Herbal Gardening

Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – A Seedy Plot!

Posted on May 13, 2012. Filed under: Herbal Gardening, Urban Herbalism |

It’s been a while since I posted about my medicinal herbal gardening.   Sadly, I’ve gotten a late start since the yard I’m working with is shared with others in the building and this being the first year we had access to the yard we had to divvy up things.   I didn’t find out what my space was going to be until about four weeks ago.  But at last here it is,

Front View:

Plotting (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Side View:

Plotting (side view) (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

It’s about 7 feet wide by 9 feet long and gets plenty of sun.

I spent a little time Earthing and connecting to the soil.

Connecting with the Soil (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Which disturbed the neighbors for some reason, but scaring the neighbors can be good for the soul.  😉

Once I knew what the space was like I decided what I wanted to plant where by looking at the recommended planting distances and estimated heights.  Taken from the book Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hartung (which is a great reference book!)

Give the space and conditions, here’s what I decided to try growing:

  • Calendula
  • California Poppy
  • Feverfew
  • Lemon Balm
  • Motherwort
  • Mugwort
  • Skullcap

I figured I’d do the Lemon Balm, Motherwort and Mugwort in containers partly because they tend to run a muck pretty easily and partly due to the heights of the last two so I can easily place them where they won’t block the sun of the other plants.  While the rest would go into the plot itself.

According to much of what I read, most of the seeds needed some cold to prep them (cold stratification) for two weeks.  Between the different books and sources there was a certain lack of agreement of the best way to do it (other than putting them in the fridge.)  In the end when I couldn’t decide which thing was best, I went with whichever seemed closest to what they’d find in nature.

I began channeling a little OCD and was putting one seed in each seedling cup as several sources recommended, but then as the seeds grew smaller I surrendered to it and if several fell in, then so be it.   🙂  Besides that is way more like nature.  (I did, just in case, set up 30 seedling cups when in the end I’m aiming for 15 plants.)

Everything thing I read warned you must label the seeds because you won’t remember what was where – with much talk about sticks, toothpicks, labels, etc.   All of which seemed quite excessive to me.  A seedling tray is a grid, just like a spreadsheet. So I just marked what was the front and entered it all in a spreadsheet.

Calendula Calendula
Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm
Mugwort Mugwort
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy
California Poppy

See much easier!

While the seeds did their thing, I ordered some nice soil made by Vermont Compost Company.   So I could add another layer to the plot when the time comes and fill the containers for the three going there.  And these great Smart bags for the containers.

Two weeks ago, I took put the seedling tray on their warming mat, underneath their grow light and humidity dome and started waiting for the magic.    Within a couple of days a couple of California Poppies emerged gingerly and gently into the light.  Then a Skullcap and  by the end of the week the rest of the Skullcap.  Then a few more days and a Motherwort appeared and then nothing since…so I began to go into back up thinking, fretting and worrying.

Do I have to order seedlings?  I had lined up a back up place to order (Crimson Sage Nursery) seedlings from which carried all the ones I wanted.  I could probably harvest a few from around the neighborhood, etc.

I hadn’t written off the other seeds yet.  And more importantly,  I had to let go of a couple of things.

First was my attachment to what the books said.  I had become too caught up in the timetables offered by the seductive charts and tables, and my orderly notions that they would all be ready at the same time and all go outside together.  That’s human folly.  The seeds will grow when they chose (or not.)  Some will want to go in May and others in June.

And more importantly,  I may have wanted to plant certain ones, but some may be drawn more powerfully to come out than others.   The Skullcaps were amazingly venturesome, not only were the six you see, but since the seeds were so small I ended up with several seeds in each cup.  And I’ve been busily thinning them because each one seemed to emerge!   (Gee, I can’t image why  nervines would be so needed by someone who makes spreadsheets of a seedling tray….)

Seedlings Go! – (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

So maybe I’ll just end up planting what arrives into the world, when it arrives, because that it the way it should be.  🙂

One of the many reasons I chose this route instead of just buying seedlings.  There are so many learning opportunities at so many levels when you work with the plants rather than let someone else do it and buy their product.

More in the coming weeks as they develop.   🙂


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Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – Seeds!

Posted on February 19, 2012. Filed under: Herbal Gardening, Urban Herbalism |

Herbal Seed Packs (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

All my little packets of seeds for my herbal gardening have arrived.  Which somehow makes it all so much more real.  I guess I have to start deciding what I’m doing where (yard, containers outside and in), when I want to plant and figure out when I need to start the seedlings from there. Such fun!

Because it is about the season, there are lots of articles around about starting seeds, etc. in the magazines I get.  And,  of course,  info in the books.   But I think there is a community aspect to all of this as well.  Not just the community of plants and nature but of people.

So I found a local urban agriculture group  that is also offering lots of relevant workshops in the coming weeks that I will attend.   It is called The Food Project – which does lots of great work with inner city kids, the poor and homeless, so they sound like folks I’d love to connect with and maybe volunteer with anyway for lots of reasons.

And I’m starting to explore what other groups there are locally too.  There are lots of gardening groups, but none I see just for folks growing medicinal herbs.  I want to connect with those groups but something more specific would be great as well.  Perhaps that is something I should work on creating.

I have to check it out, but after scouting around I think I have found a local garden center I want to do business with – Boston Gardener.   They are local, independent, urban, organic specialists and support of lot of inner city garden projects. All things I want to support.

So step by step I’m getting there.

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Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – The First Steps

Posted on February 3, 2012. Filed under: Herbal Gardening, Urban Herbalism | Tags: , |

I continue down the path toward growing medicine herbs in my space in the city.

Marsh Bridge - (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

The Beginning Readings:

The first book I read was The Medicinal Herb Grower Volume 1 by Richo Cech which gave me a nice overview and things to think about. (I reviewed it a bit ago so I won’t go much into it here.) Now the second book I read, Urban Farming: Sustainable City Living in Your Backyard, in Your Community, and in the World by Thomas Fox, ended up rounding that off nicely and gave me some food for thought. I’m tempted to give it a full review another time but for now – it is an excellent overview of gardening, planting, etc. concepts that seem to be left out of some of the other books (because perhaps they just assume you know although you might not) as well as good food for thought. And most importantly I learned lots of things I didn’t know before and found really interesting! Which is so often what I really want in a book. Definitely recommend it.

Deciding What to Get and Where to Get It:

I decided to begin with an insanely unrealistic fantasy list first – just to flex the mental muscles and have fun. So I flipped through a couple of big herbal encyclopedias and made a list of everything that struck my fancy regardless of how sensible it was. I let myself squee with joyously irrational fantasies of actually growing them all…for about a week.  Eventually after looking at list with a some what more realistic eye I pared it down to things I could actually have a chance of growing. (A handy first step is getting acquainted with hardiness zones as outlined on the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone map – this gives you a rough idea of what will do best/survive in your area. Most books and places you order from will reference it as starting point.)

One final check I made before ordering was to see if anything I wanted was against the law to buy, plant, etc. in Massachusetts. (Hey and lets admit it, we herby folks loves us some plants that aren’t always beloved by others!) Most seed places will probably not have for sale things on the national list of banned plants, but the states vary a lot. Certain plants will be fine for one state but not another. (Here the list for Massachusetts.) Luckily, nothing I wanted was going to be a problem.

There were a couple of things I kept in mind when deciding on places to buy seed that I wanted the companies to offer:

  1. Safe Seed Pledge – places pledging not to use GMO seed. The Council for Responsible Genetics originated that and keeps a listing of those companies that do.
  2. Organic – the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association has a partial list, and lists many of the reasons why you should care too.
  3. Bioregion Grown – seeds from plants grown in your bioregion will be better adapted to growing in it. Permaculture Activist has a list of seed companies by state as a starting point.

Now mind you, I like considering everything, but remember it’s never worth getting overly obsessive about matching every criteria!   I ended up ordering most of my seeds from a place in Massachusetts – Organica Seed. And went to a couple of places out west to get the couple of things that I didn’t get there – The Thyme Garden Herb Company and Horizon Herbs. All great places.

So what did I order in all? – Here’s the list:

  • Calendula
  • California Poppy
  • Chamomile
  • Feverfew
  • Lemon Balm
  • Motherwort
  • Mugwort
  • Passionflower
  • Red Clover
  • Self Heal
  • Skullcap
  • Violet
  • Wild Bergamot

Probably slightly more than I may actually be able, or want, to grow but I’m up for the adventure of trying. If there are some I don’t end up using I may give or trade them away or see if I can let them find homes in other places around Boston.  Just call me Mikey Herbalseed! 😉

I’ll be doing some experiments of container and vertical gardening where some of these may end up. I may seed part of the existing soil in the yard space I’ll have with Red Clover to build up the soil for next year rather than plant anything else there. I may try some things with grow lights in my room’s window seat.  Making those decisions and planning the details is still part of the next steps.

To be continued…

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Book Review: The Medicinal Herb Grower Volume 1 by Richo Cech

Posted on December 23, 2011. Filed under: Book Reviews, Herbal Gardening |

This is the first of the collection of books I’ve gathered to help plan my medicinal herb garden that I read. By the title I had thought it would be one of the most key books in my new collection. And in many respects it is a good book, and while worth reading, not quite in the way I expected.

Richo Cech possesses great expertise at growing medicinal herbs born from years of experience in the field. This book is a delightful collection of his wisdom and is filled with illustrative stories grown from that experience. For that, it is very much worth reading, especially for anyone beginning their journey growing such plants, like myself.

But it is primarily a narrative organized by broad topics rather than encyclopedic or the sort of traditional reference you would expect to find with such books. There is no bibliography, index, endnotes or footnotes (well there is a footnote!) It has a wealth of information you just have to actually read the book to find it all. For example, if you want to know about growing a particular herb there will be quite a bit of useful information, it will just be scattered throughout many sections of the book. (The book is fairly short at 160 pages so it is hardly a chore to read through it all.)

All of which is antithetical to the way our internet age of hypertext, google searches and wikipedia works nowadays. But in a perverse way I like that. It harkens back, in a pleasant way, to a time where you read for knowledge and gained a broader understanding, rather than just look up facts stripped from context. And that I find wonderfully parallel to the path of the herbalist and healer, where we emphasize the context and wisdom, rather than isolated examinations and quick fixes.

I do think that that for me, one of the weaknesses of the book is that it probably more based on the concept of having “land” to grow on or yards big enough that they are practically like that. Not quite what I’m really likely to have in Boston. And the book is more generally about growing in an area like the pacific northwest (like the author) than folks dealing with the climes of New England. He does talk about such things but only in the broadest of strokes.

That said, will this be the book I refer to most in planning and research for growing medicinal herbs? Probably not. However it was a good place to start to begin my journey and somewhere I will return to from time to time to re-think things as I learn more and start the actual work growing.

I would tend to recommend it, but it may not be essential for everyone especially if you’re looking just for a reference book. But if you are starting out and want to think a bit more about things it is decent place to start.

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Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – Starting the Research

Posted on December 13, 2011. Filed under: Herbal Gardening | Tags: , |

English: Herbal garden at monastery of Reichen...

Unlike some herbalists, I’m an apartment dwelling city boy and car-free.   After talking with the landlord I’ve secured some space in the yard (how much is to be decided) of our building, which is very exciting. And I’ve begun researching things which got me thinking a whole lot more flexibly than just plots in the ground

Things like:

  • Container gardening
  • Working vertically with containers rather than just horizontally
  • What could I grow in my room in my apartment by window light and strategic grow lamps
  • and more!

Here are some of the books, magazines and links I’ve started gathering as I launch into this. I’m not quite vetting these yet, just gathering, but after I go through them more thoroughly I’ll put together a page dedicated to resources I found useful to folks like me looking to grow medicinal herbs in the urban environment.


  • The Medicinal Herb Grower, Volume 1 by Richo Cech:  The very first book I’ve bought and I’ve just started reading it.  Since I’m primarily interested in growing medicinal herbs it seemed a great place to start.  But it does seem a bit more oriented to folks with more substantial yard space than I or most city dwellers will really have.  Still a good start.
  • Urban Farming: Sustainable City Living in Your Backyard, in Your Community, and in the World by Thomas Fox:  the second book I bought and have just started reading as well.  Not focused on medicinal herbs, but focused on farming in an urban setting so it covers a broader range and things I’ll not do (yet!) but all interesting.
  • Herbal Remedies in Pots by Effie Romain:  Tragically out of print, but I managed order a used copy on-line which I’m eagerly awaiting in the mail each day!  I read excepts from this in an old issue of Herb Quarterly from the mid-90s and thought it brilliant.  Very much about both growing medicinal herbs and growing them in more space conscious urban like environs.  I suspect it will be amazing!

The next couple of books I’ve ordered and haven’t received but they round out things by focusing more generally on growing herbs in a more classic gardening sense or gardening specifically in Massachusetts and New England.  So they should round off things nicely for filling in some gaps that the others might not cover.

There are three magazines I’ve been checking out and will continue reading:

  • The Herb Quarterly: I’d heard of it before, but not once was this mentioned in any of the herbal classes, workshops, etc. that I’ve been in.  Which is a shame because I would have been reading it a long time ago had it been on my radar.  Covers medicinal and non-medicinal herbs.  Growing, cooking, history, etc.   I’m now a subscriber and it will help immensely in planning my mad gardening schemes.
  • Urban Farm :  I’d never heard of it and it is apparently new.  The first issue I’d grabbed had a new column on beekeeping and articles on container gardening and on seed catalogs and how to choose where you want to order – just right for me.  It covers other things that don’t apply to me now but are both interesting and may someday.  So a subscriber now!
  • Mother Earth News: A classic which covers stuff that may never apply to me but really interesting nonetheless.  The first issue I grabbed had some eye opening articles on fertilizers that in fact were killing plants.  I’ll continuing check it out even though it won’t probably be as central as the other two.

Lastly, here are a couple of blogs and on-line resources that I’m finding useful and even fun:

Wow, that’s a whole lot of info-dumping!  Down the line as I gather more info and check things out,  I may just turn this into a resource page.

But, as you can tell, I tend to dive deep into learning, especially when there’s herbalism afoot!  Plus, I’m both really excited and finding this stuff just fascinating.

As I start doing things and experiment, there will be pictures and descriptions but less link madness! 🙂


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