October 12, 2011

State of the Herb Garden

Culinary herb bed: violets, lavender, oregano,
sage,  thyme, sweet basil, and rosemary

My herb and flower beds were neglected quite a bit this summer. Our front yard in general was pretty much neglected, and that's where my herb and flower beds are.

Antique marigold
Part of the neglect was in the form of not mowing and not weeding often enough. When we put in the new herb bed last April, I knew I'd have trouble keeping grass down at the brick borders. And I did. I'm thinking we really need to invest in a weed whacker. Not that I'm into another electric or gas-powered tool, but sissors certainly didn't cut it (well, they did, but not very well :)

Some of the grasses that grew were easily uprooted. The wire grass (Bermuda grass) however is tenacious and has been spreading. This is my biggest headache. Mulch helps, but Bermuda just takes it in stride and sends its stolons up and over to quickly conquer.

Chicory is still blooming
Part of the neglect was not enough water during our several long dry spells. The front yard, being at the highest elevation on the property, dries out more quickly than other areas. Again, mulch helps, but with so many plants around the place needing water, I didn't get them all hydrated as often and as well as I should. Really, to get everything watered properly I'd have to have the hose running all day every day. I suppose that's an excuse. Sometimes though, I feel so time pressured with all the things there are to do, that I don't want to take the time to drag the hoses around the place. I think, "it can go just one more day."

The other problem I had was that something was eating my chicory and echinacea. Right down to the ground.

Echinacea trying to make comeback

We know deer have been making themselves at home in the back of our corn field all summer. We've seen the flattened grass where they lie down. We also had a young ground hog try to take up residence under the front porch. Ground hogs are herbivorous and this one was likely the culprit. Dan blocked the opening it had pushed in some loose bricks, and things seem to be finally recovering.

Yellow cosmos, sweet peppers, & a tomato

I had a number of seeds never germinate: pyrethrum, poppy, valerian and basil. On the plus side, I've been able to enjoy fresh culinary herbs for cooking, dehydrating, and canning. I dried yarrow and thyme for the goats. The newly planted horehound and spearmint got well established, enough to get one modest cutting. I discovered that chopped thyme, sprinkled over moth hole riddled cabbage plants, did a wonderful job of shooing those moths away.

I also had a volunteer tomato grow huge and wild in the front bed.

Sprawling volunteer tomato, never staked

I never have the heart to pull volunteers like this, though I neglected to stake it. It's sprawled to the point of taking up most of the bed. Even though it didn't get enough water, it's provided us with an odd tomato or two. Pepper plants were planted nearby, though they haven't produced nearly a year's supply.

The other thing I'm happy about, is the St. Johns Wort. I thought it didn't make it, apparently has!

This looks like St. Johns Wort to me! Does it to you?

I discovered it when I weeded the zinnia bed last week.

Weeding the zinnia bed, badly overgrown with grass

What an eye sore this had become. I should be ashamed.

My long term goal is to have the entire front yard in herb and flower beds. I haven't made plans for a new bed yet however. The reason for this is because rebuilding the front porch may be next summer's house project. The porch floor is badly warped/buckled and Dan says there are problems with the floor joists.

We also hope to get at least part of our rainwater catchment system in place, which will help with watering. With just the two of us however, progress is slow on our many plans and projects. Being patient with them and ourselves is always a challenge. We often wish we'd been able to start our homestead when we were younger, but that just wasn't the course of our life. Even so, I'm thankful to be doing it at all.


Dani said...

Leigh - you herbs look very healthy :) Oh, and we get Cosmos here too LOL

Unknown said...

It looks like an afternoon of weeding will sort you out :) Shame about the critters getting into your herbs though - not much you can do there? Oh and I'm accustomed to seeing St Johns Wort with lance shaped leaves but then again it could be a different variety.

Theresa said...

Hmm, doesn't look anything like the wild St. Johns Wart that grows here, but what do I know!
The herb garden looks like it was a modest success though!

Leigh said...

Dani, we have two types of cosmos, the pink variety and the yellow. They are supposed to make great companion plants!

Tanya, now that the ground hog has moved on, my herbs are growing back! Thanks for that on the St. Johns Wort. My identification is merely a guess.

Theresa, thanks. Mine may not be St Johns Wort, I'm really not sure. My id is based on comparison to internet photos. Based on your and Tanya's comments, it may not be St Johns Wort.

Bootzey said...

I had that problem with my front flower beds. Grass will punk you. I had some extra bricks and I used them to raise the walls on the beds and that has been super effective in keeping the grass out of my flower beds. Now mind you, the flowers have to be really tall for you to see them, but I'm ok with that.

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

I will have to remember that thyme trick. I wonder if it has any effect on the cabbage worms, which have taken up residence in the greenhouse on the collards. This warm snap did nothing but bring on more bugs.

Mr. H. said...

That does look like St. John's wort but I am mostly familiar with the wild type and it is easily identified by the little (tiny) black dots that are all over the backs of the leaves and flower petals. The herbs in our front yard struggled with lack of water this year too and I know what you mean by not enough time to water everything.

Mama Pea said...

If nothing else, you got a good start on your front gardens so don't be discouraged. We, too, constantly face the battle of wanting/trying to do too much for just two people. Isn't it hard to draw the line at what is sensible (and possible!) rather than what we'd like or want or think we need?

Grace said...

Leigh, as always, I love it when you show the progress and steps you take in a project that I plan to undertake myself soon. Thanks for going first and letting us benefit from your experiences.

I hear you on the wishing you had started earlier issue. My move to the country, still 20 months away, will coincide with my 50th birthday (NOT a coincidence) and quite frankly, I am very intimidated by the realization that I can't do now so many of the things that I once could. I'm still going to give it a shot, though, age and infirmities be damned!

Woolly Bits said...

well, there is only so much you can do with 2 hands - and you've been busy elsewhere. maybe it helps to know that most herbs develop more of their healing substances when they are a bit under stress? unless they die off totally of course:))
my st john's wort looks different too - the leaves of yours look too round to me? if it's a different variety it might not be the healing one.... what I do when I am not sure - leave it in place until it flowers to find out.
glad we're not the only ones with critters, who try to move in:))

Grace said...

Forgot to ask, do you make coffee with the chicory? Or are to planning to try it?

Carolyn said...

I should have showed you the picture of our berry garden (that ironically, has no berries) early this summer, you would have thought it was a jungle! It takes time, LOTS of time to care for all those plants; just be thankful that some (most?) of them still manage to put out something for you. I can't pull out a volunteer either, no matter how pathetic looking.

Leigh said...

Serenity, well, that's an idea. A couple of beds are the worst, so maybe they'd be the place to experiment. Thanks!

Jane, I would imagine it would work on any plant in that family. I had to re-do it a time or two, but it was a great help. If you try it, do let me know how it works.

Mr. H, I'm having a hard time confirming the St Johns Wort (if it is) because there are so many types and varieties. The photos on the internet are similar, but I can't tell for sure if they're the same! My seeds were purchased, so they may be a garden variety.

Mama Pea, you've hit the nail on the head! I often think that we're in a rush because we're getting a later start in life on the whole homesteading thing. And of course, the perfect, ideal conditions are illusive! Makes drawing the line so much more tough.

Grace, thanks! And good for you! I agree that we just have to press on and do the best we can. I honestly can't imagine doing anything else with my life, can you?

And about the chicory for coffee, I do hope to harvest and roast the roots someday. Not sure if I'll call it "coffee" or tea, but besides being pretty, it's a useful edible.

Bettina, I'm going to have to research the St. Johns Wort better. I mentioned above the variety of varieties. I didn't know that about medicinal value and stress! Thanks. That does make me feel better.

Carolyn, what you say is true. I can't wait until we get to the established phase! That's one of the pluses of permaculture, but is sure does seem to to take awhile to get there.

Lisa said...

Hi Leigh - I think it may be St. John's Wort. Tom purchased @5 St. John's Wort plants a few years ago though they've never bloomed - (they almost got decimated by the chickens when they used to be free-range) they rebounded and seem healthy. I'll take a photo of mine and send to you. PS Loved the lemon!

Susan said...

I can relate totally to wishing we had started this earlier in life. Especially by Sunday evenings. But you seem to be holding your own and thriving! This was a difficult year for gardening of any sort.

Cat Eye Cottage said...

There is always a project, isn't there?!

Tami said...

I had an old timer tell me the only thing to do to get rid of the bermuda was to rent a sod cutter and to go down and strip it.

I never tried it. He's probably right but then what are you going to do with all the sod you just cut?

I feel your pain. I hate it too. When the world ends that's all that will be left. Bermuda. And cockroaches.

Leigh said...

Lisa, Thank you for the photos! They are really good ones, better than what I've found online. The leaves on mine are definitely different, more rounded, so I'm thinking mine is not actually St. John's wort. It's curious that these plants are only growing where I planted the St. Johns Wort seed. I reckon I'll just leave it until it blooms, probably next year. There may be more than one variety, so that may be what it is.

Susan, it's tough isn't it? I think we're learning to not fret over what doesn't get done, but be thankful for what does. Hopefully next year will be better for everyone.

Candace, so true!

Tami, that's a little drastic, don't you think? The stolons go down so deep! I read on a forum that someone got rid of theirs by overfertilizing. It killed the Bermuda but nothing else would grow in that spot for years!

Leslie said...

Sounds familiar . . so much to do and not enough time in the day to do it all. I am always struggling with that myself. I could so relate to wishing that we had started our homestead when I was younger but it just wasn't the way it worked out for us either. It is a lot of work but I wouldn't change a thing. Your herb garden is lovely!

Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

Wish I knew enough about the herbs to identify it for you..so much on earth to identify correctly..and so many kinds :o(

Leigh said...

Leslie! So good to hear from you. Glad you're back in the blogosphere. I think there are enough of us starting later in life to support and encourage one another.

Ginny, me too! I know some, but it's often difficult to identify from just books and pictures. So much to learn.

Phoebe said...

Hi Leigh, You can tell if that is Medicinal St. Johns Wort (I'm assuming that is what you want to be growing) by picking a leaf and holding it up to the sky. You will see light coming through little holes, perferations, in the leaves, hence the name Hypericum Perferatum.

Common names can trip you up. If it is Hypericum calycinum, also called St. Johns Wort, it is not medicinal, just pretty.
I have a post with pics if you want to see the perferations.

Leigh said...

Hi Phoebe, yes, medicinal St. Johns Wort is what I'm after. I ordered the seeds from .... I can't remember where, Pinetree Garden perhaps, and where I planted them is the only place this plant is growing. Thank you for the link. Very interesting about the perforations in the leaves. I agree that Latin names are fascinating. I'll have to check the leaves of mine tomorrow.

Ellen said...

Have you thought about a chicken run with bird netting over the top? I had to because of the chicken hawks, I live in north east Georgia. I started with 12 chickens down to three hens one old rooster Big Red and a little peeper born this spring too many predators. Ellen