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

Nanette Levin learned the produce practices she uses mostly the hard way over 20 years of experimentation. Hopefully you'll consider this site one of the many good resources that have cropped up to help you avoid mistakes as a new gardener or a more experienced one shifting to chemical-free solutions. There's a lot of free information (concerning plants and horses), but we also offer consultative support for those seeking customized attention.

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Soaker hoses help keep gardens healthy

If you live in a climate where drought is an issue (and who in the US didn’t this year) and have a relatively small space you’re trying to keep healthy, it pays to invest in some soaker hoses. If you buy the right ones and care for them properly, they will last for many years.

soaker hoses can help herbs too
Soaker hoses can help herbs thrive too

After sampling an alternative to sprinklers, you’ll never go back. Here’s why soaker hoses are so much better than sprinklers:

  • Water is not wasted. You can direct what you need and when you need it to the plants you’re trying to keep healthy.
  • Soaker hoses provide a much more effective method that encourages deep and healthy root growth
  • Using watering systems that hydrate the ground without whipping through the air helps you to avoid many of the disease problems associated with water on leaves at the wrong time of day.
  • Targeting where water can help reduce weeds in areas where you do not.

We’re working with about an acre of planted vegetables and herbs at Halcyon Acres®, so for this size garden, soaker hoses make sense. What didn’t was dragging hoses daily around to new areas (chock it up to another lesson learned the hard way), so we invested in a system that allowed us to lay the lines along the roots of plants in sections so it was merely a matter of connecting the source hose to the area needing water.

You’ll need to experiment with what lengths make the most sense (it depends a bit on how far you’re pumping the water, your line size, your water source and the soaker hoses you choose), but we’ve found 150 feet of soaker hose per section to be the most effective distance.

After tossing a lot of choices that broke, leaked or didn’t work for other reasons, we’ve found the flat (these are reinforced with a plastic support), cloth covered to be the best. They’re generally sold in 75-foot lengths for about $15 each in the US. We haven’t had one of these break on us yet (they do occasionally get small leaks, but nothing like the round hoses that become gushers without notice). All of the others recently purchased have been in less than a season. So, in terms of money spent, you don’t save anything going with a cheaper solution.

Five tips on using flat soaker hoses:

  1. Make sure each soaker hose has a cap on one end when you buy them. These are sometimes removed (by customers, I guess) and without it, you can only use the product attached to another.
  2. Buy the style with a swivel on each end (these are usually green) so that you can easily attach the hose to others without twisting.
  3. When you unwrap and uncoil the hose do so from the outside of the roll (otherwise they get twisted and kink).
  4. When attaching to another soaker hose or the water supply, turn the swivel with each twist as you connect. This will avoid twists in the hose that are more difficult to straighten after fully attached.
  5. Roll the hoses up onto a wheel (there are hose reels designed for this that are relatively inexpensive) at the end of the season. These hoses do not winter well tied with string or looped over a hook. Make sure they’re flat as you wrap them around the spool.

Soaker hoses can make a huge difference between a successful year of gardening and a disappointing one.

Have you found a product that works really well for you? Please share in the comments below. Also, if you liked this article and would be kind enough to use the share bar (to the left of this article), I’d sure appreciate the Tweet, Like or Linked In post. Thanks!

nlevin

Nanette Levin learned the produce practices she uses mostly the hard way over 20 years of experimentation. Hopefully you'll consider this site one of the many good resources that have cropped up to help you avoid mistakes as a new gardener or a more experienced one shifting to chemical-free solutions. There's a lot of free information (concerning plants and horses), but we also offer consultative support for those seeking customized attention.

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Preparing for the first frost

It’s always a crap shoot predicting when the first frost will occur at Halcyon Acres®. Temperatures can be ten degrees lower than the ‘local’ forecast, so you play the guessing game and hope optimism doesn’t end in dismay as you step out to brown, withered plants glistening at dawn.

preparing produce garden for frost at Halcyon Acres
Photo credit: MorgueFiles.com

Even with a light frost you’re probably not going to save tender plants such as peppers, basil, eggplant, most squash and melons no matter what you do, so it’s best to collect as much as you can from these crops if you suspect a freeze. You can stave off the damage from a few light frosts and extend your season for a month or more with most other items in your garden.

Bed sheets work great as a cover. They’re easy to work with, light, flexible and pretty good at providing protection from damage. One thing to keep in mind, though, is temperatures often drop in the morning, so it’s best to keep covers on until 8 a.m..

Usually my biggest concern is the tomatoes. You might lose the plants, but you can save most of the fruit from an initial frost if they’re protected. The great thing about tomatoes is you can bring them in green and they’ll ripen off the vine. In many years past, I’ve collected wheel barrels full after a first frost, sorting through them and assembling them in storage (a vented, single-stacked rack is best) according to ripeness for weeks. Sure, you’d have to throw a few out once in a while (if you didn’t a bad one could ruin them all), but it was delightful grabbing daily ripe tomatoes into the Christmas season. Sadly, the constant rain after a long summer drought did most of them in already this year, so I’ve turned my attention to other salvage activities.

Last night’s forecast was a low of 38 degrees, offering a good chance we’d have a cover of white in the morning. So yesterday I collected all the melons, most of the squash, half the eggplant (they’re still small), a bunch of peppers, basil and whatever tomatoes I could grab as the sun set. All but the tomatoes (these were ripe) will keep for a while stored properly. No frost, so I decided to take the optimistic route with the 37 degree low forecast for tonight. If we get through that, we should have at least another good week of growth and harvesting from the entire garden.

A lot of plants hold up well to frost if they’re established. I don’t worry much about broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, any root vegetables, many of the lettuces (romaine is particularly hearty) and most of the herbs. In fact, if you get a good snow cover before the ground freezes, you can harvest most of the root vegetables all winter long. Just make sure you mark where they are so you can find them under deep cover.

We’ve actually been fortunate the frost has held off this long. Last year our first frost was in early September. Of course, it warmed again through December, so I was able to do some additional planting. Weird year.

Do you have any questions about extending the life of your garden into fall and winter? Feel free to post in the comments below and I’ll try to provide answers.

nlevin

Nanette Levin learned the produce practices she uses mostly the hard way over 20 years of experimentation. Hopefully you'll consider this site one of the many good resources that have cropped up to help you avoid mistakes as a new gardener or a more experienced one shifting to chemical-free solutions. There's a lot of free information (concerning plants and horses), but we also offer consultative support for those seeking customized attention.

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Seasonal eating works, says ancient Chinese medicine

Years ago I was introduced to The Chinese Almanac (they were a client). This was a thin paperback published by Ginseng Press that provided information associated with the Chinese calendar system through yearly forecasts tied to projected weather patterns. Sadly, this book is now out of production (it was an annual publication akin to the Farmer’s Almanac but with a much deeper exploration of forecasts as they relate to eating and health). The content drew from the knowledge of a licensed naturopathic and registered Traditional Chinese Medical doctor with rare access and prolonged exposure to the elders passing down this ancient wisdom over a five thousand year period. Curiously, he now lives in Canada.

One issue I became acutely aware of after reading these books was how much food choices can combat or contribute to health issues. Not in the way most are pushing now, but through the wisdom of simple, ancient teachings. It makes so much sense to view local seasonal foods as the best choice provided you see the world as connected in a way suggested by Eastern philosophies. The things I learned (and experienced through testing) were priceless relative to food choices according the weather (and ailments). Now I understand why my body rejects oranges in the winter, what foods are cooling or heating (they’re not what you might think), the benefit of focusing menu plans on what I can grab from the garden and how certain items can have a huge effect on seasonal health concerns.

If you’re interested in how food choices affect your body, it’s worth taking the time to do a little research and study on the ideals offered through ancient Chinese medicine. You might be amazed at how quickly you can improve how you feel by drawing from what’s naturally available during different times of the year. It might even provide additional incentive to buy from local farmers – a practice that does so many good things for you and the community.

That said, sometimes it gets challenging finding fun, quick and different recipes for abundant local foods.

Kale and turnips are in season at Halcyon Acres® right now in copious supply.seasonal produce cooking ideas from Halcyon Acres

Kale is loaded with beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein (antioxidant) and even offers a decent dose of calcium. Turnips (roots – the greens carry a lot more nutrients) give a boost of Vitamin C as cooler temperatures start bringing on colds. At less than 40 calories a piece, turnips provide a nice boost of interesting flavor to meals when you’re looking for a different taste.

It’s always challenging with uncommon or abundant foods to find different ways to prepare them. Here’s an easy recipe that includes kale, turnips, garlic, thyme, stock and a little bit of oil that takes less than five minutes to prepare once the turnips are cooked.

Do you have tasty recipes that could come from your own in-season garden (all food ingredients in this one came from the Halcyon Acres® garden today – even the little bit of organic sunflower oil is from a local producer manufacturing now)? We’re looking for quick and easy ideas to include in our recipes section on this blog. Have one you’d like to see featured (of course we’ll give you credit and are happy to provide a website or blog link as part of this) on this site? Please share. You can do so in the comments below or e-mail NLevin@HorseSenseAndCents.com. Thanks for sharing!

nlevin

Nanette Levin learned the produce practices she uses mostly the hard way over 20 years of experimentation. Hopefully you'll consider this site one of the many good resources that have cropped up to help you avoid mistakes as a new gardener or a more experienced one shifting to chemical-free solutions. There's a lot of free information (concerning plants and horses), but we also offer consultative support for those seeking customized attention.

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Welcome to our natural approach

Thanks for stopping in to check out the revamped Halcyon Acres® website. As you can see, while the horses are still part of this business (we’ll jump in from time to time with stories, news and updates), we’re putting a much stronger focus on produce. Feel free to poke around (the site is still under construction, so you’ll probably notice changes each day) and let us know if there’s anything you’d like to see covered – or illustrated.

Quick tip for organic growing

organic produce from Halcyon AcresHerbs can create beautiful additions to your landscape (most have delicate and attractive flowers) that also provide tasty options for enhancing a meal. Most are perennial and require little maintenance. All tend to transplant well, so you can start them in one area and then position them where you want around your yard or house after they’ve matured to a hearty state.

If you’re starting seeds outside (now is not the time for this – wait until spring), keep them weeded early as most young shoots don’t compete well with other plants. Good selections for zones 5-6 include sage, oregano, lavender (this one’s iffy outdoors if the winter gets cold but can be transferred to a container and brought inside), thyme and dill (not a perennial but it’s good at reseeding itself).

If you’re new to herb starts, it can be hard to figure out what these plants look like coming out of the ground. There aren’t too many sites that provide visual depicting young plants. So, we’ll be adding pictures to help you identify your seedlings periodically. Check back as we’re still working on this section. If there’s something in particular you seek, let us know and we’ll try to capture and post the image.

Chemical-free produce for fall

It’s fall in Upstate New York. While the leaves are changing and the tomatoes and summer squashes are suffering a bit from the rain that finally came (almost daily after a summer drought), most of the plants are doing great.

Watermelon, cantaloupe, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, eggplant and sweet potatoes are now ready for harvest. We’re finally getting some head lettuce (silvia, freckles and standard romaine) after an early spring and summer that was too hot for these items. The loose leaf continues to be a favorite as we’ve been planting almost weekly and harvesting baby lettuce for clients.

It’s been a great year for herbs. Fresh sage, oregano, parsley, basil, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and lavender are still plentiful. Speaking of herbs, check out this handy slide show 10 Healthy Herbs and How to Use Them, for some fun tips and surprising features of these healing food items.

This past week’s focus has turned to rolling up feeder hoses, taking down pea fences and flag markers, harvesting cut flowers, digging up some of the perennial flower and herb plants for clients to enjoy in their gardens next year and beginning to prep the soil for spring planting.

If you’re in the Greater Rochester area (Eastern suburbs, Canandaigua, Farmington or Victor) and would like to enjoy fall produce (we still have large quantities of hard to find and/or expensive food items such as Swiss chard, kale, turnips, herbs and a lot of other items requested as special plants by clients) we can deliver to your home or office, or you’re welcome to schedule a trip to the farm with family (appointment required) to select your package mix and witness the harvest. Call (585) 554-4612 for more information.

If fresh herbs are what you seek, these ship well. We can assemble a very generous package custom selected for your tastes. US orders only.

nlevin

Nanette Levin learned the produce practices she uses mostly the hard way over 20 years of experimentation. Hopefully you'll consider this site one of the many good resources that have cropped up to help you avoid mistakes as a new gardener or a more experienced one shifting to chemical-free solutions. There's a lot of free information (concerning plants and horses), but we also offer consultative support for those seeking customized attention.

More Posts