Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LOVAGE (Levisticum officinale)

Lovage happens to be one of my favorite herbs that I grow in my garden. For years I tried to grow celery, but the summer heat just wilted the plants before I could harvest them. I then stumbled onto lovage at Well Sweep Herb Farm in New Jersey and have been a big fan ever since.
Lovage is the tallest of the umbellifers, reaching a height of over 6 feet, and makes an attractive back-of-the border plant (which is a great idea to incorporate edibles in with your landscape plantings). All parts of the plant are useful in the kitchen, making it a worthwhile plant to keep. This herb was once thought to be an aphrodisiac, and was used by witches in their love potions.
Lovage looks and smells a lot like overgrown celery. The taste is similar to celery but I would say it is a little more bitter the further into the season you go. It has bright green, hand shaped leaves and thickly ridged hollow stems. The flowers, which bloom in mid- to late summer, are small, yellow, and formed in umbrella-like clusters. The seeds are flat, oval, and deeply ridged. The usual height is about 3-5 feet, but it can grow over 6 feet tall.
Lovage is one of the few herbs that tolerates shade, and it grows equally well in full sun. It will last several years if well cared for, and after about 4 years when it becomes too woody the roots can be used as a vegetable after the bitter skin has been removed.
It grows well in climates where it can receive a period of dormancy in winter. Sow indoors in late summer and retain only the best seedlings. One or two plants will provide enough of this herb for even the largest family. Keep the plants well watered in fall and spring. Water deeply to encourage deep root development, and take special care that young plants are never allowed to dry out.
The plants will die out in winter. In areas of hard frost, mulch the roots to protect against freezing.
Cut the stems and the foliage for drying in autumn. They are somewhat slow to dry, depending on the weather. Cut stalks of seedheads and hang to dry. When cutting, take care not to damage the center of growth.
Leaves may be used to flavor soups, casseroles, sauces and marinades. It may also be lightly cooked as a green vegetable. The stems can be candied as you would angelica, and the seeds are used to flavor baked goods. The roots can be peeled and used as a vegetable.
Give lovage a try. If you are a fan of celery, there is nothing better than lovage in your own garden.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Spring Time Question

Hi! My name is Angie, and my husband's name is Joe. We just became first time homeowners this winter in Ohio. Up until now we've both lived in apartments since graduating high school 13 yrs ago-We haven't had a yard to take care of. We have a fairly small yard (1/3 acre) & all of a sudden we're wondering what we should be doing with it this spring! As the snow melted & it started to warm up we both noticed that our yard looks a little worse than the neighbors. It has more yellowish areas & there are some very small bare patches (the previous owners had a dog, so we're thinking the dog had something to do with that). I'm pretty sure that many of the neighbors have lawn care services, which we're not interested in right now. I'm pretty opposed to using many chemicals on the lawn, if any at all. Personally, I think that absolutely perfect grass lawns looks a little weird. I want our lawn to look nice, but it certainly doesn't have to be perfect. My husband was thinking of putting on some sort of crab grass control chemical this spring, but he told me that if I could come up with a chemical free alternative soon then we'd do that instead. I did a google search, which led me to your blog. I read the post on August 27 about chemical free crab grass control & it was really helpful. Since we're so new to this, I was just wondering if you had any advice you could give me about spring lawn care & what we should be doing right now (especially about the small bare areas). I would really appreciate it!

Thanks so much!


Thanks for the question. I hope you don't mind me posting this, but unfortunately this is something many home owners are facing, so I figured the more people we can help, the better!

1). Yes the yellow spots are from the previous owners' dog, and unfortunately the only thing that can be done for that is to irrigate it well to deplete the "Hot" nitrogen (urea) from the soil. Good thing is it sounds like you've had a snowy winter, so as the snow melts, it is flushing the urea from the soil naturally. Also depending on if the dog was familiar with that area of the property, an application of lime will also help reduce the acidity of the soil.

2). Congratulations on going organic. If you visit my web site, www.thegardeningguru.com and go half way down the home page, you will see something called "The Organic Lawn Care Manual". This booklet will explain how to have an organic lawn that will actually look better than the chemically treated lawn, and you can feel safer walking barefoot on your lawn.

3). Organic crabgrass / weed control is done by using corn gluten, a by product of the corn industry. It does the same thing as a chemical does, which it puts down a barrier on the soil so when the plants germinate, it kills them. Now remember that since this is organic, you will not have 100% control. My suggestion is to apply this product before April 15th or before the forsythia flowers fade, and again in October. You will notice the amount of weeds and crabgrass will slowly decline, so be patient -- it will take a few years. But hey, having a few weeds isn't the end of the world!

So basically for right now, when the soil dries out enough, give it a good raking to remove the debris from winter, apply corn gluten to areas where you don't need to seed (corn gluten will also inhibit grass seeds from germinating). Where you are seeding an application of 5-10-5 (basic garden fertilizer which is organic) will be just fine. Also check your garden center and see if they carry Jonathan Green products. The have chemical as well as organic lawn fertilizers, and their seed is kickin' (best germination and purity % in the business). For what type of seed you need, check out the manual.

Good Luck and remember -- A bad day in the garden is still better than a good day at work!


Friday, March 20, 2009

Well it is about time!

Happy Spring to one and all, even though it may not even feel like spring where you live. I just saw this article in the NY Times on how the Presdient and First Lady are planting a vegetable garden at the White House. Good for them! This is the first vegetable garden going in at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden. Read the story here:


And while you are at it, start thinking and planting your vegetable garden, and remember when you have way too many tomatoes to possibly eat, bring the extra to your local food bank. Any donations of fresh fruits and vegetables are greatly appreciated. Also check out the Garden Writers "Plant A Row" for the hungry web page at


Remember, every little bit helps, especially in these economic times!

Have a great weekend!


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Best Tool For Your Garden: The Spade

My best friend in the garden happens to be my spade (well, sometimes it can be my feline friend Cyd or Cliff). Now granted I have quite a few hand tools and other assorted goodies, but no matter where I go or what job I am about to do, I always have my trusted spade with me. It is a $70 spade, appropriately called The King of Spades. It weighs at least 5 pounds and is solid, one piece construction all the way through. I use it to dig as well as chop, slice and dice. If you are just beginning in the gardening addiction, a spade is one of the first tools you purchase as well as a shovel, trowel, rake, spading fork, and hoe.

There are a couple of things to look for when purchasing tools, and, just like your father told you a thousand times, you get what you pay for. Don’t be lured into the $10 tools, because they will surely break just when you need them the most. Now I’m not suggesting that you spend $70 on one tool like I did, but try to stay in the middle of the road with price. On the tool itself, look for quality construction. A spot weld will not hold as long as a welded strip. Handles that stop at the point where the collar begins will not be as strong as if the handle went through to the bottom of the tool. Also check the flexibility of the tool, such as a spade. The thinner the blade, the more effort you will have to exert to cut a root or dig around a rock.

Now as far as maintenance goes, simply brush off any soil that may accumulate after using, and before you store it for the winter, use a wire brush to remove any leftover soil and possible surface rust, then give it a light coating of oil to help protect it in the winter months. Also if the tools have wooden handles, give them a coating of linseed oil to help preserve and protect (your hands) for many years to come. When spring start knocking on your door, wipe off any excess oil that still may be on the blade of the spade, then look at the flat end of the spade for any divets or dents. If so, grab a metal file and sharpen to a 45 degree angle. This will be good for slicing and dicing. Too much of a sharp angle and it will lose its sharpness very quickly.

Keep these few tips in mind when purchasing and maintaining your tools, and they should last a lifetime.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Coming to a naturalized area near you - the first flower of spring!

Eastern Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus

Now I am sure you are scratching your head wondering why I would list skunk cabbage when there are sooo many more pleasing flowers of spring? Well, this blog is also an educational blog, so I am going to teach you about this unusual flower and try to get you to say "WOW" or "HMMMM".

As some point in our lives, we have all seen what skunk cabbage looks like. Its leaves are large, 16-22 inches long and 12-16 inches wide. It flowers early in the year; the flowers are produced in a 2-4 inches long spadix contained within a spathe, 4-6 inches tall and mottled purple in colour (actually very attractive if you get close and look!). It flowers in the early spring, when only the flowers are visible above the mud, with the stems buried below and the leaves emerging later. The rhizome is often 12 inches thick.

Breaking or tearing a leaf produces a pungent odor, hence the'skunk' in the common name. The plant is not poisonous to the touch. Though unpleasant, the smell is not harmful. The foul odor attracts its pollinators, scavenging flies, stoneflies, and bees. The odor in the leaves may also serve to discourage large animals from disturbing or damaging this plant which grows in soft wetland soils. I have seen where deer have eaten the flowers when nothing else was around, but hey, deer will eat anything when there is nothing else to eat!

Now here is the really cool part of this plant. Skunk cabbage is notable for its ability to generate temperatures of up to 15-35°C above air temperature by cyanide resistant cellular respiration in order to melt its way through frozen ground, placing it among a small group of plants exhibiting thermogenesis. Although flowering while there is still snow and ice on the ground it is successfully pollinated by early insects that also emerge at this time. Some studies suggest that beyond allowing the plant to grow in icy soil, the heat it produces may help to spread its odor in the air. Carrion-feeding insects that are attracted by the scent may be doubly encouraged to enter the spathe because it is warmer than the surrounding air, fueling pollination.

Finally, for my last "WOW" fact, Eastern Skunk Cabbage has contractile roots which contract after growing into the earth. This pulls the stem of the plant deeper into the mud, so that the plant in effect grows downward, not upward. Each year, the plant grows deeper into the earth, so that older plants are practically impossible to dig up. They reproduce by hard, pea-sized seeds which fall in the mud and are carried away by animals or by floods.

So next time you walk through a woodland area and see skunk cabbage growing, don't go "eeww", teach your friends and family the uniqueness of this plant and how it isn't your normal everyday spring flower!