Thursday, December 29, 2011

Time to Plant SEEDS!

It's time to plant your Tomato, Pepper and Eggplant seeds for Spring growing. Especially if you're in the Houston area, take advantage of the great seed selection on-line at and at the Industrial Country Market. Or visit with me at the Katy Farmers' Market in La Centerra. I'll be there this week, 12/31 and throughout the winter.
Count back from your last average frost date. Find your Gardening Zone.  Find your  average last frost date
Allow 6-8 weeks for seedlings to gain size and vigor. Start your seeds indoors with plenty of light and warmth. These seeds like at least 70ºF soil temp for good germination. Then, they can stay cooler to grow out into sturdy and healthy seedlings.

 Lots of heirlooms, open-pollinated, NON-GMO SEEDS! Stay tuned for links to a series of videos to help you with Spring growing. The first one will be on sowing seeds! 
 Until later- Happy New Year to You!! 


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Brrr.... it's cold in Texas!

We had our first hard freeze of the season the other night. It got down to about 27ºF for at least 8 hours. Since I always watch the weather forecast, I knew it was coming and had propane ready for my heaters, frost blanket to cover hardy vegetables in the greenhouse so I didn't have to heat both houses and most the tender plants were already in the greenhouse.

Here are some pictures of the herb beds after the freeze. 

The Mullein - on the left - laughs at the freeze, while the stringy dead looking stems to the right are from the lovely Nasturtiums I had growing. I thought about covering them, but they're so tender and it's only going to get colder. I have lots in the greenhouse, some even with flower buds on them, so I'll enjoy them in there and plant more out in the Spring!

As a contrast, here's a strawberry jar I planted with various varieties of Thyme and a Lemon Verbena in the top. Behind you can see the rosette of a Salad Burnet and in the upper right is a Curry Plant- Helichrysum italicum- all unaffected by the cold.

Another Mullein with the remains of a big Basil plant- inside the circle. I think this one was Cardinal Basil - a Thai type with red stems and nice big green leaves. Ah, well....
Inside this circle, another Basil - an African type - froze, too.
On the other hand, here's a beautiful, healthy Fennel plant that's been growing here about 3 years - also unaffected by the freeze. I have lots of little Fennel plants coming up near it and in the adjacent bed. The red arrow is pointing to a stalk of Licorice- Glycyrrhiza glabra. I have Licorice coming up all over the place. It spreads by underground runners like Mint or Passion Vine. I don't really mind. I kind of like it. And, I can easily dig up a piece to chew on if I like.
Of course, Rosemary is another tough as nails plant unaffected by the freeze, heat, drought, hail, snow, humidity, dogs, deer, and perhaps even tornadoes... although I don't need to find that out for myself! Anyway, yes, Rosemary is hardy summer and winter - in the southern half of the state.

This little grouping has a native white Yarrow in the front. To the upper right of the Yarrow is Hyssop which will bush out by Spring and have lovely dark blue flowers which attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Then, there's a big Garlic Chive cluster in the middle which also seems impervious to the freeze. 

So, there you have a little peek at the Herb Beds at The Herb Cottage after the first major freeze of the season. I've decided to plant Calendula where the Nasturtiums are now. They're cold hardy and will bloom cheery yellow and orange flowers. I'd like to distill some into a hydrosol when I have enough flowers. 

Until Next Time... Good Growing to you and stay warm!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I have posted my November Newsletter on the website. It's all about books for herbies and gardeners.

And.... IT'S RAINING!! YAY!! YIPPEE!! My plants are being watered while I'm sitting inside at the computer. What a deal!

Here are some of the titles I've reviewed:

And there are more! I hope you enjoy the Newsletter...

I'd love to hear about your favorite books for herbs and herb gardening.

Until Next time.... Good Growing to you,

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Autumn in Texas

A norther- that's a cold front... - blew in this morning around 4 a.m. The wind is strong and the temperatures dipped into the 50's. It's quite chilly outside. It's not cold enough for the plants to suffer, and I believe they're enjoying the cool temperatures. 

We've had a little rain in the last several weeks, and the place has really greened up. Compare the photos in this issue with the ones from a month ago. What a difference!

Green Grass!!
Even the pasture greened up!
Since the weather has cooled off, I've been refurbishing and replanting my herb beds. So far I've added Salad Burnet, Winter Savory, Lavender, Nasturtiums, Bronze Fennel, Mexican Mint Marigold, Cilantro, Parsley, Sorrel, Butterfly Weed and White Yarrow... I think that's it. Oh, and I seeded some Dill.

Newly planted herb bed.

A new-to-me herb I planted is Moujean Tea, Nashia inaguensis, a lovely, fragrant shrubby herb with tiny shiny green leaves that is native to the east Caribbean islands, in particular the island of Inagua in the Bahamas, after which the species is named. The fragrance has been described as a mix of pineapple, citrus and vanilla. It is hardy to Zone 9a, so I'll have to protect the one I planted in the ground when temps dip into the 20's. The plant, also does not like to dry out, so I've been keeping it nicely watered. It's not very big yet, but it's supposed to grow to at least 3 feet or more.

Nashia inaguensis- tiny, but strong!

To make tea from this herb, since the leaves are rather tough, the fresh leaves need to be steeped longer than most herbs- about 15 minutes. It dried well and is best then pulverized or ground for tea.

Fall is a great time to plant herbs if you're in an area with moderate Winter temps. Even with the lack of rain in our area, everything I planted the last several weeks is looking good. Of course, I am watering almost daily until the small plants are established. The, during the Winter, once or twice a week should do it. These plants are in the ground, of course, so any containerized herbs need to be watered more often and given more protection on very cold nights since the roots in a container are not as well protected as ones in the ground.

Until Next Time,
Good Growing to you...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Now, I know it's Fall. Not only are the mornings cool, days shorter (I have to put the chickens up earlier in the evening...), the cat is sleeping on the bed instead of outdoors all night, and.... the Schoolhouse Lilies are blooming!! These lilies are found all over Texas, not only in gardens, but in abandoned homesteads, school houses and cemeteries.

In the Fall, they shoot up "naked" stalks and open up their dark red, "ox-blood" color flowers. Another name for these is Ox-blood Lilies. They are so hardy and reliable. In beds that have had no supplemental water in my landscape, they have come up and started blooming in the last couple of days. Of course, we did have 0.8" of rain the other day, which, I suspect, sparked them to bloom.

Here's hoping for more rain this fall. I've been seeding lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower for fall/winter crops. Ever the optimist!!

Till next time... 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Urban Landscaping Guide

For those of us in Texas living with drought, here's an excellent guide from Texas A&M on Urban Landscaping solutions. There is a section for Home Gardening, Landscapers and Nursery Professionals. All the information is free and easy to comprehend. 

Urban Landscape Guide

For the record... we had a brief, and I mean brief, shower yesterday. Then, rain all around us later in the evening with not one drop here on the farm. Very disappointing.

Here are a couple of pics from our front porch--

Facing East. You can see the little rosemary bush in the planter... and the lump in the center of the photo is cat, Amity. She's almost the same color as the dry grass now.

Facing South... just so desolate looking.

In the almost 25 years we've lived on this farm, we've never seen it this dry. This, too, shall pass... the question is, when?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Some Rain

IT RAINED! I can hardly believe it! Yes... only about 0.18 inches so far, but it's cloudy, dark and very humid this morning, so I believe we will get more rain today.

Even though it's been dry, the days are shorter and a little cooler than August. The plants can tell the Autumnal Equinox is near. Plants that have refused to bloom during the searing summer temps are putting on buds. 

Clerodendron 'Musical Notes'
Clerodendron 'Musical Notes'- This plant usually blooms off and on all Summer with bright white flowers which resemble musical notes... hence the name.

New leaves are showing up on stressed basil plants 

Basil, showing new growth
Stressed out Comfrey with new growth showing in the leaf litter

and even my comfrey which is a mere shadow of its Spring Time self is perking up.

With a little more rain, who knows, maybe the Passion Vine and Queen's Wreath on my fence line will perk up. It's been a very long and hot summer here in Texas, but as with all things, this, too, will change.

Until Next Time, 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Herb of the Year 2012

The beautiful, useful, fragrant Rose is the Herb of the Year for 2012. Check out the enclosed link for lots of info about using rosewater, rose hips and rose petals.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

August Newsletter from The Herb Cottage

Hello Everyone,

I've posted my August Newsletter: Stevia, The Sweet Herb...  You Can Grow It!!! 

You can find it here:

Hope everyone in the path of Irene is doing OK. We're hot as Hades here... still with no rain.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Little Rain

A little rain fell last night here at The Herb Cottage. It was only 0.29", but as I lay in bed listening to it, I felt refreshed. There was even accompanying thunder and lightening. It had been almost 30 days since our last meager rainfall and with the extreme heat we've been having, everything is sere and brown around the farm. Just the sound of the rain made me feel nourished and refreshed.

As a bonus, I found myself at rather loose ends this morning as I did not have to engage in my morning watering schedule. What to do with myself?? 

The upcoming weekend is forecast to be very hot and dry, so this little rain will disappear into the ether. My memory of it, however, will not.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Popsicles to Beat the Heat

It's so hot here in Texas, you really could fry and egg on the sidewalk- not to mention the roof of your truck. So, when I saw this on Epicurious, I thought- what a great idea! When I was a kid waaaaay back in the 1950's my Mom used to make Kool-Aid popsicles for us in the summer time. We didn't have a fancy mold or even sticks. She just made them up in the aluminum ice cube trays and we sucked and chewed them from a plastic cup. 

These popsicles are much more healthy than the ones I had as a kid- made with fresh or frozen fruit. For a sweetener you can use agave nectar or even honey, if you like.  And, for an adult treat, some of the recipes have a little vodka or rum added.... hmmm... banana rum popsicle... 

So, have a look at the recipes and try one or two. It'll surely cool you down a bit. 

Until Next time.... 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Herbal Quiz

Ruby Begonia sitting in a pot of Sugar Cane- looking for shade
Since it's been so hot lately... up to 104ºF in the afternoon... in between going outside to water a section at a time, I've been spending time on my computer browsing the Internet looking at various herb related websites. I found an Herbal Quiz: Test Your Herbal IQ It's an informative and interesting quiz. I even missed a couple of questions!! I enjoyed the whole website, too. So, if you have a few minutes, take the Quiz and see what you might know and might not know about some herbs. 

Until next time... 

Stay cool and keep those herbs happy!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Still hot... still no rain!

We're still desperately dry here in my part of Texas. It seems all my activities involve water. I'm either watering plants, filling the waterer in the poultry yard or making sure the wild birds have enough water. Oh, and occasionally adding water to our water garden due to evaporation. Oh, and of course, drinking water myself or making tea. I sure hope our well holds out! So far, so good, however. 

Here's a cheery planter that seems to laugh at the heat as long as I keep it watered:

That's portulaca in the front which loves the heat, garlic chives in the middle and lime mint on the right. Garlic chives always bloom in the hottest part of the summer, which is always a treat. 

If you think your eyes are playing tricks on you, they're not. The old whiskey barrel planter is leaning to the side. I think it's on its last season.

Until next time... stay cool, drink your herb tea for health and refreshment and enjoy your gardens!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Prune Those Mints!

If you live where it's been hot already for weeks on end... like here in Texas, for instance, your mints may be looking a little leggy and less than perky. What to do? Prune! 

Mints don't really like our extremely hot weather... in fact, mints do best where it's cool and moist. Well, we can do moist... but, cool?... not this time of year... sorry. So, mints take well to pruning during the extreme heat of a southern summer. If you've been using your mints regularly, you might not need to prune them because when you harvest, you are pruning. 

I've been using this Lime Mint for tea all summer and it's nice and bushy. Also, this tub get's watered daily.

This Lemon Balm was recently cut back all the way to the soil line. See how nicely it's regrowing. Also watered daily in this container.

These little pots of Doublemint definitely need pruning. I'll use the cut offs to make more plants!    
Take some time this week and prune down your Mints, Lemon Balm- even your Oregano if it's looking leggy. Oregano should not be pruned all the way to the ground, like you can do with mints. Prune your Oregano by about 1/3 to 1/2 of its current size. 

The plants will thank you with lush new growth and lots of material to harvest in a month to 6 weeks. And... you'll have wonderful, aromatic herbs for fall when we get back into the kitchen to think about soups, stews and all those other cool weather dishes.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mulch, mulch, mulch

I know all good garden writers espouse the merits of mulch. Mulch in the winter to keep the ground from heaving and pushing your bulbs and perennials out of the ground if you live where the ground freezes. In hot, dry climates mulch your beds to conserve water and keep the soil from getting too hot. 

We've all read these helpful tips and, I think, said: "Yeah, yeah, yeah... mulch is good and if I were a perfect gardener, I'd do it. But, I don't always have the time and it doesn't make that much of a difference, anyway."

Well... I can't speak knowledgeably about the value of mulch where the ground freezes in the winter, BUT, I can and will speak to how well it works in the hottest parts of gardening territory. 

I've been meaning to mulch my herb bed again since it was done in the Spring. Now, I have mature Stevia, African Basil, Lemon Verbena, Sage, Parsely and some Chives in a bed raised about 3" above the surrounding area. I've been watering EVERY AFTERNOON because the Stevia and African Basils, which are well established, look so poorly in the heat. FINALLY, the other day, I took 2 bags of mulch to the bed and spread it liberally around all the aforementioned plants. 

Newly mulched bed of Stevia (towards the back), Sage (on the left) and some Sweet Basil (center) & African Basil (lower right)
Of course, it looks great... neater and more finished. But, the real VALUE is the plants that previously wilted in the hot afternoon temperatures, now look perky, fresh and ready to harvest. I'm not kidding!! It took me maybe 20 minutes to spread the mulch and water after. Be generous... a 2" to 3" layer is NOT too much. It might look like it's beginning to cost a lot, but, believe me, you'll save in water cost, time and your plants will look soooo much better. Besides, an organic type mulch will add nutrients back to the soil as it decomposes. It's definitely a WIN WIN situation.

Newly mulched bed showing parsley, basil and lemon verbena

So... if you have garden beds with plants that need watering EVERY DAY, take some time and a small outlay of $$ and MULCH, MULCH, MULCH. You will not be disappointed. Especially if you live where there's a drought- like Texas- or in a municipality where water has been rationed. You just might KICK yourself for not doing it sooner. 

The mulch will break down and by next Spring, you'll need to add another layer when adding plants to the bed or after the perennials that might have gotten knocked back by Winter are coming back.

That's my rant for today! Hope you've all enjoyed it and it has encouraged you to get into the garden and MULCH, MULCH, MULCH!

Till next time,