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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Garlic Chronicles - October is garlic planting time!

Fresh, organic garlic.

Pineywoods Herb Farm has been growing organic garlic for seven or eight years now, and each year the heads are bigger and better than the year before. Last summer we finally had enough large heads to sell... about 20 pounds... for our customers to eat and plant at the proper time.  

In mid-to-late October, once the daytime temperature stays below 80, it is time to plant garlic.  If you haven't already done so work some good compost or well-rotted and decomposed manure into your planting bed and make sure all weeds have been removed.  Garlic doesn't compete well with weeds so keeping the bed weed-free is a crucial step at planting time and throughout the growing season.  The soil should be loose and easily dug to a depth of at least 6 inches. Remove any stones, rocks, or large clumps of hard dirt.

A day or two prior to planting separate the garlic into individual cloves, leaving the skin on each clove intact.  You want to select the largest cloves for planting, as larger cloves will produce larger heads.  The garlic will be close to five months old at this point so some of the cloves may be a bit dry. This is normal and expected and shouldn't affect growth after planting.  Any cloves that are very dry and shriveled, or cloves with brown spots, are not good for planting and should be discarded.  

I like to soak the cloves in a weak solution of liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed organic fertilizers (see bottom of post for more info) for a couple of hours the day of planting.  The ratio is about 1 tablespoon liquid fish emulsion and 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed in 2 gallons of water.  Put all this in a bucket and stir well, then add the garlic cloves.   Let sit for about 2 hours out of direct sunlight.

Pour off the seaweed/fish emulsion water and let's get to planting!  (Note:  the seaweed/fish emulsion water is rich in nutrients so don't let it go to waste. Use it around some plants in the garden).

Space the garlic cloves about 5 inches apart and plant 2-3 inches deep.  Make sure the root end of the clove (flat end) is planted downward, with the pointed end up. Smooth out the planting area, water well, and that's it!   It takes 7-12 days on average for shoots to emerge from the soil.  That is always exciting for me!  A new crop of garlic is on it's way!

Once the tender shoots are 5-6 inches high and before the first real cold snap of the season I like to add a fairly thick (3-4 inches) layer of pine needles to the garlic beds, nestling up gently around the shoots.  This helps insulate the soil in case of very cold weather and keeps the soil from drying out during dry spells. Garlic doesn't require a large amount of water, and too much water (or soil that doesn't drain well) will rot the cloves.  However, head formation will suffer if the soil gets very dry. Know your soil and water only when soil begins to get moderately dry.

It is not necessary to cover the garlic shoots during cold spells.  If the cloves were planted deep enough and you have a covering of pine needles as insulation, there should be no problem even if temperatures dip into the teens.  

Other than keeping weeds out of the garlic bed and watering when dry there is nothing else to do until late spring.  

Note:  Liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed can be purchased at many garden centers, some feed stores that carry garden supplies, Lowes and Home Depot.  I very seldom use any type of fertilizer but when I do it is always liquid fish and liquid seaweed, approximately 1 tablespoon of each thoroughly mixed in about a gallon of water.  This can either be used as a soil drench or sprinkled from a watering can on the leaves of plants.  If sprinkled on the leaves don't do it on a hot, sunny day or it could burn the leaves.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Nut Grinder

My old, reliable, pretty, comforting nut grinder.  There are many adjectives I could use to describe my little nut grinder but these are the first that come to mind.  

My nut grinder is old.  The only thing in my life that has been with me longer is my 82-year-old father (of which I am grateful).  I remember using this nut grinder when I was a very young girl helping my mother cook.  I won't say how old I am, but I know my nut grinder is at least 55-years-old. 

My nut grinder is reliable.  The metal grinding mechanism has never faltered.  And how many thousands of times has that handle with the worn-smooth wooden knob at the end turned?  Ten-thousand turns?  Fifty-thousand turns?  I often wonder.  

My nut grinder is pretty!  Although it was probably a lot prettier thirty or forty years ago, the flower decal is still there, almost in its entirety.  I'm very picky about hand washing it and I make absolutely sure it is thoroughly dried as soon as I've rinsed it.  I don't want to take a chance on any rusting.  I know the red paint was much more vibrant years ago and some of it has worn off, but it is still a pretty little thing, don't you agree?  

My nut grinder is comforting.  Whenever I use my nut grinder (and I use it often) I am taken back to my youth, helping my mother cook something wonderful.  I'm sure she and I had some important conversations while I was turning that handle.  And in later years when I would visit I would still help her make something wonderful, and we would have some important conversations while turning that handle.  

What is the best thing I like about my nut grinder?  The way it grinds nuts. Perfect pieces that are not too small, not too large... just right.  Every time.  

Some time ago I thought I should upgrade my nut-grinding activity to something faster... like a food processor.  If you've ever tried to grind nuts in a food processor it is nearly impossible not to over-process (powdered nuts) or under-process (mostly large pieces, some small pieces, very inconsistent). Then several years ago a friend gave me a spring-loaded up-and-down thing with an x-shaped blade that bangs around on a plastic base.  The results were even worse than the food processor.  So I abandoned the "new and improved" gadgets and went back to my nut-grinding roots.

For those of you who have had the culinary pleasure of eating our almost-famous Lavender Pecan Cookies (and for those of you who will enjoy them in the future), every single Texas pecan is ground in my old, pretty, reliable, comforting nut grinder.  Yes, I grind all those toasted pecans by hand, sitting at my kitchen island thinking about my mother with every turn of that well-worn handle.  Even though Mom is gone, she still has a hand in helping me make Lavender Pecan Cookies.  Thanks Mom!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Cucumber Vine Supports

A number of you have been curious about the supporting structure of my cucumber vines shown in the last post.   This is an easy way to save valuable garden space when growing something like cucumbers that have many long vines that can quickly overtake a large area in the garden.  

The supporting structure is a 16-foot-long cattle panel.   My husband cut one section of horizontal wire off both short ends of the panel, which allows about a foot of wire to be pushed down into the edge of my raised bed and the other end pushed down at the base of our game fence.  The panel is carefully bent over... definitely a two-person job because it wants to spring back straight.  We have it wired to our game fence in several places to make sure it is securely attached.  

I have had this set-up for several years now and it works great. It allows me to plant the cucumbers at the very inside edge of my raised bed, saving most of the remaining bed space for other plants. The cucumber vines stay off the ground and there are no problems with stepping on the vines trying to get to all the cukes.    

Notice the cattle panel bent down on the right, next to the game fence.  The ends of the cattle panel are stuck down into the ground and the cattle panel is securely attached to the game fence by wires.

It is easy to pick cucumbers from underneath the structure. 

The vines grow up on the game fencing.  It is impossible to get anything to grow down... growing down is NOT the way things work in the plant world!

One of many nice, round, lemon cucumbers!

I will have an organic pest control and fertilization workshop this fall.  Come on out and we'll be happy to show you this set-up in person and answer any questions you may have.  Workshop dates should be posted on the "Classes and Events" page of our website late September or early October, and will also be posted in the September or October monthly email newsletter.    

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Power of Beneficial Insects

An organic and sustainable garden/landscape/farming operation can take care of itself. Mother Nature has crime fighters that are ready, willing, and very much able to take bad bugs down.    

It is extremely rare for me to have any type of pest or disease problem.  I've been gardening organically since the late 1980's, and here at the herb farm since 1996 when we bought the property.  The longer someone grows organically the less likely they are to have a problem, but last year my cucumber vines developed a big pest problem.  Within just a few days my cucumber vines went from lush and green to this:

Lots of dead and dying leaves... a very sad sight

I have so few problems with pests that I don't know a mite from an aphid, so I can't tell you what attacked my cucumber vines.  It was something almost microscopic because I couldn't really see any bad guys.  I couldn't see them but their damage was painfully evident.  

I don't use any sprays or pest deterrents at all, not even those labeled organic.  I let nature take its course and I'm prepared to lose a crop if that's the course nature wants to take. Even though the damage was severe I was fairly certain that justice would prevail and the many beneficial insects I have around here would come to my rescue.  To be totally honest I wasn't 100% certain in this case because of the severity of the problem, but I was probably about 90% certain.  So I kept my fingers crossed, my camera ready, and within a couple of days here come the troops:

Beneficial insects to the rescue!

Lady bugs (lady beetles, actually), dragonflies, green lacewings, flies, and more came in droves to take care of the ugly situation.  And take care of it they most certainly did.

It was a period of 18 days between the picture at the very top showing lots of damage to these two pictures directly above and below.  Lots of new leaves have filled in nicely where the damage was done.  

The beneficial insects moved in and completely took care of the problem.  I did absolutely nothing except document it in pictures.  

I have had people tell me they are organic unless they have a bug problem.   If you spray, dust, or apply pesticide in any way you are NOT organic!  Furthermore, not only are you killing the bad bugs but you are also killing the good bugs that kill the bad bugs!  

Organic growing is not an overnight solution.  It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes the knowledge that at some point (almost always within the first couple years of swearing off pesticides) you will lose a crop to bugs.  But don't give in.  Giving in will take you back to the beginning of your organic journey.  Be patient and be kind to the beneficial insects that will make the journey worthwhile.   Trust me.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Leeks - after the harvest. And a great recipe.

In the previous post I mentioned that leeks don't get the culinary respect they deserve, which is unfortunate because they are a great addition to many dishes.  Their subtle sweetness really shines when sauteed in butter or olive oil, without the bite or sharpness typically found in onions.

Leeks need to be thoroughly rinsed to eliminate all of the grit (dirt) that may hide out within the layers. This is easy to do with a couple of simple steps.

Cut off the root end and long tops, then peel away the outer layer.  Leeks will look clean but, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.

Root end and tops trimmed, outer layer removed

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise to expose the many "layers", which are actually leaf sheaths.

Carefully fan the layers apart while holding under gently-running water.  This will rinse out most traces of any dirt that could be hiding within the layers.  There may be a hard center stem which should be discarded.

Put long cut side of leek on cutting board and slice into thin slices.  

Put leek slices in large bowl and cover with plenty of cool water.  Gently swish leek slices in the water, then scoop out slices with large slotted spoon.  Any dirt remaining within the layers will be dislodged and will sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Put leek slices on clean dish towel or several layers of paper toweling to drain.

Roll dish towel or paper towel up loosely and let sit for a few minutes.  The towel will absorb excess moisture from the leeks.

Put leek slices on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and put in freezer for several hours or overnight, then quickly transfer frozen leeks (they will begin to thaw within a minute or two) to a zipper freezer bag and store in freezer.  You now have fresh frozen, cleaned leek slices available when needed!

Carrot & Leek Soup

  • 2 lbs. carrots
  • 3 large leeks (about 3 cups sliced leeks)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 Tb. butter
  • 1 Tb. fresh thyme leaves (1 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
  • 1 cup white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
  • Salt and Pepper


  1. Trim the carrots and chop them into rough 1/2 inch chunks. Trim the root-end off the leeks and cut the white section into quarters. Slice across into small 1/2 inch pieces. (Save the greens for homemade stock.) Place the chopped leeks in a colander and rinse thoroughly--they are often sandy.
  2. Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter, carrots, leeks and garlic and saute for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  3. Then add the thyme, lemon zest, stock, wine, 1 tsp. salt, and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir and cover again. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the carrots are soft.
  4. Ladle the soup into a high-powered blender. (You might have to do this in two batches.) Place the lid on the blender and open the top vent for steam. Lay a dish towel over the top of the blender and hold firmly as you turn the blender on. Pressure from blending hot liquids can blow the top off and burn you, so be careful--open vent, cover with towel, hold tight! Puree until smooth. Then add the sour cream to the blender and puree again.
  5. Pour both batches back into the sauce pot and stir to blend. Serve warm.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Allium Harvest

Alliums - Leeks and Onions  

The last post detailed our recent garlic harvest.  Today I harvested the first batch of leeks and purple onions. Still more in the garden that will be ready over the next couple of weeks.  

It doesn't seem like many people grow leeks.  Not as popular as garlic and onions, they are nonetheless an important part of my spring and fall garden.  I clean them well, slice thinly, freeze on rimmed cookie sheets and pack into zipper freezer bags to store in the freezer until needed.  Yes, a bit of work initially but well worth it.  Sauteed leeks are good in so many dishes.  And potato/leek soup... delicious!  

The next post will show how to thoroughly clean leeks.  It is easy, but there are a couple of key steps necessary to insure there is no dirt/grit remaining in the crevices.   

Leeks - just pulled from the garden

Like garlic, onions require a curing time prior to storage.  The fleshy leaves need to dry out so the neck doesn't grow mold during storage.  Nobody wants to cut into an onion that is moldy in the center.  If properly cured and stored onions will stay good for several months.  

First batch of purple onions... more to come!

The best onion storage facility is a cool basement.  But who is lucky enough to have a cool basement in Texas?   Not me, so I have to improvise as best as possible.  I have converted one of the bedrooms in our house into a large pantry/storage room.  The floor is ceramic tile so it stays (somewhat) cool.  I put large pieces of cardboard down and spread the onions out, spacing a bit so they are not crowded.  Even though we set our air conditioner to the mid-70's the onions stay good for several months.  The optimum temperature for storage is the 50 to 60-degree range, but of course that is not possible in Texas in the summer.  The mid 70's doesn't seem to cause much of a problem though.  

Organic, sustainable, natural.