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This is a bit of a round-up post, with information about online resources, herbal education, a documentary, and a gardening tip.

First, I need your input. I am in the process of re-vamping the Links page—instead of the short list that you see now, I want to create here a more comprehensive list of online herbal education resources, organized into categories such as blogs, Web sites, courses, webinars, e-newsletters, forums, etc., along with descriptions. If you have favorite resources that you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments section of this post—provide a link as well as a short description.

Second, I finally signed up for Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women course! I’m starting this weekend, and I’m absolutely thrilled. I’ve been hankering after this class pretty much since it was first made available (you know I’m a fan), and with all the ever-growing time constraints and competing priorities, I finally decided to stop making excuses and make it happen. I’ve already checked out the student web site and the student forum, and I’m on cloud nine. Doubtless, you will be hearing much more about this along the way.

Third, PBS made a documentary called What Plants Talk About, and it’s available for free viewing on their Web site (I love PBS). It’s about how plants communicate and interact with each other and with the world around them, their natural intelligence—pretty amazing stuff. If you watch it, I’d love to hear what you think.

Lastly, for the gardeners—I learned about this awesome low-tech setup for garden irrigation this week. This is definitely on my future project list. Any favorite gardening shortcuts/tips?

Have a beautiful and blessed weekend! I’ll let you know when I have the Links page up and running…

Early March and spring is right around the corner. I thought it would be good to take some pictures, check in with the herbies as they venture out into the chill. Imagine my surprise when, four days after taking pictures for this post, this happened:

Crocuses in a March snow

Crocuses in a March snow

Ah, March. In like a lion, true to fashion. Let’s see if it goes out like a lamb?

Elderberry

Elderberry, budding out from where we cut it back this past fall (our dog Rowan in the background). My husband was so worried we would kill it. Now he knows *grin*

Black Cherry

Part of our dwarf fruit tree plantings, this black cherry is now three years old and budding out all over the place!

Lavender

New growth on the lavender bush. We finally found a spot where it could winter over. Hurrah for south-facing walls!

rosemary2013-03_2

Rosemary. Isn’t she gorgeous?

Rosemary

All abloom – just beautiful

Garden rhubarb

Garden variety rhubarb (not the medicinal variety) busting out ready for pies…

Tansy

The tansy is starting to reach out for another year of trying to escape its pot…

St. John's wort

and the St. John’s wort, so eager for the returning sun

Marjoram

Our marjoram is a bit singed from the frost, but weathered yet another winter, the old girl

Lemon Balm

The lemon balm is creeping up between the fallen leaves

Feverfew

and the feverfew as well

Grapes

The muscadine grapes are starting to bud out – these guys are three years old, too, and soooo tasty…

Hyssop

Hyssop is interplanted with the grapes…

Vitex

The vitex still looks pretty barren, but soon enough it’ll be busting out in beautiful blooms

Vitex berries

Damon holding some of the dried vitex berries

Echinacea

The echinacea is starting to peek out in clumps here and there

Daffodil and santolina

Daffodil and santolina cuddling up close for warmth…

Daffodil

so lovely…

Crocus

and of course, the crocus, flagbearer of spring.

Stay warm everyone! And if you’re on the East coast, enjoy the snow and stay safe!

In June, I wrote a post about a method of drying herbs that we were shown while visiting Robbie Wooding’s farm. Here at home, unfortunately, I don’t have any rafters from which to hang herbs, so I’ve often resorted to using a cheap-o dehydrator to dry my herbs. But when my dehydrator saw fit to give up the ghost last month, I decided to opt for a non-electric option.

dehydrator - drying herbs

Pictured above is my brand-spankin’-new passive dehydrator, all loaded up with cayenne peppers, thyme, marjoram, and rosemary. I love it. Granted, it cost more than I like spending on anything (ie. it cost money, any amount—I prefer free), but we’ve got grand plans of using this as our trial model and then building some more ourselves. This one is nice though. I has a hook on the top so I can hang it out on my clothesline in the sun for maximum drying (the netting zips up to keep bugs out of your goodies) and then bring it in and hang it in the kitchen at night. I can also use it for sprouting seeds, beans, nuts, etc. How cool is that?

The only downside of a passive or solar dehydrator is a reliance on the weather, but since you have to rely on the weather to gather herbs for drying anyway, this doesn’t seem like a major inconvenience to me.

It is generally recommended that one harvest aerial parts of herbs (leaves, flowers, stems, etc.—anything that grows above the ground) mid to late morning on a sunny dry day once the morning dew has lifted and there is no residual moisture on the plant. Once you’ve harvested your herb, you need to go through it, picking out any hitch-hiking bugs, any chewed on or discolored leaves, basically removing any undesirable bits. Then, you need dry heat, shade, and air flow. This can be accomplished using an electric, passive, or solar dehydrator (you can build your own!), or you can string small bundles—small enough that the air can still flow throughout—and hang them somewhere dry and warm, like the rafters of an attic or a garage, so long as there aren’t any fumes in your garage like there are in mine. Another technique if you don’t get a lot of dry heat is to put the herbs on old window screens and prop them up in your car with the windows up. Keep an eye on the herbs for doneness, and if drying outdoors, be sure to bring the drying racks or dehydrator in at night to keep off the dew.

Once the herbs are fully dried, they should be “crispy” but still retain most of their natural color if they were kept out of sun and were dried quickly enough. Store them in glass jars in a cool, dark, dry place, being sure to label them with the name of the herb and the month/year they were put up.

What are your favorite drying or dehydrating tricks and tips?

It just occurred to me this weekend that gardening might be a good topic to include on the blog. Sure, I suppose you could practice herbalism by simply ordering all your herbs online and never actually meeting the plants in person, but what kind of way is that to make friends? Call me old fashioned, but I think the best way to connect with a plant is a lot like how you connect with other people: encourage growth, nurture it, visit and observe it regularly, be a good listener. You might be surprised to discover that you’re beginning to form “relationships” with your herbal allies.

Me sweating, the dog chilling on the gi-normous pile of dirt. Smart dog.

First you’ll want to prepare a garden bed—the wee planties need a place to grow. The best time to build up garden beds is generally in the fall, but I’ve never been good at taking my own advice, so this weekend we were celebrating 105 degrees in Richmond by building garden beds. Because that’s my idea of fun, apparently 🙂 Three beds enclosed with landscaping timbers for fall vegetables, and one bed enlarging the bee and butterfly garden—a lovely spot for herbs and beneficials. We’ll probably just do a wattle fence around the bee and butterfly garden this fall – not necessary, but it helps deter the dogs.

My favorite method is sheet mulching / lasagna gardening. It’s comparatively simple—no digging up sod and no tilling and only minimal weeding.

Raised beds for fall vegetables in varying degrees of completion

Step one: lay out soaked cardboard (easiest to use a wading pool) or thick wet sections of newspaper down in a layer where you want the new garden bed to be. The soaked cardboard will suffocate the grass underneath it and prevent it from popping back up, even with wiregrass!

Step two: top the cardboard with a layer topsoil, compost, sand – whatever you use as your growing medium. I use a mix that’s equal parts compost, topsoil, and sand, which provides plentiful nutrients and good drainage. Depth can vary, but I generally aim for around 8 inches.

Step three: mulch over the soil with straw (not hay). This does wonders for helping with retaining moisture, as well as further discouraging weeds.

Step four: each fall, add more compost and more straw to replenish the bed.

And that’s it! Pretty simple, eh? After years of digging up sod, tilling, battling weeds, I’m soooo glad to have found this method. I’ll never go back, and my back is ever so grateful.

Lasagna gardening/sheet mulching - cardboard, then soil, then straw mulch

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