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!

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

An Urgent Plea — Organic Gardening is NOT hard or expensive but it is dying!

I got into organics because I am basically a lazy gardener and known to be penny pinching. What I do have is time, and it is true that organics take a little bit more time and attention than buying a few seedlings at your local hardware store and some Miracle Grow. But it is SOOOOOOOOOO worth it.

Now, not to ring the guilt bell or anything, but I know so-called “environmentalists” who garden in precisely that fashion. They do not understand (or choose to ignore) the connection between chemical fertilizers and ground water contamination; or pesticides and bee/bird population declines. They figure their little garden couldn’t possibly make a difference.

Well, I believe every garden and every gardener is a link in a chain that needs to grow strong enough to break the bondage of the Monsantos and Bayers and Syngentas of the world. The mega-global seed/supply companies that are choking out small organic seed suppliers and changing the future of our food supply and our world — and not for the better!

Just this year I have seen a drastic reduction in organic varieties offered by some of my favorite companies who have succumbed to financing from Big Ag. Such companies are buying up small organic companies at a record clip, which means they can control the dna of our favorite heirlooms, inserting their vile Roundup chemistry into them. Soon, I fear, heirlooms will be corrupted with such genetic modifications (GMO) and the range of truly organic varieties so limited as to be non-existent. Think I am being alarmist?

Just check out this chart on seed company ownership. It should send a chill up your spine.And it only tracks until 2013. Since then, the acquisitions or closings of some of your favorite small organic seed companies have only increased and at an alarming rate.

What can you do? Please, support small organic seed companies such as CherryGal.com, before I too succumb to economic realities. I will never sell out, but  could close because with the combined pressures of mega-agriculture, Google (which makes gaining visibility harder by the day) and difficulty obtaining truly organic stock, it may just be necessary.

I hope not, but I need your help to stay alive. Please visit CherryGal.com today. Use the code SeedStart2018 to get 20% off any order of $50 or more in the Garden section, and know that you are helping keep a small organic seed company alive for one more season.

 

Decorate Your Garden

Goddess Head Planter

As the snows swirl and you turn up the electric blanket, do you plan your garden? I do. It is one of my favorite winter pastimes. Not only do I spend hours poring over the dozens of catalogs that arrive daily selecting vegetables, herbs and flowers for my own garden and those of my customers, I think about decorating areas of my garden that might not offer the sunshine or soil needed for growing plants. So I create a different kind of “planting.”

An old cherry tree that long ago succumbed and was cut down, provided a perfect “stand” for a large pot and a beautiful Goddess Head Planter. I will soon be receiving my 2018 supply of these weatherproof concrete beauties in two sizes: Large 10″ and Small 8.5″ . Both make wonderful additions to your garden or gifts.

But don’t stop there. I have an old pole (not sure what it was for originally but it looks like it might have been a utility pole) in my garden in a dark spot where poison ivy and wisteria compete. So I decided to turn it into a Totem Pole, collecting various ceramic face masks that appealed to me.

My Garden Totem Pole

One of my favorite garden decoratives is my Garden Fairy statue. I have fun with her … putting a scarf around her when its cold, for example.

I have chickens. I love my chickens. And they boss me around. So this wonderful small plaque from Carruth Studio seems to capture our relationship perfectly. I placed it on the arbor that borders my girls’ compound.

Chick Chat Plaque

I have other decorative pieces placed throughout my garden. My chicken compound and arbor offer some structure to what can sometimes become an unruly wild mixture of flowers, herbs and vegetables. A memorial plaque for my dear departed yellow fellow Rusty, a mailbox that holds my hand tools, a bird bath. The trick is not to “junk up” your garden with such things, but also to have fun with them.

My garden Mailbox for hand tools

Let me know how YOU decorate your garden!

 

Oswego Tea … Beautiful Native, Historical Herb, Useful Medicinal

Oswego Tea

I wait with anticipation for the appearance in Spring of my beautiful bed of Monarda Didyma, or Oswego Tea. Before the blooms, I can enjoy the fragrant and delicious foliage.

Also known as Scarlet Bee Balm, it is an ancient American native plant. The genus is named after Nicholas Monardes, a Spanish physician who wrote in the 16th Century about New World medicinal plants. The common name was bestowed by John Bartram (1699-1777), a Quaker farmer known as the “Father of American Botany”, who observed Oswego Indians using it for tea. It was used as a substitute for black tea during the American Revolution.

Monarda Didyma is less medicinal in taste that its cousin Monarda Citriodora (Lemon Mint). Like all members of the mint family it has a square-shaped stem. The large shaggy brilliant red flowers grow 30-36″ high and are aromatic and edible. Unlike other Bee Balms, it does not invite mildew — that unattractive “frosting” on the foliage so common on Purple Bee Balm in particular — in the garden. It is delightful and impressive to scatter the red petals over any entree or salad. An important bee forage plant it is also very attractive to hummingbirds. Here in North Carolina it fills out beautifully from early Spring and then blooms for weeks May-June and, if you deadhead the blooms, you will enjoy another burst of color again in August. Also a nice cut flower, wonderful tea and potpourri when dried.

Native Americans used this plant to cure flatulence and insomnia. The Blackfeet used poultices of this plant for skin infections and minor wounds. It is also used for mouth and throat infections since it is a natural source of the antiseptic Thymol, used in modern mouthwashes.

The seeds are somewhat difficult to harvest as they appeal to many birds. You can either bend the stem over a bowl gently, so you do not snap it and tap the base of the flower. If the light brown seeds fall out you are in luck! If you miss them, there’s always next year, as this wonderful flower WILL be back! An alternate method, and one which may yield a second bloom, is to cut the spent flower heads back to a leaf union and carefully place the head on paper for drying. If you do this properly, your plants will sprout new stems with flowers at the union, and once your harvested flower heads are dried, you can gently crush and shake them over a white paper plate until the seeds are ejected. Now — this is important — you will see many many more little black square irregular grains that look a bit like pepper. These are NOT seeds. But there are lots of them and you need to carefully search for the few seeds which are roundish, smooth and light brown.

Finally, a note about harvesting for tea or medicinal use. When gathering herbs for fresh use, pick early in the morning, when still kissed by dew. But when gathering herbs for drying, wait until the sun has dried the dew, to prevent mildew. Gather small bunches of the healthiest plants and tie at the ends with string with a tail. Then hang in a protected environment. For me, it is from the shutters of my interior kitchen window over my sink. No sunlight at this window but plenty of fresh air as an overhead fan circulates during warmer months. This is ideal. Otherwise, special drying racks work well. The idea is to dry quickly, without sunlight, but plenty of air circulation to keep mildew from forming. Turn if necessary to make sure the bunch dries completely. Once dry, crumple the leaves from the stems and store in airtight canisters.

CherryGal.com is offering this wonderful and special herb in two organically-grown forms, both in LIMITED SUPPLY — as Seed and as lifted Seedlings in Spring. Don’t wait until they are all gone! Get your seeds now, or reserve your seedlings for shipment at the appropriate time for your growing zone.

My established bed of Monarda Didyma

 

Historic Garden Lima Bean … Sieva Carolina Baby Limas

This wonderful and hard to find bean was grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. According to their website, “Lima beans were a hot-weather favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who sowed them yearly from 1809-1824. Monticello’s gardener, Robert Bailey, saved seed of White Carolina beans in 1794. Also known as Sieva, this variety is small and delicately-flavored. Originally from South America and grown by Virginia native tribes, lima beans were also called “bushel,” “sugar,” or “butter” beans in the 1700s.”

Very happy to be able to offer this year at CherryGal.com. Its been several years since it has been available in organic form. SIEVA CAROLINA LIMA BEAN, also known as Carolina Butter Bean, is a Southern heirloom with excellent flavor and dark green 9′-10′ vines. Sieva Carolina bears even during extreme heat, which is why it is a native in this Southern region. Pole habit. 60-75 days.

Limited Supply so don’t wait!