Remember Electricity?

This may go down in the history books as the "Big Ice Storm of 2009." Tuesday it hit, ice all night, then sleet, then some more ice and freezing rain. Power went off that night but came back on Wed. morning. Then it went off, for certain. It's now Saturday afternoon and we still are without electricity.

Fortunately we'd put some water aside, just in case. But by yesterday we'd used most of that up, both drinking water and sponge bath and flushing water. We have heat, back up heaters of wood stove and propane wall heaters have kept us warm. Kerosene lights and candles lit the early evening. And we can light the gas cook stove for boiling and frying. By yesterday we'd started draining the hot water heater and emptying the water in the not so hot, hot tub. And talk of the ill fated Donner Party started to circulate.

Today, though, with none of us seeing much reason to get out of bed anymore, we decided to abandon ship. Our great friends, the Dalys, who live in Hawai'i but spend their summers at their condo on Table Rock Lake, have offered their space to us many times. So today, the idea of a hot shower, of news on t.v. of what's happened in the rest of the world this past week, just sounded too good to turn down. So, like the Beverly Hillbillies, we just packed up and moved to the city.

The road to our house still has not been plowed out. It's ice covered, with sleet on top, slush under that and ice under that. There are thousands of trees that have fallen across the roads and fences all over the county and lots of limbs down in our yard, too. Josh had cut several of the trees that had fallen across our road and yesterday, after 5 tries to get his car out of the driveway, and 3 exciting, sliding, swerving, spinning and frustrating tries at getting his car up the big hill above the house, he finally made it over THE hill. This morning, while the sleet/ice/slush was still frozen, we loaded up Barbara, agile at 93, and Molly, the dog, into the car and we all fled the scene and to Bill & Betty's comfy condo. We know just how those Clampits felt when they moved to Beverly Hills!

Without power we can't run the computers or ship products so we're almost a week behind in our shipping. If the power has not returned by Monday we'll ask our employees to work from another location for the day to get orders processed and ready to ship on Tuesday. We've heard that Carroll Electric, which supplies our power, had over 1,000 electric poles snapped off by the ice and it's unlikely they had that many poles on reserve. And farther down in Arkansas the ice storm was worse than here.

So all in all, we're fortunate and healthy. No potatoes will get planted this week, that's for sure. The lettuce, bok choy and onions that are already in the ground are covered by ice. The indoor plants from the normally sunny and warm sunporch are huddled together in the kitchen, awaiting warmer weather. With the temperature in ths 50s today some of the ice is melting but it will take a week for it to all go away and months to get the limbs and broken trees cleared away. Thanks for all the phone calls and nice comments people have left, asking if we're all right after the storm. We are, and doing much better now that we've all had showers!

All this going to bed at 6 and sleeping and sleeping, has given everyone a lot of time for dreaming. I started writing about dream pillows - those herbal mixtures that change the kinds of dreams you have - more than 20 years ago. You may run across some of my dream blends in herb shops around the country or find people teaching about them from one of my books. We offer all the bulk blends, dream pillows and supplies in case you're looking for something fun for Valentine's Day gifts. Romantic Dreams pillow would be a good choice. Or Pleasant Dreams for what I call, "a generic GOOD dream." Or possibly you know someone, child or adult, who has nightmares and trouble sleeping, and if so, Restful Sleep is the recommendation. You can find more information about dream pillows in various articles I've written if you click on the Jim's Columns button on our website and search through the postings.

With hot showers and warm beds, we bid everyone Pleasant Dreams for today.


Home Plantin' Onions

After days in Little Rock, where it was mild and the fall iris were blooming, the trip to Urbana was for-sure winter. I've been to Chuck Voigt's Univ. of Illinois Herb Day several times, and every one of them, it's been cold. Well, what can one expect, it's January and it's Illinois!

The drive was longer than I'd remembered. I was thinking 7 hours. It's 4 hours from our house to St. Louis. But with a tough headwind and blowing snow all the way, took a bit longer. All in all, it was 9 hours of driving to get to the hotel where Herb Day was being held. There were folks from Wisconsin that were happy as clams in the cold. I, however, can't fathom why anyone would live in a cold climate. It hurts! It's painful to be hit with blowing snow and sleet. But, after crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis, the snow quit and it was just bitterly cold. It was great to see Chuck Voigt again, the first time since his surgery and mine. As always he had assembled a great collection of speakers and vendors. Even though I wasn't an official speaker (I went as back-up, just in case) the University took all of the speakers and me out to a great dinner.

I get to hang out with honest to goodness, "foodies" (people who take food and writing about it, serious). Lucinda Hutson was the headline speaker, along with Father Dominic. Lucinda is from Austin, TX and obsessed over the weather for days ahead of time. She dislikes the cold and snow, maybe even more than I do if that's possible. But, taking on the weather in high style, after an impressive dinner, she fell backwards into the snow out front and made a snow angel!
Hers is one of my favorite cookbooks on the shelf and after about 20 years, she's come out with a new edition. What a character she is and her famous purple house has been on the cover of numerous magazines including The Herb Companion, Southern Living (check out the Grumpy Gardener blog at Southern Living, too) and Austin Living.

Father Dominic and I have shared the stage at some event or other in the past but neither of us could remember which or where. For several years he's had a cooking show on St. Louis Public TV. He's quite an entertainer and a superb bread maker and did both for the audience of 200+ people. He very kindly brought samples of chocolate mint brownies and a couple of breads to me where I was tending my booth. You can find more about him and his bread baking books here. He is a genius at baking and shows his audiences how to make bread with virtually no effort. He is oficially Father Dominic Garramone from St. Bede Abbey in Peru, IL.

One of the vendors at the conference was Chris Hopp of Farmbrook Designs. He specializes in hypertufa garden ornaments and what he had was outstanding. The designs were great, lightweight, good priced. I was very tempted by a couple of things he had but I wanted to see how well I sold my books and wound up not getting anything. But these are lightweight enough to ship and strong like concrete! You can see more of his designs on his website. He had driven from Royal Oak, Michigan, another one of those cold climate folks!

So this week I got about 500 onions planted.
I order every year from Dixondale Farms in Texas and they ship to me about Jan. 1

I've had a dickens of a time getting seed potatoes this year. For almost 30 years I've ordered from David Ronniger at Ronnigers Potatoes in Moyie, Idaho. They've always shipped to me in January and I've written about them in the newspapers I write for, for the past 17 years. Well, a new owner who's had the business for 4 years, after I'd tried to place my order, called up and said I was a liar, had never ordered from them before and he would not ship to me before, "the proper planting time in your area" meaning, to him, March 1. I explained I have 17 years of newspaper columns listing the potatoes I've grown of theirs. He once again said I was lying (I have no idea what purpose I would have to lie about being a customer all this time). Then told me how bad the previous owner, David Ronniger's potatoes were, how scab infected and diseased, that he had gotten when he bought the company. No matter what I tried, he continued to call me a liar and said he would not ship to me and that I 'd never gotten potatoes from them. (I've bought for two years in a row from him after he bought the business). So, I finally just told him to cancel the order and I would find someone who wasn't a total jerk and who wanted his business to grow.

After putting out a plea on a couple of web sites, I found these really nice folks who are happy for my business and happy to ship whenever the customer wants instead of that magical, ridiculous "proper planting time for your area." If you're looking for people who care about your business and have high quality, organic seed potatoes, check out Wood Prairie Farms, Jim & Megan Gerritsen and family in FAR NORTH Maine! They like people, they don't seem to yell at their customers. I'm glad to make their acquaintance!

In the midst of the ongoing adventure in searching for seed potatoes, Rose Marie McGee, owner of Nichols Garden Seed in Oregon, sent me potato seed to try. I've never grown potatoes from seed before but she says she thinks they will produce as quickly as potatoes from, well, potatoes. So I planted 2 packets of potato seed in flats today indoors and they're going to race with the cut up seed potatoes when they arrive next week.

Barbara Young, Josh's mother, continues watching her Aerogarden and the lettuce, grow. It's amazingly efficient and we'll have salad soon. The lettuce crop will keep up for a couple of months or more as long as it's harvested.


Iris Blooming in January!

It was hard to believe, but there it was. Not one, but TWO iris blooming, with five more buds coming along, yesterday, January 15! They were next to one of the houses in the Territorial Restoration in Little Rock, which next to the Arkansas Historical Museum where I was attending Crescent Dragonwagon's Fearless Writing workshop all week. The iris, a fall blooming variety most likely, seemed oblivious to the partly freezing temperatures. When I left L.R. today there was spitting snow and it was well below freezing, so I'm not sure if the iris survived past today.

There were 12 in our writing group and it was fun to share some time with Crescent. She's always inspiring and full of fun. She asked about the farm, the gardens here, friends we have in common. She and her late husband, Ned, used to bring their Gardener's Weekend groups here for part of the Dairy Hollow House Bed and Breakfast special events.

While in Little Rock I visited the Clinton Presidential Library. I haven't been there since the day it was dedicated, several Januarys ago. That day, Billy Joe Tatum, her daughter, Josh and I, sat, along with a few thousand others, watching the ceremonies. It was the only time I have seen all of the living Presidents together in person. It was bitterly cold that day, and pouring rain so hard that water was running into our shoes. We were covered with garbage bags over raincoats, all the area hotels were sending truckloads of towels which they were passing out through the crowd. They evidently didn't expect rain, because even the past presidents who spoke, got soaked, as well. It was a miserable, wet day and much better this time.

Being at the Library was interesting for me on many levels. First, I didn't realize they invite art exhibits to the Library, but it's a way of bringing in people who might not otherwise visit. This particular month they have an impressive display of artfully done choppers (motorcycles for you non-gear-heads). I took several photos of the ones that were especially interesting.

But it was the display of the Presidential car and things surrounding that which interested me. It brought back great memories of 1993, when Crescent Dragonwagon invited me to Washington, DC to help with an Inaugural Brunch for the Clintons. (Dairy Hollow House B & B was a favorite restaurant and private getaway for the Clintons while Bill was Governor). So I was in Washington that week for all the festivities and watched that very car, first with them in it in the parade, then as it went ahead of them after they got out and walked the parade route, waving. I snapped a photo of the crowd at the Library to see if I can find myself there in the crowd along the parade route.

There is a display of the Clinton campaign buttons there, as well. Ironic, isn't it, in the middle of the display is one that says, "Bye George" back when people were so glad to see George the First leave. Now, here we are 16 years later and we are even happier to say goodbye to another George Bush!

Because this blog is about my garden, and the gardens I visit, I asked if it would be possible to see the private garden on the top floor of the Clinton Library. I was told, "No, that's the garden of the private residence when the Clintons visit." Ok, that's cool. I took some photos of their "yard" out front, but it's rather unimpressive, being winter and all, and just grass anyway.

I also called P.Allen Smith to ask if I could stop by and take a photo of his garden for the blog. Funny, he gives the same answer I do when people ask to stop by my garden in winter, "It's not a good time to see the garden right now," he politely said. Well he did tell me to stop by whenever I'm in Little Rock when he was here filming a segment for his show, "P.Allen Smith Gardens." I was hopoing to take a photo of the work in progress fountain that his two Jack Russell Terriers had torn up this fall. (Our Molly would not do something like that!)

So it was a lot of writing and not much gardening on this trip. Three and a half hours home from Little Rock today, unpack, launder, repack tonight and leave for Urbana, Illinois tomorrow for an herb conference at the University of Illinois, 6 hours to the north-east. I've spoken there several times, but this year I'm just having a booth and "being." Lucinda Hutson is the main speaker. I always look forward to seeing her as she has creative and slightly off-center ideas about herbs and cooking. She's been obsessing over Illinois weather; living in Austin, Texas, where it's never this cold, she thinks she's heading up to the North Pole.

Back soon!


Visitors Inspire Cooking Flurry

One of the nice things about having people visit, is you clean house. The other nice thing, is sharing meals. Catching up on each other's lives over good food is one of the distinct pleasures of being alive, or so I believe.

Our friends, Billy Joe and Halley Tatum came to visit. It's been years since they've been here, and about 3 since we've been to see them at Wildflower, their home outside Mountain View, Arkansas. Dr. Tatum has retired from doctoring and Billy Joe has retired from writing. But for many years she had a very popular column in The Ozarks Mountaineer. She's also the author of one of my all time favorite books on plants and food, Billy Joe Tatum's Wildfoods Cookbook and Field Guide (Workman Press). Long out of print, if you can find a copy it is one of the best wild foods guides ever written. She and Halley came up for an overnight, just to visit. We walked in the garden and talked plants, cooked, ate, cooked and ate some more.

I was knee (or was it arm pit) deep in writing an article on mint for The Herb Companion magazine, and was in the process of testing some of the mint recipes. The article will run in the March issue and contains many of the recipes we tested and tasted this week. Mint found its way into several dishes including the Herby Beer Bread. I went searching for an easy and quick beer bread recipe and ran across the best sounding recipe on Farmgirl Susan's blog. She's on my favorite blogs list and I check to see what she's up to fairly often. She had posted a recipe and I tinkered with it and added my own ingredients, including some mint, lavender, rosemary and sharp cheddar cheese. It came out tasting so good I will make often. The lavender flowers are kind of like little crunchy bites, with a pleasant sweetness. Of course you can leave out the beer and use 7-Up or root beer instead, but the alcohol evaporates out, and the yeastiness of the beer gives it a particularly good flavor. Even my Aunt Lea, who would never let alcohol pass her lips, goes in disguise to the liquor store to buy beer for her beer bread! Here's the recipe, adapted from Farmgirl Susan's recipe:

Herb Beer Bread
The lavender flowers give the bread a nutty texture. Any seed can be added to the top, from whole rolled oats to sesame, poppy or others.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves, crumbled
1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
12 ounces dark beer

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, herbs and cheddar in a mixing bowl. Stir in beer and mix until combined. Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan, top with 1 teaspoon whole rolled oats, raw sunflower seed or sesame seed and bake until golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Shepherd's Pie, without the mint (but with rabbit, chicken and pork) was on the menu for the next meal, served with minted carrots and a Persian cucumber salad, more mint, of course. It's good that spearmint continues to produce leaves just above the ground so I could finish the mint article, which features an, "International Buffet Featuring Mint." Of course you would never want an entire meal with mint as the main herb. But like any buffet, you pick and choose what looks best to you. Look for the article in the March issue of The Herb Companion magazine.

Meanwhile I'm heading to Little Rock for a writing workshop with Crescent Dragonwagon. Instead of going back to Thailand for more cooking classes and summer temperatures this month, I'm heading only slightly more south and only a few degrees warmer. Crescent, author of a wide range of books as well as novels, children's books and more, can be every bit as exotic and inspiring as a beach in Thailand. She even offers a money back guarantee for anyone who isn't inspired by the Fearless Writing workshop. Details soon.


80 Degrees Jan. 3-09

Someone asked me what kind of car I would buy if I could afford anything I wanted. You'll never guess my reply.

A backhoe. Really. They're incredibly versatile. Not great fuel mileage I admit, but you can rearrange the landscape, dig ditches, build rock walls, build a fishpond. Can you do that with a Mercedes?

We've had a backhoe here for 1 day and the backhoe operator dug up a row of 30 year old hedge plants. They were in an "L" shape, planted around a rock floor next to the well house. Which is beside the road. Back many years ago, we had no neighbors and no traffic. One car a week past the house was a busy week. So that spot was the outdoor shower. If you've never enjoyed taking a shower outdoors, you've missed one of the pleasures of life and nature.

But over time the road was paved, neighbors built houses, traffic increased and an outdoor shower was no longer necessary. It was incredibly useful in its time. After getting dirty from gardening, taking a shower outdoors and changing into clean clothes, kept a lot of tracked in dirt out of the house.

So the backhoe dug up the old hedge and we carted it off to the dump. In its place, we moved the overgrown hardy banana out of the garden, where it's grown for 2 years next to the fish pond. That was a fairly major job, an hour of digging, sawing, cutting, grunting and pulling and finally the clump of banana roots came out. The backhoe had already dug a hole about 3 ft. across and 24 inches deep where the hedge had been. Transplanted and mulched with straw, the banana can now spread and grow happily. It gets about 14 ft. tall in the summer and in unencumbered soil, it will likely reach 25 ft. tall this year.

The bees were all abuzz on the Oregon grape holly today. The holly starts blooming about Thanksgiving and will continue all winter and every day the weather is warm, the bees are out, getting their fill of nectar. The berries, "grapes" are good for jelly, I've been told, although I always forget in mid summer to gather them to cook. We reached 80 degrees this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. which made not only the bees happy, but me. I planted some hyacinth bulbs I bought at Home Depot last week, marked down from $10 to $3, and still looking fresh and worth planting.

The afternoon sun was shining across the western horizon on the bamboo, so I clicked a pic of that, as well. I've come to enjoy bamboo, which stays green all winter and continues to spread along our western fence. It's easy to keep out of the yard with the lawnmower and provides great poles for all sorts of garden projects, from pole bean poles to crosspieces for arbors.

One of the plants that shines in winter is the Proven Winner Euphorbia 'Helena' which turns a beautiful maroon in cold weather. It takes the heat of summer and will tolerate part shade. My upper garden is sunny for only about 2 hours a day and is under-grown with roots from nearby oak and juniper trees which makes it difficult for growing most plants such as roses, clematis, etc. But these new Euphorbias seem to like the spot.

Another plant that continues to surprise me is the cast-iron plant Aspidistra elatior. Grown mostly as an interior houseplant, it's earned its name here for being hardy to zero, and not minding hot summers. It never becomes lush, but it's alive and I may experiment with growing more for ground cover later.

Our 80 degree days won't continue. Historically a couple of days like this will be followed by 5 degrees for a few days, then back up to freezing. But if winter would stay like this, I'd quit complaining about the cold of winter and stop dreaming about a warm beach somewhere.