An unexpected response

Holy Basil

Here is a confession:  I haven’t always been an herb grower.  Sure, I grew herbs along with everything else.  Proven Winner Annuals, perennials, succulents, foliage plants, bulbs … you name it, I grew it.  We had a garden center in Richmond, VA and my customer base was my guide.  Whatever they wanted, I grew.  Or, was it the other way around?  Whatever I grew, they wanted?  We had a very good relationship, my customers and I.  It was truly an EXCHANGE.

But, in 2005, when I decided to close the store, my intention was to take EVERYTHING online.  I would keep growing as I had been since 1985.  Guess what?  Everyone else had the same idea.  There were plenty of folks growing and selling perennials online.  I just had to get in line.  It didn’t take me long, with the help of Google, to realize that what folks REALLY wanted was a quality herb grower.  I had grown herbs all along, and actually loved growing them.  But, here was my chance.  I could begin growing MORE than the ‘usual suspects’;  I was a kid in a candy shop.  Send me the seeds, and I will grow them.

So, the unintended consequence?  Enter some of the ‘unusual suspects’ with a BIG following.  Among the most important?

Holy Basil

This was one of those eye opening experiences ~ I began growing two types, Holy Red and Holy Green.  I was getting seeds from a variety of vendors, but that was my first mistake.  What was I really growing?  Among my first customer was a wonderful grower from Texas.  She was Hindu, and she educated me right away: ‘this is not Holy Basil’!  Well, it said so on the seed package.  My education began.

Getting it right:  What we needed was to grow the true ‘Holy Basil’ or Tulsi Basil.  Ocimum sanctum is a member of the Labiateae family, and the seeds were not easy to come by, nor was this an easy plant to grow.  Hard to germinate and slow to grow.  After some extensive research, we found a reliable source for reliable seeds.  Still a germination challenge, but once it is ‘up’ it is an easy plant to grow and we grow A LOT of it.

We have learned a lot about this plant, and most of our knowledge has come from our customers.  This plant is very important to Hindus, having been described as DEVI (goddess) in Hindu scriptures.  In day to day life, Hindus consider it one of the most sacred plants and every year, there are many religious occasions connected with holy basil.

Thanks to our first Holy Basil customer, we were able to become the top supplier of the RIGHT herb (just as Google Analytics!) and it is among our ‘top ten’ each year.  It has been interesting to follow the demand over the years, and even notice the relationships between buyers.  A friend tells a friend, and all of a sudden, we are shipping a lot of that plant to a particular zip code in a particular state.

In addition to religious importance, Tulsi is considered a medicinal herb used to remedy many common disorders.  The extract is used for stomach issues, headaches, and even heart problems.  Here is where I need to interject my ‘but phrase’:  before using any herb for medical issues, please consult your physician!  There, I said it.  Oh, and the juice of the plant has been used to remedy the common earache.

Our relationship with ‘Holy Basil’ is an example of why I love what I do ~ prior to 2005, I didn’t know anything about ‘Holy Basil’.  Fast forward 10 years and I’ve become among the top grower of this very important and useful herb.  Way to go, Web!

More Information If You Are Interested:  we love to know more than we need to know.  Here is a summary of an article written for Rare Seeds by Dr. C. Parmar.  According to Aryan myth, there was a woman devotee of Lord Vishnu.  Her name was Tulsi, and she desired Vishnu to become her husband.  She prayed … Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, became jealous and used her power to change the woman into a plant.  Vishnu was impressed by the devotion of Tulsi, and assumed the form of Ammonite stone and pledged to be her consort forever.  The plant and stone are married every year, and this celebration is joyously celebrated in Hindu homes usually in the month of November.

At War in My Garden ~ Why I Love Growing Herbs

These unattractive enemies have taken over my squash, and I am spending much of my time and energy in a war against them.  Squash Beetles ~ nasty little things that suck the life out of the plants I’ve been nurturinSquashBeetleg since I first put seed to soil in mid March.  You name it, I’ve tried it :  Diatomaceous Earth, Rotonone Powder, Pyrethrum Spray … even the time consuming and not so pleasurable task of hand picking these creatures off of my squash leaves.  I’ve read articles, researched remedies and honestly, felt a lot of stress that is not a usual part of my post-spring mentality.  This ‘war’ runs against all of the reasons that I love growing plants;  growing puts me back in touch with the natural rhythms and harmony of the natural world. I like working WITH nature, not against it.  But, this is an on-going war and I refuse to surrender.

This whole unfortunate situation brings me back to the reason that I LOVE growing herbs.  Although they are not 100% free of worries, herbs have VERY FEW natural ‘enemies’.  My greenhouses are filled with over 150 different varieties of herbs, but I can safely say that not much of my time is spent ‘fighting’ or ‘fretting’ about pests.  These plants are really not bothered by insects the way fruit and vegetable plants can be plagued.  Most pest issues occur when trying to grow herbs indoors, but when planted in the garden, they seem to have much fewer pest issues.  Not, the qualifier is that you provide the best growing conditions – enough light, water and make sure that there is good air flow around each plant.  You do your part, the herbs will do theirs.  On the other hand, I’ve done my part, and more, in the case of the squash beetles and all I’m getting is aggravation!  Not sure who will ‘win’ this battle ~

The Growers Exchange’s ‘Anything Goes’ with Bouquet Garni

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Note:  Living on a farm means you need to be versatile.  Pork Roast in the freezer, fresh whole chicken from a neighbor or a lovely roast from one of our own.  This recipe will work with ‘Almost Anything’!

Ingredients

  • Bouquet Garni
  • 3 lbs. of ‘Anything’:  Pot Roast, Pork Loin, Whole Chicken (cut up)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All purpose flour, for dredging
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 small carrot, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 stalk celery, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped

Directions

Pat meat dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture as meat will brown better when they are dry. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Dredge meat in flour, shaking off excess.

In a large Dutch oven pot, heat vegetable oil until smoking. Add meat to the hot pan and brown all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.

In the same pot, add the onion, carrot and celery. Season with salt at this point to help draw out the moisture from the vegetables. Saute until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Return browned meat to the pan and add the white (or red) wine and reduce liquid by half, about 5 minutes. Add the bouquet garni and 2 cups of the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. Check every 15 minutes, turning shanks and adding more chicken stock as necessary. The level of cooking liquid should always be about 3/4 the way up the meat.

Carefully remove the cooked shanks from the pot and place in decorative serving platter. Remove and discard bouquet garni from the pot.

Pour all the juices and sauce from the pot over the meat. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Bouquet Garni Recipe

The French are known for their cuisine, and herbs play a huge role in that reputation.  You, too, can cook like a French chef using the fresh herbs that you have been growing this spring and summer.  Create your own Bouquet Garni, and add the subtle flavors of herbs to any soup or stew.  This bouquet combines the classic herbs: parsley, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaves to create a wonderfully aromatic base to any slowly cooked meal.  You can add other herbs to alter the flavor – sage, basil, rosemary, or cilantro.  Experiment and see what works for you and your own recipes.

A bouquet garni imparts subtle herbal flavor to soups and stews we’re simmering throughout fall. The classic combination of parsley, thyme and bay leaves creates an aromatic base for savory, slow-cooked meals perfect for the season. Other whole spices and herbs may be added to the mix for additional flavor.

Easy Steps:

  • Cut a 10” square of muslin cheesecloth, rinse in cold water and squeeze dry.
  • Flatten out on your work surface, and place the herbs and spices in the center of the cloth
  • Bundle the cloth and tie off with kitchen string, making sure that there are no gaps.
  • Use the fresh bundle in your cooking, and remove before serving.

Protect Your Garden… Naturally

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You have put a lot of hard work into your garden, and now it is time to protect it!  The biggest pest problem you face is insects, and the easiest way to prevent insect damage is to create an ‘unfriendly environment’.  Your best defense is a HEALTHY GARDEN.  Here are a few tips:

Clean up:  make sure that you keep your plants clean by picking off any dead or dying leaves and stems.  Make sure to get rid of weak plants and take all of the plant material away from the garden area.  You want to keep weeds and debris out of the garden as that is a perfect spot for insects to breed.  Keep your tools clean, and disinfect if you have been working with infected plants.

Dry Foliage:  We want you to provide your plants with water, but it is important that you water in such a way that you keep the foliage dry.  Wet, soggy foliage encourages fungal growth, as well as insect infestation.  The best time of day to water is in the early morning, as that allows the foliage to stay dry for the majority of the day.  Drip irrigation is a great method to water the root system while leaving the foliage dry.

Feed Them:  We recommend a diluted feeding of seaweed fertilizer once a week.  Although it is a bit smelly, seaweed contains trace elements of iron, barium, calcium, sulfur, zinc and magnesium to encourage healthy growth and give them the strength to fight any potential disease.  Our favorite product is made by Neptune’s Harvest:  http://www.neptunesharvest.com/fs-191.html

Use Them:  The more you use them, the better.  Spending time pinching back, pruning or harvesting is time well spent.  Routine inspection of your herb plants is a good means of not letting anything get out of control, and it is also a great way to relax.

Plant Based Insecticides:  In the event that you need use an insecticide, we recommend using a plant based product.  Plants actually produce many powerful chemicals to defend themselves against insects.  Pyrethrum is a safe and natural insecticide made from certain species of chrysanthemum, has relatively low toxicity and breaks down quickly.

How to Repel Insects Naturally

repel-insects-naturally

Throughout history, man has been plagued by insects.  And, man has fought back.  But, not with DEET or OFF, but inventive uses of plants.  Native Americans would pound the roots of Golden Seal, mix it with Bear fat and smear on their bodies to keep mosquitoes and black flies at bay.  Or, during the Middle Ages, herbs were an integral part of keeping a home both fragrant (well, as fragrant as you could back then) as well as fighting invasive vermin.  These plants are still effective, and a natural means of keeping modern man comfortable from the bites and annoyances of insects, especially in the summer months.

HER-FEV01-2TFeverfew works well to repel mosquitoes and other flying biting insects.  It is best planted outside along paths and close to windows and doorways and around patios.  It is especially effective when planted with citronella geraniums, lemon grass and lavender.

Pennyroyal, also known as Fleabane, works to repel ticks and fleas, as well as mosquitoes and gnats. Crushed pennyroyal leaves can be rubbed onto the skin as an effective insect repellent.  Additionally, you can also rub the leaves on dogs to help repel fleas and ticks.  Pennyroyal is often used in commercial natural insect repellent creams and sprays. Pennyroyal is great to plant in the garden, but it is best utilized as a topical insect repellent applied to the skin.

Mints, including Catnip and any member of the Mentha family, is known to deter mice and ants if planted around the foundation of the home.  It is recommended that you identify the ‘trouble spots’ where the pests are entering the home, and plant 3 – 7 plants at each entry point. Shallow bowls of water filled with mint leaves placed in the pantry is also known to keep mice away.

lemongrassLemongrass is a great mosquito repellent.  Planted in large containers on a deck, patio or by the pool it does deter most flying pests.  In the landscape, it makes a lovely grass with the same repelling qualities.  It is especially effective when planted in combination with Feverfew and Lavender.

Lavender is most useful for repelling mosquitoes and gnats when planted in the garden; it can also be planted in pots and placed by doorways and windows.  As with feverfew and lemongrass, lavender is best planted in the garden around seated and eating areas and also around windows and doors.   You can cut and dry lavender and place on windowsills to stop mosquitoes entering the house. Put dried lavender in closets to repel moths and keep clothes smelling fresh.

Citronella - Scented GeraniumCitronella Geranium has a mixed reputation and it is hard to say whether or not this LOVELY and EASY TO GROW geranium is actually effective at warding off mosquitoes.  It has the citronella scent, which leads one to believe that it has the active ingredient used in so many commercial products.  However, there are those who say that it is as far as it goes, fragrance.  In our own ‘tests’ we think that when the leaves are crushed and rubbed onto the skin, there is nothing better nor more fragrant at fighting those buzzing nuisances!