The Importance of Soil: The Foundation of Your Garden

The Importance of Soil: The Foundation of Your Garden

We’ve written a lot about soil over the years, mainly passing on information that we’ve gathered over 40 + years of gardening.  And, although this basic element is so essential to the success of any herb garden, and you’d think we ‘knew it all by now, there is always more to share!

We can’t emphasize this enough:  knowing your soil, and understanding what to do to improve your soil, is the most important thing you can do to guarantee healthy and happy herbs.  Nutrients must be available to plant roots. Too sandy and porous means that the nutrients are not going to stay in the soil, and will not get to the plants.  Too compact and heavy, the soil won’t give up the nutrients and compaction around the roots means that you run a good chance of losing your herbs.

Good soil is the foundation for healthy herbs:

  • Soil provides access to nutrients, water, & air
  • Soil stabilizes a plant’s roots
  • Soil assists a plant’s natural resistance to pests and diseases

We classify soil in terms of its consistency:

  • Sandy soil is easy to dig, but it doesn’t hold nutrients or moisture.  On its own, sandy soil cannot provide your plants with the necessary ingredients for growth.
  • Heavy Clay soil is heavy and the clay tends to bind the soil, not allowing air to penetrate and holding water risking rot of your roots.  Additionally, that sticky soil will not release the needed nutrients.
  • Loamy soil is a perfect balance that provides your plants with moist and crumbly soil that smells rich and ‘earthy’.  A significant component of this wonderful blend is compost, decomposed organic matter sometimes referred to as humus.

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Biblical Herbs: Mints in the Bible

Biblical Herbs: Mints in the Bible

Plants are first mentioned in the Bible in the first chapter of the first book: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind…” (Genesis 1:11). Throughout the ages, the Hebrews have attributed holiness to many species of plants. The Scriptures associate feasts, rites and commandments with many plants and their cultivation. Early written information about herbs is found in the Bible back to the time of Moses or even earlier. In Exodus 12:22 Moses tells the children of Israel how to save their children by using the herb and lamb’s blood. “And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin.” In Numbers 19:6, 18 hyssop is again mentioned. Also, in 1 Kings 4:33 God gave Solomon wisdom, “And he (Solomon) spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall…” Psalms 51:7 refers to this plant: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” While pride is symbolized by the majestic cedar of Lebanon in Jewish tradition, the lowly hyssop represents modesty and humility. At least eighteen plants have been considered for the hyssop of the Bible, but modern botanists have generally agreed that Syrian majoram (Origanum syriacum) is the likely plant. It seems to fit well with these verses. It was used to cleanse homes defiled by leprosy or death and came to symbolize cleanliness. Its fragrance and taste led it to be prized by the ancient Romans and the Greeks before them. Bridges and grooms wore crowns made of marjoram. It was also quite likely prized in the kitchen, as it is now.

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Planning and Prep Series:  Tools of the Trade

Planning and Prep Series: Tools of the Trade

I once read somewhere that humans tend to take better care of their cars than they do their own bodies.  My car is a wreck – it’s the one place that I let it all ‘all hang out’. So, in my case, I’d say I take better care of my garden tools than I do my own body.  And, by extension, I have a lot of tools that have been with me for a really long time. I’m not alone in this; most of my closest friends are gardeners, and all of us have one or two tools that are older than we are – your mother’s snips, your grandfather’s hoe, and even a handmade grain scoop.

The only common denominator to account for this longevity is that all of these ‘tools of the trade’ were lovingly taken care of.  Back in the day, out in the country, no one had the luxury of a Saturday errand to Home Depot to pick up the latest gizmo or cheap-as-dirt-made-in -you-know-where-thingamabob that was guaranteed to make your chore quicker, easier and more effective than anything on the market!  Your tools were not replaceable at a moment’s notice, and lots of time, you even had to improvise. Yep. Make something out of something else.

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Planning and Prep Series:  The First Step

Planning and Prep Series: The First Step

I’m going to play weather woman: the current conditions, right outside my window, is 26 degrees and clear with an overnight of 15 degrees. The ground is rock solid, leaves on my evergreen bushes are a bit limp, and the birds are covering my feeders. Some of my garden boxes still have cold weather leftovers – collards, kale, and arugula, and the paths are a patchwork of weeds.

On the farm, a heat lamp is on in the chicken coop, the cows are munching on an endless supply of hay, the horses are in every night, and the goats are unfazed. We are going through our firewood quickly and going outside isn’t the first thing I want to do each morning.

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Herbs Associated with Halloween

Herbs Associated with Halloween

Folks in my neighborhood have taken Halloween to a whole new level;  it is incredible what a bit of technology will do for a holiday. Back in my time, we’d have a Casper mask with an elastic strap.  Very hard to breathe in that thing, so you were forever lifting it up for a breath of fresh air. Moms gave away homemade popcorn balls and candy apples.  You knew who was going to have the ‘good stuff’ (Milky Way bars were a favorite) and who to avoid (the elderly neighbor who thought handing out pennies was acceptable).  Gone are those days – we’ve got big scary spiders climbing up the sides of houses, and tombstones with automated skeletons waving from the ground. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent close to 9 billion dollars on Halloween in 2018.

But, the origins of Halloween have little to do with candy and zombie costumes.  Most of the ancient festivals associated with Halloween had to do with the harvest and magic.  The Halloween that we celebrate today didn’t arrive along a single path; it is a combination of traditions that tie transitioning seasons to the thin layer between life and death.  All of these traditions, the broomstick, the apples, the witches, have ancient roots. No image of Halloween is complete without witches and broomsticks, and when it comes to witches, we need to talk about HERBS! (more…)

An Introductory Guide to Ayurvedic Herbs

An Introductory Guide to Ayurvedic Herbs

The practice of Ayurvedic medicine originated in India thousands of years ago. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the term Ayurveda is a combination of two Sanskrit words: ayur meaning life and veda meaning science or knowledge. Ayurveda therefore literally means the science and knowledge of life.

Many Ayurvedic practices became established long before the advent of written records, having been passed down through the generations by word of mouth. What constitutes the Ayurvedic Herbs Guide are three ancient books on Ayurvedic medicine, the Charaka Samhita, the Sushruta Samhita and the Astanga Hridaya, were written in Sanskrit over 2,000 years ago and are known as the Great Trilogy.

In its Benchmarks for Training in Ayurveda, the World Health Organization states that there are two types of Ayurveda experts: practitioners and dispensers. Within the practitioner category are two types of therapists: Ayurveda dieticians and panchakarma therapists. The former provide dietary counseling and make herbal recommendations. The latter provides a five-fold detoxification treatment involving massage, herbal therapy and other procedures. Again it’s a literal translation; pancha means five and karma means treatment. (more…)

10 Interesting, Unique Herbs & What to Do With Them

10 Interesting, Unique Herbs & What to Do With Them

The uses for herbs are extremely varied and widespread. While some cultures use herbs primarily in the kitchen, others use herbs as alternative approaches to healing or spiritual and ceremonial accompaniments.

Each herb has an interesting and unique history of both traditional and modern use, and you could spend days learning about one special herb in depth. Let’s take the shortcut and take a look at 10 unique herbs and explore some ideas about what to do with them. As always, be sure to consult your healthcare professional before using any herbs medicinally. (more…)

Everything You Want to Know About Growing & Using Lantana

Everything You Want to Know About Growing & Using Lantana

The name of the large genus Lantana may be more commonly known to most people as verbena. The genus comprises more than 150 species, make it a versatile and plentiful group of plants to choose from when selecting perennials for a garden or landscape. In fact, there are so many varieties of verbena that is can be difficult to navigate the sea of colors, growth heights and blooming patterns of the group. Fortunately, we’ve captured all the basics here for you, so read on to learn more about this lovely and prolific genus. (more…)

Herbs in Cocktail Drinks – From Mixology to Mocktails

Herbs in Cocktail Drinks – From Mixology to Mocktails

When it comes to cocktails, most people probably focus on the alcohol that goes into them. While alcohol is one of the major components in cocktails, you can take yours to the next level by adding various ingredients. Things such as garnishes, rims adornments, herb infused syrups, and bitters can dramatically change the taste and flavor of a cocktail. However, herbs remain the most underrated when it comes to mixing cocktails. The good news is that you don’t have to be a connoisseur of drinks to come up with a great herbed cocktail or mocktail drink. Here are some of the herbs you can add to cocktails and how to go about it. (more…)

Harvesting Herbs in the Fall

Harvesting Herbs in the Fall

It is that time of year again. We spent months anxiously awaiting the first signs of spring – your perennial herbs emerging or warm enough weather for annuals. And, because we sell to every conceivable zone in the continental US that ‘just right time’ spans months. For us in Zone 7, we try to wait until ‘Tax Day’ but don’t always make it!

From Spring to Fall

Nevertheless, spring arrives and the fun begins – the act of planning shifts to actual planting, and more planting followed by pruning and tending and clipping. Using your herbs in all sorts of ways, because all we know, herbs are so versatile. All summer to enjoy the fresh taste of mint in tea, fresh basil on your Caprese salad, real dill on your grilled fish, tarragon chicken salad and a farm fresh chicken stuff full of fresh Bouquet Garni. We’ve done it all! For our clever DIY customers, the fun never ends while our homeopathic friends are creating all sorts of healing ointments, tinctures and teas.

But, we can all sense the change. Days are shortening, Helianthus and Joe Pye Weed are announcing the arrival of cooler nights. Fewer butterflies on fewer blooms. No more delighting in hummingbirds at the feeders. (more…)