Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Maintenance And Propagation Of Lavender Plants


Summer 2014 Lavender
If you are growing your first Lavender plant this year, you are in for a treat.  They need little care, prefer very little water, and will reward you with exceptionally fragrant blossoms.  Dried, their scent will last for years!

If you are determined to give your new Lavender plant a regular dose of water, please use drip or emitter lines briefly, once a week, or let a hose trickle at the base of the plant briefly, like 10 minutes, once a week.  We use drip irrigation, infrequently, and we have a dry, desert like climate.  Please, no sprinklers!  It will cause the stems to splay out and is not good for it.  Lavender really hates wet feet.  I know people who absolutely never water their Lavender, and they have lovely Lavender, anyway.

If you live in a wet, damp climate, i.e., coastal weather, you may need to put white rocks below your plants to maximize the warmth and reflection from the sun.  Many people have to work around that issue, and if necessary just google for ideas and solutions for that.

2014 Lavender, perfectly ready to harvest!


Your Lavender will most likely come into bloom (most years) by early July.  Sometimes it is earlier, and sometimes later.  But you will see the bloom develop.  It will  slowly send up stems in late spring with tight green buds at the top.  It will seem like they are stuck there for the longest time, but great things are happening, so please be patient.   When the blooms are almost ready to pop, you'll see a tinge of lavender color in them.  Wait again!  Then usually one to three flowers will open up at once.  Wait longer!  I harvest mine when about 1/3 of the stem has open blooms.  Friends who own and operate a Lavender farm told me that the longer the Lavender stays on the stem, the more intense the fragrance is.  I find that to be true, at least for Grosso or Provence Lavender.  Those are the two varieties that I grow.  

We have just about finished spring garden clean up, and have been working on getting the Lavender plants ready for the growing season.  We have 18 large plants that. span 5 feet across, so many of them are nearing the time for replacement.  After they reach about 5 years of age, they begin to develop gaps and holes from damage that occurs to the woody interiors during long freezes and hard winters.

Deadwood pulled out of the Lavender

When the greening of the Lavender has begun in the spring, you can pull and/or twist off any stems with black or gray dead areas that sometimes occur in the center of the plants over the winter.  Those stems are not alive, and are not going to thrive at any point in the future.  If you have not pruned your Lavender yet, you can do that now, too, so long as buds have not formed yet.

We generally prune our Lavender plants in early March by giving them a trim across the top, cutting an even inch to an inch of a half off the top, leaving the surface evenly flat across the top of the plant, edge to edge.  Then I invert the large shears, and prune the sides at an angle from the top edge inward and downward, which gives each plant a cupcake shape.  It sounds odd, but do it anyway, and have no worries.  When the new spring growth comes in, they will somehow miraculously turn into perfectly rounded plants!

In some areas of the country Lavender is pruned in the fall instead of the spring.  But if you have winters with temperatures below freezing, you are better off waiting till spring.  In any case, prune just the green part of the Lavender, and be careful you do not cut into the woody part of the stems.  It is easy to tell the difference.


All the deadwood in the trailer came from just 5 large Lavender plants.  Hollow centers with a fairy ring of healthy Lavender were all that remained.   The photo below used to be a robust Lavender plant.  Once the deadwood was removed, not much was left.

Hollowed out Lavender plant - layered branches at top left

The best way to use the remaining ring of Lavender stems is to propagate/clone new plants.  It sounds difficult, but it is the simplest thing, ever!  There are several ways you can start new Lavender plants.  Some people say layering doesn't work for them, but it always works for us, and is a good way to grow a nice, big start for a new plant.

Method 1: Root in water Trim most of the leaves off 6-8 inch long stem cuttings, and put them into a jar of water in your kitchen.  They will usually, eventually, grow a tangle of roots and can then be planted.  (I'm not patient enough for this one...if I see it every day, I have to mess with it, change the water, etc.)

Method 2:  (photo just below) Layering:  Select a branch at the base of the Lavender plant.  Leave it attached to the Mother plant.  Have a handful of wire and wire cutters to make long, metal U-clips (or giant staples) nearby.   With your hands, move the soil directly under the branch to form a sort of shallow trough that you can lay the branch in.  Scrape the bottom part of the branch with the edge of a pocket knife, a rough rock, or whatever is handy.  Lay it in the trough, pinning it down securely with the u-clip.  Cover most of the branch with soil and pat down firmly with your hand.  Water the branches regularly.  Within just a few weeks, roots will have grown from the scraped part of the branch, and it may then be severed from the Mother and planted!  You can also use the layering technique in the fall, pinning the branch down for the winter.  By late spring roots will usually form!





A pinned branch of Lavender.


Emitter irrigation line across several newly layered branches

Method 3:  Start stems in soil with Rooting Hormone.  Fill small container with wet soil for each stem you are planning to start.  Poke a deep hole in the center of each pot with a pencil or chopstick.  THEN cut 6 to 8" stems, and begin the process immediately, one at a time.   Using your fingernail, scrape along the lower 1 inch of each stem which easily pulls off the gray coating, exposing a tender, green stem.  Prune each at an angle, 1/4 inch below the joint.  Prune off all but a tiny tuft of leaves at the top of the stem.  Dip the stem in water to re-moisten.  Tilt an open jar of Rooting Hormone powder towards you at an angle, and dip and roll the green part of the Lavender stem into it, coating it quickly and thoroughly.  Put it in the hole in the prepared pot, and pat the soil firmly down around it.  Place it in a warm place that receives good light, and keep it evenly moist.  Within a couple weeks you will see new growth at the top of the stem.  Then you can plant it!  

                            
In the spring it is easy to tell where the deadwood is!



These will be new Lavender plants in a few weeks.


The next thing you know, you'll need a trailer and a Sickle to bring in your harvest, too!  




                           



Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sourdough Bread - You Can Make It Yourself!








                                                              Sourdough Boule

I'm finally retired!  :-)   Now I can finally keep up with my sourdough starter, and make our daily bread.  It is such good bread.   Sourdough is magical, too, because you don't add any packaged yeast at all.  It is leavened solely by wild yeast spores you are able to catch with your starter.  The ultimate in organic!

Sourdough is not difficult to make, but you do have to pay attention and remember to feed/refresh the starter every 2 days once it is active.  Alternately, you can refrigerate or freeze it for up to six months, which is what I did when I worked full time.  The bad part about that is it takes two cycles of refreshment just to rebuild your starter to the point where it will leaven a loaf of bread.  It can take up to 20 refreshment cycles before the sour part of the sourdough arrives.  That will happen if you have followed directions, kept up with feeding your starter, and the correct wild yeast spores have taken up residence.

There are many sourdough starters out there, and I have tried and thrown out many over the years.  The one that works the best for me is from the book,  Crust And Crumb, by Peter Rhinehart.  It is an outstanding book from start to finish.  I have been a baker, managed a bakery, and worked as a pastry chef.  There is a lot of good knowledge in his book that would take you a very long time to learn on your own!  I obviously cannot share all you need to know about this recipe in this blog due to copyright issues.  I hope to at least share enough to inspire you to try making your own Sourdough bread.  Check the book out of the library if you cannot buy it.  It is fantastic!


Day Four Sourdough Starter
                                     


This is a great starter recipe:

Day ONE, Stir together:
1 cup organic whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. Diastatic Barley Malt, powder or liquid (King Arthur Flour sells it online)
1 tsp. raw honey
1 cup raisin water ( soak 1 cup of raisins in 1 cup of warm, distilled water  20 minutes, then strain)
Cover with saran wrap.

Day TWO, add to above:
1 cup unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp. Diastatic malt powder
1 tsp. raw honey
3/4 cup room temperature distilled water
Cover with saran wrap,

Day THREE, add to above:
2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp. Diastatic malt powder
1 1/2 cups room temperature distilled water
Cover with saran wrap.

Day FOUR, FREEZE OR GIVE AWAY HALF OF YOUR STARTER, THEN ADD:
2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cups room temperature distilled water

Day FIVE - Add the following, and from now on, cover sourdough starter w/ plate or other loose cover that allows gas to escape.
4 cups unbleached bread flour
3 cups cool water

Allow to sit about 4 hours, then refrigerate it.  The starter should be very active and bubbly now.  If not,  allow it to do its thing for a few more hours at room temperature, then refrigerate.  It should hold in the fridge several days while you wait for your book to arrive.

Please consult the book Crust and Crumb for instructions on maintaining your starter and making world class homemade breads!


Large and small air pockets form the best texture.
                                     
Batard, or Torpedo Loaf
                                        
              Notice the blistering on the crust?  As the bread cools, it makes a crackle noise.










                       
                           

                             

                           


                                 

                                         

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Candied Ginger Root


                          

My family loves candied Ginger root.   During the dark days of winter, our son Sam and I tried many different ways of making the candy.  We've sliced it, diced it, chopped it, and, after making it about 6 times, we have finally arrived at the method that we like the best.  Hmm...I wonder if that's why none of us even had a cold this past winter?

The original recipe inspiration came from:  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/12/candied-ginger/

If you want to enjoy an amazing array of candy and pastry recipes, be sure to visit his blog.  Because we live in an arid climate, the thin slices suggested in his recipe seemed too dry and crispy in our area.  But the sliced candied Ginger might work better for you.  This is one of those times when I can truly say, "It's ALL good."  


Select the freshest Ginger root you can.  Spring Ginger is the most tender with the fewest coarse strings in it.  Ginger root is always fairly gnarly, but see in the photo above how the skin is fairly smooth and hydrated?  Choose that.  For this purpose avoid Ginger root that looks wrinkly and dehydrated.  It is still good minced up in stir fry dishes or teas, but tends to be tough and stringy if you candy it.

Measure 3 cups of water into a 3 qt. size stainless saucepan.  

Peel 1 pound of Ginger root, total.  That is by far the hardest part of this recipe!  I peel it one finger or clump at a time and chop and drop the root into water right after it is peeled. That seems to help to preserve the gold tone of the ginger root. Otherwise some pieces can develop a bit of gray coloring on the surface, which clouds the beauty of the finished candy.

                        

Bring water and Ginger root chunks to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let it simmer 10 minutes.  Drain and repeat, simmering the chunks of ginger again for 10 more minutes.  Drain.  

Place 3-4 cups of water, 1/4 tsp. of salt and 4 cups of sugar into the stainless saucepan.  I prefer using 3 cups of water, as I like the syrup to be syrupy!   Bring it to a boil, then lower heat to medium and heat until temperature reaches 225 to 230 degrees.

Remove the saucepan from the heat source, and leave the chopped Ginger root in the syrup for at least an hour, or even overnight.  The Ginger must be hot when it is rolled in the sugar, so if you let it stand overnight, simply reheat the syrup and Ginger to about 120 degrees before straining it and rolling it in sugar.

                         

Spread 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar over a cookie sheet.  Drop the hot, drained ginger onto the cookie sheet, and toss with a turner until evenly coated.

                                       

After the pieces are evenly coated with sugar, transfer them to a cookie rack for about 12-24 hours.  If you soaked the chopped Ginger in the syrup overnight, it will benefit from at least 12 hours of air drying before placing it in a jar.  You should know, though, that it is highly unlikely that much candy will ever make it into a jar.  It seems to disappear pretty quickly from the rack!

                           


The remaining Ginger syrup stands alone as a soothing remedy for adult sore throats.  Children often experience it as a little too hot and spicy.  I gave bottles of Ginger syrup to our neighbors with their Christmas treats, and they raved about it. 


                                    

You can drop fresh lemon slices into a quart jar of the syrup, and store it in the refrigerator all winter.  What a burst of flavor!  It freezes very well, too, once the lemon slices have been removed.

                                              

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fire Cider

Fire Cider is a great tonic and folk remedy for colds and flu.  Rosemary Gladstar started this version of it, named it, and shared her recipe with the masses many years ago. Despite one company recently trying to trademark it as their own, it belongs to The People.  It is wonderful!

It only takes a little over an hour to make a half gallon of it.  Just chop or grate the ingredients, place them in the jar(s) and cover to the brim with Fort Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar.  Place a barrier of saran wrap or wax paper over the jar before placing the screw band and lid on the jar to avoid corrosion.  Place in a pantry or cupboard for about 8 weeks, twirling the jars now and then to redistribute the contents. 


Strain, add raw honey to taste and bottle in Bail Wire bottles.  I store mine in the refigerator.   Save the mash in the freezer to use in stir fry dishes.  Really!  It adds a lovely zest to salad dressings and is a delicious marinade for poultry. 

At the first sign of a cold or sinus issues take a tablespoon of it in a juice glass of water, several times a day.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Herbal Cough Syrup

It is that time of the year again.  Leaves are starting to turn, the skies hold a different light and the mornings are chilly.  The annual ballet of leaves in their colored tutu's is about to begin! Unfortunately viruses, cold germs, etc., are lining up at the start gate as well.  It is satisfying and reassuring to be able to make some of my own tonics, teas and syrups for my family.  Oddly enough, they work faster and better than any of the ones I've tried from the grocery store "Cold Care" aisle!   

I met fresh Osha root for the first time this week.  It is no mystery to me now why Native Americans named it Bear Root and wore it as a spiritual talisman in addition to using it to treat bronchitis and pneumonia.  Osha has immense presence, and even if I didn't know what it was, I think I might be able to sense the power within the root.  The scent of the fresh root is amazing.  Last year I ordered dried Osha root from a herb supplier, and it worked very well.  But if you have access to the fresh root, get it!  One of my goals in the next year is to learn to identify Osha in the wild and harvest it myself.



If you live on the west coast like I do, Mountain Rose Herbs, Starwest Botanicals or Dandelion Root Botanical Co. should be able to supply you with the ingredients to make this syrup.  If you want to grow some of your own medicinal herbs, there is no better supplier of seeds or plants than Horizon Herbs in Oregon, owned by Richo Cech.  The variety of plant offerings, and their customer service, are fantastic.  The live herbs I have purchased from them have arrived healthy and ready to plant in my yard.  Years later, every one of them continues to thrive.

Tina Sams of The Essential Herbal shared her Herbal Cough Syrup recipe (see link below) in The Essential Herbal book, By The Hearth, on page 85, I believe.  It is a compilation of the first 5 years of fall/winter articles in The Essential Herbal Magazine.  Under The Sun compliments it with spring and summer recipes.  They both contain oodles of wonderful articles sent in by Herb lovers across the U.S. and beyond.  If you don't have the books, you can order them online from The Essential Herbal Magazine and they are keepers!  I refer to them all the time.  

The recipe below is from The Essential Herbal Blog.


Once I started making this cough syrup, it mutated a little based on ingredients I was able to purchase or had in my pantry.  I will post the recipe I made below.  


Fresh Osha Cough Syrup
                                     


Horehoumd Sryrup & Osha Cough Syrup



Herbal Cough Syrup (my version of Tina Sam's recipe)

2 cups distilled water
3 oz. fresh Osha root, sliced in coins (1 1/2 oz. if dry)
1 T. Black Cherry bark
1 T. Elecampane root
1 T. Licorice root
1 T. Mullein root
1/2 tsp. Lomatium root
Small Hand, diced, fresh Ginger root
Juice of one fresh Lemon
Optional tinctures of Horehound, Thyme and Goldenrod (1/2 oz. total)


Make the decoction:
Simmer roots and barks in the water in a small saucepan for about 45 minutes.  Let cool to 110 degrees.  Add lemon juice.  If adding any other herbs, add the last 5 minutes decoction is cooking.
Allow them to steep in the saucepan with the roots and bark.

Strain into 1 qt. measuring cup.  Add raw honey to equal the amount of liquid decocted.  Add 1/4 cup of super-fine granulated sugar.  Return all to the saucepan.  Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.  Add tincture if desired.  Pour into sterilized bottle.  This recipe yields approximately 16 oz. of syrup.  

Here is a link to some creative herbal Honey cold and sore throat remedies!













Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ginger-Marshmallow Root Candy



Ginger-Marshmallow Root Throat Soother Candies

Dear Anonymous, here is the herbal candy recipe you requested.  You'll love the versatility of it!  The master recipe w/ variations and instructions (link below) are from The Essential Herbal blog, by Tina Sams, owner, editor and publisher of The Essential Herbal Magazine.  The Ginger-Marshmallow (Althaea) Root throat soothers are a mutation and variation I came up with.  We liked them so much I plan to make this recipe again this year.

http://theessentialherbal.blogspot.com/2010/08/back-to-elderberry-patch.html

I originally tried this recipe as a last ditch effort to make Horehound Candy.  Three completely different recipes didn't turn out right.  They were either too soft, too sticky, softened in the jar, etc.  I bought two new candy thermometers in case they were at fault.  I am so glad I tried one more time with Tina's recipe.  The first time was a charm!

I simmered a small hand of diced Ginger root with 1 cup of water in a 21/2 qt. stainless pan for about 25 minutes, then allowed it to cool in the pan to room temp.  I then added 3-4 Tbs. dried, cut Althaea Root to the room temperature water, stirred it in well, and put a lid on it.  I allowed it to sit covered, at room temperature, for 4-6 hours, which drew out the mucilaginous properties of Althaea Root, and somewhat thickened the water.  That was exactly the result I hoped for.  Althaea must be infused with cool, not boiling water, to draw out the demulcent properties.  

Because the roots absorbed some of the water they soaked in, I strained the roots from the liquid, then added a little bit of water to the concoction to make sure I had the minimum 3/4 cup liquid called for in the recipe.  The rest of the recipe is included in the link above.  I'd love to see what variations you come up with!  








Thursday, August 7, 2014

Soap Addiction!



If you are just beginning to make handmade soap (as is a friend of mine), keep your eyes open at garage sales and junk stores for a storage cabinet big enough to hold most of your soap equipment.  A soap maker tends to accumulate essential oils, clays, colorants, jars, tins, bottles, crock pots, distilled water, misc. funnels, cutters, freezer paper, etc.  You will grow into it faster than you think!


Soap Equipment Storage Cabinet 
                               
A small or used refrigerator to store your infused oils, hydrosols, large batches of salve or Shea and Mango butters is very handy as well. Mine is always stuffed!  

College dorm size refrigerator
                                  

A rolling wire rack or utility cart is useful for keeping this and that close to the soap making area. Oh, and you'll need to improvise some drying shelves or racks for the curing soap!

Often used misc.


Our pesky kitten

I was just getting my equipment out to make soap, and was reminded to tell you, if you have a feline mascot, put him in another room with a closed door while you are making soap!    He just  can't help being curious.



                                               

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Day In The Life Of An Herbie

If you are interested in herbs but don't know where to start learning or where to begin, don't let that discourage you. People who love herbs are usually delighted to share learning sources, recipes, plant starts and camaraderie.  Reach out to individuals and organizations involved with herbs.  They will welcome you!

Start with one or two herbs that you just plain like.  Plant them, water them and read about them. Visit them daily, prune them as needed, and harvest them. I chose Calendula and Lavender as my first herbs because I could use them in the handmade soap I like to make.


Fresh Peppermint
                                   
I had no idea 15 years ago that I would eventually grow and learn about many herbs.  The learning part never stops, there is always something new you didn't know before.  

This just cut Peppermint smells just wonderful!  I plan to dry some of it for tea and infuse some in Olive Oil for use in Salves and Balms.

Several bunches have been drying for a week, and they are nice and crispy.  I'm going to rub the dried leaf and flowers off their stems (the term for that is garbling) to make room for the fresh cut herbs to dry.



Garbling dried Peppermint
                                     

Whoa!  This dried Peppermint not only cleared my sinuses, it scented the entire lower floor of our home.  I'm willing to bet there is not one herbalist anywhere that would purchase a Glade, chemically scented room freshener!


Echinacea purpurea
                                  
I found many more herbs ready to harvest out in my herb garden.  Althea, Calendula (a daily task), Echinacea purpurea, Garden Sage, Lemon Balm, Catnip and White Horehound. The mints and their close relations all come into flower at roughly the same time.  It is Feast or Famine, and you'd better be ready for the feast when they are!



Drying flower petals for Tea
                                 
Echinacea petals and leaves, and Althaea flowers, laid out in a basket tray.  They will be dried and ready for long term storage in a mason jar in less than a week.


Althaea (Marshmallow) flowers
                                       
Althaea has properties that soften skin, ease an upset stomach and soothe a sore throat.  I'm drying the flowers and leaves for use in tea blends.

Calendula Flowers

The Calendula flowers dry nicely when flattened onto a drying rack.  I pick at least this many flowers every morning off just two plants.  I began the season with 4 Calendula plants this year.  They self seed, so I select 3-4 of the largest, most vital starts every spring, and weed out the others.  Two of them were scorched during our long, triple digit heat spell and several days of smoke from the fires in our area.  I pruned them back, but they are still lagging behind the other two.

If you have even a little patch of ground or a deck with room for a few good sized pots, spend the coming winter reading about herbs, and choosing one or two to grow in the spring. Herbs are very accommodating and generally not real fussy or difficult to grow.  But be aware, if Herbs choose you, you will be assimilated!  




Sunday, July 6, 2014

Garbling Oregano




Garbling herbs is hard on your hands, especially when the stems are rough and bumpy.  Nowadays I wear a clean pair of Atlas gloves while I clean off the stems.  


It makes it easier to roll the stems between your hands and makes the whole process more enjoyable.  Which is the point, right?  �� 


I was able to clean 2 bundles of dried Greek Oregano in under 10 minutes, without roughing up my hands.  Just sayin'...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pictograph Caves, Billings, Montana





Tom and I recently visited Billings, Montana on business, but we visited Pictograph Cave state park to squeeze a little fun into the trip too. Ten minutes away from the city you can enter a time machine that dates back several thousand years!


One of the caves has a paved  (fairly steep) path leading to it, with resting benches strategically placed.  Some of the caves can be accessed only by crude, overgrown dirt trails, also quite steep and frequented by snakes.  There are trails for every level of hiking ability.  


I am fascinated by all things archaeological.  If you are too, I hope you'll enjoy the photos below of artifacts under glass at the wonderful visitors interpretive center.


Pictograph Cave and surrounding caves were once home to prehistoric hunters and gatherers.  Though near the Crow Indian Reservation, many different Plains tribes may have occupied and/or used the caves for ceremonial purposes.  This site was the first major archaeological excavation on the Northern Plains, begun in 1937.  Over 30,000 artifacts were found, and some were judged to be over 9,000 years old!












I got goosebumps while standing inside the easily accessible cave, imagining people seeking spirit thousands of years ago in the very spot I was standing.  


The black charcoal dash marks were placed on the wall above by archeologists to show where the original cave floor stood prior to excavation.  The red pictograph grouping, barely visible on the rock wall above, is a drawing of a cluster of rifles, added about 200 years ago on top of older pictographs.  The guide in the visitors center suggested we think of the cave art as similar to current day graffiti.  Sometimes it was spiritual in origin, and other times merely a statement of ego.  That made a lot of sense. 


The Red Hematite paint is more visible at some times of the year than others, and fades in and out depending on the amount of moisture on the walls.  The photo I took (just  above) is at the same spot on the cave wall as the replicated painting, below, showing what the first people on the dig saw when excavation began.  A crude paint dauber was found during the dig, with the dried, red glop of paint on the end of it revealing its purpose.


Many medicinal plants grow throughout the meadow and along the trails.  It was so easy to visualize the cave occupants gathering their medicine and berries thousands of years ago.  White Sage is everywhere!  


If you find yourself near the Billings area, don't miss a visit to these caves!  They 
are just incredible...and free.