Pineapple Sage … As delicious as it is healthy

Pineapple Sage in full bloom in my garden

I am rolling out the first of four seasonal CherryGal Organics Herbal Tea blends — Summertime Tea, a refreshing and soothing blend. One of the most special components of this blend is Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans), a member of the mint family but with a true pineapple scent and flavor and some extraordinary health benefits. As with many mints, it is an excellent digestive aid (and reduces flatulence and acts as a diuretic), but it is also calming and soothing. Some studies have indicated it has anti-depressive and anti-anxiety qualities. In addition, it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and contains Vitamins A and K (liver support).

Pineapple Sage’s expectorant component and astringency make it a good choice for combating sinus infections brought on by summer allergies. Since it also has estrogenic properties, it is not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers, but may help alleviate hot flashes in menopausal women. Regular consumption reduces bad cholesterol levels and increases good cholesterol, as well as boosting your overall metabolism and contributing to weight loss.

Finally, studies indicate that Pineapple Sage shows promise for treating Alzheimer’s.  The essential oil from Pineapple Sage has been found to improve acetylcholinesterase (Ach) levels in the brain which improves concentration, boosts memory and information processing capabilities.

The best way to consume Pineapple Sage to extract all of its goodness, is in a tea. CherryGal Organics Summertime Tea, which contains organic pineapple sage, is best brewed using water brought to a boil, allowing it to steep for 15-20 minutes, then cooled and iced. A special treat is to serve with ice cubes made from pineapple juice. I will be offering this special blend at the Warren County Farmers Market and eventually in my online store. Enjoy!

— Deborah Phillips, a.k.a. CherryGal

The Original Flower Child

I am entering my 7th decade. I have been blessed to garden most of my life. In my youth, I was conscripted by my mother to weed her zinnia bed, and from that (believe it or not) developed an absolute love of the Zen of weeding (try it, you’ll like it). But we had a lot more growing in our garden and beyond … and when Euell Gibbons published his “Stalking The Wild Asparagus” in the early ’60’s, my Dad and I earnestly searched (and found) the elusive weed. This was an epiphany for me. It instantly married my Catholic upbringing and deep belief in God with my love of my natural surroundings. It demanded further research, which I delighted in.

My first serious textbook on herbs was an ancient one, found in Peabody’s Bookshop in Baltimore, Maryland. “Culpeper’s Herbal” first published in 1616 and my version  illustrated with botanical drawings and mysterious notations, fascinated me, though I understood about 25% of it. It was followed by dozens of serious tomes exploring herbal medicine, the fragility of our environment, and my own experimentation (most quite positive). When I began gardening in earnest in the early 70’s, herbs — culinary and medicinal — herbs were my focus.

That is why I am excited and delighted to finally be able to utilize my decades of experience and knowledge to bring safe and effective herbal blends to my Farmers Market and CherryGal customers. I will be rolling out these “teas” in the coming weeks and hope you will find them to your liking.

— Deborah Phillips, a.k.a. CherryGal

 

 

“Behold, I have given you every plant …” [Genesis 1:29]

Oswego Tea

CherryGal Organics is readying a new offering for the Farmer’s Market and beyond — Organic Teas. The Organic Teas that I will offer (starting next week) will be blends designed with a specific goal in mind:

Winter WonderTEA … to help prevent or overcome the colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses that are so prevalent in the winter, when close quarters means heightened exposure to viruses and bacteria that can make us sick. WWT will boost your immune system, and help resolve respiratory issues and fevers. An all-round good tea to keep on hand and drink daily from November to March.

Spring TonisiTEA … a gentle cleansing and healing tonic specifically targeting the liver, spleen, kidneys and digestive tract — in short, all the organs you have been abusing all winter with fatty foods and alcohol! Begin regular consumption March to April.

Summer SojourniTEA … Just as the season should be — refreshing, soothing and relaxing. Wonderful warm or iced. A welcome respite from the heat and activity of the season. Drink abundantly May to September.

Autumn SolemniTEA … will help you focus on preparations (think of the parable of the ant and the grasshopper), as well as warm and invigorate you during the change of seasons. Best consumed September – November.

BeauTEA From Within … supports healthy and glowing skin and hair, especially as we age. Aids in achieving restful sleep, so important to beauty, inside and out.

Although each package will show the specific herbs used in that particular blend, here is a listing of all the organic herbs and spices that I draw upon in composing the five unique blends:

  • Greek Mullein leaves & flowers
  • Oswego Tea (Monarda Didyma)
  • Holy Basil
  • American Ginseng
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Echinacea leaves and flowers
  • Bronze Fennel
  • Nutmeg shavings
  • Dandelion root
  • Cornflowers
  • Juniper Berries
  • Blueberry Leaf
  • Bronze Fennel
  • Nigella Sativa Seeds
  • Fig Leaf
  • Hyssop
  • Smooth Hydrangea root
  • Milk Thistle Seed
  • Blue Vervain
  • Peppermint
  • Rose Petals
  • Lavender Flower
  • Lemon Balm
  • Catnip
  • Vanilla Bean
  • Apple Mint
  • Dill
  • Calendula
  • Angelica (leaf/root)
  • Dried blueberries
  • Nutmeg
  • Orange Peel
  • American Ginseng
  • Evening Primrose Flower
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Basil
  • Lavender
  • Thyme
  • Rose Petals
  • Holy Basil
  • Ginger root
  • German Chamomile
  • Peppermint Rose Hip

The teas that I offer will come in fold-over pouches that you can use to brew a whole pot, or open to extract a teaspoon for a cup. Guaranteed organic! Gathered and dehydrated with the greatest care. They not only promote health, they are delicious! I have carefully and extensively researched my herb garden to make sure the herbs and spices used are recognized as safe and effective, without adverse reactions. However, I always caution pregnant and lactating mothers, and those with known allergens to abstain unless approved by their physician. In coming weeks, I will write more extensively about individual herbs and spices used. I hope you will join me next week at the Warren County Farmers Market to avail yourself of these wonderful teas!

Best regards,

Deborah Phillips, CherryGal Organics

 

Fraises des Bois Alpine Strawberries are Awesome!

Just uncovered my Alpines!

Just uncovered my Organic Heirloom Fraises des Bois Alpine Strawberries. They had collected a leaf cover that protected them from frost and hard freezes — even down to -1F this winter. And yet, when I pulled back the leaves I had beautiful green crowns! I will soon be dividing and potting up extras from my pots for sale along with my new Fit Of Pique mosaic Strawberry Pots in which you can grow them. These are so easy to grow and care for and produce the most fragrant, luscious little berries. Love to have them outside my kitchen door so I can pick and add to my cereal in the morning.

Grown by European royalty for centuries, these are special. And aside from their beauty, fragrance and flavor, they are also healthy with some surprising medicinal qualities. Since the numbers I can offer are limited, you can pre-order/reserve yours now at CherryGal.com!

Chickens in Winter

My Sweet Buff Orpingtons enjoying a mid-winter snack of chickweed!

I am so proud of my girls for weathering this brutal winter! First, they had to adapt to increasingly frigid temps, and then when it seemed impossibly cold here, I brought them indoors to my mud room, where for weeks they looked longingly out to their garden (glass door) but enjoyed the heated floor and heater in the room that kept them from freezing even when it dipped below zero as it did at least one night. (Of course, my electricity bill reflects this :() But the 10 x 10 room offered them little in the way of exercise. They did not complain. They took it in stride. But, my goodness, were they ever happy to be released back to their spacious compound and coop, even though nights have dipped below freezing, with rain and even light snow, they are happy. And I am so proud of them. Now that the daylight hours are increasing, they are rewarding my love with beautiful large strong light brown eggs. Thank you girls!

Chickens in the Snow!

The Law Of The Minimum and your Soil’s Fertility

Bee on Marigolds

If you buy fertilizer you will notice three numbers on the bag. These are the N-P-K levels in the fertilizer. The three numbers represent the levels of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) — in short N-P-K. These three elements are the primary necessary to have healthy growth in your garden plants. Chemical fertilizers are generally much higher in these numbers than Organic fertilizers, but organic fertilizers offer so much more without the risks of chemical fertilizers.

There is a little known rule of science that governs the fertility of your garden soil. It is called “The Law of the Minimums” and is attributed to Justus von Liebig (1803-1873), a German chemist who made great contributions to the science of plant nutrition and soil fertility. Liebig’s “Law” states that yield is proportional to the amount of the most limited nutrient, whichever nutrient it may be. In other words, if one of the essential plant nutrients is deficient, plant growth will be poor even when all other essential nutrients are abundant so that your soil is only as rich as the minimum of any of the primary elements.

So why should you, as a gardener, care? Well, your choice of fertilizers and how you apply them means everything to the success of what you grow. Many new gardeners think all you need are seeds and a bag of Miracle Grow for success. You might get short-term success that way, but you might also be building up “minimums” in your soil that will result in poor growth down the line. In addition, the over-use of chemical fertilizers not only harms your soil over time, it can run-off into the ground water system with disastrous effects on the larger environment. The Chesapeake Bay is a good example — for more than a quarter of a century chemical fertilizer runoff into the Bay and its tributaries has poisoned fish and other wildlife. The same has been documented  in many other states. Chemical fertilizers are usually made from non-renewable sources, including fossil fuels. Repeated application can result in toxic buildup of dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, and uranium in the soil — that then  make their way into your fruits and vegetables. Long-term use of chemical fertilizers can even change the soil pH, upsetting beneficial microbials, making your plants much more vulnerable to pests. (And forget about Roundup Ready seeds and plants — they are even worse — killing beneficial insects and leeching into your entire garden, poisoning your soil.)

So, you say, I don’t have time to get a degree in agriculture science, how can I enrich my soil without worrying about those concerns?

First — a soil test! Your local ag extension agent (and they are everywhere) will provide free soil sample tests! Now is a good time to do that, since you still have time to address any deficiencies before Spring planting season arrives. Just contact them or stop by their office and pick up a free soil test kit and instructions.

Alternately, you can purchase devices that will test for N-P-K and also pH, which dictates how available nutrients in your soil will be to your plants. Ideal pH varies, according to the plant variety. Acid loving plants like blueberries and potatoes, love lower pH levels, while sugar beets prefer a “sweet” soil, or pH around 7. Most crops fall somewhere in between — 5.5 – 6.5pH. It is best to check, since neglecting to do so could result in your wondering why your blueberries are failing in the limed soil that you created last fall. Or why the leaf mulch you dug in so lusciously to your 4 x 4 bed is now producing a puny bean or corn crop.

Most importantly, use organic fertilizers! Organic fertilizers are minimally (or not at all) processed, and the nutrients remain bound up in their natural forms, rather than being extracted and refined. Organic fertilizers like manure, compost, bone/blood/cottonseed meal, feathers, leaves and other yard waste (as long as it has no sign of disease) are readily available often for free if you are willing to clean out a horse stall or rake some leaves.

There are many advantages to using organic fertilizers.

As they break down, organic fertilizers actually improve soil tilth (structure of the soil) which improves water and nutrient retention.
Unlike chemical fertilizers, it is almost impossible to over-fertilize slow-releasing organic fertilizers, which means also that you will not be building up chemicals and salts in the soil that can kill your plants.
Organic fertilizers will LOVE your garden and surrounding environment. They are biodegradable and a renewable resource! And they will not harm beneficial insects — especially pollinators such as honeybees!
So please, do your garden and the environment a favor — use organic fertilizers! There are so many sources. Start a compost pile for your kitchen scraps. I once had a friend who went to the circus every Spring for elephant dung — and his garden was amazing! But you can find wonderful organic fertilizers now on the shelves at your local gardening center. Your garden will thank you and the world will thank you!

A Southern Tradition — Collards

Carolina Collards

Originally a wild and rather unpalatable green, the collards we know and love today have been developed over centuries to sweeten their flavor, breeding out the bitterness and rough qualities of the original “weed.”

Today, we enjoy the largess of such breeding and also the development of cuisine devoted to this green, Brassica oleracea. Traditionally, they are slow cooked with some type of pork, but vegetarian recipes abound as well.

There is a another reason for Collard Greens’ popularity. It is ranked as one of the most nutritious greens, second only to mache. High in protein, calcium, Vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium, nothing beats collards fresh from your own organic garden. And a recent study  at the University of East Anglia found that a compound in collards called sulforaphane can help prevent and slow cartilage damage and osteoarthritis.

Perhaps no other vegetable so represents the South as this one. It was relied on during the American Revolution and grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. It has historically been enjoyed cross-culturally, though we certainly owe a debt to the African Americans enslaved here for learning the best and most economical ways to prepare and store.

Easy to grow, and often seen in large family patches, you can grow just four collard plants in a 4 x 4 raised bed and harvest a leaf or two at a time from the bottom of the head over a very long growing period, or you can harvest the whole head leaving the stalk in the ground to sprout again.

Collards do require at least 4-5 hours of sun and a loose sandy soil for Spring crop or heavier loamy soil for Fall/Winter crop. They are extremely cold hardy and can survive frosts and light to medium freezes (which converts some of the carbs to sugar, making them sweeter) but will bolt in the heat of summer, so grow either very Early Spring or in the Fall/Winter. Starting seeds indoors or in the greenhouse will give you a jump on either season. They are heavy feeders and need nitrogen for consistent growth. They also need consistent water, 1.5 ” each week, either by rainfall or irrigation. Do not cultivate deeply. You can mulch for weed prevention.

Depending on the variety, collards may suffer munchers, though not as much as other brassicas. But in an organic home garden, especially in a raised bed situation, you can address by several organic methods including a strong spray of water, companion planting by nasturtiums and tomatoes as well as aromatic herbs, which will also improve flavor, and finally a homemade hot pepper spray really works (just be sure to wear gloves when applying and reapply after a rain).

Georgia Collard

I am pleased to be selling three different organic heirloom varieties this year each with its own regional interest.

  1. First introduced in 1879, and popularized by Burpee in 1944, the popular variety Georgia is a non-heading type that forms large rosettes 3′ high. It takes 80 days from early transplanting to harvest.
  2. Carolina Cabbage Collard, also known as Yellow Cabbage Collard, is a North Carolina heirloom variety for which it is very hard to acquire seeds as they are closely guarded by the Eastern NC families that grow for market stands. Many prefer the tender, silky texture and mild, non-bitter flavor of this variety. Not really yellow, but a lighter green than other varieties. A choice of the ‘Ark Of Taste’ which writes: “Making its appearance in the late 1880’s, Yellow Cabbage Collard continued to be prominent with readily available seeds for purchase in North Carolina until approximately 1975. Colonel Joe Branner, proprietor of the Asheville Greenhouses, began the production of the seed in eastern Carolina in 1887 by sowing full collard seed in his greenhouse, which responded to the local soil by growing a bit shorter and more cabbage-like, naturalizing over time to its new environment.” Non-heading it grows year round in full sun or partial shade with a 45+ day growing cycle. Plants grow to 2′ x 2′.
  3. Green Glazed Collard is a rare resurrected variety whose lineage dates back 200 years.It not only has a beautiful waxy appearance, it is more resistant to cabbage worm and cabbage looper, thus easier to grow organically. It is also heat and frost resistant and slow to bolt, making it a good choice for Southern gardens. The Cascade variety I offer was developed in the NW, and retains the recessive gene for the glossy appearance but occasionally kicks out a regular collard which should not be allowed to go to seed (to protect the strain). Non-heading and early. 60 days.

Green Glazed Collards

I hope you will give collards a try in your home garden this year … even if you are a “Nawthener” Happy gardening y’all!

Around The World in my Backyard Heirloom Organic Garden!

I love to cook. AND I use my garden and kitchen for many of my medicinal needs. In researching the plants that I grow in my organic garden, I am always struck at the passage of rare varieties from all corners of the world, to my little garden in the Piedmont of North Carolina!

In early Spring, I enjoy  Nozaki Early Cabbage, a quick growing and delicious open faced cabbage originally from China useful fresh or in stir fries.

Later in Spring, I always look forward to my Fraises des Bois, a wonderful French alpine strawberry that explodes in your mouth with exquisite flavor and is so easily grown in containers. This year I am offering both fresh plants later in the season or seeds, if you want to get started now.

And from the heart of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, we offer the all American North Carolina heirloom Sieva Carolina Pole Baby Lima bean, so sweet and delicious and so hard to find.

From our friends South of the border, the Chilhuacle Negro Pepper from Mexico is uniquely flavorful … a combination of smoke, chocolate and heat … just one will flavor a pot of chile to exquisite levels!

Also from our Southern neighbors, the Morado Purple Corn from Peru is grown for the fabulous drink, Chi Chi Morado made from its deep purple kernels. With increasing South American immigrants to our country, this is one which you may enjoy growing.

Back to Europe, the exquisite Styrian Pumpkin from Austria produces a hull-less pumpkin seed well-known and researched to provide protection from prostate problems including cancer. It also sooooo incredibly delicious, full of vitamins and minerals, and my choice to feed to my chickens to protect them from intestinal invaders.

From South Africa, we are so pleased to be able to offer this year seeds of the rare Ice Plant, much prized for its unique presentation and its culinary and medicinal use.

And so ancient it is hard to pinpoint its origins — it was found in Tutenkhamen’s tomb —Nigella Sativa or Black Cumin — is now highly valued for medicinal purposes it is often overlooked for its sheer beauty!

Finally, not to be ignored, the Italian origins of the wonderful Marvel of Venice pole bean should be noted, as Italians prize flavor above all else. The beautiful yellow flat romano style beans are incredibly delicious picked young and sauteed with garlic and olive oil, or pickled for antipasto.

These are just a “taste” of the wonderful heirloom organic seeds I am offering this year at CherryGal.com. If you have read this far, you deserve a reward — use the code INTLSeeds to get 20% off your CherryGal.com seed or live plant order until January 30!

Seed Starting 101

I’m about to start my seedlings for Spring planting and the Farmer’s Market. Tough choices. Some will be started (or already are) by cuttings, some from seed. Most require at least 8 weeks to reach fruition, and some longer (and some much longer) so getting started now is imperative.

But I thought I would share my rules of seed starting with you, in case you are new to gardening from scratch.

Equipment and Supplies – Only ever use sterilized materials. I prefer individual plastic starter 2”-4” pots because peat, cowpots and terracotta can wick the moisture right out of your starts and because I can rearrange as the seedlings grow up so that they are grouped according to height (see use of grow lights below). Having said that, I have started seeds successfully using toilet paper rolls and egg cartons. If using plastic, clean your pots or seed starting supplies with a bleach solution and rinse very well. Use only sterilized seed starter medium (I use organic). Any surface where contact is made with your seed pots must also be sterilized, such as your trays and heat mats. This might sound excessive, but it is an important step to success and will help prevent problems. I use grow lights because I don’t like spindly seedlings and that’s what you’ll get without them. Also, you can give them an “early Spring” by gradually increasing the time the lights are on to 14 hours/day regardless of time of year. I also use heat mats for those seedlings, like peppers, which require them. But many herbs and strawberries actually do not. I use a hydroponic system for those seeds which appreciate wet feet (but I don’t use the chemicals typical of hydroponics). And soon I’ll be using a cloning machine for cuttings like Bay Laurel and French Tarragon.

Doesn’t have to be expensive to work!

  • Timing is everything! Know your last frost date and then use a calendar to count backwards for your start dates for each type of seed you will be starting. Given the erratic weather, allow extra time. And don’t forget that the seedlings will need to be “hardened off” for a week or so before introducing them to your garden.
  • Use quality seeds and healthy cuttings. I use old seeds from my exiting inventory and usually have no problems, but its always best to use fresh new seed when possible. Seed viability varies by type … tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are viable much longer than parsnips, for example. There are wonderful charts online that can tell you exactly what to expect. If you have seeds left over from a previous season, or seeds you have saved yourself, the best way to store them is in a sealed polybag in the back of the fridge where they will not be subject to variations in temperature or humidity. If you are concerned about viability, do a test by putting a few of the seeds in damp paper towels and waiting for them to sprout.
  • Know the planting requirements of your seeds. Some seeds are light-dependent germinators and should not be covered, but protected from drying out with a humidity dome or plastic bag. Others need to be sown deeper with bottom moisture. Some require a period of cold “stratification” mimicking a winter’s hibernation in order to break dormancy and germination.
  • Finally, patience really is a virtue in gardening. Give seeds time. Some seeds like strawberries may take 4 weeks to germinate. Others like cat grass will pop up almost overnight in the right conditions.
  • Once you have achieved germination you need to be vigilant, watching for problems particularly as concerns humidity. I love liquid organic food diluted to appropriate levels for my seed starts (read the labels). And keep your grow lights close, raising them as your seedlings grow. I also give my starts a period of gentle air flow every day either with a portable fan or an overhead fan. This helps to strengthen them and also shortens the time needed for hardening off.
  • Be mindful of the days to maturity of each variety, usually stated as “from transplant”, such as tomtoes, or just number of days from sowing as with lettuce.

    humidity covers help

For me, the hardest part of seed starting is making choices of varieties. I have limited full sun areas in my garden so I try to plot out what will use those spaces pretty tightly – not only space but also calendar. You can, for example, start some quick growing lettuces or radishes in the same space as you will eventually be putting your sun hog tomatoes. Asparagus can go in a partially sunny spot out of the way of foot traffic. If you are going to plant 3 Sisters, put your corn in first so it has a chance to rise above the level of the squash and beans.

Happy Sowing!

 

The Importance of Organic Wines

Organic Wines For Your Health!

CherryGal.com is excited to be an Affiliate of The Organic Wine Company, which offers a range of excellent sulfite-free wines and champagnes. All of their wines are vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO and are made with organic grapes.

Science and Medicine increasingly agree about the benefits of a glass or two of wine a day to promote heart, brain and immune function as well as enhancing “joie de vivre.” The wines offered by The Organic Wine Company are made with certified organic grapes. Delightful to drink, the highest quality yet reasonably priced and can be enjoyed without an adverse reaction by most chemically sensitive people.

The Organic Wine Company is a family company started by Veronique Raskin in San Francisco thirty years ago.  Véronique is a French native, born and raised by generations of physicians and land-owners in the Languedoc region in southern France. Veronique was always passionate about the study and practice of health and well- being. When her 75-year-old grandfather, Professor of Medicine Pierre Fabre, started pioneering organic viticulture in the South of France, she decided to do the same here in the United States.

Why choose organic wines? To quote Dr. Andrew Weil, “Many people who buy and eat only organically grown fruits and vegetables often don’t consider that the grapes grown to make wine might be sprayed with the same pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides used on other conventionally grown crops. In fact, on February 13, 2013, the wine trade journal Decanter reported on a study showing that 90 percent of samples from 300 French wines contained traces of at least one pesticide. The wines were analyzed for 50 different compounds from a range of pesticides and fungicides. Those most commonly found were ‘anti-rot’ fungicides, which are often applied late in the growing season. At least some of these chemicals may pose health risks. In May 2012, the French government officially recognized a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease in agricultural workers.”

So, in addition to growing your own organic garden with CherryGal Heirloom Organic Seeds and Plants, after a day in the garden you can now sit back and relax with a glass of exquisite organic wine! No membership required. You can buy what you want, when you want. And they offer Gift Certificates. So visit The Organic Wine Company today to get started!

— Deborah Phillips / CherryGal.com