Still Chilly in Florida

You'll have to love plants, a lot, to understand my excitement at finding the plants I've been searching for, for a very long time. I'd gotten a lead from a horticulturist at the Univ. of Florida, about a nursery in central Florida who is growing the somewhat rare plants I was looking for. Being told by the owners that neither Google Earth nor Mapquest could locate them (something I understand, since neither of those can locate Long Creek Herbs, either), I followed the owners' directions. First to a little town in Seminole country, then miles out of town, first on pavement, then dirt roads. I got lost, really lost, several times. Then a drive through a prison, down more dirt roads, "turn right at the dumpster" then on through Florida scrub and palmetto palms, the road getting smaller and smaller until it was just a path. I ran over a rattlesnake and was about to give up finding the nursery when the owner drove up, looking for me.

But at the end of the trail, was the most amazing, wonderful place, a bit of paradise hidden back in the dry palm landscape. And there, I was shown the very allspice, bay rum, lemon bay rum, jabotacaba, and cinnamon plants I was lusting after. What nice folks they were and excellent plants they grow.

Florida wasn't warm. I'd forgotten that it can be colder there than here in the Ozarks. I was glad to have taken my winter coat because the first 4 days I was there, I was cold nearly all the time. One evening we, Sarah, Neil, Roxana, Tom and I, sat beach side, outdoors, for dinner. The wind blew a gale, the kerosene salamanders (the kind they use in orange groves) did nothing for heat and we all nearly froze. If I wore a hairpiece, it would have taken off in the surf. But we all had good laughs and a good time over dinner and didn't tarry for dessert.

Roxana lead us to one of the best thrift shops I've ever been to, the Women's Center in Sarasota. It's the place the wealthy oldies leave their stuff, when they move, or die, or whatever. Amazing stuff, artwork, antiques, some pricey, some very reasonable. Next time I'll drive there instead of fly so I can load up the truck.

We were on a roll after the Women's Center, so we took in all of the nearby estate sales we could and hit the local thrift shops, as well. None were very impressive but not being worn out yet, we took in the Sea Hagg, which is a tourist place that sells "artwork," tourist junk, some old seafaring articles and more junk. We took pictures of each other, bought nothing but had a great time.

Tom & Roxana, who go to Bradenton each winter, were delightful hosts and showed us all the interesting sights, foods, stores and points of interest in the area. It was great fun. And traveling with Sarah and Neil was fantastic, always up for an adventure.

They left on Friday and I picked up my own rental SUV and took off for plant hunting. But at the urging of my friend, Joe, and several other folks, I planned Sunday around the Thai Temple in Tampa, for lunch. The website said it's one of the few community places for Thai people in the Tampa area, and that it actually feels like being in Thailand. It did! There are lots of food vendors where you choose the foods you want for lunch, then carry your meal to a picnic table under the palm trees, next to the river. Plant vendors sell some very rare Thai plants and I picked up a plant for a friend there.

Then on to the nursery and stopped at Echo Global, a training site for teaching missionaries about growing food in difficult locations. It has a nursery and I took a lot of photos there and bought some seed to bring back home of plants I seldom see: African okra, Roselle, quailgrass, moringa, and others.

After the nursery I checked out the the manatees. This smiling plywood manatee looks nothing like the real thing. They're known as, "sea slugs" and "sea cows" and are slow moving, lethargic and you don't actually see much other than a nose come up occasionally, or a back while they graze in the shallow waters. They are protected because motor boats often hit and kill, or seriously wound these docile sea animals simply because they just don't move out of the way.

All in all, finding a great wholesale nursery with the plants I was hoping for, a couple of days of warmth, some botanical gardens and time with dear friends, made this a really fine trip. And today I worked in the garden, cleaning beds and admiring the jonquils in full bloom.


Bhut Jolokia, The World's Hottest Pepper

Bhut Jolokia, The World's Hottest Pepper

I've received several inquiries about seed from a couple of plants I grew this past year. The bhut jalokia, also known as the naga jalokia, is still relatively hard to find in the U.S. Originally from Sri Lanka, tested by the Univ. of New Mexico prior to being listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world's hottest pepper, I have seed to sell for anyone interested. $5 for approximately 25 seed.

Also I have seed of the fat baby achocha, from the Bumthang Valley of Bhutan. These make a great vine for arbors and produce hundreds of fruits during the season. Best if started indoors then transplanted out after danger of frost. They're used like green bell peppers in stir fries, but the traditional method is to stuff them and bake in tomato sauce. Each pod has 6 - 8 seeds and I'm charging $2 a small packet of approx. 8 seed. Prices include postage and you can order with check or money order, sending it to me at P.O. Box 127, Blue Eye, MO 65611. I have a limited supply of seed so if you're interested, order now.

Here's a recipe from my recipes blog, for a great tasting crab dip (it's actually from my book, Easy Dips Using Herbs) and you can use some of the chopped, fresh fat baby achocha, and just a tiny bit of bhut jalokia in the recipe if you're adventurous. Enjoy it with chips.

Baked Crab Dip
Serve this while hot with your favorite crackers or toasted bread pieces.

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 6 1/4-ounce can crab meat, drained, flaked
2 tablespoons onion, grated
1 tablespoon half and half, or milk
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash salt and black pepper
Few drops hot sauce
1 green onion, sliced

Combine everything except green onion and mix together. Place in an ovenproof serving dish and bake at 350 degrees F. for 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven and top with sliced green onion and serve. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.


Spring Peepers are HERE!

One of the first signs of spring in the Ozarks is the Spring Peeper. Sometimes we hear them on very warm evenings in January, but the first real chorus began this year on Feb. 9. Before, there was just an occasional peeping, but a few nights ago, with the daytime temps being in the upper 50s, these happy little frogs let loose with a Broadway show.

Pseudacris crucifer, the spring peeper, has an average life span of about 3 years. They hibernate during the coldest months, but on warm evenings they come out to play. The nighttime whistles and chirps are made by the males, trying to attract mates, not unlike middle aged men driving red Corvettes. This little frog is so tiny it can fit on a dime, and can be frozen in the mud and still wake up in spring. But it can produce enough noise to be heard through closed windows. (I can hear them right now, late evening, even over the sound of the radio) To hear the peeper yourself, click here.

Armadillos weren't out during the ice of 10 days ago, but otherwise you'll find them the year around. I saw my first one here, on the Missouri-Arkansas border, in 1992. They were unheard of here before that time. But in only 17 years they have traveled and populated northward into Iowa. I've heard reports of them as far north as Des Moines. Without any natural predators, and not bothered much by cold weather, they continue their northward migration. In the garden, they dig anywhere there are grubs, earthworms or other in-ground insects. They can be quite destructive, often "tilling" a substantial area in one night.

The potato seeds have sprouted. As fast as they are growing they will be ready to transplant into pots in about 2 weeks. This is going to be an interesting experiment, growing potatoes from seed. Thanks to Nichols Garden Seed, I'll learn a lot more about growing potatoes this way.

AND, the seed potatoes from arrived from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine today. I think probably getting chewed out by my previous supplier for "asking" for January shipment, was a huge opportunity. Otherwise I would not have learned about Wood Prairie Farm and the nice family who own it. They are wonderful to work with, ship promptly, and the potatoes arrive in very attractive packages. They also sell seed and lots of great potato varieties. Thanks to all 3 people who recommended I try Wood Prairie Farm, including Sharon Lovejoy and Rose Marie McGee.

Just a little over a week ago, the Herb Shop and garden looked like this. Now this week we've had 60s, I have the potato bed ready and the bed for peas almost ready to plant. It's a tradition in the Ozarks to have peas in the ground by Valentine's Day and I'm working toward that deadline every day.


Plants in Bloom, Feb. 6, 09

Plants are tough. How could something withstand the ice of last week, the constant low teens temperatures, then with only a couple of days of warmth, burst into bloom? As soon as the ice melted off the edge of the pathway by the kitchen door, this cluster of snowdrops (Galanthus) was in bloom. They are the first spring bulbs to bloom each year and originated in Asia Minor.

Also in bloom today is the helleborus, sometimes called lenten roses, which starts blooming in January and often remains in bloom through the end of May. Extracts of helleborus have been used in folk treatments and experimental therapies in Romania and Germany.

The dragon's blood sedum (Sedum spurium) is at its best now, as well. In the summer you can't quite understand where it gets its name as it is just another greenish sedum. But in the winter, it turns a brillant dark crimson and "spills" out onto the rocks, like the spilled blood of a dragon. Dragon's blood is one of those interesting plants that will grow just about anywhere, from on top of a rock with only a thimble full of soil, to the edges of the lawn, in a rock garden, on top of an old cellar or between the bricks of a pathway. While it does bloom in summer, the flowers do not compare to the brilliance of the leaves in winter.

Henbit also begins blooming now. I know there are more gardeners who declare war on henbit than those who don't, but it's a "weed" that is so incredibly innocent it's hard to understand all the wrath thrown at it. You can look on Fertilome or Scotts products and see it listed as, "a noxious weed," which their product controls. Home owners spray herbicides on their lawns, or use a granular form, to eradicate the plant. The home owner buys the product, spreads it on their lawn and in a few weeks, the henbit magically dies. Oddly enough, henbit magically dies whether you spray it or not. It's season runs from early February through April or May, then it yellows and dies, whether you spray it or not.

Henbit really doesn't cause any harm to the garden, although it does take up space you may want for your lettuce or other early crops. Pull it and it's gone, without any poison chemicals required. However, since it begins flowering so early, it spreads lots of tiny seeds throughout the season and will continue coming up. If you leave it alone the plant will be covered with hundreds of small, lavender flowers. You may see it covering an entire lawn or roadside and it's attractive, then it dies in late spring and is replaced by other green growing things. Harvest some henbit and chickweed and cook up a pot of early spring greens. Serve it with a batch of cornbread and you've got a traditional Ozarks supper.

(And if you look on the side of the package of either Fertilome or Scott's weed products, you'll see photos of other very edible, very tasty, "weeds."

Or, if you have a handsome goat, like Mr. Billy A. Goat, here, he will likely eat any of the henbit you gather for him.

We have compost piles at the edge of the garden where we compost a lot of the garden debris, but many times it's easier to simply toss things over the fence, where Mr. Billy is waiting. He, and his herd of nannies, will taste, and often eat, any of the weeds or garden trimmings that get tossed to them.

February is the month for planting seeds for spring plant. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, achocha, all those things that will get planted outside after danger of frost, are ready to be started now.

We're making Dream Pillows and Dream Pillow Kits in the shop and Valentine's Day is always a popular time for those. We have a few customers who buy our Kits for 25 and 50, and use them in nursing homes as a craft activity. The nursing home residents like making the Dream Pillows and the staff love it because everyone sleeps really well afterward. To read more about Dream Pillows' uses, check here, or go to our Dream Pillows page.


It's Electric!

Being without power for a week accomplishes making us all more grateful when the power finally came back on (Tuesday, noon). Thanks to Bill & Betty Daly, we were treated to heat, lights and showers in their comfy lakeside condo. It was like a vacation and very much appreciated.

Some of my seed potatoes arrived this week, and the potato seed (not to be confused with seed potatoes) from Nichols Garden Seed in Oregon, are up and growing. In spite of no light nor heat for days in the seed flats, these little seed came up. Rose Marie McGee at Nichols said she thinks the seed will product 'taters as fast as seed potatoes in the ground so it will be fun to see.

Shortly I'll be posting a page of used herb books I have to sell, along with seed. Watch for news. Meanwhile, with Valentine's Day coming, I've posted an entirely new blog about Dream Pillows with links to stories I've written and more. If you're interested in how Dream Pillows can help people who have nightmares and restless sleep, or how useful Dream Pillows are for giving pleasant dreams or romantic dreams, click on the Dream Pillows book at the upper right of this blog page.

I've been writing about, and creating formulas for Dream Pillows for over 20 years. It's not hocus-pocus, simply working with how our minds perceive fragrance during sleep.

Dream Pillows are made entirely from herbs and flowers. Some of my blends are based on formulas I adapted from books from the 17th and 18th centuries. The Restful Sleep blend was given to me by a pharmacist, the late Jerry Stamps. I was having nightmares and restless sleep over the loss of my children, 30 years ago (the story can be found from the links on the Dream Pillows blog). He made the blend for me and it really worked. It eased the nightmares and gave me better sleep almost immediately.

I even have a dream blend to use if you have guests who just won't go home. It will give them restless sleep and strong nightmares, the very first night. Next day they will be packing their bags and heading home.

All this, from flowers and herbs from the garden, and a lot of fun, as well.

If you want to give someone a Romantic Dream Pillow for Valentine's Day, or anytime, you can order here.

Pleasant Dreams and Restful Sleep to you.