Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aromatic Herbs

Now, after the roses, daylilies, and most of the perennials have bloomed, the aromatics have started to flower. Aromatic herbs are scented herbal plants.
Last year I started catnip (nepeta cataria), lemony catnip (nepeta cataria ssp. Citriodora), anise hyssop, (agastache foeniculum), and lemon balm (melissa officinalis) from seed. They are of the mint family, and are distinctly aromatic. Lemon catnip and lemon balm are lemony, and anise hyssop has a scent like licorice. Even though they have different names, they have some common characteristics.
For the most part, the flowers are unexceptional. Fuzzy looking, whitish or purplish and tending to blend in with the landscape. They are not about to compete with your daylilies, bearded iris, roses and peonies. Quite the opposite; there is not much interesting about these flowers.
Anise Hyssop with a squash vine climbing over it. 
The plants are all similar. They are green and leafy, but are not a showy specimen for your yard. They can even be a little weedy looking. Especially the catnip right now; it is squashed. We have a kitty neighbor who wanders through and it seems she likes to take a roll in it.
They are seedy. Even though perennial, they will spread seeds all over your countryside. Why the plants evolved as perennials is a mystery to me, their behavior strongly resembles reseeding annuals.  In the year after flowering, many little babies emerge. This is not a problem for us, the extras are easy to pluck out, and we are always looking for materials for compost (click here for the compost post).
So why are we entertaining these lovely specimens? Because they have some characteristics that are really positive.
I hear the catnips are a better mosquito repellent than deet. I haven’t tried it, but it is said that the effectiveness of catnip is ten times better than deet. (If you are wondering about using deet, google: "dangers of deet.") Some sources say to rub the leaves on your skin, others say to mix oil derived from them with oils of other plants that also act as repellents.
The flowers attract bees, bugs, and butterflies. Bees seem to really love them, and I’ve seen the plants completely buzzing with bees. Apparently bees are attracted to the sweetness of the nectar. We enjoy keeping the bees happy.
I use the leaves and flowers for tea, usually combining a sprig of one of them with a leaf or two of mint; they make a wonderful scented cuppah. At the end of the growing season I grab them up in bunches along with a few other plants and dry them for winter tea. The flavor seems less strong after drying, so I mix my winter tea with purchased green or white tea.
The aromatic herbs benefit our compost, our bees, butterflies and other insects, and are good for tea. My plan is to let them spread throughout perennials borders and around the veggie plants. As we establish hedgerows along the pasture, they can seed themselves there too. The aromatics are weedy, but welcome! -jmm

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Garlic Patch

Last fall I planted one of our garden plots with three rows of garlic. An earlier post with tips for growing garlic is here. This particular plot is a raised bed about twelve feet long by four feet wide.
This spring I removed the winter coat of straw, and found that the garlic had sprouted. Between the rows of garlic I then seeded two rows of spinach. Spinach is not heat tolerant, and as the garlic grew it shaded the young plants as the weather warmed. Garlic and spinach turned out to be excellent companion crops.
Garlic drying in the shed
The spinach grew, and was ready for harvest long before the garlic. In late May I picked the spinach just as it was about to go to seed. We had some for dinner and froze the rest.
Now, in July the garlic is ready to harvest. I set up our garlic-drying apparatus; an old screen door laid on top of two sawhorses. We use the garden shed for drying. It provides a combination of shade and dry heat that works well. The garlic will dry in the shed for a couple of weeks and then I will braid them and hang the braids in the cellar. Some will be saved to use for seed in the fall when it’s time to plant next year's crop.
And that's not all for this garden bed. Even in July there's time to plant another crop. After weeding and loosening the soil, I planted three rows of beets. Even though they may not become full size beets by fall, we will have beet greens and baby beets.
All of this from one 4 by 12-foot garden row. G.H.