Thursday, June 10, 2010

BotanoLogos Appalachian Herbs Program

I had my first herb class with Patricia Kyritsi Howell and Lorna (sorry Lorna I can't remember your hyphenated last name) at the Foxfire Center in Mountain City, Georgia last weekend. We meet for 5 weekends from Now until October. I thought I was going there to learn about herbs and I did but I learned a couple of other things while I was at it. First of all did you know there is a rain forest in Mountain City, Georgia? Well I know Patricia said to bring rain gear for hiking but I thought because of an occasional rain shower…ah, no. It rains all the time, hence rain forest. Where have I been, under a rock? I swear no one mentioned that in my studies at Charlevoix public schools, in Michigan.

I was worried about getting chewed up with chiggers (my favorite pest of the south), but alas no chigger bites thanks to Patricia sharing what she had learned from an old-timer who told her to put a pinch of sulphur powder (get it at the drug store) in the bottom of her shoes and a little smeared around the end of the pant legs. I did what the doctor said and viola, no chiggers.
The goal of this class is to learn how to identify plants in the wild and learn their medicinal properties then harvest and make into medicine. Each weekend consists of two long days of hiking, classroom instruction and medicine making.

The first class was great – not only did I meet my classmates who are interesting folks from different backgrounds but we hiked and keyed-out various plants on the mountain trails. I learned black flex garbage bags are indispensable in a rain forest to sit on, protect back-pack and books and to wear. What a great invention.

I have home-work, go out in the field and practice identifying plants and learning (re-learning) botanical terms…lots of them. I look forward to the next class and I’m hoping to use this learning experience to teach others how to forage for food and medicine.

Caging the Raging Tomato Plant

Growing tomatoes in a small space or raised beds takes some creative thought. To tame tomato plants and make them behave in an orderly fashion is not an easy job but this year I’m determined to be the boss and not let these killer plants run all over me or the garden. First, let me introduce you to my tomato sandwich. This caging system uses two 4’ x 5’ sections of heavy duty hog panel from Tractor Supply Company. I’ve staked them with metal fence posts on each end to hold them in place two feet apart. On the ends I’ve zigzagged garden string and/or wire to form extra support, close up the ends and keep the raging tomato plants trapped inside. Five tomato plants were planted in the 2’ x 4’ space. As they grow I will just train them up and tie them to the hog panel if needed. The large squares make it easy to harvest tomatoes from either side and later for easy storage in the garden shed. Next I decided to reuse some of the TSC products from the winter garden. The same plastic sun fence stakes I used for a mini greenhouse is now transformed into a tomato cage to hold 3 tomato plants. Notice one end is still supporting sugar snap peas which were planted on the trellis made from these same fence products in March. The peas will soon be gone but the pea trellis turns into the end of the tomato cage. I love it when you can use one product for several functions. I recently purchased these square cages from my local Tractor Supply Company. They are a bit flimsy but no more or less then the round cages everyone has for sale. I like the square shape. It fits better in rectangle raised bed boxes. I don’t think it is tall enough and it would be nice if they had another square cage to attach to the top of these to extend their height for the big raging tomato plants. I am interested in seeing how all of these cages work…I’ll keep you posted.
Lastly I have leftover re-bar stakes (from TSC) that I am tying tomatoes to. I placed empty recycled wine bottles to keep birds away and cover the blunt end of the stake. I doubt that these stakes are tall enough but they are much stronger than the wooden stakes I used last year and it is nice to add a little blue color to the garden.

Herbal Solutions to De-bug your Home and Garden

People often ask me what they can do with all the herbs they are growing; when I tell them to use them as a way to control insects they usually admit that wasn’t the answer they expected! Herbs have properties that make them a joy to cook with, heal various maladies, tickle our senses, make a fine ‘cupa’ tea and yes an organic means to combat pesky pests in the garden and around the home. Read more in May State-by-State Garden Magazine. (TN Gardener)
Basil – Keeps flies away. Grow pots of plants around the patio, dry and powder leaves to use as a dust to discourage flies and try it on tomato plants to discourage horn worms. Make a strong tea and spray plants in kitchen garden to help keep Colorado bean beetles away. Bay – Drop a leaf in containers before storing dried veggies and fruit or flour, cornmeal to keep bugs out. Scatter bay leaves on cupboard and pantry shelves.
Dry and powder leaves to use like an insecticide in the kitchen garden. Chases ladybugs away when leaves are placed at their point of entry into the house.

Borage – Brew a strong tea with the leaves, strain and spray leaf eating bugs.

Catnip – Grow near entryways to discourage ants. Dry and powder catnip leaves then dust around door frames and windows for ants and sprinkle on veggies for flea beetles. Brew catnip leaves into a strong mosquito-cide, strain (unbleached coffee filters work great) and spray the tea on the yard and garden.

Cayenne peppers – Carefully grind peppers to a fine powder and sprinkle around windows and doors where you see ant trails and on garden plants early in the morning to keep rabbits away. Drop whole dried pepper in containers of beans and grains to keep weevils and other bugs out.

Garlic – Discourage deer from eating your garden for dinner; sprinkle dried, powdered garlic on plants and around perimeter of garden. Soak cloves in water overnight to make a tea to spray plants and garden to help with deer control and add other herbs to make home-made mixtures to stop bugs in their tracks.
Lemon balm – Rub a handful of lemon balm on your picnic table (and you) to send biting bugs packing. Dry and powder leaves to dust veggie plants to confuse would be pests.

Lavender – Moths, ticks and flies don’t like this herb. A spring in the bird bath may keep mosquito larvae out. Dried flowers in the closet or drawers keeps chases bugs away.

Lemon grass – Contains citronella…crush the corms (bulb like base of plant) and rub on skin or make a tea from the stems to spray mosquitoes.

Mint – Scatter dried peppermint leaves in kitchen cupboards to make mice run back outside. Use the dried powdered leaves to dust veggies for flea beetles.

Pennyroyal - Make a strong tea to spray on yourself and your pets to keep fleas, ticks and other biting critters away. Roll leaves in a bandana and tie around your pet for a chemical free flea and tick collar.

Rosemary – A strong tea spritzed on your pets between bathes will help control fleas. Throw some spring on the grill to flavor food and smoke out mosquitoes.

Wormwood – Spray a strong tea from the leaves to kill cabbage worms and flea beetles (top and bottom of plant leaves). Pour 2 cups boiling water over 2 cups leaves. Cover and let steep for an hour or two, strain and add 4-8 cups of tap water before spraying plants.

Next time some pest is ‘bugging’ you try herbs from the garden for a natural solution.

Here is a simple recipe for herbal concoctions to kill, stunt and discourage leaf sucking, chewing, egg laying, no-good pests!

Herb infusions for pest control:

This is basically a strong tea…pour 2 cups boiling water over ½ cup of minced (garlic or hot peppers) or herb leaves; i.e. basil, chives, wormwood, etc. Let stand overnight, strain through cheesecloth or an unbleached paper coffee filter before transferring to sprayer.

Use gloves and caution when working with hot peppers. I use a food processor to grind up hot peppers to keep from getting any on my hands. Dried peppers and herbs can be ground for use (1/3 less if dried) and a good idea to have on hand when needed early in the season.

A tablespoon or two of Tobasco sauce can be added to water as a spray or in combination with herbs if mincing your own hot peppers makes you cringe or you are in a hurry.

Add a teaspoon of dish-soap (Ivory liquid works well) and/or olive oil to homemade bug control mixes for an added kick and to help it stick to leaves.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lettuce Eat Greens on a Hot Summer Day

I managed to grow greens all winter with the use of cold frames and mini was wonderful to have fresh salads and sauteed kale and chard all fall, winter and spring. But the thought of not being able to raise these veggies in the summer seemed unreasonable to me and extremely unfair. So, I got to thinking of ways to get shade in the full sun of the kitchen garden during the hot, humid summer days of Middle Tennessee...hoping I can indeed grow some green leaves to mix with the fresh tomatoes and peppers that I will begin harvesting soon.

Looking around for something to recycle, I came across an old screen door from the back porch that had seen better days and was in the pile of "I know I can do something cool with that so don't throw it out just yet". I hauled it out to the kitchen garden, held it over on of the 4' x 8' beds. Perfect size to provide shade and now all I needed was some way of elevating it over the bed.

I remembered a PVC pipe frame we made last fall for a mini greenhouse. Pushed it into the soil; one on each end of the bed and one in the middle...perfect support for the screen door to lay upon. Threaded some wire through the screen door to attach it firmly to the framework.

Viola, a double decker raised bed. Yeah, it's a little redneck but what's that matter to a Cracked Pot Gardener? It's functional and it just might work. My plan is to have cucumbers grow over the top, adding a little extra shade to the heat sensitive greens below.

In just a short time arugula, spicy greens, cut and come again lettuce from Renee's seeds and some type of wonderful Swiss lettuce (Thanks Heintz) that I can't pronounce are ready to eat. The carrots are coming a bit slower but who cares? they are growing. the cucumbers are starting to climb the PVC pipe frame and will start their trek across the top.

In a week I will sow more seed int he redneck screen house and see what happens. I'll keep you posted.