Saturday

How to Grow Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina)

The woolly leaves of lambs ears
The leaves and stems of lamb's ears (or lambs ears) are soft and "woolly." They're covered in a downy layer of fine white hairs that give the plant a light greenish gray color (seafoam green, I think) and make it feel oh, sooo soft and cuddly. The leaves are a tactile delight. That and their shape are the reason this plant has such a unique and memorable name. I have to admit that I keep Lamb's ears year after year, even though other herbs are more useful.

Uses for Lamb's Ears


One upon a time, it had medicinal applications. In the literature, there is some mention of its use as a treatment for bee sting, but herbs like aloe vera are more effective for that type of first aid these days. It has antiseptic properties, too, and was used as a field dressing and a poultice during the 19th century. It made an effective bandage when clean fabric was unavailable. Today, a quick trip to the medicine cabinet will yield a wealth of Band-Aids and gauze (on a roll) for most of us, which leaves poor little lamb's ears out in the cold -- or does it?

A distant relative of the popular herb betony, lamb's ears can be effective in the landscape as a ground cover. Standard lamb's ears grows from 18 inches to 28 inches high, but cultivars like Silver Carpet are short creepers well suited to tree lawns and other areas that receive light foot traffic. This plant looks delicate, but it can take some punishment.
An established stand of blooming lamb's ears

The photos here don't really give you a good idea of how charming this little plant can be. It's a lighter green than sage and looks almost white at twilight or when the shadows are lengthening across a bed of lamb's ears in the late afternoon. If you opt for a stand of common lamb's ears, happy plants will send up fuzzy, soft spikes decorated with delicate pinkish/purple flowers that look like gems nestled in a lavish layer of fluffy leaf buds. The leaves and spikes make a nice presentation when included in a vase of fresh cut flowers, too, and can be a pretty accompaniment to a bouquet of rosebuds or a generous bunch of lavender.

I've used lamb's ears to make wreaths in the past, too. When we first moved to the Midwest, we lived in a rental house with stingy, narrow flowerbeds overrun with lamb's ears. There wasn't a marigold, begonia, petunia or rose bush in sight, but lamb's ears were everywhere. It was an embarrassment of riches -- of a sort, anyway. Over the holidays, I prepared and dried wreaths made from them to give away as gifts. The wreaths turn out very full and nice, but weren't as well received as wreaths made with culinary herbs (what relatives and friends were accustomed to). I have though since that a very large wreath of lamb's ears for an entry or front door would look quite lovely.

Lamb's ears is also edible. Some intrepid souls eat it steamed, or use the young, fresh leaves in salads. I've never developed the habit, and the woolly leaves just don't seem to say, "I'm delicious. Grab a fork." I could be wrong, so if you have a great recipe using lamb's ears, please share.

If I've convinced you that lamb's ears deserves a spot in your garden this year, here's what you need to know to make it feel at home:

Growing Conditions for Lamb's Ears


A native to the Middle East, it's hardy in zones 4 through 8 and prefers dappled light in the afternoon in hot climates and medium-rich soil that drains well. Plant seedlings about 15 inches apart in spring and they'll be blooming by mid to late June.

The flowering spike of woolly Lambs Ears
Somewhat drought tolerant, it's probably better to water lamb's ears too little than too much. Do let it dry out between waterings if possible. (It is somewhat sensitive to high humidity but will survive intermittent humid days.) Prefer watering plants in the morning to reduce problems with powdery mildew.

This little plant spreads quickly and fills in well. If you have a half-shady spot you don't want to fuss with -- say over by the shed or driveway -- lamb's ears will create visual appeal without requiring much effort on your part. The good news is that it isn't a high maintenance plant but looks like one. Once established, it is relatively self-sustaining . For the nicest looking bed or border, deadhead blooms to keep plants bushy and lush. Caution: Because it roots easily, it's a good idea to watch lamb's ears over the summer season. It isn't as invasive as mint, but will crowd out other, less robust plants if given the chance.

Propagate lamb's ears by seed or root division in spring. It self-seeds readily.

Growing Lambs Ears Indoors or on a Patio


Because of its unusual texture and color, lamb's ears makes a nice specimen plant on a deck or patio. Just make sure to provide it with a pot that drains well and give it partial shade on hot summer afternoons. It's also a good idea to deadhead flowers to keep plants from getting straggly.

You can maintain lamb's ears as a houseplant, but it will require quite a bit of light when kept indoors, so place it in southern facing window or supplement with grow lights. Eight hours of light a day should be enough. Avoid overwatering at all costs as root rot can be a problem. Let plants dry out between waterings.

Lamb's ears is also widely known as woolly betony.

References

Discover Life. " Stachys byzantina." Additional Photos

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/20/q?search=Lamb%27s+ears

NC State University. "Ground Covers: Stachys byzantina."

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/groundcover/stachys_byzantina.html

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. "Lamb's ear, woolly hedgenettle."

http://www.unce.unr.edu/programs/sites/nemo/lid/plantlist/plantdetails.asp?ID=91

Photo1 - LambsEars1_Wiki.jpg By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Stachys_byzantina_02_ies.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStachys_byzantina_02_ies.jpg

Photo2 - LambsEars2_PublicDomain.jpg By Karelj (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo3 - LambsEars3_Wiki.jpg By Stan Shebs http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stachys_byzantina_flowers.jpg GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:GNU_Free_Documentation_License_1.2

Tuesday

The Mighty Victory Garden

Archived Victory Garden Poster - Get in the spirit!
During the Second World War, folks were encouraged to grow their own produce in what were dubbed Victory Gardens -- working gardens that insured there would be food on U.S. tables in uncertain times. We can learn quite a bit from those simple plots of land scratched out of vacant lots or sometimes tucked into tree lawns or front yards.

Many of them were small, but they were mighty -- and there were lots of them.  Although the numbers are approximate, by 1943 there were about 20 million victory gardens across the U.S. producing eight million tons of food, or 40 percent of the produce consumed that year.

If you've ever doubted how empowering a seed, dirt and water can be, take the time to learn more about how backyard (roadside and vacant lot) gardens fed a nation at war. It's a great story, and one that shows how growing your own food is more than just a way to save a few dollars.  It's a way to show your loved ones that self-sufficiency is important. It's planet friendly and family friendly, too.

V is for Victory -- in the Garden


Whether in wartime or peace time, starting a vegetable (fruit and herb) garden makes sense.  It can be a reliable source of flavorful as well as nutritious and pesticide free ingredients. It can also be a great way to introduce your children to the changing seasons and the rewards of physical labor. We live in an age when some urban youngsters can't identify a photo of a chicken and believe potatoes grow in long, narrow strips. Where the shovel meets the dirt, dynamic things can happen. Start a garden when your kids are young and they'll learn valuable life lessons the organic way -- by touching and tasting -- and by doing instead of watching.

Grow a Garden and Save

Historic Victory Garden Poster - Oh, no!  Is that DDT?

The results of a 2009 study conducted by the Burpee Seed Company suggest that growing your own produce can net you a 1 to 25 cost savings over buying the same items at your local market. Remember, when you buy mass-produced herbs, fruits and vegetables, three major considerations in their cultivation are attractiveness, long shelf life and transportability. Flavor and nutrition are not at the top of the list -- and, frankly, may not even make it to the middle of the list.That means you often spend more and get less than your want or expect.

Buying organic produce is definitely an option, but it's an expensive one.  Why?  Pesticides keep produce losses down, and growing crops in bulk saves money.  Organic farmers are shortchanged on both counts. They don't use chemical pesticides, and the area reserved for organic farming is puny compared to conventional agribusiness.  Leaching  pesticides from soil in order to convert to organic status takes time.  *In most circumstances, to qualify as a "certified organic" producer, a farm must be pesticide free for five years and obtain official USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) organic status. That green and white seal carries weight, but in some cases, it doubles the price of product.

The Best Herbs and Produce are 'Grow Your Own'


Some of the best produce choices are a do-it-yourself proposition, anyway. Keep this in mind when considering seed and seedling purchases this season. Heirloom (old style) vegetables are big these days, and if you think tomatoes don't taste as good as they used to, growing a few heirlooms may just prove you right.

Then there's the "fresh picked" component.  If you've ever steamed your own garden asparagus, roasted fresh picked corn, prepared garden fresh pesto or made a BLT out of this morning's tomato harvest, you know there's no contest between fresh grown and market produce.

Many of those expensive market salad greens are inexpensive to grow, too, and growing them yourself could net you a couple of crops over a season (spring and fall). Love the idea of eating spinach and the new darling of nutritional veggies, kale?  You can grow both for pennies -- and it's easy to do.

There are lots of new and interesting cultivars available every year, too. Frost tolerant cultivars of traditional warm weather plants like rosemary may do just fine in your garden, but you won't know until you start looking at what's available.


Gardening Green


Start a compost bin in a corner of your garden this year.  It's easier than you think.  Composting cuts down on local landfills, and along with vegetable gardening, teaches your family the nuts and bolts of the green movement in a practical, real world way. Let's face it, your kids probably know more about environmental theory than you do. Show them you care about planet friendly issues and are willing to do more than rinse and stack the recyclables once a week.  After you create a little "black gold," chemical fertilizer will start to look a lot less appealing as a source of nutrients for the food you eat -- and that's a good thing.

Check out Some Free Vegetable Seed Catalogs


If you haven’t grown herbs or vegetables before, this can be your year to learn. All you need to get started is a little space, pocket change and a couple of weekend afternoons. In return, you'll net yourself healthy produce and better muscle tone. You can grow vegetables, fruits and herbs in some unexpected places, including:  in bales of straw, deck pots, vertical gardens -- and tree lawns.  That means your apartment patio and that patch of dirt next to your downspout are fair game -- the victory garden way.  Plant a meal and discover what all the fuss is about.

Check out my list of free seed catalogs for the 2014 growing season to get an idea about what's out there to know and grow.

Here's wishing you a bountiful harvest.


*Although I haven't listed them here, there are many other rules and restrictions for certified organic farmers. To learn more about them, visit: National Organic Program  

Reference

Future Farmers. "Victory Gardens 2007." http://www.futurefarmers.com/victorygardens/history.html

Kivirist, Lisa.  "Victory Gardens: A Salute to Self-sufficiency." HobbyFarms.com. http://www.hobbyfarms.com/crops-and-gardening/victory-gardens.aspx

Pollan, Michael. "Farmer in Chief." The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12policy-t.html?_r=0


Photo1 Victory Garden - Public Domain Photo  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PLANT_A_VICTORY_GARDEN._OUR_FOOD_IS_FIGHTING_-_NARA_-_513818.jpg

Photo3  Victory Garden - Public Domain Photo  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SHOOT_TO_KILL_-_PROTECT_YOUR_VICTORY_GARDEN_-_NARA_-_515408.jpg

Photo3  Victory Garden - Public Domain Photo http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%22YOUR_VICTORY_GARDEN_COUNTS_MORE_THAN_EVER%22_-_NARA_-_516284.tif



Saturday

How to Grow Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)


How to Grow Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is one of those plants that make herb keeping worthwhile. If you've ever entertained the notion of a cottage garden complete with cabbage roses, hollyhocks and even a sedate stand of English ivy, there's no doubt lemon balm would have a place somewhere in that idyllic landscape.

How to Grow Lemon Balm


Lemon balm is a member of the mint family, and like all the mints, it tends to ramble. It produces long stems that start out tidy but eventually begin to lean every which way like a head of unruly hair. Wandering by a patch in spring you'll see light green, toothed leaves in a dome shaped mound. The plant can grow to almost five feet in some cases, but tends to be somewhat smaller -- and certainly looks best if cut back regularly to maintain a cohesive shape.

Originally a native of southern Europe, lemon balm now grows wild in many parts of the world, including areas of the U.S. It's a perennial in hardiness zones 5 through 9. It's also a bee magnet. The "melissa" in its scientific name is Greek for honeybee. You've probably heard that honey bees have been having a tough time with parasitic wasps and pesticides in recent years. Show your bee love by filling a corner of your garden with lemon balm. Imagine the honey that pairing would produce.  Oh, and if you've had trouble pollinating your squash blossoms (or anything else), plant a little lemon balm nearby for added insurance.

This versatile herb is easy to grow. For everything you get into the bargain, you'd expect lemon balm to be persnickety about soil pH or susceptible to wilt or vulnerable to the predations of common insects. It turn out that everything about this little plant is good news, though.

The literature typically suggests planting it in soil with a neutral pH (7) and warns of potential problems with mildew.  I've found lemon balm is adaptable and more rugged than most writers give it credit for. Just give it decent soil and protect it from punishing heat with a layer of mulch and a regular watering schedule -- or at least place it in a location that receives afternoon shade. It will tolerate somewhat boggy soil, too.
Growing Lemon Balm
Flowering Lemon Balm


Where many mints tend to take over a garden plot, lemon balm is less aggressive about usurping real estate. I've had a few plants in an eastern facing shady spot for the last decade. I prune them to near ground level in fall, and they regrow every spring, much like peppermint and other common mints. They overwinter under inches of compacted snow, and all they ask for is a little fertilizer and some drought protection in spring and summer.

This useful plant also tends to be naturally pest and disease resistant. Many strongly scented herbs are. Rub fresh lemon balm leaves on your skin when you're doing yard chores. It'll act as a homemade mosquito repellent.

If you plan to harvest lemon balm on a regular schedule, it's a good idea to fertilize plants every couple of months for the best results. Here's a good rule of thumb: the more you harvest, the more you should nourish.

Uses for Lemon Balm


Lemon balm is a culinary, cosmetic, medicinal and aromatic herb -- a true herbal bonanza. It has some impressive and handy uses: It's considered one of the top five medicinal herbs for sleep problems, and has been used as a sedative and antianxiety herb for centuries. Along with valerian, it's often referred to as "herbal valium." Where valerian smells like sweaty feet when used in, say, a calming tea, lemon balm smells like lemon blossoms in a cup. It really does have a heavenly aroma.

I've mentioned before that it smells like lemon furniture polish, but the fragrance is more delicate and sweeter than that. Although it's a plant in the mint family, it doesn't smell the least bit minty. If you keep it near a walk or garden gate, it will release fragrance when visitors brush past it. Here's a tip: Try keeping lemon balm with lavender by your entry or porch. It's a nice way to welcome guests and one they'll remember.


Fresh lemon balm leaves are also a nice addition to fruit salad, tossed green salad or fresh salsa. Sprigs make a great garnish that's a nice change from plain old parsley (or dill or cilantro). Chopped or dried leaves also make a mild lemony seasoning for fish, shellfish or fowl. I've even added chopped leaves to cupcake recipes.

Lemon balm is often used fresh or dried as a relaxing tea, and you can add it to homemade potpourri for a clean, light scent that compliments most citrus based blends.

Lemon Balm Photo
Lemon Balm in Spring

 

Medicinal Lemon Balm


There's a lot literature available explaining the potential medicinal uses for this herb.  Although its sedative properties are well documented, research into the advisability of using it for more serious disorders is ongoing, though.  It contains over 100 chemical compounds, many of which need additional formal research.

Melissa Officinalis may or may not be effective in treating the following conditions with which it's been associated.  The jury is still out and may be out for some time to come. Your best recourse is to track study results and other news on your areas of interest and discuss those findings with your doctor or herbalist.

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Herpes
    Lemon Balm Profile
  • Migraines
  • Colic
  • Flatulence
  • Stomachache
  • Toothache
  • Graves' disease
  • Cramps (female discomfort)
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Loss of appetite

Lemon balm is an antiviral, an astringent and an antispasmodic.  It is also high in antioxidants (flavonoids).

If you like the idea of taking lemon balm as a calming or sleep inducing herbal remedy but don't like tea, the fresh leaves can be added to bath water for a homemade aromatherapy session. Oral supplements, scented candles and essential oils are available, too. (Inhaling the fragrance can carry many of the same benefits as drinking the tea or taking a lemon balm supplement.)


There are potential side effects when using lemon balm regularly or in large doses.  It may increase the effects of prescription sedative medications. It may make it more difficult for the body to absorb some types of thyroid medications, too.  Lemon balm should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women as its effects on young children and the unborn aren't fully understood.  Consult your doctor or herbalist before taking lemon balm or any other medicinal herb or herbal blend.

Although the use of the common name "lemon balm" is pretty widespread throughout the U.S., you'll also find Melissa Officinalis sold or referred to by other names, like:


  • Bee balm
  • Melissa
  • Sweet Mary
  • Balm
  • English balm
  • Garden balm
  • Honey plant
  • Dropsy plant
  • Heart's delight (Don't you love that?)
  • Cure-all

Growing Lemon Balm Indoors


Lemon balm can thrive indoors as a houseplant, but it needs at least six hours of good light a day.  Here's a quick light test:

On a sunny day, place a sheet of white paper in front of the window where you plan on keeping the pot.  When the sun's shining, position your hand between the window and the paper at about the elevation at which the actual plant will be located.  Your hand should produce a well delineated shadow from which you can see the clear outline of all your fingers.  That's the level of light the plant will need for about six hours a day.  Less light will require the addition of a grow light or the plant will likely have problems.

Offer lemon balm good potting soil and a layer of mulch. Avoid letting the soil dry out completely.

Lemon balm also makes a good commuter plant: a potted patio or deck plant that overwinters indoors.


Special Notes: I've never had powdery mildew problems with lemon balm, but on general principal I do prefer watering all my plants in the morning rather than in the evening.

You can find my simple but effective recipe for lemon balm tea here:  Tea Cozy - Lemon Balm Tea Recipe

Reference

Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. " Melissa officinalis L." http://sun.ars-grin.gov:8080/npgspub/xsql/duke/plantdisp.xsql?taxon=612

USDA. " Melissa officinalis L."  http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?24036

WebMd.com. "Lemon Balm." http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-437-lemon+balm.aspx?activeIngredientId=437&activeIngredientName=lemon+balm&source=1


Photo1 - LemonBalm1.jpg Forest & Kim Starr [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Starr_080117-1569_Melissa_officinalis.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStarr_080117-1569_Melissa_officinalis.jpg

Photo2 - LemonBalm2.jpg  By Kenraiz - Krzysztof Ziarnek (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e4/Melissa_officinalis_fl_kz.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMelissa_officinalis_fl_kz.jpg

Photo3 - LemonBalm3.jpg  Forest & Kim Starr [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Starr_070906-8823_Melissa_officinalis.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStarr_070906-8823_Melissa_officinalis.jpg

Thursday

Thursday Odds and Ends

Stinging Nettle in your garden is a sign you have nitrogen rich soil.  (Who knew?)
What a week. Given the climate out there (and I don't mean the weather) it makes me wonder if a group of herb hating zealots are going through my phone records or arranging to have my taxes audited as I'm writing this. Just when I start to recover from one shocker, another one rears its ugly head. I'm pretty apolitical, but yikes. My cousin refuses to follow the news, and this has been her policy for over a decade now. I'm beginning to appreciate her sentiments.

Well, as odd as all this big brother political news has been, I have some more garden specific tidbits to share:

Spanish herbs - The cuisine of Spain is rich in flavor and full of healthy ingredients often promoted by proponents of the Mediterranean diet. I was commissioned to write an article about Spanish food (it's going through editorial review now), but wanted to share a list of the premier herbs and spices used frequently in Spanish cooking. Just reading the names will make you hungry: coriander, cumin, garlic, paprika, cinnamon, saffron, rosemary, thyme, parsley, cilantro, bay leaf, sage, tarragon, nutmeg, mint, marjoram and oregano. You can grow the herbs (but not the spices) listed here in your backyard, and many will even thrive as houseplants. Now that's home cooking.

Test your garden soil - I've mentioned this in a number places, like on Twitter and Pinterest, but it bears repeating here. If you'd like to test your garden soil fast to determine if it's acidic or alkaline, there's an easy way to get the dirty secret without the aid of an expensive test kit. You can complete the test in less than five minutes with garden dirt and simple household ingredients. I think I first saw this in Organic Gardening magazine, but since then it's made the rounds online. This is how it works:

  • In a non-reactive container (glass, stainless steel), add half cup soil to half cup baking soda.
  • Now add a half cup of water.
  • If the dirt cocktail fizzes, your soil is acidic.

  • If it doesn't fizz, empty and wash the container.
  • Now, add a half cup soil, a couple of tablespoons water and a half cup vinegar.
  • If it fizzes, your soil is alkaline.

  • No reaction means your soil is relatively neutral.

 There's no right or wrong.  It just depends on what you want to grow.

It's a good idea to test multiple areas in your garden to get a comprehensive picture of the soil you're dealing with.

Weed wisdom - If you like mystery novels, you'll love this. The weeds in your landscape tell a fascinating tale of attraction, betrayal, loss and redemption. What am I talking about? The weeds that love your garden reveal a lot about the organic composition of your soil -- and its potential. Identifying the common weeds you encounter regularly will help you provide the best environment for your invited plants, this season and beyond. You can learn more about this gripping tale at Sierra Worm Compost: Soil Fertility and What Weeds Can Tell Us  

Keep a garden journal - It seems to me that writing notes about garden tasks while you're elbow deep in potting mix (or worse) calls for two very different skill sets. I worked in sales once and felt the same way about the creative process involved in selling. Changing gears to produce the follow up paperwork always seemed so hard -- a tougher mental challenge than it should have been.

There are adorable little gardening diaries that may help you stay current with gardening projects -- but, honestly, none of them ever helped me much. My gardening wisdom, such as it is, is usually part leisurely reflection and a healthy abundance of unlovely scribbled shorthand notes that look like something you'd find on the wall of a pyramid.

If you're more into gardening than writing about it, please make the effort to document your efforts in some orderly but convenient way, though. You'll thank yourself later. Really. I use a small spiral notebook to take "field" notes and transfer the information into Microsoft OneNote later -- if I can decipher what I've written. (I'm being honest.) I keep one notebook per season. It gets dirty, water stained and sometimes a little buggy, too, but the information inside is pure gold.

A little field documentation can be invaluable when determining:

  • The last likely frost date in your area
  • Specific plant cultivars that do well in of your garden
  • When to rotate your crops or provide additional soil amendments
  • What pest control measures work best on certain plants
  • When to start successive plantings of crops like lettuce
  • When to transplant, prune and fertilize
  • Harvesting schedules
  • Yields (like: How many pounds of grape tomatoes -- approximately -- can you expect from a Topsy Turvy planter as opposed to a standard self-watering pot.)
  • The first fall frost date in your area
  • What plants should be overwintered indoors, mulched, cut back severely or just left alone

These are just a few things you can track. There are hundreds if not thousands more. Taking lots and lots of photos is nice, too. It may not seem important this year or next, but in five or six years, those photos will bestir some wonderful garden memories.



Photo Courtesy of JPPI at Morguefile.com

Saturday

Fresh Lemon Dill Spice Blend Recipe

The garden is calling my name this morning, so I'll make this a quick post to share a useful recipe that may come in handy soon. If you like salmon and other fish or seafood, you probably use the occasional spice blend, often including lemon as a seasoning. The lemon pepper blends you find at the market just don't do a good fish steak or filet justice, though.

Whether you're grilling, broiling, frying, steaming or baking fish, the addition of herbs and a few other ingredients almost always enhances the mild flavor of seafood. The bad news is that using the wrong herbs, or too much of a good thing, will spoil the delicate flavor fusion you're trying to produce. The good news is that a couple of reliable ingredient combos always work like magic with fish.

The recipe below is a dill blend with lemon and pepper. It's amazing with firm fleshed fish like salmon, tuna and swordfish. Heck, when I have it around, I use it on almost any fish or seafood on offer. I even blend it into salmon patties.
White Pepper

The only caution I have is to use this blend in moderation. A half teaspoon per single serving (four to six ounce) portion of fish is plenty.

Lemon Dill Spice Blend Recipe

Ingredients

  • Zest from 1 small lemon (no white from the pith, please)
  • 2 tsp. fresh dill, chopped fine (1 1/2 teaspoons dry)
  • 1 tsp. white pepper (fresh ground is great if you have it)
  • 2 tsp. sea salt 
      (You can use regular salt, but the minerals in sea salt really do add something to fish.)

Directions

Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate for an hour. You can refrigerate the mixture for up to a few days. I'll often make a batch of fish and reserve a little spice blend to sprinkle on leftovers.


Special note:  You can use black pepper instead of white pepper, but use slightly less.  White pepper is somewhat milder than black pepper. It also makes a nicer presentation in recipes that use pale ingredients.

Reference
Lemon Zest

Photo1 - SalmonWiki.jpg By Miia Ranta from Finland (Curing salmon  Uploaded by Fæ) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Curing_salmon_%285276829096%29.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACuring_salmon_(5276829096).jpg

Photo2 - LemonZestWiki.jpg By Friman (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Grater-result.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGrater-result.jpg

Photo3 - WhitePepperWiki.jpg By Miansari66 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/White_pepper_whole.JPG http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWhite_pepper_whole.JPG

Thursday

Thursday Odds and Ends


Summer seems to be on the fast track in my part of the country. The days are not only getting longer, they're getting hotter, and fast. To be honest, I prefer a long spring, but that doesn't seem to happen much anymore. The weather it is a-changin' -- or so the experts keep warning us.

I was out in the garden earlier than usual this morning. I'd forgotten how slumberous a garden can seem when it's blanketed with dew. I'll have to make a habit of getting up at dawn more often.This is an odds and ends day here at The Herb Gardener. I'll start off with a simple but useful tip I've already shared on Twitter:

Keeping invasive herbs contained - If you want to keep plants like mint, lemon balm, comfrey and even grasses like bamboo under control, it pays to install an underground enclosure. Invasive plants will have trouble penetrating it and taking over a flowerbed -- or even an entire garden. For herbs, it's an easier chore than with some large, aggressive plants.

As a rule of thumb, the enclosure should surround the plant on all four sides, be relatively even with or slightly above the soil line, and penetrate as deep as the plant's roots are likely to burrow. Check plant descriptions for how deep to dig planting holes. That measurement will give you a good idea of expected root depth for most herbs and other plants.

Here's an example of how it works: One quick method is to take a plastic pot or other container, remove the bottom with a sharp knife, saw or craft drill and bury the pot in the soil. (I'm not proud. In the past, I've used plastic kitty litter tubs, old plastic wastepaper baskets and anything else that looks like a good size.) Fill the interior with quality potting mix and plant the interesting but greedy herb variety inside. Its roots will remain largely contained this way, but you might have to watch out for the occasional creeper. You can also mulch liberally around plants to keep runners from getting a good grip. If you're into harvesting herbs, keeping top growth under control shouldn't be much of a problem.

Watch your knees - Gardening can certainly cause back twinges, but another often neglected area of the body you should protect is your knees. If the terms and "hamstrings" and "quadriceps" are Greek to you, they're the thigh muscles that help protect knee joints from injury. If you're out of shape, discuss thigh strengthening exercises using these muscles with your doctor or wellness practitioner. Here's a general knee friendly tip: When you're gardening, remember to squat for short periods only and keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet.

GMO seeds - If you haven't weighed in on topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like garden seeds, maybe you should. I wrote a basic primer a while back; you can find it here: What Are Genetically Modified Foods And Organisms?  The subject is complex, though. If, like many of us, you have concerns, the folks at Eat Local Grown have published a list of companies that sell Monsanto free seeds. Monsanto is to agribusiness (and GMO development) what Microsoft is to software. It may be a bit late to take advantage of the list this year, but bookmark it for next spring: Monsanto Free Seed Company List 

While we're on the topic of GMOs, there was an interesting article about exploding GMO watermelons you may want to look at. If it wasn't so scary, the whole thing would be funny. GMO Watermelons Exploding Like Land Mines in China

Food poisoning is on the rise - The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is warning that foodborne illness is on the rise, largely due to two types of bacteria: Campylobacter, which is found in livestock (14 percent increase), and Vibrio vulnificus, found in seafood ( 116 percent increase). To help avoid foodborne illness of all kinds, it pays to follow some simple CDC guidelines:

  • Don't leave prepared foods at room temperature longer than two hours - less time when the temperatures soar.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set below 34 degrees F.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after preparing food. (You're probably not scrubbing your hands long enough. The rule is to scrub for the length of time it takes to sing the happy birthday song twice (silently, please).
  • Cook meats to a safe internal temperature. You can find the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and lots of other useful information here: Safe Eats - Meat, Poultry & Seafood

Vertical gardening video - If your herbs aren't in the ground yet, you might want to consider adding them to a vertical garden near your porch, deck or patio. There's a very interesting video at HomeDepot.com that offers specific instructions on how to build and plant a small vertical garden. They use flowers for the demonstration, but the process would work equally well for your favorite herbs -- and keep them close by for easy access. If you're handy and decide to give this project a try, please come back and let us know how it goes. How to Create a Vertical Garden

That's all for now, folks. Have a great day, and if you haven't explored your landscape just after sunrise in a while, give it a try. You'll enjoy waking up with your garden.


References:

CDC. "Estimates of Foodborne Illness." 2/6/2013. http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/

Fox, Maggie. "Food poisoning on rise in US, survey finds." NBC News. 4/18/2013. http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/18/17813283-food-poisoning-on-rise-in-us-survey-finds?lite

Krans, Brian. " CDC: Certain Food Poisonings on the Rise, Improved Prevention Needed." 4/19/2013. Headline News. http://www.healthline.com/health-news/public-cdc-food-poisoning-rising-041803

Photos - Courtesy of Morguefile.com

Monday

Herbs That Grow in Shade


Evening Primrose
Today we're going to talk a little about herbs that like shade. In a perfect world, you'd have enough space in your garden to grow every plant that strikes your fancy. In the real world, your plant passions are probably constrained by a number of factors, including: your budget, the time you have available and the limitations of your landscape. Garden realities may create special challenges. Your yard may be located on a hill, be at the mercy of punishing heat or wind or be subject heavy shade cast by nearby trees or buildings.

Trees in Your Landscape

Periwinkle

If you planted a charming sapling a couple of decades ago that now towers over you home, you're not alone. There are more dwarf trees available now than there were back in the day. If you misjudged just how tall that arbor day project was going to grow between the time your kids were toddlers and the day one of them would ask you for the car keys (or were misled by the description on the label) you may well be dealing with a big swath of garden that's in shadow much of the time. The answer to opening up your landscape may not be to cut down the tree, though.

If you haven't had your tree trimmed in a number of years, creating good air flow by judicious pruning can help keep your tree healthy and looking good. It will also promote dappled light, a much better growing condition for many plants (including your lawn) than deep shade.

Trees do pose some unique challenges though:

Tree roots may extend farther than you expect. The root systems of a tree can be as wide as its aerial canopy. From a practical perspective, that means plants placed close to trees have less room to put down their own deep roots. This can make them more vulnerable to stress, drought conditions and cold snaps.

Trees can also be water hogs. The area directly under a tree's canopy usually remains relatively dry, too, even during wet weather. What water does penetrate may be soaked up by thirsty tree roots before plants have a chance to get a good drink.

Choose the Right Herbs for Your Growing Conditions


The bad news is that many common plant varieties may not get enough water to survive under (or near) trees, even when they can tolerate some shade. Plants that manage to do well under trees usually have somewhat shallow roots themselves. They are also champions at being able to access moisture quickly before it passes deeper into the soil. Many are traditional woodland residents. If you have problem with trees in your landscape, prefer woodland plants and herbs for those locations. One excellent example is sweet woodruff. There's a photo of this charming little plant below.

Herb Plants for Shade


The following is a list of attractive herbs that do well in shade. For the best results, position plants where you can dig six inch deep and six to eight inch diameter holes. Provide plants with rich soil, and give them a two to three inch layer of protective mulch unless otherwise noted in the plant profiles you see here or elsewhere.

Angelica - Angelica archangelica

Black Cohosh - Actaea racemosa

Catnip - Nepeta Cataria
Chives

Chervil- Anthriscus cerefolium


Chives - Allium schoenoprasum

Cilantro - Coriandrum sativum

Evening primrose - Oenothera -

Ginger (wild) - Asarum canadense

Goldenseal - Hydrastis canadensis

Hyssop (anise) - Agastache foeniculum

Lemon balm - Melissa officinalis  http://suite101.com/article/understanding-lemon-balm-a49042

Mint - Mentha -
Valerian

 Parsley
- Petroselinum crispum (likes shade, but needs room for taproot growth)

 Pennyroyal - Hedeoma pulegioides

 Periwinkle - Vinca -

 Sweet Cicely - Myrrhis odorata

 Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum

 Tarragon, Russian - Artemisia dracunculus L. 

 Thyme - Thymus vulgaris
Sweet Woodruff

 Valerian - Valeriana officinalis 


-----------------------
Periwinkle - By Dcrjsr (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/Vinca_minor_periwinkle.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVinca_minor_periwinkle.jpg

Evening Primrose - By Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/66/Evening_primrose_%281%29.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEvening_primrose_(1).jpg


Chives Photo - From my garden

Varerian Photo - Valerian1_Wiki.jpg By Christian Hummert (Ixitixel) (eigenes Foro) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Valeriana_officinalis_%28Flower%29_2.jpg


Sweet Woodruff Photo - From my garden