Gardens

EVEN ALICE LIKED THE TEA
A Primer on How to Dry Herbs and Make Homemade Tea Blends

Essay and photos by Elizabeth Fiend

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Recently BiG TeA PaRtY threw a Sustainable Living “Tea Party” at Playa Del Fuego (an East Coast Burning Man) – hundreds of people stopped by to read our posters and share their own ideas on sustainability. Our homegrown and home-blended wormwood iced tea was a hit. Many asked for the recipe and how-to for homemade herbal iced teas. Here’s the low down:

I grow my own herbs, if you have some earth I recommend this sustainable pastime. Gardening and growing some of your own food (and beverages!) is a rewarding endeavor. Otherwise, dried herbs are available for sale on the internet.

GROWING HERBS:

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•    Herbs are easy to grow. Know your climate and soil — choose plants accordingly. Herbs will be perennial (long lasting), annual (just one season) and sometimes in-between like biannual and short lived perennials.

•    Make sure you really know what you’re growing because you’ll be ingesting these plants. Purchase plants and seeds from reliable dealers. Often, plants will be mislabeled at lesser garden centers.
•    In my experience it’s best to purchase perennials as plants; annuals are usually cheaper to grow from seed.

HARVESTING AND DRYING HERBS:
•    When possible, harvest herbs on a dry day in the morning to get the most impact from the plants natural flavoring – their oils.
•    Always leave at least one third of the plant intact when harvesting (except annuals, eat it all as frost approaches as it’s going to die soon anyway).
•    Since my herbs are home grown and I don’t use any chemicals in my yard, I don’t wash my herbs (as drying them is the goal) instead I dust off any dirt with my fingers and inspect for dead bugs, feathers etc. which I remove.
•    Tie the herbs in small bundles and hang them upside down in a dry and aerated location away from direct light until they’re dry.

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3 GREAT HERBS 4 u 2 GRoW

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Article and Photo BY ELIZABETH FIEND

SALAD BURNET makes an awesome home-grown herb because it’s practically evergreen. Do you realize the implications of this? Well, the pilgrims did when they brought it to America from its native Europe. It means you can grow something GREEN to eat practically year round, even in cold climates. It tastes yummy, like chicken. Oh, no that’s rattlesnake. Salad burnet is tangy with a hint of cucumber. It makes an attractive edging plant and is easy to grow.

PERENNIAL CHIVES is a must have herb not only for cooking but also for the garden as it’s a great companion plant which repels problem insects. In the Middle Ages chives were used to ward off evil spirits. Today we appreciate their high content of vitamins A, B and C plus the minerals iron, potassium and calcium. Like all alliums, chives reduce blood pressure. The purple flowers are edible and very good tasting. Sprinkle some snipped chive stalks and a crumbled chive flower over rice, or other food, and you’ll have a strikingly beautiful presentation of green and purple confetti.

FLAT-LEAF PARSLEY is a biennial herb that’s easy to start from seed. Parsley contains more vitamin C than an orange! Because if its high chlorophyll content, parsley gently clears toxins from the body thus combating inflammation and high blood pressure. The ancient Romans gave parsley to gladiators to promote their fighting skills.

TO GRoW Salad burnet and parsley are biennials, which means the plant has a two year lifecycle. They’ll grow like gangbusters the first year and you should harvest plenty. The next year they’ll “bolt” or “go-to-seed” producing flowers, than seeds and then they commit suicide. It’s a good idea to “deadhead” or pinch off the flower head and replant the seeds. Plant new seeds every year to ensure a steady supply of these nutritional powerhouses. Chives come in many varieties. I recommend a perennial chive which will live forever, giving you more bang for your buck. There are also flavors of chives like garlic chive (you can recognize it by its flat leaf). Buy plants or seeds. Reseed and make more plants as needed.

TO HARVEST For salad burnet and chives, simply cut off the stems about 1 inch from the ground. Parsley grows in individual stalks. Cut them right above a set of leaves. Always make sure to leave at least 1/3 of each plant intact. Best eaten fresh (not dried).

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FLOWERS AND BOMBS

Edible Flowers

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Article and photo by ELIZABETH FIEND 

The first time I ever ate flowers, they were served to me by a man who just moments before had uttered the command: “Don’t smoke in this room, this is where we make our bombs.” He then pointed out the window, where on an overhanging roof rung with barbed wire I spied rows and rows of Molotov cocktails, finely crafted in Heineken bottles. The bombs were needed in case the police came a-knockin’. Or as I found out first hand, several hours later, when they don’t knock. The cops actually come a-bangin,’ with a battering-ram. And they dress in full riot gear — shields, helmets, batons.

Welcome to the world of European squats.

Later that night, while I was performing there with my band More Fiends, I told the crowd that this would be our last song. I looked down and a second later when I looked up, the room was totally deserted.

Huh, I thought some weird Danish custom? Nope, the place was under attack by the politi and everyone had fled upstairs to their defensive positions.

No Molotov cocktails were thrown that night. Instead, they activated Plan B, the lobbing of fist-sized chunks of asphalt via sling-shots – the super industrial kind that are sold for ‘hunting.’ The asphalt chunks were kept in cascading mounds in each corner of a room that was down the hall from the bomb making room. Helmets with face masks were hung on hooks down one wall, the sling-shots on the other.

You could smoke in that room, no problem.

While my bandmates and I stood alone in the back hallway watching the double doors bend inwards with each assault of the police battering ram, some moments of uncertainty passed. What should we do? But I did know one thing for sure, edible flowers would have a place in my future.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Ordering from Garden Catalogs

Article and Photos by ELIZABETH FIEND

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Although there’s still a chill in the air and a bit of winter to come, if you want to do a garden this year, start now. That’s right. The key to gardening is to be on top of everything. Gardening is based around the weather and the weather waits for no man — or woman.

You probably have a growing mound of garden catalogs by now. A few arrive in my mailbox every day.

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Overwhelming! If you don’t have catalogs, try buying a mail-order plant ONE time, and you’ll be flooded with garden catalogs for the rest of your life.

What I do is just thin out from the very beginning. If you try to look through every single catalog, you’ll be paralyzed by too many options. So you must weed out from the start.

Divide the catalogs into categories like flowers, seeds, landscaping, accessories. I grow a lot of soft fruit, so I set aside catalogs that sell fruit as well.

After you’ve divided the catalogs into categories, start with the Buy Local philosophy. Sure, buying local helps dollars grow in your own neighborhood economy, but there’s another reason why this is a good idea. Buying a plant from a nursery located in an area that has the same ecology as where you plan to plant the plant is some extra insurance that it will grow happily in your yard. Yes, that plant from the nursery in New Mexico is gorgeous but face it, it’s just not going to take root around here even if the phrase “hardy enough for colder climates” is tossed about in the catalog’s description.

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I live in Philadelphia and there are some big nurseries right here in my state. You can’t get much more local than that. Plus by buying local, you’ll be kinder to the environment by saving fossil fuel with a shorter transport to your garden. There is one major downside to the buy local thing when it comes to mail order. The Feds. When you make a snail mail or Internet purchase from a company located in your home state, yikes, you’re going to be charged sales tax. Still, I do it.

Of course, not all the plants I desire can be obtained from Pennsylvania nurseries. So I move out geographically, just not too far.  I also make a political decision and NEVER buy from a company associated with evil GMO company Monsanto. Instead I look for companies that have good work conditions, and care for the environment. Check out this article from the Organic Consumers Association for more info.

You know about the hardiness zones right?

The hardiness zone, or just zone, was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture. Zones are based on the average annual minimum temperature over a five-year span. Numbers are assigned and graphed, they make undulating bands across the map, much like you see on a weather forecast map. Zone 1 is the coldest, here in Pennsylvania, we’re Zone 6. (Yeah, the zone thing is starting to get a little thorny right now due to global warming, but we won’t get into that today.)

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Nature in the City

When the Cooper’s hawks are hanging in my, South Philly / Italian Market, backyard I can’t tear my eyes off them!

But I guess a pigeon wing in the peach tree is the down side.

Photo by Elizabeth Fiend

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Chuck the Caterpillar. Part of the series “Fiend Garden Notes”

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Photos and Story by Elizabeth Fiend

This is Chuck. He lives out back.
Chuck’s interests are eating bronze fennel and hiding from birds.
Chuck hopes to grow up and be just like his mother a beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly.

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I touched Chuck once. He was eating the fennel I was going to use for Mr. Fiends lunch. I moved Chuck over to a different fennel plant, one I could share. Touching Chuck was really super cool. He felt like no other thing I had ever touched. He was sort of marshmallow like. But he was alive! The way he felt stayed with me for several days. I wanted to touch him again. But I haven’t. I don’t want to stress him out. He already was going super still every time I took his picture.

Chuck will have a pretty interesting life. Having started out as an egg, he’s now a caterpillar. Soon he’ll be a pupa and then a butterfly!  WOWZER. Love, Elizabeth Fiend

Click to learn about a Swallowtail butterfly’s life cycle.

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Cement Gardens for the City
written by Valerie K

Believe it or not, all these blooms were grown either in pots or in a raised bed that has only about 6-7 inches of soil.

You may have seen BiG TeA PaRtY’s Elizabeth Fiend‘s garden and how gorgeous it is [to take a look click HERE]; an oasis in the grime of a big city.  But not every urban home has enough space for that much greenery, in fact most back yards where I live in South Philadelphia are covered in cement and cinder block, and it’s not always possible or financially feasible to tear up the cement and get back to the earth.

Despair not, city dwellers, with just a few feet of space there is room for a healthy, happy and beautiful garden!

My yard is about 14′ x 7′ of cement, enclosed by cement block walls, sounds grim doesn’t it?  But look what I got last year – this is mid-June during the second wave of blooming – mostly perennials highlighted here but a few annuals are spicing it up, like the hot pink Snap dragons in the left-hand photo

You don’t need soil that reaches down to the water table to grow flowers like those pictured above.  With raised beds sitting on top of cement, and a variety of pots and containers you would be surprised (I was!) how lush your yard can be.  And after a couple years it starts to really flourish if you get some good perennials going, and then it’s up to you how much work you want to put into it….

I took these photos this year (2011) on April 28th – and I hadn’t even planted anything new yet!

As you can see in the photos above, by the end of April a lot is happening even though I did not put much effort into it.  Sure, I pulled some weeds but I’ve been really lazy and at the time of that photo, I hadn’t added compost or planted annuals or started many of the containers that will fill out my urban backyard garden.  I had not even pulled out the dead stuff from last year until the day I took this photo (In the fall I like to leave most of the carcasses intact for birds and insects to feed on through the winter).

But my garden starts without me, ready or not, and what you see in that last photo grouping is the result of six years of work and experimentation – by this point I don’t really have to add more flowers if I don’t feel like it, the plants you see above would be just fine all on their own.  But I like to add splashes of color in the form of annuals, and try new varieties so that each summer my garden has a different look.

Of course you can grow food, but this article is about flowers.  If you want to grow vegetables, you need to do a bit more research to make sure your soil is healthy, your compost is safe for food and any non-food plants near your food are not toxic.

Personally, I’m in it for the flowers.  My goal is to look out my kitchen window and see life, color, green, hopefully some birds, some bees, maybe even butterflies.  Also my goal is not to work too hard at gardening, and with flowers you can be a lot more lax than with vegetables and herbs.

Read on to get some tips on getting started.  I’m not just being modest when I say to you: if I can do it, anyone can.

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I try to grow enough food in my garden to share with the birds, insects and animals. It’s really worth it! I stumbled across this berry eating party over the weekend when I was clearing out some weeds way, way in the back of the garden. I’m not too worried about this one eating too much, because I think he’s already stuffed (har, har).

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 Photo by: Elizabeth Fiend

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SEED SAVING : Preserving Diversity For the Future

Article by: ELIZABETH FIEND

Genetic diversity is the biological basis of world food security

This Lacinato kale plant was such a super achiever, I made sure to save it’s seeds and share with friends.

In just one generation we’re on the verge of losing the agricultural diversity it took humankind 10,000 years to create. The UN estimates that in the past 100 years 75% of the genetic diversity of crops has been lost. Diverse and localized ecosystems have been replaced with mono-crop farms which grow a few super-hybrid varieties. To make it worse, seeds and plants are now patented by giant companies who then own exclusive ‘rights’ to these plants. Since the world now depends on such a narrow base for food, it’s vital that we preserve wild and semi-domesticated edible plants as well as ‘heirloom plants.’ Heirloom plants are cultivated plants that predate the current seed production system.

Seed saving is a ritual as old as civilization. To save peas and beans: pick the pods after they’ve dried on the vine; flowers: pick the flowers when fully mature, but before the seeds drop; greens: collect the seeds after the plant has flowered; fruits and vegetables: scrape out the seeds and dry them, or simply place the produce on the ground where you want it to grow – let it decompose over the winter and in the spring help it along by burying whatever is left – a new plant will grow!

Dryness is the most important factor in storing seeds. Air dry thoroughly then store in a cool, dark, dry place until ready to plant. Most seeds will be viable for several years if stored properly. Package up any leftovers in envelopes to share with friends. If you have even more seeds, ‘Guerrilla Garden’ by throwing the seeds in empty lots right before it rains. (more…)

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BASIL — Eat Some Today!

Source:  The Thyme Garden

I’m growing five kinds of basil in my garden this year and the Fiends eat some almost every day. Here’s a nice article about this tasty herb from The Thyme Garden a seed supply store.

Posted by: Elizabeth Fiend

There are about 150 species of basil native to areas of Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. It is believed that Alexander the Great introduced the herb to Greece after returning from his Asian campaign. Basil was considered by the early Greeks as the herb of kings. The Romans thought it a symbol of love (and it is still considered an aphrodisiac) and even to this day Tulsi Basil is considered holy and sacred to Hindus.  Cultivated for more than 5000 years, basil was once used by Egyptians as an embalming herb in the mummification process.
Today basil is primarily used as a choice culinary herb in dishes ranging from Italian to Thai. One of the best characteristics of basil is that it seems to actually like being used; pinching off leaves keeps the plant from going into seed production and stimulates growth. Don’t be afraid to pinch off the growing tips – it will make your plants bushier.   

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