Monday, 26 March 2012

Bedding Plant Top Picks, Pt. 2 - Bodacious Herbacious Herbs

By Michelle

Oh, hello again. Back with another episode of bedding plant top picks, this time with our friends, the HERBS. With a loudly pronounced "H", or, if you're the shy and subtle type, feel free to deem it 'invisible'. Anyways. Many people are afraid or intimidated by herbs, except for perhaps the classic oregano, basil, dill, etc. that make their way into a variety of dishes. After my experience working in the prominent herb haven/greenhouse called Sage Garden, I had a whole new appreciation for the wide array of edible, medicinal, aromatic, ornamental types of herbs. Then comes the hard part - how to actually USE them! I've made it a bit of a life-long quest to discover which herb combinations can spice up a meal and take it from 'blah' to 'TAH-DAH' in a flick of the wrist. Really, it's magic. The number of times I've felt a million times better after a cup of tea made from dried herbs, or witnessed the effects of a tincture on my health, or simply just how the aroma of a lavender, oregano or basil plant can pick up my mood...are many. Basically, what I'm trying to say is, herbs are underrated - and they're just existing waiting for us to find their unobvious talent.

Moving on...I find it really hard to just choose 3 herbs to feature - but, if I must - I will.

1. Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis) - It really is as good as its name sounds (well, the regular one, maybe not the Latin one). This bushy-type herb flowers in the late summer, and until then, you can harvest its tasty foliage for a variety of dishes. It's most commonly used for flavouring green beans, other vegetables, poultry, or infused in vinegar (to make a really great ready-to-use salad dressing). It makes a mean meat pie, and is also popular used as a seasoning for grilled meats and barbecues, as well as in stews and sauces. It has a sweeter, more delicate aroma than its cousin, Winter Savory. And really, who wants to think about winter when we can revel in the short time summer gifts us with heat and sunshine...Unfortunately, summer savory is an annual, not able to last our harsh winters in the ground. However, in the season you do plant it, you'll watch its fast growth  in awe like a proud parent: "Oh, honey, look at the Savory...they grow up so fast, these days. Seems just yesterday I was transplanting its little roots in the ground". Anyways. It might be like that.

2. Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) - It's a member of the mint family, but its leaves have a sweet, citrusy flavour that make a refreshing tea. The leaves are awesome in fruit drinks, and the purplish flowers make a colourful addition to a salad. And did I mention it's medicinal? Aboriginal peoples traditionally made a bergamot tea to relieve symptoms of colds and chest or throat complaints, and for mild digestive problems. In aromatherapy and essential oil form, bergamot can combat anxiety and nervous tension, and also helps the urinary tract and respiratory system. Used topically, it benefits problem skin, especially when it's linked to stress, particularly eczema, psoriasis, and acne. It's not just us humans that like bergamot, however - bees, butterflies and hummingbirds use the plant for nectar - hence it's other common name, "Bee Balm". It's known for its sort of 'bad hair-do', which I can sympathize with, but who can blame it, when it does all these cool things?
Varieties we offer: The native 'Wild Bergamot', which is a perennial, and regular, pink/red-flowered 'Bergamot', which is a tender perennial/annual. 

3. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) - Okay, so I know you're saying: "That's super boring Michelle - couldn't you come up with something more interesting than basil"? The reply to this is a polite "NO WAY, JOSE" - basil has become one of my favourite herbs. It just makes me all-round happy. So I'm including it. Also a member of the mint family, coincidentally. Last year, we grew the classic Italian 'Genovese' variety of sweet basil in our greenhouse, amongst the tomato plants. Upon entering the building, you immediately would get a salivating waft of its strong scent, and we found that the tomatoes really love these 'friends', which helped their growth and production, while also keeping pests away with the aforementioned strong aroma. Basil can be used fresh or dried as flavourings or spices in stews, sauces, salad dressings, vegetables, poultry, vinegar, confectionery products, and the liqueur chartreuse. So basically, EVERYTHING. Some of my favourite culinary uses of fresh basil leaves are in pesto ('Genovese' is the preferred variety for this amazing Italian sauce'), and layered into a classic grilled cheese & fresh tomato sandwich...just makes me drool thinking about it. Takes grilled cheese up a notch, never the same. Oh, and would you like to know its medicinal superpowers? Alright: It's an antioxidant, often used for its digestive and anti-gas properties. Herbalists also recommend it for stomach cramps, vomiting, constipation, headaches and anxiety. So basically, EVERYTHING. Try steeping some basil tea after dinner for a calming, slightly sedating, digestive aid - I dare you. Now I would like to briefly mention the other great thing about basil - it LOVES to be harvested! (This means you can eat it constantly throughout the season.) The trick is to prune it (once it becomes a substantial size) just above a set of opposite leaves on a branching stem. This will encourage it to grow more voluptuous and bushy, and generate exponentially more awesome basil leaves for you to eat. It also keeps it from flowering, which will eventually stop its growth (though the purple mint-like flowers are so very pretty). For those of you with limited garden space, basil makes a great container herb, just give it some full sun love. The other variety we grow is 'Thai' basil - quite a different taste with its anise-like flavour, a staple in much of the South Asian cuisine. (And also good for container gardening.) It is distinct with its purplish-coloured stems, smaller, narrower leaves and mauve flowers.
Have I made my case? Not just the boring old 'basil' you thought it was, huh? Now: let's address the pronunciation. Is it "baah-sil' or 'bay-sil'? My preference is the latter, as I think it sounds highly distinguished, though many will choose to disagree within their right. Plus, 'baah-sil' is that guy who played Sherlock Holmes. So...I don't know what my point is there, but you know where I stand.

Well folks, there you have it. Three fantastical (and also bodacious, whatever that means) herbs, and there's so many more out there. Mostly in there, 'there' being our greenhouse, currently. Just waiting to show you their 'hidden' potential. Won't you let them?

Stay tuned for our full list of bedding plants, including flowers, herbs, and even some veggie seedlings! We hope to market to our surrounding area here at Cartwright, as well as into Winnipeg somewhat, perhaps through the HMLFI buying clubs. We hope that you will find something you like to plant for your very own! In the meantime, we'd love to hear what some of your favourite herbs are and how you use them...feel free to comment below.

On a side note...our very first mass mail-out went out today, promoting our CSA veggie delivery program! If you are in or near the communities of Cartwright, Mather, Clearwater, Crystal City or Pilot Mound, we would love for you to get on board and receive these weekly packages of delicious, in-season produce. Special discounts for bedding plants will apply for customers. For more info, click here.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Bedding Plant Top Picks: Pt 1 - The Powers of Flowers

By Michelle

To be honest, I was never really that into flowers. I grew up surrounded by beautiful flower gardens that my Grandmother, Aunt and Mom relished in designing, planting, maintaining and admiring every year, but I never really got what the big deal was. I mean, you can’t eat them…so what? And herbs – any discussion about these mysterious array of flora pretty much ended with the confusion of, “Is the ‘h’ silent, or not?”. However, I’m thankful that this indifference and perplexity ended a few years ago when I spent one Spring working at Sage Garden, a family-owned, organic greenhouse business on the outskirts of Winnipeg. Dave Hanson and Evelyn Yauk’s passion for bedding plants made me excited about the scent of a basil plant, the vivid red tubular Salvia flowers that guaranteed hummingbird visits, the variegation of a Coleus leaf, and the magic of a Sensitive plant (whose tiny leaves detract themselves by the touch of a finger), among other things. Having the knowledge learned during that short Spring, and engraining a good portion of it in my brain by teaching customers, inspired my newfound love of vegetables, herbs and flowers – and I’m thrilled to say that Fresh Roots Farm is going to be selling bedding plants this year! Of course, our selection is not that of your average high-production greenhouse, but we’re excited about some of the plants that you could take home this spring.

So, whether you’re a flower or herb enthusiast, or not, bear with me. I’d like to share with you some of my favourite bedding plants that we’ll have for sale this May. I’ll do this in a few different parts – why not start with flowers, lah-de-dah.

We all know about geraniums, impatiens, petunias, blah blah blah. We’re going to focus on a few more perennial flowers (this means they’ll come back year after year) that will hopefully provide folks with a hardy, low-maintenance, beautiful, diverse garden. Still, there’s some annuals you just can’t deny. Here’s just 3 selections of what we’ll be growing (and selling) this year, some of my personal Top Picks:

1.     Hollyhocks: Okay, we’ve all seen these massive beauties towering beside an old barn somewhere in the country, fulfilling our romanticized rural visions. They are a biennial (which means they bloom every second year, making it all the more special) and generally drought-resistant, which may make it a good choice for a dry year like it looks like this one will be. Hollyhocks are apparently also handy for maintaining a lady’s modesty. They were planted next to outhouses long ago, so that a visiting lady may subtilely ask where the ‘hollyhocks’ were, in order to be pointed to the direction of the potty. I think that it would be funny, when someone asks where our hollyhocks are, to point to the direction of the toilet. But that would just be bad for business, and just rude. So maybe not.
Varieties we’re offering:  “Ukranian”, “Old Fashioned”, and a black variety from a generous friend’s seed collection.

2.     Painted Daisies: Daisies have always been a favourite of mine – their simplicity and delicate (yet strong) composure remind us that something doesn’t have to be extravagant to be beautiful. These are also perennials that are be one of the first things to bloom in early summer. They also make a great border plant. These long-stemmed, sun-loving flowers come with a bonus surprise – they contain a natural pest repellant called ‘pyrethrum’ that works directly on the nervous systems of aphids, mites, leafhoppers (and, wait for it – mosquitoes!), without harming other animals or plants. Learn how to make it yourself with the flowers here.
Varieties we’re offering: Try the classic “Painted Daisy” in shades of pink, or the white “Pyrethrum, high potency”, specially bred for its organic insecticidal properties.

3. Nasturtiums: I can’t say enough about this rad plant, that probably falls somewhere between ‘flower’ and ‘herb’ – ‘cause it’s so good lookin’, useful, and you can eat it, too! Its Latin name, Tropaeolum, comes from the word “shield”, which well describes its unique large, round-shaped leaves. It’s pretty versatile and can tolerate part shade, or sunny locations. They like well-drained soil, and the poorer the soil, the more abundant their flowers, actually. Its only downfall is that it doesn’t generally survive our Zone 3 winters, so is an easy annual to replant every year. I would suggest planting it in a vegetable garden as a companion plant to many vegetables, such as cucumbers (improves growth and flavour), melons (deters bugs and beetles), and is a great ‘trap crop’ for aphids, especially the yellow-flowering varieties (did I hear some 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from you tomato gardeners?) And did I mention you can eat it?! Seriously, the leaves have a peppery, watercress-like taste that spices up a salad or an alternate for basil in a pesto recipe! The flowers are also edible, and have medicinal qualities (oh, just disinfectant, antibiotic, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial – no big deal). Steeping them in white vinegar for a few weeks can help you take advantage of these health benefits.
Or just throw ‘em in a meal as a garnish. Oh, nasturtium – my love for you grows just thinking about you.
Varieties we’re offering: The multicoloured “Jewel Mix” (as pictured), and the elegant-looking “Black Velvet”, which conjures up a vision of Alannah Myles singing into a mahogany-coloured flower petal. For me, anyways.

So – it’s okay – admit that you got a little excited there. I mean, flowers, right – who knew? Go ahead and get so excited that you wet the bed (of soil, silly) and dig right in. Stay tuned for Part 2: Bodacious Herbaceous Herbs. (And for the record, I pronouce the ‘H’, loud and proud. No shame.)    

What are some of your favourite flowers to grow (or just admire)? We'd love to hear suggestions about what to try growing for next year...comment below.