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A New Reason to Love Goldenrod

Goldenrod is an important fall food source for honeybees and native pollinators.

I’m digging the goldenrod right now.

It’s such a lovely shade of yellow and is blooming in the most unexpected places.

I’ve been using it in flower arrangements and photographing it.  Every time I closely inspect it, I find honeybees and native pollinators foraging there.

Goldenrod is a really important late season food source for these pollinators.  I’m convinced that the extra food stores help my honeybees to make it through the winter.

The most common goldenrod around here is Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  I weed it out of my flower beds because it is an aggressive grower.  I leave it for my honeybees though along my nature trails.

Roughleaf goldenrod does well in prairie gardens or more manicured beds.

Two of my other favorites, sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) and rough goldenrod (Solidago rugosa),are well behaved enough to earn a place in a flower bed.

There are many other landscape worthy goldenrod species.  But… in spite of their wildlife benefits, ease of cultivation and knockout fall color I rarely see goldenrods in landscape plantings.

Native plant lovers and beekeepers have been giving goldenrod a lot of positive press for years.  But still every fall, I am surprised how many people claim that they are allergic to goldenrod.

Goldenrod pollen is sparse and relatively heavy.  It is designed to be transported by insects.  So… how in the world do these people think they are inhaling goldenrod pollen?

I staged this picture to compare leaves and flowers of common ragweed, giant ragweed (center) and Canada goldenrod.

Instead, of course, fall allergies that occur when goldenrod is blooming are likely caused by ragweed.  Ragweed is wind pollinated.  It produces lots of lightweight pollen that is designed to float through the air.  It drifts on the wind to other ragweed plants and up the nose of anyone who happens to be breathing in the area.

I realize this is old news to most people but seriously this year I have heard dozens of people complaining about goldenrod allergies.  The thing that annoys me the most about this is that I seem to be unable to stop myself from correcting them.

But I didn’t know everything about goldenrod.  Last week I discovered goldenrod tea.

My research indicated that goldenrod has anti-inflammatory properties and is a natural diuretic that is really good for your kidneys.  According to my reading it was said to have a pleasant taste.

I found that interesting because I have in the past tasted herbal teas that invoked the gag reflex.

I said to myself – “I must have some of this goldenrod tea.”

Goldenrod tea is tasty!

Later that day I was making a flower arrangement.

When I stripped the lower leaves off the goldenrod, I saved them.

The next day I added them to boiling water and let them steep for about 20 minutes or so.

My husband and I drank the tea iced and both of us thought it tasted remarkably like green tea.  It was really good.

I researched a little more and found that leaves and flowers can be used for tea.

When flowers are added, the goldenrod tea prevents allergies!!!

We tried a tea made from the flower/leaf mix and found it to be a little more bitter but still not unpleasant.

I liked goldenrod tea well enough that I plan to gather enough to have tea this winter.

I’ll try not to harvest too much goldenrod though.  My girls down in the beehives need it too.

 

Fishing for Peppers

I’ve missed blogging but have been unable to write these days.  Now that cooler weather is rolling around, I’ve decided to make an attempt to blog again.

The very tasty fish pepper comes in a rainbow of colors

During the last year I have become increasingly involved with a community garden.  I am the Garden Directress of Love & Peas Community Garden.  My work at the garden has been loads of fun.   The garden is a “Teaching Garden”  Our policy is that when volunteers come to work in the garden, they learn to grow food.  At the end of every work session we divide the produce among our group so everyone takes home whatever produce is in season.  Richard and I have been eating really well, by the way.

At our last work day, I scored a bucket full of hot peppers. Among these were one of my favorites – fish peppers.

Fish peppers are an heirloom that was used by African American fish merchants in the Baltimore area. These entrepreneurs chose the pale creamy white ones and used them to make a white paprika that would not “muddy” the color of their seafood sauces.

Here is the finished product.

Today I decided to make some pepper sauce using my fresh fish peppers.

I used a whole rainbow of fish peppers for my hot sauce so that it would look really pretty in the jar.

Fish peppers are not extremely hot.  They are milder than cayenne peppers. So my sauce will probably be pungent instead of smoking hot.

The peppers were so pretty with their variegated streaks I had to stop and do a photo shoot.

The plant itself is lovely too,  The foliage is a dark healthy green and is marked with creamy white.

I stuck a few cloves of garlic, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf in with the peppers and vinegar.

We used sprigs of the plant in the flower arrangements for a recent Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.

Next year I think we will plant this very ornamental pepper plant in the front “flower beds” at the garden.

I love growing food but am limited in what I can grow here at home.  My garden is nestled in the woods and that is a wonderful thing for an old Tree Hugger like me.

Vegetables need full sun.  Instead of struggling to grow them in my few sunny spots, I’ll just keep on heading to Love & Peas.  I’ve been blessed there by the friendships I’ve made as well as by the food I’ve harvested.

Frienships, food and fish peppers are hard to beat.

Ravishingly Robust Radicchio Rules!

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to blog more consistently.

So – on January 2, I set out to create a new post and rapidly encountered multiple problems.  In short I have been out of commission since then and just got back up and running today.  Yay!

Meanwhile I missed my 2 year blog anniversary on January 6.

So what a bummer!  The Blog-iversary has come and gone and I have so many potential blog posts dancing in my head that I just don’t know which to write first.

Ravishingly Robust Radicchio Rules! Note the small head that is beginning to form in the middle of the rosette.

I think I will post a closeup of the most beautiful thing in my vegetable garden which is, by the way, really rocking right now.

Of all the eye candy therein… my robust radicchio is the most lovely.  The plant carried over from last year and is in its second year in the veg garden.  This perennial nature seems to be the norm for radicchio here in Mississippi.

Radicchio (Cichorium intybus) is a leafy form of chicory with some red color.  I read that the ancient Egyptians selected it from wild chicory populations.  Then in the 1860’s a Belgian agronomist tinkered with it to incorporate consistent red color.

When I planted my summer veggies, the radicchio languished in the shade and remained hidden so that I was pleasantly surprised to find it when I pulled out the tomatoes, peppers and green beans.

During the cleanup, the tag was lost.  I have done some research and speculate that this variety might be ‘Early Treviso’.

I do know that the seed came from Nichols Garden Nursery and I am relatively sure that it is either ‘Early Treviso’ or some unknown variety from Nichols’ Wild Garden Chicory Mix.

Regardless it is a beautiful plant and quite tasty if you like buttery bitterness.  I pick a few leaves off the side of the rosette and add them to every salad.

I am looking forward to watching this little jewel head up.

Due to the high entertainment value, I planted more seed in the fall and have healthy baby radicchio coming along.

So… all is well.  The blog is up and running and the radicchio rules!


 

 

Mellow Mallows

Turk's Cap Mallow's scarlet blooms attract hummingbirds and yellow sulfur butterflies.

As I’ve said before, I am very appreciative of the plants that came with my house.

Some of them are wild plants that migrated in from the fields and woods.

Others like the Turk’s Cap Mallow (which is native to only two counties in Mississippi) were probably planted.

In midsummer during my first year of residence, I noticed that the hummingbirds and sulfur butterflies flocked to a cluster of mounding plants with scarlet pinwheel shaped flowers.

The flower color seemed incredibly intense against the healthy lobed deep green leaves.

I knew immediately that this was some sort of hibiscus relative.   A little research led me to conclude that my mystery plant was Turk’s Cap Mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus).

My brand new feist dog puppy at the time weighed only a couple of pounds but was mean as a snake.  As we brainstormed for a flower name for the puppy we settled on Malva or “Malva Viscious” (no relation to Sid).

So that year I was out in the garden hollering for “Malva”  I also spent hours trying to capture the perfect hummer shot on film.  The Turk’s Cap bloomed from mid summer into the autumn.  I spent quality time with the mallow and used her name quite often.  I was smitten.

Some might think that the startling flower color could be difficult to use in a landscape design.

I have, however, noticed that it perfectly compliments creamy yellow butterflies as well as emerald green ruby throated hummingbirds.

As I wrote this post, I learned that the flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish or steeped to make a tea.

The red pulpy fruit looks like a tiny heirloom tomato and is edible as well.

I plan to make a pot of tea this week.  I’ll garnish a salad soon with a few flowers.   And later in the season I will sample the fruit.

I will report back regarding my culinary adventures!


 

Garden Gifts

This beefy larkspur rosette will burst into bloom when spring rolls around.

Today my friend Rebecca had the day off.  She decided to come spend some time with me here at the place.

We rambled around and discovered some wonderful things in the garden.

Honeybees started buzzing after the sun warmed the hives.  I’m thinking that they were foraging for water and bolting broccoli raab flowers.  We assembled a feeder and concocted bee food to help them make it through the winter.

We spotted an Eastern phoebe.  This is a new bird that I have never seen before.  Rebecca noticed some tail wagging and that confirmed the id.

The cherubic pink daphne buds were quite stunning

A handsome larkspur rosette and plump budded daffodil reminded us that spring was in the wings.

We picked designer garden salads from the veg beds.

I think it’s safe to say that we had a grand time.

I think it’s safer to say that the dogs had a grander time!


 

The Greens Project

This functional raised bed produces a bounty of winter veggies.

It’s two days before the end of the year and the temperature is in the mid 60’s.  Clouds are alternating with dazzling sun.

This morning I walked down to see how my vegetables fared during our recent 19 degree nights.

My veggies live in raised beds inside the electric fence that encloses my nursery.  This utilitarian arrangement became necessary because the winter greens that I craved were being rapidly consumed on the Deer Salad Bar.

I decided that while I was making a move, I would devise a couple of new and improved veggie beds.

The beds are made of two courses of stacked concrete blocks.  They are 16′ long and about 3′ wide.

Sorrel and mustard mingle in my raised beds.

A section of cattle panel (which is cheap heavy duty fencing) serves as a trellis on the north side of each bed.

The beds have wonderful drainage.  They get watered when I irrigate the nursery.

If I’m feeling lazy, I can sit on the side of the bed to harvest my lettuce!

I bent 1/2″ pvc pipe over the top of the beds.  Now I easily cover the plants with canvas painter’s dropcloths when the temperatures plummet.

It’s a nice arrangement.

Right now I have parsley, cilantro, sorrel, broccoli, kale, chard, lettuce, mustard, Chinese cabbage and onions that are ready to eat.

Mr. Anole enjoys basking on a red mustard leaf.

I have young spinach, carrots, turnips and frisee coming along.

I will plant snow peas and English peas to climb the trellis in a few weeks.

It’s a continuing process.

The beds are a verdant oasis during the dreary winter days so I enjoy visiting and harvesting.

Today I scared off an anole lizard who was sunning himself on an Asian red mustard leaf.

I had no idea that The Greens Project would also provide a winter vacation spot for the lizards.


 

Yet Another Reason to Love Blueberries

This rabbit-eye blueberry is adorned with copper colored leaves.

In previous blog postings, I have expounded at great length about the landscape attributes of blueberries.

Blueberries are one of those rare plants that have landscape interest in all seasons.  For this reason, I rarely draw a landscape plan without working a few into the mix.

In winter after the leaves fall, the blueberry’s graceful habit and arching branches are on display.

Toward the end of winter delicate dangling flowers appear.  The urn-shaped blossoms are white and their pendant habit reminds me of beautiful ear bobs.

As the twigs leaf out in spring, the foliage develops a wonderful blue hue.

On closer inspection if the light is just right, the fall foliage is glistening scarlet.

And then, in summer, a crop of very tasty fruit is offered for your grazing pleasure.

With all these fine qualities, I often forget that the fall foliage is very showy.  Right now – the leaves have turned a beautiful cooper color and are still hanging on.

If I needed an excuse, this is yet another reason to love a blueberry!

Here in my part of the world the preferred variety is the rabbit-eye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei).    I plan to add a few more of these gems to my own landscape this winter.  I think it’s a good day to take a walk and select the planting sites.


 

Black Friday Fungi

Here I am proudly displaying my Black Friday shiitakes.

Friday, instead of shopping, I stayed close to home.

It was cold and rainy.

I did leave the house once.  Richard and I braved the elements and ventured out for a golf cart excursion.

While we were out, we decided to check our shiitake mushroom logs.

We’ve been growing shiitakes for about five years.

We were inspired to try growing shiitakes after Hurricane Katrina.  There was an abundance of downed wood and it seemed ashamed to let it totally go to waste…

We cut white oak refuse into 3′ lengths and drilled holes in the logs with a specific sized bit.

My gardening hat was a convenient place to store our haul!

We then tapped spore impregnated wooden dowels that we had purchased from  Fungi Perfecti into the holes.

The first batch of logs produced for about three years.  We are now getting  started with our second crop.

As expected, the temperature changes and the recent rain has triggered the logs to produce a few mushroom flushes this past week.

We harvested about 2 pounds of Black Friday Shiitakes.

Richard used some of them to cook  a wonderful mushroom soup last night.

Life is good.


 

Tea, anyone?

Tea camellia is blooming now in my garden.

Yesterday I rambled around in the garden. It was a rainy Sunday morning and I was delighted to find that my tea camellias were in bloom.

Tea camellias bloom with the ornamental sasanqua camellias each fall.   Their nodding creamy blossoms have a pleasant scent and are full of golden stamens.

I grow them in my shaded back yard using the same culture as I would for other camellias.   In the Deep South, they are fine garden plants with dark green oblong leaves.  The foliage is evergreen with coarse teeth.

I enjoy the tea camellia’s understated blooms which are produced in abundance.  Their glossy evergreen leaves definitely brighten the winter landscape.  However I really like the fact that I am growing a piece of history in my garden.

Tea camellia (Camellia sinensis) has been cultivated in China for over 3000 years.  Young leaves and buds are the source of white tea, green tea, black tea and oolong tea.

The differences  between all the types of tea has to do with the timing of the harvest and the treatment after harvest.   Darjeeling tea and white tea come from the first picking of the year using very tender growth and buds.  Green tea is dried for a very short time.  Oolong is dried for a few hours allowing it to ferment a bit.  Black tea is crushed or bruised and allowed to dry and ferment for a few days.  One of my favorites, Kukicha Twig Tea, is made from tea camellia stems and twigs rather than leaves.

Tea camellia thrives in Zone 7b gardens and those further south.

So far, I’ve only used my tea camellias as ornamentals.  I have been vowing that I will soon try to harvest and produce tea from them.  In my garden as understory shrubs, tea camellia is an open shrub that can reach 10′ tall.

In cultivation these large shrubs are planted in sun and maintained at a height less than 3′.  This allows for a dense plant with lots of tender new growth.

If  I’m serious about this tea thing, I think that I should get a few more tea camellias and plant them on the sunny hill overlooking my herb garden.

I could then repeatedly shear the tender new growth and process it into tea.   It would be kind of like growing a veal calf.

Or… I could allow the tea camellias that I already have to continue gracing my shade garden.  I could look forward to the creamy fall flowers, enjoy the glossy winter foliage and pick a little tender new growth for tea making each spring.

Either way, being a Southerner, I have been been drinking iced tea since I was a small child.  I look forward to the adventure of processing my own.  It’s just a matter of which method I will embrace.


 

Trick or Treat

Our Halloween pepper harvest included jalapeno, bird pepper and the very productive fish pepper in all its color permutations.

Every year around Halloween I harvest the last peppers from my summer garden.  Most of the peppers seem to step it up when the weather gets cooler so I often have a very productive last picking.

This year my fish peppers out-produced all the other hot peppers in the garden.

I first discovered fish pepper when a  student brought seed she had purchased from  Seed Savers Exchange to one of my Greenhouse Production classes.

I was intrigued because I wrongly thought that the pepper must look or taste like a fish.  I even imagined cute little sardine shaped peppers dangling from the branches.

It turns out, however, that the fish pepper was named because it was a staple of African American fish merchants in the Baltimore area.

The peppers became popular because the immature fruit is pale green with a few cream or yellow stripes. This allows the peppers to be used in white sauces without causing unsightly discoloration.  They can even be used to make a white paprika.

As the peppers age, they become deeper green with purple or brown markings.  At maturity they are firey red marked with orange.   The peppers are dimpled with thin walls and are almost always variegated.  Foliage is also variegated with creamy white.

When I do an internet search, recipes for Fish Pepper Soup invariably pop up.  I’ve never made the traditional soup but I do like the flavor of fish peppers.  They have a wonderful heat and I use them in much the same way that I use fresh cayennes.   They have about the same scoville rating and can be used in sauces, salads or salsas.  However if they are cooked the heat does diminish somewhat.

This year, the seed strain I planted had more purple coloration than normal.

I’m going to try making a traditional southern pepper sauce with a few of them.   I think it will taste great.  It should also be a treat to see the medley of purple, red, green and yellow peppers gleaming in the jars.


 

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