Saturday, July 30, 2011


Bloodshed....death...destruction....thousands dead......pre-emptive strike

The proverbial pistols at twilight....

It's my fault for planting so many tasty things and even providing bathing water in the bird bath. Still, I did warn them about nesting in the garage, and randomly buzzing me.

Paper wasps, hornets, muddaubers, carpenter bees, sweat bees.....I hate them all.

Particularily the two baseball size nests out in the garage. Meaning the two nests that were attacked this evening with two full cans of 20-foot-spray, and then conclusively wiped out with three foggers, because dying wasps release a pheromone that alerts their buddies, and we can't risk a sneak attack tomorrow morning.

I leave nothing to chance.

Yippee ki-yay, m*therf**ker!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lost Motivation Marries Total Disaster...The Sequel

I am reminded this is suppose to be a gardening blog. Unfortunately, I have lost all motivation in the face of a second summer of unprecedented heat. Funny how 107 degrees will do melt any amount of resolve.

So today we have photos of lovely flowers which in fact did exist at some point this spring in my garden - but I will not commit to saying they are still out there. Or, at least, they are not out there and alive.

The wire grass has taken over all the spots it did not take over last year ( when I was busy killing it in the garden itself). I made the mistake of not covering the entire yard with black plastic and nuking it afterwards. So now the wire grass has consumed the blueberry and strawberry patch. Meanwhile the volunteer potatoes have come up, but haven't amounted to much besides some beautiful greenery.

This year even the gourd plants are lagging behind (and it's never too hot or dry for gourds), leaving me with the possibility that there will be no Swan Neck gourds, no Nest Egg gourds, no Dipper gourds.

There are a few tomatoes and pepper plants out there -occasionally I wave at them from the upstairs window and remind them they are on their own -it's too hot to even deal with them. They seem depressed.

Wild hollyhocks have overtaken the rosebed, along with a particularily vicious thorned locust tree. On a more positive note, the fig tree is growing at breakneck speed, and I have no idea why, since I rescued it from the dead plant bin at Lowe's two years ago, planted it and then forgot exactly where I put it, much less to water it.

Meanwhile, I do have tomatoes, green peppers, jalapenos, sage, calendula, oregano, and a million different kinds of basil growing in containers up by the house, near the water barrels and a bit of shade.

It's just too freaking hot.

We did have these...

Fine, so they aren't mine. Wire grass ate my strawberry plants. These came from my mom's, She's having her own garden issues this year. Peaches didn't set, corn isn't filling out, lettuce is bolting much too soon - see? It's not just me.

Happily, blueberry season opened today, but I am forcing myself to wait until Thursday when it will be a cold frosty 87 degrees.

All I have to deal with there are the emus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Calendula Harvest

This is my first year growing my own calendula - usually I just buy the petals for my salve. But seeing as how many people regard it as a weed, how hard can it be to grow?

It's a sort of tallish, spindley plant, with one big flowerhead on each spindle. It's also known as pot marigold (some of my readers (you know who you are) will be disappointed, as it is neither pot nor a proper marigold).

The official name calendula is Calendula officinalis, and it is not related to the common marigold, but instead to the daisy or chrysanthemum.

But, just like pot, it is edible - you can actually pick those petals and add them to soups or mashed potatoes (along with garlic) to give them a beautiful golden color. The flavor is similar to pumpkin or squash. A handful of petals goes a long way in rice, carrot cake, chicken and dumplings or cream of mushroom soup.

Calendula can be directly seeded with the mature plants growing from 8" to 18" tall. Don't be afraid to cut the flowerheads, as this only encourages more budding. If flowerheads are left, it will self-seed, but generally doesn't become a nuisance. Calendula (the name just rolls off my tongue) is an annual, or a very short-lived perennial.

Petals can be used fresh or dried (NOTE: Dry the entire flowerhead, but only use the petals themselves in your recipes). Harvest in the late morning, after the dew has dried. To dry the petals for later use, spread the flowerheads in a thin layer in a dry shady spot, until they reach a thin papery consistency. Store in an airtight glass container.

Those of you who know me in real life understand that cooking is not my forte -I'd just as soon order out - so my calendula is destined for my herbal salves.

Calendula is loaded with carotenoids which means it's great for healing damaged skin and regenerating skin cells. Think gardening hands, diaper rash, dry skin, skinned knees, burns, etc. Out of all the recipes I found on the net, not one includes rosemary - but mine does, for several reasons: while calendula is an anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic, I like to err on the side of cauion by including a double dose of antiseptic - and rosemary is the best. This way, while the calendula is rebuilding skin cells, the rosemary is cleansing the wound.

Calendula Salve

2-3 cups Calendula Petals

1 cup of rosemary needles

Olive Oil (also antibacterial)

2 oz. Beeswax (slice into chips so it melts easily)

For those who prefer scented salves, add several drops Rose or Lavender Oil

To make your salve creamier add 1 oz. Lanolin or 1/2 oz. Glycerin

* Recipe can be proportionately increased if you need larger quantities *

To start, put calendula petals and rosemary needles into glass container, cover in olive oil. Cap tightly and let sit for two weeks.

After letting the petals and needles soak for two weeks, pour through a strainer into a small crock pot ($10 at the big box store). This removes the plant matter, leaving only the infused oil.

With the crock pot on the highest setting, slice the beeswax into slivers and small chips. Stir as it melts. If you choose to add lanolin or glycerin or essential oils for fragrance, do it now.

After the beeswax has melted, test the consistency of the mixture by putting a small amount in a milk cap, or a bottle cap,and then setting in the freezer - this will harden it within a few minutes and you can try it to see if it's creamy enough. To make it creamier add a little extra olive oil *or* lanolin *or* glycerin (for the love of god do not add all three, or it will never solidify again).

Run a second "creaminess" test if needed, and while it's hardening in the freezer, get your containers ready. Over the years I have discovered that while I have many beautiful large glass jars, the best salve containers are the tiny glass ones that are shallow and can be thrown in my purse and handed out to friends.

When pouring the salve into the containers BE CAREFUL. This mixture is HOT. When the containers are full, cap tightly and set in the frig or freezer to cool.

That's it. All the benefits of calendula are now yours.

For more salvemaking info, with photos, here's a previous post from last year's comfrey salve session.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Finally Coming in From the Garden

Another summer in the garden starts .... and it starts late, thanks to massive disorganization on my part, major life changes at home, and generally too much to do in too little time....just like everyone else reading this.

Took two days to get all the seedlings potted, waterplants moved out of the greenhouse, hanging plants hung, and seeds spread.

This year I have calendula - the flower petals go in my comfrey salve (but can be eaten fresh too).

Lime Basil is added to the basil collection this year...

Along with the Boxwood Basil and Greek Basil..

And the Magic Michael Basil with the fuzzy fragrant purple tops.

Nessie was suppose to have her own water garden this year - that's not going to happen, so instead she's guarding pots of sage, rosemary and jalapeno peppers. I use the jalapeno peppers to make non-toxic insect spray for the vegetable plants later in the summer.

The larger pots of sage and rosemary are thriving, but the sage I wintered over (the red pot)got very spindlely last month and had to be cut back - it lasted all winter, and produced enough leaves to keep me in sage rinse from October to March. Now that its outside I've cut it way down, and new sprouts are already coming out.

Right next to the Magic Michael Basil are the tomatos, two plants to a large pot with several pots. And in spite of my plans, I ended up planting two rows of tomatos and peppers out in the yard gardens - along with a large area of ground covering gourds (noticed today the gourds are up - dipper, nest egg, and apple gourds).

Remember when I bought these last fall? Finally got them together, and as of this week planted. They were meant to go inside over the winter, and this next year will do just that. But the trial run this summer is outdoors, and includes tomatoes planted upside down..

Top trays have green peppers, rosemary, and blue sage. Since this was taken, the top trays have been mulched with straw to keep moisture close to the roots.

These were the recommended plants, but I'm wondering exactly how the watering will accomodate the water-thirsty tomatos and peppers as well as the sage and rosemary that prefer drier soil.

My ancient oregano plant is popping back out - wasn't really sure it would make it again this year.

This is my fourth year lavender - it winters over in the greenhouse and usually blooms a second time in February.

More sage, more oregano, more rosemary.... I use large amounts of each of these in homemade Italian Seasoning, sage rinse, and comfrey/rosemary salve (rosemary is an antibiotic).

At the very top of the Swing Garden, next to the spiral evergreens, is the Monarda Jacob Cline, probably the Monarda variety with the biggest blooms. This plant will be approximately three feet tall, covered with large red flowers and the butterflies that love them.

While I was straightening out the Swing Garden, Boss showed up and decided I had it under control. He actually lives three houses and a field down, with Miss Joyce the Librarian, but has adopted our house as his summer home.

Nothing fazes Boss - not even our noisy barking dogs.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dismal Experiment Turned Amazing Success

Remember last summer's experiment with hay bale gardening? Remember the sad results (i.e. plants that started out healthy, then within a couple weeks turned sikcly and died)?

Huge discovery as to the reason for that: I bought my hay bales at a commercial provider (a home improvement store that starts with L) not knowing that the growers that supply them automatically spray herbicide on their product, to curb weed growth. Unfortunately that also curbs the growth of desired plants.

So as quickly as I planted young healthy plants, the herbicide did its job and began killing them.

Fast forward to last fall, and when my least favorite garden chore (fall cleanup) came due, I blew it off. There are no words for how much I *hate* fall cleanup.

Sadly, when one blows off fall cleanup, it merely becomes spring cleanup. Therefore this afternoon, I discovered these decomposing hay bales.

They were hidden behind all this.

And this.

A couple hours later, most of the weeds had been piled up on the plastic, and then rolled into a giant weed taco, and hauled away.

Meanwhile, the hay bales have wintered over, the herbicide has disappated, and now they have become some of the finest organic material around. Rich, moist, decomposing- home to earthworms, etc. Perfect for spreading out over the garden.

Couldn't have planned it better if I'd tried.

The name of this year's game plan is budget. In order to conserve water, I'm pulling the veggie crops up into containers close to the house and the rain barrels. This should eliminate most of the need for extra watering. The large beds out in the yard (like the one above) are going to be herbs - basil, lavender, comfrey, oregano, sage - and gourds. All of those do very well with minimal water even in Virginia's heat (worsening every year thanks to global warming-no, don't send me "there-is-no-global-warming" emails). Blooming herbs also attract bees, which will encourage pollination for the veggie crops.

As of today, that's the plan.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

D.C. Tour

Courtesy of the U.S. Botanical new favorite place in D.C.

Beginning at the White House....

complete with Sasha and Melia's playset.

Continuing to the eastern end of the reflecting pool to the Washington Monument (didn't get tickets to this one either)...

and at the other end, the Lincoln Memorial..

with the Big Guy lounging inside. Gift shop is just to the right.

Thomas Jefferson has his memorial over in the ferns, right where FDR requested, so he could see it from the Oval Office.

He stands inside, bearing a startling resemblance to the T.J. bobblehead my DD brought home.

Note the amazing detail on the pediment - you can see all five men, gathered to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, T.J. himself, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston.

At the other end of the National Mall, there's the Botanical Gardens itself, with hundreds of tiny glass panes over the orchid gardens, the desert and of course, Hawaii.

Just one block east of the Gardens stands the Capitol.

And another block east, the Supreme Court.

The real buildings don't have giant poinsettias surrounding them, and they aren't created using thousands of tiny bits of wood, sticks, nuts, bark, and oyster shell, like these.

But they're pretty impressive in their own way.