GARDEN WORKS – Seeds of your dreams: More ideas from the catalog, Part 5 (P-R)

Read part 1 here: Seeds from your dreams, Part 1 (A-thru-E)
Read part 2 here: Seeds of your dreams, Part 2 (G-H)
Read part 3 here: Seeds of your dreams: Find joy in a seed catalog, Part 3 (H-N)
Read part 4 here: Seeds of your dreams: Digging for garden gems, Part 4 (O-P)

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

As I step outside and take a walk around my yard, I am greeted by the sound of melting snow and the scent of thawing earth. Embraced by a gentle breeze, I gaze at the garden beds still covered in receding blankets of snow. As this blanket disappears, dreams of seedlings emerge, along with ideas of endless possibilities of what to plant in these beds. With a few trusty seed catalogs as my guide, these dreams and ideas are ever closer to being fulfilled. In this series of articles, I have shared with you a bunch of my favorite finds from seed catalogs. Let’s continue on and look at a few more alphabetically, this time picking up at the letter ‘P’ and going on through ‘R.’ As always, you are warmly invited to share your thoughts and ideas with us on our website or Facebook, or email me at EmilyCates@townline.org.

Peas – These plants do their best when planted as early as possible in areas with moderate fertility, and given something such as a trellis to grow on. Peas are cherished for their nitrogen-fixing abilities as well as their culinary values. Few garden pleasures compare with a pea pod at the peak of perfection, plucked from the vine, and popped into a happy mouth. In my years as a gardener, I confess that only small numbers of peas have actually made it to my kitchen compared to what I’ve eaten right there on the spot — in the plot, at an impromptu pig-out. I dub it the “Garden Cafe,” and no restaurant I’ve ever been to has adequately captured the exquisite experience of enjoying fresh peas as they are picked. From the ones that survive being eaten in the garden, one can choose from shell peas, snow peas, snap peas and soup peas. Purple-podded peas are a sight to behold.

Peppers – These guys can be a challenge in cold areas, as they are more adapted to warm climates. But it can be done. In our area, peppers prefer to start indoors in March-April and set outside after the last frost. Maine-grown peppers need to be pampered and appreciate being planted in a sheltered location with a shovelful or two of compost into black plastic mulch, and foliar-fed a dilution of fish/seaweed weekly. Pick the first fruits as they size up to increase productivity. The vast, beautiful, and delicious varieties of peppers are stunning. Peppers are versatile, with cultivars specialized for snacking, stuffing, frying, ristras, pickling, pimento, paprika, spices, hot sauce, and even self-defense sprays. They come in almost every color of the rainbow, have flavors of varying degrees of sweetness and spiciness, and display many different shapes and sizes. Some peppers make gorgeous ornamentals, and a few even have variegated leaves. Some are masters of deception: they look like harmless sweet peppers, but pack a ferocious bite. Others look frighteningly hot, but are really sweet on the inside. The cultivar Beaver Dam is both sweet and spicy, but the heat can be removed by cutting out the seeds and ribs. It’s my favorite pepper — easier to grow than many others, and multipurpose. Some years I prefer to cultivate a few plants of only this pepper to enjoy it and save the seeds, and then other years I’ll grow a wide assortment of peppers to make it fun.

Quinoa – This popular supergrain grows in cool, dry climates, and could theoretically be a viable crop in our area with the right cultivars. Since I haven’t actually tried growing quinoa (that could change soon!), here’s a website that might be useful if you’d like to check it out: Tips For Growing Your Own Quinoa. I would love to hear from you if you’ve tried growing it.

Radish – These fast-growing, cool weather-loving plants make piquant roots, nutritious greens, and — in some cultivars — scrumptious seed pods. They range in size from cherry-sized spheres, all the way to giant, foot-long daikon radishes. There’s an array of eye-catching colors, too — black, white, cream, scarlet, red, rose, pink, purple, green, and even multicolored. Rat Tail is a rather radical radish grown for its seed pods and used in pickles, stir fries, and more. Radish greens, though nutritious, are probably more palatable to poultry due to their coarseness — though I’ve been known to eat them steamed or stir-fried if no other greens are available. Lacto-fermented radish root pickles are amazing. What’s for breakfast? A fresh, crisp, breakfast radish, of course! Try it for yourself and see how effective it is for clearing the morning cobwebs from your head.

Once again we’ve reached the end of the line for today, but that’s okay. We’ll look at a few more on the list next time. Until then, enjoy your search for garden gems. Let me know what you find!

GARDEN WORKS – Seeds of your dreams: Digging for garden gems, Part 4 (O-P)

Read part 1 here: Seeds from your dreams, Part 1 (A-thru-E)
Read part 2 here: Seeds of your dreams, Part 2 (G-H)
Read part 3 here: Seeds of your dreams: Find joy in a seed catalog, Part 3 (H-N)

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

When I’ve come in from a cold late winter’s day after hauling sap, I like to sit down and settle in with a seed catalog. If you’ve been following this whimsical series on seeds that stand out in the pages of their catalogs, then this article might give you a few more ideas. This time we’ll travel alphabetically from ‘O’ to ‘P’. As always, feel free to share your suggestions on our website or Facebook, or email me at EmilyCates@townline.org. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Okra — The mucilaginous yet tasty pods of this plant are adored in gumbo soup and similar dishes where a thickener is desired. It likes heat, fertile soil, and a weed-free plot. The cultivar Cajun Jewel is better adapted to our climate here in Maine, and Red Burgundy produces a beautiful plant with ornamental flowers and pods.

Onions — Onions grown from sets or plants are relatively easy to grow. While they can be started from seed — affording the gardener more choice of varieties — I prefer just to buy some good sets and plants at seed sales in the springtime and plant away. Give them full sun and choice soil, showering them with amendments such as FEDCO’s “Tears of Joy Onion Kit.”

Pac Choi — Probably my favorite veggie in a stir fry, I’m especially enamored with the beautiful and delicious cultivar, Purple. Last year, I grew a few plants in a big container full of compost and they were amazing, even though I’d harvested them a little late and they were frozen. What a treat!

Potato — If this versatile tuber is on your menu, how about trying something new and exciting? My favorite potatoes, many with names that hint of their uniqueness, are: All Blue, All Red, Banana, German Butterball, Kennebec, Magic Molly, Purple Viking, and Yukon Gold. Of course, with such variety — red, rose, pink, beige, yellow, gold, white, blue, purple, marbled, russet, fingerling — comes great temptation to try them all. Give the funky ones a chance and have fun. And have even more fun by saving any mature seed balls that mature on the top of the plant. Extract the seeds enclosed in a seed ball, dry them, and sow them next year in flats like tomato seedlings. Each potato seedling that sprouts is a whole new cultivar! In a couple of years you’ll have full-sized plants and potatoes. Save the best ones and enjoy your signature cultivar.

Pumpkin — Most of us are familiar with ornamental and pie pumpkins, but they are so much more than insipid orange orbs. Have you ever thought of pickling a pumpkin? Grow the cultivar Jaune Gros de Paris (Large Yellow of Paris) and I’ll send you a sweet family recipe. How about nutritious and delicious pepitas like at the store, but better? Grow the “naked seed” cultivars such as Good Egg Godiva, Kakai, and Naked Bear. Want something fun and interesting to look at? You’ll want to check out Cheese, Chioggia, Galeux d’Eysines, Jarrahdale, Musquee de Provence, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, or Turban. For the ultimate pumpkin pie experience try the curiously elongated Long Pie, or silky-textured Winter Luxury. And if you’re in it to break records, consider Dill’s Atlantic Giant, or Big Max for a good runner up.

Parsnip — This root is delicious when matchstick sliced, drizzled with oil, roasted, and seasoned to taste. It needs a long season, deep, rich, weed-free soil, and fresh seed. I always leave some plants in the ground to overwinter, promptly harvesting in early Spring before they regrow. They are much sweeter this way and after an autumn frost. Also, since the seeds are short-lived, I make sure to leave a few more plants to go to seed, replant, and also let them self-sow.

Purslane — Perhaps you’ve encountered the wild form of this plant as a weed in your garden — lucky you! The creeping, succulent, mild-but-pleasantly-tart stems and paddle-shaped leaves are considered a nutritious delicacy. I, for one, adore this plant. Though the weed form rarely shows up in my garden, I always make sure to plant the cultivated variety Golden and it does quite well.

Looks like that’s all for this time, but there’s plenty more for next. Stay tuned and keep in touch. Oh, and let me know if you’re tapping maples this year and how it’s going!

GARDEN WORKS – Seeds of your dreams: Find joy in a seed catalog, Part 3 (H-N)

Read part 1 here: Seeds from your dreams: Coming from a seed catalog to you, Part 1 (A-thru-E)
Read part 2 here: Seeds of your dreams, Part 2 (G-H)

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

The crackle of a cozy fire, the crinkling pages of a seed catalog, the whistling of the kettle bubbling with water for my tea— all creature comforts to accompany me as I search for treasures hidden within the pages. Whether it’s the black-and-white FEDCO catalog that stands out for its literary content as well as its seeds, the Johnny’s catalog brimming with full color photos, or the Pinetree catalog loaded with seeds and gift ideas, there’s sure to be something for everyone.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at a few more seeds that in my opinion are worth finding as we search our catalogs. Let’s look at letters ‘H’ through ‘N’ this time. If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to share them on our website or Facebook page, or email me at EmilyCates@townline.org.

Hyssop, anise – I was actually going to start at the letter ‘I’, but I realized I had almost forgotten about one of my favorite herbs of all time – anise hyssop. It’s related to neither anise nor hyssop, but is an herbal superstar in its own right. With mint-like leaves and cute, purple, spire-like flowers, this perennial herb begs all to make friends with it. The foliage and flowers taste delightfully sweet and licorice-like (in a good way!). Delicious herbal teas and confections await this special herb.

Indian Corn – I know I already mentioned corn in a previous article in this series, but the so-called Indian corn cultivars are a must for anyone who appreciates the beauty and historical value of this plant. Look for Abenaki Calais Flint, Hopi Blue, and Painted Mountain.

Juneberries – I have a few of these wonderful native fruiting shrubs planted right alongside the edge of my garlic patch and beyond. Think of a plant with a variable form – shrub- or treelike – that is one of the first to bloom in springtime. Then think of a juicy fruit with the appearance of a blueberry, with a taste reminiscent of a luscious mix of apples and almonds. That is a juneberry!

Kale – This trendy superfood might have peaked in popularity, but it really shines as a staple in every garden not only for its nutritional value, but for its ability to grow in the cold. When other plants have hunkered down for the winter or expired, kale just keeps on growing. It’s such a delight to harvest it during a December snowstorm, or to dig for it in the snow, like green treasure. It’s sweeter then, too. Look for a variety pack of kales and enjoy its diversity.

Lettuce – What’s a garden without lettuce? I, for one, can’t get enough of the flashy, frizzled, spotted, and speckled kinds. There’s such a stunning variety of kinds, I know I’ll never try them all and console myself with a dazzling variety pack of mixed types and colors. Lettuce, for the most part, prefers cooler weather and doesn’t mind a little shade where it can grow among other plants in the garden.

Melons – If you don’t mind a challenge, grow melons in Maine. With the right selection of short-season cultivars, a bit of compost, plenty of sunshine, and black plastic mulch, it just might work. Look for Golden Gopher, Prescott Fond Blanc, and Hannahs Choice. For exquisite watermelons, find Cream of Saskatchewan (my favorite), Moon and Stars, and Blacktail Mountain.

Nasturtiums – What is a garden or patio without nasturtiums? They look good wherever they grow. Not only are their leaves and flowers adorable, but they are delicious in a spicy, peppery way. Insect pests, however, don’t find them as palatable, and as a result, nasturtiums are often planted alongside other plants in the garden as a natural and aesthetically pleasing repellent. I like how a mix of trailing cultivars cascades over the side of a flowerpot, like a cheerful, colorful waterfall. Look for Alaska Mix, Empress of India, Jewel Mix, Tall Climbing Mix, Peach Melba, and Whirlybird 7-Color Blend.

Looks like that’s all the space we have for this time. I hope you have fun hunting for seeds. Let me know what you find!

GARDEN WORKS: Seeds of your dreams, Part 2 (G-H)

Read part one here: Seeds from your dreams, Part 1 (A-thru-E)

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

Calling all gardeners! There’s treasure hiding among the pages of all those seed catalogs, ready to be highlighted and added to your order form. In our last article, we looked at a few alphabetically and got all the way to “E for eggplant.” Now let’s move on to “G for garlic” and beyond. Please feel free to share your thoughts for what’s on your dream garden wish list in a comment on our website or Facebook, or email me at EmilyCates@townline.org.

Garlic – A staple in my garden, I’d never be without good-old German Extra Hardy. It does best when fall-planted, but it’s possible to start it in the spring.

Ginger – While a lot of folks who grow ginger on a market scale in Maine use high tunnels and hoop houses, a simple, well-drained flowerpot with good potting soil can accommodate a plant or two for an occasional treat. I bring mine in before a frost in fall, and outside after a frost in springtime. It looks pretty good as a houseplant, too.

Ginseng – I just found seeds for this in the Johnny’s catalog! Though my initial attempt to grow ginseng years ago was not a success, I am determined to try again. Let me know your experiences with ginseng.

Gourds – This is another plant with endless possibilities to fire an artist’s imagination. Not only are gourds delightfully ornamental, they can be fashioned into useful objects such as canteens, containers, dippers, birdhouses, children’s toys, musical instruments and more.

Grains – These crops are incredibly important from a historic perspective, but are equally important now as food, forage, cover crops, and ornamentals. On a small, garden-scaled plot, try hulless oats, Opopeo amaranth, and Duborskian rice.

Grapes – While many folks think of vineyards when they think of grapes, all that is needed is a well-drained, moderately fertile, sunny spot, preferably with something the grapevine can climb on – such as a fence, gazebo, or trellis of some sort. Brianna, Somerset Seedless, and King of the North are among my favorites.

Greens – I never seem to be able to get enough of them, and I’ll probably die trying to plant as many packets of mixed greens as I can get my hands on. The varieties for braising seem to hold up well in my garden. Also, the green known as Good King Henry is a perennial, spinach-like plant that even self-sows. What could be better than that?

Groundnut – As a child, I always wondered about a distinctive fragrance along a meadow near China Lake, until discovering it was actually groundnut. What a wonderful surprise to find out that this useful plant, that nourished native peoples from ancient times, would grow well at my home. This lovely native perennial vine with unusual, highly fragrant maroon/pinkish leguminous flowers yields tasty, protein-filled tubers that are edible and delicious when peeled and cooked. It likes damp, shady places with something to climb on, and will care for itself once established.

Herbs – I’ve mentioned a few, and though they are more commonly recognized for their culinary properties, herbs also provide medicine, pest control, aromatherapy, dyes, art projects, and more. Why not plant some herbs among garden plants to confuse their pests?

Horseradish – When planted in an area outside of the garden where its invasive-ness can be controlled, horseradish pretty much takes care of itself. Its bold, bold flavor commands respect unsuitable for the fainthearted.

Husk Cherry – These sweet, pineapple-flavored, cherry tomato-resembling fruits are encased in a husk and are ready to eat when they fall from their plant. Oftentimes they will self-sow, to my delight.

Well, looks like we only made it to “H” this time on our whimsical stroll through our seed catalogs. No worries, we’ll look at a bunch more next time. Until then, stay tuned and let me know your thoughts.

Read part 3 here: Seeds of your dreams: Find joy in a seed catalog, Part 3 (H-N)

GARDEN WORKS: Seeds from your dreams: Coming from a seed catalog to you, part 1 (A-thru-E)

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

As the wind whips through the drifting snow, I snuggle up by the wood stove with a warm cup of tea and a seed catalog. Each year there’s something new, along with seeds tried and true.

With imagination running wild, I run my highlighter through the pages, highlighting the objects of desire until the ink runs dry. Flipping through the pages with great enthusiasm and stars in my eyes, I pause to envision my garden brimming with the results of planting these seeds.

Since this is a good time of year to plan a garden and order seeds, let’s look at some possibilities we’ll find in catalogs. In this series, we’ll examine an “A to Z of Possibilities” wish list ranging from easy-to-grow things I’d never go without, and a few more that leave me intrigued. If you have any suggestions or thoughts on what’s on your dream garden wish list, feel free to leave a comment on our website or Facebook page, or send me a message to my brand new email address: EmilyCates@townline.org.

Arugula – Probably my favorite salad or braising green, its nutty, peppery crunch always makes me happy. Oftentimes it self-sows for an encore performance.

Asparagus – If you have a sunny, weed-free, fertile patch of soil, try planting Purple Passion asparagus.

Ashwagandha – This herb from the nightshade family grows a root that is used for its adaptogenic properties similar to ginseng.

Basil – Nowadays there are many cultivars with a dazzling array of many shapes, colors, and aromas. My favorite basil, Mrs. Burns’ Lemon, looks absolutely amazing interplanted with other basils such as Purple Ruffles, Spicy Bush, and lettuce leaf varieties. Don’t forget Genovese basil for the best pesto on the planet.

Beans – Pole beans, bush beans, runner beans, shell beans, green beans, yellow beans, purple beans, soup beans, wax beans, haricots verts, oh my! I have definitely tried my share of bean varieties over the years, and I’ve learned that one could spend an entire lifetime trialing a new bean every year. So many colors and patterns to choose from, it’s easy to get boggled looking at beans in a catalog. But try the interesting ones anyways – like Red Noodle, Drabo, and Dragon’s Tongue – and have fun.

Beets – If you can grow beets, the cultivar Chioggia is delicious and pretty with its bullseye pattern of pink and white when sliced.

Carrots – Carrots of today are available in a wide range of beautiful colors. Though they are sometimes a challenge to grow in my clay-based soil, the ones that do well are especially delicious after a frost. Try a seed packet of mixed colors and plant something exciting.

Cilantro – Either you love it or hate it. Whether or not it tastes like the essential ingredient of a superb salsa – or dish soap – will determine whether or not it will be planted in your garden plot.

Corn – It’s difficult to grow corn when surrounded by hungry birds and beasts, but a good year will yield enough to enjoy fresh, roasted, steamed, ground, popped, decoratively, and more. For something a little different, look for Earth Tones (a beautiful dent corn), and Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored Popcorn (the hands-down best popcorn in the universe).

Cucumbers – I find the specialty cukes to be fabulous, especially Boothby’s Blonde, Poona Kheera, and the round Lemon cucumber. I’m also intrigued with Mexican Sour Gherkin, a cucumber-like plant that produces fruits that taste refreshingly like they were already pickled. (This I keep intending to try, hopefully I’ll get around to it this year.) Let me know your experience with it.

Dahlias – The tubers of this gorgeous flower are edible – so consider planting a cultivar selected for table qualities – and beautify your garden.

Eggplant – Even if you’re not a fan of eggplant, its fruit grows in so many eye-catching colors that it might deserve a spot to be admired.

Wow! I can’t believe the A to Z wish list for this time only went to “E”. Let’s pick up “G for garlic” next time. Again, don’t forget to leave a comment on our website or Facebook, or message me at EmilyCates@townline.org.

Happy searching for dream seeds!

Read part two here: Seeds of your dreams, Part 2 (G-H)

Read part three here: Seeds of your dreams: Find joy in a seed catalog, Part 3 (H-N)

GARDEN WORKS: A garden on your countertop

Countertop Sprouts

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

Growing fresh, delicious, nutritious sprouts for the winter table

Brrr! I don’t know about you, but the most I’m getting out of my garden right now is icicles. Wouldn’t it be nice to grow something fresh and green? Is it even possible when it’s so cold outside?

Enter sprouts, the superheroes of nutrition – here to save the day! Not only are freshly prepared sprouts delicious, but they are alive and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that are very good for you. As an added bonus, they are inexpensive, easy to grow, and take up very little room in the kitchen. Kids are oftentimes fascinated at the sight of germinating seeds- which affords all of us an opportunity to enjoy a closer, more personal relationship with the food we eat. And even folks in urban areas and those with limited space can enjoy the benefits of fresh, delicious, nutritious sprouts.

If you’d like to give it a try, the first thing you might like to do is find a source of sprouting seeds. Clover, alfalfa, wheat berries, mung beans, fenugreek, onion, and chia are some popular choices. Whole grains like brown rice, wheat berries, whole barley, rye, quinoa, millet, and beans are easier to digest and even more nutritious when sprouted. (I always prepare them this way before cooking and thoroughly enjoy it!) A word of caution, though: Never sprout treated seeds and always make sure your seeds are food-grade. Some seeds such as those from tomatoes, potatoes, and other nightshade vegetables are poisonous when sprouted. And, of course, use common sense while growing sprouts. When in doubt to the freshness or safety of sprouts that have an off-odor or develop mold, throw them out and try again. Keep records when starting out to streamline the learning experience.

With that in mind, a great source for sprouting seed is local health food stores. Sometimes seed companies like Pinetree and Johnny’s sell sprouting seeds along with special sprouting equipment. (For a long term, sustainable source of sprouting seed stock, try starting your own crop outside in the spring.) For best results, use fresh seeds and store the unused portions in a cool, dry location in an airtight glass jar. The freezer is by far the best place for long-term storage of seeds. Just make sure to let the jar warm to room temperature before opening to prevent the formation of moisture on the seeds. That will keep any seeds from that batch from losing their viability if they are to be stored again.

Now that you have obtained the seeds, it’s time to start sprouting! Germination will occur sooner in a warm room. There are several different methods of growing sprouts, but I have found this way to be the easiest: Soak the seeds in water overnight. Use a strainer or colander for the sprouting vessel, and line it with screen or cheesecloth if the holes are large enough for seeds to fall out. Then place the seeds no more than 2 cm thick in the vessel and rinse several times each day. Keep them moist but not waterlogged. In a day or two, depending on the seed, you should see some action. The seeds can be eaten soon after they have sprouted or a while later when they have grown a couple inches or longer. Experiment on what suits your taste. Expose the sprouts to sunlight until they turn green with nutrition. Then enjoy some fresh garden goodness straight from your countertop!

GARDEN WORKS: Winter time hints to calm the chill

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

The cold winter winds dance along the frozen landscape, whispering their secrets to the trees swaying to the beat of a timeless song of the season. Shaking the snow from their limbs, they remind me of slow-motion pets stepping inside to dry off, throwing wet snowflakes in every direction. (Of course, I seem to always be within distance of getting snow-showered whenever this happens.)

As we venture into the coldest and darkest time of the year, little things that add warmth and comfort can add up to needed enjoyment. In this article, let’s look at a few things to brighten our winter days. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to send a message!

Working outdoors on a nice winter’s day is one of my favorite things to do – if done right. Of course, I always make sure to bundle up and wear my warm boots. If I’m outside for a while, or it’s really cold, then I’ll place some warmers in my boots and mittens. These foot and hand warmers, as well as medical hot packs that I’ve found to work comparably, are found in stores and online.

Though I consider warmers a tad spendy, they are necessary for hands and feet that have been overexposed to the cold in times past and consequently sensitized. Folks, don’t ever ignore cold hands and feet! You’ll regret it, I promise, like I have from the time I was a kid and went through swampy ice up to my knees and in my boots. Ever since then my feet get mad at me when they’re cold – especially when there are steel-toed or inadequate boots involved. In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s better to be warm and look silly, than to be fashionable and freezing!

Speaking of hands and feet, these parts of us may need extra attention this time of year. The wintertime environment both indoors and out has a tendency to promote dry, chapped skin. Lips, face, and hands are especially vulnerable parts that could need a little TLC.

Want to know some healing salve recipes I’ve found to be especially useful? Since I’m really bad at measuring when I make things, I’ll give you the concept: Start with a fat for a base. I mostly use Shea butter – but coconut oil, olive oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, mango butter, vitamin E, and jojoba oil are good, too. Lard and bear fat are traditional. These can be used singly or in combinations that work for you.

Safe, common herbs and such I have used that add soothing and healing properties include elder flowers, balsam fir, mallow, plantain, and calendula petals. Essential oils like rose, lavender, orange, clove, vanilla, or others can be added at the end of infusing to impart scent to the salve. (Follow directions on bottles since essential oils are really concentrated! Also, make sure to positively identify all ingredients. Test a small area of the skin with finished product salve to make sure it doesn’t cause irritation.)

Ratios of fat to dried plant material depend on availability and desired strength. I usually crumble dried plant material by hand or with a coffee grinder in amounts that “feel” right. (Consult a reputable source for specific ratios.) Combine the fat with herbs in a pot over low heat and gently stir once any solid fats have melted. Keep on low heat for several hours until sufficiently infused or until the desired strength is attained. (I leave my pots of salves on top of the wood stove on trivets overnight.) Strain the salve, add essential oils if using, and carefully pour into clean jars. Don’t forget to label what you’ve got and the date you made it.

Of course, a nice cup of hot tea and cuddly blankets should be on every winter list. To top it all off, how about a favorite seed catalog, a comfy chair, and a warm wood stove? Ah, now that’s good living!

GARDEN WORKS: Wrapping up for winter

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

Are we ready for Old Man Winter? We should be, since Mother Nature seems to be making up her mind that she’s here!

Many opportunities in the garden like digging and planting are lost when the ground freezes. The good news, though, is there may be a little time left for winterizing our garden and orchard now. The effort expended will reward us next year with fewer frustrations and heartaches, and much more satisfaction with our hard work. A case in point is all those wonderful fruit trees we invested our time and money in. At twenty-five bucks a pop, a tree will potentially pay for itself many times over — that is, if it thrives and survives long enough to make it worth our while. Chances are if a young tree successfully makes it through the winter, then it will be more likely to do well in the future. That’s why winter care is so vital and should not be overlooked, especially in beginning of the season and early on in a tree’s lifespan. The following are suggestions with trees in mind — though they should work well with vines (such as grapes), cane fruits, and shrubs.

The challenges for trees in the wintertime are unique. An important thing to keep in mind is that the snow can both help and hurt a tree. It helps in that it acts as a protective blanket that holds in warmth, thus enabling a tree to be fully hardy in northern areas. However, this blanket will also house unwelcome guests such as rodents who chew the bark and damage the tree. Foil the rascals with tin foil- simply make a collar and wrap the tree trunk at the base and up a foot or two. Or use hardware cloth, window screening, or a tree guard from a garden store. Remember to regularly check the collar and allow room for the growing trunk, keeping an eye out for girdling and abrasion if rigid materials are used.

Winter sun might brighten our day, but it can reflect on the snow pack and harm the trunk of a tree. Trees in the woods seem to have less of this problem since the light is more diffused, but it can be a bigger issue in an orchard planting. Sunscald can be remedied by a coat of interior latex paint mixed with joint compound and painted onto the trunk. (This, incidentally, also makes it easier to spot borer damage on pear and apple trees.) The FEDCO Trees catalog has a great recipe for an organic option using quick lime, milk, and linseed oil. Tin foil may once again come to the rescue for this problem; it’s also good for minimizing the danger of being smoosh­ed by the snow­ plow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of an unfortunate tree or shrub meeting its end this way — so let’s be sure to clearly mark our beloved trees and keep them safe!

A good layer of mulch around trees to their drip edge can be applied or renewed at this time. Mulching will help conserve moisture and nutrients, moderate soil temperatures, encourage earthworms, and keep weeds in check. Bark mulch, pebbles, old sawdust, shredded leaves, untreated cardboard, newspaper, rotted manure, and compost are preferable to hay, which encourages rodents. Be sure to pull the mulch a few inches away from the trunk. If possible, try to delay pruning until late winter, unless removing dead or diseased parts of the tree (unless you have a tree or shrub that has specific pruning needs for this time). Pruning encourages growth, which is not what we want right now. New growth is especially tender and susceptible to winterkill. So hold off on most pruning and fertilizers, and put the trees to bed instead.

And let’s face it. It is rare to have 100 percent success in the garden. So let’s take stock and walk our plot, and examine each and every tree, shrub, vine, or specimen. It may be a good idea to make the tough decisions now. Is there a tree that looks sickly, a vine out of place, or a shrub which under-whelmed our expectations? Maybe it’s time to take action and make room for something else that will be worth it. Late autumn is an ideal time for this, since the vacancy may be prepared now for planting with fresh ideas in springtime.

And while we’re outside, let’s enjoy the wonderfully crisp air, welcoming Old Man Winter to our gardens!

GARDEN WORKS – Ready for Wintertime! Tips and tricks as the clock ticks

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

Few times of the year are as satisfying to me as autumn. With crates full of goodies like garlic, onions, squash, carrots and potatoes- and canning jars brimming with the rewards of successful harvests, I feel surrounded with abundance, always thankful.

After planting the garlic and putting the garden to bed, the frost finally settles into the ground, bringing this season to an end. However, for the adventurous and practical minded gardener, there is still work to be done.

If you are especially motivated and would like to keep working, here are a few suggestions. Let’s look at moving perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees – and also tips for making the garden plot easy to work with come springtime.

There’s a good window of opportunity to take advantage of between the times where plants have gone dormant and when the ground freezes for good this year. Usually this happens for a few weeks in our area starting late October/early November. So, if you have a tree you’d like planted, a perennial divided, a shrub moved, a grapevine pruned, then get to it!

Unlike springtime plantings of trees – for example – which must be well-watered throughout their first season, fall plantings only need thorough waterings up until the freeze. A nice thick mulch extended to the drip line but pulled away several inches away from the trunk is beneficial. (My trees seem to enjoy being mulched with aged debris left over from processing firewood, and they look pretty, too.)

Speaking of mulch, here’s a little time saving trick to working the garden next spring: mulch the heck out of it! (Wondering what to use for mulch? Think cardboard covered with old hay, leaves, straw, or compost. Tarps, old blankets, rugs, garden fabric, and sheets of plastic can do the job too.) Then, in the springtime, the mulch is moved and the garden planted with ease.

What I like to do is clean the garden beds thoroughly from crop residues and weeds – making sure to get any roots and rhizomes – and till it up with a spading fork, adding soil amendments as desired. Then I pile on the mulch, imagining it to be a warm, fluffy comforter for the garden to snuggle. Depending on my mood, I might even sing it a lullaby.

At this point, depending on how badly I overworked in the growing season, I will either take a needed hiatus, or (foolishly) press on to other outdoor activities such as firewood. Most likely it’s the latter scenario, with all the work from the growing season being the prelude, conditioning and leading up to the hard work of the harvest of the woods.

For all the time and effort, though, it sure feels good to have food and a warm home — along with a free “gym membership.”

GARDEN WORKS: Get it done in the garden while it’s still nice outside

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

Here comes autumn! It’s all around us — from the crisp, aromatic smells of wood smoke to the sight of falling leaves in the chilly air. There’s no denying that the cold is on its way. But isn’t this a most pleasant time of year to be outside? Aside from yellow jackets inebriated from the fallen apples, there is not a buzzing bug in sight to be concerned with. (But watch out for ticks!) And the chill in the air is refreshing when working vigorously outside. Let’s use this opportunity to get things done in the garden.

One of the most important tasks at hand is garden clean-up. Removing the remnants of plants such as frosted tomatoes, squash, and others will help reduce the incidence of pests and diseases in the garden. It’s also a good idea to do a thorough weeding: grubbing out all those pesky quack grass rhizomes and deep-rooted weeds such as burdock and dandelion. One helpful trick that makes getting rid of weeds easier is to till or hand-dig the area, let it rest for a few days or so until the new crop of weeds germinates, and then dig again. Got chickens? Corral them in this area and they will be happy to scratch it up for you. And they’ll add their own “contributions”. Another hint that helps with the weeds is to generously mulch the garden patch with shredded leaves, un-colored newspaper, straw, rotted hay, old sawdust, cardboard, bark mulch, or anything that does not contain weed seeds. Some folks even lay down old rugs and boards so that next spring when they’re pulled up, no weeds- and a soil that’s easy to work with. Oh, and let’s not forget to add nutrition at this time. If you have access to hay bedding from a goat pen, it will serve dual duty of being a decent mulch, with fertilizer “pellets” included. Garlic loves this!

Just because there was a frost doesn’t mean it’s over in the garden. Actually, it’s the prime time to plant garlic and cold-weather vegetables such as kale, and parsnips. With row covers, cold frames, hot beds, and hoop houses, the possibilities include greens, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, leeks, and carrots. Some veggies, such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, and parsnips, are much sweeter when harvested after a freeze- even in the snow! Give it a try if you get a chance.

Would you like to save some seeds of the harvest right now? Here are a few helpful tips to get started: Small amounts of seeds adequate for an average household can be harvested by hand. Try to save the healthiest, most productive, true-to type seeds from the “cream of the crop”. Unless you want a surprise, always save seeds from open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties that were not crossed with other varieties.

Generally, most seeds are ready to be saved after the mother plant has reached full maturity. Cucurbit family members (cucumbers, melons, squash, etc.) will be quite overripe and at the inedible stage. Fertile seeds of this type, when freshly harvested, will sink to the bottom of a cup of water. Save these ones and discard the floaters. Tomato seeds appreciate being fermented for a couple of days to dissipate a germination inhibitor- simply squeeze the tomato pulp into a cup, and wait until a layer of mold appears on the surface of the pulp.

This may take a day or two- but don’t wait too long or the seeds will sprout. When the gel capsules surrounding the seeds have broken down, pour fresh water into the cup. The good seeds will sink to the bottom of the cup, and the bad seeds and gunk will float. Pour off the impurities, repeat until clear, and rinse the seeds through a strainer.

Dry the cleaned seeds on a labeled paper plate, and voilà! Seeds from pod-bearing plants will be ready when the pod is completely dry. Try saving these types of seeds when the weather is arid, or pull the whole plant and hang under cover in a barn, outbuilding, or attic until the plant has dried. Seeds such as from beans, peas, corn, and squash are ready to store when they cannot be dented when applied pressure from a fingernail. These seeds and others can be stored dry in glass jars in the freezer for long term storage. (Just make sure to warm the jar at room temperature before opening so as to prevent condensation.) Bulbs, tubers, and rhizomes are the seed, such as with garlic, potatoes, and hops, respectively; oftentimes they keep best for planting when they have been thoroughly cured and stored away from light in a dry, cool (but not freezing) area. Really, a good rule of thumb for all seeds is to keep them dry and away from heat and light.

Hope you enjoy being productive in the garden!

Here comes autumn! It’s all around us — from the crisp, aromatic smells of wood smoke to the sight of falling leaves in the chilly air. There’s no denying that the cold is on its way. But isn’t this a most pleasant time of year to be outside? Aside from yellow jackets inebriated from the fallen apples, there is not a buzzing bug in sight to be concerned with. (But watch out for ticks!) And the chill in the air is refreshing when working vigorously outside. Let’s use this opportunity to get things done in the garden.

One of the most important tasks at hand is garden clean-up. Removing the remnants of plants such as frosted tomatoes, squash, and others will help reduce the incidence of pests and diseases in the garden. It’s also a good idea to do a thorough weeding: grubbing out all those pesky quack grass rhizomes and deep-rooted weeds such as burdock and dandelion. One helpful trick that makes getting rid of weeds easier is to till or hand-dig the area, let it rest for a few days or so until the new crop of weeds germinates, and then dig again. Got chickens? Corral them in this area and they will be happy to scratch it up for you. And they’ll add their own “contributions”. Another hint that helps with the weeds is to generously mulch the garden patch with shredded leaves, un-colored newspaper, straw, rotted hay, old sawdust, cardboard, bark mulch, or anything that does not contain weed seeds. Some folks even lay down old rugs and boards so that next spring when they’re pulled up, no weeds- and a soil that’s easy to work with. Oh, and let’s not forget to add nutrition at this time. If you have access to hay bedding from a goat pen, it will serve dual duty of being a decent mulch, with fertilizer “pellets” included. Garlic loves this!

Just because there was a frost doesn’t mean it’s over in the garden. Actually, it’s the prime time to plant garlic and cold-weather vegetables such as kale, and parsnips. With row covers, cold frames, hot beds, and hoop houses, the possibilities include greens, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, leeks, and carrots. Some veggies, such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, and parsnips, are much sweeter when harvested after a freeze- even in the snow! Give it a try if you get a chance.

Would you like to save some seeds of the harvest right now? Here are a few helpful tips to get started: Small amounts of seeds adequate for an average household can be harvested by hand. Try to save the healthiest, most productive, true-to type seeds from the “cream of the crop”. Unless you want a surprise, always save seeds from open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties that were not crossed with other varieties.

Generally, most seeds are ready to be saved after the mother plant has reached full maturity. Cucurbit family members (cucumbers, melons, squash, etc.) will be quite overripe and at the inedible stage. Fertile seeds of this type, when freshly harvested, will sink to the bottom of a cup of water. Save these ones and discard the floaters. Tomato seeds appreciate being fermented for a couple of days to dissipate a germination inhibitor- simply squeeze the tomato pulp into a cup, and wait until a layer of mold appears on the surface of the pulp.

This may take a day or two- but don’t wait too long or the seeds will sprout. When the gel capsules surrounding the seeds have broken down, pour fresh water into the cup. The good seeds will sink to the bottom of the cup, and the bad seeds and gunk will float. Pour off the impurities, repeat until clear, and rinse the seeds through a strainer.

Dry the cleaned seeds on a labeled paper plate, and voilà! Seeds from pod-bearing plants will be ready when the pod is completely dry. Try saving these types of seeds when the weather is arid, or pull the whole plant and hang under cover in a barn, outbuilding, or attic until the plant has dried. Seeds such as from beans, peas, corn, and squash are ready to store when they cannot be dented when applied pressure from a fingernail. These seeds and others can be stored dry in glass jars in the freezer for long term storage. (Just make sure to warm the jar at room temperature before opening so as to prevent condensation.) Bulbs, tubers, and rhizomes are the seed, such as with garlic, potatoes, and hops, respectively; oftentimes they keep best for planting when they have been thoroughly cured and stored away from light in a dry, cool (but not freezing) area. Really, a good rule of thumb for all seeds is to keep them dry and away from heat and light.

Hope you enjoy being productive in the garden!