Monday

Growing Basil

Basil in the GardenBasil is an annual with many varieties. It is a bit of a chameleon, coming in a range of sizes, leaf colors, leaf shapes, and aromas. A fast grower, basil is native to Asia and Africa, and has a solid, if not revered place in the kitchen.

Growing Basil

Cultivate basil in full sun and provide it with well-drained soil that has a layer of mulch to reduce moisture loss. Basil can't tolerate frost and doesn't like windy spots, so keep it in a sheltered area near a wall or fence. If providing consistent moisture is a problem, find a spot with afternoon shade, which basil will tolerate better than going dry between waterings. Plant seedlings eight inches apart, and avoid watering late in the afternoon or evening to discourage mildew.

Growing Basil Indoors

Basil is an excellent choice for an indoor herb garden. It isn't fussy, and starting a fall crop will keep you in fresh basil year round. Be sure to provide well-drained soil and afternoon light. Since consistent watering is important, if you sometimes forget to water your houseplants, basil's an excellent candidate for a wicking system.  It likes six hours of light a day, so keep it in a southern facing window.

Propagating Basil


Propagate basil from seed. The seeds are easy to germinate and the seedlings develop quickly. Plant seeds directly in the garden after the threat of frost has passed for the season, or sow them in peat pots or coins that can be moved to the garden without disturbing the seedlings.  Basil is a good candidate for starting in water too.

Harvesting Basil

You can use basil leaves and flowering tops. Pick leaves when they are young and tender. Allow flowering stalks to dry before harvesting basil seeds in fall.  Learn more:  Harvesting Basil 
and  Harvesting Basil Seed 

Storing Basil

Basil doesn't dry well, so freezing leaves in water and placing the mixture in an ice cube tray, or coating leaves with oil and then placing them in a freezer bag will work great.

Saturday

Make Herb Croutons

Croutons on SaladHerbed croutons are easy and inexpensive to make and are a great use for stale bread.

They make a tasty addition to French onion soup and add a satisfying texture and crunch to salads. You can even crumble them into your meatloaf and meatballs.

Herbed Crouton Recipe

1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ cup grated Romano cheese (you can substitute Parmesan)
½ cup Olive Oil
1 stick of butter (softened)
1 loaf of stale, sliced bread, white or wheat

Melt butter and add olive oil.

Mix cheese and herbs in a separate container.

Remove crusts from bread and cut into cubes.

Place cubed bread in a bag and pour in butter mixture a little at a time, shaking vigorously after each addition. Sprinkle blended herbs into bag and shake well. Place bread on two large cookie sheets in a single layer and bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on how dry the bread is). Turn the cubes halfway through cooking.

When cool, cubes should be crunchy.

Allow to cool completely before storing.

Thursday

Make a Mint Julep

With the Kentucky Derby coming up on Saturday, it's time to get into the spirit of race day by learning to make a mint julep. It isn't for every taste, but everyone should try it once.

The recipe consists of two parts: First you need to make mint syrup. I like to use peppermint and spearmint for a more dense flavor, although you can probably use either.

Mint Syrup Recipe
2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups fresh mint (Pack it tight)

Combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for five minutes. Allow the mixture to cool, and then strain it through a length of muslin. Refrigerate.

Mint Julep Recipe

Crushed ice
2 oz. bourbon
1 tablespoon mint syrup (If you're not that fond of bourbon, use more.)
Mint sprig for garnish

Add syrup and bourbon to a glass of crushed ice. Stir well. Add a sprig of mint for garnish.

Now you're all set. Plan of staying in or appointing a designated driver. They hit hard.

The very tasty looking mint julep photo is compliments of Rosidae at Flicker.com.

Wednesday

Growing Mint


Mint PhotoMint is the first herb I ever saw growing in the ground. I was about ten and brushed up against it at the nursery where my mother was shopping for edging plants. I was shocked that a plant could smell so strong, and be so true to the aroma I most associated it with – candy canes and gum; both big winners in my book.

That chance encounter started my life long interest in herbs. I've kept many of the mints over the years, even making my own juleps by following the directions from an old recipe where it cautioned the would-be mixologist to "muddle the leaves in the bottom of the glass".

Keeping Mint in the Garden

Most mints are hardy perennials that can be invasive in the garden. Sending out feelers that root easily, mint will happily choke out anything else growing in the same plot with it. To curb its enthusiasm for expansion, keep mint varieties in a large pot or mesh bag that you have buried in the flowerbed, or enclose it with edging to a depth of five inches or so. Apply mulch to the bed or around the plot to discourage rooting.

Mint likes dappled shade and consistent moisture. Although I've read that it thrives in alkaline soil, I've found that it will be happy almost anywhere it doesn't dry out. Optimal conditions would be areas that are well drained but moist, receiving morning sun but at least partial shade in the afternoon heat.

Plant mints fifteen inches apart, and thin them regularly. If you want to keep multiple varieties, try to plant them in different beds to discourage cross pollination.

Growing Mint Indoors

I overwinter a bit of mint near a window that gets good morning sun. The sprigs root easily, and the plant thrives with an occasional drop of liquid fertilizer. Keep plants away from heating vents though, because the dry heat indoors can be hard on them. In May, I pot them out along with my other starters. This works well for chives too.

Propagating Mint


Mint can also be grown from seed, stems or root cuttings. The problem usually isn't getting mint to thrive, it's keeping it contained.

Harvesting Mint

Harvest mint sprigs in spring before flowering. To extend the harvesting season, pinch back buds.

Uses for Mint

Mint makes a tea that's great for stomach upsets. It is a welcome ingredient in desserts and as a garnish. It can be added to bath water as a pick-me-up before an evening out, and is also one of the primary ingredients in the famous mint julep and mint jelly recipes. For a refreshing change, mint can be delicious with vegetables like peas and carrots, or included in a fruit salad.

There are lots of mint varieties to choose from too, like: apple mint, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint and others.

Monday

Keeping Cats Out of the Garden

Cat in the GardenI have been inundated with requests for tips on keeping cats out of the garden. Here are my personal favorites:

For some years, I had big problems with cats in the flowerbeds. These days our dog, Harry, takes care of the problem, but before he decided to come live with us I developed some guerrilla warfare tactics that worked for me.

Cover A Cat's Favorite Hideouts

If you watch the areas that are disturbed (ravaged is more like it), they are often in a sheltered spot where the dirt is exposed. Cover the area with mulch, the pokier the better. Eucalyptus mulch has a bitter smell that cats dislike, so it's a good choice.

You can also try laying a piece of bubble wrap on the spot. When the cat steps on the bubble wrap it crackles and sometimes pops. That gets his attention.

Use Smell Against Them – Keeping Cats out of your Yard

Cats hate citrus. Using aversion as a tactic, I save my orange and lemon peels and sprinkle them around the garden. I select spots that I know cats like and entry points to the yard. I score the peels to expose the aromatic oils, sometimes even zesting some peels and sprinkling the zest around. I prefer this to using commercially available animal repellents.

Another good tactic is to splash vinegar around the edges of your flowerbeds and repeat after every heavy rain.

Make the Point Stick


I also like is to lay strips of painter's tape (The blue kind is economical and the least sticky – you want him to be able to pull the tape off once he leaves.) along the ground, sticky side up. I use a number of lengths of about six inches to a foot long. When the cat walks in that area, the tape sticks to his fur or feet and that's usually the end of the problem. With rain and dew creating damaging moisture, the strips have to be replaced regularly. If wind is a problem, tack the ends down with a little soil.

Going Out With a Bang

If your feline nemesis has a favorite spot in your flowerbeds, you can lay a trap for him. I've never done this, but I've heard that it works.

Dig a hole where the offending cat usually beds down for a nap. Blow up a balloon and place it in the hole. Cover the balloon with soil. . . not too deeply; less than an inch of dirt over the top should do it. When the cat starts his scratching routine, he pops the balloon and scares the holy jumping Moses out of himself.

The good news is that once a cat gets the idea that he's not welcome, he's gone for a while, maybe even the whole season.

These are gentle measures that work if you give them time. I love cats and feel that there are enough hazards out there for them without getting rough. Screaming at them and waving your arms doesn't help either (I know). They just wait to strike until you're not around.

Special Note: If you are growing catnip, build a mesh cage for it. In my experience, there is no measure that will keep cats out. They will take a stroll through perdition itself to get to it.

Sunday

Uses for Parsley

Photo of Curly Leaf ParsleyParsley is a great "medley" herb. It plays well with others to create a dish with a nice blending of flavors. It is one of the key ingredients in bouquet garni, and is a familiar herb in any number of salad and egg dishes, stuffing, and soups. When using parsley, add it toward the end of the cooking cycle unless you are planning on discarding it (as with bouquet garni).

Parsley has long been considered the fresh breath herb of choice. I remember my grandmother telling me to always eat my parsley garnish after a restaurant meal because it was there to help freshen my breath. Although I really don't think that the practice survived the 60s, parsley is still a popular, lush, green garnish served with many professionally prepared meals, and gives us a bit of garden green to enjoy – if only visually.

And as for dental care and fresh breath, parsley seed oil is still used in some prepared mouthwashes and toothpastes. A parsley infusion can also help tame a rambunctious cough.

Parsley is available in bulk at your local grocery, but why not try growing it from the ground up. Growing parsley will give you an appreciation for the bounty we have available for our use, and you'll never look at that bundle of greens in your produce department the same way again.

If you would like more information on keeping and propagating parsley, check my previous post: Growing Parsley

Growing Parsley


Photo of Flat Leaf Parsley
Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley
Parsley may be the most easily identified of all of the herbs. It is a common resident of the bins and shelves of produce departments around the world, and is the most beloved garnish available for the table. In the garden, there are two common varieties: curly and flat leaf (Italian) parsley.

What is a Biennial Herb or Plant

Both curly leaf and flat leaf parsley are hardy biennial herbs. This may be a new term for you – biennial. In the garden, we usually deal with herbs that either return from year to year (perennial) or are only with us for a season (annual). There is a group of plants that require more than one season to flourish and set seed.

Plants that need two years to complete their life cycle are said to be biennial. Soon after setting seed the second spring, the plant begins to fail and soon dies. The second season flurry of seed making doesn't result in much leaf production.

For the gardener, the big difference between this and annual herbs is that a biennial will overwinter like a perennial, but will not produce much useful foliage the year following its original planting. This requires a relay strategy in dealing with parsley – a set of new plants every year for fresh sprigs, and a seed-harvesting program for second-season plants.

To get at least some leaves from second year plants, try pinching back flowers as soon as they appear. This will give you a little parsley leaf growth to tide you over until the younger plants start to take off.

Growing Parsley

Parsley puts its roots down deep. Be careful to prepare a nice deep bed for it, ten inches or so, and dress it with rich soil. Choose a location that gets at least six hours of sun but holds moisture well. When parsley goes dry, it wilts and seldom recovers, so keep it mulched.

Curly Leaf Parsley vs. Flat Leaf Parsley

Curled or curly leafed parsley varieties are considered less flavorful and more decorative than their Italian relative. They both have a place in the kitchen, one as a garnish, and the other as a flavoring for soups, stews, salads, sauces, egg and potato dishes, stuffing, and vegetable medleys. Grow both in the same manner. I haven't had a problem with varieties cross-pollinating. If you have, please let me know.

Propagating Parsley

Parsley is propagated from seed, which can be a challenge. Parsley seeds are small and the shell casings are hard. They are notoriously difficult to germinate.

This is what's worked for me: Soak parsley seeds for about an hour in an ounce of warm water to which you have added a couple of drops of dish washing liquid. Strain, rinse, and remove seeds to a dish of clear, warm water. I would even say hot water, but I don't want anyone to boil his or her seeds by accident. If you bake, use water that’s about the same temperature as you would use to cultivate yeast. My guess, as I've never tested the water before using it, is about 105 Degrees Fahrenheit or so.

Start the seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost in your area as they take some time to get going. Parsley seeds like warm soil, so give their pot a warm spot (not hot) if you want to speed up the process a little.

Growing Parsley Indoors

Parsley is a good choice for a potted indoor herb garden. Give it bright morning light, and keep it back from cold windows in freezing weather. It has a long taproot, so make sure to give it a deep pot. Because it doesn't tolerate irregular watering very well, consider employing a wicking system to give it an even supply of water.

Harvesting Parsley

Sprigs can be harvested after the plant starts to look bushy. Harvest the outer sprigs first. In the second year, harvest seeds as they appear or leave them in the garden to self-seed.

This post is getting long, so I am rolling information about the uses of parsley to the next one. You can view it by click this link: Uses for Parsley

Lavender Ice Cream

Lavender Ice CreamIf you are taking a needed rest from your gardening, or gardening prep duties today, spare a few minutes to look at my lavender blog. I have a recipe for Lavender Caramel Ice Cream that makes a nice summer treat.

If you are heading out to the plant nursery or garden shop later, don't forget to pick up a couple of English lavender plants. Lavender can be a great addition to your garden, kitchen, and craft table. It is lovely to look at and has a complex fragrance with proven relaxing properties. Just working around your lavender plants during the spring and summer will dial down your tension level, help relax your muscles, and improve your attitude.

Using lavender in cooking perks up your dishes and makes a plain meal an attention grabber. The harvest of one lavender plant can provide leaves, stems, and flowers for many great projects.

If I sound like a lavender enthusiast, I am. Need more incentive? I have an index page with lots of lavender projects and information. There will be many more to come, too. Take a look when you have some time to spare. It makes nice weekend reading: Become a Lavender Expert


Photo courtesy of J. Skrepnek. You can see other photo collections by this photographer at: flickr.com

Saturday

Starting an Herb Garden

Photo of Norfolk Lavender FieldsA while back, I wrote a brief article about starting an herb garden. It has some good summary information that will be helpful if you are just getting started. Give it a quick read at: Planting an Herb Garden

When you've finished, the posts below will give you more in-depth tips. If you need background on specific plants, the side bar listing on the left will give you shortcuts to recent articles on how to grow specific herbs. Happy gardening:




Oh, and just a quick closing thought. This is supposed to be fun. If you find yourself getting frustrated, stop for a while. Digging and amending soil can be hard work, so give yourself frequent breaks and don't overdue. Find a shady spot and have an ice tea.

The amazing lavender photo above is courtesy of Andrew Sharpe, www.sharpeimages.co.uk, enquiries@sharpeimages.co.uk with the kind help of Andrew Dunne. I thought it would give us some inspiration. It was taken at the Norfolk Lavender Farm at Heacham in England. For other photo samples, including other Norfolk Lavender photos, please visit flickr.com.

Friday

Hardening Off Herb Seedlings

Photo Potted SeedlingsIf you are planning on putting your delicate seedlings out soon, don't forget to prepare them for the outdoors first. "Hardening off" your immature plants by introducing them to nature in small increments will help avoid setbacks. It's sad to see your seed starts fail, so do everything you can to prepare them for the greater world by following a few simple instructions:

Start the Hardening Off Process

You should start this process after the overnight temperatures rise to a reliable 50 Degrees Fahrenheit or more. Make sure that your plants are in sturdy containers and their soil is moist (but the plants themselves are dry). Set your plants in a sunny to dappled location in the morning by 9:00 a.m. Leave them outdoors for a couple of hours.

Try to avoid windy days. Even a light gust can knock small pots off decks or patios, breaking slender stems. Remove all lids or cellophane coverings beforehand. On the first day, watch carefully to be sure that the soil isn't drying out and the plants aren't drooping.

Gradually Increase Exposure

Repeat the process over the next five days, increasing the outdoor time each day, but cut back to a couple of hours on days in which the temperatures soar more than fifteen degrees from the day before. The goal here is to acclimatize your plants. If a day is very rainy, hot, or windy, take a pass and try tomorrow.

After five days to a week of increasing exposure, your plants should be ready for their permanent home.

Special Note: There are a couple of other methods you can use to prepare your plants.

Withholding Water Method
There's what I call the bread and water method. Actually it's a low-water method. You essentially teach your plants about the cruel world by leaving them indoors and letting them dry out a little between waterings for two to three weeks. Only water them once they start to droop. After a little of this neglect-with-love, they're ready for the out-of-doors. The withholding-water method is my least favorite way of preparing seedlings for the garden. It really doesn't seem right somehow.

Using Cold Frames to Harden Off Seedlings
A cold frame, a protective enclosure for plants, is great if you have one. Just leave the lid or top open for longer periods once the weather gets warmer.

You've spent time and effort bringing your seeds this far, harden them off with a flourish and give your immature plants a great start in the garden.

Thursday

Growing Marjoram

Marjoram is a tender perennial herb in the oregano family. It's frequently placed on the oregano page of herb texts, so it's easy to miss sometimes; and in the garden, too, it can look like oregano, with its small gray-green leaves and bushy habit. Marjoram is a very different plant, though. I've heard it described as a milder oregano, but that seems like giving it short shrift. Marjoram is mild, but it can bring great depth to a hearty soup or stew. Since it has much less of the bite that we associate with oregano, it deepens the flavor of meat and pork dishes without suggesting Italian or Greek influence. In our house, it's a favorite.

Growing and Propagating Marjoram

Grow marjoram much as you would oregano, in rich soil that's slightly alkaline. It likes partial shade on hot afternoons. Please check my post on oregano for general instructions on propagating and maintaining marjoram in the garden.

Growing Marjoram Indoors

Where marjoram parts company with its cousin oregano is in its delicacy. Unable to tolerate a hard frost, it's best to bring marjoram indoors if your area experiences harsh winters. Marjoram needs bright light to overwinter indoors, so make sure to place it in a location where it will get good light, or supplement with grow lights.

Happy to overwinter indoors in a sunny window, marjoram just needs an occasional watering with liquid fertilizer. Put the pot back out on a deck or patio in spring when all threat of frost has passed for the season.

Harvesting Marjoram

Select new growth just before buds form, and never take too much. Harvest about a quarter of the plant per season, no more.

Using Marjoram

Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) is the best for cooking. It also shows well dried, and retains its flavor. It shines when paired with meat dishes and strong wine sauces. It is also a great compliment to peppers, as in stuffed bell peppers; eggs, when included in quiche or frittatas; and stuffings, particularly those with a sausage base.

Include marjoram in your summer festivities this year, just remember to bring her indoors when it starts to get cold.

Wednesday

Growing Oregano

Oregano is a half hardy perennial with small green leaves and purple (sometimes pinkish) flowers. It reaches a height of 12 to 18 inches. The common term 'oregano' can refer to a number of plants, some of which have very little flavor. The Greek oregano (Vulgare hirtum) is considered the most flavorful for cooking purposes, although Italian oregano is also used. I should add here that marjoram is also in the oregano family of herbs, although we will deal with it separately.

Growing Oregano

Oregano likes early sun with partial afternoon shade. It thrives in rich, well-drained soil that is slightly alkaline. An old adage about oregano and marjoram is that the richer the soil, the more flavorful the plant. Oregano is a favorite of butterflies. It can spread out and start to get untidy looking as it matures, so keep it trimmed back, and prune it back by at least half before the first hard frost.

Propagating Oregano

Oregano can be propagated from seed in spring, but it's a slow starter. I prefer to divide my plants or take root cuttings in spring to early summer.

Growing Oregano Indoors

You can grow oregano indoors, but protect it from strong afternoon sun. It enjoys a more alkaline soil and good drainage. Most indoor herbs need little fertilizer, but oregano enjoys regular nourishment.

Harvesting Oregano

Harvest oregano anytime from mid spring through late fall. It is particularly well suited to drying and retains its flavor well. It makes a good base for dried herb wreaths, swags, and arrangements, but harvest stems before they flower.

Uses for Oregano

An essential ingredient in Greek and Italian cooking, oregano does double duty as a therapeutic tea that will help you get to sleep.

It's also an herb that can help relieve the pain of a toothache. Just chew a small sprig for a few seconds and then place the herb near the problem tooth.

Oregano is one of my favorite starter plants, and I recommend it often to beginners. Fresh or dried, it will enhance your favorite pasta or pizza sauce, and getting used to snipping it fresh from the garden is a great way to get hooked on growing your own herbs.

Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

Photo of a Japanese Beetle My garden was a buffet for Japanese beetles until I discovered a trick for banning them.

I read a number of discouraging articles about how difficult it is to get rid of them. I also tried looking at commercially available traps, only to read about the hazards they present to pets, and how they have to be kept cleaned out (ugh). I even read that the traps can attract more beetles than they repel.

After some head scratching and frustration, I was in a garden shop one day looking at stepping stones of all things, when I struck up a conversation with a fellow gardener (really, the best people anywhere) who offered a great suggestion for eradicating them for the season. The trick is to catch them early and use their own scent signalling system against them. I've tried it for the last two summers, and it has worked great! Really. I've had a 90% drop in Japanese beetle activity in my garden.

I wrote a entry about it in my general gardening blog and also created a detailed article; take a look:

Dealing With Japanese Beetles

Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

Tuesday

Lemon Balm Tea

For a refreshing tea, try lemon balm. It makes a good mid-morning pick-me-up, and in the evening with a little lavender honey it will help you relax. Oh, and it tastes great too. Take a little trip over to my tea blog for the recipe and a link to information on growing lemon balm in your garden: Lemon Balm Tea

If you're not a tea drinker but have been wondering what all the fuss is about, herbal teas can be nutritious, delicious, and easy to make. You can also grow many of the ingredients in your own garden for pennies.

Hot or cold, summer or winter, herbal teas are a treat for the senses that makes good sense for your body and your pocketbook. Once you've grown accostomed to brewing up your own peppermint tea for stomach upsets, or lavender tea to help relax those tight muscles, your life will never be the same again.

Make Your Own Bouquet Garni

The term bouquet garni comes from the French, meaning garnished bouquet, and was made up of sprigs of tied, fresh herbs that were used to season the stew or soup pot. Before serving, the bound herbs were removed and discarded.

Bouquet garni has changed over the years, but there is agreement that the original term probably referred to a combination of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf in a ratio (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica) of one sprig of parsley to one sprig of thyme and one bay leaf.

A Modern Twist on the Traditional Bouquet Garni

Modern versions incorporate other types of herbs into the mix: rosemary, basil, tarragon, fennel, garlic, orange peel, peppercorns, chervil, marjoram, celery seed, and savory are now accepted ingredients in bouquet garni, as are root vegetables like celery and carrot which were usually the province of mirepoix. (A vegetable flavoring agent made up of onions, carrots, and celery.) Parsley, thyme, and bay leaf are generally still present regardless of what other additions are made.

How to Make Bouquet Garni

In the dried version of bouquet garni, herb leaves are placed in coarse cloth (cheesecloth) and tied with string to create an herb packet that can be easily coaxed into a ladle and discarded at serving time.

When making fresh bouquet garni, use twine and tie it tight.

To make your own dried bouquet garni blend, try the combination below. Remember to place the mixture in a tightly sealed container and store it in a cool, dark spot. It should be viable for six months or more.

Bouquet Garni Recipe (Traditional)

½ cup dried parsley
¼ cup dried thyme
¼ cup dried bay leaf

The three ingredients above will give you the traditional blend. For a bit of variety, add one or more of the following to your cloth seasoning packet before tying it in place:

1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp garlic powder (or one crushed garlic clove)
1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns
1 tsp rosemary

Add a bit of the tradition to your next stew or sauce with bouquet garni. Preparing the basic recipe ahead of time will make the process easy, and having some cheesecloth (available at your grocery store) on hand will make putting the little herb bundle together a breeze.

Using herbs to enrich the flavor of your meat sauce or stock with slow cooked goodness makes sense; let the herbs do the work, and if they are growing in your garden, so much the better.

Converting Herb Quantities From Fresh-to-Dried or Dried-to-Fresh

You can use herbs in combinations of fresh and dried. To help understand the proportions better, just remember that you will need three times the amount of fresh that you would for the same quantity dried. For example: One teaspoon of dried marjoram equals one tablespoon (three teaspoons) of fresh marjoram. This is a good rule for all of your herb computations and conversions.

Monday

Thyme for the Garden

Photo Common ThymeI couldn't help the play on words . . . although I tried. Thyme is the traditional herb of courage, and was often used as an ingredient in teas, soups, and as a main ingredient in tokens and sachets to encourage good luck in battle, in overcoming shyness, and in 'winning the day'. The word thyme may well derive from the Greek thymon, which means courage.

Growing Thyme

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a hardy perennial that does well in a sunny location that has well-drained, alkaline soil. There are a number of varieties, but most are woody shrubs with stiff upturned stems on which grow small spade shaped leaves and small flowers. It can take some punishment, so is popular choice for walkways or borders. Most varieties grow to a height of about a foot, and spread out about two feet.

Thyme is a great fill-in plant that can cover a bare spot and thrive where other plants have failed. Give it a neglected corner by a set of stairs, or near a steppingstone, and it will probably reward you with years of service.

Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) makes an amazing, aromatic carpet in your garden when allowed to spread out, and it will add old world charm when placed near old stone buildings or walls.

There are many varieties of thyme, with very different scents and possible applications in cooking, home remedies, and potpourri. When selecting multiple varieties for the garden, be sure to plant them apart from one another. Thyme cross-pollinates readily, with unexpected results.

Propagating Thyme

Propagate thyme by root division, layering, or stem cutting in spring or autumn. You can also sow seeds in spring, although the seedlings grow very slowly. I have found layering and growing from seed less effective than stem cuttings (with a bit of the heal attached) and root division as methods of propagation.

Growing Thyme Indoors

I have a pot of thyme in my southern facing window, and keep it there year round in a small pot, positioned near the windowsill. The soil is composed of two parts potting mix to one part sand, with a pinch of ashes from the fireplace. I only harvest new shoots from this plant, and try to keep it shrub-shaped.

Uses for Thyme

This is where thyme really shines, particularly if you like surprises in the garden. Available in regional variations as well as: mint, caraway, lemon, lime, woolly, silver, broadleaf, and other varieties, thyme is the little herb that can. These thyme variations have flowers that range from white to crimson, with yellow and lilac too, and leaves that go from dark, shiny green to yellow.

Thyme's many fragrances and flavors have a cornucopia of applications from spicing up cheeses and soups, to adding that unexpected bite to your potpourri (store bought or homemade).

Thyme tea will treat a hangover and help you digest that big meal. It will also help sooth a sore throat or persistent cough. It is an essential ingredient in the herb blend bouquet garni, and is a natural in sauces that use tomatoes or red wine as a base.

A thyme and rosemary infusion (strong tea) will treat dandruff, and a thyme spray made with alcohol or vinegar is a natural disinfectant.

Thyme is also a delicious flavoring for game, poultry, beef, egg dishes and shellfish. It has a strong flavor, so use restraint when learning to use it in your cooking.

Harvesting Thyme

Small sprigs of thyme can be harvested before flowering. After flowering, leave the plant alone to provide needed nutrition to its roots for the remainder of the summer.

Thyme is a wonder in the garden, and you will be shorting yourself if you don't try it. Its hardiness, color, and fragrance make it a good friend, both in the garden and out.

Saturday

Relaxing Lavender Tea

Good morning, everyone! Happy Saturday.

When you take a break from your busy schedule this afternoon, try making some relaxing lavender tea. Here's how: Lavender Tea Recipe

Lavender is a sedative and antispasmodic. A cup of hot lavender tea will relax those tight muscles in you neck and back, and reduce some of that tax-time worry. The recipe calls for English Breakfast tea, but your favorite brew will do in a pinch. Give it a try.

Friday

Thoughts on Economy - Preparing for a Frugal Christmas

photo of presentsIf the economic news is getting you down and thinking ahead to the holidays is a nightmare, there's a bright spot on your gift-giving horizon. Start an herb garden! Many of the herbs you grow will make great, inexpensive gifts this fall. You can start now.

Start Planning for Your Craft Projects Early

Watch for sales and snatch up those decorative bottles, Epsom salt, sea salt, essential oils, wax, soap, ribbons, and fabric that you'll need later for homemade gifts. I'll point you in the right direction for craft ideas, and of course, the best ways to keep your herb plants healthy. By fall you'll be able to make lavender wands, an assortment of bubble baths, bath salts, candles, flavored oils and vinegars, herb blends, dried wreaths, sachets, cosmetics and more.

Homemade Gifts With Herbs

The first step is to get those herbs in the ground. The Herb Gardener is a good starting resource for tips and tricks about keeping specific herbs healthy. To give you a bounty of helpful herbs for your fall projects, try planting: lavender, rosemary, sage, dill, thyme, chamomile, lemon balm, mint, aloe vera, and oregano. With these to start, you can make many useful crafts and blends and spice up some tasty recipes and teas to boot.

Homemade gifts are thoughtful and can be downright frugal. They can also be easy, fast, and fun to make. Get your children, spouse, and friends involved too. Consider an exchange, like a cookie exchange, but instead of cookies, each person makes one craft project to share. Make your money go farther, learn about the amazing world of herbs and put a bit of yourself into your gifts this year.

Thursday

Make Baja Crema (Variation on Mexican Crema)

Lime PhotoA creamy accompaniment to fish tacos, vegetable dishes, egg dishes, and hummus, Baja Crema is a delicious combination of tart and smooth. I've added some spice to the traditional Baja Crema, giving it some unexpected zip.

Baja Crema Recipe with Herbs (lime thyme, dill, and garlic)

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons grated lime peel
½ teaspoon fresh dill
½ teaspoon fresh lime thyme
1 teaspoon garlic juice
Pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients, being sure to chop or grate herbs and lemon peal fine.

Substitutions:
For a lighter offering, you can substitute yogurt for some of the mayonnaise.

Special Notes:
One of the great things about keeping herbs is that you can indulge in varieties that are rare and unusual. Lime thyme, as in the recipe above, and lemon basil can liven up the garden and your kitchen.

Expand your herb repertoire this season with a few exotic additions. Nutmeg scented geraniums, yellow lavender, lemon basil, and pineapple sage are good choices, but there are many, many others. Your crafts, teas, recipes, and herb patch will benefit. Grab a book, check out an online herb supplier - and subscribe to this blog to learn more about the wonderful world of herbs.

Wednesday

Chamomile Herb Profile (Anthemis nobilis)

Chamomile Photo

Worshiped by the Egyptians, chamomile has been a favorite in the garden for centuries. Short and lacy, with miniature daisy-like flowers, this half-hardy perennial has many uses both in the garden and out.

Growing Chamomile


Be sure to give chamomile full sun and light, well-drained soil. It thrives in mildly acidic conditions, and the liberal addition of sand is welcome. Keep it moist in the heat of summer. Plant seedlings at least six inches apart for most varieties, although some like to spread out so be sure to read any informational material included with the plants you purchase.

Chamomile can take some punishment. If you have an area that gets foot traffic or occasional abuse like kids rough-housing, it might thrive where other plants have failed. Growing to a height of 12 inches, it is a good choice for borders and along walkways.

If you enjoy camomile tea, which smells and tastes like a pleasant cross between apples and hay, be sure to include a number of plants in your gardening plan to ensure a good harvest -- and give them plenty of space.

Propagating Chamomile


In temperate climates, chamomile self seeds. In areas that experience cold winter temperatures, sew chamomile seeds indoors in spring. You can also propagate plants from cuttings.

Harvesting Chamomile


With a light, sweet fragrance, chamomile is a nice addition to potpourri. Harvest leaves when the plant is mature, and always select flowers that are fully opened. Leaves and flowers dry quickly so don't overestimate drying times. A few hours in the oven (on warm) or in a dehydrator should do it.

Uses for Chamomile


Called a "physician" plant, chamomile has been used to rescue plants that are in a downward spiral. If you have a favorite specimen whose prognosis looks bleak, plant chamomile nearby and you may be surprised to see your sickly plant rallying. (I tried this with a hydrangea a few years ago, and it worked for me.)

Herbal teas seem to be the topic of the hour, so let me add another favorite to the batch. Chamomile tea is relaxing and can be a good nightmare inhibitor if you need one. It can also help get you to sleep at night.

There are any number of uses for camomile as a topical remedy, both as a whitener and to help heal as soothe:

  • Bites
  • Cuts
  • Sunburn
  • Windburn
  • Chafing
  • Inflammation

Chamomile was once so valued for its restorative properties, it was considered one of nine sacred herbs. In the modern garden, it adds texture, fragrance, and tradition to potential problem areas, with a bountiful harvest for crafts and the teapot. Harvesting the small daisy-like flowers of chamomile is one of the delights of herb gardening. You shouldn't miss it.

It also goes by these names in some areas:

  • Manzanilla
  • Ground apple
  • Earth apple

Reference

The first photo in this entry was provided by Lynne Hand. You can view her work at Flickr.com, including a collection of her nature photos.
 Photo 2 - Courtesy of Morguefile.com 

Tuesday

Herb Hummus With Dill

Dill PhotoHummus is one of life's great treats. Even before it became popular in the U.S., I was a fan of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and used them in soups and salads. This easy hummus recipe spices things up a little. Give it a try on a hot summer day. It's filling and refreshing.

Herb Hummus With Dill Recipe

1 (12 – 15oz) can of chickpeas
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves (sliced)
1½ teaspoons dried dill
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon smoked paprika (sweet if possible)
salt to taste

Combine ingredients in a food processor until smooth. The consistency should be creamy. If it starts to pull away from the sides of the processor and form a ball, it's too dry; add a little more olive oil. Chill.

Serve with pita bread, crackers, or fresh vegetables. Don't forget to add a sprig of dill to the bowl for garnish.

Monday

Make a Great Tasting Herbal Tea for Indigestion

Tea Pot PhotoIf you have occasional trouble with indigestion or gas, try a delicious tea brewed with ginger and cardamom. Both ingredients are time honored herbal remedies for stomach ailments, and they're delicious, too. Here's how:

Ginger Tea with Cardamom Recipe

Cut a 1 ½ to 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peal and slice very thin. Set aside.
Boil three cups of water in the microwave or stove top. If using the microwave, remember that water can super heat, so use caution and cover before removing.

Pour boiling water over ginger, add a pinch of ground white cardamom, and let steep for fifteen minutes. Strain and drink. This great tea is a dessert in itself. Go all out and add a little honey or brown sugar.

Special Note: This is one of my favorite winter indulgences, whether I have indigestion or not. In order to have plenty of ginger, I cut large pieces ahead of time and preserve them in sherry. This way they are ready and waiting for me. I have instructions on preserving ginger with sherry, just click on the link: Ginger Sherry

Sunday

Make Your Own Lemon Balm Hair Rinse

long hairHerbal hair rinse can have some substantial benefits. It gently deep cleans hair and helps control dandruff, and it increases your hair's natural shine and highlights. The addition of beer as part one of the rinse process also helps add body and volume to limp or thinning hair.

Where mass produced hair rinses can contain waxes that build up on your hair, or chemical stabilizers to prolong its shelf life, homemade hair rinse leaves the unnecessary chemicals behind, giving your overworked hair some needed relief from the stress of modern life.

You can make up a batch in minutes and keep it in the fridge. When you are ready to use it, warm it to room temperature in the microwave.

Lemon balm and camomile blend to make a wonderfully refreshing fragrance. They are naturally clean and sweet smell, and their fragrance lingers to help relax you.

Lemon Balm Herbal Hair Rinse Recipe

1 cup of beer
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon of vinegar
1 tablespoon of Fresh Lemon Balm (1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon of Fresh camomile flowers (1 teaspoon dried)

To Prepare

Steep lemon balm and camomile in boiling water for fifteen minutes in a non-reactive container. Add vinegar and let cool. Refrigerate. Open beer and allow to go flat. Refrigerate. Do not combine herb mixture with beer.

To Use

Warm both the beer and the herb mixture to room temperature in the microwave. After washing your hair, apply the beer and work it in with a kneading motion. Make sure that all of your hair has been saturated and you've worked your whole scalp until it tingles. Rinse completely.

Apply the herb rinse and repeat the process. Rinse.

I use fresh lemon balm and dried camomile, and can usually get two applications from this recipe. To make the process easier, I have two squirt bottles that I press into service. Before I found some attractive plastic bottles, I used recycled, plastic, mustard containers.

Herbs to Lighten or Darken Hair

There are any number of herbal combinations you can use for rinses. Adding rosemary will darken hair slightly, while lemon juice will lighten it, and marigold will bring out the highlights in auburn hair. I'll provide more detail in subsequent posts, I'm sure. For now, I wanted to give you a basic rinse recipe that smelled good and did good things for your hair.

Herbs To Grow in Problem Areas

Herbs grow well along walls, sheds, and fences, adding color and texture to areas that can appear bald and unwelcoming. A little herbal green near posts, downspouts, faucets, and pet pens can camouflage unsightly areas and add a little whimsy and panache to a bare spot. If you want to dress up a plain or neglected area with herbs, the following lists should help:

Herbs to Grow Along the Shady Side of Fences and Walls (not in areas that experience total shade):

Mint (peppermint, spearmint):
Lemon Balm
Catnip
Sweet Woodruff
Periwinkle
Angelica
Meadowsweet
Mustard
Wild Strawberry
Salad Burnet
Tansy

Herbs to Grow Along the Sunny Side of Fences and Walls:

Thyme
Santolina
Hyssop
Rosemary
Chives
Lavender
Lemon Verbena
Hops

Creeping and Climbing Herbs:

Thyme (creeping)
Rosemary (prostrate)
Pennyroyal (creeping mint) Caution: Although pennyroyal is a natural insect (flea and mosquito) repellent, and is useful in the garden, it can be toxic to humans and pets.

This is just a sampling, and within each of these categories there are often many varieties to choose from. Use caution when planting related varieties together as they'll often cross-pollinate with undesirable results.

Saturday

Lemon Balm, The Scent That Refreshes -Your Hair

Lemon BalmIf you're a busy woman with a schedule to keep, but want a pick-me-up in the middle of the day, or an effortless and natural way to make your hair smell wonderful after hours in a stale office, try lemon balm.

Refresh With Lemon Balm

Lemon balm grows easily in the garden or indoors, and its fresh, light fragrance is the perfect wake-up in the morning, or when you are starting to get befuddled by all of the day's challenges. It's also a natural, light and come-hither scent for your hair.

Using it is easy, just crush the leaves in your fingers, breath in the aroma, and then run your finger through your hair. In less time than it takes to tell, you are refreshed, and you smell great.

Keep potted lemon balm in your office window, or plant a patch near your front door for easy access.

Lemon Balm - An Herbal Scent Men Love

Lighter than perfume, and without the chemical additives, lemon balm is a versatile herb that has a fragrance men love, will never give you a headache, and can easily be rubbed into a handkerchief, dried and sewn into a sachet, or made into a refreshing potpourri. Check back in a few days for an easy recipe for lemon balm hair rinse.

If you would like to learn more about growing and using lemon balm, take a look at my article: How to Grow Lemon Balm for more tips.

Special Note: If you are a smoker, or work around strong smells, lemon balm does a great job of eliminating lingering odor from your hair. Planning an evening out and pressed for time? Want sweet smelling hair that he'd like to bury his face in? Give lemon balm a try.

Friday

Dill Vinegar Recipe

Dill Photo
Dill in flower
Dill lends itself well to herbal vinegar. Add it to fresh vegetables from the garden like carrots, cauliflower, or cucumbers. It also makes a nice low cal ingredient in salad dressing, sauces, and marinades. Make up a batch to instant-pickle your peppers, or spice up your mustard crusted salmon.

Dill Vinegar Recipe

Ingredients
  • 3 cups of cider vinegar
  • 8 to 12 sprigs of fresh dill (You can also use two tablespoons of crushed dill seed)
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced (optional)
  • 10 peppercorns
Instructions
  1. Wash dill thoroughly and place in a clean jar with a plastic (non-reactive) lid. 
  2. Add sliced garlic and peppercorns. Fill with warm vinegar (105 Degrees F or thereabouts) to cover. Place the jar in a sunny window, shaking daily for three weeks to a month. 
  3. After three weeks, test for flavor and add more fresh dill if necessary.
  4. When you like the flavor, strain the mixture and use a funnel to move it to a decorative container in which you've placed a flowering sprig of dill. This makes a nice presentation, and it also helps to identify the vinegar if you make more than one variety.

If you are not a garlic lover, it can be omitted, but try adding a flavorful alternative instead, like lemon balm, ginger, mustard seeds, or a small sprig of rosemary.

Of the vinegars I've made, dill and tarragon are the most popular. I frequently give them as hostess gifts. I've also had luck with blended varieties (like bay leaf with peppercorns or basil and lemon balm). I always keep my vinegars refrigerated.

Special Note: Herbal vinegars make thoughtful gifts, but be sure to include a list of ingredients and a couple of recipes for their use. They look beautiful when added to a holiday basket, and make a nice arrangement on a kitchen shelf or countertop if you reserve them for display purposes only and keep them out of direct sunlight.

The Facts About Dill


Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a popular pickling herb with an impressive historical pedigree. Its uses date back to the bible. That lanky, fernlike, yellow flowered plant you see in the produce department of your grocery store was once so valuable that it was kept under lock and key. And even though its monetary value has plummeted over the centuries, its appeal hasn't.

The Colorful History of Dill

Once an important herb in witchcraft, and a purported aphrodisiac, dill has a distinctive sour flavor that makes an interesting and sometimes unexpected statement in cooking. The leaves, seeds, and flowers of the plant can all be used.

Growing Dill - Keeping Dill Happy in the Garden

An annual that grows to five feet high (dwarf varieties come in at between two and three feet), dill likes full sun and a sheltered location. It prefers well-drained soil that has been amended with manure. In the garden, it looks like fennel but shouldn't be planted near it as the plants will cross-pollinate. The result is unappealing. Dill gets spindly after a month or so, and even a light wind will topple it. Keep it in a protected spot, and tie it to a stick or post if starts to list sideways.

In midsummer, dill will produce wispy clusters of fragrant yellow flowers. If you want a larger harvest of leaves, keep pinching the flowers back to encourage leaf production.

Dill Seed
How to Keep Dill From Bolting

One small problem with growing dill in a hot climate is its inclination to bolt. Putting on a burst of growth and flowering out means few if any more leaves, which can be a bad thing from a harvesting prospective. If you want to keep your plants in leaf longer, check out my post about delaying flowering: How to Keep Your Plants From Bolting.

Propagating Dill

Dill seeds readily, and one plant produces a good crop of seeds that will stay viable for years. You can plant seeds directly outdoors, but be sure to keep them well watered. Thin dill seedlings to about 12 inches apart.

Growing Dill Indoors

Dill can thrive indoors for a season if you can situate it in a sunny window. The plant will be a little smaller in overall size than its outdoor brother, but will be as flavorful nonetheless. It will still get leggy as it grows, but keeping it trimmed back a bit will help it maintain a pleasing shape.


Uses for Dill

Most of the plant can be used, with the possible exception of the stem. Depending on the part you are using, there is a big difference in the intensity of the flavor.

Using Dill Leaves - The leaves are least flavorful, so use them in the highest concentrations in egg dishes, with fish, cheese spreads and on vegetables.

Using Dill Flowers - The flowering tops of dill have more flavor than the seeds and make a good addition to the pickle jar. Instead of just pickling gherkins this year, try a colorful vegetable medley.

Using Dill Seeds - Dill seeds provide the strongest flavor by far. Used whole or ground, they are a good accompaniment to soups, fish, and vegetables. They can also be used to make a unique herb bread, flavored vinegar, and can even be added in small quantities to desserts, particularly those containing apples.

Medicinal Uses for Dill - A tea made from a tablespoon of dill seed can help cure indigestion and treat hiccups. It has also been used successfully to treat colic (at 1/3 concentration) and to stimulate milk production in lactating women. Save any remainder and soak your fingers in it to help strengthen your nails.

Dill may not be the most beautiful plant growing in the garden. It looks a bit weedy, and doesn't have the good sense to stand up straight, but it is a useful herb, and looks aren't everything.

Notes on Keeping and Using Dill:

Photo of a Flowering Dill PlantDill self seeds readily. If you live in a temperate climate, it will come back year after year. Cucumbers marinated in dill vinegar are a delicious accompaniment to a summer meal. If you feel that your navy bean soup lacks punch, try adding a pinch of dried dill to spice up the flavor.

If you'd like to make your own dill pickles, I'd be happy to walk you through the process.  It's easy and fun: How to Make Dill Pickles From Scratch

Reference
-----------------------------

Photo1 - Dill1_Wiki.jpg By Titantoma (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Dill_in_plastic_tunnel.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADill_in_plastic_tunnel.jpg

Photo2 - Public Domain

Photo3 - Dill3_Wiki.jpgBy Arto Alanenpää (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/Dill_seed_tilli_siemen.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADill_seed_tilli_siemen.jpg


Photo4 - Courtesy of Morguefile.com


Thursday

Easy Lavender Bubble Bath Recipe


You can use relaxing lavender aromatherapy oil to make an indulgent but inexpensive bubble bath. Here's how:

Lavender Bubble Bath Recipe


1-1/2 cups of water
3/4 cup unscented shampoo (an inexpensive shampoo works fine)
3/4 tsp. salt
15 to 20 drops of lavender oil
red and blue food coloring (optional)

Combine all ingredients but food coloring and blend well.

Combine food coloring in a separate container until you achieve a tint you like, and then add it to the bubble bath mixture; blend until completely incorporated.

Pour bubble bath into a decorative bottle with a tight fitting lid.

Add sparingly to your bathwater until you find a concentration you like, start with about 2 to 4 tablespoons (enough to fill the palm of your hand. Oh, and bubble bath can be slippery, so be careful.

This also makes a great gift, particularly around the holidays.

----------------------
Photo By Riley Huntley (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/Lavender_7.JPG

Wednesday

Sterilize Garden Soil

If you have a bad patch of soil, one that's been giving you problems that chemical solutions just don't completely fix, try a more natural solution. Cook your soil clean. I've created a post on my gardening blog that explains the steps. Take a look: Sterilize Your Garden Soil

Periwinkle, A Shade Loving Herb

One of the lovelier flowering herbs, periwinkle (Vinca major) is a popular shade plant that isn't picky about soil as long as it drains well.

Propagating Periwinkle

In spring, it can be divided or propagated from cuttings. Take five-inch lengths of stem and place them in a porous potting mix. Provide plenty of water and dappled light until they root. Periwinkle also roots readily as it creeps along the ground.

A hardy perennial with glossy leaves and blue flowers, periwinkle can sometimes bloom twice in a season, both spring and autumn, and can be invasive if not contained. The leaves are evergreen, retaining their rich color throughout the winter.

It's a good fill-in for those problem areas that get a little too much shade for your first plant choice.

Periwinkle in Myth and Legend

Periwinkle has a long magical history and was a common ingredient in charms and potions. Its presence was believed to discourage evil spirits and keep your home safe from ghostly interlopers. In her wonderful book: "The Book of Herb Lore", Lady Rosalind Northcote refers to an ancient text translated from the Hebrew that contained a recipe for an evil-busting herb mixture that included: vervain, periwinkle, sage, mint, valerian, ash, and basil. In olden times, garlands of periwinkle were placed on the coffins of dead children, and in France it is considered an herb of friendship.

Medicinal Periwinkle

Periwinkle has medicinal applications as a treatment for both leukemia and diabetes, but it's not for the do-it-yourself herbalist, so don't use it in your home remedies. This little gem is for decoration only.


The lovely photo accompanying this post is the work of Robert Hoge. Check out his great images at flickr.com.

Tuesday

Herbal Flea Control and Your Dog

Rosemary Flea Control
Don't let fleas get out of hand this summer. Natural herbal flea control can help you get a handle on fleas. Eucalyptus is a natural enemy of fleas, and eucalyptus oil is used in some flea control preparations.

To foil the nasty little pests in your home, place eucalyptus in dog bedding, under carpeting, and in furniture. Sachets of eucalyptus can also be placed in linen closets, and in low-lying cabinets and drawers. An infusion of eucalyptus oil in the final rinse when you launder your dog's bedding will kill fleas, their eggs, and any mites that have hopped on for the ride. Make sure to always wash suspect linens thoroughly in hot water. (Strong essential oils can be toxic to cats, so use these measures to treat dog bedding only.)

Make Your Own Flea Dip

Vacuum carpeting and furniture frequently, and bathe an infested dog with a quality flea dip. You can make your own from 1/3 cup of dried rosemary leaves steeped in 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and left to cool overnight. Strain and combine the liquid with warm water and 1/4 cup of lemon juice for your dog's final rinse.

Internal Measures for Flea Control

Brewer's yeast added to your dog's diet will repel fleas from the inside out. (You can buy it in capsule form or as a powder that you can add to his food or incorporate into homemade dog biscuits.)

Herbal Flea Control in the Garden

In the garden, plantings of rosemary, sweet woodruff, mint, lavender, and garlic will help keep fleas under control, and using eucalyptus mulch helps too, particularly near doorways, under windows, and around areas where your dog likes to stretch out to relax.

The Spider in my Garden

Summer Spider WebSpring is here, and boy am I ready. One of my favorite memories of last season was a friendship I developed with a spider that lived in my garden. She'd built her web along the deck railing and could be seen in her spot at its center each morning. I started watching because she'd decided to set up shop right next to the chair where I sat to drink my morning coffee. Being a decent housekeeper, I demolished her first web, but she rebuilt nearby (I think it was her). Her second web seemed to be less of an architectural wonder than the first, sporting gaps and odd angles in the design. It made me think of a factoid my sister-in-law told me once about spiders go mad if their webs are consistently destroyed.

After making that connection, I left her web alone, watching her in the mornings and stopping by in the afternoons to see if she'd caught anything. If I happened upon an unlikely victim that hadn't yet been entombed in silk, I would try to save him, gingerly. Sometimes I could free the unlucky fly or beetle, sometimes not. I never had much luck with moths.

Over the course of a couple of months, I watched fog beading on her web and observed her scurrying to repair wind damage, much as I was picking up wind blown twigs and pots in the yard.

She won't be back this year, of course, but her offspring may. The experience showed me a bit about the advantage of looking at the 'small' of things in the garden and elsewhere.

I'm inclined to think in terms of digging, sweeping, raking, watering, and am not usually one to pay attention to the inhabitants of that spadeful of loam that I'm carrying across the flowerbed. I plan on doing more of that this year.

I had a recurring thought while I watched the spider (I almost said my spider). A poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins kept coming to mind. I even found it in an anthology and referred to it a few times over the summer. It's not about spiders, but I'm sure you can make an association. You can follow the link to an online copy if you like: Spring and Fall