Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lavender Adds Beauty To The Garden And Good Taste To The Kitchen.

Monday Morning Blog

In Virginia, June is the month our lavender blooms spilling its fragrance everywhere especially in our rich Piedmont.

But lavender is much more than just beautiful to look at. It has medicinal properties and culinary applications.

Lavender lifts the spirits, helps eliminate stress, and aids in overcoming illness by boosting the immune system plus it adds a touch of elegance to our cooking.

We don't fully understand the complex, synergistic healing mechanisms of medicinal plants but one day we'll discover the way plant oils interact with the human body.

In the mean time, we can simply enjoy lavender in the garden, in the kitchen and to help us stay well.

Here's some easy ways to bring lavender into the kitchen:

Lavender Sugar
Mix some dried lavender flowers into sugar (For each cup of sugar, use about 1 teaspoon of flower buds or to taste) Put into an air tight container and put it on your pantry shelf to steep. After a couple of weeks, you'll have gorgeous lavender sugar.

Experiment with your lavender sugar in any recipe that calls for regular sugar that might me extra delicious with a touch of lavender (think custard, vanilla cream pie, white grape jelly, apple pie, Sally Lunn bread, lemonade to name only a few). Or save your lavender sugar for your tea or coffee.

Lavender Salt
Crush 1 tablespoon of dried lavender leaves and add it to your salt shaker to add a bit of lavender with every shake. Delicious on grilled meats, winter squash and chilled watermelon.

Lavender Pepper
Add a couple of pinches of dried lavender to your pepper mill. As you grind your pepper, you'll grind a bit of elegance. Great on salad.

Lavender Wine
Uncork a bottle of medium sweet or sweet white wine. Poke 2 (4 inch long) sprigs of washed and dried culinary lavender into the bottle. Replace the cork and refrigerate at least overnight to let the flavors develop. Serve chilled.

Lavender Honey
Add a sprig or two of washed and dried culinary lavender to your favorite jar of honey. Use about 2 (3 inch) sprigs for an 8 oz jar. Use in your tea and on your toast.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Drink Your Antioxidants In A Glass Of Wine

Monday Morning Blog

Raspberries, Strawberries and Peaches - They're Not Just For Breakfast Any More

Horton's award winning wines are a scrumptious libation any way you pop their cork but, my dears, I'm in love with their fruit wines. Yes, their fruit wines.

Oh, I know you wine purists out there are rolling your eyes at me. Real wines are made from grapes like chardonnay, cabernet and syrah not from strawberries, raspberries and blackberries but these wines are different.

These are not the syrupy sweet, home made concoctions that sat on grandma's side board in crystal carafes. No, indeed. These are grown up, sophisticated fruits of the Piedmont that are as sunny and bright as our fields of clover. They are real wines that celebrate our bounty with every gossamer sip.

Chateau Le Cabin is Horton's brand name for his fruit wines. There are nine fruit wines: blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, pear, peach, plum, raspberry and strawberry.

I like to think of these wines as antioxidants in a bottle although I'm not sure that the USDA would count a glass of Chateau Le Cabin as a daily serving of the required amounts of fruits and vegetables.

"Unlike most fruit wines, these are not candy sweet, but more like serious premium grape wines that are well balanced in acidity and sugar. Grape wine is added to make the wine more complex and food-worthy," said Horton. And so they are.

Horton Vineyards
6399 Spotswood Trail
Gordonsville, VA 22942

1-800-VAWINEE (800-829-4633)

Can't get to the winery?
Out of the area?
Ask for Horton wines at your favorite wine shop.
Or call Horton to arrange shipping right to your door.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dishing The Dirt - FA(Garden)Q

Monday Morning Blog

Novice gardeners seem to be really struggling with their gardens this year.

I don't know if it's the troubling times we're living in or if this new generation of gardeners is just more perfection minded but here's the questions they ask us most often:


I buy healthy looking plants but before I get a chance to get them into the ground, they dry out, shrivel up and die. Help!

Commercially, seeds are jump started under controlled conditions in a sterile potting medium with high levels of fertilizer. The water they're given is often filtered and purified.

The plants grow well but once all the mega nutrients are used up, there's nothing left to nourish them. "Dead" soil becomes rock hard and doesn't hold water. Without food and water, the plant dies. Like a puppy mill, mass produced plants are cranked out fast.

Here's what to do:
Get your beds ready before you buy plants so you can put them in within a couple of days of purchase.

If you've already bought plants but there'll be a delay in planting, take the plants out of their containers and tuck them into a large, holding container or bed filled with a mix of compost and garden soil. Keep them watered.

Chlorinated water is hard on plants but it takes a week for plants to get used to any new water even if it's not chlorinated. Your plants may droop for a few days but should perk up after they've gotten used to your water.

Garden soil, by the way, will naturally filter out chlorine but for potted plants, fill a container with your chlorinated tap water and let it sit at room temperature about an hour before use so the chlorine can dissipate.

Everyone says I should use compost and not synthetic fertilizers like Miracle Grow. What's wrong with Miracle Grow?

Just like humans, plants are what they eat. Think of synthetic fertilizers as fast food and organic matter as slow food.

Fast food will jump start your annuals with lots of show-y color. By the end of the season, the plants will be exhausted and all played out but since they're annuals, you don't expect another season.

Slow food produces strong, healthier plants that will grow more slowly but will produce better in the long run and do better under adverse conditions like drought. Healthier plants are less subject to disease, too.

Cost is another factor. Synthetic fertilizers are very expensive. Organic matter is free or very low cost.

My perennials never seem to make it through the winter even though I cover them. Do I have a black thumb instead of a green one?

You're choosing the wrong plants. Pick perennials with a temperature tolerance to least minus ten degrees.

Our temperature here in the Piedmont usually dips below zero for a few days each winter and that's just enough to kill a plant that's only tolerant to zero.

I desperately want a rose garden but bugs, black spot and hard clay soil are driving me crazy!

Get yourself a Knock Out Rose.

Knock out roses are a new, gorgeous, shrub type rose that comes in red and several shades of pink. No bugs. No black spot and they love our clay soil.

I didn't believe it when a gardening pal cued me in but after years of struggling with roses, I thought I'd give them one more chance before throwing in the trowel. I now have a lush garden full of roses and you will, too!

I know horse manure should be aged before use but how do you know when it's ready?

Horse manure is ready to use when the dry apples (round manure droppings are called "apples") have disintegrated into a crumbly mass.

I'd like to recycle the plastic pots that nursery plants come in and use them to start seeds but I've heard that you shouldn't re-use pots because you might spread disease. Is that true?

This is a myth that must have been started by flower pot manufacturers so they could sell more pots.

There's no reason why pots can't be reused. It's economical and will keep tons of trash out of the land fill.

While it's true that putting a healthy plant into a pot that held a diseased plant will probably spread the disease, if the pot is washed there should be no problem.

Here's how:
Remove the plant. Use the garden hose to rinse out the container (no soap required) then leave it in the sunshine until it dries (at least five minutes - longer is OK). Sunshine is natural disinfectant and fungicide.

I'm looking for a good looking, inexpensive way to label my plants in the garden. Those plastic plant markers are priced right but they look ugly. Nice looking markers are very expensive. Got any ideas?

Get a package of wood shims. A shim is a thin piece of wood that's narrow at one end and slightly wider at the other. Write the name of the plant on the thicker end using a water proof marker and stick the thinner end into the ground.

Shims are inexpensive so at the end of the season you can compost them but frugal folk can wash them off and save them for the following year. Shims are readily available at hardware stores or any where lumber is sold.

People say tilling the ground is environmentally wrong and destroys the soil structure but my ground is so rock hard that I can't get a shovel into it. Is it wrong to use a tiller?

Many people swear by tillers for tough, hard ground - especially our clay.

A small, easy to handle tiller (like Mantis by Troy Built) runs about $350 and is a much better choice than the large, old fashioned tillers that require lots of muscle.

But even with rock hard soil, you can do a lot of wonderful gardening by simply building a bed on top of the hard ground instead of trying to dig it up. Here's how:

Lay some flattened card board boxes, newspaper or even straw flakes over the area you want to plant. (No need to actually build a raised bed planter but you can if you want to.) Put a couple of inches of organic matter (like aged leaves, grass clippings and/or compost) on top. Cover that with a couple of inches of top soil. Repeat organic matter layer then top soil layer. Voila! You're ready to plant.

In the fall, top the bed with a couple of inches of compost. Add more in the spring. Keep adding leaves, grass clippings and compost spring and fall.

Over time, your bed will settle and earth worms will start to work their magic. Eventually, the hard clay underneath it all will be soft and gorgeous but by then your garden will be so beautiful you'll have forgotten all about the clay.

Should you use a tiller?
Take a look at you garden. Decide what will work best for you and how much you're able to spend.