Last year, we got so much rain right after the grape vines set fruit, that they all got black spot. I sure hope that doesn't happen again.
But the lettuces, peas, kales, chard, and spinaches are loving the cool wet weather. With the rat population cut back some, and the spaces between the yard gates closed up to keep the rabbits out, I have finally been able to have my first meal of homegrown spinach. There is still a rabbit in the yard sometimes when I go out. I walk around after it, it runs a little ahead of me, then stops and waits for me to catch up, and then runs again. That works out ok because with my bad knee, I'm not able to run. Sometimes it shows me where it got in, and I show it to Hubs. He fastens a piece of chicken wire over it. Oh, this old chain link material is in such bad shape. Still, a poor fence is better than no fence. Other times the rabbit will walk me around the fence enough that I give up, at which time I will just open a gate and follow it around till it goes out the gate. Sheesh.
Total rats destroyed since March 24 stands now at 86. For a couple of days we didn't catch anything and I had hopes we were on top of it. Then Hubs saw one around the woodpile, we set the trap and caught 2 that day. Then one, the next day. I startled something between the garage and the cellar Saturday morning, didn't see what it was but I didn't think it was very big. Sunday afternoon Hubs spotted a medium-sized rat lying dead in the front flower bed. Spike and DDIL were here and he didn't say anything because he didn't want to spook DDIL. She freaks out at spiders. and she won't cook a whole turkey on Thanksgiving because she refuses to stick her hand into the cavity to take the neck out. We hate to think what she'd do if she saw a dead rat.
I am reading "The Holistic Orchard" by Michael Phillips. I'm not very far into it but I am glad to know that I've got a good start on it, what with clearing out grass under the fruit trees, spreading wood-chip mulch, and planting companion plants under the tree where the grass was. I have been trying to encourage Comfrey under the trees for a couple of years now, and two of the plants have taken hold and really "gone to town" under their trees.
There are some big clumps of perennial clover coming up in the garden from which I've been trying to establish growth under the fruit trees. It's big, rounded flowers are more purple than red, so I don't know exactly what variety it is. All I know is that it stays alive all winter long. It is discernible from most other clovers because it grows in thick clumps about 12" tall and the large leaves have chevron-looking markings on them. If it is what is called "Red Clover" ( Trifolium pratense), then the young leaves and flowers can be used in salads, or fresh or dried, for tea.
Since I know that it fixes nitrogen in the soil, I think a perennial clover is a good candidate for under the fruit trees. It can certainly hold it's own against Bermuda grass. Both Clover and Comfrey need a place where they can get their roots down deep, and since we went to the trouble to dig all those rocks out of the ground for the trees, it's a bonus to get double-duty for the rock-free area. Comfrey nourishes the tree. Carole and I were just discussing how good Comfrey tea is for darn near everything in the garden and sure enough, Michael Phillips hinted at a tea recipe he's going to offer in a later chapter than where I'm reading now, that is used as a foliar spray instead of chemicals, which includes Comfrey tea and pure Neem oil.
I have Dutch White clover in places in the yard and I really wouldn't mind having clover instead of grass. Joe tells me the deer love it but hey, they're over here anyway eating leaves off my trees in the unfenced areas of the property, and nipping off the tops of my little sapling trees. If clover'll fill 'em up, Rock On. By the way, the pecan saplings are recovering, Hubs and I are trying to get them better protected.
This is now Monday and I've been out in the garden. I decided to make this "Herb Gathering Day", so the first thing I harvested was a whole bunch of baby dill plants growing thickly in the bed where I have planted beets. I didn't think the beets were coming up, but yes, they are, right in amongst all that baby dill, and they probably appreciate the extra bit of growing room that they have since I harvested a lot of the dil. I haven't planted it for a couple of years now. It self-sows. I like to have some plants that grow umbels because they draw beneficial insects, but I think I've had enough of dill and would like to do fennel instead. I don't tend to use a lot of dill now that I don't make dill pickles, but I cleaned and brought in enough of these little plants to dry.
I watched an interview on Growing A Greener World last Saturday and the woman being interviewed talked about so many things that I already do that I told Hubs, "Man, she sounds like she's been reading my blog!" Until she said if you have an attic and live in warmer parts of the country, you can dry herbs in your attic. Excuse me, no, you cannot. There are lots of things you CAN dry in your attic, and I have done that every summer since we've been here where there is a nice walk-in attic. Apples. Peppers. Tomatoes. But that kind of heat bakes out the delicate flavor and color of herbs. Herbs dry just fine in just a few days on newspaper someplace away from the sun and temperature extremes. Toss them a bit with your hands every time you pass through the room where they are. This same person also mentioned that you can tie your herbs in a bundle and dry them upside down inside a paper bag. Well, herbs have been dried upside down for centuries but one of the rules you must observe is that the leaves need to be totally stripped from the part of the stems that are bunched together, and you should keep your bunches small, or mold will grow. I wouldn't put them in a paper bag unless I was wanting to collect the seed that fell out, as in poppies, but in that case I'd rather dry them standing upright, anyway. I've had things mold before when they didn't get enough air circulation. My thinking is, I'm going to have to strip the leaves off the stems at some point, anyway. Might as well do it up front.
The Lemon Balm is pretty thick now. I have it growing under the grape arbor and I think that is going to be the perfect place for it.
This is the first year I've had enough to harvest since we've moved here. I've missed having my home-grown Lemon Balm Tea during the winter. If you do a search on herbal uses of lemon balm, you will get lots of hits, HERE is just one of them. On the Common Sense Homesteading (link on my sidebar) there is a search box where you can search the blog for recipes containing Lemon Balm and there are a lot of them. Also Lemon Verbena Lady has posts about it. A link to her blog is also on the sidebar.
Another thing to harvest now is Horehound.
So now my dining room table is covered in herbs. There's a ceiling fan right above the table, and I keep that going, day and night, until things are dry and ready to vacuum-seal in jars, using my trusty FoodSaver. Lots of little jars are better than one big one, because you are more likely to use the whole jar when you make something herbal. This keeps you from having to reseal a jar. Also, my quart jars are in big demand for canning, and I never seem to have quite enough. I barely use my pint and half-pint jars, except for jam. I store my herbs in the pantry, where it is dark and cool most of the time. When I have a new supply to go on the shelves, I dump the contents of jars packed the previous year, if there are any. Mostly onto the compost.
I've harvested some dandelion -- some roots, leaves, and flowers. I didn't get started soon enough for the roots and leaves, but I did get some dried to try. I understand they are more bitter if harvested after the plants have started to make flower buds. The flowers can, however, be collected for dandelion tea and I have done some of that. But all that bending over to gather them is kind of hard on my back and bad knee. They don't freeze very well and when you try to dry them they just turn into fluff. About the only way I know to store dandelion flowers is to infuse just the yellow parts in almost-boiling water to cover and then freeze the cooled and strained infusion in ice-cube trays.
I have also dried the leaves of Walker's Low Catmint, a start of which was given to me by a dear and loyal friend. (You know who you are.)
I do dry basil, even though everywhere you turn, people will tell you they don't keep their flavor when dried. Well, yes they do. (There's some drying on the table in the picture, the ones on the placemats. Also some Peppermint.) I have also made pesto and frozen the pesto in ice-cube trays. (I use English walnuts instead of pine nuts because pine nuts are pretty expensive.) Someone posted on their blog that to successfully freeze basil leaves, you have to dunk them in boiling water first. I think before I would do that, I would try making a strong basil infusion in boiling water, and freeze that in ice cube trays after cooling and straining.
Last year I grew a Mexican Tarragon plant I'd bought at Lowe's. I'd tried to germinate seeds and just hadn't had any luck. It didn't make any seeds, so I had to buy more, but it did make enough leaves for me to harvest, and I made Tarragon Vinegar. (Heat cider vinegar to almost boiling, pour over the fresh leaves, to cover, then let steep for about 6 weeks. Then strain.) Mmmmmm. It is soooo good on fish, or in bean dishes.
It's tedious to harvest and prepare herbs and tea ingredients for storage, but you'll be so glad to have them during those long winter months ahead. Just make sure they are perfectly dry (the leaves will crumble between your fingers) before you seal them to avoid the formation of mold inside the jar. Leave the leaves intact whenever possible. You will use them whole for teas and other infusions, and crumble them as you use them for cooking. Powdered herb leaves don't tend to keep very well in storage.
Well, that's about it for this time, there are still more things around here that need to be gathered and dried and I will try to do that as much as I am able -- raspberry leaf, culinary sage, mints, and I might even try gathering some of the new leaves off the sassafras tree this year. Each day, I try to get something set out into the garden. All plants are outside now, waiting their turn. So much to do, so little time (in between rest periods).
Till next time, Rock On... Hugs xoxoxo