Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Preserve the Harvest: How to Make Herbal Butter

Herbal butters seem so fancy when you go to a restaurant. They add a unique flavor to whatever they touch. Did you know they're actually easy to make at home? They're a great way to use your herbs through the growing season and preserve them for beyond.

Making herbal butter is perhaps one of the easiest things you can do in a kitchen. It lends fresh flavor to even simple meals like baked potatoes. There is no set ingredient list for making herbal butter with only two ingredients required, butter and herbs. From there your imagination and flavor palate are your guides.

For whatever combination of herbs, spices and flavors you choose, it's best to start with good butter. My favorite butter comes from free range cows and is only available at certain times of year. But that's not even a must. Adding herbs makes even your normal stick of butter stand out in the crowd.

To make the butter, soften it first. It's important not to melt it. Do not use the microwave to soften it because it will not soften evenly and will leave spots that are melted.  Sit the butter out on the counter in room temperature air until it's soft and pliable. I work with a stick, or 1/2 cup butter at a time. That makes it easy to handle and each stick of butter can have a different flavor combination.

Chives and dill have been chopped and butter is waiting to soften. A hint of lemon juice makes this extra tasty.

While the butter's softening you can collect your herbs and spices. This again, can be as simple or as complicated as you'd like. A basic butter can contain nothing more than chopped onion chives. You can take that up a notch and add onion chives and garlic chives for a more complex flavor. Or combine two favorite, chives and dill. I love lemon flavor, so I like to combine lemon flavored herbs and will often add lemon or lime juice for a little extra zest.

When you're thinking about herb combinations, think about what herbs pair well with what dishes. For instance, rosemary has a strong flavor and pairs well with chicken and meat. A nice basic combination of herbs that most people have readily available includes parsley, marjoram, thyme, basil and garlic.

Wash, dry and finely chop your herbs and gather any spices you've chosen. Then place your butter in a bowl and add your herbs. Work the herbs into the butter by hand. I find a fork is the perfect tool for this job. Or use a food processor. Once everything's incorporated, place your herbal butter into a container or wrap it with some plastic wrap and let it refrigerate a few hours before using. That will give the flavors time to incorporate. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few weeks. If you're making butter to preserve for later use, put your butter on a piece of plastic wrap. Enclose the butter and then roll it to form a log of butter. Place your butter in a freezer safe container where it will stay good for up to six months. Cut off small amounts as you need them.



If you don't have an active herb garden, no worries. You can make herbal butter by purchasing fresh herbs from the grocery.  

Once you make herbal butter, you'll want to make it time and time again. There's just nothing like a fresh herbal butter to make an ordinary meal extraordinary.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Meet the Pollinators!

A Look at the Fascinating Creatures that Visit our Gardens


You’ve heard all about the decline of pollinators across our country. You know the facts about why pollinators are important. Without pollinators, we don’t eat. It’s estimated that one in three bites of our food is linked to the work of animal pollinators. It’s also estimated that 75% of all plant species depend on animal pollinators to move pollen from plant to plant.

You’ve planted the plants that attract and feed pollinators. Your garden is full of plants like butterfly bushes, Echinacea, parsley and fennel. You’re sure the pollinators love your gardens. You’ve seen them hanging around. But what do you know about them? Who’s really visiting your gardens?

Butterflies vs. Moths 

Let’s start with butterflies and moths. They steal the show with all their beautiful colors and graceful flitting from plant to plant. But are you looking at a butterfly or a moth? Do you know how to tell the difference?

Night and Day - A quick answer to this question is that butterflies are out in the day and moths at night. And as a general rule, this works. But make sure to look closely while you’re watching butterflies because there’s a common moth that breaks this rule, the hummingbird clearwing moth. This moth is out in the day and looks like a hummingbird.

Color – Butterflies are generally more colorful than moths. If you think about it, both have to camouflage while they’re active. Butterflies often blend with the daytime colors of the plants they’re visiting. Moths, while active at night, blend with the light of the moon and the darker shadows it produces.

Resting Stance – Butterflies will generally rest with their wings held up together. When moths rest, their wings lie flat, close in to their sides, covering their back.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly
Antennae – If you can get close enough, you’ll see butterflies normally have clubs at the end of their antennae. A moth’s antennae are feathery.

Body Shape – Moth’s have a wide, stout and hairy body. Butterflies have a more streamlined, thinner body. They do have hair, but not as much as a moth.

Chrysalis versus Cocoon – You may be lucky enough to find evidence of life cycles continuing in your garden. Here’s how to tell what you’ve found. A chrysalis is the pupae form of a butterfly and it’s a naked shell that covers the larvae as it’s turning into a butterfly. A cocoon is the pupae form of a moth. It’s a hairy, silk-like bag that covers the larvae as it’s turning into a butterfly.


Bees are Perfectly Adapted for Pollinating


Bees are the star of the show when it comes to pollinating, which transfers one male plant's sperm to another plant. This is done unwittingly by the bee and is crucial for plant reproduction.

When we talk about bees, we often think of honey bees, but they are actually 4,000 species of bees across North America. Many are solitary and don't live in hives. They live in our native foliage and are just as important as the popular honey bee.

Bumble Bees busy at work. 


If you look closely at a bee’s body, you’ll see it’s fuzzy with branch-like hairs. As a female bee collects honey, she stores it on her abdomen. It's said that a bee can carry up to half its own body weight in pollen. Interestingly, female honey bees wet the pollen down and stick it to their legs. This means it stays on better during transport. However, female native bees, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees, don't wet the pollen. So, as they fly, more pollen drops from their legs pollinating many more flowers than the honey bee.

Also, native bees tend to gather pollen and nectar at the same time, which is not done by honey bees. They will gather only once food source at a time and only from the same species of flower.

So, the next time you're watching pollinators visit your garden, think of the importance of their job and the many wonderful adaptations they have to get the job done.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

How to Be Successful Planting Herbs in Pots

I love planting herbs in pots. It allows me to fill gaps in my garden and take care of special herbs that may require a little effort. It's also great for herbs, such as Scented Geraniums and Rosemary, that don't overwinter in my region. This way I can acclimate them and move them into the house before the first frost.

I recently wrote a post, 5 Tips for Successfully Planting Herbs in Pots, for Countryside Network which includes Backyard Poultry magazine and Countryside magazine. Below are three of my five tips. You'll have to click through for the rest!

1. Pick out plants with similar requirements. Herbs aren't picky plants, but like everything, they do have some requirements to make them happy and healthy. So, it's good to look at the sun, soil and water needs for the plants you'd like to grow. Then group them accordingly so their companions have similar requirements and place your pots where those needs will be met. For instance, don't put shade loving herbs out in full sun and vice versa.

2. Get the right pot. You can group your herbs to make a themed pot or grow them in single pots and put those together to make a wonderful display. But, either way, make sure your pot is big enough to hold your plants, not just on the day you're planting herbs in pots, but also when they mature to their full height. For instance, I love growing pineapple sage, but I never plant it in a container with other herbs. I plant it in a big deep container because it grows over two fee tall and a foot wide with large spiky red flowers. Anything other than maybe some trailing plants that hang over the side of the pot, is crowded out. And, while rosemary can be great in mixed containers, I always remember it likes deep feet so I stay away from shallow containers.

3. Allow for proper drainage. As a rule, herbs don't like wet feet. Many of them are native to the Mediterranean and don't appreciate standing water. So make sure to use the proper soil for your plant and make amendments to that soil if needed. For instance, I add sand to my rosemary containers to enhance drainage. Also, be careful of the pot you pick. Some pots are self watering. This is perfect for herbs like chives, parsley and mint but not so great for oregano and thyme that like to dry out between waterings.






Monday, May 23, 2016

Using Rosemary in your House and your Chicken Coop

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. It's known for remembrance, and in my house, it's hard to forget this plant. A native of the Mediterranean, it's name means "sea-dew" since it's blossoms have a dew-like appearance. Living in a northern clime, my rosemary plants make great potted herbs and live happily in my house through the winter.

Using Rosemary in the Chicken Coop


Rosemary has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Plus it's great for repelling insects. In my coop, I like to hang it in bundles and make it into an insect spray. I mix some rosemary essential oil with water and spray it all over.

This year we had a swarm of bee-like flies that just wouldn't leave our coop. It was early spring and I had just gotten new plants. Once I hung my rosemary bundles and used fly spray, the flies were gone and haven't come back.

If you have space and/or live in a southern clime, you can plant rosemary near the coop to repel pests.

I also add rosemary to my chicken's nest boxes. Not only does it keep insects at bay, but it also calms my hens as they're laying.




An Herb Through the Ages


Rosemary has been an important plant for centuries and there are many stories about this wonderful plant.

It is said that when the as the Holy Family fled Egypt, they had to hide from soldiers. Mary spread her cloak over some rosemary plants and hid behind it. They say the flowers then turned blue to honor Mary. In the Christian faith, it is said that rosemary will grow for 33 years. That's the number of years Jesus lived.

Greek students would wear necklaces and headbands of rosemary to help them do better on tests.

During the plague, people carried bundles of rosemary to ward off disease. It was also burned to purify the air in sick chambers.

One Popular Plant


Rosemary has become a staple herb for the kitchen herb garden. It can easily be found at many nurseries and in many varieties. Many people will purchase a few varieties and grow them to see which becomes their favorite.




Keeping Rosemary Alive in Winter


Rosemary is not a cold-hardy herb. In the north, people will treat it as an annual or try to overwinter it indoors. In the south, it thrives in gardens year-round. In fact, I love to visit Charleston, South Carolina and see the hedgerows of rosemary that line the walkways.

For my rosemary plants, I like to plant them directly in containers since they'll have to come inside during the winter. But, you can plant them in the garden and then transfer the rosemary plant to a container in the fall.

It's important to remember that rosemary needs water to survive but doesn't like wet feet. So water only when needed, but be careful not to let your plant get too dry.

Rosemary plants do not like the dry heat of a home in the winter. So the key to keeping your plant alive is to keep it in a cool place with good sunlight. I move my rosemary planters outside on any winter day that gets above 40 degrees or so. If I use my plants for decoration, that's normally not their preferred spot, so I only move them into place when I'm entertaining and then move them back to their ideal spot.









Thursday, April 14, 2016

What to Feed Chickens for a Balanced Diet

You come home from the farm store with some chicks and a bag of starter feed. But do you know what to feed chickens for a balanced diet? Should you use medicated or non-medicated starter feed? What should you give laying hens as they mature? And what about treats; are they allowed?

Find out more in my latest post for CountrysideNetwork.



My flock with a morning treat of mealworms.

Friday, March 25, 2016

How to Dye Backyard Chicken Eggs For Easter

My latest post for Countryside Network , which includes Backyard Poultry magazine, shows just how beautiful different colored eggs from your backyard flock take to dyeing for Easter. These methods require nothing more complicated than food dye. Learn how to make solid color eggs and then kick it up a notch by marbling and tie dying. Have fun! I know you'll enjoy these methods and the beautiful results they produce.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How to Care for a Shamrock Plant

I love St. Patrick's Day in our house. It's a jovial holiday and always a sign that spring is coming. A few years ago I purchased some shamrock plants for the holiday and have found them to be wonderful easy-to-care-for house plants. In my post for Countryside Daily I explore the legends and lore of St. Patrick's Day and the shamrock plant plus how to make your shamrock plant happy and healthy.

Did you know?

  • St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.
  • St. Patrick used the shamrock as a symbol to explain his faith - the Holy Trinity of three Gods in one. 
  • The shamrock is a registered trademark of the Government of Ireland.
  • The shamrock is in the Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom along with the thistle and the rose. 


This beautiful house plant stays compact and, in my house, blooms year-round. My two shamrock plants live happily through the cold parts of the year in an east facing window that gets morning sunlight. In the summer I move them outside to a bright, but partially shaded, deck. 

A Few Quick Tips
  • Shamrocks naturally close their leaves at night and then reopen them in the morning. 
  • Water your shamrock plant only when it gets dry.
  • Shamrock plants are a bulb. Many people let them die back and give them a rest before regrowing again. 
  • You can water shamrock plants at the base of their stems and in a saucer under their pot. That keeps the tender leaves and flowers from being hurt. 


Be sure to click through for more information on the shamrock plant. A compact and beautiful harbinger of spring. 

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