Celebrate National Cookie Day with Herbal Cookie Recipes!

December 4 is #nationalcookieday so here are three recipes for cookies that include herbs!

Lemon Thyme Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional Icing: 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

thyme

Directions: In large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt, set aside. In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar with mixer and then beat in thyme and 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Add egg and vanilla. Reduce mixer speed and add flour mixture. Roll dough into 1 ½ inch diameter logs, wrap, and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Line baking sheets with parchment paper, slice 1/8-inch rounds and place on sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

When cookies have cooled, can top with icing. Mix the confectioners’ sugar, fresh lemon juice, and 2 tsp. of lemon zest and spoon over cookies.

Herbal Shortbread Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, cut up and at room temperature

½ cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp. herb of choice: try calendula petals, lavender flowers, rosemary, or lemon balm

calendula

Directions: Beat together butter and sugar, add flour, salt, and herb. Mix and then roll out onto floured surface, so is about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Cut shapes such as circles and then put on ungreased baking sheet, bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Lavender Cookies

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 ¼ cups self-rising flour

1 tbsp dried lavender flowers, crush with mortar and pestle

Pinch salt

lavender

Directions: Cream butter, sugar, and salt and then add flour and lavender. Mix and let sit in fridge for a few hours. Then place dough onto floured surface, roll to 1/3-inch thick Cut into circles and place on greased baking sheet, bake at for 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

lemon thyme cookies courtesy of Tonya LeMone at Perennial Gardens, Utah.

Get Your Veggies by Growing Microgreens

mustard microgreens

Now that winter is coming, you can still grow your greens, just indoors. Growing microgreens is a fun, cheap way to grow nutritious vegetable seedlings for sandwiches, wraps, soup, and salads. Microgreens are the shoots of edible plants, requiring very little space and minimal cost.

Microgreens differ from sprouts. With microgreens, the seed germinates in a growing medium and after one or two weeks, the “micro” stems and leaves are cut down to the soil level and eaten. Sprouts are seeds grown in a moist container—no soil. After a few days, the entire sprout–root and seed–is harvested and eaten.

Although there are microgreen kits for sale, a cheap way to grow them is by reusing the plastic containers from the grocery store, such as clam shells for berries, baked goods, and Chinese food containers. Poke a few holes for drainage and fill with bagged, sterile, soilless growing medium, not soil from the garden. The mix specifically made for starting seeds works best. Fill the container with 2 inches of mix and water thoroughly.

radish seeds germinate in 24 hours

The best seed for microgreens germinate quickly and produce tasty shoots and leaves. There is no such thing as a microgreen seed; microgreen is really a stage in which the plant is harvested. However, you may find seed packages sold as “microgreens” because the package is a mix with similar germination rates. Popular seed are kale, mizuna, mustard, radish, carrot, cress, arugula, basil, onion, chive, broccoli, fennel, sweet pea, celery, bok choy, and Asian greens. Local independent garden centers carry these seed packets or order online from any of these companies.

Because seed germinate and grow at different rates, it is best to use one type per container. Cover the surface with seeds and press down with your fingers to put them in direct contact with the moisture. Place the container on top of a tray to catch the excess water. Cover with another container to increase the humidity level and warmth. Always label containers with the plants’ names and keep records so you learn how soon you can harvest and what you like to eat.

radish microgreens in five days

After the seeds germinate, remove the cover and provide light via grow lights, fluorescent tubes, or a south facing window. If you do not have a very sunny window, you may have to rotate the container for the stems to grow straight. If the top level of the soil dries out, water by either misting the top or putting the container in a pan of water so the water is absorbed via the bottom drainage holes.

The first set of “leaves” you will see will not be the true leaves. They will be the cotyledons or the seed leaf within the embryonic seed. If the plant grew outside for the mature fruit or vegetable, these would eventually shrivel and disappear. For many microgreens, you can harvest at this stage because there is plenty of flavor in these “leaves” and stems. For example, you can harvest radishes at this stage because you will taste plenty of spice and the stems will be crisp.

With some plants, you wait until the second set of “leaves” appear, which will be the first set of true leaves. For example, you will want to harvest cilantro at this stage because you get more flavor in the true leaf. At this point, the seedling is probably 2 inches tall.

Harvest by cutting straight across with scissors a centimeter above soil line. You can cut what you need and wash or cut all of it, wash, dry, and refrigerate in a plastic bag for a few days.

Growing microgreens is fun and easy. The more you determine the flavors you like the more you can set up a system where you are sowing seeds on a weekly basis to feed your family nutritious and colorful vegetables year round.

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, DC Metro Area Gardening E-Newsletter

Enter your e-mail here to subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a free e-newsletter about gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Each issue lists the local gardening events for the month, recently published gardening books, and articles and tips specific to this immediate area. Each issue also features the opportunity to win a free plant or gardening product. For the December 2019 Pegplant’s Post, which will be e-mailed to subscribers on November 30, one lucky subscriber will win a Hip-Trug.

Many gardeners know or have Corona gardening tools. Recently Corona has been promoting several products from Burgon and Ball, their sister company in the U.K. I particularly like the Hip-Trug, because it is good for the back and knees–saves on bending and getting up and down. This large plastic container clips to the belt, pocket, or waistband, enabling gardeners to use both hands when harvesting veggies or deadheading flowers. The container slips in and out of the holster, making it easy to empty and clean. The holster is available in a moss green or navy blue color (the image is for illustrative purpose, the winner does not choose the color). Check out the other Burgon and Ball products on Corona’s website: Kneelo knee pads and the Kneelo kneeler.

The Corona company started in the 1920s with the invention of orange shears. The citrus industry was near the city of Corona in California. In the time it took to harvest and deliver the crop by train to the east coast, much of the fruit quality diminished thus decreasing sales. A Corona school teacher realized that most of the skin damage on the orange came from the oranges themselves. The fruit was harvested by hand, pulled from the tree, which resulted in openings in the skin and jagged stems. He designed a tool that could cut the fruit off right at the button of the fruit (where the stem connects to the fruit) thus eliminating openings and stems that poke and damage other fruit. He worked with a blacksmith to create the tool who then supplied the tool to the California citrus industry and thus the Corona company was born. Today, Corona Tools is the leading tool brand in Northern America, part of the global Venanpri Tools that includes sister companies Bellota and Burgon and Ball. Venanpri Tools is a family of consumer and professional tools for the lawn and garden, landscape, irrigation, construction, and agriculture markets.

Chives: A Perennial Herb for the Kitchen

chive plant in November, after hard freeze

We had a hard freeze a few days ago and my chive plant still looks great. I cut some foliage, washed with cold water, and snipped little pieces to add to our pierogies. That is what I love about herbs: you can just pop in to the garden, cut a few leaves, and add a punch of flavor and a dash of color to your dishes.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a must in the garden. They are foot-tall, perennial herbs that can be incorporated within a garden bed, taking up little space. Although chive foliage will die back in the winter, they are one of the first herbs to emerge in early March and are still looking good now in November despite the freeze. Chives are also easy to grow and easy to divide. From one plant, you can divide again next spring to create more for the garden or to give away to friends.

chopped chives on pierogies

Although chives can be grown in a container in the summer, I have mine in my garden bed, which is in part shade with soil that is on the moist side. Usually we are harvesting the foliage for the onion flavor but the pink-lavender, clover-like flowers are edible as well.

In my family we prefer to cut fresh chives for potato and egg dishes, rice, chicken, tacos, quesadillas, and tomato soup. We also make chive butter by stirring in chopped chives to soft butter – butter that has been sitting at room temperature. We refrigerate the herb butter in a container or wrap into a log and freeze. This can be done with soft cheeses as well.

about to mix chopped chives with butter

The chive foliage can be preserved in the freezer, dried, or in ice cubes. Chive foliage and flowers can be used in herbal vinegars. Chives are so versatile in the kitchen and so easy to grow in the garden, there is no reason not to have them in your garden.

chive butter, rolled for freezing and to later give as a gift

Gardening-Related Media Resources in the DC Metro Area

If you are new to the Washington DC metro area and are interested in learning more about gardening, check out the local media. The following is the traditional, not social, media such as newspapers, newsletters, magazines, television, and radio. Social media can be useful as well but there are far too many resources to be able to capture in one article.

Newspaper

Every Thursday, in the Washington Post’s Local Living section, local garden editor Adrian Higgins writes a gardening article. During the growing season, on some Thursdays, Adrian answers questions from the public from noon to 1:00 pm. You can e-mail the question in advance or e-mail during that time period. If you missed the session, you can read the questions and answers in transcript format, online.

Newsletter and Magazine

Pegplant’s Post is a free, subscription-based newsletter for gardeners in the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC area. The newsletter is e-mailed at the end of each month and features local gardening articles, tips, events, new books, and a giveaway. See pegplant.com for the sign up form or visit the pegplant Facebook site.

The Washington Gardener is a digital magazine, published monthly for a subscription fee. The pdf file is e-mailed to subscribers.

Television

Fairfax Public Access sponsors the Gardening with Burke Nursery show, hosted by horticulturist Misty Kuceris. Shows are on the first and second Saturdays of the month at 2 pm; first and second Tuesdays of the month at 7:30 am; and first and second Thursdays of the month at 7:30 pm. This is on Channel 10 or 810 on Cox Communications or Channel 10 on Verizon Fios. If you miss it you can catch it on YouTube at Gardening with Burke Nursery. Burke Nursery is in Burke, VA.

PBS has a variety of shows related to gardening. Enter search words such as gardening, garden, landscape design, Virginia, or Maryland. Many are taped and can be viewed online. A Richmond-based show is Virginia Home Grown hosted by Peggy Singlemann and Pat McCafferty. This is a live, call-in show where you can get your questions answered, watch the show on TV, or view taped shows online.

Radio

Andre Viette has a live, call-in radio program called In the Garden with Andre Viette on Saturdays 8:00-11:00 am aired at several local radio stations. You can listen live from your computer or podcast as well.

Mike McGrath, garden editor for WTOP, 103.5 FM, an all news radio station in Washington, DC, has one-minute “Garden Plot” sessions on Saturday and “Yard Warrior” on Friday morning. He writes a gardening column every Friday, posted on WTOP.com. You can e-mail him your gardening issue/questions.

Garden Sense Radio is hosted by Rick Fowler on Saturday, 8:00 to 9:00 am., WMAL AM 630 and 105.9 FM.

Care of Chrysanthemums: Post-Bloom and Post-Frost

chrysanthemums are perennial plants

Its chrysanthemum season, time to enjoy the autumn colors of yellow, orange, and red flowers. But what to do after Jack Frost visits?

Todd Brethauer, president of the Old Dominion Chrysanthemum Society, says to cut back the mums in the garden to 4 inches and cover with 4 inches of mulch, such as pine boughs or straw. It is okay if the plant is in darkness, it will be dormant during the winter months. Although mums are perennials, they are subject to the soil heaving during warm winter days which can damage or kill the roots. Keeping the plants covered insulates and protects them from the fluctuations in soil temperature. When spring arrives, remove the mulch.

If you have purchased a potted mum this fall and it is still in the container, cut back the stems to 4 inches and cover the entire plant and pot with mulch. Todd suggests keeping the plant in the container and not taking the plant out and planting in the garden. There is not enough time for the mum’s roots to become established in the ground; therefore, the plant will not survive the winter. For extra insulation, Todd suggests putting the entire plant and container under a deck, covered with mulch, and even putting the pot on its side so excess rain or snow will run off. Otherwise, treat decorative potted mums as annuals. Either throw away after they bloom or take the plants out of the containers and put the plants in the compost pile when they are past their prime.

The best time to plant mums in your garden is in the spring after the last frost. This will give them all summer long to get established.

chrysanthemums forced for fall flowers don’t have time for root establishment in the garden bed

Making a Difference: Climate Victory Gardens

Growing Good Food: A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming by Acadia Tucker could really be titled, What One Homeowner/Gardener Can Do to Combat Global Warming. In fact, I would recommend Acadia’s new book to every gardener to learn how a person can impact the environment through one’s own garden.

Acadia speaks from experience in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. Acadia has a degree in Environmental Science from Pitzer College and a graduate degree in Land and Water Systems from the University of British Columbia. She has translated her farming experience and education for home gardeners to apply within their own garden. Acadia used to manage a market farm in Washington that originally had a “crappy dirt problem.” However, by improving the soil, she was able to produce 200 crops to sell at farmers markets.  Currently she lives in New Hampshire growing hops for local breweries and with her own garden is purposely growing what is good for the environment.

She begins Growing Good Food with explaining how healthy soil, soil high in organic matter and living organisms, absorbs carbon dioxide emissions. The buildup of organic matter in the soil is the essence of regenerative or carbon farming. Gardeners, as well as farmers, should always be interested in building and creating healthy soil for their gardens. Healthy soil retains rainwater and prevents erosion, supports living organisms, and helps plants resist pests and disease. Now gardeners have a new reason, healthy soil absorbs carbon.

About half of the carbon released into the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans, plants, and soil annually. Soil does the most part, storing four times more carbon than plants. However, if the soil is degraded through plowing, stripping, chemicals, and erosion, it is unable to absorb carbon. The way that soil absorbs carbon is through plants. Plants take in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and eventually carbon goes into the soil. It will stay in the soil at a deep root level if the plant’s roots are left undisturbed. This is why it is important not to till and why perennials, plants that stay in the ground, as opposed to annuals that are usually pulled at the end of the growing season, are preferred.

Acadia does not say that one person’s home garden can change global warming but she does make the case that if you were to look at all the gardens in a community, from a bird’s eye view, then together gardeners can make a difference. She equates this to the Victory Garden movement during World War II. Today, gardeners can make a difference by making Climate Victory Gardens.

She emphasizes the importance of adding organic matter to the soil, composting and mulching, using sheet mulching to create new beds, and growing more perennial food crops than annuals. Perennials, like a bramble or a fruit tree, are deep rooted and are not pulled up every year, thus keeping the carbon in the soil. She does not advocate not growing annuals such as beans but explains the advantages perennials have compared to annuals in terms of creating a Climate Victory Garden.

To learn more about the concept of perennial foods, read Acadia’s first book, Growing Perennial Foods. In Growing Good Food, Acadia describes “starter perennials,” perennial plants that would be easy and of interest to home gardeners, such as the berries, herbs, rhubarb, and walking onion; and the “tender perennials” such as tomatoes and peppers. She also describes how to grow the “favorite garden annuals” such as beans, carrots, and cucumbers but explains how gardeners should re-think in terms of roots and try to minimally disturb the soil.

Acadia also covers gardening issues like where, when, and how to plant a Climate Victory Garden, how to keep it going throughout the year, common diseases and pests, and gardening tools.  This 168-page paperback is an introduction to the larger conversation of making a difference on this planet with one’s own property. It underscores the importance of what gardeners have known all along, the soil is what makes the difference.

If you are interested in purchasing Growing Good Food, visit the publisher, Stone Pier Press, for a 20 percent discount, using the code “pegplant20.” This offer is good until November 9, 2019.

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a Newsletter for DC Metro Area Gardeners

Apricot Giant Tulip

Enter your e-mail here to subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a free monthly newsletter about gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Each issue lists 50 to 100 local gardening events, lectures, and workshops; recently published gardening books; and articles and tips specific to this immediate area. Subscribers have a chance to win a gardening product or plant every month.

For the November 2019 issue, we are doing something a little different for the giveaway. Instead of having one subscriber win one product, we are going to have five possible winners. Each person can receive 100 tulip bulbs. We have collaborated with Dutch Grown to give away a total of 500 tulips — five winners will get 100 of one variety. Winners cannot pick which variety, but it will be 100 of Apricot Giant, or Jumbo Cherry, or Strawberry Fields Collection, or Rainbow Parrot, or Apricot Parrot.

Rainbow Parrot Tulip

Established in 1882, Dutch Grown has been shipping and selling spring blooming bulbs from their family farm in Holland to growers in the United States. They launched their website in 2001 and in 2007 they were able to set up their online shop.  Initially only wholesale quantities were available for purchase online but they were able to provide retail prices by opening a warehouse in West Chester, PA. They ship bulbs from Holland to the warehouse in Pennsylvania and from this site they can deliver retail orders to gardeners and home owners. Their website has a blog, a question submission form, a bulb calculator, a zone finder, and several videos.

So if you are not a subscriber, subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post for a chance to win 100 bulbs. Read the November newsletter for details. All photos courtesy of Dutch Grown.

Apricot Parrot Tulip

An Update on Bloom: DC’s Soil Conditioner for Gardeners and Landscapers

One 25 lb. bag of Bloom

In April 2017, I wrote about Bloom, a soil conditioner made from Class A biosolids. Biosolids are organic matter, recycled from sewage, which have been treated and processed in order to use as a soil conditioner. DC Water was producing Bloom in bulk and working with Blue Drop to promote and sell Bloom. Bloom provides essential nutrients to plants, increases organic content in the soil, and increases drought resistance in plants. At the time, DC Water provided “fresh” and “cured” in bulk. DC and MD residents could drive to the Blue Plains Advanced Water Treatment Plant in DC to load up their containers or truck or pay a delivery fee to have a truckload delivered to their home. Since then, I have seen bags at Homestead Gardens in Maryland that were small enough for me to lift and put in my car.

I contacted Blue Drop to see what has changed since my original article and sure enough, Bloom is now available in bags in some locations. You can purchase bags and bulk at Homestead Gardens in Maryland, bags at Annie’s Ace Hardware and at W.S. Jenks and Son in DC, and bulk at the Rock Stone and Sand Yard in Virginia. In addition, there are two new products: the “woody” blend which has 70 percent hardwood fines (in bulk) and “sand/sawdust” which has 3/7 Bloom, 2/7 sawdust, and 2/7 sand (in bulk).

Sand/sawdust blend on left; woody blend on right

“Anyone can come to the plant and pick up either blends,” said April Thompson, Director of Marketing at Blue Drop. “The blends and cured material are all great as soil amendment and can also be used to topdress lawns.”

Bloom is fertilizer and compost in one product. Bloom can be added when establishing turf and when planting and establishing a garden bed. Bloom also can be added to topsoil, used as a top dressing to an existing garden bed or lawn, or incorporated with a container potting medium.

Bloom is dark and crumbly

This weekend I put a 25 lb. bag of the cured type on a new garden bed of perennials that I had created in the spring. The consistency was like brownie mix–dark chocolate brown and crumbly. There was no odor. April sent me a small bag each of the woody blend and the sand/sawdust blend, which I placed side by side. The texture was great and again, no odor.

The Bloom website has a nutritional analysis of each product, videos, testimonials, research results, and information on bulk orders and local retail outlets. They even offer tours of the plant to show you how Bloom is made. They work with contractors, farmers, landscapers, and the home gardener. For more information visit the Bloom website or contact April Thompson at april@bluedrop.co.

Save Your Geraniums for Next Year

Red geraniums in a large container in May

When my mother lived in Vienna, Virginia, she grew red geraniums in large containers by the front door. Every fall she would pull the plants out of the containers, knock off the excess soil, and place the plants on a shelf in the basement. There was one small window allowing very little light but these plants would come back to life the following summer. She did this because her mother, who lived in Wisconsin, also saved geraniums in the fall. However, her mother had a sunny foyer. Every fall, she would cut her plants back, repot them in smaller containers, and treat them as small indoor plants in the foyer. Both methods worked well. Geraniums can take quite a bit of dryness which is what makes them ideal for overwintering.

This year, I received a geranium from All-America Selections. Calliope is a 2017 AAS ornamental vegetative winner (not grown from seed) with red flowers. It has bloomed all summer in a large container, in full sun. I added Osmocote when I originally planted it in May but I have not needed to water it. The rain has been enough. Every time I see this pretty plant I think of my mother and grandmother and how gardening wisdom passes down from generation to generation. Before winter hits, I want to save my geranium too. Since I do not have a brightly lit room in my house, I will try my mother’s technique.

Calliope in October, ready to be overwintered

This month, before frost, I will lift the plant out of the container, shake the soil off and cut off or back diseased parts and the flowers. Then I will let it dry for a few days in the shade on the deck so that excess moisture will evaporate. I will then place the plant in a large paper grocery bag, upside down, and close with a binder clip.  I will store the bag in the coolest place in the basement, which will be around 50 degrees.

Periodically, I will check the plant to see if it is getting too dry or, conversely, moldy. If moldy, I would just cut and throw away those parts.  If too dry, I would soak the roots in water for a few hours and then dry and put back in the bag. Of course, the foliage will die off eventually but that is okay.  In the beginning of April, I will put the root structure in a small container with drainage holes. I am assuming the plant will look like a dead stump but I have no doubt it will come back to life. I will water and place the container in the living room where it is warmer and lighter than the basement. This will trigger the plant to leaf out again. After the average last frost date (Mother’s Day here), I will put the container on the deck. It will be in shade at first which actually will be more light than the living room. Gradually, I will move the container to a sunny location and probably in late May, I will plant it back into its large container with another dose of Osmocote.

If you have geraniums, now is the time to think about saving them so you can enjoy them again next summer. This method should enable you to enjoy your geraniums for many years to come.

Pink and red geraniums in the landscape in August