A Garden Nibble Walk

What fun to walk through one’s garden and see all the plants coming back to life! Those of you who love and grow herbs will totally understand what I’m about to share, that is, nibbling on fresh spring herbs.  My garden is large enough that I can enjoy a leisurely walk around the perimeter, admire the growing plants and take a few nibbles of the edible herbs. Let’s see what we have on the spring menu from photos I took yesterday:

If I’ve just eaten a meal, I like to start with rue, a bitter herb which aids in digestion. Chewing a fresh rue leaf is known to also relieve tension headaches and anxiety.  The name rue comes from the Greek meaning “to set free” and therefore its ancient reputation “to set free from disease.”

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How about a little hyssop nibble, another bitter herb which acts as a digestive stimulant. Hyssop can also act as a nervine to calm anxiety, but it is better known for its anti-viral actions, especially effective for respiratory infections.

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Lemon balm leaves are a tasty little “snack” while walking or working in the garden. Just like the name reveals, it has a lemony flavor.  Those of you who are familiar with essential oils probably have used Melissa essential oil, which comes from lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and is known to have a calming effect (nervine).  I like to make an herbal tea with fresh leaves or from those leaves I have dried.

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A whole kale leaf (or more) is almost a meal instead of a nibble! 🙂 The kale is doing well this spring in spite of being set back by by a hard freeze because “someone” forgot to close the lid to the cold frame.

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And what would a garden nibble walk be without a couple chickweed stalks? Considered a weed, this little plant is very tasty, especially picked fresh and placed in your favorite sandwich. Flowers, stems and leaves are all edible. I like to add chopped chickweed to our lettuce salads. Nice mild flavor.  Eat weeds? You betcha! Learn more about which weeds are edible from an expert, Green Deane, here

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So what’s for dessert?  Peppermint! Nothing like a fresh peppermint leaf at the end of a pleasant garden nibble walk. The peppermint patch is growing well so I should have plenty of leaves to make peppermint tea for my family and friends this summer.

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Thank you for coming along with me on a garden nibble walk. Even though you didn’t get to actually partake, maybe you will be inspired to plant some herbs and enjoy your very own fresh nibbles.  Blessings to you all.

 

Elderberry Syrup!

005A few years ago I planted two elderberry bushes in my garden; they have done very well. In the last 3 years the bushes have produced several gallons of elderberries.  So what to do with all the elderberries? From fresh berries I have made pies but my family doesn’t really like elderberry pie very much, so I froze most of the berries. I now have about two gallons in the freezer. Being inspired by Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe for elderberry syrup in her wonderful book Medicinal Herbs, I decided to make elderberry syrup!

What fun, how tasty and above all, very healthy for the immune system. So, yesterday I got out the needed ingredients: 4 cups frozen elderberries, local raw honey, fresh ginger root, and 1 tsp ground cloves

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There are any number of recipes for elderberry syrup to be found. You can omit ginger and cloves or you can add cinnamon. With my first batch I put in cinnamon and cloves. I love ginger and with my second batch I omitted the cinnamon but added more ginger as I really like the peppery flavor. It is very soothing to a sore throat.

In making elderberry syrup you can use fresh, frozen or dried berries. It all works out the same for a healthy concoction to boost your immune system. I like to take a tablespoon a day but others in my family only use it when getting sick. It also makes a nice pancake syrup, added flavor for tea, to sweeten and flavor a nice warm bowl of oatmeal.

Here is what I did:

  1. Placed the berries in a large stainless steel pot and added 1/8 cup of water. Simmered the berries for 30 minutes until nice and soft. Then poured the berries and leftover liquid into a large mesh sieve placed over a bowl. Mashed the berries for a few minutes to get out all the dark purple juice. Discarded the mashed berries into my compost collector.
  2.  Poured the juice back into the cooking pot and added 1 tsp. ground cloves and a 2 inch”finger”of grated fresh ginger. Simmered this mixture about 30 minutes until the liquid was about half of the amount I had poured in.
  3.  Poured the simmered mixture through a small mesh tea strainer to remove any stringy ginger into a glass measuring cup. This turned out to be 3/4 cup. Recipes tell you to add the same amount of honey to the final juice product, so I stirred in 3/4 cup and put the pot back on the unit to heat enough to combine the honey and juice.
  4.  Tried a spoonful and it was delicious, so poured the syrup into an amber-colored jar and placed it in the refrigerator.
  5.  Done! ……………….Except to clean up the mess! 😀

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Winter Break and Planning

After a long break from posting, I am back at least to say hello to everyone who reads my blog and hope you all are doing well.  My garden is at rest since fall.  Not much digging to do yet, but potatoes should be planted in March so I do have my pick axe and shovel ready.

Since I was blessed to make it to 70 years of age this January, I started thinking about how to make gardening easier for me, especially the digging and pick-axing part, so I rounded up eight empty feed tubs my daughter uses for her cattle. I drilled holes in the bottoms, put in a layer of small rocks and old wood pieces and will fill the rest with some organic garden soil.  Really looking forward to see how this works out and if I can make my containers produce healthy vegetables like you see in all those seed catalogs!

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As always, never giving up hope that this year will be a great year for an abundant vegetable harvest.  Haven’t had such a pleasure in several years, but this may be the one. Grasshopper plagues, drought, late killing frosts, and garden pests have really contributed to disappointments in gardening the last several years. But I will not give up. I really do appreciate all the people who can grow beautiful and healthy organic vegetables and I strive to be one of them. Learning how to do so never ends.

So what am I doing while awaiting the next planting time?  I’m enjoying looking at all the seed catalogs! What a fantastic array of vegetables God has created for our eating pleasure.  Getting orders ready for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Seeds from Italy.

Even in winter, the garden is a lovely place. I feed the birds there, take pictures of them, sit and read on warmer days, watch my little dogs play, and await every evening to see what kind of a sunset show there will be!

Blessings to you all.

The most common bird in my garden is the Mockingbird, Arkansas’s state bird. This one taken today as I was out with my 3 little dogs in the garden.

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A sunset show photo from last night over our pasture and round bales.

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Bluebirds and Brussels Sprouts

Two new things happened in the garden this spring!

Bluebirds made their home in the bluebird house which I had put up several years ago, but sparrows had always gotten in there first.  This spring bluebirds successfully nested in the house and are currently feeding their hungry little babies.  I’m hoping to get more photos of these lovely birds but here are two I got while watching them quietly from my chair under the nearby oak tree.

Mama bluebird bringing food to her babies.

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Done with feeding, now what? Probably going to get more food!

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The second new thing is a Brussels sprout plant is growing!

My husband and I love Brussels sprouts so I thought I’d try to grow some.  In the early fall 2015, I tucked a few seeds in the ground hoping they might grow, but doubting they would since I’d never grown them before and never have had any luck with cabbage family plants.  Amazingly one plant popped up and actually survived the winter temperatures and hard frosts.  As of today it is about 3 feet high! It is fun watching it grow and see where the little sprouts will appear.  It’s looking so good, I’m hoping we really get to eat some before any insects try to compete with us or spring storms crush the plant with high wind or hailstones.

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Have you ever seen a Brussels sprout plant flower? How pretty they are at the top of the plant now blooming.  Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferae or mustard family, so known because of a 4-part flower in the shape of a cross.

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Spring Garden Flower Show

 

What a grand welcome to spring with all the flowers which bloom in my garden. Here are the stars of this spring’s garden flower show!

Enter the lovely daffodils which were the first to grace the garden with their radiant colors.

 

Then came the tulips marching in with their stately beauty:

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Of course, the peach blossoms and apple blossoms must also share their glory:

 

The blueberry blossoms contribute to the beauty of spring as well.  Did you ever look closely at these lovely little blossoms?  What design!

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Kale blossoms! One lonely kale plant made it through the winter and has produced these bright yellow flowers.

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Do you recognize this beautiful blossom? Strawberry! The strawberry bed is full of these blossoms right now, so here’s hoping for a delicious strawberry harvest coming up.

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And last but not least, a sweet canine flower child, Bitsie.  She is one of my three little dogs who all love to go with “GrannieAppleseed” out into the garden wonderland.  Bitsie was found by one of my daughters out in one of our snow-covered pastures in February of 2011, very thin and very cold.  We never found out where she came from after trying for weeks to find an owner. No ID or chip. She was only about 4 months old and appears to be a Chihuahua/Dachshund mix.  She has been with me ever since and will remain so “until death do us part.”  One of her favorite spots in the garden is this little patch of clover where she loves to take a nap.

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A Garden Critter

Several days ago I finally found out what the little critter was that I saw scurry into a hole in one of the cement blocks that I have stacked in a corner of the garden.  As I have been digging in my garden this spring, every now and then I would hear some little creature scurry through the brush.  Once I even saw it briefly, a brownish blur.  Mouse? Young rabbit? Finally this week I got to see the little animal who has been nibbling at my rue plant near its hole.  It is a little meadow vole or meadow mouse.

Here it is nibbling on a blooming turnip plant I placed in front of its hole.

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This is the first time I’ve ever seen a meadow vole in my garden, so I had to read about voles and guess what?

I discovered that the impact of meadow moles upon their ecosystems can be quite significant.  Voles ingest a high rate of vegetable matter which stimulates its decomposition and nutrient release.  Their nutrient-rich fecal pellets then are widely dispersed throughout their habitats to the benefit of new and growing vegetation.  These little creatures consume a large number of plants classified as weeds, but of course I don’t know how I would ever train my vole(s) to help me weed my garden beds! 😊

So now when I walk around my garden I stop by the back corner and check on the vole to see if it’s out and about. I’ve left red clover leaves and lettuce at its front door and have seen it nibbling at my gifts.  Wouldn’t it be fun to make friends with a meadow vole!

I wish…………..

 

Happy Leap Day!

Walking through my garden this morning, I kept looking up at all the fascinating clouds in the sky. What an amazing day for clouds! The sky was full of swish and swirl clouds which floated across the blue providing plenty of opportunities for using up your camera’s battery! All kinds of graceful virga floated merrily overhead as well as other wispy cirrus forms decorated the blue sky.

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At our home, temps were in the upper 60’s under mostly sunny skies with a light breeze.  Dandelions are popping up everywhere.  I love these bright and cheery yellow flowers. And I don’t dig them up as weeds, unless of course I’m planning to use the flowers or leaves in a supper salad. Yes! You can eat dandelions.  All parts of them even.

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In my garden grass, the first crocus bloomed today as well.  What a joy to welcome these pretty little flowers which suddenly surprise us in the spring.

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And speaking of clouds again, there was one cloud that looked just like a dog leaping across the sky and another one which looked like a white tornado.  Both of these shapes came from virga cloud formations.  How fun to see cloud pictures in the sky!

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A Valentine Poinsettia

On St. Valentine’s Day my poinsettia is blooming!  Christmas 2014 our church had so many little poinsettia plants to decorate the altar, they were given away to those who wished to adopt one.  I didn’t expect mine to live very long as I’ve never raised a poinsettia before.  The plant did very well until spring and by then the bracts were all green.  I thought the plant might enjoy the great outdoors so I set it out in its pot right next to my St. Francis of Assisi statue in the garden.  Before the end of summer I needed to re-pot it as it had outgrown the little plastic container.  When the first frost was predicted I brought the plant indoors for the winter.  I read about how to get poinsettias to bloom for Christmas but I decided I didn’t want to bother with all that; I would just let my plant be natural and do whatever it wished. It remained vibrantly green until after Christmas and then slowly the bracts started turning red and they are now blooming gloriously on February 14.  When the weather gets appropriate for my dear friend, I will again place it outside in the garden.  I read that poinsettias can grow up to 8 feet tall. This one grew from less than a foot tall in December 2014 to now a little over 2 feet tall.  How tall will this one grow? Will I be able to carry it into the house for winter?  Such a fun problem to have.  We’ll see how long my poinsettia adventure continues.

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January Skies

Already a new year and the first month has nearly passed.  Things are quiet in the garden right now, resting until spring arrives which will arouse plants and countless living creatures to vibrant activity.  Seed catalogs are stacked up on my desk which I go through almost daily pondering over how many new vegetables and flowers I should plant this year.  Part of the fun of gardening is dreaming of the bountiful harvest which may or not come about, but one can always hope for the best crop ever.

In the meantime, the winter garden is still a comforting place in which to walk and especially to enjoy winter sunsets.  My three little dogs enjoy their garden time too, running and sniffing about while their mama watches the sky for interesting clouds and sunsets to photograph.

This evening there was a parhelion in the sky, formed from a jet streak which fanned out into cirrus.  This phenomenon is also called a sundog.  Have you ever seen one?

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Under January winter skies the cold frame has kept the lettuce and spinach growing and it is such a blessing to be able to pick some fresh lettuce and spinach for a supper salad. I just pick a few leaves and not uproot the whole plant, so it keeps on growing.  Imagine how fun it would be to have a walk-in greenhouse?!

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Thanksgiving in the Garden

005Thanksgiving Day in the garden held a pleasant surprise!  One of my blueberry plants boasted several blossoms! Quite unusual for blueberries in our region to attempt blossoms in late fall.  The variety is Emerald and the bush did produce some nice berries back in the summer.  Even the hard freeze we had a few nights ago didn’t deter its blossom power.  I doubt it will be able to develop berries with winter weather coming on, but who knows?  The other blueberry varieties I have are wearing their autumn attire.

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Our Thanksgiving Day weather is cloudy, breezy and warm, in the 60’s.  Weathermen say we’re in for some heavy rain, like several inches, over the next two days.  We will be thankful to get some rain.  Everything from grass to apple trees in the garden will welcome a life-giving rain.

Most garden flowers were killed off by the hard freeze the second week of November.  Only tansy, lavender and red clover are still producing some flowers but not as radiant or as many.  I’ve been covering some of my herb beds with Agribon frost blankets, trying to prolong hyssop, yarrow, winter savory, elecampane, sage and borage.   The cold frame is keeping lettuce and spinach fresh and growing.  Nothing like opening the lid and picking fresh greens for a salad!

The woodpeckers (yellow-bellied sapsuckers) who have come to the garden aren’t very happy that I wrapped burlap all around the trunks of the apple trees.  They love pecking holes and sucking out the sap.  The trees and I are thankful burlap protects their trunks from harm.

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I took the photo below in December of 2012. Almost overnight my apple trees had these mysterious holes and I wondered what had happened. I had never seen such damage on my apple trees.  Thankfully I got the trunks covered with burlap before the yellow-bellied sapsuckers ruined the five apple trees.  The birds usually come in November just in time for their Thanksgiving feast, but I stay ahead of them now with the burlap!

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It has been an enjoyable gardening season.  As always, some things grew  well and others didn’t, disappointments and joys, but what pleasure in planting seeds and watching things grow, digging in the dirt, spending time outdoors, admiring God’s amazing creation, and being thankful to Him for all his many blessings, like the beautiful sky shows we get to enjoy.  Here’s a photo at sunset I took looking west from the garden last week.

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