Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July Edition of The Herb Cottage Newsletter


Why they're important to learn

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It might seem like too much work, unneccesary and even downright pretentious to call your plants by their botanical name.


Chamomile, Matricaria recutita
But, think about it. Botanical names are very specific. Each name refers to only one plant. Especially when discussing herbs for medicinal or therapeutic use, knowing the botanical name is vital. It is a matter of safety.

Nicknames for plants are fun, descriptive and for many people easy to remember. They can evoke childhood memories, an admired plant in a friend's garden or conjure up the picture of the plant in your mind. But, they can cause confusion.
Gomphrena Cornflower

Both the flowers above are known as Bachelor's Buttons.... confusing, isn't it?
Learning some of the basics of the binomial system when referring to plants, especially herbs, also gives you very descriptive names, ways to recognize the plant and distinguish it from all others.
All plants, animals, too, are classified by the binomial system.

Carl Linnaeus
Carolus Linnaeus, who gave us Binomial Nomenclature so people speaking different native languages could communicate their scientific information with less confusion.
Picture courtesy of http://linnaeus.nrm.se/botany/fbo/welcome.html.en

Each organism can be uniquely identified by 2 words- the genus and the species. The value of this system is that people who speak in different languages can be sure they are talking about the same plant, for instance, by using the genus and species name in what is now called "modern scientific" Latin.
Coriandrum sativum is cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsleyAs you can see there are several common names for the herb, and by using the botanical name, everyone knows exactly what plant we're discussing. 
The Genus describes the group to which all the like plants belong.Mentha is the genus to which all true mints belong. Each mint has its unique species name.
Spearmint is Mentha spicata
Peppermint is Mentha x piperata.
The "x" indicates that this species is a hybrid or cross between two other mints. In the case of peppermint, it is a cross between M. spicata and M. aquatica. When discussing a particular genus, it is common practice to use simply the first letter of the genus so long as it is clear which genus is being referenced. If you see the "x" in a botanical name, seeds from that plant will likely not come true to type. So, beware anyone selling Peppermint Seeds!
Look at this graphic to help you see how the categories narrow down the description to just one plant.

How do you remember all those Latin names??
I'm often asked.
It's like learning any names. You just learn them. In many instances the botanical name actually gives you a clue as to the characteristics of the plant itself. 
For example: if you see a plant with the species name "alba", that means the flower is white. Here is a short list of some other common colors found in the species name of various plants: 

argenteus- silver, silveryniger- black
coccineus- scarletrubens- red
azureus- sky bluecaeruleus- blue, dark blue
purpureus- purpleviolaceus- violet
aureus- goldluteus-yellow
sempervirens- always greenviridis- green
There are variations on the above words, but these are some very common ones.
Some of the words used for the species name indicate the shape of the leaf, fragrance or taste, markings or how the plant grows. 
alternatus- leaves grow in an alternate pattern on the stem
cordatus- heart shapeddentatus- toothed
erectus- uprightfrutescens- shrubby
globosus- roundreptans- creeping
hirsutus- hairypubescens- downy
fulgens- shinyconcolor- evenly colored
variegatus- variegatedhumilis- low growing
minor- smallscandens- climbing
tortuosus- meanderingverticalis- vertical
Let's look at a few herb names and see if we can decipher the common name from the Botanical one.
Artemisia vulgaris- OK, this is in the Artemisia genus, and it is known as the common or "vulgar" one. If you guessed "mugwort", you're right! 
Mentha suaveolens- Mint (Mentha), sweet smelling is Apple Mint.
Apple Mint
Lavandula dentata- This lavender (Lavandula) has "dentate" or toothed leaves. It's also known as French Lavender
French or toothed lavender
Ulmus rubra- Ulmus is the genus for Elm, and rubra means red or reddishSlippery Elm does have sort of reddish bark.
Slippery Elm
Anethum graveolens- Anethum is the genus for Dill, and graveolens refers to its strong fragrance.
Trifolium pratense- This  time the  Genus also tells us about the plant. Trifoliummeans 3-leavedpratense is from the meadow. It's Red Clover
red clover

Picture courtesy of http://www.uwyo.edu/plantsciences/uwplant/forages/legume/red-clover.html
Pronunciation is sometimes an obstacle to feeling comfortable with botanical names.
No one wants to embarrass themselves in front of another. Just remember that the names are not Latin, but rather 'latinized.' Most people pronounce latinized words as they speak their own language: just by sounding out the syllables.

For more on pronounciation of the botanical names of plants, please go here.

When you learn a little bit about the world of the botanical names of plants, you learn a lot about their characteristics, behavior, time of bloom, leaf markings and more. Don't be afraid of the botanical names of your plants. Learn to read them and know you're learning more about the herbs and plants we love.
For more information about the botanical names of plants, there is a book called A Gardener's Latin from the Editors of Country Living Gardener Magazine. 

Book Cover- A Gardener's Latin
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A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.
-Salman Rushdie, writer (b. 1947) 

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Until Next Time,
Good Growing to You,
Cindy Meredith, proprietor
The Herb Cottage
442 CR 233
Hallettsville, TX 77964
phone & fax: 979-562-2153, cell: 361-258-1192
email: cindy@theherbcottage.com
Visit Cindy's Blog at http://theherbcottage.blogspot.com/

Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 Newsletter

Beyond Basil Pesto 

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Basil Plants
Pesto made with fresh basil leaves is an easy and quick way to preserve the summery goodness of basil. Frozen, it keeps for months and has so many uses. In our household, fast food is cooking some pasta and tossing it with thawed basil pesto, leftover veggies- especially roasted or grilled- and adding a green salad. Voila! Supper!

If you like using pesto to mix with pasta, to top bruchetta, add to vinaigrette salad dressings or to flavor grilled or roasted vegetables, expand your choices by making pesto with other herbs, nuts, seeds and even leafy greens. Try different combinations such as basil with parsley, parsley with spinach, cilantro with parsley, lemon basil alone or mixed with standard basil or parsley... get the idea?

You can add different oils, nuts, seeds and cheese to alter the flavor to your liking.

You don't absolutely need an electric food processor or blender to make pesto, but it really speeds up the process. Any of the following recipes can be made with a morter and pestle. And, a food processor with its wider, shallower bowl works more easily than a blender. Either will do, though. With a blender, you just have to stop and push the food back onto the blades more often than with a food processor. Just be sure the blades have stopped turning before you stick a scraper or spoon into the jar.

Don't do what I did one time.... and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn't have splinters in the pesto. Plus I had to wipe up oily basil from the counter, floor and other surrounding surfaces. 
I reiterate.... wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!!
Any of the tradtional dairy cheeses in the following recipes can be replaced with vegan varieties, just so long as the cheese is hard enough to be grated. Seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin can be substituted for the nuts. Roasting the seeds or nuts before use will bring out their flavor.

To roast raw seeds or nuts, spread them on a cookie sheet and place in a 350 deg. oven for 10 minutes, stirring and checking frequently to avoid over toasting. Or, place the seeds or nuts in a dry fying pan, I use cast iron, on a hot burner and stir around until you can smell aroma from the oils released from the the seeds or nuts. Do not over brown. Roasted nuts and seeds can be stored in an air-tight container or frozen.

You can make fresh pesto every time you need it, but it's very easy to make a bigger batch when the basil or other herbs and greens are at their peak.

Pesto freezes wonderfully. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays overnight then transfer the cubes to a big plastic freezer bag. One cube is one serving of pesto to mix with pasta. Be sure to mark the bag with the type of pesto inside. Parsley, basil, cilantro, spinach and arugula can all look alike after they're frozen!

Some people leave the cheese out when freezing pesto and mix it in after the pesto is thawed. I've never done that. My pesto is ready to go when it's thawed. It tastes great and the texture and color is perfect!

Following are some recipes to get you started, along with info and ideas for uses of pesto, storing and freezing.
Traditional Basil Pesto
Basil Pesto
Picture courtesy of allrecipes.com

  • 2 cups clean basil leaves (you can use all one variety or mixed varieties, according to your taste)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup nuts. Pinenuts are traditional, but I use pecans because they grow here on our farm.
  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Romano, or a blend.
  • 5-8 cloves of garlic, according to your taste
  • Approximately 1/2 cup olive or other vegetable oil. This amount can vary depending on how much cheese and nuts you put in.

  • Food Processor:
    Add all ingredients except the oil and process until the ingredients are chopped. Slowly add the olive oil until you have a consistency similar to that of mayonnaise. If you prefer, you can leave your pesto more coarsely processed... it's up to your personal taste.

    This is a little more work than using a food processor, but makes an equally delicious pesto.
    Place about a quarter of the basil leaves in the jar adding 1/2 cup oil, the nuts and cheese. Blend (I use the puree setting or high setting.)

    You'll need a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to push the mixture down onto the blades fairly often. ---See warning above!! 

    After you have that first mix pretty well blended and the nuts are well ground, just keep adding the basil leaves about a handful at time until all the leaves are used up. If the mix is too thick, add a little oil to thin it down.
    It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. In fact, I like the pesto a little coarse so I can see the leaves, but the nuts should be well ground.
    From The Herb Cottage Website
    Basil, Spinach & Walnut Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Basil & Spinach Pesto, Nut Free

  • 4 cups spinach
  • 2 cups basil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Cilantro & Parsley Pesto
    Cilantro Pesto
    picture courtesy of seriouseats.com

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • To turn this into a more Southwest flavored pesto try adding the following:

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 or 2 chopped fresh serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded- or not seeded if you like it very hot

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Arugula Pesto

  • 4 cups (packed) arugula leaves (about 6 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup (packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Fresh Tomato Pesto
    Fresh Tomato Pesto
    picture courtesy of Farm Fresh Feasts Beautiful bounty for the freezer!! Great on pizza!

  • 4 medium or 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup packed basil, parsley, or arugula leaves
  • 1/3 cup salted cashews, almonds, or macadamia nuts
  • 1 clove garlic (or use some roasted garlic, if you like)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Add everything to a food processor or blender and pulse until ingredients are chunky. Then, run on high to puree ingredients. If it's too thick, add a little more olive oil or another tomato.
    Roasted Tomato Pesto
    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
    Picture courtesy of Oh She Glows
    Yields about 1 cup

  • 9 large roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup tightly packed basil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for roasting the tomatoes
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Heat the oven to 400 deg. F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil- or use a shallow baking dish. Place the tomatoes with the cut side up and brush or spray with olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about an hour, watching carefully during the last 15 mnutes. Remove from oven to cool.

    In food processor or blender, chop the almonds and remove. Then, add the garlic and chop. Next, add the basil and process until chopped. Now add the olive oil, tomatoes and chopped nuts. Process until desired smoothness.

    Pour over cooked pasta and enjoy! Or freeze as directed above.
    Recipe inspired by Oh She Glows.
    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
    There is no oil in this recipe making it very low calorie.
    Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cups sliced roasted red peppers
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons water, or more as needed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan- only 8 - 10 minutes, shaking the pan and watching closely so they don't burn.
    Add the pine nuts along with the rest of the ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add a bit more water if pesto is too thick.
    from The Food Network
    Numerous Uses for Pesto
    Pesto Butter Mash:
    3/4 cup pesto into 4 tablespoons softened butter.

    Pesto Chicken Salad:
    Whisk 3 tablespoons pesto with 1/4 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir in 4 cups chopped cooked chicken, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/4 cup each chopped red onion, walnuts and crisp bacon.

    Lemon-Pesto Dip:
    Whisk 1/2 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup each mayonnaise, Parmesan and pesto, 2 tablespoons capers and 2 teaspoons each lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.

    Pesto Hummus:
    Mix 1 cup hummus with 2 tablespoons pesto. Top with chopped mint, toasted pine nuts and a dash of paprika.

    Pesto Croutons: 
    Toss 4 cups bread cubes, 3 tablespoons pesto and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet; bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

    Pesto Panzanella:
    Toss Pesto Croutons with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, some chopped tomatoes and cucumber, sliced red onion and more pesto.

    Pesto-Tomato Soup:
    Cook 3/4 cup chopped shallots and some fresh thyme in a pot with butter. Add 1 large can crushed tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup cream; simmer 20 minutes. Puree, then stir in 3 tablespoons pesto.

    Pesto Frittata:
    Cook 1 grated zucchini in an ovenproof skillet with butter. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and 2 tablespoons each pesto and grated Parmesan. Add 6 beaten eggs and cook until almost set, 3 minutes. Bake in a 350 degrees F oven until set, 15 minutes.

    Pesto Salmon Cakes:
    Mix 1 pound cooked flaked salmon with 1 cup panko, 1/4 cup pesto, 1 egg and 1 tablespoon lemon zest. Form patties; cook in an oiled skillet, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve with tartar sauce mixed with pesto.
    Ideas garnered from The Food Network
    Create Your Own Pesto Recipe!
    Use the ideas and proportions from the various pesto recipes to create your own signature pesto. Did you know the word 'pesto' comes from the Italian word 'pestare', which means pound or crush.? Think mortar and pestle- the original way pesto was made.

    Mortar and pestle

    Even today, some people eschew the use of electric appliances and only make their pesto by hand. I must admit, even though we have a lovely ceramic mortar and pestle, I've never made pesto that way. Give me my food processor!!
    Enjoy the summer with fresh pesto made with all the goodness from your garden, farmers' market or CSA.
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    "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."

    Maya Angelou, Poet, Activist- April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014

    Maya Angelou

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    Until Next Time,
    Good Growing to You,
    Cindy Meredith, proprietor
    The Herb Cottage
    442 CR 233
    Hallettsville, TX 77964
    phone & fax: 979-562-2153, cell: 361-258-1192
    email: cindy@theherbcottage.com
    Visit Cindy's Blog at http://theherbcottage.blogspot.com/

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013


    I attended a wonderful event on Sunday at Knopp Branch Farm near Edna, TX. The event was organized by Ali Miller of Naturally Nourished in Houston, TX. The event focused on whole food as medicine to keep us well. 

    FARMacy” will focus on reconnecting to sustainable family farms and renewing a commitment to real food. The hands-on educational opportunity will include lectures from Houston’s top wellness experts and local food producers.
    The day will also feature a community harvested and prepared lunch experience by renowned Chef Monica Pope of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop and Anna Roth, trained chef and daughter of Knopp Branch farm owners Donna and Ernest Roth. The meal will be showcasing a seasonal menu using farm-fresh herbs and produce, hosted at the beautiful Knopp Branch Farm in Edna, Tx.

    FARMacy Curriculum

    Food As Medicine: Why Food Matters! Learn the role of metabolic function (processing of nutrients and their role in organ functionality) and your body. Discover the powerful nutrient density in organic and sustainably produced foods and discuss the differences between the two. Learn about ways to meet your nutrition prescription on a daily basis with realistic applicable tips and recipe demos from leaders in the Houston Community!
    Enthusiasm was the word of the day!

    The Anatomy of the Garden : The way food grows can be directly correlated with the function of the human body. From the soil, or our digestive system, to the roots- our vessels. Learn about aerobic vs anaerobic methods of soil composting and the synergy of whole foods.
    Beautiful, nourishing greens!

    Herbal Medicine Making: What are GMO’s, how do they affect us and what is their role in the ecosystem? How can we use food to heal? Discover how powerful knowledge can be in your wellness. Discuss the properties of herbs and the healing qualities of local, unfiltered honey. Make a miel, an herbal honey, to take home and build your immune system during cold and flu season!

    This is where I came in. I did a presentation on the benefits of herbs, how to enjoy herbal tea as  preventive medicine, and discussed how many healthy and healing herbs can be grown locally. I was pleased there was so much interest in using simple herbs, teas and soups for good health.

    Local Lunch: Chef Monica Pope of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop in Houston will discuss flavor blending and the importance of local foods. Taste the difference in sustainably produced foods in the beautiful farm setting. Be a part of farm to table movement by physically harvesting parts of your lunch!
    Can't get much fresher than this!

    Farm Tour: A perfect break in the day to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of Knopp Branch Farm. Learn about their story, their history, and their commitment to sustainable agriculture and community outreach.

    Conscious Omnivore: Learn about traditional eating and consumption of animal proteins with respect and reverence from a snout to tail philosophy. Learn about the impact your diet choices can have on your health and the health of the planet. Discuss the differences between grass-fed vs grain-fed and wild vs farm raised proteins and the role of organs, bone broth, and gelatin in a holistic treatment to disease. Learn about fermenting your own foods and growing your own probiotics for food preservation and immune boosting support. (Even if you are a vegan this tier of curriculum will be of value with the emphasis on food preservation techniques and sustainable consumption)
    A fabulous day was had by all. New connections made to our selves and others. Thank you Ali Miller for creating a place for this to happen!
    Until Next Time,

    Monday, October 28, 2013

    Simple Steps to Creating a Child Proof Yard

    I've invited a guest blogger to post for The Herb Cottage. I hope you enjoy and find the article useful!


    Encouraging our children to get out and play in the yard is definitely a wonderful thing but it requires a few preparations where child safety in the yard is concerned.


    There are a lot of possible dangers out in the yard and unless we find and eliminate them before our children begin going outside, there is easily a risk of getting hurt. The question is what can parents do to help ensure our children's safety when they are out supposedly having a great time? The answer to this question can be summarized in a few simple steps.


    Create Space - In order for our children to play safely, they will need the space to play in. This might require giving the yard some attention and clearing out an area that can be designated for playing. The amount of space that can be cleared will depend on the overall size of the yard to begin with but any cleared space is better than no cleared space.


    Pay Close Attention to Detail - This is probably the most important step of them all as it will involve thoroughly checking every square inch of the yard prior to it being opened to your children. When younger children are in the picture, you will want to be aware of plants and flowers that might be in the yard as well as any water fixtures that might be protruding from the ground.


    Plants and flowers can be quite dangerous to children who are at the age where they eat everything. Poisonous flowers and plants should be removed completely and disposed of properly. And water fixtures pose a hazard in that they can be tripped over and can actually hurt a child quite badly.


    Pools and ponds, as well as tall grass in a yard, can also be hazards to younger children. The pools and ponds are fairly self-explanatory so if you have either in your yard, consider fencing it off and child proofing it separately from the rest of the yard. Tall grass can be dangerous, in that it can hide snakes and spiders that can really hurt your children. Keep grass mowed regularly and avoid this from becoming a concern altogether.


    Space to create - Children are very curious individuals and providing them with a safe place to be creative can be very advantageous. Children love to build, dig, and discover things on their own so giving them an area to do just that will be a winner for any child. Consider providing your child with a sandbox or an area of the yard that can be designated for doing all of the digging that they want. This step is more of a proactive safety measure than anything else.



    Create a safe place for your child to play and enjoy the peace in knowing that your child is safe and secure out in their very own play area today!




    Catherine Green, an environmentally-friendly individual of a beautiful TruGreen yard. Catherine loves gardening and writing. Blogging is her newest hobby which has now allowed her to inform the public on the importance of “Going Green”.  Catherine also loves to be informed on the new trends in environmentally friendly products!



    Monday, September 9, 2013

    New Organic Gardening Book

    I just finished reading a new e-book on Organic Gardening. It is available on amazon.com

    Here's my review:

    Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us

    Grow So Easy takes the mystery out of growing vegetables without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. She gives viable alternatives to using toxic substances in and around the garden. Many turn out to be less costly than the chemicals found in garden centers and can be found in most kitchens.

    Pat Muccigrosso has a great wealth of experience and knowledge about gardening and growing organically. She has been gardening and experimenting with crops for some 30 years. She shares her knowledge easily with the reader. The tone of the book is friendly and encouraging, explaining how anyone can grow a vegetable garden using her methods. She is not afraid to let us in on her mistakes as well as her successes.

    The book can be used as a reference book where you can go to the section on Cucumbers, say, and find out what's causing your problems and how to take care of them. Or, you can read the book, as I did, from the beginning and get a good overview of her approach to gardening.

    While she encourages new gardeners in their endeavors and has information about planning and starting a first garden, there is plenty of useful information for seasoned gardeners, as well. Pat is like the neighbor you could go to with questions about your first garden, intelligently discuss the state of affairs in your current garden or chat about new ideas you'd like to try next season. 

    Once you have your crop harvested, you can use the recipes at the end of each chapter to help you use your produce. Since Grow So Easy is an e-book, there are useful links to web sites with further information on pests and diseases you might encounter in the garden. 

    Pat lives and gardens in the Northeastern U.S. and that is the area she is familiar with. However, even if you garden in the Southern U.S., the West Coast or a even colder zone than Pat, the information in the book is relevant and sound. You may have to adjust the seed starting and planting dates for your gardening zone, but the same pests and many of the other problems show up everywhere and can be dealt with as discussed in the book.

    Grow So Easy is a bit of a misnomer, however, since once you get into the book and learn from Pat what it takes to combat Cucumber Beetles, Stink Bugs or Vine Borers, you learn pretty quickly that gardening isn't for the squeamish or lazy. Vigilance is the key to keeping your organically grown garden healthy and bringing crops successfully to the table. Pat meets all the challenges found in growing food with aplomb and good humor and knows you can, too. 

    Until Next Time,


    Friday, July 5, 2013

    Food Storage Information

    We've all had to do it- toss food out because we thought it was bad. No one wants to get sick or make anyone else sick. But, was the food you tossed really bad? We all know about those dates on packaged food- 'sell by' or 'best used by'. Those dates are more about quality than health. The milk in the dairy case needs to be sold by a particular date so it has a long enough shelf life in your refrigerator for you to use it up before it spoils. That package of cookies or pasta should be eaten by the 'Best Used By' date for freshness, before it becomes stale.

    So, how do we know what foods are safe to eat past such warnings? And what about frozen food that's been in your freezer for months?

    Here's a terrific web site to help you with these issues:

    Food Keeper

    Enjoy your food!

    Sunday, June 9, 2013

    The Olla Revisited

    This week I decided it was time to refresh the container that has the Olla in it. I had a great crop of salad greens all Winter which finally played out about a month ago. I've been thinking about what to plant in the container and finally decided on Holy Basil, aka Tulsi.

    I like to use Holy Basil as tea. The flavor is unique and difficult to describe. Also, Tulsi is known for its medicinal properties as an adaptogen. A adaptogen is an herb which restores balance to the body. It  does not over-stimulate nor inhibit normal bodily function. Another feature of an adaptogen is that it helps us deal with stress better.

    So, I like to drink Holy Basil tea on a regular basis. It grows as easily as other types of basil here in Texas. It gets nice and big and you can let it flower without worrying that it'll die out.

    So, here is what I did this week:

    I had already cleared out the dead plants, which also removed some of the soil along with a mass of roots. You can see how low the soil level is. I leveled the soil and added enough new mix to bring the soil level up to the neck of the Olla. You can see in the next picture the new soil level.

    I planted 4 new Holy Basil plants of 2 different varieties: Vana and Kapoor. I'm curious as to the difference in them.

    Then, I decided to mulch with the hay that I have been using in my potato tub. It should help conserve moisture in the Olla tub.

     And, that's it. I watered the soil really well and filled the Olla. Now, I only have to keep the Olla filled. In a few weeks I'll have enough Holy Basil to start harvesting for my tea. And, as the summer goes on, I'll have enough to dry and save for the winter.

    Happy Gardening to you all. Stay cool, drink lots of nice herby tea and wear your hat!