Sunday, July 16, 2017

Questions for the Garden Gnome

(In order to give Annake some time to finish bits and pieces of projects and samples for upcoming posts, this time we are dragging the Garden Gnome out of his hole to answer accumulated  garden-related questions that have piled up since the end of last growing season...)

clary sage
Clary sage in the herb garden
How did the planting in the straw bales go?

It ended with mixed results. It depended upon how much water I could get to each one. The ones around the former compost pile did exactly what they were supposed to do and have all but disappeared. The remains can be mixed into the compost or plants can be planted into them directly. The ones that were half-successful will be broken down into compost or used as mulch on the raised beds.

all that's left of composted straw bales
All that's left of properly composted straw bales

straw used as mulch in the raised bed
Leftover straw used as mulch in the raised beds

Unfinished bales for garden border
Unfinished bales for garden borders
Are you going to do it again this year?

There were some bales that were placed too far for the soaker hoses to reach. They are largely intact. A few of those will be used this year as borders for other planting areas. They will get water when the interior plantings are watered and I will experiment with planting seeds in them again. However, the current severe drought will determine how much water we can use for that purpose. The rest may be made into compost.

What happens to the straw bale after you harvest the plants?

They disappear. They become dirt. This is a good thing, because good dirt is expensive and straw is cheap.

Are you selling any new and different herbs this year?

Two, fennel and clary sage. Fennel isn't really supposed to over-winter here, but ours didn't “get the memo”. Maybe it was the hay bales? Fennel, a member of the carrot family, has been used from ancient times. Roman soldiers ate it to give them strength and spread its seeds across Europe. Roman women used it for slimming. The Anglo -Saxons revered it so much they even used it as a charm against evil. It is popular in Mediterranean cooking. Fresh leaves and stems are used in salads, sprinkled over meat and fish dishes, and used in sauces. Like dandelions, all parts of the plant are edible. The roots (bulbs) can be eaten like celery or thinly sliced for salads. For a recipe and suggestions for use of this herb, see Annake's addition at the end of this post.

Much maligned, but wonderfully versatile dandelions
Speaking of dandelions, most people consider dandelions as weeds, but they don't know about the plant's good qualities. For example, the flowers are used for flavoring wines and liqueurs. The leaves are edible if you use young, fresh ones. (Please don't spray the plants with anything if you plant to use any part of them!) The roots can be roasted to make a hot beverage, although I recommend that you add other ingredients. The roots also break up hard ground and the plants seem to prefer hard ground. I seldom find a dandelion in a prepared bed. I'm perfectly willing to let them break up the hard ground for me. The flowers make a slightly orange-yellow dye and the roots make a russet brown one. Besides, the flowers brighten up the world when few other flowers are blooming.

Clary sage (pictured at the top of this post) is a very old herb, also originally from the Mediterranean. For those of you who know the folk song (or remember the Simon and Garfunkel rendition) Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme may be interested to know that it not our Thanksgiving sage is the “sage” meant in the song. It can be used fresh or dried to flavor breads, stuffing, cheese dishes and vegetables. Its aroma and flavor are much more like its mint relatives than our Thanksgiving sage. It has attractive spikes of lavender flowers. Annake tells me that it is used as a fixative in perfume-making and is really nice in home-made potpourri. She also says a few crushed leaves in your bathwater makes for an invigorating soak. (I'll take her word for that.)

oregon holly grapes
Oregon holly grapes
Are the fruits of the Oregon holly-grapes edible for people, too?

Yes, but they are really sour! With enough sugar, they taste a lot like vine grapes. I recommend mixing them with vine grapes to make an interesting, tart jelly. They are loaded with Vitamin C.

What can you do with rose hips?

These are also sour and also an excellent source of Vitamin C. Once removed from the rosebush, they dry quickly and keep for a long time. Early settlers used them to ward off vitamin-deficiency diseases like scurvy. They are commonly used in teas and jellies.

Our new columbine
Did you ever find out what this year's gift from the birds was?

Yes, in fact we found two. The first was a handsome pink and yellow columbine. I think we have shown you a picture of the cream-colored one they left us a couple of years ago. (April 20, 2017 post) The second was a pink sweet pea vine coming up in the rock pile near where Rasputin, our rhubarb, lives and plots world domination.

Now, go grow something and make the world a better place...

J.D., Annake's Garden Gnome

Annake's Recipe
Grilled Fish with Fennel

Clean and salt the fish. Lightly stuff it with fresh chopped fennel and sage. Slit the sides of the fish twice. Coat the fish with oil. Make a bed of fresh fennel stems and leaves in a pan. Put the fish on top. Cook, turning the fish and brushing it with oil. Serve garnished with slices of lemon.

Fennel is especially good with bass, but also with other fish, especially fatty ones.

Other Uses for Fennel:
  • Snipped fresh leaves or minced stems are good additions to salads. Try them sprinkled over fish, pork, cheese, eggs, beans, lentils or rice. Add the fennel just before serving.
  • Fennel is good with dishes of any of the cabbage family: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.
  • Add 3 T. of freshly chopped fennel to an omelet of 4 to 6 eggs.
  • Add sprigs of fennel to canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, or saffron oil for a tasty cooking oil.
  • Use 1 T. chopped fennel to flavor butter or mayonnaise.
  • Fennel roots and lower stems can be cooked and treated like carrots or new potatoes.
  • Use fresh fennel flowers, which have a delicate licorice (anise)fragrance. Mixed with nasturtiums and calendulas, they make a pretty bouquet and you can eat it as a salad, too!
  • Make a fennel sauce with ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 T. light cream, and 1 t. chopped fresh fennel leaves and stems. Good over fish.

Sweet pea
Sweet pea, bloomed out and ready to move to a better location

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