Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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



 December E-Newsletter 2016

     It’s hard to believe that another year is already coming to a close and that this will be the final newsletter for 2016.  How did the last twelve months disappear so quickly?  2016 was filled with adjustments.  After 40 years of running a business, it was difficult to switch gears.  My mind still felt compelled to create workshop topics, special events, and large-scale planting schedules.  However, now I am enjoying work on a smaller scale in my new gardens, spending more time with family, reading, and preserving the harvest.

Indiana Hort Congress:  Jan. 10-12
     The 2017 Hort Congress and Trade Show will be held at the Marriott East in Indy.  This show is a must for anyone who is in the hort trade, produces fruits, veggies, wines or foods for the public, and is interested in agri-tourism, on-farm direct sales, or farmers ’ markets.
Five differing tracts, including 50 speakers, offer information and training for all growers and marketers.  Tuesdays tracts are:  “Succession Planning and Finance,” “Food Safety,” “Fruit,” “Organics,” and “Controlled Environmental Agriculture.”Wednesdays topics are:  “Merchandising and Signage,” “Fresh Vegetables,” “Fruit,” “Wine Grape,” “Raw Products,” with an added afternoon tract of “Organics.”  Thursday is “Marketing for Success,” “Food Safety,” “Fresh Vegetable High Tunnels,” “Fruit,” “Organics,” and “Wine Grape.”  There are evening round-table discussions, a silent auction, cider contest, banquets, special luncheons and meetings of the Indiana Winery & Vineyard Assoc., Indiana Farm Market Assoc., Indiana Vegetable Growers Assoc., and the Indiana Horticultural Society.  
     The Trade Show includes everything from growing supplies, soils and supplements, packaging sources, wholesale products, irrigation suppliers, seed and plant sources, specialized large-scale planting and harvest equipment, seasonal labor info, and lots more.  For detailed info go to or phone 317-322-3716.  Registration desk opens Tuesday at 7:30 am, and one-day or full registrations are available.  Walk-ins are welcome.

Philly Flower Show:  March 11-19
     With winter upon us, most gardeners are already longing for spring.  What better way to satisfy that craving than a quick trip to Holland’s lovely tulip gardens via the marvelous Philadelphia Flower Show.Since 1829, this show has been the premier horticultural event in the U.S.  This year will feature the “Beauty of Holland” with windmills, wooden shoes and gardens galore.   Stroll through small, private gardens and luxurious large plantings.   See the newest in bulbs and other plants.  The live Butterfly Garden, gorgeous Flower Market, and plant judging areas are wonderful.  An expansive market area filled with hundreds of booths featuring plants, gardening décor, supplies, seeds, and lots more begs to be explored at leisure.  When one is tired of walking, attend one of the dozens of sessions given by nationally known speakers to learn more about gardening techniques, new plants, landscaping, cooking, floral arranging, and more.  There is a café on-site and garden-related shops.  I always plan to spend two full days at the show, and if possible, avoid weekends when the crowds are shoulder-to-shoulder and make really seeing, let alone photographing the gardens difficult.  Make plans early if you want hotels within walking distance of the venue.  For more information, go to

A Quick Trip to Tucson

     Just as the below zero temps hit Indiana, we escaped to the milder climate of Arizona, where the flowers still bloom and the sun nearly always shines.  It was lovely to see flower beds and palm trees.


  Most of the time was spent with our family, but we did go out for dinner at famous “Pinnacle Peaks,” located in a western “village” complete with shops, a small amusement park, cafes, and a mercantile store.  While waiting for seating at the restaurant, we enjoyed seeing this antique covered wagon and the display of John Wayne’s suit worn in “Big Jake.”


  The guys went to the huge Air Museum one afternoon, and we visited the gorgeous garden center described next!  

Mesquite Valley Growers: Tucson, AZ
     It was a delight to find in this age of internet and big box stores that an independent, family-owned garden center is not only thriving, but expanding.  I’ve raved about Mesquite Valley, an award-winning nursery, many times before.  Their customer service, varied and amount of inventory, and plant quality are amazing, and I am surprised each visit that they just get better and better.

  It was a delight to see all the plants in bloom, like these pansies, primulas, cyclamen, and snap dragrons.

     It was obvious that MVG is leading the hot “Edible Gardening” trend, with expanded areas of veggies like the pots of snow peas and leafy greens below.

There were rows of berry bushes and grape vines, all selected for the local climate.  They always have a great selection of herbs, from the common cooking herbs to the more difficult to find herbs, like milk thistle.

     The addition of three huge greenhouses and an expansive new retail area will double the production and shop areas, plus add a “Garden of Eatin’ Café,” new restrooms and display areas.  This should be completed soon, and then a re-do of all the existing tropical plant areas, existing shop areas, and check-out areas will begin.
     In addition to being the Tucson area’s best garden center, MVG is also a cat-adoption center, caring for, paying for neutering, and finding homes for over 50 felines each year.  On my visit, these animals featured on the wall were ready for adoption.

     The displays at MVG are always eye-catching, like this huge turtle statue and colorful pottery, and this group of artisan metal goats.

     I like displays that make me smile, like these:   

and meaningful signs: 

     The second sign is displayed with watering cans, hoses, nozzles, and a cooler of free bottles of water for thirsty customers.  I could spend hours wandering through the trees, shrubs, cacti, and flowers.  There are greenhouses filled with rose bushes, tropical plants and berry bushes.  If you visit the Tucson area, do visit Mesquite Valley Growers.  You won’t be disappointed.

Winter chores:
     With little to do outdoors, now is a good time to read through last season’s garden journal (I DO hope you keep one; they are invaluable to improving your gardens and skills, and to avoid repeating mistakes!) and make a list of crops you want to increase in number (like the red cherry peppers below and more carrots for late harvest) or things you wished you’d done (like put a support ring around the new peony or cut back the mums earlier) or refine your planting schedule (in my case, move the Minnesota Midget melons earlier, and move the fall plantings up a week.)
     It’s also a good time to take a walk around all the gardens, looking for fences that need to be repaired, supports that need to be added or replaced, plants that may have heaved up during that last really cold spell, or mulch that may have been washed away during the heavy rain last week.  Keep the gardens tidy, so that when those first bulbs push through the soil you can enjoy their beauty without the competition of toppled brown stalks of perennials.
Speaking of bulbs, stock up on deer and rabbit repellents now so at the first sign of damage, spraying can begin.  Nothing is sadder than having the bulbs you planted so carefully last fall being devoured before they have a chance to bloom!
It may be a good time to build a cold frame, or make hoops for covering early spring crops, or to read about berry growing, or clean the greenhouse, or sterilize seeding flats.  Set-up seed starting areas early, and bring a bag of soil inside so it will be thawed and ready to use when you are ready to seed. Remember, thankfully, every day is getting a bit longer and the garden season will soon begin.

Did you know?
*5-8 different bacteria are found in a honeybee’s digestive system
*Gardeners are never too old to play in the dirt
*Putting bird food out in the early morning is best, and also helps prevent the influx of rodents that filling feeders in the evening may encourage

Herb to Know:Lemon Balm

     Lemon Balm is one of the most delightful plants in the herb garden.  Cherished for centuries, it’s delicious flavor and remarkable scent has earned lemon balm the reputation of being able to “cheer even the most melancholy heart!”   In a time when lemons were an unusual treat even for the wealthy, lemon balm provided an inexpensive substitute that every cottager could savor.   In today’s hectic world, lemon balm is an easy to grow, multi-purpose, easy to use perennial!
     Lemon Balm is a very hardy and easily grown in average soil.  While the fragrance will be best in full sun, lemon balm can tolerate partial shade.  The standard variety is bright green, with pretty scalloped-edged leaves alternating on sturdy square stems.  Inconsequential white flowers appear on stems that rise in mid-summer.  If these stems are not removed, hundreds of seeds will form and self-seed throughout the area.  Removing the flowering stems eliminates the problem, gives rise to lots of pretty new growth, and provides delicious material to put in a sun-tea jar.  These tougher stalks are also great to use as foliage in floral arrangements, where their delicious scent will add another dimension of enjoyment.   In olden days, these stalks would have been rubbed into wooden furniture to perfume and protect it.
     Golden Lemon Balm is identical to standard lemon balm, except the leaves are a bright golden color.  In the harshness of summer, the golden leaves can sometimes suffer brown edges.  Simply clipping these back as you deadhead the flower stalks eliminates the problem, and will promote new growth.  Planting it where it gets protection from the hottest afternoon sun will help prevent browning.  Golden Lemon Balm generally retains its golden foliage even in self-seeded plants.
    Variegated Lemon Balm is a lovely golden-flecked plant.  The variegation is most evident on new growth.  Older growth may become solid green over the summer.  The variegation does not usually return on self-seeded plants, so it should be propagated by cuttings or division.
    Lemon Balm makes a refreshing tea.  It was thought to relieve colds, stomach upsets, headaches, and to strengthen the nerves.  It was thought to be especially helpful to the elderly, as a tonic to restore health and strength.  Lemon Balm tea also aids digestion.  The leaves were often pounded and mixed with goose fat or lard as an ointment for bruises, cuts and other wounds.  
     In the kitchen, lemon balm is best used fresh, as much of the flavor and scent are lost when dried.  Add the fresh leaves, finely chopped to fruit salads, toss salads, dips, and cheese spreads.  Finely chopped lemon balm added to honey can make a delicious spread for toast & scones, drizzled over pancakes or on pound cake fresh from the oven.   Added just before serving to cooked carrots, peas, or green beans, lemon balm can add a bit of zip.  Use a mixture of chopped lemon balm and scallions to sprinkle on grilled fish or scrambled eggs.  
     A staple in the bee garden, melissa leaves were rubbed on the walls of hives to encourage honeybees to take up residence.   In fact, its scientific name, Melissa officinalis, comes from  melissa, the Greek word for “bee.”  Science has found that the chemical make-up of lemon balm essential oil is very similar to the material in the worker honeybee’s gland, which is used to communicate about food sources.  In a time when honey was commonly the only sweetener available, and an easy way to preserve food, plants such as lemon balm that fed and attracted bees were essential.
    Lemon Balm also has a history of use in perfumes, bath bags and toilet waters.  What a delightful way to relieve tension, soothe irritated skin, and relieve headaches!  And, since it has insect-repelling properties, a Lemon Balm perfume or bath is dual purpose.
    Lemon Balm was also a staple of the stillroom.  It is an ingredient in many liqueurs, including Chartreuse and Benedictine.
    Use dried leaves, regardless of color, in tea blends and bath mixtures, or in sachets where the leaves aren’t visible.  Even brown, the fragrance can “maketh the heart cheerful!”
    Unfortunately, the essential oil of lemon balm is fairly expensive.  For that reason, it is often diluted with less costly oils, such as lemon grass or oil pressed from the peel of lemons.  Purchase lemon balm essential oil from a trustworthy supplier to avoid an adulterated product.  True lemon balm oil is good for depression, irritated skin, muscle tension, and many other ailments.  Try these easy recipes:

Lemon Balm Lip Balm
     Essential oil of lemon balm is especially effective in healing cold sores.  Make this easy recipe to soothe lips, and the scent will also provide aromatherapy that helps depression.
Melt together over gentle heat:  2 tsp. Grated beeswax, 1 ½ tsp. Shea butter.  Open 1 vitamin E capsule and pour into melted mixture, stirring to blend.   Remove from heat.  Add 6 drops lemon balm essential oil.  Pour into small container and allow to set.  Lemon Balm is naturally antibacterial and antiviral, so this lip balm is also a good preventative “medicine”.

Lemon Balm Tea
     Use approximately 2 T. of fresh lemon balm leaves per cup of boiling water.  Steep covered for 2-3 minutes.  Sweeten with honey, if desired.  The flavor of lemon balm is a “gentle” lemon.  I often add spearmint, rosemary, lemon verbena, or lemon scented geranium leaves in combination with lemon balm to boost the flavor level, while still giving me the “uplifting” properties of lemon balm.

Lemon Balm Bath Bag
    Mix a small handful of lemon balm, 2 sprigs of rosemary, a strip of orange peel, 1 T. Epsom salts, and ¼ c. oatmeal together in a square of cloth or muslin bag.  Tie with a long string that you can attach to the faucet.  As you fill the tub, allow the hot water to run over the bag.  When preferred water level is reached, unfasten the bag and use it to scrub.  The scent will revive and cheer, soothe and soften skin at the same time!

Recipe: Pesto-Cheese-Stuffed Red Cherry Peppers

With all the seed catalogs arriving, I thought I’d share this recipe to possibly inspire you to grow a new crop.  This year I grew sweet red cherry peppers for the first time, and I love them!  I’m doubling the number of plants for next year.  Small and versatile, I’m mainly using them as eye-catching appetizers, although they can be used as any bell pepper.  All summer I picked them to use fresh, often stuffed with egg salad, a basil leaf and tiny ball of fresh mozzarella, or a bit of prosciutto and a melon ball.  When frost threatened, I canned them with a bit of pickling liquid, and used them in the same ways as the fresh ones.  They provide an explosion of flavor in a mouth-sized bite.  For those with heat-tolerant mouths, there is also a hot red cherry pepper, which I mistakenly grew as well.  Too hot for me, so be sure you get the one you desire.
Mix together:  4 oz. cream cheese (room temperature) 4 oz. butter or margarine (room temperature) 2 T. basil pesto (make your own or purchase it in a jar) until smooth.

     Cut the tops from 10 red cherry peppers (fresh or canned) and scoop out seeds.  I trim the red edges from the tops and chop finely, so nothing good is wasted.  Fill each pepper with the pesto cheese.  Top with toasted pine nuts as shown, or the finely chopped pepper bits, or crumbled bacon, a slice of olive, or a tiny canned shrimp.  Experiment!

I’ve been enjoying the lacy frosts on the window panes, the gorgeous full moon, cheerful holiday music, and special times with family and friends.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic rush of the holidays and miss much of the beauty and magic of the season.  Be sure as you are working to make everyone else’s holiday special that you take a moment to care for yourself as well.  Steep in an herbal bath of lemon balm, sip some rose geranium tea, and spray a mist of lavender on your sheets.  Take time to actually enjoy your decorations.  All too soon, it will be time to take them down! Till next time, I wish you a very, very Happy New Year, and abundant Herbal Blessings.