Oregano!

A patch of oregano growing in Better Farm's herb beds.
Oregano, or “mountain joy”, is native to northern Europe and grows as an annual plant in North America. I automatically think of pizza whenever anyone mentions the herb, but it can add a warm, aromatic flavor to many different dishes, including sautéed mushrooms and onions, omelets and frittatas, and homemade garlic bread. Oregano is not only a great source of vitamin K, manganese, iron, dietary fiber, and calcium, but also has anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties.

Mollica and I gathered some oregano from the herb garden (and fended off an army of mosquitoes in the process). We cut oregano stalks that were on the edge of flowering, because the flowers give the herb a bitter taste. After bringing them into the kitchen, we hung them in small clusters from the ceiling. When they’re all dried, we can start using the herb to enhance our dishes!  

A tip for cooking: Oregano, in either its dried or fresh form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process, because heat can diminish its flavor.

What's Growing at Better Farm

Seedlings and seeds enjoy some fresh air on (yet another) rainy spring day.
In spite of the perpetually crummy weather outside, spring is upon us at Better Farm. Asparagus, chives, garlic, leeks, strawberries, raspberries, peach and fig trees, and many many more plants and herbs throughout the gardens have been waking up each day and spreading new, green leaves. Inside, seeds are sprouting every day and we're getting regular shipments of new exotics like dwarf pineapple trees, coffee plants, and Mediterranean olive trees.



With evenings just starting to offer the sustained warmth necessary to harden seedlings off in the greenhouse, we've been getting the babies ready for the great outdoors by exposing them to the elements during daylight hours on the back deck. This late season hasn't reaked any havoc yet in regard to the health of our preemies—but it has certainly been inconvenient! Usually by this time of year, all the plants are living full-time in the greenhouse, potatoes are in the ground, and we're starting in on onions. Regardless; here are some photos of all the activity afoot:
Asparagus heads poke up out of the wet soil out back.
Tomato seedlings reach for the sky.
A preview of what's to come: eggplant, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, and cauliflower make their grand entrances.

Our CSA begins today; but there are still spaces left if you'd like to sign up for weekly shares of fresh produce throughout the season. We also offer amended CSAs to those who are only in the North Country on weekends; or those who would like a bulk rate on what's in-season but can't commit to a weekly pickup. Our updated list of produce this season:


Vegetables (all organic)
Artichoke—Imperial Star Organic
Asparagus
Beans—Black Coco, Monachelle di Trevio, Envy Soya, Garbanzo, Great Northern
Beets—Lutz Green Leaf
Broccoli— Belstar
Brussel Sprouts—Royal Marvel Hybrid
Cabbage—Derby Day
Carrots—Purple Haze Hybrid, Rainbow Blend, Yaya Hybrid
Cauliflower—Veronica Hybrid
Celery—Redventur
Corn—Northern Xtra-Sweet Yellow
Cucumber—Lemon
Eggplant— Rosa Bianca, Japanese White Egg
Kale—Red Russian
Leeks— Giant Musselburgh
Lettuce—Buttercrunch, Sunset
Okra
Onions— Yellow Sweet Spanish
Peanuts—Jumbo Virginia,
Peas—Little Marvel Shell Pea
Peppers—Green California Wonder, Italian Sweet Red
Potato—Yukon Gold, Red, Sweet
Pumpkin—Shishigatani/Toonas Makino, Connecticut Field
Quinoa—Shelly
Radish—Pink Beauty
Rosemary
Swiss Chard - Bright Lights
Soybean
Squash— Thelma Sanders' Sweet Potato, Crookneck-Early Golden Summer, Caserta Zucchini, White Bush Scallop, Argonaut Hybrid Butternut, Black Beauty Zucchini
String Beans—Compass Bush Bean
Tomatoes—Ananas Noire, Purple Calabash, Better Farm heirlooms
Watermelon—Sugar Baby

Fruits and Trees
Apple
Apricot
Dwarf Banana (indoor)
Blueberry
Catalpa
Cherry
3-in-1 Citrus (indoor)
Coffee Plant
Fig
Kiwi
Mediterranean Olive (indoor)
Peach
Dwarf Pineapple (indoor)
Raspberry
Strawberries

Herbs
Basil—Large-Leaf Italian Basil, Lime
Borage—Blue
Chives
Cilantro
Dill
Garlic
Lemon Balm
Mint
Nasturtium—Mixed Dwarf Jewel
Parsley
Ramps/Wild Leeks
Rosemary
Sage
Salad greens—various

Flowers
Mammoth Gray Stripe Sunflower
Kochia Scoparia Grass
25 Giant Allium
“Red Sun” Sunflower
Various wildflowers

To join Better Farm's CSA and enjoy a weekly share of fresh produce all season long, please email info@betterfarm.org or visit www.betterfarm.org/csa.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

DIY Herb-Drying Hanger


Now that the winter holidays are just around the corner, many of you may be preparing elaborate meals for your friends and family. Fresh herbs from your own garden are a great way to pep up any meal, but as it gets colder it may be more practical to use crushed dried herbs instead. You can easily dry your own herbs in your house. Simply tie them up and hand them somewhere out of the way, where it's not too cold or moist. I didn't have a good place to hang them, so I decided to try and make a hanger out of an old lampshade. I chose lampshades since they could provide two levels of hanging space with a small footprint. I picked up two interesting lamp shades at a thrift store for fifty cents each. I looked for ones with unique "skeletons" since the fabric would be removed.












Before I started mutilating—I mean modifying—my two lampshades, I gathered my supplies and prepped a flat work space. You will need your shade, butcher's twine or string, scissors and a strong knife (some of the fabric was pretty tough), and what ever it is you want to hang. I had some fresh herbs harvested from the farm earlier that day, along with a small fall bouquet that I wanted to preserve.I separated the flowers into little bouquets and the herbs into small bunches. I wrapped the butcher's twine a few times around the stems and tied a simple knot, leaving about a four inch tail. Once all the bunches were tied, I set them off to the side.










Now it was time for the lampshades! These are the two that I picked. If you want the shape of the shade to be preserved once the fabric is removed, pay attention to the structure of the wire skeleton. The newer shade that I picked basically collapsed with out the fabric to hold it together. The older shade was made of a single solid piece, so it held its shape nicely. There was quite a bit of glue stuck to the wire, so I soaked all of the wire pieces in hot soapy water and scrubbed them down.










The newer shade wasn't a total loss. The large bottom ring had small nobs evenly spaced around it, so that I could still tie the herb bunches around it with out them slipping to the bottom. I used some gold ribbon to make a hanger, and tied on the herbs. I could have also tied the ring horizontally, but I didn't have enough ribbon. It would also have been a pain to make sure the ribbons were all the same so that the ring was parallel to the floor. I really liked the end result, though. Great option if you don't have a lot of space.










The older shade really turned out great. It has a great shape and has lots of space to tie herbs too. I was just going to hang it from some butcher's twine, but I found a chain for a hanging planter that worked perfectly. The whole project only took about an hour. Honestly, the part that took the longest was deciding which herb bunches to hang where. The middle looked a little bare, so I added a small pumpkin for color. Now it looks like a pretty harvest decoration that is also practical. Take that, Pinterest!
Once the herbs have dried, you can chop or crush them and put them in air-tight containers to use throughout the winter. Mine dried long ago, but I admit I haven't taken them down yet. I just love the way the project turned out. I hope you all have as much luck with your own DIY attempts!

Turn Your Chicken Coop Into a Day Spa

Sage, oregano, mint, and other herbs keep chickens cozy and peaceful—and significantly less stinky.
Aromatherapy—for chickens?

Sure, it may sound strange, but fresh and dried herbs have spectacular health and well-being benefits for your backyard birds. Check out all the benefits your chickens can enjoy by you spending a few seconds to sprinkle herbs in their laying boxes:


Basil - antibacterial, mucus membrane health
Catnip - sedative, insecticide
Cilantro - antioxidant, fungicide, builds strong bones, high in Vitamin A for vision and Vitamin K for blood clotting
Dill - antioxidant, relaxant, respiratory health
Fennel -laying stimulant
Garlic - laying stimulant
Lavender - stress reliever, increases blood circulation, highly aromatic, insecticide
Lemon Balm - stress reliever, antibacterial, highly aromatic, rodent repellent
Marigold - laying stimulant
Marjoram - lay stimulant
Mint (all kinds) - insecticide and rodent repellent
Nasturtium - laying stimulant, antiseptic, antibiotic, insecticide, wormer
Oregano - combats coccidia, salmonella, infectious bronchitis, avian flu, blackhead and e-coli
Parsley - high in vitamins, aids in blood vessel development, laying stimulant
Peppermint - anti-parasitic, insecticide
Pineapple Sage - aids nervous system, highly aromatic
Rose Petals - highly aromatic, high in Vitamin C
Rosemary - pain relief, respiratory health, insecticide
Sage - antioxidant, anti-parasitic
Spearmint - antiseptic, insecticide, stimulates nerve, brain and blood functions
Tarragon - antioxidant
Thyme - respiratory health, antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-parasitic

[Source: grit.com]


It took intern extraordinaire Elyna Grapstein and I about five minutes to harvest the following herbs from our beds out back and sprinkle them throughout three different chicken coops. In our mix were fresh organic basil, mint, sage, oregano, garlic chives, and various fragrant flowers.



The chickens check out the fresh herbs. 



Click here for more information about the benefits of treating chickens to a little aromatherapy.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

August Produce at Better Farm

We checked in a couple of weeks ago with a pictorial tour of the Better Farm gardens. Since then, we've had a few more, good washes of rain. Those storms have sent the gardens into overdrive.

At our farm stand this week, we're featuring the following while supplies last:
  • Corn (several varieties)
  • String beans
  • Tomato (several varieties)
  • Zucchini
  • Cantaloupe
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Herbs (several varieties)
  • Potatoes (several varieties)
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Cicoria
  • Swiss Chard
  • Carrots


We attribute much of our success this summer to our mulch gardening system, which retains moisture and nutrients for the plants even in times of drought. Between the mulch gardening and rainwater catchment setups (and our unbelievable cast of interns) we've had less work and more bounty. That's something we can all feel good about.
Companion plant: pole beans climb a corn plant.

Scarlet, center, Bernadette and Delores work the grounds for us.
Destiny's Child, far left, and Scooter, far right.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Herbiculture

Oregano, sage, garlic chives, and asparagus.
The herb beds at Better Farm provide us with everything we need for spicing our food, flavoring our refreshments, and scenting our homemade products such as soap and candles.


The herb beds are a combination of reclaimed wood, Hugelkultur, and mulch gardening methods. In the last few years we've grown everything from amaranth to asparagus out of these beds. Here's the short list of what you can find out there this year (dried and fresh herbs will be available at the Better Farm Stand throughout the spring, summer, and fall):

Basil
Celery Flakes
Chia Sprouts
Chickory
Cilantro
Dill
Garlic
Garlic Chives
Marjoram
Mint
Oregano
Parsley
Sage
Salad Greens
Scallions
Lavender
Tarragon

Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.