Herb Garden

I have been wanting to put in a raised bed herb garden for a long time. This year I finally got the opportunity, partly because I’d been able to get 12 landscape timbers for free. Determining where I was going to build the bed was to longest part of the whole process, as I knew I wanted it close to the house, but the east side yard is too shady to put it there. I will put the kitchen garden there instead, so I can grow cool loving plants like lettuce and cilantro longer. I have terrible luck with cilantro, it always bolts right away for me.

So the herb bed wound up on the south side of the sideyard fence, right in front of our heirloom roses. I used six timbers to make it 12′ x 6′. Before I put any dirt in it, I lined it with feed bags and newspaper, as I hadn’t done any prep of the soil under the bed. As this area had both raspberries and goldenrod coming up due to long neglect, I knew even with 8″ of soil in the bed I’d still have weeds coming through without a barrier.

For filling the bed I used mostly the sandy loam we’d had delivered a while back for another project. It was a little too sandy, so I added two wheelbarrow loads of partially composted leaves as I was filling. The added organic material will help retain some water without adding too much fertilizer. I am planting mostly Mediterranean herbs in this bed, and they prefer a sandy, poor soil. Adding rabbit or horse manure to this bed would have given me problems.

Smoothing the bed with an upside down rake.

Once I’d filled the bed which took me about two days working on it off and on, I soaked the whole thing thoroughly. The dirt was close to dry while I was filling, and I wanted to make sure the plants got a good start. Up until this morning, we hadn’t had rain for about two weeks. When I was getting ready to plant, bringing starts over from the greenhouse, Glady came home from school and wanted to help. Kids love planting. Something about putting little green starts into the dirt just makes them happy. I’m not ready to trust Johann with the more fragile starts, but Glady is old enough to learn how to spread pot bound roots, and how to be firm enough to take out any air bubbles in the soil while putting the plant in.

Glady and the planted herb bed

We planted herbs and edible flowers in the bed. Rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage and parsley for some of the herbs. Calendula, tagetes marigold, pansies and nasturtium for the edible flowers. Also Borage, chamomile and basil. I still plan to put in purple basil, lemon basil and lime basil, as well as pots of lemon grass, oregano, and stevia. I may have to build another bed for moisture loving plants like mints. Oh, and I need to transplant some chives into this bed. See how one thing at Stonycroft leads to another?

This little butterfly was getting drinks from the damp soil.

Fast Food and Hard Labor

It’s been a busy day. I’d intended to make dinner and put it in the crockpot this morning and slept in instead, so I left for work without doing it. And then I found a craigslist offer of free railroad ties and set it up to pick them up after work. And finally, my other job asked me to come in this afternoon. So I left work in Concord at 1 pm, headed for the ties. Got there and someone else had beat me to them. Mumble, grumble, smile politely at the nice people and chat about the garden they are building. They tell me that they won’t take all of the ties, yay! After they leave I back in the truck (which I hate doing. I’ve only been driving for a year and backing up scares me silly) and pick the first one up. OOF… they must weigh about 120 pounds each. Getting myself and my work clothes (I had dressed casually, but not in grubbies) absolutely filthy and sweaty, I loaded a round dozen of the ties. My arms gave out then, and the poor truck had developed a definite down tilt to the back. I’m not sure what it is rated for, but I’m pretty sure I had a half a ton of timbers in there today. It’s almost 2 pm now. I hit the house at 2, I have to be at the library at 2:30. Wash hands, prep dinner. Fast food indeed – I have 20 minutes to execute dinner, wash, and complete a wardrobe change!

Venison Stew

1 1/2 lbs venison, cut into thumb sized cubes

3 tbsp fat

approx. 1 cup flour

2 large onions, rough chopped

4 carrots, rough chopped

8 oz sliced mushrooms (these were pre-sliced, and I would have added more if I’d had them in the frig)

2 tbsp chopped garlic (yes, pre-chopped thank goodness!)

7 potatoes cut into “spoon size” pieces. I determine how many potatoes by one for each person eating that night, plus one for the pot. I used Yukon Golds, as they were what I had on hand.

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups red wine

6 cups water

salt and pepper

I browned the venison, once I’d cut it, in about 3 tbsp mixed butter and bacon grease (I didn’t have enough butter to hand, so I grabbed my container of bacon grease I always save and tossed that in, too.) I used more grease for this than I usually would because venison is so lean it would have scorched without it. As it was browning I threw in the one onion I’d chopped first, and then a scoop of flour, about a cup. While this was going on, I was chopping the vegies and throwing them with the wine and water into the crockpot, set on High (if you are going to cook this all day, set it on low). It was time to leave, so I scraped the meat, onions, and crispy goodness stuck to the bottom of the 14″ cast iron skillet I was using into the crockpot. I stirred, lidded, and ran for the door. Usually if you are cooking on High, this will take about 4-5 hours to finish. I’d managed it pulled together in 15 minutes. If I had had parsnips, and possibly fresh beets, I would have thrown them in there, too. I did toss in a couple of little tomatoes that were getting squishy in the vegie drawer.

After my work at the library was done – it’s not a long job, fortunately – I headed back to the house. Dinner already smelled divine. I grabbed the shovel and headed out with the bag of Bayberries in hand to plant. Decided I would use them to guild a couple more rocks in the pasture that hadn’t been marked with blueberries. After that, I planted the little figs, which are only a couple of inches tall. They went in a front flower bed for now. It’s on the south facing side of the house, which has a nice micro-climate. It warms up in the spring a good week early. While I was doing that I dressed the bed with mulch and built a brick border. Backed the truck (argh!) into the side yard to off load the timbers, which weighed even more the second time around. But I have enough for a nice start to my kitchen and herb garden now, and all it cost me was some hard labor.

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