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AVANT-GARDENING: CREATIVE ORGANIC GARDENING

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"Pounding fragrant things - particularly garlic, basil, parsley - is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chile pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one's being -- from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated. Virgil's appetite was probably improved equally by pounding garlic as by eating it.”

Patience Gray


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Celery seedling
CULINARY HERB GARDENS

Culinary herb gardens are easy to grow, they don't require many nutrients but like compost worked into the soil before planting, are generally drought resistent, and most are very fragrant.

They are resistant to diseases, prefer a sunny, well drained alkaline soil, are natural pest deterrents, deer and rabbit resistant, and great for cooking, drying, flower arrangements, and teas.

Culinary herbs can be herbaceous (perennial) - they die back to the ground in winter - Greek oregano, garlic and regular chives, sweet fennel, winter savory, French tarragon, chamomile, lemon balm, monarda, and mints.

Others perennials are evergreen - like rosemary, thyme, lavender, bay, and sage which can be pruned back during the winter months to prevent them from becoming woody-stemed, and to encourage new tender shoots in the spring.

The last group of culinary herbs are annual, such as basil, chervil, cilantro, marjoram, salad burnet, garlic, and dill, growing only for one season, and bi-annual like parsley - which grow for two years - producing seed in the second year.

Close up of a rosemary blossom at Mossy Knoll Garden WA
HERB GARDEN DESIGNS

Once you have decided to create a culinary herb garden and which plants you would like to grow, you can then consider a design for your garden. Not only will the aesthetics encourage the plants to grow, you will appreciate it as well and just viewing your garden will help you grow.

Herbs are very easily adapted to patterns because of their distinct color differences and heights. For example you could make a circular herb garden with interlocking paths, and place a bird bath in the center. You can alternate groups of herbs in sections to make color splashes, like planting lavender plants next to English thyme. Sage next to rosemary. Taller ones in the back and shorter ones in the front. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Since wide raised beds are never stepped on they are very suitable for herb gardens. They are not trampled or compacted, allowing each plant to easily spread its roots and grow to its maximum potential, live and grow in a minimum of stress, and provide the healthiest crop. Unstressed plants are more able to resist an insect attack, the soil absorbs and drains water well, and once it is mulched there is very little maintenance.

After you have planted your herb garden, be sure to mulch with a good layer, about two or three inches, of chopped alfalfa hay, this will prevent weeds, encourage earthworms, keep the plant's roots cool, and conserve water.

COOKING WITH CULINARY HERBS

When your herb garden is producing, you can harvest one third of the plant and use if fresh, or dried. The dried herb will be more concentrated, so you can use less. When cooking with fresh herbs, you need to use about twice the amount.

The best time to harvest herbs is in the morning, after the dew has evaporated, and the sun has become too hot. Be gentle with the herbs, not bruising them, or pinching the leaves and stems, which will destroy their subtle flavors by releasing their oils. Their flavor and aromas begins to break down quickly after picking, so they should be gently washed, dried between paper towels, and used right away.

If you must store them for a few hours, keep them in the refrigerator wrapped in a dampish towel. You can also dry them on a paper towel in a warm dark place (like the oven on 125 degrees) and save them in a glass jar stored in a dark cupboard. You can also freeze them when they have been washed and dried, in a plastic bag in which all the air has been removed. You can do this by just sucking out the air by making a little pocket in the opening of the zip lock bag. Basil lends itself well to freezing, allowing you to remove a cup of leaves to make a pesto sauce in the blender.
Culinary Sage at Mossy Knoll Garden in WA
Add herbs to soups or stews about 45 minutes before completing the cooking time. Refrigerated items such as herb dips, herbed cheeses, and dressings, fresh herbs should chopped fine and added several hours or overnight before using. When you use basil, it needs to be served right away, as it becomes bitter after a few hours.

For a fresh raw salsa, hot sauces, or pico de gallo, add finely chopped fresh or dried herbs to fresh tomatoes, chopped onions, fresh garlic, and a bit of salt.

To make herbed cottage cheese, yogurt, or cream cheese mix 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herbs and mix in well, and set for at least an hour to blend in the flavors. You can then make balls and roll them into chopped nuts, long rolls, or rounds. Chill and serve.

Flavored vinegars are easy to make and can them be used for marinades and vinaigrettes. Use a clean jar with a narrow mouth, add the herbs (good mixtures are lavender flower stems and mint, garlic chives and hot pepper slices, rosemary, and salad burnet) to the bottle, 3/4's up to the neck of the bottle. Pour a good organic white wine vinegar into the bottle until it covers the herbs and is about one inch from the top of the bottle. Put on the lid and set it in the sunny window for a slow solar infusion of the herb oils into the vinegar. You can use it in two or three weeks. It is best to put it the refrigerator after opening.



“What is Paradise? But a Garden, an Orchard of Trees and Herbs, full of pleasure, and nothing there but delights.”
William Lawson, 1618

THE HISTORY of 4 HERBS USED in ITALIAN COOKING
by guest author Elizabeth Ann

Our garlic patch in the early spring at Giannangelo Farms Southwest in NM
Parsley, basil, and garlic - learn to grow and use for kitchen meals. Herbs have been around since the dawn of man and continue to be an intricate part of our daily lives. We grow them, chop them, sauté them and we eat them. Yet we rarely think of the actual historical background of many of the herbs we utilize day to day. This article will address 4 popular herbs commonly found in Italian and other Mediterranean regions.

PARSLEY

Its genus name, Petroselinum, is rooted in the Greek word ‘stone,’ signifying its being found on rocky hillsides in Greece. But because of its presence in a myriad of different cuisines and its popularity in Chinese medicine as an aid for high blood pressure and constipation, its actual origin is tough to pinpoint.

Since all it takes to grow parsley is moderately warm weather and moisture, parsley is ubiquitous throughout the world’s temperate regions. It has a long germination period, taking several weeks, but the yields can be rewarding. Simply start in early spring sowing approximately 10 inches apart. Cover with 1/2 inch of soil. If growing indoors, move outside when they are about 3 inches tall. Plant in an area with full sun.

BASIL

While evidence points to its earliest cultivation being in Asia, where exactly in Asia is a bit cloudier. Most recent indications are that it is native to India, but in the past it was thought to have come from even further East, specifically the Hunan Provence of China. Either way, this member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) has been used in cuisines throughout the world to add an herbal essence to sweets and candies, and to add sweetness to savory dishes like tomato-basil soup. To grow basil you will need lots of sunlight. Space the seedlings about 15 feet apart. If sowing directly outdoors, space them an inch apart and then thin them to about a foot apart. Make sure the soil area has good drainage. When they start bringing forth leaves, prune them during the first couple of weeks. This helps the plants stay healthier for a longer season.

BAY LEAVES

Laurus nobilis spread from its indigenous area of Asia Minor west to the Mediterranean and pretty much anywhere with a suitable climate. The leaves you use to flavor soups, stocks, and beans come from the laurel tree, and are not big fans of the cold. California bay leaves (Umbellularia californica) have a stronger flavor than the Turkish bay leaf, so if cooking with it, you want to use about a 1: 1.5 or 2 ratio of California to Turkish. Either way, be sure to under - and not over - utilize the leaf in your dishes. It is extremely pungent, and can be quickly soaked in your broth if you need it to contribute more to your overall dish.
Italian chicken soup recipe at Mossy Knoll Garden in WA
GARLIC

Cousin to onions, leeks, chives, and shallots, Allium sativum grows wildly, and therefore has untraceable roots…. so to speak. Longicuspus, the species from which the modern day garlic is thought to have come, is native to southwestern Asia, but since it is still a weed, it is hard to say who first began its widespread cultivation. It dates back over five thousand years, but even at that time Asian and Indian cultures were thriving and vital, so one can’t just assume the title go to either culture. What does seem to be clear is most of the world’s garlic today comes from China, even though we often associate it much with Italian cooking.

Being that it is a remunerative crop (the cloves on each bulb can themselves grow another entire bulb if planted correctly), it is easy to cultivate and has been used in the past for its antiseptic properties and as an aphrodisiac (a stretch, given its effects on breath). The best time to plant garlic is during cooler months such as fall or winter. Plant the cloves a few inches deep. During the summer months check the bulbs looking for browning to occur on the tops. Do not pull the garlic out, just gently check it. They should be a good deal larger than when first planted, and of course will have grown roots. Let dry for a week before use.

Elizabeth's Recipe: Put these herbs to use in a classic Italian Chicken Soup!

close up of dill blossoms in the NM garden
1. In a large pan heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
2. Add in 1 chopped onion and sauté until translucent - about 4 minutes.
3. Add in 3 cloves of roughly chopped garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
4. Add in 2 carrots chopped finely, 2 celery stalks also chopped finely and a bay leaf.
5. Give a good stir and sauté for 10 minutes stirring frequently to prevent burning or sticking. If it gets too hot, lower heat to low/medium.
6. Add in 8 Cups of water and bring to a boil.
7. Add in 3 chicken breasts cut in small cubes.
8. Boil over high heat for 40 minutes until chicken is fully cooked through.
9. Lower heat and simmer for 2 hours.
10. Add in 1 cup of chopped parsley at remaining 30 minutes.

Serve with noodles, such as egg white wide noodles. It is advised to cook the noodles separately and then serve in soup or pasta bowls, and then spoon the soup over top of the noodles.

From the home gardener looking to build self sustainability, to the naturalist looking for remedies to colds and infections, herbs have many practical uses. Whether using these herbs in a stir fry in Asia or for spaghetti served in pasta bowls in Italy, herbs have earned their place in history throughout the world, and continue to do so in our lives today.

**About the author of "The History of 4 Herbs Used in Italian Cooking" - Elizabeth Ann is publisher of a cooking website featuring
quick Italian recipes
as well as practical kitchen tips such as using an Italian espresso maker on a stove top to make convenient lattes and espressos.
She currently enjoys writing about food and her ongoing learning experiences in the kitchen.



“"There are many miracles in the world to be celebrated and, for me, garlic is the most deserving."
Felice Leonardo (Leo) Buscaglia (1924-1998)”





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Home Page    About Us    Mossy Knoll Garden/San Juan Island    Botany Basics    "You Can Grow!" Workshops    Composting    Soil Building
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"Growing with the Seasons"    Photo Tour I    Photo Tour II    Photo Tour III    Photo Tour IV    Photo Tour V
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