What Winter Can Bring

My mind wanders as I look at the snow – peaceful, falling softly, blanketing everything with its beauty. My thoughts go back to December 2001 – very cold, lots of snow, an unheated barn and a barely heated greenhouse.

We had just begun our herb business and we were learning about farming in the winter. With no other place to work we chose an old barn with a broken furnace to start our seedlings. We worked tirelessly, planting basil, sage, thyme, huddling close to the space heater. We then warmed up the old station wagon and backed it up to the barn to take the trays to the greenhouse. The cold winter wind was whipping and the snow was falling, but we weren’t concerned. Much later we realized that many of the seeds had likely blown away before we even reached the greenhouse.

That winter was a very steep learning curve. Figuring out how to keep the seedlings warm, when to water, when to fertilize, which time of year to start some of the seeds and which time of the year was best for others. I am not certain how we would have managed without the many herb books and our frequent internet searches.

The biggest challenge we faced was being ‘pioneers’ in growing herbs this way. In a greenhouse, expensive to heat, with no one to talk to about the many things we didn’t know. We stumbled upon so many answers, usually just before despairing, and kept a lot of notes.

Every year, when the snow begins, I remember our first winter and realize how quickly the past 12 years have flown by. I also realize that even though they haven’t all been easy, I wouldn’t trade what I’ve experienced for anything.

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Green Goods – Curious Cashews, Desert Gems and Botany for Beginners

This week as we appreciate the exquisite and unique design qualities of the snowflake, we also dip out of season momentarily in search of the exotic, botanically speaking.

Cashews are a curious nut, a detailed and illuminating look at the wildly unusual morphology of the cashew.

The April 1938 issue of The Desert Magazine is available in a virtual archive. Published between 1937-1985, the periodical was written for desert folk of the south western USA, profiling natural and cultural history of the region, with such varied topics as desert breakfasts, prospecting and ethnobotany.

For gardeners inclined to learn the anatomical details of plants and the science behind their own terraces and backyard lots, RHS Botany for Gardeners provides a comprehensive introduction.

And finally, in keeping with the season, the winter garden requires an effort in imagination and becomes an ‘exercise in hoping’.

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Ensuring a Superior Basil Crop, a Blasphemous Affair

There was a time when I thought there was only one type of basil. Actually, I didn’t think about it at all. I just thought basil was basil. Genovese, Purple Ruffles, Thai. As time went on we learned to use all of these varieties and have enjoyed each of their unique flavours in different recipes.

Basil has been cultivated for over 2,000 years and in ancient Rome it symbolized hatred. In Italy basil became known as a symbol of love and young woman were known to wear a sprig of basil in their hair to express their availability.

One thing we found out early on was that basil seed could be hard to germinate. We have enjoyed success with this lovely herb, but often think of the story we once read:

“In Greek and Roman times, it was believed that the only way to have a good basil crop was to throw the seeds over your shoulder while shouting loudly and swearing”.

We remind ourselves of this story when harvesting becomes difficult.

I have a cup of basil tea to relieve indigestion and use it regularly on wounds to eliminate infection. It is said that basil is a healthy booster for the immune system.

Our basil harvest is complete for the year and we look forward to a winter of trying many more basil dishes and continuing our search for new varieties…. hmmm – Cinnamon, Lime, Cardinal, Greek – what should we try next!

SALMON BAKED IN BASIL
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1 large onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
¾ lb salmon fillets
¼ cup Sweet Red Chili Sauce
1 cup loosely packed (Thai) basil leaves

Make a large double thickness of foil and lay over baking sheet. Spread a layer of onions in center. Spread most of the sliced tomatoes atop the onions. Put on the salmon fillet, skin side down. Spread Sweet Red Chili Sauce over salmon. Pile fresh basil leaves atop the salmon. Put the remaining tomato slices atop the basil. Fold the foil lengthwise and roll foil down to seal top. Roll up ends of foil to complete the seal. Bake 45 minutes.

For more basil recipes, visit www.heritagelineherbs.com
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Green Goods

Welcome to our weekly round-up profiling a wide selection of plant-inspired goodness. From the research world to the daily musings of gardeners and a little bit of garden history, here is what you ought to know.

If you live in northern climes, already in the midst of stick season and beginning to feel the chill, Planting Art provides a beautiful, life-affirming and steamy destination. Austin-based horticulturist, William Niendorff owns a greenhouse that supplies endless forms of magic (and envy).

Below ground, some plants have nasty habits. A fascinating look at the parasitic plant Striga hermonthica, or purple witchweed. Be sure to watch the video clips showing seedlings infecting nearby rice roots and ones avoiding the roots of their own kind.

A stunning illustrated Treatise on Medicinal Plants compiled in Italy in 1440. The album has no descriptive accompanying text, the individual illustrations include all the vernacular names used in the 15th century.

For a remote, virtual getaway Trail Me Up offers on-the-ground tours of destinations accessible only by foot.

And finally, with bushels of apples, one needs to make a pie.

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Salvia elegans, an Herb with Mass Appeal

I have been asked many times what my favourite herb is and, although there are many I love, I always respond “Pineapple Sage” or Salvia elegans. This tender perennial is a member of the Salvia family, has a wonderful pineapple taste and scent, and beautiful spiky red flowers. Our sage garden is the favourite stomping grounds of our hummingbird friends. Last week, as I was picking the flowers to add to my pineapple sage pound cake, which we serve in our Tea Room, two of them swooped past my face, as close as they could comfortably get to let me know I was intruding on their territory.

It is easy to take a cutting in the fall to ensure you have a succession of pineapple sage plants for next spring. Simply cut a piece about 3 inches long above a node and carefully cut off the bottom leaves, leaving two or 3 of the top leaves. Put in a pot with soil and then water well, keeping wet until rooted. Watch as the cutting takes root and begins to flourish. Once established put in a bigger pot on a sunny window ledge and wait until spring to plant outside.

Enjoy the leaves and flowers in muffins, loaves or a tea. Reap the benefits of this sweet herb, but do watch for hummingbirds!

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Most herbs do best if their flowers are picked off but pineapple sage flourishes with the flowers left on.

Beginning with Herbs

We are very pleased to introduce Deb Benner, and her farm Heritage Line Herbs situated in southern Ontario. Deb will be sharing her experiences, stories and herb-inspired enthusiasm on these pages – the sweet, spicy and savory.

I have always loved plants and gardening. As a young girl I remember walking through the woods with my grandmother, smelling the yellow buttercups, looking for wild peppermint so we could make a soothing tea and being awed by the beauty of the trilliums.

Over the years I have planted many gardens and learned everything I could about whatever I grew. Twelve years ago I was handed the opportunity to start my own herb farm and the heady joy of playing with plants became more than a hobby. The steep uphill learning curve has inspired me in so many ways and taught me so much.

A lot has been learned by trial and error, research, and from the many people who have stopped in to visit our farm, Heritage Line Herbs. Take rosemary, for instance, it does not fare well when over-watered. To steady this finicky herb simply mist the leaves with 1 Tbsp Epsom salts mixed into 1 litre of water and watch it flourish.

All 180 varieties of herbs we grow are started in our greenhouses, either from seed or cuttings. I have learned how to grow these herbs, to identify them, how to use them and so much more.

Over the next weeks and months I will share with you some of the tips and ideas I have learned, as well as recipes and stories. I look forward to sharing my experiences in words and with pictures, and hope to hear your stories in return.

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Now the gardens are filled with herbs and grasses. This is our tea garden where visitors enjoy herb-inspired lunches, desserts , tea, coffee, and lavender lemonade.

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Our gardens began simply, focused on many of my original gardens. This is a picture, taken 6 years ago at the beginning of our garden transformation.