Neighborly Garden News
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Start an herb garden for taste and health!
There have been many articles published about the helpful and healing properties of the aromatic plants we know as herbs. Herbs have been found to contain various kinds of complex antioxidant compounds; volatile oils and anti-inflammatory agents that are all best enjoyed fresh. Of course, you may dry herbs for cooking and teas; but the real goodness lies in the living tissues. I’m speaking of our typical culinary herbs; certain herbs for pharmaceuticals have specified methods of preparation.
Wild herb plants are thought of as nature’s super foods, they are packed with so much nutrition. Many of our culinary herbs were brought from Europe where they grow wild. You may, like me, have seen videos showing happy and healthy folks gathering wild herbs and edibles from their daily walks to be eaten in a fresh salad or stew in the next meal. Residents living in the ‘Blue Zones’ of the world (places statistically having longevity in their population) eat many of these wild greens and herbs daily.
Keep those newly purchased herb plants close at hand. Life will be so much easier to have them as close to your kitchen as possible, so it’s not a chore to pick them, in order to use them with every meal. I actually keep two herb gardens; one for production and preserving, in the main veggie garden out back, and a smaller one near my deck; steps from the kitchen. This makes it simple to pop out, as I’m cooking, to pick a handful of herbs for the dish. You can incorporate fresh herbs in ways you may not have thought of, because they are now very accessible.
My top 5 easy herbs are:
Rosemary is in the mint family, but usually grows into a semi woody shrub. Bring it inside for the winter as it will die if left outdoors in our hardiness zone. The scent of Rosemary has been shown to improve memory and mental clarity. It contains carnosic acid, which can protect skin from UV-A rays, and be an anti-carcinogen. Rosemary also has antiseptic properties, and aids in detoxifying the body, and supporting the immune system.
Thyme is one of my favorite herbs, besides adding great flavor to soups and stews it is a good antiseptic. Thymol, one it’s essential oil components, is an active ingredient in Listerine. Thyme is also used as an aid for respiratory ailments, and an aid to digestion.
Basil is a mainstay of our kitchen; available in many ‘flavors’ and colors. Basil is known as an anti-inflammatory herb. Herbalists say it’s good for a systemic detox, and supporting the liver. Basil goes with fresh tomatoes, fresh cheese, in omelets; in almost any cuisine. It’s very easy to freeze basil at the height of flavor, and it will keep all winter. I process mine with just enough olive oil to make a chunky paste, and then freeze it in containers.
Many colors of Basil
Chives and other members of the Allium or onion family are also very showy when in bloom. These also include garlic, shallots, and scallions. Garlic and other Allium cousins are known to support the immune system. I don’t think a meal goes by without using at least one member of this tasty herb family. Onions also contain high amounts of vitamin C, B6, Folate, and Potassium. Garlic has long been recognized for its healthful properties, known to reduce blood pressure, and prevent cell damage, due to its anti-oxidant components.
Parsley is so packed with vitamins, that only 1 tablespoon gives you half your daily dose of vitamin K, vitamins A and C, too. So good, it’s not just a garnish! It adds that bit of ‘unami’ (savory) flavor that is so intriguing. Most chefs recommend the flat-leaved variety, as having the best flavor.
Countryside can help you design and build an herb garden to suit your needs.
March’s to-do list
The vernal or spring equinox will arrive on March 20th at 11:33AM this year. The length of day and night are about equal during an equinox. The day and time will vary each year, as the equinox arrives 6 hours later than the previous year. This is because the earth takes slightly longer than 365 days to completely revolve around the sun each year. The spring equinox signals the beginning of our spring season in the Northern Hemisphere, and the start of autumn in the Southern hemisphere. Needless to say I have been more than anxiously awaiting the beginning of spring, and I’m surely not the only one. It’s been another relatively mild winter, with minimal snow. I hope this does not mean we will be seeing another droughty summer ahead of us. We will need to remain vigilant, and take steps as needed to ensure our trees and shrubs stay healthy in the face of unpredictable weather.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) announced that a small stand of trees was found to be infested in Shrewsbury, MA (Worcester County) with the invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula; SLF) earlier in January by MDAR surveyors. This is the second detection of a population of this insect in Massachusetts, following confirmation of SLF in the city of Fitchburg, MA in 2021. Remain vigilant and report any suspected spotted lanternfly in Massachusetts to: https://massnrc.org/pests/slfreport.aspx
For images of all of the life stages of SLF, including egg masses visit: https://massnrc.org/pests/linkeddocuments/SLFChecklistForResidents.pdf
If your garden beds are dried out enough to walk on them, you can begin spring clean-up. Wet soil is very susceptible to compaction, so be prepared to wait until the soils have drained sufficiently to walk on. Begin cutting down spent ornamental grasses now, before they begin sprouting.
As spring bulbs begin to emerge scratch in some organic bulb fertilizer around them, to give them a nutritional boost. ‘Bulb Booster’ fertilizer typically has a 9-9-6 ratio of elements. Using bone meal is discouraged, because it can attract wildlife. Spring bulbs are usually very cold hardy; an occasional spring snow won’t negatively affect their growth. If you have stored any bulbs from last summer, such as: Dahlias, tuberous Begonias, Cannas, or Calla lilies, pot them up now, and set the pots in the light.
Prepare for the start of another tick season. Ticks that cause Lyme disease will become active when temperatures are above freezing, and the ground has thawed. Unfortunately, ticks don’t die with the onset of cold weather, they just go into dormancy. I’ve heard of numerous reports of ticks on hikers, and their dogs, just recently. Our tick specialist, Scott Higley, can advise you on the various methods we have at our disposal for managing this dangerous pest.
Prune your ornamental and fruiting trees and shrubs now, while they are still dormant. Prune summer and fall blooming trees and shrubs like: Roses, Hydrangea, Rose of Sharon and Buddleia now until late spring. Wait to prune spring blooming plants, like Lilacs, Azaleas and Forsythia, until directly after flowering. If you are considering moving any mature shrubs or trees, it will be less stressful to the plants if you dig and move them soon, before they leaf out. Pruning while the plant is dormant prevents loss of plant fluids (sap) and allows you to best observe the structure of the plant.
Spraying ornamental & fruiting plants with horticultural oil while they are dormant is an ecological & effective way to control insect pests. Horticultural oil is such fine grade, it is considered non-toxic to humans & pets. Horticultural oil kills over-wintering pests & their eggs by smothering them, not with chemicals.
Early March is the time to start seeds of long season vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes & eggplants. Tomatoes germinate quickly, followed by peppers. Eggplants can take up to 14 days or more to germinate. These vegetables are in the Solanaceae family, which thrive with warmth. Growing them with supplemental bottom heat can help promote germination. Mid-March is a good time to begin sowing early veggie seeds; to be ready to set them out 6 weeks later. These would include the Cole crops: Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and their relatives. With cooperative weather, planting peas on St Patrick’s Day is an old tradition. Plant them ½” deep in cultivated beds, then lightly firm the soil. Shallow planting in cold soil helps them germinate better. You can also grow garden peas or edible podded peas in a pot; just look for the shorter or bushier varieties, and grow them in a sunny spot.
If you keep bird nesting boxes, now is a good time to clean and disinfect them, before a new tenant starts making a nest. Wear gloves and a dust mask to protect you from any pests that may be living in the old nesting material.
Need a hand with spring clean-up and garden chores? Give our office a call: (413) 458-5586 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Grow a Child’s garden of wonder
Gardening has been lifelong passion of mine, and one I hope to pass onto my granddaughters. Assigning your kid the weeding chores in the family veggie garden can be as dull as it sounds, and have the negative effect of turning that kid away from gardening for life! A more engaging way into gardening, would be to start off with small fun projects that will spark a child’s interest and imagination.
A half barrel filed with a lightweight soil mix will bring the plants up to kid height level, and is easier to dig in. Jumbo sized planters would work well, too. If space is a limitation, you can grow plants vertically by stringing twine to a nearby pole or wall. This will provide support for planting the kid-friendly seeds of morning glory, gourds, or runner/pole beans, and cucumbers, which will grow up the strings.
You can create a child’s secret room by planting tall sunflowers in a ¾ circle about 8 ft in diameter. As the sunflowers grow to mature size, they will form a shady spot for reading or chilling away a summer day. Monster sized plants always make a big impression. Elephant Ears, Joe Pye Weed, and Canna lily are easy to grow, and mature into jumbo sized plants.
I think kids like scented, unusual textured or funny looking plants. Scented geraniums may be cool plants for kids. These geraniums can be found in unexpected scents like chocolate and orange or rose; many have soft velvety leaves, and pretty flowers. They make excellent windowsill plants too. ‘Wooly Lambs Ears’ is a perennial plant with unexpected silky, soft-textured leaves that kids just want to pet. Cockscomb is an annual flower that looks just like a chicken’s comb but feels soft and velvety. Cockscomb is available in cool neon-bright colors too.
Allow kids the flexibility of choosing their own color scheme, they may express themselves with boldly striped petunias, or go for an ‘all purple’ color scheme. Imagine how proud they will be when their colorful barrel garden is in full bloom.
You can also grow crop plants in addition to flowers. Growing food plants allows kids to experience in real time how long it takes for our food to grow, mature, and be ready to eat. So many types of veggies can be successfully grown in containers: lettuce, tomatoes, bush beans, and carrots, – too many to list. You can try growing your child’s favorite veggies. Teaching a child, the skills necessary to care for, and grow their own food is a gift that will keep on giving through their lifetime. The anticipation of that first tomato, or carrot; and tasting how fresh and delicious it is, might create a lifelong gardener in your family.
Many delicious varieties of fruit do not ship well, or are not financially feasible as a cash crop, so we don’t get to sample them as readily. Sometimes it is just that we haven’t had the opportunity to try them, so we buy what we already are familiar with. If you have the space, it is worth your initial investment of time and materials to grow some backyard fruit. Our native fruit, raspberries and blueberries are some of the most rewarding to grow if you’re just starting out. They are relatively pest-free, produce an abundance of fruit seasonally, and freeze for storage exceptionally well.
Ribes uva-crispa or Gooseberries prefer a cool & moist growing area and will tolerate partial shade. They have red or greenish-yellow juicy fruit, depending on the cultivar. Its unique combination of tart and sweet make it a delight for baking or jams. The spiny, self-pollinating bushes have pretty Maple-like leaves. Grows 3ft tall x 6ft wide, and prefers a soil pH of 6.0-6.8
Ribes rubrum or Red Currants have a similar culture to Gooseberries; favoring a rich, moisture holding soil with a 6.5 Ph. Currants also are tolerant of partial shade conditions. The dark red, sweet fruit is produced in large clusters in July. Self-pollinating and very cold hardy, Currants will grow 4 ft tall X 5ft wide.
Diospyros virginiana or American Persimmon is a medium stature tree that can also double as an attractive landscape specimen. Persimmons ripen in late fall, after our first frost, the cold intensifies its apricot-like sweetness. The pest-free Persimmon has a golden-yellow fall leaf color, and the bright orange fruit will persist on the tree (if not picked) through winter adding visual appeal. American Persimmon is not fussy about soil type, and does its best with full sun conditions. Grows 25-60ft tall at maturity, and will need a pollinating partner.
Raspberries offer us some of the highest levels of anti-oxidants in a delicious package. Raspberries fall into two categories. Summer Bearing: one crop of berries on the over-wintering canes produced during the last summer. Everbearing: two crops; the first in early summer on canes formed the previous summer, the second is borne in the late summer/early fall on the tips of canes that grew during the current season. Raspberries require a 6ft fence or trellis to support the canes as they grow and produce fruit. Raspberries do best in full sun, and well-drained soil.
Blueberries are also a healthy addition to your daily diet. Once established, blueberry bushes can produce fruit for 20-30 years. Many varieties of blueberry are available, but the two primary considerations for choosing are the mature size, and fruit ripening time. Ripening time is grouped into early, mid, and late season. (late June, July and August) Blueberry plants require acidic soil, (5.0 and lower) with consistent moisture. Mature blueberry plants can grow 3-6ft tall x 3-6ft wide depending on the cultivar, and can tolerate light shade.