Most authorities do not describe the Peony as an herb. The writers who list the Peony as an herb do so because it was cultivated for the medicinal value of its roots and because it was named after Paeon, a physician to the Greek gods.
Nowadays, the hybrid, double Peony is noted as a plant whose flowers make a magnificent display in the spring garden.
The Peony is an herbaceous perennial that has erect stems and very large, heavy flowers. Peonies must be staked, preferably with a support that will loosely encircle its 3 to 4 foot width.
Peonies generally bloom in May (June in the North Country) and here is how their flower starts in April
Once the Peony is ready to burst into flower, it is a show-stopper. Its petals are multi layered and its flower is almost impossibly large.
There are many reasons to have a Peony plant in your garden.
The hybrid Peony is available in flower colors that range from white cream to burgundy.
The Peony plant can be propagated by division of its roots if you wish to have more in your garden.
A Peony can prosper in many climates, growing well in Zones 2 to 8 and in the sun and partial shade.
Your Peony may bear blooms for a decade.
The Peony flower can be enjoyed in your garden, will decorate your home as a cut flower for up to a week and its dried petals add color to winter potpourri.
The purchase of a plant heating mat should be based upon your needs as to size.
How Many Seedlings Can I Start from Seed Indoors?
The germination heat mats offered by North Country Herbs come in two sizes.
One mat is 20 1/2 inches long and 13 1/2 inches wide.
The other mat is 36 inches long and 16 inches wide.
When starting seeds indoors, the standard propagation tray that you are likely to place on a germination heat mat is 21 inches long by 11 inches wide. If you use eight standard 9-cell inserts or seed the propagation tray itself, you can potentially grow 72 seedlings in one tray.
Our 20 1/2 inch by 13 1/2 inch Plant Heat Mat
The 20 1/2 inch by 13 1/2 inch germination heat mat by Gro-Mat provides heat beneath one standard propagation tray. This will allow you to start approximately 72 seedlings at a time.
Our 36 inch by 16 inch Plant Heat Mat
The dimensions of the larger Gro-Mat will permit you to fit up to 3 standard propagation trays upon it side by side across the length of the mat. Several inches of the propagation trays will not lie directly on the Gro-Mat but will receive the benefits of the ambient heat. If you chose to purchase the larger plant heat mat, you can potentially start 216 seedlings at a time.
What Size Germination Heat Mat Do I Need?
If you are just beginning to learn how to germinate seeds indoors, you may wish to purchase the smaller propagation mat. That size might be just the right fit for your home or apartment.
But if you have the space, you may want to invest in the larger germination heat mat or several of the smaller size germination heat mats. Gardeners learn how to start seedlings indoors on a tray-by-tray basis. Having the option of seeding more than one tray at a time will give you more opportunities to learn about the process.
Now that you have the measurements and know about the relationship between the size of a standard propagation tray and the size of our plant heat mats, be sure to purchase the size plant heating mat that suits your needs. Happy seeding from North Country Herbs!
Seed catalogs are enchanting picture books that, no matter what your age, you can look at for hours, because — you are a gardener!
The appeal of the seed catalog lies with the colors of the flowers pictured on every page. Just looking at those pictures, taking your eyes away from unrelenting tones of winter white and steel grey and naked bark, makes you want to purchase every flower seed offered for sale.
But perhaps you should put aside those catalogs and first look at a Gardener’s Color Wheel.
If you have space for a colorful, small garden and not the penultimate flower farm, the colors of your flowers must fit within the borders of your garden beds. So, you have to make choices.
This decision making is the most creative winter pastime of gardeners. It is during the cold months the gardener allows herself to spend time to consider… weigh… remember… decide… and plan …colors.
The resource then that should stay right beside your favorite seed catalog is a Gardener’s Color Wheel. The Wheel will help you select flowers and foliage that will complement or, quite deliberately and beautifully, contrast with, other flowers and foliage. The Color Wheel helps the gardener to realize the particular colors of her personal garden.
Our Gardener’s Color Wheel is made using two discs of water resistant cardstock coated in order to prevent the sun from fading the print and ink.
North Country Herbs offers the Gardener’s Color Wheel and other affordably priced garden tools that will be useful to you for many seasons. Using a Color Wheel allows you to bring the colors, now in your mind’s eye this winter, to come to life this spring
In Cooked, ©2013 Penguin Press, journalist, writer and now professor, Michael Pollan writes about his time as a student of some extraordinary chefs.
In his introduction, Pollan admits his having an epiphany. He had written about food because he loved his mother’s cooking, was fascinated with the subject of food and enjoyed reading unusual recipes. He had experimented with herb sauces and purchased kitchen gadgets.
Now, he wanted to write about preparing food. There was one small problem: even though he had written seven books about food, he had not spent any significant time actually preparing it. So in order to write Cooked, Professor Pollan had to take some cooking classes and actually do the work that cooks do.
The subtitle of Cooked is “A Natural History of Transformation” and the book is divided into sections titled Fire, Water, Air and Earth. These titles permit Pollan to go beyond describing his internships with master chefs and into a wide ranging, but thoughtful, presentation of his research of food preparation.
So, in “Fire,” Pollan, inspired by a master barbeque chef, offers keen observations of fire pit restaurants serving barbecued pork. Then, he pivots to a description of biblical animal sacrifice and Greek mythology. Next, he compares hog farming in colonial times to industrial hog farming today. After all that, he ventures to his backyard grill, taking all he has learned to serve up his own barbeque.
Pollan’s blend of research, admissions of kitchen mishaps and personal musings (about, for instance, the vital importance of onions) makes Cooked a great read. But the real attraction of Pollan’s book is his description of the work of the cooks who gave him classes.
Part I titled “Fire” describes Pollan’s apprenticeship with a rambunctious, North Carolina barbeque pit master named Ed Mitchell.
Part II titled “Water,” is organized as a seven step recipe on how to blend and braise to serve up exquisite flavor. For that, Pollan is home schooled in his own kitchen by Chef Samin Nosrat.
In the “Air” chapters, Pollan writes about working under the tutelage of Chad Robertson, a bread maker whose artisanal bread is so desired by San Franciscans that they line up to purchase one of the 250 loaves he bakes a day.
The “Earth” section features Pollan’s fermentation internships with advocate and teacher Sandor Katz, brewer Shane MacKay and cheese maker and microbiologist Sister Noella Marcellino.
Interspersed with his description of the techniques of these master chefs and his historical research, Pollan relates his interviews with other cooks, farmers and experts of the American food scene – all of whom Pollan graciously acknowledges.
At times, Pollan cannot avoid using his lexicon that certain people “cook” and “transform” food and corporate food providers and fast food establishments only “process” and “package” it.
For the most part however, Pollan puts food politics aside. He seems to have enjoyed the temporary role of observant sous chef. His curiosity and enthusiasm are apparent. He is happy to have authored a book that he says put him in a sweet spot where the frontier between work and play disappears.
When Professor Michael Pollan goes on sabbatical, he is able to provide access to some very special kitchens. By writing Cooked, he brings his readers along with him to that sweet spot.
All recipes for one mandatory holiday dish, turkey stuffing, require parsley, sage and thyme. The weeks before the holidays are usually the times cooks go to the supermarket to purchase these herbs.
But, all of the herbs for sale in the “spice” aisle are uniformly sized and colored green and consist of dried flakes and powder. The cook has no opportunity to smell the distinctive scents of the herbs and they cannot be distinguished by leaf shape.
We wish to show pictures of where those flakes of parsley and powdered sage and thyme sold in the supermarket actually come from – the parsley plant, the sage plant and the thyme plant.
We would also like to show you pictures of some of the equipment that we offer so if you purchase fresh parsley, sage and thyme in the summer or grow these herbs in your garden and then freeze and dry them, you will have them in the ready for next year's holidays.
Parsley is a biennial herb that you can grow in your garden. Most gardeners purchase a new plant every year as parsley is most flavorful in its first year. You may preserve parsley that you have not used in the summer by freezing its leaves.
Sage is a perennial herb that can also be easily grown in your garden. You preserve whole sage leaves that are not used in the summer by drying and storing the leaves and grinding them as needed.
Thyme is another perennial culinary herb that you can grow in your garden. Thyme can also be preserved by drying.
Buy ground parsley, sage and thyme in the supermarket now. But remember this coming spring that these herb plants can be easily grown by you for use next year’s holiday season!
Now that you have actually seen the source of the herbs flavoring your stuffing, remember that the food processors and those special herb choppers, the mezzaluna knives offered by North Country Herbs, help you to make the stuffing for your holiday meals.
We offer two compact food processors, the Cuisinart Mini Prep food processor and the Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus food processor. Both are excellent for chopping and mincing fresh herbs and grinding dried herbs.
North Country Herbs also offers four sizes of mezzaluna knives.
We offer: a 5 ½” single blade mezzaluna; a 5 ½” double blade mezzaluna; a 10 ½" single blade mezzaluna; and an 11 ¾” double blade mezzaluna. The mezzaluna is the traditional knife for chopping fresh herbs.
In January 2013, the Food and Drug Administration published food safety guidelines relating fresh culinary herbs.
The guidelines address the growing of basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, culantro, dill, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, sorrel, tarragon and thyme.
The guidelines are meant to set standards for large commercial growers. But home gardeners growing kitchen herbs who wish to learn more about the government food safety standards would do well to consult this publication.
Just as importantly, food safety experts at the FDA who want to learn more about fresh culinary herbs should consult with smaller growers, herb gardeners.
According to the FDA, its regulation of the produce industry has been in the works since 1998. Its records indicate that between 2004 and 2011, a harmful strain of bacteria called Salmonella was detected in 28 samples of the herb, cilantro.
In response to another finding of Salmonella in cilantro in January, 2011, the FDA issued a letter to growers of cilantro. In this letter of March, 2011, the FDA asked growers to identify potential hazards specific to the cultivation of cilantro. The fresh culinary herb producers took the hint. They decided to address not only cilantro but also 16 additional edible herbs. The growers would work with the FDA and academic experts to develop food safety guidelines “specific” to culinary herbs.
The Guidelines are difficult to understand without a background in large scale farming.
For instance, an herb is not simply an herb but a “RAC,” meaning “raw agricultural commodity. “
An herb that is rinsed is an “RTE,” a “ready- to-eat food” that is edible without additional preparation to achieve food safety because it has been thoroughly washed before being cut.
An “RTU” means an herb that is “ready-to-use” but has been only minimally processed. RTU herbs have been cleaned, trimmed and possibly cut, but require further washing and preparation prior to consumption.
The FDA’s list of abbreviations and definitions should be read first and understood.
The Guidelines recommend that growers keep detailed records of all potential physical, chemical and microbiological food safety hazards and that growers monitor conditions such as water, soil amendments, environmental factors and equipment. These records, along with scrupulous labeling, enable the FDA to trace contamination problems from the supermarket package back to the field. Contaminated herbs in the field and in the supply chain can then be destroyed.
The FDA recommends that growers review topography, land history, risk of flooding, adjacent land use and domestic animal and wildlife presence. It also recommends that the growers operate in sync with their actual weather conditions as specific weather conditions produce different risks of food contamination.
The Guidelines set forth best practices to be followed. The FDA indicates that before planting, during the growing season and at harvest, growers must assess environmental conditions, water conditions, soil amendments, hygiene of field and harvest personnel, equipment cross contamination, flooding and field packing operations.
The FDA suggests actions to mitigate potential problems, such as specific instructions on the distance to be maintained between fields of herbs and adjacent problem areas.
As to water, the FDA urges farmers to evaluate water’s potential to produce human pathogens. The FDA urges the growers to evaluate if their watering method will, for instance, deposit soil on the crop, free moisture on the plant’s surfaces or pool water that attracts animals. If the grower’s watering method would possibly lead to contamination, corrective action should be taken.
The FDA has strong admonishments concerning soil amendments that include raw or under-composted materials, particularly animal manure. It’s simple: don’t use it.
In a section titled “Post-Harvest Unit Operation,” the FDA notes that the time between harvest and cooling should be minimal since microbes multiply rapidly under warm, moist conditions. Finally, the FDA gives its recommendations as to the construction, design and maintenance of packing houses, cooling facilities and processing plants.
The “Take Away” for Herb Gardeners
The purpose of the FDA’s food safety guidelines for fresh culinary herbs was to establish best practices so that large scale herb growers and processors could prevent their crops from making people ill.
The FDA’s report is useful to commercial growers with large fields of culinary herb plants tended to by farm workers. However, the backyard beds that are most often maintained by only one gardener should follow the same “best practices.”
Gardeners should look for the best place to site their garden. The home garden should not for instance be downhill from a septic system or contaminated land.
Herb gardeners should address potential hazards to the plants in their garden. Gardeners should for instance, know that their garden is not a place to walk their pets. They should not use herbicides and pesticides that will leave a residue on their herbs. Soil amendments should be appropriate for the growing of vegetables and herbs. Hand tools should be kept clean. Watering should be done only when needed and where needed.
While written in terms of facilities and equipment, the guidelines should be adapted as best practices in the kitchen of the herb gardener. The kitchen’s cutting boards, counters, refrigerator and sink should clean.
Most of the FDA recommendations are meant to apply to leafy green crops harvested by machine and placed in containers. But the guidelines also address herbs harvested by hand. Since herb gardeners would harvest by hand, the FDA’s input as to knives, containers and other hand tools is helpful.
For instance, the FDA points out that the cut surfaces of fresh culinary herbs are more vulnerable to microbial contamination than the uncut surfaces. The agency recommends knives be constructed of stainless steel with plastic or stainless steel handles and smooth seams, welds and joints so that they can be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
The agency further notes that wooden handles do not lend themselves to efficient sanitation and hand held tools constructed with standard, rather than stainless, steel will not hold up to routine sanitation with most sanitizing or oxidizing agents.
Herb gardeners should also follow the FDA’s recommendation to harvest, wash, dry and cool or process quickly.
How Herb Gardeners Might Inform the FDA
The FDA so-called “commodity specific” food safety guidelines relating to fresh culinary herbs are simply not specific enough. Herb gardeners growing culinary herbs long before pesto became popular enough so that basil would be mass “produced” as a “commodity” know better.
The standards seem to concentrate on the fields rather than the plants. Some herbs have very delicate foliage and others strong leaves. Some herbs sprawl on soil; others grow upright. Some edible perennial herbs have woody stems and are actually considered shrubs.
No two herbs are quite the same. Each herb is grown and harvested in a different way and certainly in a way that is different from leafy green vegetables. It follows then that guidelines as to food safety might differ from herb to herb.
When the FDA has the opportunity to take a second look at food safety guidelines for fresh culinary herbs, it might wish to ask for more input from the smallest of growers, those with herb gardens. While the commercial growers focus on the fields, herb gardeners focus on the plants.
This year some Twelve-spot Skimmers visited the garden.
The Skimmers are a variety of damselfly (the male is known as the dragonfly) belonging to the insect order “Odonata.” They have a total of twelve spots on their four wings.
According to the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Insects and Spiders, Chanticleer Press, Inc. © 1980, the head and thorax of a Skimmer is chocolate to light brown and the abdomen, gray-brown to whitish, p 373. I might not have seen this variety because its colors blend into my landscape. But these Skimmers had taken a liking to the light gray, concrete blocks forming the back wall of one of the garden beds. Spreading their wings against this light canvas, they were easy to spot.
The damselfly is a voracious predator of insects. Some of these insects are garden pests. But they also make meals of insects that are “beneficial” to garden plants. This winged insectivore catches and eats insects very quickly so I am not sure they feasted upon my garden’s pests or beneficial insects. However, I was pleased to find that they have a particular taste for mosquitoes, which seem to have a taste for me!
Only after I had spotted these insects in the garden, did I come across a fascinating article by Natalie Angier published in the New York Times on April 1, 2013 titled “Nature’s Drone, Pretty and Deadly.”
Natalie Angier reports that scientists are now actively studying the damselfly, and its mate, the dragonfly. The scientists are using miniature tools to learn more about how the brains and eyes of these insects permit them to fly so quickly and with such focus that they almost always capture their intended prey, undetected.
What was most surprising, maybe not so surprising, about Natalie Angier’s article (given its title) was one small paragraph indicating that dragonfly research was being funded by the military, here and abroad, who are investing in drone technology.
With this year’s visit of the damselfly and dragonfly, I am reminded that the garden is not a model of the peaceable kingdom one might wish it to be.
Drying the herb tarragon with a food dehydrator will allow you to add flavor and nutrition to your cooking year-round.Tarragon is not easy to propagate because it does not produce seeds. Since tarragon does not produce seeds, you introduce this culinary herb to your garden by purchasing a plant. Thereafter, you can grow more tarragon by taking a cutting from your existing plant or by dividing your existing plant into two or three plants.
Tarragon is not a particularly attractive garden herb because it does not maintain a compact shape—it folds, flops and sprawls.Notwithstanding the challenges of propagation and untidy sprawl, growing tarragon is easy and well worth the effort. It is a most flavorful herb with a distinct anise flavor. The addition of tarragon to any sauce adds depth. Tarragon is associated with French cooking but you can use it whenever you wish to make your recipe special. You need not even have a grand recipe in mind. Tarragon can be enjoyed just by sprinkling it with a pat of butter on boiled carrots!
To dry your garden’s tarragon in a dehydrator, first take cuttings from your plant. Cutting about 8 to 10 stems that are 8 inches long will give you enough tarragon to fit nicely into the trays of the dehydrator pictured below.Since the stems of the tarragon plant flop and sprawl, some leaves might have laid on the ground. Therefore, rinse the stem and leaves and pat them dry prior to placing them in the dehydrator.
Do not remove the leaves from the stems. The dehydrator uses a fan to disburse warm air throughout its compartment. If taken off the stems, the leaves might fly about in the compartment. Keeping the leaves on their stems will keep the leaves in place during the dehydration process.The leaves of tarragon and narrow but 1 to 4 inches long. It will take time for the dehydrator to thoroughly dry the leaves because the dehydrator will be set at a low but optimal temperature. Set at 100° F and fully packed with tarragon, it took 2 days to dry the fresh garden tarragon with the Nesco Model FD-75PR (5 Tray) Snackmaster® Pro Food Dehydrator. Using a dehydrator will insure that your tarragon will have dried, not burned, in a dust free environment away from all moist conditions inside your home. After the tarragon is dry, hold a stem and pinch off the leaves on the stem and then discard the stem. You will never need to purchase dried tarragon again because you can easily grow tarragon in your garden and just as easily preserve it for kitchen use. If you wish to preserve tarragon and other herbs from your garden, a dehydrator is a wise investment. To purchase a dehydrator from North Country Herbs that is a good size and great value for the family gardener and cook, click on the link I can dry my own herbs.