08 October 2016

My New Stack!t Herb Dryer

The gardens are still lush, pretty and producing. I hate to cut things back, but the season is winding down and it is time to start cutting the herb garden back and preserving the harvest. Some things like tarragon are just now starting to put on blooms, so I will leave them for a little while longer, but the garlic chive seed heads, bay leaf and lemon verbena need to be harvested now.

Both lemon verbena and bay leaf are tropicals and need to be brought inside before a cold snap takes them. The garlic chive seed heads need to be cut now so that I can let them dry in a place where they will not drop their seeds before I can collect them.

While I was at Prepper Camp this year I purchased a nifty net hanging food dryer. It is called a Stack!t. It is great for drying herbs and other leafy things that my Excaliber blows around too much. The net sides and shelves allow good air circulation, and the zippered access doors make it easy to add or remove one kind of herb while not disturbing the rest. But the best thing about the Stack!t is that it can be hung by either end. There are D-rings and hanging straps on both ends, so you can collapse the whole unit, herbs and all and invert it, then hang it again from the other end. This way you can turn the herbs without handling them. Love it!!The only drawback is that Skittles thinks it is a toy for her and she bats it around and scales the sides like she is rock climbing... (bad kitty...).

Since Hurricane Matthew was on its way, there was a potential for the winds and rain to ruin some of
my harvests, so I have been cutting things back and drying all week. Yesterday the breeze was high, but the air was dry, so I hung the Stack!t from the eave of the house and let the breeze help do the drying. I brought the dryer in before the rains started yesterday evening. Today the dryer is hanging in the sitting room, snug and dry out of the rain. The lemongrass blades are already dry, but the bay leaves and the garlic chive seed heads will still be drying for a few days.

All in all I am very happy with my purchase. It is great for herbs and other leafy things, but I wouldn't recommend it for wet things like apple slices since it is fabric and would absorb the liquid and become sticky. The Stack!t has a nice storage case that can be hung on a hook or on a hanger in the closet. But here at Heart's Ease Cottage the Stack!t will be employed full time drying my medicinal herbs and culinary herbs until the frost comes!

01 October 2016

A Sabbath Walk Around Heart's Ease Cottage

Sabbath is a lovely time to stroll through the gardens and soak in all that is going on there. The east side gardens have grown to rain forest proportions. I almost feel like I need to break out my machete to get past the lemongrass planters on the veranda, but in truth I wouldn't touch a thing.

 I love all the lush growth, the late season exuberance lifts my spirits and I try to spend as much time as I can out in the gardens. Before long frost will take all my flowers and I will have to hold on to the memory of their bright blooms all through the colorless cold months ahead. But for now I will soak it all in and enjoy. The tarragon is getting ready to bloom. The late season wild asters add an ethereal shade of blue to the back of the herb garden. Both the rosemary and bay laurel are reasserting themselves now that the Black Eyed Susan flower seed heads are being cut out.

             Soon it will be time to cut and dry the garlic chive seed heads so that I can save the seed.

   The night blooming jasmine has finished blooming for the year and has begun to climb the chimney. I will cut it back soon so that we don't catch the vines on fire when we start using the chimney for the year. The bay laurel, (left side in the background), is 5 feet tall. It is a tropical so I need to take it inside before the first frost. I will cut the top 3 feet of branches, harvest the bay leaves and dry them, that will leave me with a plant that I can take indoors. I will also divide the lemongrass, harvesting about half of it and cutting the rest back to a more manageable size, since it is also a tropical and will live indoors for the winter.

The espaliered Granny Smith Apple tree needs to be cut back for the season so that the new fruiting spurs develop close to the lateral branches.Our Turkey fig has completely blocked the path to the three month pantry, I have cut it back already but it just put out more growth and there are figs on the branches so I will wait until the figs are ripe to remove the offending branches. Until then I will just push my way through when I need to get to the pantry! Skittles is making sure she gets in a s many of the photos as possible...

  At this stage in the season, the summer vegetable garden is winding down, the tomatoes are mostly done and many of the beds have been cleared for the fall garden. Our volunteer pumpkin has be allowed to run amok on the empty beds while we get the seedlings going for the fall crops. I have harvested and cured many pumpkins already this year. Several have been cooked and frozen or dehydrated into pumpkin leathers. We have given some away and we still have some growing out in the garden. I guess it is a good thing we use a lot of pumpkin!

As the pumpkins begin to ripen I prop them on a pot to keep the roly polys from eating into the bottom of the pumpkins. Once the neck dries and the vines die back I will cut the stems and put them in a sheltered place with good air circulation to cure for a week or two so that they will keep for use during the winter. A the moment, the vines are still putting on flowers and growing more pumpkins, some of the later pumpkins will probably not get ripe before the frost, and eventually we will need to clear the beds so that we can put in the late fall garden, but for now I will leave them and hope they will finish off before I need to pull up the vines.

A pumpkin blossom decorates the comfrey plant. Da has made me permanent beds for my medicinal herbs so soon the comfrey plants will be moved to their permanent bed now that the weather is cool enough for transplanting.

A dew covered Black Swallowtail caterpillar is munching away on the parsley. I plant about 50 parsley plants every year so that there is enough for juicing and for sharing with the butterfly caterpillars. I do have to inspect the parsley I harvest for juicing very carefully, so I don't end up running caterpillars through the juicer.

Well, Skittles and I wish you well and thank you for coming to stroll the gardens with us! Have a great day!

16 March 2016

It's Not Too Late for a Spring Garden

Our normal gardening schedule was completely thrown off when we had to move out of the house and take up residence in the garden, due to black mold that was caused by water damage in the kitchen. With all the tasks that come with a major construction project,  Much to my dismay,  I did not have the time or the brain cells to plan and plant a garden. So we did not have our fall garden or an early winter garden, late winter garden or an early spring garden to speak of... just the stalwart chard and kale plants that have been growing continuously for the last 3 years, (I will write a post about them another time). But if I have anything to do with it, I will have a spring garden!

We have some seedlings growing under lights, for the rest I swallowed deep and bought seedlings for plants I knew there would not be time to grow from seed, (we normally grow almost all of our plants from seed under lights in our walk-in closet). Since we depend on the green leafy veggies like kale and chard for juicing, they have first dibs on the seed starting shelves. Tomorrow I will take the kale seedlings out from under lights, re-pot them and set them out on the deck to grow another week or two before we plant them out in the garden. Then I will be able to squeeze in a few flats of lettuce and oriental greens before I have to turn the growing shelves over to the tomatoes and peppers that must be started soon if I want them to be transplant size by late April/ early May.

Normally by this time of year my cabbages are the size of my head and I am gearing up to ferment sauerkraut, (we ferment rather than pickle sauerkraut), and dehydrate cabbage for use later. But this year I am just now getting my seedlings set out. I am not really worried though, it is not too late for a spring garden, I just had to select varieties that mature early, so that they will be ready to harvest and the beds will be empty when it is time to plant out the warm weather crops in May.

Most years I plant Dutch Flat cabbages for sauerkraut and Jersey Wakefield and January King for fresh eating and dehydrating. The Dutch Flat cabbage, makes on average a 12 pound head, takes 90-105 days to mature and likes to spread out so they need a 36" spacing between plants. This year since I need a short season variety, I am planting Stonehead, a medium 3-4 lb. dense cabbage, that matures in 50 days. They can be planted about 20" apart so I can just have one bed of cabbages, and if they are a little late finishing off, I will still have room in other beds to get my warm weather crops in the ground. I will miss my dutch flat cabbages though, you can make a lot of kraut with a 12 pound cabbage!

It was perfect gardening weather yesterday. It was slightly overcast, there was a nice breeze and it was about 75 degrees. I got several flats of seeds planted and got my cabbage plants in the ground.
When planting out cabbages, I use a technique that I learned in 1978 from John Seymour's book , The Self-Sufficient Gardener , (see my review of this book here). I make up a bucket of thin mud and add a handful or two of pulverized garden lime, (not the pelletized kind that you lime the lawn with), and stir it up well. Then when I have the hole dug and the my home made organic fertilizer at the bottom of the hole, I dip the root ball of the cabbage plant in the lime/mud slurry. put the plant in the hole. It is important that cabbage roots are in good contact with the soil so I press down firmly around the base of the plants until there is a depression all around the stem of the cabbage.

I use the mud /lime slurry for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that cabbages appreciate a little extra lime since they grow best with soil ph between 6.5 and 7.5. The second and probably most important reason is that the higher ph will deter club root, a disease that not only damages your cabbages, but also will infect the soil and will continue to be a problem for years to come. We use this technique every year as well as rotating our crops so that disease and pests don't have a chance to build up in the soil.

Once the cabbages are in the ground, I water them deeply and then scatter an organic slug bait round the plants. I use Gardens Alive, Escar-Go! It is very effective and will not harm pets or beneficials. I spotted a cabbage looper moth while I was planting the cabbages so it is time to break out the butterfly net and once the cabbages have a chance to settle in I will spray them with BT (bacillus thuringiensis, known by label as Dipel, I can usually find it at Lowe's but if not just follow the link). It is an organic biological pesticide, that will take care of any caterpillars that may pop up on the cabbages and kale. Bt is really great! It won't harm pets or flying beneficials, (although it will kill butterfly caterpillars if you spray it on plants that they feed on like dill, and parsley, but I don't spray anything but the cabbages and blue kale, so my butterfly caterpillars are safe, but look out cabbage looper moth caterpillars!). About 50 days from now we will have lots of cabbages to make into tasty, healthy, naturally fermented sauerkraut... Yum!

Skittles our little rescue kitty is "helping" me with my garden chores.

Tomorrow I will be transplanting seedlings, starting more seeds and planting some herbs that I bought today. It has been lovely weather so I am looking forward to being outside! Have a great day!

**Oh and just an note... any words that are this blue color in a post are links to either more information, where to buy something or another post that I have written on the subject. So be sure to go back and follow the links when you are finished reading the post!

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