Wednesday, July 30, 2008

QAL Jelly

After last week's post about fragrance-flavored jellies and jam, I went outdoors to weed the flower border. As I was pulling Queen Anne's Lace, which is having a banner year, a lightbulb over my head lit.

Didn't I buy a little jar of QAL jelly from our speaker at the herb symposium this spring? Don't I know how to make jelly, and here was the very flower I'd admired in jelly on its way to the compost pile. Shame!

Nice jelly, made my easy-peasy way (as in last week's post) with apple jelly. But I do think the apple is a little too flavorful for the delicate taste of the QAL.
Next batch I'll have to try the more work method.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

making cement leaves with friends

The ladies of the Genesee County Herb Society met in Joyce's garage for our meeting. Joyce and Diane taught us how to make cement leaves! We also took a tour of Joyce's beautiful gardens and home and shared a salad supper. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I took photos of the process so I could recall how to make more, but you would have really enjoyed photos of Joyce's home and garden, OMG! But somehow I would have felt strange blogging about someone else's stuff, maybe a little intrusive with the camera. I wouldn't make a good paparazzi.

We took our mud pies home to let them dry for 24 hours before finishing them, and here is what I ended up with:

Painted Lady

Found the caterpillar ruining my 'curry plant' so I brought him indoors to control the feeding.

I put him in Kayla's cute little dollar store bug hotel, and fed him selected prunings from my curry plant.

He ate and pooped, ate and pooped, and after about three days he climbed the net side of the bug hotel, attached, and made the J shape characteristic of a caterpillar planning to pupate into a chrysalis covered pupa. (I looked that up in my Peterson First Guides - Caterpillars field guide, pictured above.)

In about a week he should, if all is well, hatch into an American Painted Lady butterfly and I'll let him fly...
No big deal, but a quiet kind of nature-y fun.

Garlic harvest 2008

I'm down to my last three bulbs of garlic from last year's crop, and they are wizened up, shrunken, dry, rubbery and sprouting.

But I don't have to deal with them, because my fresh garlic is in. Yee ha.

I shoulda harvested my garlic before that four and a half inches of rain fell. But luckily I planted three varieties, and two made out exceedingly well. The third will need to be used up first, because it split upon curing.
The 'splitters' are in the box on the floor. (The shallots on the top look nice this year as well.)

The two varieties that were so good this year have the biggest cloves I've ever seen. I can only assume they loved 1. being planted very early in the fall, 2. in well dug compost and steer manure amended garden soil. And whatever weird weather we've had this year must have suited them to a tee.

The third variety, the splitters, were nice sized, but nothing too unusual. Except for the splitting. I'll save the best cloves out and replant along with the best of my other varieties. Who knows what the weather will do next year... those might be the wonder garlic next year.

I've read that a large majority of the garlic in grocery stores is shipped all the way from China.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Paper or plastic? How about neither!

My positively green friend Holly sent me this link, and I went right out and put a couple of reuseable totes in my car. Here's her message:

Plastic Bags
(Once in the slideshow, use the bar on the right side of the screen to scroll through the slideshow.)
It IS a fantastic slideshow! Check it out. I avoid plastic anything like the plague. Reusable shopping bags are so easy to use if you always keep them in the car. Thanks for passing this email on to others.

"To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival."
- Wendell Berry

Easy-Peasy Fragrance Flavored Jams and Jellies

I admit it, I'm pretty lazy!
Today I finally got around to sending this message I'd promised to my herb garden volunteers on Tuesday, and the thought occurred to post it here ... two birds with one stone?
So here it is:

Hi everyone,
I looked everywhere for a recipe in a handy file to cut and paste! This is as close as I came to the recipe I used for the Rose Petal Jam you sampled on Monday, from Phyllis V. Shaudys' Herbal Treasures (Storey Books). Phyllis Shaudys attributes the recipe to Euell Gibbons in his classic Stalking the Healthful Herbs.
Remember, the best smelling roses are also the best flavored roses!

Rose Petal Jam
Copied from "eat them roses"

Mother Earth News
March/April 1971

"Roses offer another bonus because besides being beautiful: You can eat them and there are few things more delightfully different—or easier to make—than Rose Petal Jam. Since you do not cook the petals you faithfully capture all the flavor, fragrance and color of the fresh roses . . . and serving this jam has added immeasurably to my reputation as a cook!

"Here's how: Simply take your freshly opened roses—any color—grasp as many petals as you can, hold them between your finger and thumb and snip the white bases (which are bitter) from all of them at once with a pair of scissors.

Blend one cup of petals in a blender with 3/4 cup water and the juice of one lemon. Blend until smooth, gradually adding 2-1/2 cups of sugar and keeping the blender running until all sugar is dissolved. Reserve.

Now stir one package of powdered pectin (Sure-Jel) into 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

Pour the pectin into the rose-sugar mixture and continue slowly running the blender until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Pour into jars, cool, seal and refrigerate. This may also be frozen and is wonderful on muffins or hot biscuits some cold winter day when the sky is overcast and you are longing for a bit of bright June sunshine."

I like her writing, don't you?
Anyway, finding the Scented Geranium jelly recipe was easier. I hand this one out when I teach a class:

Easy Herb Jellies
(Not Recommended as an activity for children.)

Scented Geranium Jelly
1 18-ounce jar apple jelly
about 2 cups fresh scented geranium leaves

1. Remove lid from jelly jar. Microwave jelly one minute at a time, on High, just to melt , not boil (3-4 minutes total). NOTE: Please be careful, the jelly is hot (!) and the label of the bottle can become loosened, leading to slippage.)

2. Put leaves in 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup, reserving the four most decorative leaves for later. Place those four leaves in four small jelly glasses.

3. Pour hot jelly over leaves in measuring cup. Let stand a few minutes to cool, and to infuse the fragrant essential oil into the jelly.

4. When jelly appears to be starting to reset, remove the wilted leaves with a fork. Pour jelly over leaf in each jar, adjusting its position with a toothpick. Cap the jars and refrigerate.

(Note: I recently began to skip heating the jelly in the jar and just melting it right in the measuring cup. Easier. And you can also strain the leaves in step 4 using a messier but quick method of pouring through a metal strainer.)

Lavender Marmalade

Made in a similar fashion, using marmalade and culinary quality lavender buds.
Instead of the double infusion, simply add the melted marmalade to 2-4 teaspoons of lavender buds, and pour into the jars without removing the herbage.

Rose Petal Jelly

Also made in a similar fashion to the scented geranium recipe.
For the best color and taste, use your darkest, most fragrant rose petals.
And for food safety, only use roses you are sure were grown without pesticides.

For rose petal jelly, gather a colander full of rose petals in the morning as soon as the dew is dried.
Pour the hot jelly over 2 cups of petals in the measuring cup, then add more petals. They melt down instantly. When the jelly starts to reset, strain out the petals through a metal sieve. Pour the jelly into jelly jars, cap and refrigerate.

Note: Try your own combinations! I’ve made Lavender jelly with good results, adding a purple blush with the addition of a spoonful of grape jelly. Strain the buds out of that one. Mint makes a nice jelly. But my experiments with Pineapple Sage in grape jelly was not a hit. Be prepared for some comments from the family.

I should add this caveat that I talked about during our conversation: it's great to experiment, but be sure to confirm with a reliable resource that the herb or edible flower you are using in your recipe is, indeed, edible.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


While I was on vacation last week, both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Senator Obama for president.
And I also missed seeing Al Gore when he called on us to get 100% of our electricity from cheap, clean sources within 10 years.

I just signed a petition to support Al Gore's ambitious challenge. Together, we'll urge Barack Obama, Once-ler McCain, and our do nothing Congress to get on board.

Can you join me? Just click here:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

a morning at the CSA farm, part 2

Some closeup shots below of the CSA farm veggies, via Bonnie. The deep red lettuce is a stunningly beautiful variety called 'Merlot' - I'm sure we can Google a seed source because I can't recall where Pat said she got her seeds. She is careful to buy her seeds from organic sources.
We're only on week 2 of our 20-week season. Hard to believe, when the solstice is already past we are only just beginning to enjoy the harvest, but that's how it is in Michigan.
We just ate the last of our Michigan strawberries - full flavored, sweet and red all the way through, as only a fully ripe strawberry can be. Ripe berries don't travel well, and folks who buy strawberries in the grocery store probably think strawberries really taste like juicy cardboard.
The tart cherries are beginning to come in, and my tree didn't produce this year, so I'll have to find a local orchard in the newspaper and make a visit.

A morning at the CSA farm

I brought my camera to the Whetham Organic CSA Farm to get some colorful shots for the blog, but my friend Bonnie had hers too, and she promised to send me some photos to share with y'all. Thanks, Bonnie!

You know you're on a farm when you see the implements along the road out back.

Salad, mmmm!

These are some of the cole crops, the potatoes and pea plots from a distance.

The peas and potatoes up closer:

A farm hand, mulching the potatoes...

Pat herself, queen of the peas ... Actually, she's instructing the organic gardening class right out in the field.

A look back to the house... it's so quiet and peaceful back in Pat's garden, makes you want to stay for a while.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday - Liberty Tea

When the Sons of Liberty dumped the damned taxed British tea into Boston Harbor, their wives back home were forced to come up with something else for their morning pick me up beverage. Ceanothus americanus, commonly known as Liberty Tea or New Jersey Tea filled the bill.

A small shrubby native plant that was free for the picking, Liberty Tea tastes something like Chinese tea, Thea sinensis, when dried and brewed. It is caffeine free, unfortunately, but on the positive side it was thought to relieve typical respiratory, throat and mouth problems.

We grow this pretty butterfly attracting shrub in the tea herb garden bed at the extension, and amusingly, it blooms for the Fourth of July here in Michigan.

Share this plant by cuttings, layering or occasional volunteer seedlings.

Join Green Thumb Sunday
Gardeners, Plant and Nature Lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Our Garden Tour Site and a little story

The demonstration 'backyard herb garden' project at the county extension is automatically included on the Master Gardener Association garden tour every year. That is because, along with the very cool children's garden, and the turfgrass plots, and the hosta and daylily demonstration gardens, and the very nice "landscape" around the building, the extension is also one of the familiar places where people can purchase their tickets on the day of the tour.

I stick around all day in the garden to greet people and answer questions about herbs, but the leadup to tour day was very instructive to me about the kindness and dedication of our volunteers.

I crawled to my computer the Monday morning before the tour to email my volunteers that I had caught a pretty awful virus and couldn't make it to our scheduled work day. Sharron called Tuesday to tell me that she and four other volunteer workers showed up ANYWAY, to get the garden shaped up, and they worked three hours!
I can't tell you how gratifying it was to me to hear that!
When four more volunteers and I went to the garden for the Saturday work bee to finish up the last minute sprucing up work, there wasn't much of anything left to do!
What a nice bunch of people!

Here follows our small contribution to The Tour:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Back for some worm talk

... or to be more precise, some wormy photo blogging.

Yes, I'm still alive, but it does feel like a year since my last blog entry rather than a mere month. But what a long strange month it has been. So I'll have a few things to talk about - no Blogger Block here! Where to start?
I came home from my nephew's lovely wedding in paradise (a.k.a. the Traverse City area of our fair state of Michigan) over Memorial Day weekend to a jammed up and acting badly computer. Have you ever heard of a warped motherboard? Me neither.

After my I.T. guy got around to fixing Mom's 'puter (he is going to school and has a business to run and a family to attend to) I was pretty much weaned from daily blogging, but hey! it was JUNE! I have a GARDEN! And mostly, Blogger was giving me some issues about, let us say, "ease of logging in" so I said to heck with it all.

But I took some cool photos up on the Mission Peninsula when I was there, and the garden tour on Sunday and my project 'Demonstration Backyard Herb Garden' at the Extension deserves some mention, and the flowers in my yard have been having a field day, and this morning I got a load of pics in my e-mailbox of Pat Whetham's organic CSA farm from a pal, Bonnie, and this afternoon I finally renovated my worm bin... Lots to think about so I think it'll be a while until you can get me to quit talkin'!

So let's talk worms.
My worm bin that I made last summer, and documented in this cheezy video*, survived the winter in an ultra cold garage! When I discovered tiny whitish baby worms in there in the spring did I dance the happy dance!

(*3,224 views isn't bad for such a cheezy video though!)

Everything I've read says worms in containers tend to die off at certain temperatures, freezing being extremely harmful to their watery little bodies.
But my garage - that usually is protective enough to overwinter containers of zone 6 and 7 lavenders, salvias and other potted treasures - was registering in the teens and twenties for almost a month in the dead of winter and I held little hope. The temps killed my potted plants that usually overwinter, so why did the worms survive?

Maybe because my bin had been working since summer and had a lot of mass? I don't know.
Anyhow, today I stayed home from all my gallivanting around, and dumped the bin out on a tarp in the garage, determined to separate the worms from their castings and give them a new lease on life with a whole bowlful of fresh local strawberry trimmings. Lucky worms!
Here below is my photo essay:

Dumped the bin

Large mass of upended castings, very damp but not dripping. Worms immediately headed for the new bottom of the pile. That wooden thing is the framed screen that fits in the bottom of the bin.

Caught a slowpoke before he disappeared.

Here I replaced the screen in the bottom of the bin and added new bedding: shredded, dampened Flint Journal. About the size of a Sunday newspaper, less the ads. Don't want to fill up the bin, just have a nice damp place for the guys to rest.

This is the money shot: see the tiny worm next to the big guys? a good depiction of the various sizes of worms in a bin.

I gleaned two good pails of nice castings. A little rough with eggshells, but those don't bother me. Professional vermiculture operations screen the peach pits, pumpkin stems, small sticks and other chunks out I assume. I just pulled them out as I saw them, and kept the majority of my worms to replenish the bin.

Brown gold!