Putting Food By

“Putting food by” was a familiar term to our mothers and grandmothers. They knew September and October were harvest months, the time to preserve fruits, vegetables and herbs for use during winter and early spring. They may not have all done it, but they all knew the traditional activities that came with the end of summer– canning, pickling, jelly-making, drying and freezing.

In the last few decades, the boundaries between the seasons have blurred almost to the point of vanishing, along with many of the activities that came with the end of summer and beginning of fall. It’s a little different this year. A combination of concerns about our flagging economy, global warming and food-born illnesses caused record numbers of families to plant vegetable and herb gardens. Farmers markets are opening up all over the country. Once again, there are picture-perfect locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs available for us to put by for winter use.

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Queens Botanical Garden, Roses, and Memories

I took the train to New York city last week to attend a Garden Writers of America meeting at the Queens Botanical Garden (http://queensbotanical.org). Despite the fact that I spent a lot of time in New York city as a child visiting relatives, I have never been sure where, or what, “Queens “ is. I certainly didn’t know there was a botanical garden there.

Queens is the largest of the five boroughs of New York city. It covers over 100 square miles and is actually part of Long Island. The botanical garden is in Flushing, a heavily Asian area of Queens. The garden traces it beginnings to a five acre rose and perennial garden planted for the 1939 World’s Fair. Today, Queens Botanical Garden covers 39 acres of themed areas, gently winding paths and a nationally recognized “green” visitors center and administration building.

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Living with Herbs May-June 2009

Herbs and children are a great match. Children learn by looking, touching, smelling and tasting. Herbs need to be rubbed, sniffed and tasted to be fully appreciated. Put the two together–weedy, plain looking herbs and bouncy, curious children–and magic happens.

A group of energetic first graders came to visit on a perfect June afternoon. They wiggled and jiggled in place while introductions were being made and refreshments passed. They munched flower shaped cookies and drank fairy punch (mint, lemon balm and woodruff-infused raspberry ginger ale) served from a flower decorated punch bowl.

Then the garden tour began. We went looking for plants the fairies might like and for plants that smelled good. The teachers and I showed the children how to touch leaves and flowers gently and warned them to be very careful not to step on any plants. After all, you wouldn’t want to damage a fairy or elf that happened to be resting under a favorite leaf or in a flower. The children understood.

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Living with Herbs March-April 2009

The further we get into this new century the more we hear how disconnected children are becoming from the natural world. More and more children are spending long hours indoors with their televisions, computers and video games, leading virtual lives rather then real ones. Long days at school are followed by after-school/ daycare or being shuttled from enrichment activities to home, homework and bed. There seems to be little free time for kids to romp around the neighborhood discovering beetles and butterflies, listening to birds, smelling the air and noticing swelling buds opening into lovely blossoms. It’s heartbreaking to think of all the stumbled-upon magic moments that so many children won’t have. Those little discoveries often become part of us, with the memory returning when needed to help shape our adult attitudes and opinions.

As gardeners, we can help a little. Do you have children somewhere in your life–your own, nieces, nephews, grandchildren? How about neighborhood kids, a local nursery or elementary school, brownie or cub scout troop? Is there some way you could become involved in connecting a nearby child or two to the natural world? Just think what a difference we could make if each of us tickled a child’s curiosity about the living, growing, ever-changing world outside the window.

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Living with Herbs – May/June

There is a lot to be learned from plant names. Most familiar garden plants have more than one, usually a formal name and a common name. Sometimes there are several common names, which can change from region to region and century to century.

Take cheerful, accommodating calendula, the 2008 “Herb of the Year”. We call the herb by its formal first name, Calendula, given to it by the Romans who observed that it bloomed in every month of the year. Calendula’s formal second name “officinalis”, tells us it was an important medicinal herb. Our great-grandmothers called the sunny, self-seeding garden favorite pot marigold, because the whole plant was used in cooking. Their grandmothers’ grandmothers knew it’s orange-gold flowers as Mary Goldes, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In even earlier times, calendulas were “flowers of the sun” or sunflowers, because each day their flowers opened with the sun, turned to follow it’s path across the sky and closed at dusk. That’s a lot of human history woven into the name of an ordinary garden annual.

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Living With Herbs – March/April

“Happy are herb gardeners through all the seasons and the years. Their’s is a life enriched with rare fragrances to be enjoyed at dusk and dawn and in the heat of noon. “ ADELMA GRENIER SIMMONS

The sun has returned and we are already marching toward the zenith of the year, the summer solstice. The ground may be bare and frozen but roots are stirring. Children used to be told that Old Mother Earth was waking her children and getting them ready to begin their yearly parade across the landscape. It’s true. The beautiful, fragrant, flavorful show is about to begin.

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The Involuntary Birth of an Herb Business

or “How it all began…”

For as long as I can remember, my mother actively encouraged me to pursue a career. She was a librarian, editor and writer. She did everything in her power to ensure that I prepared myself for a career in a field suited for me. She suggested teaching. She suggested marketing and sales. She suggested writing. She even hinted at art and fashion or library work. Nothing appealed. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. As a teen, the only thing I really wanted were romantic experiences, the kind I read about in books and magazines.

I did go to college where I studied English and history, the most romantic subjects I could think of. At the end of my sophomore year, I left school, moved into an apartment with three other girls and took a job in a book store. A year later I married.

After our first child was born I decided Mother was wrong. I didn’t need a career, my destiny was to be a wife and mother. Not only that, I told myself, but I would be the best one possible! That vow eventually led to a project that changed my life forever.

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