Garden Daybook 4/25/13

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Finally! The fruit trees are beginning to bloom. Worries about frost are now on our to-do list.  We will have to drag out our giant bin of old sheets and snap clothes pins to protect the flowers if nighttime frost threatens. Meanwhile, warm days bring out the pollinators and the trees buzz with their activity. AND – – cold days bring snow flurries!

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Yup! That is snow on the Alpine strawberries! It was definitely cold enough to keep me out of the garden a good part of last week. This week has been warmer and drier and I have been able get some work done in the herb garden. It felt so good to get my hands dirty and get rid of a lot of the perennial weeds that seem to hide until spring. Experience has taught me that cooler and damper spring soils seem to give up deep rooted weeds more easily. The perfect example is in the picture below. The monster root on this wild carrot was just shy of 26 inches long – the picture does not show the bottom 3 or so inches of the root  that snapped off. This entire plant slipped out of the ground with one strong tug. I had to dig up and reset a good sized limestone stepping stone to get a good grip on this weed. Not a fun job but at least  I don’t have to worry about the darn thing resprouting.

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I thought I would share at least part of what is happening in the herb garden. The Hops (Humulus lupulus) on the arbor is already going strong and is already beginning to twine and climb.

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Hops is an easy to grow vine. Spring growth pushes up from the ground and quickly grows to cover the arbor. I will have to tie some of the rampant growth to the arbor to keep the sidewalk passable but otherwise it it carefree. In the late fall I prune the frost bitten vines almost to the ground.  Hops is traditionally used to flavor beer. The flowers can also be boiled, strained,  and used as a starter for homemade bread. If I can manage to dig some rooted pieces from around the edges of this plant I will  bring them to the plant swap at Farm and Home Hardware, 120 South Main, Wellington, Ohio,  on Thursday, May 16, at 6-8 p.m.

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The Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are beautiful this time of year. Each leaf is the most perfect green and if you pick one and bruise it will release its delicate onion essence. Chives are the perfect spring herb scramble with  just laid eggs from the hen house or in mashed potatoes.  Chives are one of the most dependable herbs in the garden. Plant them once and they never leave you. Deadheading the flowers before they mature and go to seed can help control the inevitable spread of chives.

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Oregano (Origanum) has sprung into action and is already bullying its way across the garden. This herb needs to be restrained by vigilant removal of unwanted plants that spread outward from the mother plant. Beware or oregano will quickly take over a nice sized chunk of your garden. I love to prune this plant because the smell is wonderful. Think pizza for supper!

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The Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)  is full of new growth. I cleaned away  last year’s  leaves and stalks and the new leaves are open to the sun and growing beautifully. I dig most of my horseradish root in the fall, replant some of the pieces, and grind the rest to mix with vinegar. I keep the horseradish/vinegar in the refrigerator and use it on ham and roast beef. It’s good mixed with mayo and sour cream for a sandwich spread.  We always have spring  horseradish with our Easter ham and kielbasa. You can tell the horseradish is especially good when your face gets red and your eyes water. Ohhhh!!! It’s good!

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Here is my ZuZu with his beloved Catnip (Nepeta cataria). A short while after this picture was taken this young catnip plant was flattened and chewed. After rolling belly up over and over on top of this plant ZuZu slept for the rest of the afternoon. I grow catnip especially for our cats ZuZu and Gracie Mae. I have heard that some cats are born with a gene that makes them susceptible to catnip’s charms and some are not. Both of our cats love the stuff. Catnip seeds itself about the gardens and I usually leave the plants alone knowing that the cats will make use of them.  Later in the summer these plants grow large enough for the cats to sleep under and they usually spend hot afternoons in catnip shade.

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My English Thyme  (Thymus vulgaris) patch took a hit this winter. Last summer it grew into a patch about three feet by three feet or more and was gorgeous. This spring at least a third of the patch was winter killed and had to be cut away. I felt as if I was butchering the bed but I know that  new growth will quickly cover up its massacred look.  I have planted my thyme along the edge of the garden path so that when I walk by I brush the leaves and the smell fills the air.

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Anyone else grow Lovage? (Levisticum officinale). I love this stuff. This patch of new growth is the beginning of what will grow into a 6 foot plant. Put Lovage at the back of your garden and give it room to stretch. Lovage leaves taste of celery. I use them in tuna salad or stuff them, along with lemon wedges and garlic cloves,  into a whole chicken. Keep in mind that Lovage is strong flavored and a little goes a long way. If you have a patch of shade in your garden Lovage will grow happily there. Lovage is long lived and dies to the ground after a heavy frost. The roots rest over the winter and push new growth each spring.

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This is a picture of the herb garden in late spring. I wanted you to see how the hops grow to cover the arbor. They reach farther and farther over the arch each summer as the root system enlarges. My wish is that, seeing the herbs, and learning about them will inspire you to plant an herb garden of your own. If you think that a home grown tomato is fabulous, wait until you try fresh cut, home grown herbs. Fabulous!

Hey from the farm,
Fran     The Country Cousin

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