Consider including sage as a hearty, tasty and fun perennial in your garden

what does young sage look like?
When I first started vegetable and herb gardening, I struggled to find images to help me identify plants looked like before they were mature or harvested to know what to weed out. We'll try to provide photo journals from seedlings to harvest on this blog in the future. That was the prime reason for setting up the pictures feature (yet to be populated - check back next week).

Sage is a plant and herb that anyone can learn to appreciate. It’s pretty in a landscape with its green/grey leaves and delicate purple flowers it displays during a decent part of the season. It also tastes great, smells wonderful and survives through tough conditions once it’s established.

How can you use sage?

I’ve learned to appreciate sage fresh in recipes not ordinarily associated with this herb – like salads and eggs. It adds a delightful flavor and texture to a raw green and vegetable mix. Experience the delicious zest it adds to omelets or a scrambled concoction (I like to combine it with thyme, mushrooms and little bit of Swiss cheese – talk about a mouthful of tantalizing flavors that combine for an exciting new experience).

Sage provides a festive aroma when dried and burned during the holidays. It’s also been purported for eons as a cleansing agent for groups, spaces (rooms) and people – removing old energy and inviting the new.

Growing sage in your garden

sage is a great herb in Zone 5 for Halcyon Acres
Three feet of snow at Halcyon Acres didn't deter the hearty sage plant from staying fresh.

The great news is, it’s easy to grow. We touched on this in our growing herbs blog post, but I wanted to offer a spotlight for this remarkable herb in a stand-alone post.

While it’s relatively easy to start indoors during cold winter months (we’re in Zone 5 here) for spring planting, the gestation period is fairly long, so don’t get disappointed if you’re not seeing shoots after a week or two or three of watching. At Halcyon Acres®, we’ve had good luck starting seeds indoors in the ‘green houses’ you can buy at farm supply stores (they run about $100, but you can get them on sale for $50) that stand about five feet high with four or five shelves, have a zippered translucent plastic woven cover and measure about three feet wide by two feet deep. We use grow lamps with covers to focus the heat and light close to the soil surface and keep the cover closed for a few weeks (the seedlings seem to like humidity) with no need to water after an initial spritzing.

Once you have a couple of good leaves showing, it’s fine to start acclimating the plants to the outdoors, adding an hour or so each day (unless you have a cold frame set up – they’ll usually survive fine here), provided frost is no longer a concern.

Once you put it in the garden and get the roots established, there’s little that will kill a healthy sage plant. It’s not invasive and occupies a relatively small space even at full maturity. It lives great with crops that shade sunlight from the soil (like strawberries or oregano).

Enjoying the hearty nature and health benefits of sage

Sage is also one of these herbs you can enjoy year-round – even in snow belts. Leaves often stay hearty and fresh under snow cover. They’ll survive a hard frost. Plants thrive relatively early in the spring season.

It’s so much fun to have these plants around as you enjoy the scent wafting around during the summer season, dig through snow to find fresh delights in the winter and enjoy an early harvest in the spring.

Want a perspective from a chef on sage? Check out this post from the Healthy Food and Diet blog for tips on cooking with sage and more.

 

nlevin

Growing chemical-free produce can be a spiritual experience. Join me as I discover and share the secrets to making it work on a tiny plot of suburban land in Roanoke as I try to adapt what I learned during 20 years on over 100 acres rural in New York.

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Seven easy tips for growing garlic

Seven easy tips for growing garlic

growing garlic at halcycon acres
Photo courtesy of foter.com

Garlic can be a wonderful addition to just about any meal. While the norm is to dry it before consuming, I like it best fresh out of the ground. So do my clients. It has a slightly earthy taste and is milder than bulbs that are aged, but it’s wonderful raw (here a little bit does go a long way as you’re not reducing flavor – and health benefits – by cooking). Try it very thinly sliced as a condiment on pasta, salads, soups or anything else you want to enhance with a burst of flavor.

Traditionally you plant garlic in the fall for next year’s crop (usually at the end of October in the Northeast United States, where Halcyon Acres® is located). If you didn’t get it in last year, don’t worry. Elephant garlic can be planted in the spring for same-year harvest.

If you’re looking for some ideas on cooking with garlic, Chef William offers tips on his blog.

Seven ideas to help you enjoy better garlic crops

  1. Plant regular garlic in late fall, before the ground freezes but after temperatures have cooled.
  2. One clove produces one plant (I haven’t found working with seeds to be very effective). These can be planted about an inch or two deep, depending on the size.
  3. Garlic doesn’t need a lot of room so you can plant rows closer together than you would most other crops. I put it in with perennial plants because I leave it in the ground to harvest as needed (very unorthodox approach) so like it somewhere that’s not going to be replanted. But, if you’re culling garlic in the traditional manner, you can plan on putting another crop in that space usually about three months after the growing season starts. So, the way you map your rows may depend on what will go there next.
  4. As garlic starts to mature, a round, curved shoot comes out of the center of the leave shoots. These are very tasty, by the way, and when you can find them, sell for a fortune in the supermarket. Pull this out when you see it as this is how the plant goes to seed. Your cloves will be much bigger if you remove this.
  5. You’ll know your garlic is ready when some of the shoots start to yellow (although this can also be a sign of distress – if conditions are dry, water). Of course, I can’t help checking plants weeks before they’re ready. You can still eat these too, the bulbs just won’t be as big.
  6. Store garlic in a cool, dry place. Old panty hose are great for hanging garlic to dry.
  7. Enjoy the taste and satisfaction of home grown garlic for months to come. Stored right, this stuff lasts a long time.

Garlic is one of these plants that’s so easy to grow, it’s shocking more people don’t include it in their home gardens. The taste of what you harvest is so much better than what you can buy. If you liked this post, please use the share buttons to the right of this page to tell your friends.

nlevin

Growing chemical-free produce can be a spiritual experience. Join me as I discover and share the secrets to making it work on a tiny plot of suburban land in Roanoke as I try to adapt what I learned during 20 years on over 100 acres rural in New York.

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Harvesting produce and herbs in the snow

There are some crops that can last you well into winter. If you plan ahead (or even if you don’t) you can be enjoying fresh herbs and vegetables long past first snow fall.

Last week I was amazed to find parsley in pristine shape under three feet of snow and chives not great, but good enough for a forgotten recipe item.

outdoor vegetable and herb plants you can harvest in the winter
OK - maybe a summer bounty isn't possible in snowy winter months, but there are still a lot of fun crops you can harvest from outdoors in the winter. The kale and leaks in this photo are some.

Simple things, like marking the location of plants, are important prep work for settling into winter with access to your garden goodies. Here are some crops that tend to be winter hearty:

Carrots – there’s nothing like a fresh dug carrot. The taste is so rich and texture different from anything you buy in the supermarket. Untreated are best eaten immediately, so having immediate access to them can make a meal much better. We’ve harvested carrots the entire winter and into the spring in some years. It depends on how quickly the snow falls. If you get a good cover before the ground freezes, the soil often stays soft. Portions of carrots that are in frozen ground are no good – plus very difficult to dig up. It depends on the year.

Turnips – these are more sensitive to freezing but if snow falls early and keeps its cover, they’re good well into winter.

Parsley – this is a biennial that goes to seed the second year producing bitter leaves but good propagation help in year two. I’m finding it stays green and very tasty through winter under heavy snow between the first and second year. This year the ground is frozen deep, and it’s even doing well in those conditions.

Kale – able to withstand very cold temperatures, this one is surprising me with its heartiness this winter. Leaves yellow or wilt if it’s no good, but if it looks like is supposed to, it’s fine to eat well into cold months.

Sage – leaves stay green and healthy after most other plants have suffered from frostbite. Even dried on the vine, they’re great to cook with.

Chives – if you have a thick patch, you’ll be able to find green and firm stems in the mass. You’ll have to read through some dead stuff, but it’s better than buying high-priced and treated herb packets.

Brussel Sprouts – these plants will withstand a heavy frost, and can even stay tasty under heavy snow if they’re mature enough. These plants grow tall so you might even be able to see them after a heavy accumulation. Sometimes you need to peel off the outer leaves, but they seldom freeze all the way through.

Herbs – parsley, thyme, sage and sometimes chives tend to stay hearty well into the winter months. Sage may dry and turn a bit brown, but the leaves stay on the plant and are still tasty. Chives requires a fairly dense set of plants and you’ll have to spend some time culling out the green from the dead, but if they’re bushing enough, you’ll find green gems in the mix through much of the winter. The rest remain green, at least on this Zone 5 plot.

There’s nothing like going out into your garden during the dead of winter and discovering an edible delight. With a little bit of planning, you can still be harvesting while others are settling for old supermarket fare.

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nlevin

Growing chemical-free produce can be a spiritual experience. Join me as I discover and share the secrets to making it work on a tiny plot of suburban land in Roanoke as I try to adapt what I learned during 20 years on over 100 acres rural in New York.

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Having fun with herbs

In the last Halcyon Acres® blog post, we explored some growing tips, tricks and discoveries concerning thyme, basil, sage and oregano. Click on the link to see some of the easy growing tips for perennial herbs addressed.

parsley at halcyon acresToday, we’ll cover some herbs that may not come back year after year, but are easy to grow once you get them established and wonderful additions to meals and other lifestyle activities.

Parsley is a biennial. You don’t want to eat the leaves that are produced in the second year (they’re very bitter), but if you want an easy way to keep the crop coming year after year, leave last year’s plants in and reseed in spring. Once these plants go to seed (in the second year), they’re pretty good at self-propagation. So, if you plant two seasons in a row, you should always have new parsley plants coming in the spring without much effort. Another benefit we noticed this year to keeping plants in the soil after the season ends for most is the leaves continue to stay green and tasty even in extreme cold under heavy snow. Just make sure you mark your rows with flags high enough to see once snow falls. Parsley has some wonderful health benefits being rich in vitamin A, C and K. It’s a great antioxidant and good anti-inflammatory. Plus it provides a tasty, mild flavor to so many foods.

Dill is so much fun. It’s pungent flavor and prolific leaves makes a little go a long way. This is a plant that’s easy to start from seed. In fact, if you leave it in the garden through the fall, you’ll have a good self-seeded crop come spring. This is an annual, but easy to keep going year after year if you let nature take its course. Dill is a tough one to get started in the garden in the spring if you haven’t let it self-sow. It’s slow to germinate and weeds tend to choke out new plantings (at least around here). If you’re starting your first dill crop, it’s probably best to begin in containers.lavender at halcyon acres

Lavender is a perennial, but making it through the winter is pretty iffy in Zone 5. Frankly, we were too aggressive with weeding this spring (it comes up late and should be planted initially in warm weather) to know if last year’s crop made it (oopps – the lavender roots were too deep in the pile to find by the time I realized where I was in the garden). This is just such a wonderful, versatile herb, though, it’s worth planting each year if it doesn’t make it. Start seeds inside. Keep them warm and moist.

Rosemary is so much better fresh, it’s an herb you ought to consider including in the mix. Last year was the first try with this one, so I’m not sure if it will survive the cold winter. We didn’t have a lot of luck trying to start this from seed indoors, so wound up buying plants in the spring.

Cilantro is super easy to grow. You can just cast seeds in the garden and it will come up in almost any harsh conditions. The pungent smell wafts through the entire garden. Needless to say, it also serves as a great insect repellent to for the more sensitive companion plants you may be trying to protect. It tend to bolt in hot, dry weather, but you can also use it after it’s gone to seed.

Those are my favorites (at the moment any way). What are yours? Please share in the comments below.

nlevin

Growing chemical-free produce can be a spiritual experience. Join me as I discover and share the secrets to making it work on a tiny plot of suburban land in Roanoke as I try to adapt what I learned during 20 years on over 100 acres rural in New York.

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Growing herbs in your vegetable garden

Recently, I’ve discovered the power of herbs. Not only as a wonderful natural insect repellent in companion gardening, lovely scent to add to gardening pleasure and tasty addition to any meal, but also for the natural health benefits they provide. Of course, clients love copious quantities of fresh herbs each week, which is wonderful too. Most are pretty easy to grow.

Thyme grows well at Halcyon Acres
Thyme is a hearty perennial for Zone 5

My favorites for the garden include: Thyme, basil, sage, oregano, parsley, dill, lavender, rosemary and cilantro.

Thyme is hard to get started, but hearty once it’s established. It’s a wonderful addition to any vegetable dish, salads, eggs and meals that include lamb. It’s a perennial that grows well here, in Zone 5. Chef William did a great post on Thyme for those who want tips and ideas for cooking as well as information on believe medicinal qualities of this herb.

Basil won’t survive even a light frost. It’s easy to start from seed and best planted in warmer weather. This is a great companion plant for tomatoes and goes great with them for meals too.

Sageis wonderful not only for cooking, but also smelting. It’s claimed to have cleansing properties, so many people will dry a bunch and burn it from room to room to chase away whatever. It’s best to start from seed in containers as it starts slowly and is very hard to find as seedlings in the garden. The good news is it transplants into soil beautifully and once rooted, lasts year after year. It’s bushy in the way it grows but matures at about 2-feet high and 2-feet wide around here. We like to plant it with either oregano or strawberries as both are great ground cover to keep out the weeds and sage doesn’t need surface soil light to grow once it’s established.

Sage is a favorite at Halcyon Acres
Sage is an herb you don't see in too many gardens - wonder why?

Oregano is delightful in eggs, salads, of course pasta dishes and anything else where you’re looking for a mild flavor enhancer. You’ll need to use a lot more than dried as the flavor is far less pungent, but fresh is fun. Some claim it can be invasive, but we haven’t a problem with this. As noted, we plant it with sage and the two plants seem to get along quite well.

We’ll cover the rest of my favorite garden herbs in the next post.

For those who enjoy herbs, Chef William’s Healthy Food and Diet website will be featuring great tips, ideas and background with herbs as a feature this week and perhaps beyond. I encourage you to get check out his blog as it’s well done and I always learn from what he has to share.

nlevin

Growing chemical-free produce can be a spiritual experience. Join me as I discover and share the secrets to making it work on a tiny plot of suburban land in Roanoke as I try to adapt what I learned during 20 years on over 100 acres rural in New York.

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