Browsing Archives for Garden

My Tomato Step Children

June 28th, 2009


I have two patches of tomatoes growing in my garden.  One of these patches I grew from seeds.  I nurtured them through their colicky baby-hoods.  I rocked them all night long when they had fevers.  I comforted them after they skinned their knees and taught them how to ride a bike.  They are my babies and I am very proud of their voracious growth.  






On the other hand…

I also have a patch of tomato plants that came into my life half grown.  I purchased them from the Garden Center where I work.   I bought several different varieties so that I could compare one variety to another.  I was calling this patch my ‘tomato test patch’, but I have come to realize that they are really my tomato step-children.  

And I am a lousy step-parent.





For instance, I was very concerned about mulching my own ‘natural born’ tomatoes with newspapers and cotton burr compost.  I did not want their tender baby leaves to come in contact with the cold hard earth and I wanted their roots to stay cool and moist.






As to my tomato step-children…

I just threw them in the lettuce patch and let them fend for themselves.






For my own baby tomato plants, I hand-crafted  some bamboo supports.  I lovingly tied each plant up so that it’s tender leaves would not dangle on the soil.   I check them every day to see if they need more support and if so, then I carefully tie up a few more branches.







As to my tomato step-children… a cheap wire cage was good enough.







For my ‘real’ tomato children, I surrounded their roots with specialized tomato spikes formulated especially for them.  

Sadly, my own baby tomato plants used up all the special fertilizer spikes before I could get over to my tomato step-children.






A few weeks later when my tomato step-children started to look especially anemic, I purchased some cheap generic fertilizer and haphazardly applied it to the plants.  







My ‘real’ tomato children are big, bushy and dark green.  They are full of blossoms and heavy with fruit.  I can’t stop looking at them!  I am so proud of them!








My tomato step- children are lime green, spindly, and weak.  






They are constantly trying to get my attention by producing big round fruit, but I hardly notice them.  


All I see are my own babies…


Growing so big and strong…

Look how gorgeous they are!






My beautiful babies!


Thank God they are only tomatoes!

This is Hal Sears.  Hal and I used to work together at the Community Mercantile which is a cooperative grocery store in Lawrence, Kansas specializing in natural foods, organic produce, and a vast selection of bulk herbs.  

Hal was the herb buyer for the store and for a few years, I was the ‘herb stocker girl’.  This means that once or twice a week, during my shift at the store, I would go through all the glass herb jars, pour them out, add new herbs into the bottom of the jars and then put the old herb stock back in to fill the jar to the top.  The store easily carried fifty different herbs and herb blends as well as whole leaf teas, powdered broth, and some bulk baking agents like baking soda and baking powder.  I enjoyed the job, especially re-stocking the peppermint and the cinnamon, but I quickly learned that powdered Valerian is the most vile smell on the face of the earth, and that I must pour the chili powder and the cayenne slowly or my eyes would sting for hours.  





Hal is extremely knowledgeable about herbs and their various medicinal uses.  At one point he created and sold his own herbal tinctures under a brand called ‘Thunder Wind Apothecary’.



Here is a bottle of Hal’s Echinacea Purpurea.  

Echinacea is an herb that can help fight off upper respiratory infections and is purported to boost the overall immune system.  The Plains Indians used it for snake bites as well as a myriad of other illnesses.  They passed their knowledge of this herb onto a travelling salesman named Joseph Meyer who began to market a concoction of the herb from a covered wagon.  To sell his echinacea tincture, he would goad a live rattlesnake into biting him, take a swig of his medicine and he would never get sick… or die… or anything.  He called his miracle drug, ‘snake oil’ and became the first in a long line of snake oil salesmen.  

Now who wants some echinacea tincture?

Let’s make some with Hal! 



First, Hal digs up a purple cone flower in his yard.  The scientific name for purple cone flower is either echinacea purpurea or echinacea augustofolian.  Either variety is suitable for an herbal tincture, but the augustofolian variety can numb your lips and mouth.





Hal keep the entire plant in tact.  He is going to use every part of the cone flower, including the heart, the lungs, the eyeballs, the bladder and the bowels.  





There will be dirt.  




Hal removes as much of the dirt as he can, but it is insidious.  Just when you think the plant is clean, you will find more dirt.









After a thorough cleaning, Hal hangs his echinacea up to dry for a while.  He wants it to wilt a bit.  









While the cone flower was wilting, Hal and I sat on his back porch and chewed the fat.  We rifled through all of the people that we both worked with at the ‘Merc’ and where they are now.  We talked about the changes over time in the co-op from it’s humble beginnings in a tiny store on Massachusetts street to the full service grocery store that it is now.  We also covered Buddhism, Catholicism, wild-crafting herbs, his adorable two year old granddaughter named Mercury, comfrey, ducks, my four boys, living in a small town, community life, peace, peach farming, baptism, the french horn, aloe vera, theocracy and the Latin mass.  

I love talking to Hal.  





I brought Hal a few varieties of cone flowers that we sell at the Garden Center.  

The orange one is called ‘Tiki Torch’ and the yellow one is called ‘Harvest Moon’.








This is what the echinacea looked like when Hal took it off the clothes line.









He brought it inside to his kitchen and chopped it into four inch pieces.



















Hal stuffed two glass jars with pieces of the plant.  He placed the roots in the bottom, then added the stems and leaves…




The flowers went on the top.









He filled the jars with vodka.





One jar was finished, but to the other Hal added a few other herbs.






He added some goldenseal.








Some licorice for sweetness…





And some cayenne to clear out the sinuses.





He topped it all off with just a tad more vodka.





Hal then demonstrated how he would filter the tincture after it had set in the jars for one month.  

He simply folded a paper towel inside of  a kitchen colander and set this on top of bowl.

He would pour the contents of the tincture through the colander and then bottle the resulting amber colored liquid.






Hal labeled the jars for me.





He showed me a few books that had shaped his own herbal knowledge.




And then he made me lunch!

Who got the best deal out of this little excursion?







Thanks Hal!




Several commenters have been asking about dosage recommendations for this tincture.   I hesitate to put medical advice on my blog because I don’t actually know anything.  I will say that the only way I have ever used echinacea myself is to simply  steep the dried root  in a nice hot cup of water whenever I feel the first bit of a scratchy cold coming on in the back of my throat.  You can purchase dried echinacea in most stores that have a good herb section or any health food store.  Now that I have Hal’s tincture, I will try it out and I will probably follow the dosage advice in this article (scan down towards the end of the article for the dosage info.)


Happy Herbing!


My garden needed an urn…






An urn full of flowers for the center raised bed.






I was hoping to find a tall urn.







Or even better, a tall urn with a matching pedestal.






The Garden Center where I work carries all kinds of beautiful cement urns and I have been drooling over them for weeks trying to decide which one to get.  However, as much as I love the look of these cement urns, I could not quite adjust to the sticker shock I suffered from every time I checked out the price tag.

Still, I really loved them and I figured that the five or six salads I have managed to harvest from my garden over the course of the next forty years will at east add up to the price of half an urn.

Won’t I make the rest back in tomatoes and cucumbers?

Once again, I was faced with a purchase that I was unable to talk myself into.  The only thing that I am really good at buying without being plagued by guilt are groceries, used books and plastic hair accessories.

Oh!  And six plane tickets to Europe.

Someone explain please?


Fortunately for me, I was not forced to purchase an expensive urn for my garden.  Instead, I drove past a neighbor’s house and noticed that he was having a garage sale.  I stopped and found the perfect thing to use in place of an expensive cement urn.  Something that captured the spirit of my farmhouse garden even better than a dumb old, beautiful urn.

















My country urn.








To fill my new/old urn up, I grabbed a few of my very favorite petunias from work.












Some tall spiky grass.







A sweet potato vine…

A trailing strawberry…

Yellow lantana…









Some millet…

Some dianthus…

Some bright red verbena…

Turns out that my country urn will hold a lot of plant material!





I tossed it all together adding a few perrenials and some more annuals at the base of the urn.

I also threw some zinnia and sunflower seeds in the dirt behind my country urn.







I think this urn will do just fine, though I do wonder what Beverley would think.