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Herby Vodka Recipe

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Valerian Flower Tincture

My Valerian plant has just gone totally bonkers with flowers this season, and I wanted very much to make use of them, but wasn’t sure how. Enter trusty Google search, where I learned that Valerian flowers can be tinctured and used much in the same way as the root. Valerian is employed as a relaxant and sedative, especially for those folks who have trouble falling and/or staying asleep. (A word of caution: a percentage of people actually respond the exact OPPOSITE to Valerian, and find that it makes them jumpy and excitable.) Valerian flowers are considered effective, but milder than the root. We are mostly use California Poppy before bed in our house, but it’s nice to have a back-up plant and to mix it up now and again.

For our home remedies, I tincture almost exclusively in the folk method. I fill a jar (not jammed but nice and full) with fresh plant matter, and then cover with 80 proof vodka and seal the lid. It’s a no-fuss method but very effective. I store the jar away in the pantry, give it a shake every now and again, and then sample the medicine after waiting at least 2 weeks. (I consider 2 weeks to be the bare minimum to wait, in order to give the plant matter enough time to give itself over to the alcohol. I usually wait a month or two before using a tincture. Opinions on this vary and I’m simply offering my experience.)

This is the method I used to tincture the Valerian flowers, although this time I filled one jar with vodka and another with brandy. Using brandy is new to me, but I’ve been experimenting with making flower essences, which primarily use brandy. (The flower essences are often taken directly under the tongue, and brandy goes down a bit smoother than vodka, in my experience.) So now I have two differnt tinctures of Valerian flower to experiment with, one make with vodka and the other with brandy.

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Sage Flowers

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One of our sage plants flowered for the first time just the other day. Very delicate, lovely little purple blossoms than smell faintly of fresh sage. I put in some water and enjoyed a tasty glass of sweet sage elixir. It was like drinking a cup of summer sunshine.

Surprise in the Feral Garden

The feral garden can be a place of disappointment and difficulty, therefore living in it, and alongside it, is a learning experience. But sometimes, when I’m very alert and very lucky, this wild and unmanicured place gives me secret surprises. As the undomesticated mixes with the civilized, this outdoor world reflects my inner landscape, becoming home to both the contained and the uncontained. We are on a journey together, this garden and I. Digging in the earth is not so different from rooting around in one’s own heart and mind: you push down into the damp wetness to find a stubborn rock living there underground, a shard of bone left like a gift, or a decaying peanut buried and forgotten. Every object is sacred if you hold it up to the sun and squint with one eye.

The space between the containers is where the wildness really creeps in. Mostly I see what I don’t like: voracious iceplant, illmannered ivy, and uninvited creatures that steal our food. But I try to learn from what I don’t like. It is good advice in life to manage what you can manage and leave the rest up to the Gods. I try not to manage this space too much, keeping the role of watchful eye rather than constant gardener. Because sometimes in the inbetween place-the space between the containers- is the fertile soil of secret surprises.

My lettuce seedlings were devoured this winter, and I gave up planting more. Sometimes I get discouraged out here. But the garden knows when I get discouraged and sometimes it sends me a gift. I did not plant new lettuce seedlings this year, and yet look what’s growing in the inbetween place: a healthy, vibrant, almost fullgrown head. How did it get here? When did it appear?

I don’t know, but the lettuce knows.

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SUCCESS: Shopping Bag Planter

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I’m going to go ahead and call the Shopping Bag Planter experiment a rousing success. The swiss chard has performed remarkably well in the bag, with the added convenience of being easy to move around the yard if the need arises. The bag holds in moisture very well and seems to be in the same good shape it was in last August when I first planted the chard. This type of planting would be good for balcony gardens and anyone who rents. The bags are easy to remove, bring indoors, or relocate to a new home.

Bareroot Fruit Trees

On the recommendation of Mr. Homegrown from Root Simple, I purchased two fruit trees from Bay Laurel Nursery (based out of Atascadero, California) for our budding orchard. You may recall we started with three dwarf citrus trees (orange, lemon, and lime) and I’ve been eager to add more, but wasn’t sure what to purchase or which trees would do well in our area. After reading through their online catalog of bareroot fruit trees, I chose one Anna Apple and one Royal Lee Miniature Cherry (both are semi-dwarf.) I picked apple because we eat so many them in our house and cherry because they’re fairly expensive at the grocery store. Anna Apple is recommended for our climate here in Southern California and produces sweet, crisp fruit. The Royal Lee Miniature Cherry is recommended for small gardens and container planting.
Bay Laurel Nursery begins taking orders for their bareroot trees in September and delivers them the following January. (So trees ordered in September 2013 will be delivered January of 2014.) If you are anything like me, you will place your order in September and then forget all about the trees until they show up at your doorstep like a belated Christmas present.
Both trees are doing well so far and seem to have adapted to their new soil and containers. The cherry shows very slight green growth but not too much change since it was planted. Anna Apple, on the other hand, has already begun branching and flowering. The petite white flowers were in bloom for a couple weeks and are just now beginning to die off. I’m really hoping for some apples this year!

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Spring Equinox

Happy Spring Equinox everyone! In our neck of the woods, we are spending the week planting seeds, taking pictures of wildflowers, and watching the hummingbird family that lives in our yard. I spent time yesterday weeding iceplant that invades our yard from the neighbor below, turning the compost pile, and sowing herb seeds. The garden fell into sad neglect over the winter, but with some work I’m sure we can bring it back to its former glory. I’m excited to see what Spring has in store for us!

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Orange Blossoms

Last year we planted three dwarf citrus trees: lime, lemon, and orange. The lime and lemon trees are very prolific and give tasty little fruits. The orange tree, however, has yet to produce. When I was scooping dog poop out in the rain the other day (it’s a glamorous life), I saw that the orange tree has finally developed some small white flowers. I think it may be late in the season for citrus, but I’m hoping maybe we’ll get some oranges this year.

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The Lazy Gardener Strikes Again

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I won’t bore you with the details of why I’ve been so lazy in the garden lately. Let’s blame it on having a baby, the holidays, my mom came to visit, any number of excuses really. In any case, I’ve turned the management of the garden over to the gods or the fates or the ghost of Masanobu Fukuoka for the time being. The rain has taken over watering duties, and I figure with that at least in place, everything else will continue to work itself out. Funny things happen when I forget about things I’ve planted though. Sometimes my lazy ways are rewarded. This time the reward was the sight of notoriously hard to grow heads of Romanesco Broccoli peeking their swirly bumpy little heads out from under the plant’s big green leaves. Full confession: I really had no hope for these guys. The check-out guy at the nursery told me he had tried to grow these same broccoli three times and had failed each time to yield any heads. Full full confession: after buying them from the nursery I set the plants in the corner by the herbs are forgot about them. Like, really forgot about them. Full, full, full confession: these broccoli are still in their flats. I never even planted them.
I may be lazy, but I’m also smart enough to leave well enough alone. I won’t be disrupting whatever magic is working for these broccoli. They’ll stay in their flats exactly where they are. I’m just going to be thankful and pleased…and maybe search my cookbooks for a recipe that will compliment these surprise vegetables.

Tomatoes in January?

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Who would have thought we’d be eating tomatoes in January? Well, technically we’re not, since these little guys are still green and the jury’s out on whether or not they’ll actually ripen. But the concept of tomatoes in January is sort of indicative of our climate here in Southern California and the unpredictability of the garden’s bounty. Planting seasons are just not the same here: the winter is short, the rains are sporatic, and navigating frost dates is perplexing.

Mr. Homegrown has a good post over on Root Simple explaining our Meditteranean climate and how it affects gardening here. I, too, need to read some books or search for further information about growing food in this area. My experience always seems to run counter to the books I read about gardening that are focused on other climates: like the myth that growing squash is the easiest thing in the world, even though I’ve repeadedly had terrible luck growing squash here. (I always do well with peppers and also had success during the last couple months with lettuce and chard.) But, on the bright side, maybe by living here there’s the chance of eating tomatoes year-round?

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