raspberry plants brought my attention back into place as the vicious thorns were just waiting for it to waver.  All the while, thinking, thinking, thinking about the subject of my article.
Hibiscus blooms greeted us upon our arrival home last Wednesday.

Maryanne pulled into the driveway with a large bouquet of rose geranium branches that Fargo (dog) had decided were ready to be harvested, and walking up from the garden, their scent met me 10 yards away.
I sat down to write. 
Hyssop has established herself well in the bottom garden, and the bees love it.
It poured out of me right onto the page.  I went back to sand off the rough edges.  Checking back through it to try to be sure it says what it's supposed to say - not always as easy as it should be.  Sometimes it wanders off (and if you're still reading, you now understand).  Then into the shower.

And what will today bring?  It's one more perfect, gorgeous day before we jump back into the primordial ooze that is our typical weather.  Seems that it should be taken advantage of, so whatever it brings, part of it will be outside playing.  One thing is for sure, there will be no straight lines from point A to point B.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Blessing or Curse? Undecided.

This month has been full of fun and adventure, and I've been away almost as much as at home.  In the beginning of the month I got away to the beach with my sweetheart for a little while, came home and worked feverishly to get the magazine put together while helping my sister prepare to show her soaps at a large multi-day wholesale show.  Although it was all fun and very enjoyable, it's good to be home.  So good in fact, that I'm realizing that it's getting harder and harder to drag me off this hill.  I can't decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.  It's just too good here to leave.

Getting everything set up for opening at the trade show.

We got back Wednesday night, and immediately set to work on the orders I got for magazines and those for soap written at the show.  Once that's under control, we'll finish up the magazine and have it to the printer on the first - just like we always do.

Today we had all of mine out and about half of the soap orders ready to go, and after the mail lady picked up a bunch of them, we set out to deliver three others in various parts of the county.  The beautiful weather made the afternoon perfect as we visited the various shops and farms.
Eve's Garden in Millersville

Every mile or so (sometimes much closer) we'd pass a roadside stand.  Luscious tomatoes, fruits, freshly harvested ears of corn, baked goods, homemade jellies and jams, cut flowers, and the occasional craft were set out by the road in all manner of shelter.  All of them are run on the honor system, with boxes or cans to put your money in.  The only "manned" stand we saw was a lemonade stand with three little Amish kids set up under a big old maple tree.  At first I wondered if they'd get any customers at a buck fifty per glass - but then I remembered... tourists!  They'll probably make a fortune.

Along the way I picked up a quart of honey for $12.  I asked the young girl if she knew the beekeeper, and she rattled off the name, telling me the location.
Spring Blossom local honey

Further along, we found some stunning orange-flowered milkweed plants that will look beautiful beside the pond (not hardy here though).  At each stop, we had little chats with the people we'd stopped to see.  Some days, deliveries are a bit of a hassle, but seriously, what a fun way to do business!
Planter outside the student union building at Millersville University

Somewhere along the drive today, I started thinking about how comfortable I am here compared to how it felt to spend the week in Philadelphia last week.  As much as I'd like to travel to different herb conferences and events, the truth is that I want to be home more.  Part of it is that we're so very busy with both of our businesses and going away means working harder to catch up.  The bigger part of it, unfortunately, is that it just feels right here.  The garden needs looking after.  More than that, life here is good.  Very good.  It's hard to beat.
Quite a blessing, no doubt - but a bit of a curse, too.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Garden Fresh Salsa

Tomatoes, peppers and all the fixin's for our summer favorites are ripening in the garden now.  Time to roll a few of those recipes out!  Today's share:

Excerpted from the article "Cilantro or Is It Coriander?"
by Kathy Rohrbaugh, Penn State Master Gardener
March/April '13 issue, The Essential Herbal Magazine

Garden Fresh Salsa
2 - 3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped 
1 to 2 Serrano chili or JalapeƱo peppers seeded and chopped (protect your hands while cutting these little guys) Make it as hot as you like
1/3 c chopped green onions
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 fresh garlic clove minced
2 tbsp lime juice
¼ tsp sea salt
½ c canned tomato sauce

In a medium sized bowl, combine all ingredients; mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
Serve with your favorite corn chips. Approx. 2 ½ cups
(Note: This recipe was the 2005 1st place winner in the Pennsylvania “Simply delicious” Vegetable Contest)
Another of our very favorites is Cucumber Lime Salsa.  The cukes are climbing all over the fence, so it's time to be making that one too.
Check out Basil Pesto and a few others we served a bus of herbal travelers a few years ago!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Citrus Olives - Jul/Aug '13 issue, The Essential Herbal

In our family, olives - particularly black olives - have been a part of every celebration in memory.  I love green olives too, and there's an orzo salad made with tons of olives and green onions that one of the standholders at market makes that is incredible, but black olives have a special place in my heart.  One of my proudest moments as the mom of a toddler was when Molly looked at me with eyes gleaming, an olive on each finger.  Sigh....
I haven't really dabbled in the oil cured olives, but suppose they deserve a shot too.

The following recipe appears in the current issue of The Essential Herbal.  I'm planning to pick up the ingredients later today.

From the article:  Summer Garden Party with Wine & Cheese
Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Citrus Olives

4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 (6-ounce) cans ripe pitted black olives, drained

Garnish: fresh rosemary sprigs

Stir together all ingredients (except garnish) in a large bowl. Cover and chill 8 hours. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature before serving. Garnish, if desired. Serve with a slotted spoon.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Herb Tidbits

If you have trouble reading the captions within the pictures, click on the pictures to enlarge. I've been having fun playing with herb photos from the gardens, along with some simple info to help folks get more comfortable with the herbs and plants around them. These were created for the Facebook page, where they are displayed in a larger format.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Adventures with Calendula

We use a lot of several different herbs here, and have been trying to gradually grow them ourselves as much as possible.  This year we added a new plot where we can grow much more, and put in a full row of calendula, rose geranium, and white sage, with half rows of lavender and patchouli.  It's interesting...
I took my 3x 4 foot flat basket out to pick the calendula blossoms this morning.  There were lots of honey bees out. 

I gently moved them along to less fully open flowers, telling them that in 1/2 hour there would be as many flowers again as I'd be taking.  They didn't seem to mind.

Afterwards I also gathered some white sage, which is growing magnificently in the field.  I topped some of the central stalks to encourage side growth.  At that point, my hands were so sticky that I barely had to grasp the basket.
Down to the workshop to clean the petals.
Although I'd washed my hands well, it was necessary to stop often to remove the layers of petals that clung to my fingers.

We wound up with a couple of gallons of fresh petals.  They'll dry down to perhaps a quart of dried petals.
Every aerial part of this plant is full of resinous goodness.  The petals will be mostly infused in oil and used for calendula soap as well as our all purpose Boo-Boo Balm.
Calendula is one of those plants that deserves a special place in the garden.  Once you've got it, calendula reseeds readily.  Carried in that somewhat astringent resin, you'll find anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and immune-stimulant properties just waiting to assist in case of any sort of skin issue or minor wound.  Reach for it first during any kind of scrape, chaffing, wind burn, rashes - any skin discomfort, really.  The ways it can be used are almost unlimited, as teas/compresses, salves, lipbalm, infused oil...
The bases of the flowers (and some whole flowers) go into the still to produce calendula hydrosol

We're having fun with all this golden bounty!
We have Calendula Soap, Booboo Balm, and Calendula hydrosol on our website - just click on the links above to go directly to that item.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Before the Rain

We're expecting rain for a few days, and I wanted to get out early and gather the lavender for a distillation a little later in the day.  It's so quiet and peaceful (although very wet) first thing in the morning alone with the garden.  Last night Molly and I went out to pick blueberries.  She reached out for the yucca blossoms and said, "Feel this Momma, I just love the texture of these flowers."  All of you herbies know that my heart skipped a beat, knowing that she is looking at them the same way I do, experiencing the plants with all of her senses.
But this morning I was alone with just the foggy mist, a lot of groggy bees, and the lightning bugs crawling in to take shelter in the elderblossoms after a wild night of crazy bug love.
I can't lie.  The chicory and the bladderwort both have some superb root systems that defy my abilities.  They are both rampant field weeds and lovely as they are, they would completely take over the whole property if I let them.  Still, they do have a corner where I leave them alone (probably not the best idea).

The Fiji persimmon tree is full of small persimmons, but sheds them daily.  In the end, we might wind up with a few ripe fruits.  It's a young tree, so it can't really support all of that fruit just yet.  One day though...

Last night I saw the first blooms of the passionflower.  The vines have a whole corner of the split rail fence, and use this old potato fork to climb upon.  It is covered with varying sizes of buds, and is already a thing of beauty.  One of the many plants that has been enjoying our rainforest type weather of high humidity, high temps, and daily late day rain for the last week or so.

Both the stunning echinacea and the lofty fennel behind it volunteered in this space on either side of the fence.  I'm starting to notice just how big a part the birds play in the garden.
Finally, I stopped to look at the lemon thyme patch, and in doing so suddenly realized that most of the mowed path for several feet in all directions is also thyme!  The yard in that area is covered in thyme!  How cool is that?

Inside to do a litte work.  Ship some orders, send out renewal notices, and then fire up the still and se what kind of delightful lavender hydrosol we can produce.  Just another day...