Muffins For Christmas

This year I have decided to give my inlaws muffins for Christmas. They are elderly and it's just the two of them so she doesn't bake much anymore. They still enjoy baked goods, especially muffins, so I am giving them nine muffins from each of my very best muffin recipes. I baked them all just this week so they would be fresh. I frose them as soon as they were cool to keep them fresh. I took them out of the freezer this morning and they will get them tomorrow so they will be well thawed.

I made carrot/raisin, sour cream blueberry, banana and squash/pumpkin. The recipes are below. They refreeze well. None of these muffins are low-cal and all are made with real food, real butter, milk, eggs and sugar. (One loaf of white Wonderbread lasts for three weeks in the cupboard at room temp without molding! At first I said "Great!". Now I say, "Wait a minute. Is that real food?". Uh, no.)

I baked carrot-raisin-sunflower seeds (pictures here). This is the most delicious, moist, dense carrot muffin I have ever eaten. It's delicious and has a lot of texture and carrot in it.

Here are the recipes:

Carrot Raisin Muffins

3 cups grated carrot
4 large eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups oil
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups sunflower seeds or nuts

Directions: Preheat oven to 300F. You will need 3 large bowls for this recipe.
Bowl #1: Mix grated carrot, seeds and raisins
Bowl #2: Mix flour, soda, salt and cinnamon
Bowl #3: Mix sugar and oil. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds after each one. Add flour mixture to this and stir only until well blended. Add carrot mix and fold in gently. Fill greased muffin tin or papers 2/3 full. Bake 20-22 mins for very large muffins. Insert a toothpick into the center of the largest one to test for doneness. If it comes out dry and clean, the muffins are done.

Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teasppon baking powder
1 cup sour cream
1 cup blueberries

Directions: Beat eggs, gradually add sugar. While beating, slowly add oil and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add alternately with sour cream to the egg. Gently fold in blueberries. Bake in preheated oven at 400F for 18-20 mins in muffins papers or greased pan for very large muffins. Insert a toothpick into the center of the largest one to test for doneness. If it comes out dry and clean, the muffins are done.

Banana Muffins

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup white sugar
2 cups mashed bananas, very ripe (4-5 lg bananas)
1 cup mayonnaise

Directions: Mix first 4 ingredients together well. Fold in bananas and mayonnaise. Bake at 350F for 12-14 mins in muffins papers or greased pan for very large muffins. Insert a toothpick into the center of the largest one to test for doneness. If it comes out dry and clean, the muffins are done.

Pumpkin Muffins

1 cup cooked squash or pumpkin
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup corn syrup
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon mace

Directions: Preheat oven to 350F. Mix together pumpkin, eggs, oil and corn syrup in large bowl. Stir until well mixed. Stir all other dry ingredients together in another bowl. Add dry ingredients to squash mixture. Fill greased tins or papers to the top. Bake in preheated oven for 20-15 minutes until tightly brown on top very large muffins. Insert a toothpick into the center of the largest one to test for doneness. If it comes out dry and clean, the muffins are done.

Make Your Own Herbal Teabags

I have been growing, cutting, drying and rubbing my own herbs for years. The most time-consuming part is rubbing them and cleaning out all the tiny little stems. I have found a way to beat that, for the most part - herb bags, made from coffee filters! 

They are not just tea bags but culinary bags as well. I mix all my spaghetti/lasagna sauce herbs together in one bag. When I make sauce, I just toss in a bag or two. I don't have to spend hours rubbing the herbs to a fineness and picking out the little stems. I do this for soups and stew too. 

I have spent hours in front of movies in the evenings, rubbing and cleaning the culinary herbs, until I started making the bags. I never did that for the tea herbs until recently, as I strained the herbal tea anyway. They are so easy to make!

Today I am making feverfew tea bags so that my hubby can make himself a cup of feverfew tea when I am not available. We use feverfew for headaches and it works very well. It's not a pain reliever but will lift the pressure off almost immediately. It only works this well if it is fresh and pure. You can buy it at herbal stores but, like I said, the commercial mix doesn't do much for a headache. We are both very pleased by how well our own fresh, home grown works on migraines! 
It's easy to grow and very hardy. It is also a perennial and a beautiful addition to a flower bed.
I don't bother cleaning the tea herbs, as I said, so this dried feverfew is rough. I do take out the bigger stems but don't spend a lot of time on it.

I cut each filter into thirds and trim off the round edges. I then sew together three sides and leave the fourth side open to stuff in the herb.  Mine are square but you can make them round, as well. 
I use a simple in and out stitch, just enough to hold it together. You can do a much faster and neater job on a sewing machine, which you may want to do if you are going to be gifting these. Since they are only for our own use, this is good enough. 
We remove the bags from the tea with a spoon but you can sew a piece of string into one corner for handling. 

For medicinal herb tea, it is important to bring the water to a full boil, then let the tea steep for at least five minutes, ten is even better. I can usually only wait the five minutes when I have a migraine. I know how well it works. 
I brought a large pot of feverfew with me, to grow as we travel and camp. It is still doing well and surviving. When spring comes I will put it out in the sun where we are camping. 

Soon I will plant some purslane seeds and take a pot of that with me, as well!

Winter Bulb Care

That is my favourite dahlia, growing in the chair in the picture above! It's a 'Keri Blue', called that because of the slight blue tint in the very center. It's beautiful and I take no chances with these during their winter rest in my cold cellar. Also wintered over in the cellar are other dahlias, cannas, glad, 4 O'clocks and geraniums (pelargoniums). Many winters, if left alone, the small dahlias will dry up. Some of the other ones do too. This has always been a great disappointment to me in the spring!

This year I decided to take steps to make sure that didn't happen! I read that it helps to take them out of storage in early January and soak them for a day or so, then dry well again and pack in cold storage for another couple of months.

I did that this past week. I took out the small dahlia divisions and small new dahlia bulbs, as well as the 4 o'clock roots and soaked them in room temp water for a few hours. I then laid them out on the kitchen floor on newspapers to dry for a few days. Today I repacked them in wood chips in plastic bags in the basement.

I had planned to leave them for a few more days but our wonky male cat, Shadow, who has cabin fever in the snowy winter, spent his morning attacking them and shredding the papers. lol! Since they were dry again, I put them away. It won't help him. He just attacks the little rugs and the furniture, rolling around on the floor and killing them with all four feet and teeth! lol! Abby, the female cat, prefers to play with and carry off any little hard things she finds around. Anything is fair game. Hubby swears that she has stolen a couple of his tiny wrenches from the desk. I have seen her batting other things to the floor and knocking them around, as well as finding wood pellets scattered all over the house in the morning! (I won't be the only one glad when spring comes! lol! We love them both dearly!)

I only soaked the small and new dahlias that would, in past years, be dried up in the spring. In past years I have tossed them down there to be completely forgotten until spring. This year I have new ones that are important to me, so I am tending them carefully, checking on them whenever I am down there and making sure they are not getting shriveled.

The geranium roots are hanging up, dry. This is the first year I have wintered them over in this fashion. Usually I pot them up and grow them as houseplants all winter, and I did do a few like that, also. Geraniums love spending their winter growing in a sunny window and bloom continuously, right up until they go outside in the spring. I didn't have room for all of them this year. I am considering soaking the bare geranium roots hanging in the basement, too. Has anyone done this and does it help or will they be fine hanging bare root in the cold cellar until spring without intervention?

I had calla lilies and some dwarf white cannas last year, but neither survived last winter in storage. I grew them all from seed and was very disappointed when they didn't make it.

Purslane & Mallow

Recognise this garden weed? It's called purslane and grows everywhere. I usually find it growing wild in disturbed soil and in the garden. It's one wild plant that I don't pull out but encourage to grow. It's a great succulent ground cover and is not a weed!

According to a Canadian Living article, nutritionally, purslane is a powerhouse. It has more than double the omega-3s that kale has and, as much as any other leafy green. It has over four times the vitamin E of turnip leaves which is more than most leafy greens. It has glutathione and other antioxidants and about as much iron as spinach. It also has reasonable amounts of other nutrients as well as phytochemicals, like all these leafy greens.

I like it because it is a succulent, so it doesn't wilt and will stay fresh for a long time with just a little water.

I recently began researching the weeds growing everywhere on our property (more in an attempt to get rid of them than anything else.) What I found is that many of them are not only edible but very high in vitamins and desirable phytochemicals!

Another so called "weed" that I have growing everywhere is wild mallow. The leaves and seed pods are good in salad and cooked in soups and stews. Mallows have a lot of vitamin A in their leaves too! The seeds are very high in protein, making them an excellent part of your chicken feed, as well.

The wild mallow that I have everywhere is malva sylvestris but I also grow malva moschata in the flowerbed, another mallow and close relative. It has the same vitamin content as it's cousin, the wild mallow. The leaves of both mallows are great in salad and cooked in spaghetti and lasagna if short on spinach. We eat them all the time.Violet leaves also make a mild, healthy addition to salad, as do plantago leaves.

This research into the "weeds" growing here has been the start of an
herb seed business for me. I have been blessed with many herbs growing in the fields. I have an abundance of evening primrose, heal-all, St. John's wort, motherwort, burdock, chicory, yarrow, feverfew, celandine, clover, bladder campion, plantago and many more. Many of these have been transplanted to an "herb" garden or an area where they are protected. Some, such as burdock, are edible in salads and cooking.

So the next time you see something you consider a "weed", look it up and do some research. You might find your next healthy salad green growing wild in your garden! Leave it alone and let it spread, transplant it to a better place or pick and add to your salad along with violet and mallow leaves.

Saving Seeds

Autumn is my favourite time of the year! I love the cool, crisp weather and the wonderully diverse, bright colour scheme. I also like the lack of thick undergrowth and weeds. Late summer and early fall are the time of year when the plants decide it is time to reproduce for next year. I try to prevent this stage in the weeds, but get excited when my favouite flowers seeds are ready to harvest.

In order to have flower seeds, a plant has to have flowers. No flowers, no seeds. The flowers also have to stay on the plant to develop into seed pods. If you cut off the flowers for bouquets or cut off the dead flowers, you won't have seeds. I know it looks a bit messy with dead flowers aging in the garden, but it is necessary in order to have seeds from those flowers. If you want pristine gardens, perhaps you should have your "seed gardens" somewhere out of sight where the long dead flowers and stalks will not be seen.

I also like to save my special vegetable seeds. We grow a very sweet and fat cucumber that we like a lot. We have grown it from our own seed for a few years now. Cucumber and tomato seeds need special treatment in order to germinate the following spring. I will describe how to do that later in this post. This year I hand pollinated my squash to get more produce. I should have tied the male and female flowers closed before and after I hand pollinated them to keep the seed very pure, but I didn't. I will do that next year.

While I love my flowers and gardens, I also love seed collecting. Sometimes I have to remind myself that having a large and diverse collection of seeds is not the goal. I should be actually planting the seeds in order for them to be of any use. I not only plant the seeds for more plants in the garden, but use them for trading as well. This way I can trade all over the world for things I cannot buy here. It is very exciting to grow something rare and spectacular from a seed acquired by trading with another gardener from another country or even another continent.

I have a large unused field by the road that I plan to use as a repository for old flower seed. If the seed gets to be a year old and I still have it, I will scatter it in that field in the fall. This will be the first fall that I have done this. I am hoping for a field full of flowers next spring. I have a lot of cosmos, feverfew, calendula, peony poppy and pink yarrow seeds from three years ago to scatter in there soon. All are prolific reseeders. I am sure many will grow. I won't be using these old seeds for trade or sell, as the germination rates will not be as good as the newer seeds, but I can reap the harvest that does grow from those seeds for use the following year.

I started a seed bed this year for direct planting of seeds and to hold seedlings I started indoors until they are big enough to hold their own in the flower bed. I have helleborus seeds in there now, planted in July. They will need at least two months of moist warm summer temps planted in the ground and then two months of cold before they will germinate. I will be looking for these seedlings next spring. I did, also, plant some in trays on the front porch to bring in after their cold spell. I will put these indoors on the windowsill in Jan and hope for some tiny helleborus several weeks later. These are special seeds and must be sown while fresh, immediately after harvesting from the plant. If they are allowed to dry for very long, it will take several warm-cold spells to break dormancy and can take a long time. The seeds that I have were sent to me directly from the plant in a small plastic bag in damp perlite.

My flowers have been producing seed for a few weeks now. I have harvested many from the flowerbeds. These are the peony poppy seed pods drying. Each plant is labelled in the garden so I know what colour the seeds are, even though they are open pollinated. With seeds, you never know what you are going to get. With special seeds from a trade, I will plant all of them.

The poppy seed pods are cut to dry when the leaves turn brown and the plant starts to die. There is no point in trying to ripen the seeds any longer.

These are cranesbill geranium seed candles. They tend to pop when the seed is released and the seed will fly out of the container and into other seed containers drying various types of seed, so I keep them covered. The plant is covered with them now, but they are still green. Seed pods should not be picked until the pod turns brown to ensure that the seeds are ripe. Some seeds will ripen off the plant, but most of them need to grow into maturity on the live plant in order to be viable. There are many exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course.

I have just begun to get ripe ground cherries. This is the first year I have grown them and I will grow them again next year for jam. I think they are delicious! I will be saving my own seed from these this year. I have already used one ground cherry for seed harvest and dried them on a paper towel. I have read that they are prolific re-seeders, so I expect most of the seed to germinate next spring without any special preparation.

I also save the seed from our cucumbers as these are the best cucumbers we have found. They are big around and great for sandwiches. They are ripe when they are yellow, turning a bright orange-red when over ripe. When they are ripe, they are very sweet. Cucumber and tomato seeds need special treatment to be viable the following year. The fruit needs to ripen completely before the seed is harvested. When it is ripe enough on the plant it can be picked and left at room temperature to ripen further. It should be left to ripen until it is soft and mushy before the seed is harvested. The seed is then put into a glass container and left to ferment even further for a few days. After another 2-3 days of fermentation, the seed can be washed, dried and stored for the following year.

Some seeds need a winter in the ground before they will germinate. These seeds are either planted in the ground in the fall or planted into flats and put on shelves on the front porch. They will have a month or two of warm weather, then they will be exposed to the fall and winter temps. I will bring them indoors in Dec-Jan and put in the south seed window to germinate. I have tried leaving them outdoors until spring to germinate in their containers when the weather warms up, but have had poor success with that. You can also put them into baggies with a little damp soil and put these into the freezer or the fridge for a couple of months, then plant in flats or pots for indoor starting.

All seed need to be dried before storing. I dry mine on an elevated screen on the front porch. The tiny seeds and smaller amounts I dry on a thin paper towel in a container with holes in it. A strainer or a plastic berry box from the grocery store are good containers for this. I always write the name of the plant on the paper towel or on a piece of paper drying with the seed. Seeds can take weeks to ripen and dry completely and I will forget what plant and variety they came from if they are not labelled.

After the seeds are completely dry, you can store it in a small plastic bag or glass jar. I prefer to store mine in labelled paper envelopes in a basket, ensuring that they stay dry and do not rot or mold in storage. Do not store them in the refrigerator or freezer unless the seed requires this for germination but do keep them in a cool, dry spot. On top of the refrigerator is too warm.

Wild Grapes

We have wild grapes! We have probably always had wild grapes and I just didn't know it. We have a large grapevine on our old TV antennae attached to the back of the house, but I have usually cut it down every year. Last year I left it alone, mostly due to a lack of time and energy to deal with it. (Last year was the "year of the dogs" and a lot of things got "left alone".) 

This year I discovered grapes on it and the world of wild grapes opened up! It is covered with them, but there are even more growing and fruiting on a few back fence areas that I didn't know were there. At this time of year our back fence is unapproachable due to the goldenrod and blackberry bushes. With the hope of wild grapes in mind I blazed a path through the weeds to the fence and found several enormous vines filled with grapes!

Half are ready now and half still need to ripen another week or so. Next week on Monday morning I will go grape picking again. The grapes growing in sunny areas are all ripe now. It is the ones in the shade against the woods that need to ripen a 
bit longer. 

The picture at the top is what I picked now. I will probably get at least half that again in another week! This is about 13 pounds of grapes. We weighed them at 11 pounds, then I found about 1/4 of a bucket more and added those. So I am estimating it at about 13 pounds. I will make some wild grape jelly (recipe below) but we don't eat much of it so I won't be making a lot. Some wild grape jelly I will make in fancy jars and use for gifts. The rest of the grapes will be frozen until winter, when I have the time make wine.

We have truly been blessed with an abundance of wealth here on the land The Lord has given us! He continually amazes me with His gifts daily! There is just so much here in the way of herbs, fruits, mushrooms and wildcrafting abundance!

Wild grape jelly recipe:

3 lbs wild grapes, stemmed
3 cups water
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 (85 ml) package liquid pectin

  • In large saucepan, crush grapes with potato masher; pour in water and bring to boil.

  • Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until fruit is very soft.

  • Transfer to jelly bag or colander lined with a double thickness of fine cheesecloth and let drip overnight.

  • Measure juice (you should have 3 cups/750 ml) into a large heavy saucepan; stir in sugar.

  • Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

  • Stir in pectin.

  • Return to full boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

  • Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon.

  • Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/8 inch headspace.

Wild Choke Cherries

These are wild choke cherries, also called "pin cherries" by some. They are very bitter, but, as with most of the small wild fruits, such as crab apples, they have a lot more flavour than their domesticated cousins. The secret is to use just the clear juice alone and NONE of the pulp, and more sugar, of course.

The choke cherry tree is a nice addition to the flower garden too, as long as you are going to pick the fruit when it is ripe. If you leave it to just fall to the ground, it will make a mess and reseed in the garden, growing baby trees all over.

The tree is small, not getting above about 8'-10' tall and flowers in the spring. It is really a nice little flowering tree for landscaping with the added benefit of bearing fruit!

We have several of these small trees growing wild on the property. This fall, when they are dormant, I will move one to the new, expanded section of the ornamental garden where it can provide a little shade for a nearby bench.

I also plan to make jelly and possibly wine from the fruits. I make wine from everything! I am always looking for unique wine possibilities. (I started a one gallon batch of chocolate mint wine this morning! It smells heavenly!)

Below are some recipes I found for choke cherries. Avoid swallowing the pits.

Extracting the Chokecherry Juice

10 cups washed, with stems removed 2.5 L
5 cups water 1250 mL

Add 5 cups (1250 mL) water to 10 cups (2.5 L) berries and simmer 15 minutes. Crush fruit with potato masher as it softens. Drain through a moistened jelly bag. DO NOT SQUEEZE THE BAG!! The clear juice make excellent jelly. If you squeeze pulp into the mix, it will be bitter!(If the juice is to be used for jelly, choose berries that are under ripe as well as ripe, so the pectin content of the juice is higher).

Chokecherry Jelly

3 1/4 cups chokecherry juice 800 mL
4 1/2 cups sugar 1.25 mL
2 oz package powdered fruit pectin 57g

Combine chokecherry juice and pectin in a large saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add sugar. Boil hard one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off foam. Pour into sterilized jars. Leave 1/2 inch (1 cm) headspace. Clean jar rim. Seal. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Yield: 7 -1/2 pint jars (250 mL jars)

Crabapple and Chokecherry Jelly
4 cups chokecherry juice 1000 mL
4 cups crabapple juice 1 L
6 cups sugar 1.5 L

Prepare crabapple juice by selecting sound, slightly under ripe fruit. Wash thoroughly, cut off and discard any damaged spots. Remove the stem, but not the blossom end. Cut the crabapples in half, or if large, in quarters. Be sure to cut through the core so that the pectin around the core will be readily released. Add only enough water to the fruit so that it is just barely covered. Boil fruit and water in a covered kettle until fruit is soft and mushy; stir often to prevent burning. Crush fruit with a potato masher during the cooking process to reduce the boiling time. Pour hot cooked fruit into a moistened jelly bag. Hang over a bowl until dripping ceases (about 12 hours). DO NOT SQUEEZE THE BAG!! The clear juice make excellent jelly. If you squeeze pulp into the mix, it will be bitter!

Make chokecherry juice, 1/3 from red and 2/3 from fully ripe chokecherries. Wash, sort, and remove stems from chokecherries. Add enough water to cover (about 1 part water to 2 parts chokecherries), and boil until soft, about 30 minutes. Strain through a moistened jelly bag.

To make jelly: Measure juices into a broad, deep pot and boil uncovered for 3 minutes. Remove juice from heat and test for pectin. If pectin test is good, add sugar slowly to hot juice. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Return to heat and boil briskly, uncovered. Remove scum as it forms. Test for doneness using the jelly test. Remove remainder of scum with a cold spoon. Pour carefully into hot, sterilized pint (500 mL) jars leaving at least 1/ 2 inch (1 cm) headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Begin processing time when water returns to a boil.

Yield: 4 pint (500 mL) jars.

Lemon Mint

I harvested the lemon mint today! I did not cut it all today. I left a few stalks to go to seed so I can sell it this fall in the seed store.

It makes great tea and spice for cooking! I especially like lemon with chicken.

I rinsed it and laid it out on a screen for drying. I might hang some herbs to dry this year too. I do have the wire strung under the porch roof just for that purpose but this is drying on a screen. I will turn it a few times every day.

I collect large screens whenever I find them at garage sales and so forth. They are a great way to dry herbs, flowers and seeds!


Goldenrod is one of those wild flowers that people take for granted and consider a weed. So did I, until this year. I have begun to do a lot of research into medicinal herbs, focusing on what I have growing here. We have been blessed with so much growing here in the way of medicinal herbs, right at our fingertips! Goldenrod is one of them!

Goldenrod (Solidago) flower tea is used to treat most urinary tract problems, as well as inflammation of the intestines and kidney problems, especially kidney stones.

It is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antifungal making it useful for healing all kinds of sores and wounds externally.

The chemicals in goldenrod are specifically effective against infection from the Candida fungus, which causes all kinds of yeast infections and oral thrush in the human body. Goldenrod tea is also effective in the treatment of chronic sore throats, in alleviating chronic congestion in the nasal passages as well as in treating problems such as diarrhea and other digestive disorders.

Goldenrod tea can also be used as a mouthwash or as a douche for the treatment of yeast infections in the vaginal cavity.

Another "weed" that turns out to be a great herb. I have some drying now for tea and plan to cut and dry a lot more before winter comes. I am putting it in my immune boosting winter tea

Drying Herbs

It's the middle of July!! Yikes!! I still have a lot to do! One of the things I have to get moving on is drying the herbs for winter use. I grow a lot of herbs for the ktichen and to use medicinally. That is lemon balm drying on a screen above.

I prefer to dry them naturally, in the outside air, rather then use a dehydrator, oven or microwave. I have read a lot of bad things about drying herbs in the microwave. Many sites say the microwave partially cooks the herbs and doesn't leave a lot of the natural oils intact, so I am staying away from that. This is much easier anyway. Even though it takes longer to achieve the desired result, it's not MY time being used, so I don't mind.

This is yarrow drying on a couple of screens. I have a lot of screens for drying things since I have an online seed store. The screens are a great way to dry seeds and herbs. I am hoping to get all the herbs dried before I need to start drying large amounts of seeds on them. I need more screens!

I can also hang herbs to dry. A few years ago I strung wire under our large porch. This is only half of it. There are three strands that run the entire lengh. They are high underneath the roof so out of the sun, wind and weather. Half of our porch is enclosed with glass above the chair rail and this is where the screens are set up, also out of the wind and weather but they do get the morning sun for a short time. They get air circulation from the open part under the chair rail. It's a good set up for drying things, unless the raccoons pay me a visit. (They come by occasionally just to tear things up a bit and keep me from becoming too complacent.)This is also where we plan to hang the tobacco to dry this year.

I tie the herb stems to coat hangers and hand those up onto the wires with my handy hooked stick. I just screwed a hook onto the end of a broom handle and it works great! We will do this with the tobacco, as well.

This is the set up. I also use open wire basket drawer things for drying smaller amounts of seed on paper towels.

This is parsley, dried and ready for the jar. I plan to keep my dried herbs in sealable glass jars on a shelf in the kitchen. The kitchen is usually the coldest room, in the winter anyway. The heat from the wood stove never reaches it. I have previously kept them in the freezer but will not have room this year.

I don't wash them before cutting, preferring instead to rinse them with the hose the day before so they are dry and fairly clean when I cut them the next morning. Clean mulch helps to keep them clean when rinsing. I use shredded computer paper for this and it works great!

I still have a lot of herbs to dry yet. Tomorrow I plan to cut a lot of prunella vulgaris (heal all, self heal) to dry and some echinacea, oregano, thyme, cilantro, lavender, St. John's Wort, hibiscus, choc mint, more lemon balm, more mint and a few others. I am going to need  
more screens!

Chichiquelites (solanum nigrum)

I like to experiement in the garden. Growing unusual, often old and forgotten, plants is a joy. I never plant those ordinary annual flowers people seem to buy in flats and stick in their gardens and I like to grow heirloom vegetables, who's seed I can save to grow from year to year. This saves me a lot of money in seed each spring.

One of the things I have discovered this spring are chichiquelites, also known as garden huckleberries (
solanum nigrum). I got these seeds in a trade and, having never heard of them previously I did some research.

I am always looking for good to eat and easy to grow quickly, fruits for wine and pie making. These sounded perfect! They also make good jam, but we don't eat a lot of jam so I will be using them for pies and wine.

They need more sweetening than blueberries, but I am ok with that. I will add a bit more sugar.

They are easy to grow from seed, not requiring stratification. I know this because I have some seedlings sprouted on my seed windowsill. I have heard from other growers that they grow quickly, without a lot of care, into huge shrubs covered with berries. This is what I am hoping for. I will can and/or freeze all that I can get, if we like them. I will also collect more seeds to grow again next year. They will apparently reseed themselves anyway but I prefer to plant them from seed myself. Being a close relative of the poisonous nightshade berry, I would prefer to know exactly where they are growing.

They have medicinal uses, as well. This is a quote from Wikipedia regarding solanum nigrum:
"The plant has a long history of medicinal usage, dating back to ancient Greece. This plant is also known as Peddakasha pandla koora in Telangana region. This plant's leaves are used to treat mouth ulcers that happen during winter periods of Tamil Nadu, India. Chinese experiments confirm that the plant inhibits growth of cervical carcinoma (Fitoterapia, 79, 2008, № 7-8, 548-556)."

I am hoping for great things from this new and little known berry!

My Rooting Bucket

I have made a rooting bucket. It's just a big bin full of sand, embued with very old chicken manure runoff. I have a piece of plastic to cover the top and intend to spray it whenever I pass by. I used rooting hormone for these.

In my new rooting bucket I have: rugosa roses, variegated dogwood shrub, climbing hydrangea, a golden leaf hydrangea of some kind, euonymous europaeus, forsythia, purple leaf sand cherry, pink rhododendron and curly willow. I have room in there for a few more and another bin just like that one, if I run out of room.

I have chocolate mint and large weeping willow rooting on a shelf. They don't need hormone or a special covered humid bin.

I'm very excited about it and have high hopes!!

Dandelion Syrup

Spring is coming! It's just aound the corner and the snow is half gone now! Soon the dandelions will be blooming all over our fields. We have fields and fields of them and they are pesticide free! I sort of cultivate the dandelions, or I don't actively try to get rid of them. I like them. They really do no harm and they are useful. They don't get tall enough to be a nuisance. Last year I made dandelion wine, which I just bottled this morning. This year I am going to make more dandelion wine and also dandelion syrup. I also plan to collect the tiny leaves for eating and freezing like spinach for soups and stews and sauces. I have collected only the petals in years past for wine making but I have been told that the entire flower can be used for making syrup without bitterness. I don't know about that but it will certainly make the collecting of enough material go a lot faster. I think I will try it with the whole heads this year.

Here is my recipe (sort of) for dandelion syrup: Collect as many chemical free dandelions as possible. Put just the washed heads into a pot and barely cover with water. Boil for some time, about 20-30 mins. Remove those heads with a sieve and add another pot full of flower heads to the water and boil these for 20-30 mins. The more dandelions you boil in the water, the stronger the flavour will be.

When you have boiled all the flowers you plan to boil, remove flowers with a sieve and strain liquid. Add sugar, 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Let boil until thick and syrupy.

It taste slightly nutty with a hint of vanilla all by itself! Eat over waffles or ice cream or make a drink with it, glaze meat with it. You can even heat it up and serve hot over desserts!

Bring it on, Spring! I'm ready!!