This week we're in the mountains of North Carolina visiting the
Mountain Air Country Club in Burnsville, North Carolina. Mountain Air
sits on 1,100 acres on top of Slick Rock Mountain. It has the highest
airplane runway east of the Mississippi at an elevation of 4,400 feet.
The families that for generations have owned this mountain have always
loved gardening, in particular, herb gardening. Over the years fall has
been an important time, the friendly mountain folks believe in southern
hospitality and gift giving. Thus, fall is a perfect time of year, it
is a great time to save seeds, take cuttings, prepare plants for winter and share the garden with friends.
Patryk Battle is the horticulturist and head gardener. He believes this garden is an extension of the glory and beauty of these mountains. To Patryk, herbs are a critical part of a well balanced, diverse garden because they supply us with many needed things - flavorings, decorations, medicinal elements and enchantment, for example. Because Herbs are more than an adjunct to cooking, they have become wildly popular over the last several years. Patryk believes that is because they are easy to grow, they're hardy - many are Mediterranean plants, all they need is sun - and they offer a tremendous value, a small amount of space can produce a lot of herbs. For example, even someone with a planter box could grow enough Basil to supply the needs of a family for a year. Patryk also uses herbs in the landscape, they offer focal points of interest, they offer aromas, color and texture.
Fall is an important time of year for taking care of herbs. For example, we look at a Scented Geranium. It will not survive outside during winter, but several options are available. It can be dug up, put in a pot and brought inside or we could take cuttings. With cuttings the Geraniums will start easily and provide several different plants next season. As well, some plants need trimmed back. Basil is an example. It should have been trimmed a while ago, but Patryk believes it's never too late. He has bought Basil in the supermarket when he didn't have Basil seed, spread it out on a plat and plenty of plants have popped because the herb purveyors were obviously using the seed tops. From a taste standpoint fresh Basil is different tasting than one that's gone to seed but if a dry version is needed Patryk doesn't notice a significant difference. He cuts Basil this time of year, puts it in a paper bag, ties a string around it and hangs it in an attic or another dark place. Another way to preserve herbs is to freeze them. With Basil it needs to be blended with olive oil. If not totally coated with olive oil it will turn black and will be tough. With a lot of herbs, such as, Oregano, Dill, Cilantro, for example they can be chopped fine, placed on a sheet pan, put in the freezer and as soon as frozen, scraped into a container, kept in the freezer then used when needed. They'll taste just like fresh. They won't have the appearance of fresh but will have the flavor of fresh.
Collecting seeds this time of year for next season is popular. Dill has been planting itself, on the ground there are many volunteers. If you want some control over when they will come up, clip off the seed heads - they should be mature and dry - pull off the seeds, then store the seeds in a cool, dark place through winter. Patryk freezes his seeds but the rule of thumb is the total of temperature and humidity needs to be below 100. If that is accomplished seeds should last for about 3 years. Collecting seeds is great way to save money and get more plants. It is also a great way for gardeners to do what they love to do best, share their garden. It is a rare gardener that doesn't have you leaving
their garden without something - a plant, seeds, etc.
Lavender is one of Patryk's favorites. He uses it for cooking. The classic way is an herb provance, a mixture of many herbs - things like Thyme, Basil, Savory, but always Lavender. It may only be a touch, enough to offer fragrance but not enough to know it's there. If you know it's there it may be like eating soap. Lavender can be a problem if grown in humid, wet areas. It should be planted in a raised bed and it requires full sun. It will grow from cuttings or if pulled up and it has roots it can then be started in a pot, brought indoors, put it in the ground early in the next season. It should then thrive.
Chives is one of the most productive herbs in the garden. They grow rapidly. The blossoms are edible and can be used in a vinegar. They will color it nicely and provide a strong flavor. A few scattered on a salad is also nice. The greens are great in potatoes, salads, soups and they make a nice garnish. Patryk likes to mash loads of chives with potatoes, it's a spectacular item. He started this batch by dividing one bunch, he then keeps dividing. It's easy dig out a clump, pull them apart and stick them in the ground, they'll spread rapidly. As well, they seed readily, but onion family seeds aren't great for keeping, they don't last long periods of time. Chives come up early, for Patryk as early as February, and depending on the year he could be harvesting Chives at Christmas time.
Achellia or Yarrow is know for its flowers. Patryk says it is an herb. It was named for Achilles. The myth is that Achilles was impervious to wounds. Yarrow can be used to stop the flow of blood and as an antiseptic. Patryk has cut himself with his serrated knife, a nasty cut, he chews the yarrow to get the active ingredients going, he then wraps a blade of grass around the Yarrow and the finger, ties it and the blood stops flowing right away, it doesn't throb and heals quickly.
It has a strong aroma and apparently has some real medicinal properties as well.
If you love herbs but also love flowers think about plants that offer both herbal qualities and beautiful flowers. Pineapple Sage is a member of the Salvia family. It has a strong scent, like Pineapple, and great red flowers. It offers herbal qualities, is beautiful and is a hummingbird attractor as well.
Shitake Mushrooms can be very expensive. Patryk shows us how to grow them. Shitake Mushrooms are a woodland mushroom that come to us from Japan. Shitake in Japanese means Oak. Growing them is relatively simple. The key is the hardwood log, Oak is the best but other hardwoods will do. Cut a fresh log, preferably in the fall after 10% leaf change, that means the sap is going down and the bark is less
likely to fall off, which is important because the bark protects the Mycelium which is the plant that puts the mushroom out. Drill a series of 3/4 inch deep holes about 5 inches apart, starting 4 or 5 inches in from the edge of the log. Depth is important, you don't want to spend time inserting spawn where it won't do any good, plus it works in the Cambium, thus depth is important. Once the first row is complete, stagger the next row between the holes in the first row and again about 5 inches apart. Then take the innoculator and insert sawdust spawn - a sawdust inoculated with Shitake. This can be found on the internet, just search for Shitake Mushrooms and lots of names will come up. Put this in the hole, punch it in, hit it pretty hard, packing it in. At this point wax over the spawn with a regular cheese wax ( a wax that goes on cheese) to keep the spawn from drying out, to keep moisture in and outside elements from infecting the spawn. Then put the log in a place with year round deep shade, Patryk keeps his in a Rhododendron grove underneath a Conifer tree. Depending on the spawn the Shitakes should start growing in between 6 and 18 months. They will then yield
for 5-12 years.
Evergreen bows, like Hemlock, can be placed over tender plants to protect them against cold, winter winds. Gently place them over the plant creating a tepee or tent form. It will allow some air circulation underneath so the protected plant doesn't rot but the Evergreen bows protect it against the cold.
Herbs are great in the garden, easy to grow but also great in the kitchen. Greg Fenstad is the executive chef and will make a Basil Peso, used as a topping for purple and blond fingerlink potatoes. First cut the potatoes in half and expose the flesh, a beautiful Russian purple potato. They are waxy, very nice. Toss them in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil then place them on the grill flesh side down. He allows them to cook until tender. They could be partially cooked before grilling, to do this cook them in a microwave or boil them, the grill is used for the charcoal flavor. For the Pesto, he's preheated a skillet and adds a little olive oil. He adds Pine Nuts and cooks them until light brown. It doesn't take long for them to be lightly toasted. Coarsely chop the nuts, place them in a bowl with a teaspoon and a half of garlic, coarsely chop the Basil, he uses only the leaves. Since this is young Basil the stalk isn't thick thus ok, on older plants the stem should be removed. Add the Basil to the bowl, Parsley or Cilantro could also be added for flavor but Greg just adds Parmesan and olive oil. Toss this lightly, he adds a little more olive oil and a little lemon, he likes it a little sloppy and loose, not tight. This will go a long way. Next take the potatoes, now fork tender, and place them on a platter. The Pesto is placed over the potatoes. The left over Pesto could be stored for 3-5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator thus made prior to use. Greg then sprinkles with Parmesan cheese. It looks beautiful and tastes delicious.
We thank Greg and particularly Patryk for all their help and ideas. Herbs and fall are a wonderful combination.
Grow Your Own Gourmet Mushrooms
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