A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘oregano’

Walking in the Garden and Enjoying Life

We have a small yard and a small garden, but I love to take walks through the garden and take close looks at the plants I have growing there.  There’s always something new that keeps me interested and reminds me why I started gardening in the first place – I enjoy growing things!  Yeah, there’s never a lot going on in the garden and what ever does happen does so at the pace of flowers, bees and snails, but that’s another reason for the garden.  It has become a quiet, meditative spot to reconnect with nature.    Slowly, the garden has grown from an herb garden to a few flowering plants, to a vegetable garden, a butterfly garden and I keep adding plants.  My wife jokes with me saying that I’m addicted to planting stuff.  I can think of a thousand other things that are more harmfully addictive, so I  don’t think (and really, SHE doesn’t either) that that’s a bad thing!

I thought I’d share some of the garden with you today.   Tomorrow, I’ll share a little bit more.  There’s just too much to write about and photos to share to put it all in one post!

Starting at the veggie bed, the continued growth is easy to see.  The cantaloupe is working its way up the trellis I made a week and a half ago.  Every morning, a new batch of bright yellow flowers open up, which brings in the bees and wasps.  If you can believe it, all of these vines (except for the little bit on the far left of the photograph – that is cucumber) are from one cantaloupe plant.  I’m having a hard time believing it myself!

the cantaloupe a week and a half ago

cantaloupe trellis Sunday - click to enlarge

Walking around the corner of the house to the back door, the few flagstones I put by the back stoop have sweet alyssum and yellow thyme between them.  The dainty white flowers just keep going and going.  I’m not sure how long alyssum will last in the coming months, but they make a lovely addition to the garden – one that the bees really like.  The stones keep us from trampling the grass and making a dirty/muddy mess.  If I had my way, I’d put a lot more down and maybe add some stepping stones, too, around the yard.

flagstones and alyssum - click to enlarge

sweet alyssum - click to enlarge

Right past the back stoop, the herb garden is overflowing with chives, oregano and parsley.  If you look really closely, you can even see some thyme sticking out between the chives.  In the pot on the right is some spearmint and the pot on the left, against the wall, is peppermint.  In the other pot on the left, I have stevia growing.  I take a leaf of peppermint and a small piece of stevia and chew them together for a peppermint candy-tasting treat.  They are wonderful steeped together in tea and do not require any sugar.  In fact, as I write this, I have a little indigestion and that sounds like a great calming tonic.

herb garden 5/1/11 - click to enlarge

The parsley is over three feet tall and blooming crazily.  It attracts myriad flying insects including flies, wasps, bees, yellow jackets and more.  They all love its sweet nectar, which is why I leave it there.  The black swallowtails do not seem very interested in it so far this year.

parsley flowering - click to enlarge

The Greek oregano is standing about 18″ tall now and the first flower clusters have started to open.  They will also be a welcome treat for winged friends of the garden.  I’ll let them flower until they’ve had enough, then trim them back to within several inches of the ground.  Oregano leaves are great when dried – even stronger than fresh – so I’ll be sure to hang the leaves to dry and bottle them for later use.

Greek oregano flowering - click to enlarge

Last year, I had only three chive plants and I used them so much that they really didn’t get very big.  This year, I decided to plant six of them.  I still use them regularly, but they are so prolific that they far surpass my needs!  They do, however, make a nice border and I should send up bright pink flowers as we get further into the warmer months.  I’m anxious about that.  The flying insects really love chive blossoms, and they’re also wonderful to eat.  I’m going to make chive blossom vinegar with some of them when the time is right and I’ll be sure to share that with my readers on the blog.  Suffice it to say for now that the wonderful pink color of the blossoms bleeds out into the vinegar and imparts its characteristically mild, garlicky-onion flavor.   This is a great base to make homemade dressing or as a splash of flavor in chicken marinades.

garlic chives - click to enlarge

stevia (a.k.a. sweet leaf) - click to enlarge

The rosemary bushes are getting so big.  Now that the farmer’s market is going here in Round Rock, maybe I should trim them back and share some with the community.  There really is so much to go around!  It is such an easy plant to maintain, it grows year round and is one of my favorite herbs for flavoring!   Pictured here is the prostrate rosemary bush, not the typical variety for cooking … the one I use for cooking is the Tuscan Blue cultivar (rosemary officinalis).  The rosemary bushes are part of my herb garden, but I have them planted right in the middle of the butterfly garden.  Where they’re located, the wind constantly whips through them, stirring up the delightful smell of rosemary and wafts it through the yard.

prostrate rosemary - click to enlarge

Come back to the garden tomorrow for updates on the butterfly garden!

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Harvesting and Drying Herbs: Lavender, Oregano, Thyme and Marjoram

The gorgeous lavender flowers kept the bees very busy the past couple of weeks, but I noticed that the majority of the blooms had faded and the bees were absent Saturday morning.  According to some sources, lavender flowers should be cut when the flowers first start blooming, in order to have the highest level of oil retained in the dried flowers.  I couldn’t take the lavender away from the bees, though.  So, I waited until most of the flowers were spent, then cut them down in the morning when the oil is at its highest.   I bundled the flower stalks up using some rubber bands, then hung them to dry upside-down so that the oil  drains down from the stem, concentrating in the dried flowers.  All-bloomed-out, they still smelled wonderfully pungent!

Spanish lavender blooming

The above picture was the lavender in bloom just a couple weeks ago – it was such a gorgeous, deep shade of purple.  Each one of the flower stalks run down to the plant, where I cut each one right above the green foliage.  This is what it looks like now:

Lavender after a trim, 4/25

Hopefully this will urge her to send up some more blooms later in the season.  Here’s what the bundles of dried lavender looked like:

In the meantime, the herb garden was just overflowing.  I needed to make room for a couple new plants, but first, I seriously needed to do some harvesting!  If you will remember, last year I had two basil plants in the back.  They produced so much basil that I still have several ziploc bags full of dried leaves.  Basil is best fresh.  It’s OK dried, but it loses a lot of flavor.  I won’t ever eat all of the dried, especially not now until November when this new plant dies.   With two plants, however, we just had too much for the three of us to consume. So, I only bought one this time around …  In the place of where the other plant was last year,  I put a dill transplant.  I saw it at the nursery and thought, why not?  We eat dill at least a few times a month, so that makes sense.  Plus, it attracts butterflies as well.

Herb garden 4.25.10, before its cut

another view ...

Harvesting is a little time-consuming lately!  At least, more so than last fall.   There was so much to cut, it took me two hours to cut, sort and bundle to dry.  The sage was pretty buggy, especially the one that was flowering.  Every one had sugar ants, fire ants, green loopers – that probably took me the longest just to rid the blooms of bugs.  I wanted to hang them upside down and see how they dry.  But yeah – bugs galore.  Obviously everyone is very happy, as the sage didn’t seem to be any worse for the wear.  Needless to say, I didn’t harvest any sage.  That’s okay, too.  I have a large jar full of dried leaves from last fall.  The oregano was probably nearly 12″ tall in some areas.  I cut it back as much as 8-10″ in most places, especially near the back where the chives are trying to get more light.  I had a full bowl of two types of oregano.  They smelled outstanding.  The marjoram was just harvested a couple of weeks ago, so I only cut a small bundle of that.  And, I had the largest thyme harvest I’ve had to date!

one of two bowls (10" wide) of oregano

this gets covered with a bag and hung in a dark closet until dried - 7-10 days

Herb garden 4.25.10 - after!

Herbiliciousness

The herb garden is going crazy!

Herb garden 4/3/10: German Thyme, Greek Oregano, Mexican Oregano, Curry, Sage, Chives, Marjoram

The Herb Garden: June 6, '09 (left), Sept. 6, '09 (center), and April 3, '10 (right).

Looking back at early pictures of the garden, it is clear that they are thriving.  There isn’t much room for the basil plants anymore, but I’m going to put them in anyway.  They could use the competition.  In the center picture, you can also see the broccoli seedlings – of which we are still enjoying harvests.  The mint cuttings there were put in the ground and have taken over the corner of the yard.  Also pictured are rosemary cuttings, which are also pictured below.

The sage plants have certainly rebounded from just a couple of weeks ago.  They didn’t care much for the wet winter, but the warm, sunny weather we’ve enjoyed lately have really turned them on.  🙂  As you can see, they’re preparing to flower:

The culinary sage getting ready to flower

You can see by these pictures how dense the garden has become.  Look at how prolific the oregano is – there’s no stopping it.  It snakes in and around the other plants, finding more sunshine towards the edge of the bed.

Sage, Curry and Thyme (oh, and oregano poking through)

Marjoram bush and sage

Thyme, Sage, Oregano and Chives

The parsley is taking over and needs a trim.

Spearmint and peppermint

The lavender is finally blooming as well!  It is a fantastic sight to see the lavender stalks shoot up, then two little “bunny ears” stick out the top before the entire bud bursts forth with dark purple blooms filled with yellow pollen.

Spanish lavender blooming

Lavender bloom up close and personal

Can't get too much lavender

My daughter took this of a bug sitting on the lavender

Last fall I took rosemary cuttings and planted them. They've got lots of growth now.

Mini-greenhouse and a few seedlings

The large tubs of spinach that we buy at H-E-B are useful long after the spinach inside is gone.  I use mine to hold seedling pots, which makes it easy to move 6-8 around at one time.  They also double nicely as a mini-greenhouse for my peppers with little effort.  I poke holes in the four corners of two tubs using a knife, then I put one on top of the other and use binder clips to hold it together.  The holes on the bottom let water out, while the holes at the top let out excess heat.  The ambient temperature inside gets nice and warm and humid, and it doesn’t take too long to get the soil to the temperature that peppers love.   I have been letting the peppers sit inside on a window sill, but it is so nice today, I brought them out.

I have room for six seedlings in this tub.

The mini-greenhouse

I don’t let them bake in the direct sun all day – it does get quite warm in the greenhouse.  I open it up from time to time, or I just take it off after four hours or so.  Better yet, sitting on a window sill that gets part sun through the day seems to work just great.

I have a few other seedlings sitting outside today.  They’re enjoying the nice weather.  I also cut off a section of the oregano plant that had rooted and transplanted into another paper pot.  Yes, obtaining a new oregano plant is just that easy.

Sweet alyssum that I started from seed, is already flowering.

Mexican Mint Marigold started from seed. These will probably not bloom this year, but will be well-established for next year.

Oregano clone after three days.

I heart herbs, and my kitchen herb garden

Herb garden 3/12/10

The herbs have been enlivened by the warmer, sunny weather, offering up a whiff of fresh aroma as I sit on the stones and pick out the few weeds that managed their way in.   The oregano has become quite a thick blanket of ground cover for the bed, entirely flanking the thyme plants in front of them.  The edge of the bed doesn’t seem to deter it either, as it snakes its way over the edges of the retaining wall towards the afternoon sun.  In the enlarged photo you can see just how dense it has become and how it is now threatening to engulf one of the chives.  The great thing about oregano is that it roots easily along its snaking arms, and it is rather easy to propagate because of this.  Just snipping off a section that has rooted is enough to grow an entirely new plant.  I’m going to cut a few off this weekend if I can make the time – I told my mother in law that I was going to provide some more herbs.

Greek Oregano

Mexican oregano

One of the strongest scents I encounter sitting on the stones is that of the curry plants, which are strictly there for their ornamental and olfactory presence.  I love Indian food, and the smell of the curry plant reminds me of warm curry dishes.   Indian curries are made using a variety of spices and, although they do not use curry powder as is traditionally sold in stores, they use many of the same spices that are contained in the premixed version.   The curry plant smells just like that blend.  Makes me want a plate of steaming  veggie samosas and peshwari naan.  Although the plant looks like it has rigid needles, it is a very soft plant, and the slightest touch releases that warm aroma.

Curry plant #1 is purely an ornamental that smells like the popular spice blend.

Curry plant #2

The English thyme is also rebounding nicely from its winter hibernation.  There for awhile, I was wondering if they were doing okay because they looked brown and, frankly, kinda’ dead.  Not so.  As you can see, they are covered with bright green growth.

English thyme plant #1

Thyme plant #2

The sage plants were also having a lot of trouble maintaining their foliage over the winter.  I’m not sure if that’s normal, or if it was attributed to the increased rainfall.  They are starting to show their true color again, too, with tender young leaves all over.    I’m sure they’ll be full, bushy plants again soon.

The sage got really wet over the winter and didn't like it.

Sage plant #2 making a comeback

The chives have erupted in a fury of green tentacles rising out of brown, shriveled leaves.  I have over twenty more seeds that have sprouted and are temporarily growing in paper pots under lights until I can transplant them.  Chive germination is somewhat unique in that one tiny, slender little blade of grass pokes out then sort of unfolds outward.

Chive plant #1

Chive plant #2

Chive plant #3

Four chive seeds that have germinated

The marjoram is another strongly perfumed herb and one of my favorite to brush up against.  It has become a well-rounded plant since it doesn’t have to compete with the basil plants – currently.  I’ll be putting at least one basil plant in the herb garden this year – two last year was way more than I needed.  I still have a lot of dried leaves that have lasted me since the other two plants met their demise at the first frost.

Marjoram

Parsley has taken over half a row that I allotted to grow lettuce.  There are still two heads under there managing to mature, but I’m going to have to do some trimming on the front side of the plants to get them back towards their space.    Again, overkill on the parsley – at least for my uses; however, parsley attracts a few species of beneficial insects, including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies.   Those are added bonuses, I really want to keep all of the parsley because it is a food for black swallowtail butterflies.

The parsley is surely not growing sparsely.

The several rosemary plants that I have are doing okay.  A couple of them have some dark leaves due to being too wet in their containers.  Some cuttings got pummeled by thunderstorms, but they’re doing okay now.  And the cuttings I planted late last fall are filling out in their pot.   I pulled the mother out of the ground as it was almost gone.  The corner of the house is not a good place for the rosemary – too much rain spills off the roof and rosemary hates wet feet.  I dried what was left and have a good salsa-sized jar of dried leaves for cooking – something I use just about everyday.

Transplanted rosemary cuttings from last fall, now well-established.

We can’t forget the two mint plants that I bought last summer and then cloned a zillion of them.  Well, not really a zillion, but maybe ten, which have multiplied to about a zillion now.  🙂  The spearmint is definitely the more aggressive of the two, while the peppermint struggles.

Mint spreading by runners

Spearmint abounds

Peppermint again. These were planted the same time as the spearmint.

Peppermint is very slow growing compared to spearmint.

For nostalgia’s sake, here is the freshly planted garden:

Herb garden 06/07/09

I have several Mexican mint marigold plants that I’ll add to the herb mix in the coming weeks.  I have three or four that I grew from seed and a couple other plants I picked up at a local nursery.  I’ve not tried growing it before, but it is a Texas Native, and can be used just like french tarragon in recipes.  I have a rich, creamy mushroom, caper and tarragon sauce I like to make to put over pasta and I’m sure this will be a great, homegrown substitute.

Look what’s coming up!

Many of the seedlings have emerged and are reaching towards that yellow ball of fire in the sky.  What a miracle it is – every time – to see fresh new life emerge from a dry seed.  Look at what’s coming up:

Zucchini sprouts - Black Beauty variety

Cucumber sprouts - Straight Eight variety

Danvers Half-Long carrot sprouts - the first of many

An eager sunflower wearing a helmet?

More sunflower sprouts

Squash sprouting - heirloom Yellow Crookneck variety. Looks like a lima bean.

In addition to the new seedlings, there is exciting new life in the garden as well. Dry, withered chive leaves have given room to explosive new shoots.  Prostrate rosemary offers up a delicate flower for Spring.  Dry thyme branches burst forth with green growth.  Oregano continues its crawl without missing a beat.  Broccoli ready for harvest.  Wildflowers preparing their colorful flowers with a fluffy mass of greens.  Lettuce heads crowding together in the dappled light of an old fence.  Crinkly spinach leaves unfurling.   Yes, Spring is definitely in the air!

Broccoli crown before harvesting

A view of the densely populated wildflower bed

New chives growing

First rosemary flower

Spinach bed 1

Beautiful Red Sail lettuce

Spectacular spreading spearmint!

Lettuce bed with new transplants and sprouts

Another view of the wildflower bed

Spinach bed 2

Broccoli bed (after harvesting first crown)

Lots-o-Lettuce!

The marjoram is doing well

New thyme growth

Probably the next crown to be harvested

Lettuce bed 2, also with new transplants

And, last but not least, some of the plants awaiting transplanting inside under lights:

Mexican Mint Marigolds

Ring-O-Fire Cayenne plants

Cal Wonder Orange Bell Peppers

Spinach (bloomsdale variety), verbena and sweet alyssum (back)

Broccoli plant - Calabrese variety

Bountiful herbs!

IMG_6156

There's nothing like the smell of fresh herbs!

I harvested sage, basil, Greek and Mexican oregano, marjoram and thyme this weekend.  For those of you growing herbs for the first time, check out my three latest blogs about how to harvest these wonderful culinary delights!