Saturday

Acidic Soil

Soil is acidic, neutral, or alkaline depending on its chemical composition. Acidic soil has a pH lower than 7.0 (neutral).

Different plants need different soil. Modifying soil to make it more acidic or alkaline is a common practice when keeping plants. To make soil more acidic you can add the ingredients listed below, but use caution when making adjustments. You can also add timed release fetilizers that will modifiy soil pH.

Sawdust
Peat moss
Sulpher
Wood chips
Cottonseed meal
Leaf mold
Coffee grounds (Be sure to compost them first.)
Tea

This is a glossary entry that will help you understand some of my blogs better. Plants have a vocabulary; most specialized areas of learning do. Pick up one new term a day, and in no time you'll be a pro.

Acclimate

The process of adapting a plant to a different environment. This is usually a undertaken in slow stages. Seedlings are typically acclimated to outdoor environments by allowing them more and more time outdoors in gentle weather after having been germinated indoors, in a cold frame, or in a greenhouse.

This is a glossary entry that will help you understand some of my blogs better. Plants have a vocabulary; most specialized areas of learning do. Pick up one new term a day, and in no time you'll be a pro.

How To Start a Vermicomposting Bin

Worm compostingYou can make fertile, odorless compost, even if you live in an apartment. If you want to go green in your garden or with your houseplants, why not start a vermicomposting bin? Vermicomposting uses worms to convert newspaper and table scraps into some of the best compost around. All it will take is some space in a closet or basement, table scraps, and a small bin. Oh, and the worms! It's easy, and you can create rich, organic compost year round for pennies. There are prepackaged kits available, or you can take the do-it-yourself approach that follows.

Create a Worm Composting Bin

To create your own custom bin, start with an opaque plastic tub with a lid. A 20" x 30" bin should do it. Drill ten 1/4-inch holes around the bottom for good drainage, and also drill holes on the sides for air circulation. Eight to ten holes per side will be enough. Place mesh screening in the bottom of the inside of the bin to keep compost from dribbling out. Put a plastic tray under the bin to catch any drips, and elevate the bin off the tray a few inches. Now your bin is ready to fill.

Prepare Bedding Materials

One of the most plentiful and easy to use bedding materials is newsprint. It contains carbon, absorbs moisture and odor, and is loose enough to provide good aeration. To prepare your newsprint, shred it and cut it up into small pieces, about an inch across. Don't use colored newspaper. If you want to vary the mix a little, you can also use dry leaves. Before you add the bedding material, wet it to the consistency of a damp sponge.

Buy Vermicomposting Worms

The best composting worms are red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), and you can find them online or through your local bait shop. A pound of these little beauties can process up to a pound of table scraps a day.

Organize Your Scraps

This bin is specifically for kitchen scraps. Adding any garden material will overwhelm the balance you are trying to create, so leave the yard waste for your outdoor compost pile. For your vermicomposting bin, use kitchen scraps that aren't derived from animals. This means you can use vegetable peelings, either cooked or raw, teabags and coffee grounds, but don't use meat, cheese, bones or fat.

Putting Your Vermicomposting System Together

Once you have your bin, bedding and worms, you are ready to put your vermicomposting system together. Fill the bin a third to half-way with moist bedding material and top with two cups of coffee grounds or fine sand. Place the worms on top and cover. The worms will work their way into the bedding and start making themselves at home. Don't add table scraps at this point. Let the worms settle in first.

Feeding the Worms

After a week, add three to four cups of scraps to the top of your bin with another cup of moistened bedding material mixed in. Make sure that the scraps have been cut into pieces no larger than an inch across. During the first three weeks, wait four or five days between feedings and never feed over four cups of scraps at a time.

After a few weeks, the worms will start to multiply and you can feed them more frequently. An established bin can take daily helpings of scraps mixed with new bedding material.

Harvesting Vermicompost

In a couple of months, you will start to notice rich finished compost. To get your compost out of the bin without disturbing the worms too much, remove the lid and shine a bright light on the top layer of bedding. The worms will burrow down toward the bottom to get away from the light, and you can begin harvesting compost.
Your harvested compost can be stored in a bag or box until you need it. It's great for houseplants, seedlings, and established garden plants.

Vermicomposting Supplies and Materials:

· Plastic container (20" x 30")
· Screening material
· Tray
· Bricks
· Shredded newsprint
· Pound of red wigglers (Eisenia foetida)
· Table scraps
· Coffee grounds or fine sand
· Drill with a quarter inch bit

Special Vermicomposting Tips and Tricks:

To keep your vermicomposting bin at peak production, try adding new scraps to the middle of the bedding once in a while. Lift a couple of the top layers, sprinkle scraps, and cover. This will help aerate the bedding and direct activity back to some of the lower layers.

Shred lots of newsprint ahead of time and keep it nearby.

To avoid attracting fruit flies, keep the amount of fruit you add to a minimum.

Vermicomposting is a good way to introduce children to gardening. After getting over the initial shock of keeping worms, they can become almost like pets. While they're creating great compost, they can also teach some important lessons about living with nature.

After a few months you will have enough worms to give some to a gardening friend, or start another bin of your own.

Thursday

Make Peppermint Ointment

The menthol in peppermint relieves aching muscles and joints. This peppermint ointment is easy to make. It has a milder and more refreshing aroma than over the counter mentholated products, but has the same benefits. If you haven't made a medicinal or cosmetic preparation yet, this is a good one to start out with.

Peppermint Ointment

1 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh peppermint leaves
½ oz beeswax
1 vitamin E capsule
4 drops tincture of benzion
Cheesecloth

Combine olive oil and peppermint and allow to infuse in a warm spot for 48 hours. Strain the oil through cheesecloth and discard the mint leaves.

Heat infused oil until warm and add beeswax. Stir until the beeswax melts. Add the contents of the vitamin E capsule and tincture of benzoin. Pour mixture into a small container and seal.

Once cool, the peppermint ointment will have a creamy consistency. It will be viable for months as the tincture of benzoin helps create a pleasant consistency and also works as a preservative.

Wednesday

Make Dill Bread

Dill
An excellent choice with fish, egg dishes, or potato soup, this dill bread is light and fluffy. Use your bread maker for this one. I like to make dill bread when we have salmon steaks. It's also a hit with shrimp scampi. Another added bonus is that leftover bread can be made into croutons that go great on salads.

Dill Bread Recipe

Wet Ingredients

1 unbeaten egg
3/4 cup feta cheese (heated to room temperature)
1/4 cup mashed potato
1/3 cup water (115°F)
1 tablespoon butter

Dry Ingredients

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon dill leaves
1 pkg fast acting dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
1 teaspoon salt

Separate wet and dry ingredients according to the directions for your bread maker and bake using the regular crust setting.

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion BlossomI am a lover of herb related rubs, blends, jellies, vinegars, an oils. I post quite a few myself, but found a beauty I wanted to share from the new about.com herb site.

Amy Jeanroy has her site looking great, and has posted a wonderful recipe for dandelion jelly. I don't know about you, but one summer when I was in my teens, I read Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury and have had a soft spot in my heart for dandelions ever since (my husband hates them). I plan on trying her recipe as soon as I have ten cups of dandelion blossoms - from someone else's lawn, of course.

You can find her recipe here: How To Make Dandelion Herbal Jelly .

Special Note: If you have a caged bird at home, give him a special dandelion seed treat this summer. Just offer him the seed head by clipping the dandelion stem to the cage with a clothes pin and let him pull out the seeds himself.

Monday

Lemon Balm Vinegar

Growing Lemon BalmThis lemony vinegar makes a great light dressing for fruit salad as well as an interesting and unexpected addition to asparagus, broiled pork, and steamed carrots.

Lemon Balm Vinegar Recipe

1½ cups chopped lemon balm leaves
3 cups white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup honey

Place lemon balm in a clean wide mouth jar and cover with vinegar. Seal tightly. Allow to age in a cool, dark cupboard for six to eight weeks, shaking vigorously at least twice. Strain mixture and combine with sugar and honey in a non-reactive pan. Heat to boiling and stir until sugar dissolves. Cool.

Sunday

Getting Ready for the Holiday

Harvest Apple BasketI'm going to do a little Sunday recap for all those folks out there who'll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I've been writing content for the food section of TLC.com, a Discovery Channel website. They have lots of interesting cooking related information.

This is stuff you might not easily find elsewhere, like how to cook a meal for ten in an hour, why kids love ketchup, and who invented the cupcake. There are lots of useful, fun and interesting pieces on Thanksgiving fare that you might want to review before you start stuffing your holiday bird. I've listed a few of my favorites below. Visit and take a look around. If you enjoy cooking, herbs and facts about food, you won't be wasting your time. Have a great Sunday:

How to Cook the Perfect Turkey


How to Grill a Whole Turkey

Turkey Carving 101

Perfect Homemade Eggnog

How to Host a Holiday Potluck

How is Candy Corn Made?

5 Autumn Apples

Apple Cider 101

Wholesome Christmas Treats

Which Holiday Food is the Worst for My Body?

How to Host a Holiday Open House

Winter Grilling 101

Tuesday

Comfrey in the Garden

Photo of Growing ComfreyAs a medicinal herb, comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was so prized that it was called "knitbone" and "bruisewort" as a tribute to its miraculous healing powers.

Although there are modern concerns about taking comfrey internally, it is still recommended as an external preparation for skin problems, cuts, sprains, burns, and to reduce swelling. Comfrey's leaves and root can contain a cornucopia of useful substances like allantoin, which encourages cell regeneration, vitamin B12, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, along with vitamins A and C, and in many countries it is used to supplement livestock feed.

Growing Comfrey

Comfrey needs full sun and nitrogen rich soil. It can send out a taproot many feet long and be very invasive if not contained. Comfrey also needs room to spread out, so place young plants at least three feet apart, and fertilize with quality manure in spring and again in late summer.

Propagating Comfrey

Propagate comfrey from sections of root that contain a growing tip or from seeds that have been chilled to approximate winter conditions.

Harvesting Comfrey

Dry leaves and flowering tops in summer and dig up comfrey roots at the end of the growing season in the fall.

Uses for Comfrey

A comfrey poultice can help speed healing, relieve aching joints, reduce swelling and inflammation, and treat skin conditions like eczema. Its high potassium content makes it a good addition to fertilizer, and it can be used to make a natural brown fabric dye.

Comfrey makes a unique and interesting fill in plant for a barren spot in the garden. It may well be the king of historical medicinal herbs, and has uses today as a home remedy. Even its appearance has nostalgic appeal. Its lavender flowers are bell shaped and delicate, contrasting well with comfrey's hairy leaves.

Give comfrey a try if you can find it at your nursery or online herb supplier; it’s a great conversation piece. Oh, and the next time you sprain your ankle maneuvering your way around your flowerbeds, grab some comfrey for the swelling and discomfort. It's the gardener's secret friend.

Sunday

Ten Gardening Safety Tips

Spring herb gardening is in full swing, so I thought I'd throw up a few reminders for all of us:
  • Bend from the knees, and don't pick up objects heavier than you can handle.

  • Take a moment to put on your garden gloves. They protect more than your fingernails. Gloves can also protect you from cuts and bug bites.

  • Drink plenty of water in hot weather.

  • If you are going to be working in the sun, wear a hat.

  • If you wear sunglasses when you work, make sure that they have UV protection.

  • Wear sunscreen.

  • Take plenty of breaks. It's good for your back and your frame of mind.

  • Protect your knees with a cushion; your body will thank you later.

  • Wear sturdy shoes.

  • Don't overdo. The garden will be there tomorrow.

Have fun.

Planting Tansy

Tansy is a hardy perennial with fernlike leaves. In the garden it does double duty as a nice fill in plant, and as a great insect repellent.

Growing Tansy

Plant tansy in a spot that gets good morning sun and some afternoon shade. It prefers well-drained soil that stays on the dry side. A lavish spreader, be sure to give your plants plenty of room. In fall, the dense, flat, yellow flowers can be dried for potpourri. Tansy doesn't do well indoors.

Propagating Tansy

Grow tansy from seed or root division in spring or fall.

Uses for Tansy

Although tansy has been used as a flavoring for meats and stuffing, one of its more popular modern uses is as an insect repellent. Planting tansy in the garden can help control insects and rodents. Dry tansy for use as a pest deterrent indoors, too. Tansy sachets or even loose sprigs can help control ants, mice, and flies.

Tansy has high concentrations of potassium that make it a natural for the compost pile, and it can produce an attractive yellowish green dye.

Special Note: Avoid tansy if you are pregnant. Tansy can also cause allergic skin reactions, so handle it carefully.

Thursday

Make a Five Star Herb Vinegar

If you want deluxe vinegar for your vinaigrette, marinades, sauces or stews, here is a wonderful addition to your cooking arsenal that will use some of your first fresh herb crop this spring. Remember to clean all the herbs well, and try to harvest them in the morning before the temperatures start to heat up. Oh, and if the end product is a bit strong for your taste, you can mix it with plain vinegar in a half-and-half ratio. This type of robust flavored vinegar is often used to season dishes, and not as a main ingredient, so it's concentrated.

Five Star Vinegar Recipe

½ cup fresh basil leaves rolled and cut in strips
2 broken bay leaves (dried)
½ teaspoon of whole dried allspice berries
1 teaspoon peppercorns (a mix of red, white, and black is nice)
1/2 cup fresh marjoram (you can use oregano)
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
7 whole cloves
2 large sage leaves
¼ cup chives cut in one-inch pieces
5 cups of red wine vinegar

Combine the herbs and spices above and add vinegar. Pour mixture into a clean, non-reactive container like glass or ceramic, seal, and place in a cool dark spot for six to eight weeks. Decant and strain into a decorative bottle, including a fresh sprig of marjoram and a few peppercorns for identification. (You can speed up the process to two weeks curing time if you use boiling vinegar. I prefer the first method because the resulting vinegar seems to have a fresher, cleaner taste.)

I particularly enjoy using this recipe to flavor lamb and also in my husband's country style rib recipe. It takes a while to cure, but it's worth the wait.