Gardening on the Fly

Planting beans on the fly

Planting beans on the fly. The beans will use sunflowers and corn stalks for bean poles.

What a busy summer this has been. It is difficult to garden when one is out of town, and it is difficult to plan using garden produce when the kitchen is being remodeled. Now both of those issues are wonderful things, especially my daughter’s Florida wedding! But what to do with the garden?

Summer parties and the kitchen both should be finished by the end of July. This year I planned a garden for a late harvest. No summer carrots or kale or even tomatoes! I did plant potatoes (fancy ones from the Potato Garden), my saved Cherokee White Eagle Corn, and butternut squash. I rushed the squash planting right before we left town for the wedding– nothing like getting it in right under the wire. But I forgot to plant my other saved seed, the Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. Rats!! They are the most delicious green beans I have ever had.

Somehow I managed to plant my community garden plots at mostly “proper” moon times. The potatoes went in at a waning Cancer moon, the corn a waxing Cancer, and the squash, well- Sagittarius- can’t win them all.  I do this for fun, and am looking only for anecdotal stories and wondering as to whether this helps the harvest or not. It is a great deal of fun to be in rhythm with the seasons and moon cycles. Forgetting those darn beans was aggravating though.

Upon returning home I intended to plant them asap, and hang the moon time. It didn’t happen, and the next few days it didn’t happen again. I spent one day catching up on my poor neglected yard work just in time for a lovely late afternoon rain. My husband suggested going out for pizza (an advantage of no kitchen to cook in) and I agreed. Something made me check the calendar before we left, and Oh my goodness, the moon was back in waxing Cancer. My beans! The rain! Pizza! I would have to hurry as the moon would change signs in a few hours.

I had so much fun grabbing the seeds, my gloves, and a hand garden tool and hopping into the car. I think my husband smiled a bit driving me up to the community garden on the way to dinner just as the rain pittered out and the sun shone once again. He snapped this rather fuzzy picture of me crouched in between the potatoes and the young corn. It was such a joy to be there and I am not sure how long my husband patiently waited while I pulled pigweed and practically threw the bean seeds around the corn and sunflowers. This has been a garden of lessons and I shall have to write more of what I have learned. The joy in paying attention to some small nudge and having the timing go just right was a good one.


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Sweet, Sweet Alyssum

Newly transplanted alyssum. It will grow and spread to nearly a foot in diameter.

Newly transplanted alyssum. It will grow and spread to nearly a foot in diameter.

This time of year can be so frustrating! Beautiful days and not enough time to plant half the garden I would like. The community garden is just itching for attention and Sweet Annie was calling my name.

I cheated. While I fully intended to seed-start my little pack of purple alyssum seeds under the grow lights at home, I just happened to run across a marked-down flat at Lowes Home Store. Well, I confess, I was searching for it. Not to purchase, oh no, it would be crazy to pay full price. $16 for a flat vs $1.69 for a seed packet?? However, I love just looking at it.

In the language of flowers, alyssum means “beauty”. Alyssum is a beautiful annual. It grows only a few inches high and best planted 6-8 inches apart. Full sun is best. White seems to be the most popular color, but I have a special fondness for the varying shades of purple in the mauve or purple alyssum.

While I was admiring a purple alyssum flat at the garden center, a sales associate offered to mark it down for me. I was confused, but of course said yes. The associate shook her head and said what a shame the temperature dropped the other night and frost nipped the plants. Hmmm, alyssum doesn’t mind cold Springs like other annuals might. Those tiny little yellow leaves will green again in no time.

I planted my new flowers as a border in the perennial bed of the community garden. I remember reading once upon a time to be careful where one plants alyssum, as it is a bee magnet. How funny, because that is exactly why I plant it! Alyssum is one of the top attractors for beneficial insects, very good to have in a vegetable garden. Welcome bees, and welcome little hoverflies that eat aphids and lay eggs in caterpillars!

I also heard once that one should cut the blossoms off the alyssum after the first blooms finish, in order to keep them from self seeding. The idea is to help them grow another thick set of blossoms before the summer ends. I, however, am happy for them to plant themselves, too.

Alyssum is a fragrant delight to plant and lovely to have nearby while gardening. The varying colors remind me of subtle differences in people, all of whom are more beautiful due to the contrast in the group. In some way, the flowers suggest I improve my tolerance for frost-nipped people who just need a little more time to grow into God’s plan for them. Alyssum also tells me to not believe everything I read. The facts, such as cutting the alyssum back, or not planting it by people, might well be true, but they are not my truth. Knowing the place alyssum holds in my garden is akin to knowing my place in God’s world. I, too, might also be a little frost nipped now and again, but the splendor in the group planting seems not to even notice.

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Quickstart Gardening for the Faint of Heart

Yep, many would like to save money by gardening, but are put off by the amount of work it takes to dig a bed. There are some easy options available. Sometimes it is work to wade through all these different options. I have invested time and money in container gardening, but my yields were not as high as expected. That may have something to do with not remembering to water like they needed! Choosing plants bred for containers might also be important.

I have found plants grow better when grown directly in the ground. For instance, my tomato plants were larger last year, and yielded more tomatoes, than my neighbor’s raised bed plants. Raised beds certainly have their advantages, but that depends upon circumstances. If the ground doesn’t drain well, it is faster to build a raised bed rather than amend and add soil to improve the drainage. If the raised bed drains too well, more watering may be necessary. I suspect soil moisture is why my plants did better than the raised bed plants only 10 feet away.

Plants grow better in the ground. That is, they grow better in back-breaking, specially prepared, double dug beds, lovingly amended with homemade compost. Oh wow, is that ever enough to make anyone shy away from beginning a garden? Start small, instead.

Start as small as desired. Purchase a few bags of soil from a garden store to become a quick start garden. The bags laid out in a lawn will kill the grass, making it much easier to dig the garden the following year. Directions for a bag of topsoil garden can be found all over the internet, but these directions from Mother Earth News are more complete than most.

Choose a sunny spot. In a nutshell, mow the grass before beginning. Next, carry bags of topsoil to where the garden is to be situated on top of the lawn. Punch several holes on one side of the bags, and lay the bags hole-side down, in contact with the ground to create the garden space. Cut the plastic from the top side of the bags with a sharp knife or scissors. Plant seeds or plants directly into the exposed soil.  Water well, and also importantly, water and fertilize frequently throughout the growing season. Mulch around it to hide the plastic and make it prettier if desired. I prefer that, myself!

The soil bag gardens share some similarity with container gardens. Both need more water and fertilizer than plants whose roots can spread out in a “regular” garden. So why do a soil bag garden? The bags will kill the grass and weeds they are placed upon. Leave them in place until the following growing season. At that point, remove the plastic (leave the soil!) and grab a shovel. It will be much easier to dig a bed at this point. No need to rotor-till. A shovel and rake will be more than adequate tools to amend the new in-ground garden bed with grass clippings, pine needles, or a purchased bag of compost.

This small amount of planning can be very helpful in lowering food bills and beginning a garden. Success breeds success, and starting small with a sure start method is a good way to begin. Begin, I think, we must, as food prices rise in response to the drought in California and other reasons. This year and perhaps the next, grow easy salad greens and tomatoes. That experience will be a base for expanding the garden and becoming a little less grocery store dependent. The relief at the grocery store check out will be well worth it.

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Holy Basil, the Goddess Incarnate

I began my study of herbology  understanding in theory that many herbs possess medicinal properties. Often plant descriptions are accompanied by long glowing lists of  benefic attributes, such as this list for holy basil, (aka tulsi): adaptogenic, hypoglycemic, nervine, antibacterial, anti-depressant, carminative, digestive tonic, and immunomodulating. It seems too good to possibly be true!

Confusing also are the stories of the Hindu goddess known as Tulsi, at least to my Western mind. The stories are convoluted tales of love and reincarnation, and happiness and sorrow. Tulsi, from whose hair grew holy basil, seems to be an embodiment of those qualities that epitomize all the best virtues in a Hindu woman. The goddess represents duty, dedication, love, and virtue, as well as the sorrow women experience during lives on earth. She, too, seems to good to be true. Mythology vs a real live woman.

Hindus still revere Tulsi in the form of the holy basil plant. It is grown in courtyards,  leaves are used in ceremonies, and pilgrims wear necklaces made of its wood. Tulsi/holy basil is an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine. I adore the tea.

I began drinking the tea as a part of my herbal studies, to familiarize myself with its warming and drying nature. It tastes so delicious, somewhat like mint and clove at the same time, that I found myself easily drinking the therapeutic dose of 3 cups daily. That dose is 1 teaspoon dried herb infused in 8 oz boiling water for 20 minutes. Cover to keep the volatile oils from escaping. My husband also really enjoys this tea sweetened with a bit of honey. Don’t drink this much while pregnant, though.

I have been counting on this tea’s immunity benefits lately. People have been coughing, hacking, and complaining of illness all around me and I ran out of my trusty elderberry syrup. Yikes! So far, so good though. I am enjoying unusually good health this winter. However, I am also experiencing some unexpected benefits that I might once have categorized as “too good to be true”. I have some digestive issues and can now vouch for the carminative (gas relieving) and anti-inflamatory properties of this basil. I notice my stress levels are also much reduced. Neither have I been experiencing “hungry grumps”, the dreaded low blood sugar indicator. There is great potential here for helping improve both my health and waistline.

In fact, I find myself much more positive about my ability to negotiate life’s joys and sorrows, much like Tulsi herself. This plant now has a permanent home in my garden and my heart.

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Edible Wild Plants, a book review

Edible Wild PlantsSomething made me stop to look in a bookstore where I rarely shop, and some little voice deep inside told me to go ahead and buy it for myself -even with Christmas only a week away!

The book “Edible Wild Plants, Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate”, by John Kallas, PhD is a wonderful treatise on the nature of wild foods and foraging. I have warily dabbled in eating wild foods, feeling as they could be a great thing with a little more encouragement. This book is that support that was lacking for my previous endeavors.

Dr. Kallas writes extensively of four types of greens in this first book. He calls them foundation, tart, bitter and pungent greens. I have had some tentative experience with some of the greens he details such as chickweed, purslane, dandelion, lambsquarter, and mustard.  That experience was not always pleasant. Some greens were tough and not particularly tasty. Then there was that unfortunate laxative effect. With the information in this book, I feel much more confident in foraging and healthily preparing tasty greens. The author includes photographs that compare lookalike greens, some similar and some poisonous. He fills his chapters with botanical information and growth natures of the plants, yet does not overwhelm his readers with scientific mumbo-jumbo. The procedures for preparing wild greens in order to make them tasty and familiar are invaluable.

This book is copyrighted in 2010, and touted as the first of several books in “The Wild Food Adventure Series”. It is quite entertaining as well as informative. I very much look forward to the next book that comes out.

“Edible Wild Plants” is much more than a field guide or how-to book. I love the author’s perspective on why wild foods are important- perhaps because it is the first time I have seen these ideas that I have felt in print. “Fresh food for the Poor”, “Feeding Yourself and Society” are a few of Dr. Kallas’s subheadings. He also writes of eating more healthily, conserving our resources, ways to help farmers, protecting our environment, and correcting misinformation about wild food often found on the internet. These are ideas I would like to pursue in more depth, and am pleased to discover an author who is  knowledgeable enough to put them in print for me to read!

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Simmering Elderberry Syrup

Elderberries, grated ginger, ground cinnamon, and ground cloves

Elderberries, grated ginger, ground cinnamon, and ground cloves

Too cold and snowy to spend much time in the garden, so I brought the garden inside! A cup of dried elderberries and a bit of fresh grated ginger are simmering right now on my stove top. My gardening joy is back!

Elderberry Syrup is touted as a cold and flu fighter. The Elderberry bush I planted last summer won’t produce enough berries for this purpose for a couple of years yet, so this batch of berries was mail-ordered. They are a little expensive when purchased this way, $11.50 for half a pound. This recipe only needs a few dollars worth though, so I still feel relatively frugal. In perhaps two years I will have the berries for free. I am looking forward to seeing how well the syrup works.

The finished product, added to a little raw honey. Take one teaspoon daily.

The finished product, added to a little raw honey. Take one teaspoon daily.

“Working” means my husband and I don’t get sick this winter, or if we do, our cold is of short duration. We are both generally healthy, but usually get two or three colds a year. I get a flu shot, but my husband does not. It will be interesting to see what happens this winter!

No matter how it turns out, this was a fun thing to create. It stretches my mind differently to simmer a potion intended to improve one’s health. There is so much power in creation, power for our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, that I wonder how it is possible we left it for convenience food and medicine and distractions.


P.S. I ran out of syrup around spring break, and didn’t get around to making more until I did indeed catch one cold. However, I got over my “cold” in 3-4 days, while many friends were ill for 2 weeks or longer around the same time. I am convinced it helped!

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Spice it Up With Ginger

My ginger herb box from Natural Herbal Living.

My ginger herb box from Natural Herbal Living.

It was with mixed emotions that I received my first herb box from Natural Herbal Living magazine. This is the new e-magazine that sends a herb sample which includes the fresh herb, essential oil, flower essence, and recipe accessories each month. I greatly looked forward to learning and playing with with the box contents. However, this first month featured “ginger”, and I wasn’t sure I liked ginger all that much.

Oh, I like ginger. I like fresh ginger in Asian flavored dishes. I sort of like gingersnaps and gingerbread. I am not much of a baker, though. Just what is this box going to be about?

Tea! I love herbal tea, and never thought to slice a cup of raw ginger rhizome and boil it in 4 cups of water for 20 minutes. Presto, quite a tasty tea. It was a little too tasty and perhaps I overindulged. My slight stomach upset was a subtle warning that ginger can be a medicinal herb and I should take care and respect possible dosage issues. One or two mugs of hot tea is warm and comforting. A glass or two of iced ginger tea is absolutely refreshing. Some add a sweetener, but I found it unnecessary. In fact, the iced tea is delicious perfectly plain, although better diluted with a little more water before even pouring over ice.

Ginger tea is reputed to aid in settling nausea, such as from pregnancy or sea sickness. Long ago I used to to slice a bit of fresh ginger and put it in a baggie for my often carsick son to smell as he rode in the car. That was an effective remedy that I had forgotten about until studying the lessons from this box.

The essential oil is said to contain some strong therapeutic properties. It is recommended to dilute the oil before using directly on the skin. I use a diluting oil called “Featherlight”, but any vegetable oil will do. How well does it work? Well, my daughter just happened to have pretty sore muscles last week. Among other things, ginger oil is said to have analgesic, or pain relieving properties. My daughter agreed to test it, so we diluted a little ginger oil and rubbed it into her upper arm muscles. She smelled a little like ginger (no surprise!), but my usually skeptical daughter approved and said it worked well. She used it all weekend. It is now a part of my medicine chest and I will experiment with its antiseptic and antibacterial properties should some small wound arise. Anti-gas, anti-spasmodic, anti-oxidant,  anti-cholesterol, and rubefacient, or circulation increasing,  properties are also attributed to ginger.

I made crystallized ginger:)  This was a fail with my family. It is pretty spicy. I talked my granddaughter into trying a small piece, after which she ran for the water, poor thing! In my household, Grandma will not use it to treat a child’s digestive upsets as was suggested.

Asarum caudatum (Wild Ginger)

Asarum caudatum (Wild Ginger) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found the wild ginger flower essence most intriguing. I have studied and used Bach Flowers for many years and find them highly effective. Bach Flowers are wonderfully subtle ways of healing emotions. I have recently begun looking into flower essences from other companies. They also work, but it seems these newer essences are even more subtle, or perhaps I should say specialized? Wild Ginger essence is said to help those who attract unhealthy relationships, or those with low self esteem. I will test it out on myself, as I have with many Bach Flowers, but I am reluctant at present to stop the ones I am using in order to do it!

One of the best things about the herb box is the directions for making herbal tinctures and teas and ointments and syrups. The e-magazine is a nice tool for learning the language of herbalism.

A friend, however, delivered a mild warning when I told her about my herbal studies. She said the herbalists she knows are full of stories as to how people have really hurt themselves with herbs when they didn’t know what they were doing. That warning and a mild stomach ache will suffice for me to pay strict attention to any recommendations or contraindications given. Of course, the disclaimer with the herb box reads “nothing included (in the box or e-magazine) is approved by the FDA and the information is for informational purposes only”. The information given, however, is a whole lot of fun to test and study, and well worth the $40 a month price.

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