Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Home News Newsletters September 2016 E-Newsletter
September 2016 E-Newsletter Print E-mail

September E-Newsletter 2016

It’s been a fun month with a majority of gorgeous days and peaceful nights with cricket serenades.  The top photo is of Miz Callie, at “Life on the Prairie,” explaining how the early pioneers in Indiana used plants.  It was such a fun experience. 

This photo is of the pioneer garden, planted by our local garden club, Trowel & Error.  And, I also spent one Saturday morning as a vendor at our local Farmers’ Market, which brought back lots of memories of my years at Bloomington Market.  
     There’s no doubt that it’s officially autumn.  Every breeze brings a shower of golden leaves from the black walnut trees in the front lawn.  Flocks of birds are gathering in preparation for the long journey south.  The butterflies are disappearing; the harvest from the potager is dwindling.  Sadly, the major gardening season is coming to an end, but I’m enjoying decorating for fall and planting mums.

National Honey Month
     September is National Honey Month.  Everyone has certainly heard that the honeybee is in crisis.  It’s a difficult time for not only the bees, but all the beekeepers as well.  They have watched their bees destroyed, and seen their incomes dwindle.  The cost of replacement queens and bees has skyrocketed.  Thieves are stealing entire hives, weather conditions, and imported inferior honey (often adulterated or thinned with corn syrup) sold in discount stores at cheap prices continue to be a challenge.  Without beekeepers, we would have very few honeybees, so support them, especially the ones in your area.
     Since over 80% of our food supply relies on bee pollination, I encourage all of you to buy local honey.  Not only is it a healthier option, since research shows that consuming local honey aids in allergy reduction and other health benefits, but it encourages local beekeepers to continue with their demanding, and often expensive operation.  

A Visit to Matter Park
     There are only 7 Proven Winner Signature Gardens in the entire nation, and one of them is right here in Indiana.  Matter Park in Marion, IN has received this distinctive honor, thanks to the intense efforts of their mayor, the park’s horticultural director, the community, and the local garden club.
     To achieve this designation, properties must demonstrate a strict set of criteria, including horticultural expertise, horticultural commitment, and a commitment to a quality landscape presentation.  Proven Winners licensed growers supply the plants.

     The other Proven Winners Signature Gardens are much larger, and heavily funded, such as the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens in New York, the Hotel Iroquois on Mackinac Island, the Grand Tradition Estate & Gardens in Fallbrook, CA, the Governor's Mansions in Kentucky and Illinois, and Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester, MI.
Matter Park has been a city-owned public park for over 100 years.  In 2008, the city decided to convert 6.3 of the 110 acres located along the Missisinewa River into a special area for horticultural beauty.  There are walking trails, various gardens, water features, statuary, and a Garden House. 

A gazebo surrounded by flowers and flowering shrubs is often chosen for weddings or wedding photographs.  There are many educational events held in the gardens as well, with topics ranging from birds, bats, bees, gardening, and related crafts and activities.  Concerts are also held in the gardens.

     The garden is divided into various areas.  One of the main features is a very large Butterfly Garden, containing dozens of varieties of pollinator-attracting plants such as milkweeds, coneflowers, liatris, and more.  There are informative posters to identify which butterflies are attracted to which plants.  Plants that produce nectar for adult butterflies, as well as host plants to feed caterpillars are included. 

To interest children in gardening, the “Pizza Garden” contains colorful peppers, tomatoes, and herbs, surrounded by colorful fiesta colors.  Paths encourage visitors to wander around islands of perennials and flowering shrubs, under flower-laden pergolas, and along ponds filled with fish.  

     Throughout the garden, charming statues of children at play provide interest and there are comfortable benches for relaxing and enjoying the view of the extensive plantings.

Herb To Know:  Lemon Verbena
     Frost is just around the corner, so it’s time to take a few precautions for the plants we intend to move indoors for the winter.  This is especially true of the wonderful lemon verbena.  Decades ago, I became enchanted with this special herb (Aloysiatriphylla) while caught up in the book Gone With the Wind.  Scarlett’s mother, Ellen, the epitome of a southern lady, always moved through a room with the scent of lemon verbena wafting from the folds of her skirts.  I had never encountered lemon verbena, but from that moment I wanted it.  Once I experienced its lovely fragrance and realized how useful it was, I’ve never been without it.
     Lemon verbena has long been cherished for its excellent scent and flavor, which are found in its long, pointed leaves.  At home in Zone 7 and southward, it will quickly grow into a shrub of ten feet.  Its tiny white blooms are almost insignificant, appearing in stiff clusters at the end of the branches.  It is an important cultivated crop in tropical areas.  The leaves are distilled to produce an essential oil that is used in perfumes, cosmetics, and home care products.  In Zone 6 or above it is grown as a potted plant indoors during cold months where it prefers temperatures above sixty degrees.
     So, before frost threatens, move lemon verbena plants to a protected area.  Hopefully, you’ve kept the plant in a pot, but if it was planted in the ground, you might try to dig it and pot it, but this is usually pretty tricky.  Keep in mind that the plants roots extend into as much area underground as it has above ground.  It is pretty improbable that you will be able to dig all the roots, but try to dig as large a root ballas you can.  Pot it and move it into a sunny area that is protected from wind for a few days to let it settle.  Give it a good washing with insecticidal soap, being sure to get the undersides of the leaves.  Allow it to dry for a day.  Trim off about 1/3 of the plant.  Be sure to rinse the insecticidal soap from the trimmed leaves so you can use them in teas, jellies, etc.  Then, I put a clean sheet under the pot, because lemon verbena is a finicky plant.  It is likely that it will pout and drop all its leaves.  If this happens, it will be easy to collect them from the sheet. The bare branches may look dead for several weeks, or even months, but eventually the plant will burst into life and develop new leaves.  I leave it outdoors as long as possible, but when frost is predicted, move it indoors to a sunny location.
Keep a watchful eye for spider mites and whiteflies, both of which love to winter and feast upon the plants.  A frequent spraying of insecticidal soap with garlic will help keep them in check.   Harvesting the tips for tea over the winter will help keep the plant from getting too leggy.
 Next spring, when danger of frost is past, move the plant back outdoors.  Sinking the pot into the ground helps prevent the plant from blowing over on windy days and drying out in the summer heat.  The soil should be kept moist.  With occasional fertilizing, the plant will grow quickly during warm summer days.  
     The leaves, fresh or dried, are excellent in tea.  It combines well with clover blossoms and mint for a cheering drink in winter, and helps soothe the symptoms of a cold.  The leaves are too tough to eat, so to get the flavor, steep them in whatever liquid is used in a recipe.  Or remove the tough midrib and dry the leaves, which can be ground into a powder and added to baked goods, puddings, or other desserts.
  Lemon verbena sorbet is a luscious summer treat, and putting sprigs of lemon verbena in drinking water is a classic.Lemon verbena jelly is lovely, and is especially good to top shortbread cookies or scones.  It is also good with poultry.  It is the main reason I go to the effort to bring a large plant indoors each winter.  Here’s the recipe I use, from Emilie Tolley’s “Herbs.”  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.  Its lovely photos and articles have converted many, many people to become herb lovers.
Lemon Verbena Jelly
Put 2 c. torn lemon verbena leaves into a medium bowl.  Pour 2 ½ c. boiling water over the leaves, cover, and let stand for 15 minutes.  Strain and measure 2 c. of the infusion into a heavy, large saucepan.
     Add ¼ c. cider vinegar and 4 ½ c. sugar, mixing well.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  Stir in 1 envelope pectin (or 3 oz. liquid pectin) and bring to a full, rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 min, stirring constantly.  Pour into sterilized jars and seal.  Makes 2 ½ c. jelly.

Stuffed Portabella
This can be varied, using whatever vegetables are still in the garden, at the farmers’ market, or your family’s preference.  
In a zip-lock bag, mix 2 T. olive oil, 1 T. balsamic vinegar, and about ½ c. finely chopped herbs of your choice. (I used garlic chives, basil, oregano, parsley, a bit of mint, a minced clove of garlic)  Add ½ tsp. salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Seal and shake to mix well.  Then add about 3 c. of vegetables, sliced horizontally for grilling. (Zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes sliced ½” thick; red bell peppers quartered and seeded)  Add to bag and allow vegetables to marinate for 2-4 hours.  Brush grill lightly with oil.  Remove vegetables, reserving any liquid & herbs left in the bag.  Grill 3 min. per side.  Set aside to cool slightly.
     Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick oil, or olive oil.  Remove the stems from 6 portabella mushrooms.  Place mushrooms tops-down on the baking sheet.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
     Finely chop mushroom stems.  Add 1 c. bread crumbs; 1 c. grated mozzarella cheese and stir.  Chop the vegetables and add to mix, along with any liquid left in the marinating bag.  Spoon mixture evenly into mushroom caps, pressing lightly.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake at  350 degrees for 15 min. or until mushrooms have shrunk slightly and cheese topping is lightly browned.  6 servings.

Enjoy these last few pre-frost days in the garden.  The flowers are brilliant now, in an attempt to attract the last of the pollinators, and soon it will be time for trips to apple orchards and pumpkin patches.  Until next month,

Herbal blessings, Carolee