Saturday, April 27, 2013

Herb Fest

Yesterday we went to the annual festival put on by local gardening and horticultural groups in Mattoon, the neighboring town to Charleston. It's called Herb Fest. Being from Colorado, the word "herb" still has a different primary meaning than culinary plants, but beyond semantics, the festival is a highlight of spring. The day was cool and rain was falling, but the turnout seemed robust. I was looking for a few plants I have been unable to grow successfully from seed: thyme and oregano. The nice Amish folks we bought sage and rosemary from two years ago were there, and we decided to pick out four different plants for the herb garden. I picked up a nice variety of thyme called "Porlock". It had the thymiest scent to its healthy leaves. We picked up a Lady lavender plant... I haven't been able to grow lavender from seed either. I was thinking about buying another oregano, but they didn't really have any cool varieties, so Rich suggested we try two new herbs. He picked out patchouli and I picked out lemon verbena. I didn't know patchouli was even a plant. The one we picked out looks a little rough-for-the-wear (but I think it will come through just fine)... the plant is about four inches tall, with quarter-inch diameter leaves that are dark green and rough to the touch. And rubbing the leaves definitely releases the unmistakeable scent of patchouli. I am thinking that it will add amazing scent to our homemade bath salts. The lemon verbena smells just lemony and yet so green. I will use it for both cooking and for other things (infusing alcohol and adding it bath salts, for starters) as well. Rich had said we'd spend just ten dollars, and these plants were $2.50 each, so we were good. On our way back to the car, we passed the Master Gardener's stall where we bought the really cool Rattlesnake Master plant we have growing outside our kitchen window. They had a huge selection of perennials and we were drawn to these cool-looking Torch Lilies. We bought two. I was glad we bought a couple of new plants, as that's the main reason I like to go to Herb Fest. On the way out, I did see some really cool oreganos (one was an almost sea-foam light green color), but we had already spent more money than we had meant to... I am looking forward to planting these six new plants and hopefully watching them thrive!
Below are pictures of the Torch Lilies, Lemon Verbena, then Patchouli.

Rain, rain, rain

It rained all day today. Over the past few weeks, we have had a lot of rain, with today's half-inch, the total for April is 8.5 inches. Things are wet, soggy, and very, very green. The plum and early apple trees turned their blossoms out this morning. In the raised beds, the peas are several inches tall and looking hopeful. (Last year, after I planted 500 pea seeds, I was left with zero pea plants due to the early heat.) This year, we haven't had much heat. We woke to frost a few times this week. Nothing major...but winter has definitely been hanging around longer than it did last year. The garden still isn't tilled. I am not sure when that will happen... I can't imagine a tractor being able to make the rounds without getting stuck in the muck. So we wait to get busy outside.

But inside, things are growing very well in the seed room. Not everything has germinated yet, but every morning when I water, I am greeted by new plants unfurling their leaves under the lights. There is a tomato forest (see the picture below), and the second picture is of the gorgeous little salad burnett plants. I just love the shape of their leaves. The third picture is a close-up of some of the tomatillo plants (purple and green!). I love the fuzzy stems on the tomatoes and tomatillos... Today's last picture is of some of the lettuce I have growing in the seed room... it is definitely looking like leaf lettuce to me. Every time I water it, I imagine pouring olive oil and balsamic vinegar on it, tossing it with some salt and pepper, and eating it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Brussels Sprouts

Well it seems I can't grow Brussels Sprouts. Granted, my seeds were one and two years old, but 100% of them germinated, and they all got more than two leaves. And then they all just wilted and died. Damping off, I believe. The second year in a row that this has happened. The first year I tried to grow Brussels Sprouts, I actually got them large enough to transplant them into the ground, where they were killed by cutworms. But at this point, I feel that these are a variety of plant that it is just impossible to grow.

These types of setbacks I am becoming used to the more I farm.

That said, my 2013 farm is doing alright so far. Last week when I planted out in my raised beds, I had been under the impression that we would be getting a few days of rain over the course of the week. None of that rain fell. But, knowing those seeds had just been planted and hopefully uneaten by birds, rabbits, cats, or dogs, would chill out, waiting for the rain. It is now predicted that up to 3" of rain will fall this week, in warm weather thunderstorms... if that comes to pass, those seeds should be pushing out of the ground by this time next week.

Life in the seed room, Brussels Sprouts not withstanding, is going well. I kept the heat off while I was out of town, and our friend kept the seedlings and the soil blocks watered. But not too much grew. A few of the eggplants have now pushed out. Some of the tomatoes and peppers have grown third and fourth leaves. The cabbages are starting to look like cabbages, and the lettuce and mesclun are looking fantastic. And today I started four more flats of seeds... peppers, tomatoes, ground cherries, hollyhocks, lovage, salad burnet, and more tomatillos. Over 264 plants started in the seed room today, along with about 64 giant parsley plants I direct-seeded in a new plot next to the herb garden. I am expanding the size of the garden once more this year. If all goes well, you all will be able to enjoy this garden this year.

As I write, the window in the living room is open, and the southerly breeze has just turned cool... we are supposed to get several days of periodic thunderstorms. Today was over 70 degrees, and after a morning and afternoon doing garden work, Rich & I went to our friends, Sam & Kate's, for the season's first BBQ and bags... it was heavenly.

Below, pictures of a few of the seedlings (cabbages, lettuce) taken on Tuesday... Happy Spring, and it looks like I will be buying my Brussels Sprouts once more.