I love Chocolate Mint

I love having the chocolate mint for tea, coffee and wine. I have made a gallon of chocolate mint wine in years past and loved it! I put it in coffee and use it in herbal tea. However, It has its good side and its bad side.

Today I released my chocolate mint into the ground in the back yard for the winter. I wasn't sure it would survive our winter in a pot and just didn't want to use the space to grow it indoors all winter. I know it will survive here in the ground. Its very hardy! 

Its also very invasive. As a matter of fact, it had runners growing around and around the root ball inside the big pot. Scary! If it had been in the ground all summer, it would have spread over a large area. I have had that happen with chocolate mint before. One summer I nearly lost my entire large herb garden! 

So, I kept it in a pot all summer. I feel bad for the poor thing now that I see all those runners. I am considering letting it go wild in my wild woodland back yard next summer, but I think I might regret it in years to come, as I pull out pieces of it everywhere, so...maybe not. 

I did take some cuttings and brought them inside to start new plants, just in case. I think I will always grow it in a container, but maybe a larger one next year.

I'll make up my mind before spring comes next year but I think its going into a large planter or a tall and deep container garden. I could plant lemon balm with it and just let them battle it out. That might be interesting. I don't usually grow lemon balm as I prefer to grow lemon verbena for my "lemon" herb, but I might...maybe. 

DIY Indoor Grapevine Wreath

The first day of December signals a time for us to start decorating for Christmas. Ever year I make an outdoor Christmas wreath from evergreen branches cut in the woods and grapevine. This year I am going to make some indoor grapevine wreaths, as well.

The grapevines themselves were collect two falls ago, stripped of leaves (the chickens like these) and shaped into circles to dry. You can read about that in a previous post


These are just loosely tied and left to harden in that shape. They can be tightened and wired into actual wreaths later. I did this two years ago but did not have the time to make any wreaths with them at that time. It has taken me two years to get around to doing anything with these shaped and dried grapevines. This year I am going to use them.

I am going to make indoor wreaths first. I will make the outdoor wreaths later this month.

The indoor wreaths are decorated with the tiny pinecones and acorns from our property, as well as ribbon and various dried berries, bells, tiny Christmas tree balls and any other tiny things you think will look good on it. I collect all kinds of things throughout the year at rummage sales and so forth, just for this purpose. Any tiny extras will look good on a wreath.

I collected acorns last fall and left them on the porch all winter. They made an excellent winter food for a squirrel, so I collected more this year and put them inside to dry. The best way to dry pinecones and acorns is with salt. Sprinkle salt on them and it will keep them from mildewing or rotting and will help them dry and open. I collected tiny pinecones and dried them this past spring so they are ready to use. I collected the acorns just a couple of weeks ago but they are still good to use now.

I looked around the field and found these to put on the indoor wreaths, also. I am not sure what they are but they are a weed and are still full of tiny seeds. I will have to be careful to collect all the seeds from these or they will grow in the flowerbed beside the porch or will scatter all over the floor of the craft room.

I am making the indoor wreaths, indoors where it is warm and I have a convenient plug for the glue gun. A glue gun is necessary for the little things. I don't use glue for the outdoor wreaths as glue doesn't hold the things on well enough for the blast of weather that it might get. I prefer to wire everything on the outdoor wreaths. They don't have many small items attached to them. A glue gun is a necessity for indoor craft work and you will need one for these indoor wreaths.

After you have the grapevine shaped and dried it is time to make a tight wreath out of it. I reshape it with my hands and tie it with coated wire. The type or colour of the wire is unimportant, as long as it is dark. We are going to cover it with ribbon. Hold the grapevine with one hand while wrapping the wire tightly around it to hold all the pieces in place. Done this way, you can use small pieces of grapevine, as long as you keep the thickness even around the circle.

After you have the grapevine shaped, wrapped tightly with wire all the way around and tied off, you are ready to move on to the next step - covering the wire with wide ribbon.

Start where the wire starts and wrap the ribbon around the wreath, over the initial wire and glue the end in place.

Continue on from there without cutting the ribbon, wrapping it around the wreath over the wire. You should glue it in place over the wire, in several places so it doesn't move off with wear.

You can use Christmas ribbon, as I have here, or ribbon that matches your livingroom if you want a permanent, non-Christmas, wreath. You can also wrap the wire with paper ribbon or wide raffia. Just be sure to glue the narrower ones in place over the wire.

When you reach the beginning, cut the ribbon and glue it in place. We are going to cover this beginning spot with a large bow, so glue all the ends of all ribbons and wraps used, in this same location, so that none of the ends will show when the bow is in place.Your next step will be adding the satin ribbon in curls. Glue the end at the "beginning" position where you glued the ends of the other ribbon.

Roll and curl the ribbon looselly, glueing it at each spot. Don't pull it tight. You will get better curls if you leave it very loose.

You may need to move it around a bit to make the best curls and find the best location for glueing. After a bit of practice, this part gets faster and easier. Take the satin ribbon all the way around the front of the wreath, back to the beginning. If you are going around the wreath with it twice, just keep going. If you are changing colours or stopping here, cut it and glue it at the "beginning" place. You can also wrap it around the back of the wreath for a different design.

This "beginning" spot will be where the large bow will be attached. It can be the bottom of the wreath or the top.

When you decide where the top of the wreath will be, it is a good idea to put on the hanger at the back before glueing a lot of little things onto the front of the wreath. Turn the wreath over on its face and use a bit of wire to make a hanger.

When you are happy with what has been done so far, it is time to make the bow. You can use the same ribbon you wrapped around the wreath or a different yet coordinating ribbon to make the bow. First cut a piece of wire about 3" long to secure the finished bow. You will not have both hands available to cut the wire after you make the bow, so cut it now and have it ready.

Leaving one long end hanging down, make the first loop. Clench the ribbon in what will be the center of the bow and keep holding it tightly, shaping it with your other hand. This does take a bit of practice but you can take it apart and continue to play with the ribbon until you are happy with it. Twist the ribbon so that the outside is always facing front, holding the twist tightly in the center with your fingers.

Make the loop for the other side, clench it in the center and

let the ribbon hang down for the other end. Cut it off the same length as the first side.

Keep holding it while you use the previous cut wire to twist around the center and hold the ribbon in place. You can make a bow with two coordinating ribbons, twisting one wire around the center of both.

Cut a tiny end off the same ribbon or a coordinating colour and make a folded strip to wrap around the center of the bow, over the wire. Glue this in place at the back of the bow. You can make as many loops as you want, for a bigger bow. Just keep making loops with the ribbon, twisting the ribbon so they are all facing outward. When the bow is full enough, leave the end handing as described in the previous paragraph.

Glue the bow in place on the wreath, covering the "beginning" spot where all the other ribbon ends were glued. If you have been careful to keep these ends glued close together, the large bow should cover them all quite well. If not, you can wrap that spot with wide ribbon until the ends are all well covered, then glue the bow on top of that ribbon.

When you are happy with the ribbons and bows, you can start glueing on the natural decorations. I have a lot of small pinecones and acorns and they are free, so I use a lot of them. I like the look of the pinecones sticking out all around the sides and the middle. I put those on first, since I am using so many of them.

Fill in the spots evenly with acorns, keeping the wreath artfully balanced. The seed pods are next.

Some pinecones and small decorations can be placed above and below the bow.

After the natural filler is in place, you can add the colourful decorations. I try to place these where they will cover up any glued ribbon spots that show or any other small problem areas. The larger, brighter and more visible ones come first. These are placed in a fairly balanced pattern around the wreath.

The small decorations are then glued wherever they are needed and are scatted about, still keeping the wreath balanced.

I used small gold beads that I have had for years and not used, some fake red berries cut from another decoration that I bought for this purpose and took apart and some small bits of baby's breath.

Red and Green baby's breath looks good on Christmas wreaths, but I only have white at the moment and I think the white helps to brighten it up, if needed.

When you are happy with your wreath, hang it in a place of honour on the inside of the front door, on the wall or on the door to another room in your house.

Cooking With Roses

I love rugosa roses! In addition to being beautiful, they are also prolific and I use a lot of rose petals and hips in the kitchen!

Any rose can be used for cooking. They are all edible, but the rugosa roses are so easy to grow. You can grow rows of them just from cuttings or seed and they will reseed themselves if left alone. I prefer to grow things from seed, rather than cuttings if possible, because of the genetic diversity but if I am in a hurry for more, I will use cuttings. When you plant a handfull of rose seeds, you could get any kind of rose from those seeds, throwbacks from ancesters of that rose or a genetic rarity. You just never know what you are going to get. Not all roses grow well from seed but rugosa roses do and they produce a lot of tasty hips too!

Rose hips are very high in vitamin C (approximately 1,700 mg of C in 100 gm of dried rosehip). That's higher than oranges and grapefruits! Rose hips have become a popular natural treatment for arthritis due to their anti inflammatory and anitoxident effects. Rose hips also contain carotenoids, including beta-carotene, lycopene, beta-chryptoxanthin, rubixanthin, zeaxanthin and lutein.

If you just thought roses were for the flowerbed, you were wrong! Plant them in your 
herb garden!

I plan to plant rows and rows of them this year from seed and cuttings. I already have a beautiful violet one (pictured above) and pink ones. Who knows what I will get from open pollinated seed! I love surprise gardening! They are stratified, being collected this week from the roses outdoors, so should be ready to germinate. It does take awhile to grow a rose bush, but they are worth the wait and if you plant a lot of seed, you get a lot of rose buses! 

I made wine from the rose petals last year. It has been ready for a few weeks now and is my favourite so far! The rose bouquet fills my nose when I drink it. It's like summer in a bottle!

Add rose petals to salads and sandwiches!
Below are some simple rose recipes:

Basic Rose Hip Tea: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 heaping teaspoons of chopped rose hips. You can use rose hips with or without their seeds. Steep the herbal tea, covered, for 15 minutes and strain.

Pose Petal Jelly
2 cups flower petals (or fresh young herb leaves)
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
600 oz liquid pectin (2 pckges) or equivalent powder (You may find that the liquid works better for this purpose than the powder)
4 cups sugar

Rose Hip Jam Take two cups Rose hips. Wash thoroughly and cut out the black calyx. Cook hips in two cups water until tender. Mash fruit while cooking. Push pulp through a fine sieve and to each cup of pulp add one cup of water. Then cook until the pulp thickens to the consistency of other jams.

Rose Honey
1 and 3/4 cups cleaned rose hips
2 and 1/2 cups water
Cook rose hips in the water about 15 minutes and occasionally crush them. When they are tender, pour into jelly bag and strain off juice. This quantity yields about 7/8 cup of juice to which add enough water to make a cupful then add one tsp. lemon juice, 3/4 cup sugar and cook rapidly until juice jellies on a silver spoon. This will thin to a honey consistency when cold. It is delicious served on waffles, pancakes, over desserts or in cakes and frostings.

Candied Rose Petals
Rose petals must be dry and clean. Dip both sides in slightly whipped egg whites, then coat both sides of the petals immediately with granulated sugar and lay carefully on waxed paper. Allow to dry thoroughly before packing in boxes. To speed drying, turn the petals once. Keep dry and cool.

Rose Petal Syrup (See previous pose on dandelion syrup)
4 cups rose petals
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Boil rose petals in water for an hour. Remove petals with a sieve and add sugar. Boil until thick and syrupy.

Rose Petal Butter
1 Cup fresh Rose Petals, chopped
3/4 Cup softened unsalted Butter
Mix together well and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours to let the rose flavor meld into the butter. Keep refrigerated up to 2 weeks or frozen for several months.

Rose Petal Pesto
Two Cups Fresh Basil
One Cup Rose Petals
4 Large Garlic Cloves
1 Cup of Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Rosewater
1 Cup of Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 Cup of Freshly Grated Romano Cheese
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste
Rinse Rose Petals and Basil thoroughly and pat dry. Cup up Rose Petals with sharp scissors. Peel and chop garlic. Combine the basil, garlic and Pine nuts, chop in either a food processor or blender. While still processing add olive oil and rose water slowly. Add the Parmesan and Romano, salt and pepper, blend lightly.

Green Tea and Rose Petal Popsicles
3 cups water
1-1/2 tbsp green tea leaves (about 3 tea bags)
1/4 cup assorted organic small rose petals.
Bring the water to a boil and remove from heat. Pour over tea in a ceramic teapot. Fill popsicle molds loosely with rose petals. Steep tea for 5 minutes and strain into popsicle holders. Freeze in the freezer for 30 minutes, then place the wooden sticks in the center of the popsicle holders. (This is a good time to spread the petals throughout the mold evenly.) Freeze until solid and serve immediately.

Rose Petal Ice Cream Makes approx. 3 cups.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 ½ cups loosely packed, very fragrant old rose petals, washed and dry.
Follow directions for your individual ice cresm freezer.

I have open pollinated rugosa rose seeds for sale in my seed store now. They are stratified, being collected this week from the roses outdoors, so should be ready to germinate.

Milkweed As A Vegetable?

Below is part of an excerpt from "The Forager's Harvest" written by Samuel Thayer. It fit in so well with the foraging post that I had to post it here.

"Milkweed season begins in late spring, just about the time that leaves are coming out on the oak trees, when the shoots come up near the dead stalks of last year’s plants. These resemble asparagus spears but have tiny leaves, in opposing pairs, pressed up flat against the stem. Until they are about eight inches tall, milkweed shoots make a delicious boiled vegetable. Their texture and flavor suggests a cross between green beans and asparagus, but it is distinct from either. As the plant grows taller, the bottom of the shoot becomes tough. Until it attains a height of about two feet, however, you can break off the top few inches (remove any large leaves) and use this portion like the shoot.

Milkweed flower buds first appear in early summer and can be harvested for about seven weeks. They look like miniature heads of broccoli but have roughly the same flavor as the shoots. These flower buds are wonderful in stir-fry, soup, rice, casseroles, and many other dishes. Just make sure to wash the bugs out.

In late summer milkweed plants produce the familiar pointed, okra-like seedpods which are popular in dried flower arrangements. These range from three to five inches long when mature – but for eating you want the immature pods. Select those that are no more than two thirds of their full size. It takes a little experience to learn the knack of how to tell if the pods are still immature, so as a beginner you might want to stick to using pods less than 1 ¾ inches in length to be safe. If the pods are immature the silk and seeds inside will be soft and white without any hint of browning. It is good to occasionally use this test to verify that you are only choosing immature pods. If the pods are mature they will be tough and bitter. Milkweed pods are delicious in stew or just served as a boiled vegetable, perhaps with cheese or mixed with other veggies.

Silk refers to the immature milkweed floss, before it has become fibrous and cottony. This is perhaps the most unique food product that comes from the milkweed plant. When you consume the pod, you are eating the silk with it. At our house, we eat the smallest pods whole, but we pull the silk out of the larger (but still immature) pods. Open up the pod along the faint line that runs down the side, and the silk wad will pop out easily. If you pinch the silk hard, your thumbnail should go right through it, and you should be able to pull the wad of silk in half. The silk should be juicy; any toughness or dryness is an indicator that the pod is over mature. With time, you will be able to tell at a glance which pods are mature and which are not.

Milkweed silk is both delicious and amazing. It is slightly sweet with no overpowering flavor of any kind. Boil a large handful of these silk wads with a pot of rice or cous cous and the finished product will look like it contains melted mozzarella. The silk holds everything together, so it’s great in casseroles as well. It looks and acts so much like cheese, and tastes similar enough too, that people assume that it is cheese until I tell them otherwise. I have not yet run out of new ways to use milkweed silk in the kitchen – but I keep running out of the silk that I can for the winter!

With all of these uses, it is amazing that milkweed has not become a popular vegetable. The variety of products that it provides ensures a long season of harvest. It is easy to grow (or find) and a small patch can provide a substantial yield. Most importantly, milkweed is delicious. Unlike many foods that were widely eaten by Native Americans, European immigrants did not adopt milkweed into their household economy. We should correct that mistake.

You will find that some books on wild foods recommend boiling milkweed in multiple changes of water to eliminate the “bitterness.” This is not necessary for common milkweed Asclepias syriaca (which is the subject of this article, and the milkweed that most people are familiar with.) Common milkweed is not bitter.

I had no idea that milkweed was even edible! I am going to try them next spring, especially using the silks like cheese!

The Perfect Squash

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I like to grow squash, lots of squash. Over the past couple of years I have grown many different kinds in search of the perfect squash. Well, I think I have found it!

This is the Hopi Black squash. It's very large! I know it's not black now, but it is black when it's young, as it is in this picture.

It is as large as a big hubbard, but the skin is easier to peel and can be cut with a knife, as opposed to an axe. I have to use an axe or a hammer to cut into a hubbard squash.

The Hopi Black squash is very sweet, dense and delicious with a small seed cavity.

The meat is a much darker orange than any squash I have seen. There's a big difference in the colour. Does this mean it has more beta carrotene? I wish I could find more information on that!

This is a very old, rare and hard to find heirloom squash. It was grown by the Hopi Indians generations ago. It produced as much cooked and finished squash for the freezer as I got from 4-5 small ambercups.

This will be the only squash I grow for our family in the future. It's very large, meaty, soft skinned, sweet, delicious and easy to grow. It does have a long growing season so I will start them early indoors, but that's fun anyway.

Rose Petal Wine

The wild roses are blooming! I have been collecting rose petals for the past few days. I put them in a freezer bag and just keep adding to it until the roses have finished blooming. Its a short period so I have to focus on collecting as many as I can during that time. 

I make rose petal wine with them, but rose petal jam and syrup are good too! This is what I collected this morning just from the back of my wild yard. 

I only use the petals for wine. I also collect the hips in the fall for jam but that comes later. This year I might add them to a "wild" wine. 

I would like to find a great collection of roses for picking, like the ones on the right. This was my rose collection when I lived in Ontario. 

I don't pick petals from roses on private property or ones used for landscaping in parking lots, without permission. I am also careful not to use petals from roses that have been sprayed so this limits the roses that I have access to.

It doesn't take a very large collection of rose bushes to get a gallon of petals if you pick daily. I pick every day and add them to a bucket in the freezer, crushing down the frozen petals until I have a gallon of packed, crushed petals. Then I make a gallon of wine with them. I have had enough petals in the past to make a five gallon bucket of wine. 

Rose petal wine if one of my favourites!

Growing & Supporting Tomatoes

The picture above is a photo of my garden in 2009. These are our 'Portugal' tomatoes growing. That was a bumper year for tomatoes.

I inherited a pile of 6' metal fence posts that have been handy in the garden. I usually stretch wire between them on which to grow things, like tomatoes, cukes, peas.
This year I am considering another option. I also have some fencing that is really a large roll of reinforcing wire. I want to make a few of these for the tomatoes, one set for each of the tomato varieties that I want to plant this year:

The wire will be in two pieces, two "L"s, which I will remove from the post in the fall and store separately.

These are indeterminate tomatoes, meaning they grow continually larger until the frost takes them. Determinate tomatoes have a preprogrammed, default setting causing them to stop growing when they reach maturity which makes them better for short seasons. I grow these indeterminate ones anyway. I'm always pushing the growing season. These are HUGE plants and have to be controlled by pruning.

I prune most of the suckers off all summer and cut the tops off of my indeterminate tomato plants around mid August. They do keep trying to grow after the top has been cut off, putting out even more suckers and more tops. I just keep trimming it back, forcing it to put as much growth as possible into the tomatoes. This makes for very large tomatoes.

We still get green tomatoes at the end of the season. To help the plant ripen what is there, I cut the roots about halfway around the plant when it gets about two weeks before our first frost date. This does help, although we still get green tomatoes.

Some tomatoes will keep all winter in our cold cellar wrapped separately in newspaper. Each tomato individually wrapped and not touching others, set on wood to keep dry. Sometimes they will stay green enough and good until mid winter, when they can be taken out and put into the kitchen to finish ripening. Not all tomatoes will do this, but a few will. If you find a good keeper tomato, you can have garden tomatoes at Christmas!

I have some seeds I got in a trade for some good "keeper" tomatoes that I am going to plant this year on a trial basis.

Some green tomatoes are welcome! We like
Fried Green Tomatoes!
I have considered growing them upside down from a hole in the bottom of a bucket, as well, but have just not bothered. I have a lot of space for a garden and I don't have a secure place to hang them. Acquiring the buckets would be no problem but I would have to build a strong system from which to hang them that will support their weight.

Do you have another tomato support system that works well 
for you?