Hiatus

A health flare that seems to have no end and some big projects for grad school mean that I’m going to take a hiatus from blogging for a bit. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to continue the Herb of the Month posts (and finish up both March’s and February’s herbs) and share updates from the garden. Until then I hope you have a wonderful spring!

 

Herb of the Month: Lavender (Lavandula sp.) Part 1

March’s herb of the month is lavender.

grosso lavender plants

This growing information is for Grosso lavender (the variety that I planted in my front garden last year), but other lavender should have similar growing requirements. Grosso lavender is hybrid of cold-hardy English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and heat-tolerant Portuguese Lavender (L. latifolia). It is the primary commercial variety for the production of lavender oil.

Grosso Lavender Care

Size: The Grosso variety of lavender can get up to 2.5 feet (76 cm) tall and wide.

Water Requirements: This lavender prefers soil that is kept between dry and moist.

Soil Requirements: Grosso lavender grows best in neutral to slightly alkaline soil that is well drained.

Light Requirements: Grosso lavender does best in full sun.

Temperature Requirements: This lavender grows well in USDA zones 5 to 8, though may not survive the winter if the temperature gets below 0F and there is no snow to insulate the plant.

Nutrient Requirements: Lavender actually prefers a soil with somewhat low fertility.

Pruning: For continued blooming, remove faded flowers. About every three years, prune back to 8 inches (20 cm) tall in the spring.

Pests: This lavender is susceptible to root rot and leaf spot.

Blooms: The blooms of this lavender are lavender in color and very fragrant. Blooms appear from June to August.

Sources

Missouri Botanical Garden
Pantry Garden Herbs – Lavender, Grosso 
Mother Earth News – Herb to Know: Lavender ‘Grosso’ Plant 

March Garden Update

Seed Packets

It was an unusually warm and dry February here in the Midwest. The plants have started to wake up from their winter slumber and I’ve started to plan what I’m going to grow this year. I’ve decided to focus mostly on the vegetables that I eat, with a few new ones that I’ve never grown before just for fun. While I don’t have the layouts quite figured out yet here’s what I’m hoping to grow this year.

Community Garden Plot:
Carrots
Green Beans
Tiger Eye Beans
Onions*
Celeriac*
Garlic*
Basil
Sunflowers
Marigolds
Calendula
Flax

Deck
Currant Tomato (just one this year)
Spinach
Beets
Chives
Lemon balm
Oregano
Thyme
Rosemary
Sage
Thai Red Roselle Hibiscus*
Ginger*
Lemongrass*

* denotes plants I’ve never grown before

I’m still waiting on my order of ginger to ship, and I still need to find a source of lemongrass, but otherwise I have all the seeds/plants. My spring break is next week so one of the things I want to get done during it is get my seeds started. We also have a planting day at the community garden next Saturday so I’ll find out which plot I’ve moved to. Gardening season is SO close!

What are you growing in your garden this year?

Fire Tonic Cider

Semi-functional immune systems are no fun, let me tell you. The past two weeks of my life have consisted of a cold, travel and an out of state doctor’s appointment (which involved sitting on two planes full of coughing, sneezing, hacking people), and a different cold that I got while traveling. Cold number two is particularly nasty and had me bed/couch-bound for days, so needless to say I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of how to support my immune system.

My current batch of Fire Cider
My current batch of Fire Cider

As soon as I was semi-functional (read: could put a coherent sentence together) I asked my mother to run to the store and pick up the fixings for fire cider. Fire cider is an herbal remedy consisting of apple cider vinegar infused with immune supporting herbs or other foods that is sweetened with honey and taken to prevent colds and the like. Since it has to sit for a month it’ll be ready just around Spring Break when everyone will be traveling and bringing back all sorts of nasty crap. Had I had any foresight, I would have made this wonderful herbal concoction a month ago so it would have been ready when I returned from my travels. Guess I learned my lesson.

Because there are so many options for ingredients, there are a ton of recipes available for Fire Cider on the internet. I decided to start off with the basic recipe from the woman who made it as popular as it is today, Rosemary Gladstar. In the video below she walks you through the benefits and how to make it. The only change I made was doubling the amount of ginger I used because I LOVE ginger.

Basic Fire Tonic Cider

Based on: Rosemary Gladstar’s Fire Cider

1 part Horseradish (fresh, diced)
1 part Garlic (fresh, diced)
1 part Onion (fresh, diced)
1 part Ginger (fresh, diced)
Cayenne Powder (to taste, I didn’t add a lot)
Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw Honey (to taste)

Put first four ingredients in a wide mouth quart jar (you’ll want the jar to be about half full). Add enough vinegar so there is two to three inches above the herbs. Add cayenne to taste and let sit for four weeks. Strain and discard spent herbs (I’ve seen people make a chutney out of them or dehydrate them to make a seasoning). Add honey to taste.

There are infinite variations on this theme. Some people add jalapeños or citrus or use fresh cayenne peppers, some leave out the onion, some do a sort of hybrid recipe of fire cider four thieves vinegar and use the herbs thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender, and mint. I’ve seen gorgeous fire cider that has been colored red by the addition of hibiscus or elderberries. Some people choose not to add the honey. It is really a very customizable recipe which is why I think it is so popular, that and that people swear it works.


A note about the Fire Cider name: Recently there have been a group of herbalists trying to trademark “Fire Cider” claiming that they came up with the recipe and the name all on their own. They have been attacking small sellers and other herbalists telling them that they can’t use the name. This is like trying to trademark something like “vanilla ice-cream” or “granola bar”. Something similar has happened with “thieves oil”, another common herbal remedy.

If you want to learn more about how to make Fire Cider, its history, and the whole trademark thing, Herbal Roots zine has a wonderful FREE PDF that I highly recommend.

Changes

This month I’ve been in the process of renovating the blog, so to speak. I realized that I hadn’t really looked at the themes or layouts for a few years and I thought it was time for an update. Some new things include an updated profile, the Instagram widget, and most obviously a new theme. I’m still in the process of revising the pages so you may notice some subtle changes there later in the month. If you notice any links that no longer work or pictures that don’t show up, please let me know. Thanks!

Herb of the Month: Basil (Ocimum basilicum) Part 1

Sweet basil, (Ocimum basilicum) is the most common variety of basil sold in the United States. While there are many other basil varieties, some closely related and some not, I chose to focus on sweet basil since I’m the most familiar with it.

basil cuttings in water

Sweet Basil Information 

Size: Sweet basil can range from 24 – 38 inches (61 – 97 cm) in height depending on conditions.

Water Requirements: A lot of water is required to grow basil. Soil should be kept damp, but not soaked.

Soil Requirements: The soil that sweet basil is planted in should be fertile and well drained. Basil prefers a soil that is very slightly acidic (pH 6.4) but can tolerate a wide pH range.

Light Requirements: Sweet basil likes to be grown in full sun (at least 4-6 hours of direct sun).

Temperature Requirements: Sweet basil does not tolerate cold temperatures well and should be kept above 40°F (4.4°C).

Nutrient Requirements: A fertilizer with equal amounts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium with additional nitrogen supplementation later in the growing season is recommended for sweet basil.

Pruning: Many people who grow basil cut off flower buds, as they believe it causes leaves to become bitter. Nipping off the top set of leaves can encourage the basil plant to become bushier. Regular pruning is recommended.

Pests: Although sweet basil is relatively insect repellent, it can still be bothered by pests such as whiteflies, cutworms, and nematodes as well as fungal and bacterial diseases.

Companion Planting: Basil is often planted along side tomatoes.

Growing Indoors: Basil is well suited to growth in containers, both indoors and outdoors. Pots need to be at least 8 inches (20 cm). The best growing medium is a soilless mix and the light, water, and nutrient requirements are similar to those of an outdoor plant.

 

Sources

Bonnie Plants – A good basic introduction to Sweet Basil. The plant I took the cuttings from was a Bonnie Sweet Basil plant.
National Gardening Association – Basil Plant care guide
Herb Society of America Guide – Basil  In addition to basil, the Herb Society of America has good guides to many other herbs.