PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The First Honey

Wilbur decided to pull honey today, the first from these two surviving hives, the first since leaving Florida. Gilly was here with her girl, Kaiya, and they pitched in. It's always nice to have help when robbing bees--multiple targets, etc. And Kaiya got to try out her new Kaiya sized bee hat. Never underestimate the power of new hats.

He'd hoped to get more, but decided to take only three frames after checking the state of things. We'd had visions of spending the whole afternoon processing honey, but--well, we did spend the whole afternoon, but not because there was so much...

After scratching open the cells, he put the frames into the honey extractor, a centrifuge for manually extracting honey from the cells. They all got to try it out, cranking the handle as hard as they could, waiting for the honey to come flying out, and waiting, and cranking, and rubbing sore arms, and waiting...

That was, wow, the thickest honey in the world. I'd have thought it was almost frozen except that it was still warm enough for shorts (well, Aly was in shorts). We resorted to our old method of crush and drain, but the honey did not drain--it just lay there in the sieve, glistening oozily but not oozing. We finally loaded it into stockings and squeezed it from the wax using brute force.

We're stumped about why the honey was so thick--but the taste was a delight and unexpected. It was spicy with a high floral note and a pronounced tang--almost orange blossomy. Kaiya ate so much she ruined her dinner--but not dessert--chocolate pot de creme ladled over meringue, topped with chocolate ganache and whipped cream. Oh, that Bel...

Monday, September 17, 2012

An Herbal Walk

 After giving classses all summer, I finally had time to attend one. We all went on an herbal walk, and then made tinctures with the native plants we gathered.

Despite all the herbs we grow, and have planted in our own garden, Aly and I haven't had the nerve to try using them for any but the usual culinary applications (me cooking, her and Wilbur eating). I have tried the toothache plant, and the feverfew, chewing a few leaves cautiously, and of course tea--chamomile, et al. but....guess the warnings in the herbal books gave me pause. I have seen some remarkable results with herbs since we've been in New Mexico, and my curiosity has been piqued. Many of my customers are involved with herbs, and alternative practices, and when one suggested the walk, well...sometimes you just have to be shown something--

Now, let me say, I have been growing hop tree from seed, and have a hawthorne in my own landscape, but I never would have recognized them in their native habitat. They look nothing like mine, or the pictures in books, even good books! It was great to have a guide who recognized them, and could tell us about their herbal uses. Each of us had a tiny jelly jar which we stuffed with leaves, berries, and /or seeds. (Part of our pre-walk intro was a discussion of harvesting wild plants sustainably, taking only a small portion and only if the plant material was abundant). We each chose something different.
Hop or Wafer Ash Tree

We hadn't even left the parking area when we encountered native hyssop, mostly past its bloom period but a few still showing purple petals. The leaves of hyssop make a calming tea. Nearby, though not on the tour, was a stunning stand of native geranium blooming in full sun! I'm guessing Fremont geranium--a purply magenta color, and just swarming with bees. We have native geranium down in our arroyo, but its a blue purple, and very sparse. Then there was globe mallow, ubiquitous in the mountains; its a demulcent--chew the leaf to make a 'spit poultice.'

Our next encounter was creeping mahonia, a groundcover with an edible berry. Most people are familiar with mahonia aquifolium, flowering yellow in late winter, a much larger shrub though also with an edible berry. It grows well here though its native range is farther west. Mahonia repens is native and very common here, in moist canyons at higher elevations. The berries are high in vitamin C.

The hop or wafer ash tree is a scrubby small tree or large shrub. I was kind of relieved to see that the native looked as stressed as my seedlings. I'm forming a theory that natives, being native, are familiar to native pests. These hop trees were stippled  and discolored, and when the leaves were turned, the backsides were dotted with the husks of native insects. Hmmm. But I still chose it as the subject for my tincture. It's good for the stomach.

the lacy 'wafer' seed of the hop or wafer ash

We inspected mountain mahogany, some springing straight from rock, and the hawthorne, a small, graceful tree dotted with red berries--good for the heart. Artemesia will kill parasites like giardia when boiled in the water, and can be taken internally for the same purpose. Our guide uses it as a topical for poison ivy. There were large patches of woods rose, the hips also high in vitamin C.

As we passed a bank on the way back, I dug my hand into the soil--rich, dark, moist and crumbly. We have so many kinds of soil in such a small area. Wish I had some of this!

After the walk, we made our tinctures, or prepared them--they have to steep in alcohol for six weeks before we squeeze the moisture out, and bottle the resulting liquids.

We each carefully washed and dried our small harvest, then tore or snipped the leaves into small bits. They were crammed back into the jelly jar and covered with alcohol, not rubbing alcohol--this was ordered specially. Every day, we'll shake the jars to keep the leaves covered, and maybe push the contents down with a spoon if they don't seem to be settling into the alcohol. In six weeks, we'll discard the plant material, and put the liquid into dropper bottles.
Wilbur preps the hawthorne

We each got a bottle of usnea which was ready to drain and be used. Usnea (I had to look it up on wikipedia) is a lichen that grows in alpine conditions. It has an ancient heritage, and is a powerful anti-bacterial.

Next? We're going to try tincturing clary sage; not only is it beautiful, it has many beneficial properties!

Aly drains the usnea

Monday, September 10, 2012

Collecting Seed

annual, perennials, veggies, trees, shrubs...
Among other things keeping us hopping despite the shop closing for the season, we're seed collecting. I know there must be some way to keep this organized, but by this time in the season we're knee deep in paper bags, butter tubs, styrofoam cups, and plastic baggies of seed. In the kitchen, there's usually several cups of seed soaking by the sink, and there are dozens of baggies in the fridge. I've been trying to extract order from this chaos all week. I must clear my bench!

Can't move them under the bench--there's more seed down there. I'd shift it all to the desk, but could it be? More seed?!
One of our goals this year (chaos conquered) is to participate in the American Horticultural Society's seed exchange. The AHS was founded in 1922 and is 90, and has been an influence on gardening in America for lo these many years. Over the years they've funded an awards program, helped develop nomenclature standards for plants, been part of the Plant Hardiness Zone map, instituted youth gardening programs and more. I always enjoy reading their magazine, The American Gardener (free with membership). The seed exchange is open to all members, but those who donate seed get first pick from the catalog. But there must be order!

A few tips on seed collecting:
  • Label immediately--weeks down the road, you really are not going to be able to differentiate penstemon barbatus from p.parryi. I know.
  • Let seed ripen fully. One good sign is browning pods and capsules. Become familiar with what a particular seed looks like; the internet is a good resource. Unripe seed will not germinate. If we cut flower stalks that seem a little green, we hang them upside down in paper bags to finish drying.
  • Seed from fruit (any seed surrounded by pulp) should be cleaned. Washing helps remove germination inhibitors (we get great germination from New Mexico privet if we plant it right after cleaning).
  • Some seed does not keep and should be planted immediately but most will keep for years if stored properly. Seed that gets buggy (think hollyhock weevil) can go into the freezer. 
  • Veggie seed is pretty straightforward. Clean it; dry it. Some veggies like beets and celery are biennial; they set seed the second year, and will need to be protected over the winter if you want to save seed. If you planted more than one variety, say of corn, and they are in near proximity, they will cross pollinate. Plants grown from that seed will be hybrids (true of any plants close enough to interbreed).  Plant only one variety, keep well separated, or cover blooms.
We're hoping to repeat the seed starting course this winter; check facebook or the blog for announcments.

The National Agricultural Library has a pdf of an excellent resouce on seed germination--
Seed germination Theory and Practice.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

ArtFest 2012

ArtFest went pretty well this year. We remembered the trash cans and the balloons (the gas canister--brand new--was empty--manual blowing up blows). We only had one no show, and only one vendor opted out early. Sure wish we could get confirmations from the artists earlier. When half the show doesn't "show" until the last two weeks, we don't have time to get the advertising that we can now afford. Oh well...

Our artists were great this year, both returning and new. The quality of the work was especially good, and many visitors came back the second day. We had several calls after the show for artists' contact info.
Left to right--Brian Gebert, Kim Mason, Carolyn Watermiller, Alyson East

The Best of Show prize went to Kim Mason and Brian Gebert, jewelers and metal work. In a tie for second were potter Carolyn Watermiller and Michele Powers-Hardy, jeweler (the blue jean & boots table is hers'). My camera does not do justice to their work, or those of the following artists.
Gebert & Mason

Carolyn Watermiller aka Clay Woman

Alyson & Michele Powers-Hardy
Michele Powers-Hardy
Winners were selected by popular vote, with visitors marking their ballots with the booth number of their choice. First place received $100, and the second place winners received $50 each. We wish each artist could be honored for their creativity and skill. Here are a few more pictures--
Susana Andrews
Susana Andrews is a previous Best of Show winner. Her weaving demonstration is always popular with visitors.
Vicki Hudson
Vicki Hudson incorporate unique elements in her jewelry--and then frames them beautifully, gift within a gift.
Joyce McKenstry
Joyce McKenstry has been at ArtFest three years running. Her jewelry designs are classic.
Don Lightburn
Wilbur is on his second cholla walking stick from Don Lightburn. His canes are sturdy but light, and skillfully crafted.

Karen & Dana Robbins
The Robbins hand blown glass was very popular, and displayed everything from Christmas ornaments, to hummingbird feeders, to an artful pumpkin.

Wendell Unzicker
The "Unzipped" colored pencil  work by Wendell Unzicker was colorful, slightly surreal, and wholly beautiful.
Neal Drago

Martie Anspach
Richard Elvis
Richard Elvis' lightcatchers etch a fairy on the wall...

Belinda East--Bel was a huge help, a cheerful greeter, and an artist herself when she's not teaching.
Don Shapiro, seated, & friend
We can't forget our musicians Don Shapiro and Drew Fowler. Don and friend are playing cigar box guitars. The guitars are made in Madrid and sold at Roadside Attraction. They have a wonderful sound, and look great too.