Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Oreganos To Know, Grow and Love.

Dear Folks,

I grow 3 types of Oregano and thoroughly enjoy them all.

Actually I grow a fourth Oregano for its beautiful flowers but not its flavor. Hopley's Purple Oregano   I don't have a picture right now - the ground around and under the plant is a purple confetti vision in the late spring.

The Origanum Family includes two of the three and also includes Marjoram (Origanum marjorana) which has a very different flavor from the Oreganos discussed today.

First up is Greek Oregano Origanum vulgaris hirtum.  The herb most associated with Italian and Greek cooking.  There is an Oregano called Italian Oregano but it is not THE herb most people think of.  Greek Oregano has a peppery bite strong enough to bite back a bit if you bite into the fresh leaf.

So associated with Italian foods like pizza and sauces to substitute a very, very mild tasting Oregano would simply not work flavor wise.

Most chefs call for using Greek Oregano dried, but it is a choice.  In the picture this patch of Greek Oregano also contains some of my Jerusalem Artichoke plants and some Nasturtium flowers.

Next is Syrian Oregano Origanum Maru.  Syrian Oregano is the Hyssop of the Bible and is also called Za'atar in the Middle East where it is the anchor herb for the spice mix by the same name.  When Syrian Oregano is not available English Thyme is often substituted, which is acceptable, but does not have nearly the complexity of the savory and almost sweet tasting herb.  One could call Za'atar the salt and pepper of the region.  It is used in many, many dishes.

The spice is a mixture of Syrian Oregano, Sumac Berries (lemony taste) and sesame seed.  It is a lovely spice mix.

Syrian Oregano has a slight gray coloring to the leaves.  In my bee post yesterday, I showed a bee on Syrian Oregano flowers.

The final Oregano is Mexican Oregano Lippia graveolens, a relative of Lemon Verbena.

This oregano has a wonderful flavor and fragrance.  I like to use this in vinaigrette dressings.

While each of the Oreganos has its own flavor and goes well with certain foods, I would encourage you to experiment with each of them.

Think of them as you would wine or beer varieties, experimenting with them singly and as a part of your own blend of go-to-mixes for what you love to make most.

For any herb place a pinch in your hand, rub it and smell.  If you are looking to try making a blend, add another herb, rub, smell, repeat.  Your nose - knows as your taste buds are unique to your sense of smell.

For an idea of making your own blends, how about making your own bouillon.  I knew I would get a good flavor and scent when I went about drying my own bouillon mix, but I was blow-away by just how wonderful it turned out.  Check out my post on sun drying your own mix of what grows in your garden.


Growing Oreganos

All three of these wonderful herbs grow very well here in the valley.  They like full sun but can tolerate some shade.

They are all hardy perennials, however in sustained killing frosts the Mexican Oregano can suffer damage.  In a super hard freeze about 8 years ago my 7 foot Mexican Oregano (with a trunk diameter of about 7 inches) died back, struggled to come back and finally did not make it.

Greek Oregano is a trailing ground cover with upright new growth.

Syrian Oregano is a low mounding bushy type of growth.

Mexican Oregano is a shrub.  My current plant is about 4+ feet tall depending on where you measure it.  It is kind of the "wild hair" variety of growth and takes pruning well.

All flower in the spring. All dry very well for storage.

The Greek and Syrian Oregano can be grown from seed (I got my Syrian seed from Bake Creek).  If you do want to transplant now or going into the heat, harden off the plants first by introducing them into the sun over the course of several days (1 hour first day, 2 hours second day, repeat until 4 hours in sun), then transplant, water in well and water every 2 days then back off watering to every 3 to help the roots grow down.  Gradually increase the amount of water with less frequency.  My established gardens are watered every 5 days this time of year and will go down to every 4 days as the heat goes higher.

I hope you decide to add one or more of these great herbs to your garden.  For best success, plant in the fall.  

. . .
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Have a great time in your garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Bee Hive/Swarm On Your Property - Can it Be Saved or Rescued?

Bee On My Flowering Syrian Oregano
Dear Folks,

This is a follow up to my post the other day on May Gardening Tips and my comments about Bee-Aware and calling the Fire Department who will destroy the hive.

I received a note from a reader who asked why I did not list some beekeeper / rescue organizations who can recover the hive and keep the hive/swarm alive.

It is a good question and the reason I did not address it is most people who encounter a hive / swarm on their property are too concerned about the safety of their family and pets to do more than call for First Responders.  I wanted folks to know the Firefighters do not have a choice in destroying the hive because of the Africanized Bee problem.

Sooooo, let me give you 3 stories and several resources for beekeepers who MAY be able to rescue / recovery the hive.  I say MAY because of two of the stories which are very typical.  Bee recovery folks are brave and knowledgeable individuals who capture the hive, kill the queen and replace her with a gentle bee variety who in short order morphs the hive into a non-africanized colony by immediately laying eggs with her gentle disposition.

Story 1
My Deane is a retired Fireman/EMT and was a beekeeper and loved his bees like pets.  He cared for them in the best ways possible.  I learned much of what I know about bees from him.

While still active, one of the many bee calls came to his station.  Remember he knows bees.  A swarm had invaded the side of a shed and a beekeeper had been called out.  As soon as the beekeeper, who was dressed appropriately started to work the swarm broke over him and was in full rage mode.  When Deane and his crewmates arrived the huge swarm (probably 50,000-75,000+ strong attached the crew.  Those who were in full protective gear needed to get the beekeeper away and pull the foam hose to start spraying the bees and shed.  After everything was settled down, the bees dead and the beekeeper safe, Deane looked at his glove.  He counted 11 stingers per inch on his glove.

A fully enraged hive/swarm is unrecoverable.

Story 2
My cousin and I, along with Deane, feel very strongly about trying to save the swarm rather than kill it.  She noticed activity outside the front of her house near the lower windowsill.   She called me and I gave her the name of a beekeeper who rescues hives and uses them for pollinating orchards and such.

He arrived and determined the swarm had invaded the interior of the walls and there was no way to recover the hive (because there was no way to get to the queen - if you capture the queen the hive will follow into the box or container) without pulling out the front of the house.

She had to call an exterminator who said it was one of the worse jobs he had to do because of how far into the wall the swarm had gotten.

If the swarm gets into the walls or attic of buildings it is impossible to rescue / recover them without destroying property.

Story 3
One of the many aspects of dealing with bees is to 1) not do anything stupid, and 2) understand their typical behavior.

We are careful to move slowly among flowering plants because the girls are doing their job pollinating and because we ALWAYS have things blooming in the garden to encourage them to visit, often.

I wear light clothing colors.  There is a good theory that dark colored clothing is so similar to the bees enemy the bear that the dark colors can irritate them.

If they are near you, DO NOT OPEN your mouth.  They do not like human breath.  Don't swat at them.

So, one morning some years ago I was working in the front of my old home under / near a tangerine tree in the spring.  I am so used to the hum of bees working the flowers near me I never give it any thought.

I was bending over under the tree, stood up and found myself INSIDE a swarm.  They moved that fast into and around the tree.

I immediately stood very still, took stock of where I was, whether the queen had landed on me (that would have made it more difficult but not impossible to be safe), kept my mouth shut and tried to ease my breathing and relax.  It was an equal distance to my front door or my car, so I decided to ease myself towards my car because I had elderly neighbors who I was concerned that they may be outside.

As I slowly back away from the tree the swarm started to "flow" with me like water, but the further I got away from the tree the flow of bees started to eddy back toward the tree where the queen was.  I got to the car with nary a bee near me, got in and made sure the windows were up.

I determined the neighbors were not out, got out of the car and made my way safely to the house and called everyone and told them not go outside until they heard from me.

I Was Not Stung!!

Swarming bees are filled with honey for the trip.  They do not want to get into a fight, they want to find a home and are following their queen.  I did not do anything to annoy them or endanger their queen.  In a while they determined the tangerine tree was not suitable for them and the swarm took off.

Swarming Is A Natural Process of splitting hives and most swarms never present a problem.  If you tree bees, hives and swarms with respect you will not be in danger.

The bottom line is - yes swarms/hives can sometimes be recovered or rescued, but only by professionals.  And sometimes the hives have to be destroyed to protect people and animals, even foolish people who do stupid things to bees.

Beekeepers or Services who can SOMETIMES rescue hives:

Bee Rescue and Removal Service and Local Organic Raw Honey

Dan Punch

Dan also foster's bee hives on people's property.

Dave Petersen
Gilbert, AZ

Phone: 480-221-6875

AZ POLLINATORS  - have beekeepers in Tucson and Phoenix area
David Bies! THANK YOU!


I hope this helps you understand bees more and what options you have if you encounter a swarm / hive on your property.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady If you enjoyed this post, subscribe in the upper side bar link, to get all my posts! Disclaimer: Clicking on links on this blog may earn me a small commission if you purchase something. Your price does not change.

Monday, April 18, 2016

May Planting - Plant, Sow, Harvest Seeds, And Tips!

Dear Folks,
My Ripe Alpine Strawberries - Yesterday!!

If you are new to gardening in the desert, it is all about planting at the right (optimal) time for best success.

May is one of those months when desert gardeners get either excited (more flowers and fruit ripening) or apprehensive about the impending hot weather.

Timing is everything in our gardens, so sip a cup of iced sun tea and read on.

If you have children or grandchildren read my post on making Sunflower Houses or Teepees.

Artichoke, Jerusalem
Beans, Soy
Fig Trees
Fruit Trees (With Care)
Melons, Musk
Peppers, Sweet
Peppers, Chilies
Potato, Sweet
Squash, Summer
Squash, Winter
SEED IN:  Basil, Chive (Garlic or Onion), Epazote, Perilla, or Catnip-- making use of the canopy of flowering or vegetable plants.


Impatients Wallarana
Marigolds, including Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii)
Roselle (sow)
Scented Geraniums

    By the end of the month harvest the rest of your potatoes, keeping the smallest ones as “seed” potatoes for next January — store in cardboard egg cartons in your crisper -- don't store near other vegetables or fruits.

    As more and more flowers open and fill the air with their perfume, all the pollinators enjoy the garden as much as you, including bees.
    Swarming is where a new queen goes looking for new digs, taking with her some of the workers (as many as 50,000).  Swarming bees are a challenge to deal with because of the Africanization of the honey bee population.
    But intelligent handling of any contact will not result in a problem for you. First, the bees are not interested in you.  They are usually filled with honey for the new trip and interested in finding a new house before the supply runs out.
    Wear white or light colored clothing while gardening.
    Do not do stupid things to bees!  That should be self-evident, but some of the reports of bee encounters makes me wonder how we have survived as a species.
    If you are near a swarm or they get near you:
    a.  Move slowly and do not make aggressive moves.
    b.  Walk slowly to a house or car and get inside until the swarm moves off.  Keep all pets, children and other people from the area.
    c.  Do not go into the pool!  If the bees have been aggravated, they--will--wait--for--you!
    d. Usually the swarm will move off within a short time.
    e.  If they do not move off, then you have to call a professional service or the fire department.  They will kill the bees.  They do not have a choice because of the danger — and you do not have a choice as a homeowner — they either have to kill the swarm or you have a hive full of dangerous 'neighbors.'

Transplanting and Sowing

This time of year we are in one of those transition times, where going from mild to hot can occur in one felled swoop of heat.

Transplanting vs sowing can be a challenge as transplanting can stress the plants.

1) Harden the plants off by placing in the sun 1 hour then moving to shade, next day in sun 2 hours, move to shade - repeat until the plants have been in the sun for 4 hours and you can transplant then with a whole less stress and shock to the plant.  If the temps are already in the 90+ range double the days for each hardening, e.g., 2 days for 1 hour, then shade, 2 days for 2 hours then shade.  Your plants will thank you by being less likely to die as soon as they are put in the gorund!

2)  Use my "flower mulching" technique for transplant in warm/hot weather.  Get a six pack of flowers at the nursery and either plant your target plant (basil for example) and surround the basil with the flowers (about 5 inches apart), OR plant all at the same time -- imagine a 12 inch circle and plant the basil in the center and 4-6 flower plants around.  Flower mulching canopies the soil and shades the sides of the basil, while allowing the basil to get all the sun it needs.

Use edible flower plants like impatiens wallerana and portulaca to provide 'mulch' around the new transplants.  You can also use Sweet Allysum another edible flower but it can be a bully if it is really happy.  The portulaca does the gardener the supreme favor of dying off completely when the cool weather comes in the fall, although it may reseed next late spring.

3) Sow seeds under existing plants, just under the edge of the plant/flower canopy.

Both the "flower mulching" and the "edge sowing" are variations of the "nurse plant" concept seen in the desert where the cactus seed settles at the base of a Mesquite tree.  Shielded from birds and other critters, the seed, is held in place, watered with the rain and grows up with the mesquite protecting it.

Consider SWEET POTATOES to be planted in late May through early July.  They need 90-120 days of warm weather to grow properly.  I've planted in huge containers and in-ground using leaf cover as I do with the Irish potatoes.  In fact I sometimes use the same bed, planting the sweets after I harvest the Irish.

In case you don't know sweet potatoes, unrelated to the Irish (Solano) family, are completely edible, tuber, leaf and vine.

The sweets can produce an amazing amount of leaf and vine cover so be prepared.  Some varieties are more bushy than others.

Seed Saving

Catching the seed from winter crops like sugar peas, lettuces, celery, parsley, radishes etc. is a way to save money AND get stronger plants the next year.  “Regional adaptation” grows plants more and more suited to your backyard and the area you live.  Remember to perfectly dry them.  I store in paper envelopes labeled with harvest date, in a cool, dry, dark place until next planting time.

Looking at head to June and July, there is little suggested planting options for June, but by mid-July be ready to start seeding (not transplanting) for the fall garden.

If that sounds counter-intuitive, think about wanting pumpkins for Halloween or Thanksgiving and count backwards 90 - 120 days.

Mid-July you can under-seed tomatoes (choose short-maturity varieties) and basil for a fall crop, if you do not have tomatoes or want more.  Tomatoes give us two crops a year (spring and fall) if planted in February.  They stop setting flowers in the middle of the summer because the nights (not the days) are too hot for the pollen to activate.

Save Wood Herb Stems

Harvesting or pruning herbs?  Save woody parts to throw on the grill coals the last 15 minutes to add herb smoke flavor to the food - or better yet do it from the inside out, use woody, soaked branches of herbs to make kabob skewers.

. . .

My Month by Month planting Wall Calendar gives you my monthly tips at your "finger-tips".


My Publisher's Site

My Beginners Guide to Edible Landscaping in the Desert is popular with those who want a quick reference guide.  "Edible Landscaping in The Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate"


My Publisher's Site

Have a wonderful Month in Your Garden and Kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady
If you enjoyed this post, subscribe in the upper side bar link, to get all my posts!
Disclaimer: Clicking on links on this blog may earn me a small commission if you purchase something. Your price does not change.