Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why You Need to Grow Chives seem to love them.  Maybe because it's like eating grass except it tastes better. I'm not sure what it is, but I know our boys liked them and my seven year old nephew loves them too.  It's the one of the herbs you can eat right away like a food, unlike some of the stronger flavored herbs.  After eating them outside, I would send the boys over to the parsley patch and have them eat a few leaves to help kill the onion odor.  I called it the "parsley chaser."

And if you enjoy onions; you'll really like chives.  These hollow tubes of onion-ness are sure to please the gourmet in all of us.  Here are a few reasons why you'll want to include them in your herbal garden...

1. Chives are Ridiculously Easy to Grow.  
I personally think this is always a great reason to grow something.  If it's easy and grows well, it makes us look like a garden genius (which is always good!)  Seriously, it is easy to grow and virtually maintenance-free.  It's equally easy to grow by seed or by division.  I've done both.  If you don't dead-head the flowers, you'll have lots of chive seeds and new plants next year.  When you do plant them, it's good to give them some space to spread out because they will.  Not obnoxiously, but will reliably spread over time. 

 Buy seeds at the store or online.  Find the plants at a nursery, or better yet from a friend.  Plant the herbs or sow the seeds in a sunny location or part shade (although I have some in quite a bit of shade and they still do well) and water when needed.  You can also start the seeds indoors earlier if you want.  Chives grow to about 12 inches in height and you will want to think about dividing them every 3-4 years to prevent any root disease.  I have to be honest in saying I have never divided one patch and my container plant I only transplanted twice and haven't had any problems....these little guys are hardy.

2. They Make Excellent Container Plants. 
 I have a large pot of chives right outside my side door.  What makes this great is that they are a few steps away when I'm cooking.  I don't have to weed them, feed them, or baby them.  They are perfectly happy in their little home.  I started with a medium sized garden pot, probably a 12 inch and moved up to the next size (transplanted) some years later when I could tell they were very pot bound.  

When you want to harvest them, just grab a handful of them and cut them close to the roots.  I leave about a half inch to an inch behind.  They will quickly regrow in no time.  In fact, it's reinvigorates them when they are harvested so don't be shy about using them...they like it.

3. They Grow Beautiful Flowers.
Even if you don't like onions or chives, they are so worth growing for the purple flowers in spring.  I have a large stand of them in my front yard and I absolutely love them.  The bees love them too...another eco-bonus for your landscape.  As a matter of fact, there are different alliums which are grown entirely for their flower.  I know because I've bought them over the years.  Having an edible landscape/flower garden is a win-win idea. Let these flowers dry on the plant to collect the small black seeds.  They are small but easily recognizable.  You can use these seeds to start new plants indoors over the fall.  Chives need a dormancy period so it's best to grow new plants for winter as your summer grown plants will need the winter to rest.  

I love to use the flowers in salads and as garnishes by pulling apart the individual florets.  You can also make Chive Blossom Vinegar with them and use the vinegar for salad dressings and marinades.  

4. Chives Do Have Some Surprising Health Benefits!                                                                 
These little onions are called alliums because they contain "allicin" the compound that garlicand regular onions are known for.  Allicin is known to help reduce cholesterol and also is known for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. 

Chives also contain more Vitamin A than any other allium relative."100 g of fresh leaves contain 4353 IU of vitamin-A or 145% of daily recommended levels." 1     

" In addition, the green leaves contain
other flavonoid-phenolic antioxidants such as carotenes, zea-xanthin, and lutein. Together, these compounds offer the human body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers." 2  

These little strands of green goodness really pack a punch when it comes to flavor AND health benefits.  Not too shabby for this modest and easy to grow perennial herb you're sure to enjoy.

How do you use Chives?

Use the leaves of this plant by harvesting and chopping them into small pieces.  I use chives to top every meal I make including soups and stews.  They lose their flavor with cooking so it's best to use them fresh at all times.  They also don't dry well.  I've found the best way to preserve them is by making them into an herb butter.  All you need is a stick of softened butter and chopped chives.  Add as many or as little as you like.  Stir to combine well and shape into a roll on a piece of waxed paper, roll to close tightly, wrap in plastic and freeze in an airtight container.  When using, let the log thaw gently and cut into little coins to serve.  Yum...delicious! 

That's all folks. herbal garden hero.  Blessings!

2. Ibid.
Additional Source:

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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Last of Spring's Blossoms

Our weather has been crazier than average over the last week especially.  Temperatures in the 80's even coming close to 90 degrees finalized all the blooming trees and some flowers before they were forced to succumb to the heat.  However, I happened to grab my camera before taking a quick walk around the neighborhood before this heat wave occurred.  So I was able to bring the blooming part of spring - minus the allergies - back again.   Not as beautiful as the real thing, but the pictures still speak 1000 words. :)

The whole tree is beautiful, but a single bloom is a work of art.

I really love the color blue in nature and these flowers were brilliant!

These blooms remind me of those tissue flowers we used to make as kids.

Wild violets are one of those things that make you look twice...gorgeous little creatures.

I had to take a picture of the amazing pink buds of this white rhododendron.

The opened flower buds fade into white.
Happy Spring to you all!  Blessings!

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Benefits of Black Mulch

It's about that time for me to be thinking of transplanting all my tomato and pepper seedlings.  May 20 is our frost free date, so we are pretty much in the clear from frost.  However, just because frost is not a threat cold night time temperatures still are for these heat loving plants.  We've just had a series of 80+ degree days but all that is about to change as a cold front is moving in bringing cooler weather and 40 degree nights as well.

Not to daunted however, I am planning on "cheating" the cold temperatures by using a black mulch on the garden for my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  Even if daytime temperatures are nice, these plants like warm soil as well.  Black mulch does the trick.  I will lay the mulch down a good week ahead of planting as I am also trying to avoid surprise spring hailstorms.  I have found that giving the tomatoes the best soil conditions to start in predicts their outcome more than getting them in too early and watch them struggle to thrive. 

 Why mulch?  This is a great question...why should we even bother doing this in the first place?  Mulching certainly has its advantages that make it definitely worth considering.  There are many options when it comes to mulch, like straw, hay, coffee grounds, and other organic materials.  While we use a mix of these materials ( I have sawdust on the paths in the photo above), I want to look especially at this one particular kind.

1. It Warms Up the Soil.  Like I mentioned previously, mulch...specifically black, will warm up your soil temperature providing you with an earlier harvest - anywhere from 7-14 days earlier! (1)  Let's face it.  These Mediterranean plants LOVE the heat and black mulch is a huge help for our summers in Northeast Ohio.  Especially during a cool, wet summer...the mulch helps to give the plants the extra warmth they need to be nice and productive.  Straw, hay and other types of light colored mulch actually cool the soil so you'll want to consider this when choosing a mulch that matches your plants growing conditions.

2.  The Mulch is Moisture Retentive.  I like to use landscape fabric for our mulch as it is water and air permeable yet holds in the moisture too. This is a huge plus for a dry summer or if your area is in drought.  It's another great measure to protect your all important seedlings to make sure you enjoy a premium bounty of fruit.

 3.  It Serves as an Excellent Weed Control.  It's more work to put down the mulch, but it saves LOTS of time later by not having to weed your plants.  There will be a few weeds that poke through the plant holes, but unless you are fighting an especially aggressive weed, black mulch really cuts down on this issue.  I would actually mulch my plants for this reason alone because it's such a huge timesaver in the garden.

Other Benefits of Black Mulch:

1. Minimizes nutrient leaching by shedding excessive rainfall.

2. Helps keep the edible portion of vegetable crops clean, especially pumpkin and other fruiting vegetables.

3. Helps to prevent the transference of soil borne diseases from being splashed up onto the plant.

I have found black mulch to be invaluable in our home garden AND our Community GardenWe've grown tomatoes with and without it and the mulch makes a huge difference in what the fruit looks like and how much we get.  It's a true garden help.

There are a few disadvantages mostly dealing with the cost of the materials and the time to lay it down.  I often find my fabric, if heavy duty, will last more than one season.  Otherwise, we pay about $15-$20 for a roll that covers most of our small garden space.  We use other more economical mulches that we have around the yard for other areas of the garden and save money that way.

Photo Source
If you're a beginning gardener or haven't tried using black mulch on your tomatoes, peppers, eggplants as well as squash and melons; here's hoping you'll consider trying it this year and see if it makes a difference in your growing region.  




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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Make an Herbal Container Tea Garden

Herbal teas; also known as "tisanes" are a must-have for any tea drinker.  But if you live in a small space, you may not realize how easy it is to have a small tea garden with herbs.  Many herbs do quite well in containers and they make a great little display as well.  I like my herbs in containers because I can locate them wherever I want and not have to create an flower bed for them.  I also don't have to weed them either.  

I wouldn't recommend putting all your tea herbs in one small pot.  They will grow into beautiful large plants if you separate them and not stuff them into one spot.  Also, when you grow them all together, the more vigorous plants tend to overtake the smaller ones and you can potentially lose an herb this way. Even though those pots with several kinds of herbs look really cute - if you're growing your plants for harvest, this one pot/many herb method really doesn't work well.

                                             1. Start with the Basics.

There are quite a few herbs to choose for your tea garden and the list goes on and depending on what you like.  The basic herbs you will want to include for sure are the mints and chamomile.  When I started drinking herbals, chamomile was my first tea.  It wasn't my favorite but that was because I was drinking it in tea bags (yuk) and using older flowers from herb shops.  Growing your own is a totally different taste sensation.  The taste is fresher, brighter and all around better.  It easy to grow too.  I started mine in the fall in containers and let it overwinter.  It came up fine on its own and I didn't have to do anything really.  Or you can purchase a few plants to get your garden started.  If you leave a few flowers on the plant toward the end of the season, it will easily self-sow.  Just don't empty out the soil from the container. 

                2. Grow Herbs that Will be the Base Flavor for your Own Tea Blends.

For me that is the mints.  I have been growing two different peppermints as well as spearmint for years in pots.  I have found that the best way to keep the strains and flavor of peppermints pure and contained is to grow them this way.  I have a wonderful chocolate mint and a blue balsam mint.  I also keep the mints flavors intact by keeping them from flowering by keeping the leaves picked.  I harvest the top portion of the stem on each stalk and let them air dry or gently dry them in my dehydrator. 
Growing them in the containers makes it easy for me to keep them harvested regularly than if left in a garden bed where they tend to spread and it becomes easy to let them go.  By regularly harvesting the leaves and not letting them flower, they don't cross pollinate, set seed and produce a new diluted mint flavored plant as my other mints have.  

Growing mints and chamomile gives you two great flavor profiles in which to add in other herbs from the garden.  Especially if you are growing herbs for medicine.  Many of the medicinal herbs are bitter tasting by themselves so it's great to add mint and/or chamomile to flavor your own blend.  They also taste great by themselves.


3. There are lots of Herbs to Choose for Your Garden.

Besides the herbs mentioned above, there are some great herbs out there to add to your tea garden.  You can start with a few herbs and add some more each season.  I have grown Pineapple Sage, Lemon Balm, Hyssop and don't forget to add a Stevia plant to your garden.  These can grow in containers well and you can use the leaves fresh or dried to sweeten your teas.  I often add dry stevia leaves to my tea blends to naturally sweeten them.  Be adventurous in your tea herbs too, lemon thyme and lemon basil can be refreshing as a tea too.

                      4. Remember to Feed your Container Herbs and Water 
                                                      Them Regularly.
Because these plants are living in pots you need to make sure to use a fish emulsion or other organic food once or twice in the summer.  I find I don't need to do much except water the pots if they look a bit wilt-y.  If the summer is really hot, I often move them to a part shade location until they begin to perk up a bit.  Mints tend to like some shade and this is a bonus to growing in containers.

So don't let a lack of space limit you from making your own herbal teas.  Even if you have smaller pots on a patio space or porch, just make sure they get some decent sun and keep them watered for your own fresh teas.  You'll definitely taste the difference.


What are your favorite tea herbs?

More posts on growing plants in containers:  Container Plant How-To's and How to Plant a Cottage-Style Window Box

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tea Time at Rosepoint Cottage

Every year for Mother's Day, I will take my mom, mother-in-law and sister to a local tea house for lunch.  I don't know what it is about tea houses; they are all so frou-frou and lacey with ruffles and every shade of pink and blue imaginable.  But they are also irresistible to my feminine side.   I can't help but enjoy the bone china and sugar cubes in crystal bowls...too fun.  We always have a great time together...catching up on news for the past few months and getting reacquainted in the process.

Tea houses were a big fad in the late 80's and early 90's when dusty rose and country blue were all the rage.  Victorian was big back then and it was the perfect showcase for tea.  I started going to teahouses when I became obsessed interested in tea lots of years ago.  I love tea in flowery china or sturdy asian cups depending on the type served.  

This year I was missing my mom who passed away in April at the wonderful age of 86.  It was hard to see her go, but so glad she was my mom for the time she was here.  She was an amazing lady full of love, encouraging words for everyone and abundant smiles.  I know she's in a great place now and I'll have only the best memories of her for the rest of my life.

But keeping the tradition going, I went to one of few teahouses still open in the area with my youngest son and wonderful mother-in-law.  We had a really fun time together and the day outside was sunny and beautiful.  So, here are a few highlights of the tea house we went too called Rosepoint Cottage in Chardon, Ohio.  It's a small century home remade into a really great place to spend an afternoon.

We all decided on the "Cottage Chicken Pot Pie" for lunch.  It was hearty, creamy and delicious topped with puffed pastry.  Yum.  

Edible garnishes with the pot pie
Digging in to deliciousness.
Old meets new...tea and texting
A really great day together...lots of love and fun!
Thanks for hanging out with us for our time together...I can't believe how blessed I'm am with such an amazing family!! 

Happy Mother's Day to you all!  Blessings!

Love you Mom!

Check out these posts on tea parties as well...Vintage Tea Room Fun 
and Mother's Day Tea Party.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How Gardening Can Make You Healthy

The idea of gardening contributing to our health seems on the surface to be a no-brainer but science is discovering different ways how gardening and nature in general can help give us all a better quality of life overall.

When I was a kid I basically only liked 3 foods and vegetables was not one of them.  I'm not sure how I survived on a diet of saltine crackers and American cheese but thankfully I'm still here.  I was very sick a lot though and it all makes sense now when I think what I ate or more like what I didn't eat growing up.

It wasn't my parent's fault either.  They tried their very best to get me to eat veggies and fruit but the canned stuff we were usually served didn't work for me.  My taste buds were enlightened the first time I ate a newly shucked pea from its pod from one of our summer time gardens.  We didn't garden every year but the few times we did I realized that vegetables could actually be tasty. 

Once married and with kiddos; I decided they needed to taste real food from its source and that's when I really plunged into gardening.  I was hooked on growing my own food and that meant I needed to eat this stuff too.  Which I did, although some vegetables took me a long time to like; I persevered on until I grew to love them too.

So how does gardening make you healthy? 

1. Stress Relief.  
Sounds funny when I think of it because weeds can make me feel stressed, but actually a recent study done in the Netherlands showed how it can relieve lots of stress.  Two groups of people after having completed a stressful task were then instructed to either read a book or work in the garden for 30 minutes.  The garden group reported better moods and had lower levels of cortisol than the reading group.1  Pretty amazing, huh?  It turns out that garden activity is a type of "involuntary attention" where we don't have to be intensely focused on a specific task and therefore can relax.  After all, pulling a weed or hoeing isn't rocket science.

2. Better Mental Health. 
"In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood, or "bipolar II disorder" spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables.
After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What's more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended. The researchers suggest that the novelty of gardening may have been enough to jolt some of the participants out of their doldrums, but some experts have a much more radical explanation for how gardening might ease depression." 2

I know that when I feel anxious or stressed, going out to look at my plants, flowers, what-have-you makes a big difference in how I feel when I come back in from being outside.  But not just the warm sun, gentle breezes and the beautiful colors of nature can affect us, some researchers believe that the soil itself can be healing!

"Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has been injecting mice with Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil, and has found that they increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood -- much like serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs do."3

This isn't to say that you should throw away your prescription drugs but to think if you're feeling a bit down or depressed that planting in the soil can help...why not?! 

3. Exercise and Nutrition.

This is a given.  Although the exercise we do in the garden is not cardiovascular, we are moving and that is always beneficial to the body.  The repetitive tasks help to tone muscle and are good low impact exercises.  It's not surprising to hear that many elderly people do well health wise when they maintain a garden of some kind.

Nutrition...well, when you plant the food you pretty much are committed to try to eat it!  And most gardeners eat more vegetables than non-gardeners.  This has to do with access to fresher food and making better food choices.

"Studies of after-school gardening programs suggest that kids who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. And they're a lot more adventurous about giving new foods a try, says Anne Palmer, who studies food environments as the program director of Eating for the Future, a program based at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future, in Baltimore."4

No room for a garden?  Not a gardener?  Studies have shown that even looking at some form of nature can bring health benefits as well.  Health benefits have been found even when looking at a portrait or photo. 5

"A landmark study by Roger S. Ulrich, published in the April 27, 1984, issue of Science magazine, found strong evidence that nature helps heal. Ulrich, a pioneer in the field of therapeutic environments at Texas A&M University, found that patients recovering from gallbladder surgery who looked out at a view of trees had significantly shorter hospital stays, fewer complaints, and took less pain medication, than those who looked out at a brick wall."6

Pretty amazing stuff, right?  But then gardeners we're not too surprised.  Being connected with nature and being amazed year after year whenever we see newly sprouted seedlings emerge gives us immense joy. It brings back that childlike amazement of new birth which has to be great for our hearts and minds.  It also gives us a tremendous sense of accomplishment...always great for our health.

Hopefully this will inspire you to want to buy a patio tomato, a potted flower or a windowbox of lettuce...of all the health benefits, you'll be eating better for sure!

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2. Ibid
3. Ibid
4. Ibid