Herbal Teas

As most of you know or may have guessed, I’m a tea addict so I’m always trying new combinations of herbs for tea blends.   Actually, my entire passion for herbs began with tea herbs when I impulsively picked up a copy of Adelma Simmon’s book “Herb Gardens of Delight” way back in the early 60’s. Herb Gardens of Delight  At the time, I was living in a city apartment and didn’t even have a garden, but that’s the way many dreams begin.  If you can find a copy, get one!  After reading the chapter on herbal teas, a concept totally unfamiliar to me since I’d only heard of “Lipton,” I ordered 4 plants from Adelma’s famous Connecticut herb farm, “Caprilands.”  Rober’s lemon rose scented geranium, lemon verbena, lemon thyme and orange mint were my first herb garden, kept in pots on a city windowsill and they are still mandatory in my herb garden today.  This massive Lemon verbena lemon verbena is actually a descendant of that original plant from Adelma.  When it gets too big for me to drag back and forth indoors for the winter and out for the summer, I take new cuttings.  This orange mint is also a descendant of those original four plants.  The very first tea I ever Orange mint  blended was Adelma’s recipe for “Orange Mint Tea” and it still remains one of my very favorites.  The recipe is simple:  1 qt. dried orange mint, the grated and dried rind of one orange and 1 lemon, 8 tsp. of black or green tea, 1 tsp. ground cloves, 1 cup dried calendula petals.  It’s delicious, although not caffeine-free.  Orange mint does not taste like the citrus, but like bergamot.  It is a true mint, however, not a fruit or a monarda.  There are so very many mints (I once had 37 different ones!) that just mint teas and blends could fill a book! Now I constrain myself to the must-have mints:  orange, lime, apple, peppermint and spearmint.  Robers Lemon Rose   Any scented geranium can be used for tea, but I prefer the rose, lime or lemon scents and Rober’s Lemon Rose (shown just above) is my absolute favorite.  I simply drop a small leaf in a cup of green tea, quickly top it with a saucer and let it steep for 2 minutes.  Done! Bigger leaves go into a teapot when I’m brewing more than one cup.  Sweeten with a bit of honey if you must, but I prefer it plain.  Another of my favorite teas is elderflower with a lime scented geranium.  It’s almost like a warm, non-alcoholic Hugo!  And if you like lemon, get a Mabel Grey scented geranium.  It’s heavenly.  Scented geranium leaves can be used fresh or dried, so the plant on my windowsill provides flavor for tea all winter, one way or another.  Lemon Mist thyme compressed  Thyme is a traditional medicinal tea, but I’m not a huge fan of the flavor by itself.  However, lemon thyme is entirely acceptable, especially when blended with other lemon-flavored herbs like lemon verbena, lemon balm or lemon grass.  A cup in the cold of winter brings back summer memories of lemonade. The thyme in the photo is my favorite, “Lemon Mist” thyme.
Two years ago I purchased a fantastic tea in Germany, “Salbei-Honig-Vanille,” or sage, honey, vanilla.  It is my favorite tea now, but I can’t go to Germany every time I want another box.  So, I decided to replicate it using 2 c. of my own dried sage leaves, ½ c. honey powder, and snipped vanilla beans.   The ingredients really need to age, and shaking every day helps spread the vanilla throughout the sage.   If you want it sweeter, use more honey powder.  Store it in a cool place, away from light.  I use 1 tsp. tea mixture per cup of boiling water.  You can see the crumbled sage leaves mixed with the honey powder, and the snipped vanilla beans below left.  The finished product and a cup of the tea is on the right.

  Sage is an excellent tea herb, known for improving mental ability and good health, especially as one ages.  It is an easy-to-grow perennial, requiring only good drainage and lots of sunshine.  It can be started quickly from seed, or from cuttings.

  The flavor of sage can be strong, so you may prefer to combine it with mints, ginger, or other herbs to balance it for teas.  Or, cut it with stinging nettle, lemon grass, raspberry leaves, strawberry leaves, or other mild but healthful herbs.  I also like it with elderflower, but then I love elderflower tea by itself or with almost any other herb!

In summertime I just throw herbs in a gallon jar of water to steep as sun tea, but I’m also constantly drying herbs for the winter months.  The upcoming cooler months are the perfect time to experiment with new tea blends, so be adventurous.  Do keep a record of your trials, so you can duplicate successes, or revise blends to improve the flavor.

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Six on Saturday-9/15/18

Potager in mist  There’s a misty fog over the potager this morning, reminiscent of visits to the Smokey Mountains.  The grass is so heavy with dew that my pant legs are soaked before arriving at the gate.  Today is mid-point for September.  Already!  And autumn is definitely in the air.   There are things to notice on this chilly morning. Edged sidewalk 1)  The front sidewalk is finally edged again, for the first time since May!  It looks so pretty when it’s done that I always vow to do it more often, but……. 2) The asparagus has a silvery sheen that is almost ghost-like.  Asparagus  Doesn’t it turn gold in fall?  The color is not from the dew, but it’s definitely very pale.  I hope it’s not dying!  3)  The “Orange Magic” squash are finally turning orange.  There are only 3 on the vine, whose blossoms seem Squash orange magic to be a magnet for the spotted cucumber beetles more than any of the other squash varieties in the potager.  The flowers  barely begin to open before they are filled with the voracious insects that destroy the petals. 4) At the other end of the spectrum, here’s the “Delicata” squash, whose flowers never show any damage, and I’ve never found a bug on them.  Interesting.  Squash Delicata  They are beautiful blooms.  5)  Earlier this week, I did a quick look at the seed box and found partial packets of “Avon,” “Olympia,” and “Gangbuster” spinach left from spring plantings.  Spinach seed quickly loses its viability, so there’s no reason to save it for next year.  Might as well gamble on a crop now, so I harvested the last of the beets from this bed and planted two rows here  Spinach  and four more rows in another.  We don’t really need that much spinach, if it germinates and grows before it snows, but I’ll cover this bed with a polytunnel and see what happens.  It could provide an early crop next spring, so I was careful to place it properly on next year’s plan.  Yes, the basics of the 2019 potager map are already in place, because it will soon be time to plant garlic.  Last autumn my planning for crops under a poly tunnel was pathetic!  And, the plan was something productive to do during all those rainy days. Green chair 6)  Viewing the potager, I realized that once again I failed to spend moments in my lovely green chairs over the season.  It’s hard for me to just sit still, and there’s no place to put them in the shade which would certainly make sitting more appealing.  However, now that autumn has arrived and the demands of the potager are lessening, I think I’ll find more time to just sit and enjoy.  I hope you do the same, wherever you garden!

That’s my six for this Saturday in mid-September.  Thanks to The Propagator who hosts this meme.  Click on the link to see what “Six” other gardeners around the world have chosen.

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Art set up   Thirty years ago, or so, I enjoyed painting landscapes but I haven’t painted since.  However, now that I’m retired, once the gardening season is finished, I tend to flounder and stew until the seed catalogs begin to arrive.  To avoid that downward spiral I’ve decided to take up painting again, so I’ve purchased all the needed supplies.  While it rains, I sit and stare at the blank canvas, and the brushes and tubes of color intimidated, and unsure how to start.  And I wonder……is this as silly as thinking that purchasing a helmet and shoulder pads make me a football player?

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Welcome Sunshine!

Potager sun  After five days of heavy rain, it is wonderful to see the sun beginning to light up the potager.  So, gathering my harvest baskets and camera, I waded through the puddles to see how things had changed during the deluge.  Leaves The first observation was the many cottonwood leaves that have already come down and settled into the flower beds.  It seems early, but it is almost mid-September so apparently it’s time. Potager path waves  Entering the potager, there were “waves” in the paths from mulch being swept along.  Some of the landscape cloth is entirely clear but there are tall piles of mulch here and there.  To the naked eye, the potager looks perfectly level, but heavy rains like those we’ve had recently reveal the truth.  There is a slight slope from the southwest corner to the northeast corner.  There’s lots of raking to level things out in my future.   (Sigh!)  Can’t help but smile as I pass the “Wando” peas.  They were  Wando pea pods  blooming before the rains began, but now there are dozens of pods forming.  With the five days of 95 degree heat and high humidity before the rains came, I wondered, but “Wando” has a reputation for tolerating heat and extremes and it looks like they deserve that good rating.  I’ve never grown parsnips before, so I was thrilled to see they’ve grown a good 4″ taller since the rain started.  Parsnips  That’s exciting!  And the “Butterscotch” winter squashes really added some pounds in my absence.  They’ll be ready to harvest soon, but note that dreaded squash bug just to the right of squash! Butterscotch squash  They had a big party while I was indoors reading and listening to the rain, inviting all their friends for an orgy and laying eggs on every leaf in the area.  I’ll be paying for that lack of vigilance.  Remember those baby rows of radishes in my last “Six on Saturday”?  Well, here they are today, ready to harvest!  Radish fall  I’d love to report that they were lovely, but those days of heat made them a bit tough and HOT!  Too spicy for my palette, but maybe they’ll mellow out a bit if they’re cooked lightly and added to a pasta salad.  Those dratted spotted cucumber beetles didn’t take a break during the rains either.  They are everywhere, chewing on squash blossoms, bean leaves, and everything else.  Spotted cucumber beetles  There were at least 10 in this one squash blossom when I pulled it open, but all but the four who decided to pose for the photo escaped.  I suppose I should do something about their excessive numbers, but after reading “The Prodigal Summer” during the rains I am reluctant.  (Loved the book, by the way and if you have any interest in butterflies, moths, nature’s balance, etc. you probably will, too, although it was a bit sexy for my old-fashioned tastes.)  Once the leaves were dry, I picked various beans.  The Cannellini worried me, as some of the pods had black moldy spots.  Bean Cannellini spotted  Upon opening, the beans inside seemed fine, although surprisingly some of them had actually sprouted inside the pods!  And so, a lovely afternoon was spent harvesting “Dragon Tongue,” “Jade II,””Cannellini,” and “Inspiration” beans.  They aren’t quite as nice as the earlier harvests because of the holes made by those cucumber beetles (WHY don’t they just stick to cucumbers???”  And, they weren’t all supposed to be ready to pick at the same time, but despite careful planning according to the maturity dates, they are!  There were also jalapeno, red sweet cherry and bell peppers; a couple of cukes, a handful of radishes, two pounds of beets, and over two pounds of carrots.  I could have left the carrots, but I’m readying that bed for the strawberry runners that are beginning to form on the “Honyone” June-bearing plants.  Harvest 9-11  It’s lovely to know that even while I remained inside during the five days of rain, the potager was busily doing its thing, providing pounds and pounds of good eating!

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End of August review

August has never been my favorite month, not sure why but it’s usually hot, the kids go back to school, the garden is normally winding down a bit.  Things grow a tad more slowly and the greens change from emeralds to olives.  Generally, as was the case again this year, leaves from the cottonwoods begin to fall, even though it’s not supposed to be officially “FALL” in August.  The cicadas’ songs become more strident and the birds start grouping into flocks.

This year, August has been a bit more pleasant, with some cooler evenings and adequate rain so there wasn’t the usual hose-dragging.  I’ve enjoyed putting in the late plantings more and they are doing better than last year.  I’ve decided to do a better job at extending the protager’s productivity, and it certainly seems willing to keep going if I am!Bean Dragon Tongue Already the “Dragon Tongue” beans, planted July 6th  are producing, the Jade II beans are setting tiny threads of infant beans and there’s a variety of new lettuces to pick (not shown but there’s LOTS on other beds!) Bean last planting  This diagonal double row in the center is the very last planting of beans for this year, a variety called “Speedy” that’s growing nicely.  They were planted August 15, and with a maturity of 50 days, it will be all Mother Nature’s benevolence if they produce, because the days are getting shorter.  But it’s worth the gamble because every week that there’s a meal of fresh beans for the table, it’s one less jar of canned beans that I need to process.  We’ve had fresh beans to use since June 17, so that’s 11 jars not needed and I believe we’ll have them through September, so that will be two canners-ful not required!  Lots of energy saved there. All of the early potatoes have been tipped out of their pots, and now the “German Butterball” are being harvested as needed, and of course there’s still lots of indeterminate tomatoes and various peppers coming to the kitchen daily.  Young beets are ready to harvest and three varieties of spinach are growing well. Wando peas The “Wando” peas are nearly at the top of their fence and promising a good crop.  And just take a moment to notice those “Hot Pak” marigolds.  As edging, they still look fantastic and are holding up much better than the “Boy” series I’ve grown in the past.  And, while I was in Italy, a few dropped seed and I’m delighted to report that the new plants are growing “true” so seed can be collected for next year’s edgings.Cannellini trellis The “Cannellini” beans seem to realize that their time is limited and are putting out even greater numbers of pods and blooms.  I love sitting under their shade now, but looking at this photo makes me realize I need to paint that bench once the beans are gone.  The hummingbirds are enjoying the blooms, although I’ve never seen them at the any other varieties of beans in the potager. Maybe it’s simply because the blooms are up high.Black-eye pea The black-eyed peas are still producing and I’ve really enjoyed growing them this year as a trial crop.  Something nibbled the tops of the recently-seeded snow peas, so not sure how well they’ll do.  CarrotThere’s lots of baby carrots growing nicely in various beds, but this row is “Kuroda”, a variety that is especially good for storage.  The row next is bunching onions, which will provide green onions well into late autumn and early winter.  Here and there are short rows of kale, turnips, and radishes There are mountains of winter squash vines here and there in the potager. Squash vines  Right now, it looks like “Butterscotch” will be most numerous.  I clipped the ends of all of the vines this week in hopes that energy will go to maturing the fruits already set on. Pumpkin Baby Bear I doubt there will be pumpkins although the replanted “Baby Bear” do have a couple of tennis-ball sized fruit.  That’s pretty iffy, but it’s more than they accomplished last year.  Eventually, through trial and error apparently, I’ll get the timing right…if I live long enough!  All these baby crops are a gamble and their success just depends, as usual, on when the first frost occurs, but for now, things look really good!  (Knock wood!)

And now to the numbers!  Last year’s August production was 181.0 pounds, the bulk coming from pulling all the onions, with tomatoes, summer squash, peppers & melons at full harvest as well.  This year was less, only 177.75 pounds, largely due to the death of most of the squash and melon vines, but also partly because I intentionally planted fewer tomatoes.  We just couldn’t use them all last year and there are still canned ones on the shelves.  Last year I canned 100 jars of food in August.  This year only 86…I’m out of jars and shelf space.  Guess we need to eat more canned goods labeled “2017.”

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Six on Saturday-Sept 1!

As much as I’d like to deny it, September is here.  The leaves are already piling up along the sidewalk from the big cottonwoods along the driveway.  It’s time to evaluate the performance of the annuals.  In my gardens, they are the workhorses that carry the heavy load of continual bloom through the hot, hot often dry months of summer so they must be outstanding.  It has taken years of trial and error to find varieties that can deliver the color I want without a lot of work.  Here are the six reliable annuals that work for me here in central Indiana.  Marigold Durango 1) Marigold “Durango”.  Yes, I’ve raved about this tough, gorgeous anemone-flowered marigolds before but they deserve every word of praise.  The flowers are large, 2-2 1/2″ and come in a range of colors from deep red to lemon yellow, with oranges, soft orange and bi-colors as well.  2) Celosia “Fresh Look Orange”  Celosia  really comes into its own when the weather turns hot and will be durable until frost.  About 15″ tall, so despite heavy blooms it requires no staking.  It’s a great cut flowers, and holds its color for dried arrangements as well.  If orange isn’t your color, it also comes in yellow, red, gold, and rose.  3)  Zinnia “Profusion Double Deep Salmon”  stays compact (10″) and tidy all season.  Zinnia Profusion  It doesn’t even really require deadheading because new flowers keep appearing that hide the old ones as they fade.  The Profusion series is disease-resistant and comes in a Cherry, Gold, White,Yellow and Fire (deep orange.)  I prefer the double series, although the standard single Profusion series was an All-American winner when it first came out.  4)  Ageratum “Blue Horizon” is a tall, sky-blue fluffy flower  Ageratum Blue Horizon that is also a good cut flower with strong stems.  The butterflies adore it and the blue makes the orange and apricot flowers in the garden pop, as do these white “Helen Campbell” cleome  Cleome that add some height (3′) and light to the back of the border here and there.  It’s a self-seeder but I usually start a few indoors so they will bloom a bit earlier.  And for those really hot, dry spots right along the sidewalk 6) Portulaca “Happy Hour Orange” fills in an amazing amount of space for such tiny leaves, and never quits blooming despite the weather.  Portulaca  The “Happy Hour” series has really improved the performance of this old favorite, often called “Moss Rose.” They come in yellows, white, reds, pinks, rose.  They can even survive life in the Lady Cottage window box, which dries out so quickly & I often forget to water!  All six of these annuals

So that’s a simple “Six on Saturday” but they make me smile every day in the garden.  To see what makes other gardeners smile, check out all the “SOS” posts at The Propagator, the host and creator of this meme.

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There are a couple of loose ends from prior posts that need tying up.  First of all, I promised a reader to post of photo of the mystery watermelon, the “pollinator” that was provided with the non-germinating “Twilight” seedless watermelons, so here it is.  It actually was a fairly Melon mystery half good melon, a bit over 4 lbs and not excessively seedy with a striped exterior and there were several of them.  I’m not totally unhappy but seedless would have been nice.  Secondly, a final report on the French Fingerling potatoes. Pot FF with coin I had such high hopes for them, as they were reportedly very good candidates for growing in pots.  Five pounds of “seed” potatoes were purchased ($14.95) and planted in twenty-two 4 gallon pots (2 good eyes per pot.)  They grew beautifully, in fact possibly too well because the tops were 3′ tall!  I accept the blame for this for in my eagerness to have them do well, the soil mixture was probably too rich, causing lots of leaf production but few potatoes.  The total return, of very, very small (most were marble-sized!!!) was only 7 pounds!!! However, they had a very good flavor and I think I’ll give them one more go next spring, but use no composted cow manure in the pots at all.  I did really like growing potatoes in pots rather than digging, and it makes my crop rotation easier (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers cannot follow one another since they are cousins.)  And if I’d been digging, I’d probably have missed the majority of those marble-sized ones.

I’m also wondering if our excessive heat early on in the season, and having the potatoes above ground in black pots might have contributed to the problem.  They grew well, grew tall, and promptly grew yellow, then brown and done.  Although, in pondering the situation, then the pots facing south  should have been the first to go, and they weren’t…..so, still pondering the changes for next year’s planting.  Any suggestions?



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