Thursday

Blue Moon Folklore


I thought I'd drop in and encourage you to take a look at Friday's blue moon. A blue moon is the second full moon in any calendar month. The term has been around for over 400 years, so people have been tracking blue moons, harvest moons and other moon characteristics for a long time.

Moon watchers already know certain moon aspects can be particularly propitious for gardeners and farmers. A harvest moon after the autumnal equinox is considered bright and beneficial for harvesting that last crop before frosty temperatures arrive, for example. Planting crops based on the phases of the moon was the secret weapon of many dedicated old time farming folk, and the practice has adherents even today. You can find out more about the moon and your garden at: Gardening by the Moon

Have you ever wondered about the gibbous moon? It's the moon phase beyond the halfway point, but not completely full. It's characterized by a more rounded aspect (a pouch) along its previous inward curve. Maybe they should call it the "slightly pregnant" moon. 
A Gibbous moon


A blue moon is considered lucky in some cultures, and in others is an indication of increased chance for flooding. Either way, it's an interesting sight, and one that only rolls around once every 33 months or so.

Here's to good weather for an opportunity to see a "once in a blue moon" natural wonder.


Gibbous moon photo: Flickr   User:  Thomas Bresson  https://www.flickr.com/photos/computerhotline/3967744103/in/photolist

Saturday

Is An Herb or Vegetable Garden Worth the Expense?

Flowering Herbs
By the time high summer arrives, most gardeners have had a chance to reap some of the rewards and contemplate some of the failures of the gardening experience. This is often the time we start tallying up our receipts and scratching our heads. Was all that and fertilizer, mulch and organic pesticide really worth it? Those weekends spent on our knees or stooping over a shovel (rake or hoe) can seem fruitless when our carefully tended blueberry bushes are under siege by relentless waves of Japanese beetles.

Gardening isn't a virtual experience. The results are real and unpredictable, even during good years, years when nature smiles and cooperates. I've discussed some of the challenges and potential disappointments of gardening in previous posts. It's a favorite topic; but this time around, I'd like to present some of the tangible advantages of gardening that you may not have considered.


Gardening Can Save You Money


A 2009 study conducted by the National Gardening Association found that the average backyard gardener pays around $70 a year to produce and maintain a vegetable garden. In turn, that garden generates around $600 worth of produce.  It's true that a new vegetable and herb patch can tax your piggy bank beyond that $70 figure, though.  After you've amended your soil for the first couple of years, you'll be able to plant crops without taking out a small loan or maxing out your credit card. That's when you'll start to see some real financial advantages to this whole gardening for food thing. 

Here's an example: According to the Burpee Seed folks, a $1 investment in potato starts will net you $5 worth of potatoes by the end of the season. You can grow those potatoes in the ground, in a raised bed, trash can, mesh surround, trash bag or even in a bale of straw. That means you can grow potatoes on your patio, deck or just about anywhere else there's plenty of sun and available water. That's pretty flexible and a nice ROI (or Return On Investment for us financial neophytes). You can grow produce in a relatively small space, too, with a projected yield of a half-pound of produce per square foot of area, and more if you grow vertically or hydroponically.

Have you ever wondered which herbs and vegetables are the most space and cost effective to grow?  The top 10 from "The Most Profitable Plants in Your Vegetable Garden," are:

  • Cilantro
  • Arugula
  • Green salad mix
  • Chives
  • Dill
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes, cherry
  • Turnip    
  • Tomatoes, large
  • Winter squash

There are plenty of other candidates, and any vegetables you tend to use in bulk should make your personal "cheaper to grow it" list.

Seeds, the Crops that Keep on Giving


Here's something else to think about. Buying seedlings every spring can get expensive, but you can grow dozens of plants from seed for the price of one garden center seedling. Harvesting seeds one year to use the next is better than double coupon day. It's a season's pass to nearly free plants. Even better, plant varieties that thrive in your garden produce seeds and subsequent generation plants that are slightly more genetically predisposed to prosper for you again -- and again. It's nature's selective breeding program at work making gardening easier and more productive -- if you stick to it.

Preserving Your Yield
Flowering Herbs


A bumper crop of vegetables can sometimes be as daunting as a failed garden: If five tomato plants all ripening at the same time seems like overkill for your family, consider developing a new hobby -- canning.  Canning is more popular today than it has been in the last four decades, and foods canned fresh from your garden will have fewer preservatives and additives than the canned goods on your grocery store shelves. Canning is also an efficient and time honored method of long term storage.

Canning jars can get expensive, it's true, but you'll also use them year after year. Think of it as an investment in the future. That's a future where you don’t' have to worry that the tomato sauce you use in your recipes is tainted with BPA leached from the can's interior lining.

While we're talking about equipment, the Ball canning company has developed a line of products designed to make canning simpler and more fun. If you like the idea of crafting homemade jam from your home grown strawberries, or relish from your jalapenos, these products take some of the stress out of canning. They also make it easier to produce smaller, family sized batches. Here are some examples:

*Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker (by Jarden Home Brands)
 
 *Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System 116852

 

Home Grown Foods Can Be More Wholesome than Their Store Purchased Counterparts


Produce grown for market is cultivated to meet specific requirements that have little to do with their flavor or nutritional value. Growers want crops that look good, are transport stable and have a long shelf life. Many of these crops are harvested early and then ripened artificially. This can reduce the available vitamins and minerals in the vegetables you buy and can have a negative impact on their flavor and texture, too. 

There is also some concern that big agribusiness uses depleted soils that contain fewer and fewer of the many micronutrients humans need in their diet. That green bean casserole you serve at Thanksgiving contains fewer vitamins and minerals than the same recipe prepared by your mother 20 years ago. That's scary. When you grow your own produce, rotate your crops, plant green manure and compost (even in small ways), you help add nutritional diversity to your diet that may be missing in the foods you eat now -- even when those foods look and seem natural and nutritious.


Home Grown Vegetable Offer Better Variety


If you've ever looked through a vegetable or herb seed catalog, it's easy to see there's a lot more variety out there than you'll find in your market. How about finger sized eggplant for your stir fry, or stuffed round zucchini. How about classic Amish paste tomatoes for spectacular homemade tomato or spaghetti sauce, or home grown paprika peppers perfect for smoking and drying?  There's a vegetable revolution going on, and it starts in your garden.

Just as an example, there are over 7,000 kinds of apples, 400 types of rice and 7,500 cultivar, heirloom and open pollinated tomato varieties grown worldwide. How many types of a particular vegetable or fruit are you likely to find at the store? Fully 30 percent of the apples sold in the U.S. are Red Delicious. It's a great apple, but with so many varieties to choose from, doesn't seeing the same five or six on offer make you feel a little sad?

Many fruits and vegetables available to the casual gardener are sold as: heirlooms, pest or disease resistant strains or interesting cultivars developed for their flavor, aroma, size, texture or color. There are also classics you don't see in stores that may have been popular additions to your grandmother's garden back in the day. Or, what about vegetables from around the world, like Australia's take on spinach or deeply flavored ox heart tomatoes from South Africa?

If you'd like to expand your culinary repertoire with lemon basil or pineapple tomatillo, the world is your garden, but you'll have to grow the plants yourself. 


The Act of Gardening Can Be Good For Your Body and Spirit


Gardening is hard work, but it's also good exercise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), gardening is a moderate-intensity level activity. A two-and-a- half hour a week commitment (and what garden requires less), can help reduce your risk for: heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, as well as a host of other conditions. Gardening can help you control your weight, dial back your blood pressure and stave off depression by reducing cortisol levels in your body.  Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that metabolizes carbohydrates and proteins and regulates some stress responses like blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Less cortisol has broad implications for better health.

You burn around 275 calories an hour gardening (yea!), and the plants do most of the hard work. Gardening also gets you outside where you can increase your vitamin D absorption, take advantage of the fresh air and benefit from interacting with the natural world. Some studies suggest that just getting out into nature more -- as opposed to staying in man-made environments like houses, offices and office cubicles (ugh!) -- can help you destress and start tackling that sour attitude you've been meaning to work on. (If you've yelled at the kids lately and regretted it, maybe you need a "green" break.)

So what if this year's roses look forlorn or your grape arbor is listing sideways again. There's always next year to get it right. You've learned a lot, and even if you don't make the cut for premier gardener of the neighborhood, bird watching and bug patrol will keep you busy until the first frost. After that, it'll be time to start planning next year's garden.



References


Cheap Vegetable Gardener. "The Most Profitable Plants in Your Vegetable Garden." 2009. http://www.cheapvegetablegardener.com/most-profitable-plants-in-your/

Garden.org. "The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America." 2009.   http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1738

Scientific American. "Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?" April 27, 2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/

Templin, Neal.  "How Much Green Can Growing a Vegetable Garden Save You?" The Wall Street Journal. April 16, 2009. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123983924976823051

The Telegraph. "Gardening Goodness - How to Exercise While Gardening." March 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/8391527/Gardening-goodness-how-to-exercise-while-gardening.html

Van Den Berg, Agnes E.  "Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress." Journal of Health Psychology." 2014. http://hpq.sagepub.com/content/16/1/3.short



* I may be compensated for product link activity in this article. If you find this inappropriate but want more information about these products, please copy and paste the descriptions into your browser and follow the results to other sites for expanded retail options and more information. You can also visit the Ball site for product information, recipes and tips. This is not a sponsored post.  If the idea of canning your harvest has captured your imagination, you can find more information by visiting the National Center for Home Food Preservation funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  \


Canning photo from Flickr, User: Chiot's Run
https://www.flickr.com/photos/chiotsrun/4904261150/in/photolist

10 Best Flowering Herbs

Flowering Herbs Like Lavender Can Brighten Up Any Landscape
I like flowers, but I love herbs. I've always felt that way. I was chatting with a work friend years ago when she asked if I gardened. When I said I did, she started asking about my experience with favorites like irises, rhododendrons, dahlias, begonias, peonies, tulips and a number of other flowers I'd never heard of. I was impressed. There was the liberal use of Latin names (if you know 'em, use 'em), and talk of flower size (it was apparent bigger was better), color intensity and the benefits of hybrids. There may even have been some talk of grafting.

She was clearly earnest in her love of flowering plants, and I was a little embarrassed and stymied by her knowledge and obvious enthusiasm. I didn't know much -- well, anything -- about the plants she was rhapsodizing over. I probably couldn't have picked one out of a lineup, and I certainly didn't know anything about their care. Plant names with three syllables or more taxed my vocabulary beyond its Anglo-German limits.

 Flowering Herbs are the Best of Both Worlds

 

Our chat was a revelation. People garden for lots of different reasons. She was a flower person, studiously polite but unimpressed by my description of a garden bed full of common sage, mint and thyme -- none of which produce flowers worthy of a photo op. When it became painfully clear I was ignorant about even the most basic aspects of growing landscape flowers, she gave me a suspicious look -- like I wasn't a real gardener after all -- and went on her way.

My fascination with herbs was a head scratcher for sure. I wasn't even much of a cook. In those early years, I collected different herbs the way people collect postage stamps, with avid glee but no plans for pursuing their practical applications. This was in California where I had over 100 varieties growing in uncontrolled profusion in a ramshackle garden on the outskirts of a eucalyptus grove. It was heaven. The smell of all those scented geraniums (and their small but worthy flowers), mixed mints and the citrusy artemisias (I forget the variety) were heady enough to threaten olfactory overload when the afternoon sun hit them. It was the best perfume, and worth every inch of garden space those plants appropriated from their flower festooned cousins.

Today, I know a lot more about herbs as well as flowers, vegetables and landscape plants than I did then. In fact, I know enough to add a few flowering herbs to my landscape to satisfy myself as well as those naysayers that claim herbs are just weeds with benefits -- the unlovely mongrels of the garden.

To heck with that! Here are 10 herbs that are as pretty as they are useful. You'll buy them for their herby benefits, but enjoy them for their beauty, too.

Lavender (Lavandula, various)
White Lavender


This one tops our list because lavender is widely considered one of the most attractive, aromatic and, well, romantic herbs around. Although you may be familiar with its distinctive purple flowering spikes, lavender is also available in white and yellow varieties. They're not as dramatic, but if you enjoy unusual specimen plants, give one a try. Easy to grow in (very) well-draining soil, lavender can hold its own in a cutting garden and in a place of honor around showier plants. Lavender is also considered good luck, and who couldn't use a little more of that.

Planting Lavender

Lemon Scented Geranium

Scented Geranium (Pelargonium, various)


You're probably familiar with geraniums. They crowd garden center shelves every spring in reds, pinks and that electric peach color that almost defies description. There are also scented geranium varieties that have smaller, often variegated flowers in scents from lime to rose. The leaves are usually small as well, and may be dappled green to brown. The specifics vary based on the variety you choose, and I admit the scent is the big selling point for these plants. Scented geranium flowers are also captivating, though, and come in white, pink, lavender and purple. They can look so delicate they appear almost artificial.

Scented geraniums may be dried and added to potpourri, and when picked fresh, make pretty, long lasting members of spring flower arrangements. In the garden, they are an easy care option that somehow looks more sophisticated than the geraniums you're used to. Think of them as a 21st century take on a classic.

Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
Evening Primrose


Evening primrose shows to best advantage when the sun is sinking toward the horizon. This wonderful herb also solves the problem of what to plant in a shady garden spot denuded by previous colonization failures. Growing to 5 feet or taller, evening primrose needs space, but will reward you with many yellow flowers from June to September or thereabouts.

The oil extracted from evening primrose seed is currently being study for the treatment of conditions as diverse as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. If you're into herbal remedies -- and pretty flowers -- give evening primrose a try.

Herbs That Grow in the Shade

Bee Balm

Bee Balm (Monarda)

Honey bees have faced challenges from pests and pesticides in recent years. Planting a little bee balm in your garden is a vote of confidence for these industrious pollinators. The bright red flowers of bee balm attract plenty of bees, but they also entice hummingbirds and butterflies. If you like natural garden entertainments, bee balm will bring your flowerbeds to life with lots of visitors.

Give bee balm full sun and dappled afternoon shade in areas that experience punishing heat. Like lavender, bee balm needs well drained soil. Add this plant to your edible flower list, too. Dried bee balm also makes a refreshing tea, and the aromatic leaves and dried flowers can spice up potpourri. Don't expect high performance right away. Bee balm usually starts blooming the second year. Be patient. It's worth it.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Feverfew


From a distance, feverfew looks like a fern that's sprouted petite daisies (or chamomile clones). It's an attractive shrub best known for stopping migraines before they take hold, and for helping to control toothache pain.

Feverfew grows to a height of around 20 inches and is not persnickety about accommodations. It can be invasive, though, so keep an eye on it.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Passionflower

It's easy to please this flowering vine. Passionflower will tolerate poor soil, partial shade (although it prefers sun) and benign neglect. It doesn't like drought conditions, though. In return for a little attention, it will reward you with large, purple blossoms that look like they belong in a tropical paradise. Passionflower will thrive in an arbor, along a deck or fence, or twined around a mail box post. As an added incentive for growing this exceptional plant, the leaves of the passiflora incarnata passionflower make a relaxing, sleep inducing tea.

How to Grow Passionflower

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
Pineapple Sage


This elegant member of the sage family is a pretty adorable garden plant. It produces jade green leaves and small, deep red, trumpet shaped flowers. Together, they will make you nostalgic for Christmas. For total irresistibility, pineapple sage really does smell like pineapple. Although the fragrance dissipates when the leaves are cooked, stems from this plant make a beautiful garnish and an appealing ingredient in fruit salad.

How to Grow Pineapple Sage

Pot Marigold (Calendula)

Pot Marigold (Calendula)


Marigold creates some confusion because there are two distinct plant varieties with the same common name. The garden center marigold you know and admire is probably French marigold, a useful border plant with interesting yellow to orange or russet flowers. Pot marigold, or calendula, looks similar to some French marigold cultivars, but has antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal medicinal properties. Calendula can be  used to make soothing lip balms and skin creams, for instance.

Dried calendula petals can produce a serviceable dye for fabrics -- or Easter eggs -- and fresh calendula petals look lovely when added to salads or tossed into fresh vegetable dishes. For two plants that look pretty similar, why not choose the one that does triple duty in the garden, kitchen and craft room? Calendula may be hard to find in your garden center, but it's easily propagated from seed.

Different Marigold Varieties


Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary


You probably already know rosemary has a resinous, piney aroma that can enhance the flavor of lamb and pork dishes. It makes a nice shrub, and can be trained into a hedge, too. This evergreen has needle like leaves, and is predominantly a deep green in color. There are creeping rosemary varieties, and some newer cultivars are hardy to zones 6 or possibly even 5 in sheltered areas.

It may surprise you to discover that blooming rosemary can be a riot of color in shades as pale as cream and as vivid as deep blue. Its flowers are tiny, but there are so many of them that a rosemary bush in bloom can look positively bejeweled. Add a little dew for sparkle, and flower power doesn't get much better anywhere.

Growing Rosemary

Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)


Meadowsweet produces clusters of milky white flowers that have a sweet but not overpowering almond scent. Blooming from June to September, this plant will give you your money's worth in the garden and in cut flower arrangements that smell as good as they look. Meadowsweet likes moist conditions and can grow to over four feet, so position it at the back of your flowerbed and give it room to spread.This charming herb has numerous aromatic, culinary, curative and craft applications. If you want to take your gardening hobby in new directions, it's definitely a candidate for further study.

Flowering herbs offer color, curb appeal, scent and extras like flavor and medicinal value. Try one or two in a flowerbed and you'll see just how beautiful a "weed" can be.



Photos

Lavender Plant- Flickr
User: Duncan (Lavender at Kensington sunken garden)
https://www.flickr.com/photos/duncanh1/14547470586/in/photolist

White Lavender - Flickr
User: FarOutFlora
https://www.flickr.com/photos/faroutflora/6963782956/in/photolist

Scented Geranium - Flickr
User: Melanie J Watts
https://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniejo/3841378312/in/photolist

Evening Primrose
Yellow Evening Primrose - Flickr
User: Maia C https://www.flickr.com/photos/maiac/7527303950/in/photolist

User: Brewbooks https://www.flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/3896684813/in/photolist

Bee Balm
Bee Balm Flower - Flickr
User: Audrey https://www.flickr.com/photos/audreyjm529/611296534/in/photolisthttps://www.flickr.com/photos/audreyjm529/611296534/in/photolist

Feverfew - Flickr
User: Melanie Shaw
https://www.flickr.com/photos/melanieshawmedicalherbalist/9145355914/in/photolist

Passionflower - Flickr
User: Sarowen
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sarowen/456000883/in/photolist

Pineapple Sage - Flickr
User: Marie Shallcross
https://www.flickr.com/photos/plewsgardendesign/16611462785/in/photolist

Marigold (calendula) - Flickr
User: Fluffymuppet
https://www.flickr.com/photos/fluffymuppet/481593528/in/photolist

Rosemary - Flickr
User: Georgie Sharp
https://www.flickr.com/photos/georgiesharp/228998179/in/photolist

Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet Spray - Flickr
User: Gailhampshire
https://www.flickr.com/photos/gails_pictures/7831685070/in/photolist


Garden Disasters -- or -- Earning Your Stripes

Sure, everything looks great in the beginning. . .

I have lots of gardening stratagems and a freight of old and new superstitions that seem to bubble up during the winter months when I least expect them, only to glom onto my outdoor plans like ceremonial entreaties to the sleeping garden gods. I have a favorite shovel and sun hat, and a lucky spring trowel, too. I also like to plant even numbered tomato plants - two by two, like my own botanical ark.

I like to explore new growing techniques -- or very old ones.  I maintain a garden journal, making blocky, dirt smudged notes that are hard if not impossible to decipher later (is that a 2 or a 7?). I also plot big gardening weekends the way I imagine defensive sports coordinators formulate their tactics, with astute observations (if I say so myself), stark but useful diagrams and cunning.

In the end, though, it's all puny compared to the vagaries of nature. Whether it's baking heat, unrelenting downpours (the problem du jour is over a month of almost constant rain), pest invasions or diseases that seem to spring up overnight, there are always new and unexpected challenges when you're a gardener.

No matter what or how carefully I plan, the reality of each summer season is a stunning surprise.  The good or bad of it is important, well, because I love garden fresh tomatoes and ground cherry jam and baby okra -- and losing those plants sucks. The part that always gets me, thankfully before I throw up my hands up in disgust,  is how beautifully the garden as a whole adapts.

Sure, my tomatoes are slowly succumbing to blight (a total tragedy as I planted 12 varieties and really wanted to see them thrive),  but the peppermint is waist high and about as happy as I've ever seen it.  There's catnip everywhere, and the lemon balm is ambling across the driveway, traveling sunward at a truly impressive rate. The lavender is suffering, as are the roses, but there's a bumper crop of cucumbers coming along and the passionflower is a tropical wilderness taking over the deck. It isn't the garden I'd planned, but it's deeply verdant in a way I've never seen, may never see again and could never have expected.  I'll take what I can get. The plusses are worth mentioning, even -- and maybe especially -- amidst the disappointments. There are plenty of weeds, but they come up easily.

This has put me in mind of predictable garden problems. (Most beetles varieties are under control so far, but the mosquitoes are fierce and terrible.) I've listed some past posts below that may help with garden challenges you might be facing this weekend and beyond. Here's to fighting the good fight.

Beating the Heat in the Garden

Zucchini Problems - Beating the Bugs

What You Need to Know About Getting Rid of Japanese Beetles

How to Keep Herbs from Bolting

Battling Earwigs

Marigold Bug Spray




Photo:

From Flicker By User: PurpleLorikeet
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ljsinoz/6446953591/in/photolist-Nmwea  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic