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U is for Umbelliferae

Vegetable Literacy by Madison

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

U is for Umbelliferae. Umbelliferae is the family of plants that includes carrots, cilantro/coriander/ dill,  lovage, parsley, parsnips and Queen Anne’s Lace. As well as a few others. I hadn’t thought about the range of this family until I read Vegetable Literacy, a wonderfully informative horticultural book – and cook book filled with delicious recipes.

The name Umbelliferae refers to the type of flower form – umbel.

queen-annes-lace-7-18.jpg (600×366)

I wrote about Queen Anne’s Lace here  and identified it as Daucus carota, or wild carrot. You would understand the wild carrot part if you ever sniffed a Queen Anne’s Lace root. Daucus is a genus within the larger umbelliferae kingdom. The taxonomy rules go from Kindgdom, to Phylum to Class to Series to Family to Genus to Species. There are about 3,700 species in the  Umbelliferae Kingdom.

Dill

Dill

You can see the similarity between the Queen Anne’s Lace Flower and this dill flower starting to go to seed.

To see who else is trying to post every day on the A to Z Challenge click here.

First Garden Day – First Pass Over the Herb Bed

Herb Garden before weeding

Herb Garden before weeding

The first garden day came on Sunday when temperatures rose to 60 degrees. The Herb Garden in front of the house has been clear of snow for about a week but there has been no sun, only grey skies and lots of wind. You can see that I did not cut everything back in the fall.

Herb Garden after weeding

Herb Garden after weeding

I only made the first pass, so it doesn’t look new garden bed neat, but everything is cut down, raked out, and I did pull out grass and a few weeds.

Herb Garden - Long view

Herb Garden – long viiew

I’m sure this is a new kind of selfie – I didn’t notice my shadow. You can see how wonderfully strong the sun is. At last! The herb garden is about 34 feet long. It always surprises me to find out how much is green and growing underneath the winter debris. I found chives and garlic chives which was no surprise, but also lemon balm, autumn crocus shoots, golden marjoram, horseradish shoots, yarrow, and Fulda Glow sedum. The real surprise was some tiny fine parsley shoots. Parsley is a biennial which means it send up a flower to make seeds in its second year. Theoretically you should get two springs of usable parsley, but that has never happened for me. I only expected soft rotting old parsley remains, but in one spot there were parsley shoots which should be usable before I can start snipping the new parsley starts that I will plant soon.

Chives

Chives

It must be Spring!

Herbs for the Kitchen and for the Soul

Homegrown Herb Garden

Homegrown Herb Garden

Herbs. Some people like herb gardens because they are so practical, others like the romance of herbs. All new herb gardeners will find that they are about the easiest gardens to tend. Herbs are not fussy plants.

Lisa Baker Morgan and Ann McCormick belong to the practical school. Their book Homegrown Herb Garden: A Guide to Growing and Culinary Uses (Quarry Books $24.99) gives information about growing 15 flavorful herbs, and then delicious recipes using each of the 15.

These 15 herbs range from the familiar basil and Italian parsley to the more exotic bay laurel and lemongrass. They include fashionable herbs like cilantro and chervil which were never in any cookbook I owned in1960.

Morgan and McCormick give basic growing information for all herbs which is basically a site in the sun, and soil with good drainage. Herbs will not need much in the way of fertilizer if you give them ordinarily fertile garden soil, but you will need to fertilize herbs planted in containers. You will also need to give potted plants sufficient water.

Growing culinary herbs is only half the job. Once you have these plants producing prolifically you will need to know how to harvest and preserve them. We are all familiar with jars of dried herbs in the store, or bunches tied prettily with ribbon hanging from the rafters in a colonial home. But how do you know which of the many varieties to grow, when to harvest, how best to dry, how best to store. The Homegrown Herb Garden has all the answers which vary with each herb.

Drying herbs is one way method of preservation. Freezing is another. Morgan and McCormick suggest one way of freezing basil or cilantro or other herbs that you plan to use in a sauce or soup is to puree the fresh leaves with a bit of water and then put the puree in ice cube trays and freeze. You can then put these frozen herb cubes in plastic freezer bags and pull out one or two when you need them.

I have my own method for preserving parsley which is often called for in soup or sauce recipes. I grow a lot of Italian, flat leaf, parsley. It makes a nice border for the herb garden in front of my house and saves me a lot of money when I consider how many $1.99 bunches of parsley I would buy over the season. With the arrival of September I start to harvest bunches of parsley and remove the heavier stems, then I lay a good amount on a piece of waxed paper and roll it up like a cigarette. I will put three or four parsley rolls in a freezer bag and freeze them When a recipe calls for parsley I just cut off as much of a parsley roll as needed.

A look at the recipes included will make this valuable as a cookbook as well. Kabocha and Coconut Soup with Thai basil, and Venetian Seafood en Papillote with garlic, shallots, basil, chives, bay leaves and dill sound particularly yummy.

Herb Lovers Spa Book

Herb Lovers Spa Book

In The Herb Lover’s Spa Book: Create a Luxury Spa Experience at Home With Fragrant Herbs from Your Garden Sue Goetz comes at herbs from a different direction. She takes 19 common herbs from Aloe vera to witch hazel and with the help of beeswax, alcohol, salt and vinegar turns their sap, foliage, and flowers into facial steam, bathing potions, herbal teas, herbal scrubs, healing ointments and more. What do you need? Invigoration? Soothing? Healing? Your herb garden can provide all of these.

Goetz begins with the design of your garden which will very well include more than herbs. How do you want to arrange plants and spaces to give you a retreat where you can refresh yourself? We gardeners know that our time in the garden is about more than the plants. There is sun and shade, fragrance, birdsong, and maybe the sound of trickling water.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as mints, are not only culinary herbs (and a popular song) they are also the basis, singly and in combination, for tub teas, foot scrubs, aftershave, and other spa potions.

For Goetz the rose is an herb and it certainly is used in many lotions and balms. The rose water that is used in some recipes is not difficult to make. Count on me to make my own this summer. My rugosa roses are fragrant and perfect for this project.

I’ve sometimes looked longingly in stores at clear spray bottles with fancy labels for water to spray on linens when you iron them. To me they speak of an organized life with old fashioned amenities. I have never bought them of course, but with Goetz’s help I realized I can make these myself very easily. Sometimes I am amazed that I don’t instantly see the obvious.

I have had an herb garden for many years. I always laugh when I see photos of neat geometric herb gardens that look nothing like mine. My herbs have been more rowdy than neat and I love them for their energy and their willingness to be undemanding while giving me savor in my kitchen, fresh fragrance in my linen closet, and lots and lots of pollinators in the garden.

If you are a new gardener an herb garden will satisfy you with the success the common herbs will give you, and if you are an experienced gardener Goetz, Morgan and McCormick will show how to grow more exotics like lemongrass and new delicious and soothing ways to use them.

Herb garden in front of our house

My herb garden in front of the house

Between the Rows   March 21, 2015

My Indoor Rosemary

Rosemary plants indoors

Rosemary plants indoors

I have two rosemary plants that grow outdoors during the summer, and then come indoors for the winter. The plant on the left is a prostrate rosemary, bought in error when I was in a hurry. I grew it outdoors that first season adn then potted it in this handsome redware container. I did not put it in the ground again for no reason other than inertia. The plant still lives and I have been known to harvest a few sprigs from time to time. It has even produced lovely blue flowers, but it is not really a happy plant.

Even though it was looking sad this past summer, I still didn’t put it in t he ground, but I did buy a small regular rosemary plant at the garden center. I planted that and it thrived in my herb bed all summer. In the fall I potted it up, using regular potting soil, and brought it in the house. First, I brought both plants into the Great Room, a bright (south and west windows) room that is not heated, to help the plants make a transition to an indoor environment.

Later I brought the plants upstairs to a guest room, with south and east windows, which is also very cool. The thermostat is set for 55 degrees at night (I require  a cold bedroom) and stays cool during the day because I do most of my living downstairs – near the woodstove.  I can tell you the worm farm in that guest room are not all that happy, but the rosemaries do fine.

I have brought rosemary plants indoors over many years. Originally, thinking of rosemary as a mediterranean  plant thriving in dry contitions, I tended to underwater. I think it is a good idea to be aware of one’s tendencies. Underwatering kept the rosemary from making it through the winter. I now water rosemary much as I would any houseplant, not allowing it to dry out completely. I’ve learned that my cool indoor climate allows for a once or twice a week watering.

I think I can promise that my prostrate  rosemary will finally go in the ground in the spring. I cannot be so cruel to keep it in a pot for yet another summer. I doubt that it would survive.

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard

When I first started reading Elizabeth Millard’s new book, Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden, ($24.99) I had some idea about growing herbs and sprouts indoors during the winter, but I wasn’t so sure about tomatoes.

For that reason I dashed right past all the basic information about getting started to the back of the book, past microgreens and herbs, past the potatoes! and straight to  tomatoes. Millard acknowledges that growing tomatoes, which we all know love sun and warmth, indoors is a challenge, but she shows that it can be done. The first trick is to choose cherry tomatoes or other small tomato varieties. The second trick is to prepare yourself to imitate a bee ready to pollinate your tomatoes. This is a great project and would have a super payoff when you serve family or friends a salad in February and say, ” Aren’t these tomatoes good? I grew them myself.”

Having satisfied myself that I am not ready to grow tomatoes this year, I went back and read the book from the beginning. It is always wise to learn about basics first. I didn’t mean to scare you off with tales of tomato – and potato – harvests in the house, because Millard gives great advice for those more familiar indoor crops. Sprouts and microgreens and herbs are simpler ways to begin gardening indoors because those crops give you a lot of nutrition in tiny packages, and flavor. I liked the list of possible sprouts beyond mung bean and alfalfa. Broccoli, fenugreek, dill, daikon radish  and kale. Growing pea shoots, sunflower and corn shoots would put you right up there in the high echelons of foodies.

Millard’s style is chatty and she shares her own experiences and preferences. She also includes  troubleshooting tips in each section so you can diagnose droopiness, discoloring, and mold. The photographs are clear, appealing and instructive. Millard’s own garden and CSA farm, Bossy Acres, is in Minnesota.

The New York Times interviewed Millard and the Chicago Tribune named this one of the best garden books of 2014. Many of us are looking for local food, and it doesn’t get any more local than the kitchen counter. The book is available at bookstores, and at Amazon.com  where there is also a kindle edition for $11.99. This is a useful book for a novice gardener, but also for an experienced gardener who is ready to branch out in new direction.

Mary Gardens for Meditation

Rosemary in Bloom

Rosemary in Bloom

Mary Gardens do not bloom in December, but since the liturgical season of Advent is a time of waiting for the momentous birth of the Christ Child I cannot help but think about what a confusing time it must have been for Mary.

All mothers waiting for the arrival of their first child often feel confused because emotions can range from frightened to joyous. What will the birth be like? What will the baby be like? What will the woman be like once she is a mother?

I think about Mary on that long donkey ride to Bethlehem. Mothers are weary and expectant during that last month of pregnancy as the baby comes closer and closer to being a reality. The very young Mary must still have been trying to get her mind around the memory of the angel who told her she would carry this special child, and the visit to her cousin Elizabeth which was more confirmation that this child was going to be very special.

In ancient times the pagan goddesses all had flowers associated with their personalities. For example, the rose and the lily are connected with Venus, denoting her love and her purity. Mary is a unique figure to all Christians; it is no surprise that over the centuries such a figure would have many stories grow up around her. In an age when most of the population was illiterate, symbols were important to storytelling. In Mary’s story various plants became symbols of her character and the events in her life. Some people have taken those symbols to create a Mary Garden where they might meditate on her life.

Most paintings of the Annunciation, show an angel appearing with a white lily to tell Mary that she would bear a son who would ‘be the greatest and shall be called the son of the Highest.” The lily, white for purity with a golden heart, is the first symbol of Mary and is considered essential to any Mary Garden. The second symbol, the iris, is more important because of its sword-like foliage than its flower. When Mary and Joseph presented the new baby in the templeSimeon said, “This child is destined to be a sign which men will reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart.” Confusion upon confusion – angels, shepherds, wise men and dire warnings, and she just a new mother with a baby.

Mary came to be called the Mystical Rose and so roses are also necessary in a Mary garden. Thornless roses symbolize Mary who herself was declared born without sin, and all the roses with thorns stand for the rest of humanity with all their faults and failings. Roses for Mary are either white for purity, or red for the passion.

Myth and legend grew up around Mary and many flowers were thought to refer to her domestic life. I can imagine women over the ages thinking of the ways they share Mary’s duties and chores. Mending is no longer a major chore, but Mary’s Candle is one name for the giant mullein (Verbascum), its tall yellow flower spike standing in  for a candle that provided light for Mary while she mended the Christ Child’s clothing. Right by her side would have been her tools, Our Lady’s Thimble, otherwise known as the Bluebells of Scotland, and Our Lady’s Pincushion, the Scabiosa.

Many other flowers are connected with Mary from the common marigold which is Mary’s gold, only to be found in nature, the blue of forget-me-nots as clear as Mary’s eyes, and Our Lady’s Keys, the primrose. Some of these associations make more sense than others, but all are beautiful in a garden.

The first garden known to be dedicated to Mary was created by the Irish St. Fiacre in the 7th century. The first record of a Mary Garden was a 15th century listing of plants for the St. Mary’s garden written by the sacristan at the Norwich Priory in England.

The flowers in a Mary Garden are an aid to meditation. Spring brings us columbine for Mary’s shoes, and alchemilla for lady’s mantle for her cloak. Pulmonaria, and other plants with white mottled foliage have been called milkwort or Mary’s milkdrops. You can see that many flowers for a Mary Garden are humble cottage or wildflowers, as unassuming at Mary herself.

A Mary Garden could also include a ground cover like vinca (Virgin flower), foxglove or Our Lady’s Glove, pansies or Our Lady’s Delight, or lilies of the valley for the tears she shed after the crucifixion.

It is thought that the first Mary Garden in the United States was planted at St. Joseph’s Church in Woods Hole on Cape Cod in 1932. Full information about this garden, and MaryGardens in general can be found at the University of Dayton in Ohio,http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/m_garden/marygardensmain.html.

Even if you don’t have an outdoor garden, you can have a Mary Garden. All it takes is an image of the Holy Mother, and potted plants like the prayer plant (Maranta leucoreura) whose foliage closes in the evening like praying hands, and rosemary. My own rosemary plant is producing tiny blue flowers right now, a reminder of the legend that on the flight to Egypt the Holy Family stopped so that Mary could wash the Christ Child’s clothes. She asked plants nearby if she could hang the wet clothes on them to dry but only the rosemary bush consented. To this day rosemary’s blue flowers are a reminder of Mary in her blue cloak.

When you need a respite from the happy holiday hullabaloo, take a few minutes to sit quietly with your plants, no matter which, and meditate on the joys of the season.

Don’t Forget: You can win a copy of Rochelle Greayer’s fabulous book Cultivating Garden Style, AND a copy of The Roses at the End of the Road by Yours Truly simply by leaving a comment here by midnight, December 13.  I will randomly choose a  winner of this Giveaway celebrating 7 years of blogging at commonweeder on Sunday, December 14. Thank you Timber Press.

Between the Rows   November 30, 2014

If You Want Pollinators Grow Herbs

Common thyme on the piazza

Common thyme on the piazza

When I planted my herb garden I was not in search of pollinators. However, I have found that several of my herbs are pollinator magnets.

Bees in the thyme

Bees in the thyme

You may have to take my word for the presence of several bees in the thyme. There are so many, and they move so fast, along with a few tiny butterflies/moths that I just point the camera and hope that I captured one or two. This thyme grows at the edge of the walkway, and the piazza so that there is no jarring disconnect between the paving and the little stone wall.  We have also planted thyme in the lawn, but since the lawn is mowed regularly it rarely gets to bloom.

Bee balm and bee

Bee balm and bee

In the Herb Bed proper I have a large clump of bee balm that attracts all manner of bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. This is a bumblebee sipping nectar but there are hundreds of types of native bees in Massachusetts. Some of the bees in my Herb Bed are very tiny.

flowering oregano and bee

flowering oregano and bee

More pointing and hoping with this photo where the bees and tiny moths (I think) were flitting very fast among the flowers of oregano, planted at the feet of the bee balm. See  one bee slightly up and to the right of center?

Golden marjoram

Golden marjoram

Can you see any bees in the golden marjoram? Neither can I, but I know there were at least three on the blossoms when I snapped the camera!

Garlic chive and bee

Garlic chive and bee

Finally one more bee in the garlic chives. Lower right. There are many pollinators in the Herb Bed but many of them are very shy. Obviously. I enjoy knowing that my landscape holds and supports many pollinators, even if can’t count every benefit, or get good pictures.

 

Doubling My Garlic Harvest

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes

I learned a new way of doubling my garlic harvest this year. On July 12 I cut off all the garlic scapes (I got all but two as I later learned) brought them into the house and cut them into small pieces which I then put on a cookie sheet and put that in the freezer for about an hour. Don’t leave them in much longer because they are very fragrant! Then I slid the separately frozen cut scapes into a freezer bag. And back into the freezer.  When garlic is called for in a recipe I can just use two or three or four scape pieces instead of garlic cloves.

I should have harvested the scapes when they were younger and more tender, but I don’t think it will make too much difference.  I have already used and few and they do add that certain je ne sais quois to my spaghetti sauce.

Garlic Harvest Fresh Out of the Ground

Garlic Harvest 2014

Garlic Harvest 2014

This morning I dug up my 35 hard neck garlic bulbs. My garlic harvest is looking pretty good and I am looking forward to entering them in the Heath Fair next month. Garlic is a wonderful crop. So easy. You begin with good seed garlic which you can get from a friend as I did, or go to a garlic farm like Filaree where you will be amazed at how many kinds of garlic there are to sample and enjoy. You can also go to the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange which is about all things garlic, including seed garlic – but so much more!

I plant my garlic in good rich soil in mid to late October. I put on a layer of hay or straw mulch and forget about them. In  the spring garlic foliage will  rise above  the mulch and there is nothing to do until you see the twirly scapes appear. To make sure the bulbs as big as they can be, remove the scapes. Then let the bulbs continue to grow until  the foliage begins to yellow in mid-July in our area. Then dig the garlic carefully, shake off the soil, then wash the garlic bulbs with a hose. Cut off  the stalks and set them out to dry and cure. When dry cut off the roots. Do not take off all the protective skins. Of course you can use them any time after harvest. I have learned everything I know about garlic from Heath’s Garlic King, Rol Hesselbart, who I interviewed here. He gives the best instruction and advice!

Two garlic bulbs - why is there a difference?

Two garlic bulbs – why is there a difference?

Somehow I missed removing the scapes from two of the plants. See the difference? All the plants energy went into the bulb in the  plant on the Left, but some energy went into  the scape on the Right, making the useful  bulb smaller.

Once you have had a successful garlic harvest you can save a few of your very best garlic bulbs to use as seed. That is what I have done and now when I see garlic in the store it seems very puny. But  I rarely have to worry about that any more.  If you are a cook you can save some money by growing your own. All my garlic grew in a double 8 foot row. Not much space at all.

So, Dear Friends and Gardeners, have you ever grown garlic? How did you fare?

Dear Friend and Gardener – July 17, 2014

New bean rows

New bean rows

Dear Friend and Gardener: Where do I begin? With these new bean rows that I put in early this morning? Contender bush beans that promise to be ready for harvest in 50 days, on August 31?  We’ll see.  But, they should be bearing well before frost. The rest of this bed separated by a pile of mulch, and two hills of Lakota squash which are coming along very slowly. We have had fairly good rainfall, but we have not yet had many hot days.

Milkweed and peas

Milkweed and peas

Or I  could begin today’s story with this milkweed row – er – I mean sugar snap pea row – er – I don’t know what row. Here is the question. Do I  give up the pea harvest in the hopes of welcoming hungry monarchs?  We used to have clouds of monarchs in August feeding on a mint field. They do like mint a lot. But of course, they need the milk weed for their caterpillar babies.  We rarely see monarchs any more, but there seem to be lots of other butterflies that like milkweed so it stays. I may get a few peas. What would you do?

Summer squash

Summer squash

This squash hill is doing better than Lakota. I can’t actually remember if this is the zucchini or crookneck yellow squash. The other hill is not doing well either. I really do think we need more heat.  This squash is planted at the end of a bed of cippolini onions. They are doing fine.

Garlic and lettuce

Garlic and lettuce

The garlic has done well and should be ready for harvest soon. I did cut off all the scapes, cut them into tiny pieces, put them on a cookie sheet and froze them for an hour before putting them into freezer bags. I can use these in cooking in lieu of a chopped up garlic clove. Using the scapes this way doubles the garlic harvest.  On the other side of the row is lettuce and self seeded cilantro. I pulled out the last of a patch of spinach this morning.

tomato plant

tomato plant

On May 20 I planted four substantial tomato plants that I bought at Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst. I think this one is Mortgage Lifter, an heirloom. All of them are looking good.

Grafted Jung tomato

Grafted Jung tomato

This is a grafted tomato sent to me by Jung seeds. It looked nearly dead when it arrived. It has perked up substantially, but it doesn’t look very enthusiastic. It is growing in the same bed as two of the other tomatoes so there is no difference in the soil and the garden is in  the sun from 10:30 am on.

Grafted pepper from Jung

Grafted pepper from Jung

Jung also sent a grafted pepper to test. It looks much happier than the tomato and they are growing side by side.

Red raspberries

Red raspberries

Of course, there is more to the edible garden than veggies.  Red raspberries are just starting to ripen. I got these from Nourse Farms, an excellent local nursery.

Blueberry bushes

Blueberry bushes

The blueberries will be ready to start harvesting by the first of August.  Blueberries and raspberries are the easiest and most delicious crops to grow.

We have been eating our own lettuce for the past month, and spinach, too. It turned out I really didn’t know how to handle rapini, so most of that early crop went into the compost bin. I do get to use our own fresh herbs – chives, sage, basil, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, tarragon, oregano and thyme, all of which can be harvested now and into the fall. If you are a cook, you really can save a lot of money by planting an herb garden for using fresh, or drying yourself. Many herbs are perennial, but even if you buy a six pack of basil you’ll have enough for the summer and to freeze for little more than the price of one bunch at the store. One gardener told me she chooses which crops to plant depending on how expensive it is to buy. Berries are expensive, so are bunches of herbs, or garlic. Something to keep in mind.

Except for the herbs and lettuce, I haven’t been harvesting much so far, but broccoli, cauliflower, pole beans and those squash plants are slowly coming along.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts

Do you think I allowed enough space between my Brussels sprouts? They are growing in a specially fertilized bed – lots of compost – after last year’s failure.

How is your vegetable garden coming?

I want to thank Dee Nash for hosting Dear Friend and Gardener, a wonderful virtual garden club where we can share our tips, triumphs, and those less than triumphant moments.