Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Camp Garden

A few weeks ago, the Camp Guy asked me to work on a project for summer camp.  He wants a vegetable garden as a source of fresh eats for the kids, but also a place where the kids can come and learn about growing their own food.  A place that would serve as a jumping off point, if you will, for talking about bigger issues, like environmental stewardship and the importance of knowing where your food comes from. 

The Camp Guy and I walked around camp talking about where to put this garden, and found a few promising places, but non that worked better than where our garden had been before (plus that spot was already approved by the Corp of Engineers!) so… that’s the spot we decided on.  It gets great sun, has easy access to water, is close to our house (which is nice, since I’ll be taking care of it!), and it’s close to the shop, where the tools will be anyway!

So, I wrote a letter and took it to our local Home Depot, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply, and two local farm supply stores.  I also mailed it to several national gardening/plant supply companies.  And boy, did they come through! One of the local places supplies 5 flats of lettuce and cabbage, plus a few pounds of onion sets.  A box arrived in the mail from Burpee – no letter, but FULL of seeds!  And our local Home Depot went above and beyond – they worked with their vendors (Bonnie and Miracle Grow) and got us two pallets of Garden Soil, hoses, tomato cages, and a LOT of plants! 

I also got on the phone and had a bunch (140!) bales of straw delivered by a nice man who gave us a great price.  Aunt J and Uncle P came over this morning and we hauled straw and bags of dirt around until now, it looks like this…

Zi6_1091

As you can see – there’s a LOT more to do!  We’re using raised beds because, even though we’ve added some amendments in our previous gardening attempts (I say attempts because it’s always ended up being a salad bar for the deer! more on that later), it’s still mostly clay.  So in order to maximize our amendments, and make some easily workable spaces for the kids, AND not run afoul of the Corp, we’re opting for the raised beds out of straw.  The pathways in between, plus a walkway around will eventually be mulched, the beds will be filled and planted  until they’re overflowing. 

And the deer?  The Camp Guy has plans for a temporary fence… but if doesn’t work, you’ll be able to find me camping out in the yard all summer to keep this project from getting eaten!

I’ll post pics as we get more things done.  In the meantime, I’m sending happy spring and garden thoughts your way!

 

Jean

Thursday, March 18, 2010

He's BAAAACK!

ok - I know you've been holding your breath to hear the latest in the crazy bird saga! no? well, this is a full service blog, so I'll tell you anyway!

A while back, I told you about the strange cardinal that kept flying into our bedroom window in order to attack the "other"cardinal he kept seeing in there! The camp guy, in a moment of frustration, decided to hang a bed sheet out the window, to just cover it entirely. It worked! But, sadly, it meant we had a bed sheet hanging out the window! We didn't even see him for weeks, much less hear him at the window, so a few days ago, the camp guy took the sheet down.

Can you guess what happened next? Oh... I think you can...

He started back gradually, with a fly-by peck, but like someone with a desperate addiction, he's here today, crashing into the window, over and over, and sitting on the window sill pecking at and TRYING TO BITE MY WINDOW! He just can't get enough... anyone up for a birdie intervention?

Jean

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

mmmmm…..Mints!

 Growing

The mint family is a large and diverse group of perennial plants that include some well known favorites such as peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) and some others that are perhaps less well known, like pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium).  They are hardy in many climates, and like rich, moist soil in full sun to partial shade.

Mints are easy to grow, but unless you take some precautions, most of them will take over your garden quickly and prolifically!  One of the ways to keep them contained is just to keep them in a pot, but I’ve seen creative gardeners keep them in check in a variety of ways.  One lady I knew in Kentucky kept hers in a “raised bed” made from old tires. One gardener plants bottomless pots in the garden (so that the edge of the pot is just a few inches above the soil) and plants his mints inside the pots – that way the roots have plenty of space, but the runners are restrained.  This method would not keep them back indefinitely, but would slow them down enough for you to keep them cut back. 

One summer I had a spot in the garden that seemed particularly attractive to the ants and I couldn’t get rid of them.  Since it was a garden of edibles, I didn’t want to resort to pesticides (but I was really tired of being bitten!), so I planted a single SMALL pennyroyal plant right in the middle of that spot.  The ants moved, but I spent the rest of the summer doing battle with the pennyroyal! 

All that to say, be thoughtful about where you plant mints, and use their efforts to dominate to your advantage!  Have a partially shaded spot where you’re having trouble filling in?  Mints are your answer!  Want a fast growing ground cover that smells great?  Try a mint!  They really are fun to grow.

Harvesting

You can pretty much harvest mint however you want.  Need a little, cut a little, or pinch a little off.  Need a lot?  Cut it way back!  Mints don’t mind.  They’re very accommodating that way!  You can use them fresh, keep them in the fridge (where they might even sprout roots, if you keep them moist enough), freeze them or dry them. 

Medicinal Uses

From The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses, regarding peppermint:

A decongestant, strongly aromatic, bitter herb.  Relieves spasms, increases perspiration, improves digestion, and has antiseptic, mildly anesthetic effects; acts mainly on the digestive system, especially on the lower bowel…. [Used] internally for nausea, morning sickness, indigestion, gastric ulcer, gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, colic, influenza (especially in the feverish stage), and colds.  Externally for upper respiratory tract infections, sinusitis, mucus, asthma, itching skin conditions, burns, ringworm, neuralgia, rheumatism, and as an insect repellant.

Wow!  And that’s just peppermint!  As with all herbal remedies, though, you need to do your research, and seek the advice of a medical professional or certified herbalist.  Mints have been known to cause some reaction or irritations, and peppermint is not suitable for babies.

I will share with you, though, a large part of my love affair with the medicinal qualities of mint…

Zi6_1046 He’s six, and has struggled for the last 4 1/2 years with an undiagnosed tummy problem.  We’ve been to several doctors, and two years ago he had an endoscopy and colonoscopy done to try and figure out what was going on.  What we learned was that he has some inflammation in his stomach and some bumps (lymphonodular hyperplasia) and ulcers in his colon.  What we also learned is that they have a lot of speculation, but no definite explanation for why he has those things.  We were told to wait and see – that things would either get better as he grew, or worse.  This, of course, was an incredibly frustrating thing to hear!  One of the things that we’ve discovered over the last four years, though, is that when he is having an episode of cramping and pain, a cup of warm peppermint tea with a bit of honey always helps.  It’s not a magic cure, but it soothes the tummy a LOT, and the warmth and the minty smell soothes his little spirit, too, and helps him rest.  And it’s not bad for Mom, either!

Cosmetic and Other Uses

Mint oils are used in toothpaste, mouthwashes, perfumes and potpourri.  I like mint in bath products, too.  One of my most popular soaps is Rosemary Mint.

I make a nice bath tea with oats and mint.  I put several cups of oats in the food processor and just whirl them around a few times, so that they are a bit smaller.  Then I mix in about a cup of dried mint leaves and whirl things around again (more pulsing than anything – I’m not trying to powder stuff!) and use the mix to fill large tea bags about halfway.  I seal the bags with an iron, and then when I want a refreshing and skin soothing bath, I toss one or two in the tub while the water is running, and let it steep for a minute or two before I get in.  Wonderful!

This recipe is great for hot, tired feet in the summer time!  It comes from Casey Kellar’s  The Good Earth Bath, Beauty and Health Book.

Citrus/Mint Foot Cooler-Deodorizing Mist

1/4 cup distilled water

1/4 cup witch hazel

3 drops lemon fragrance oil

3 drops grapefruit fragrance oil

2 drops wintergreen essential oil

2 drops peppermint essential oil

Mix all together.  Pour into sportier and store in the refrigerator.  Shake well before using.  Shelf life: Approximately 2-3 weeks.

Culinary Uses

Mints are great for teas, both hot and cold.  They are also yummy for liqueurs, juleps, candies, jellies and of course – mints!  But mints can be used in a huge variety of dishes other than drinks and desserts, too.  They can add interest to salads, peas, potatoes, squash, fruits, tomatoes and most meats.  They also pair well with many other herbs,  such as summer savory, scented geraniums, sage, oregano and rosemary.  The most common mint in the kitchen is spearmint.  Here is a recipe for Fresh Mint Chutney from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld.  Have I told you to buy this book yet?  Seriously.

Fresh Mint Chutney

(makes one cup)

2 cups fresh spearmint leaves

2 green onions, coarsely chopped

2 TBS. coarsely chopped fresh ginger

3 TBS. freshly squeezed lime juice

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1-3 tsp. seeded and coarsely chopped jalepeno pepper to taste

3-4 TBS cold water

Process all the ingredients except the water in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add three tablespoons water and puree until smooth, adding additional water as needed for a thick sauce consistency.  Taste and add additional salt, jalepeno and/or sugar if needed.  The chutney has the brightest flavor if it is served when freshly made.

And here is a link to The Herbfarm.  I wish I lived close enough to pay them a visit… or maybe a few!

Go people, and grow some mint this summer.  And send pictures!  (please?)

Happy Gardening,

Jean

Monday, March 8, 2010

An Important Public Service Announcement - and a pledge to be a better driver!

Last December my friend Rob updated his facebook status with an urgent prayer request for his sister-in-law, who had just been in a car accident. As we prayed and waited, the story slowly unfolded. Kristin and her husband Chris were in a head-on collision with another driver who was texting while driving (and thus consequently lost control of her vehicle). Chris (34) and the other driver (18!) were both killed in the accident, and Kristin was badly injured. Fortunately, their daughter was not with them in the car that day.

Kristin has written a post on her blog here, urgently asking people to STOP driving while distracted. You can also read more about her story and her life in the aftermath.

I am guilty of using my phone while driving! I know it isn't safe, but it's expedient. I don't text (I'm barely coordinated enough to do that when I'm NOT driving!), but I do talk on the phone. This post, however, is my pledge to STOP. Not only for myself and my family (and my KIDS!!), but for the other folks on the road and their families, too. I hope you'll pledge this with me - stop driving while distracted! Let's make the road safer for all of us.

Be safe,
Jean

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

No herbs yet, just eggs…

Ok, so I know I owe you at least two installments of the weekly herb series, and my only excuse is… life (It’s not called the HECTIC eclectic girl for nothing, people)!  Truthfully, we’ve been  busy with a little boy birthday and stomach bugs, and … well, you get the picture.  And I’m not going to pass on any herbal wisdom today either, but I just couldn’t go another day without posting something.  That is why I’m going to leave you with this short clip of me talking to my preschoolers about the eggs we are now incubating.  I love the way these look – so pretty and colorful and natural looking (maybe I’ll paint my house these colors?).  They loved this and the other short videos I made, but the thing that got them the most excited?  My voice on the videos… but y’all can just concentrate on the eggs!