Blueberry Lavender Scones

Blueberry Lavender Scones

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

Blueberries and lavender are almost perfect partners. The sweet, juicy blueberries pair nicely with the pine-y, spicy flavor of lavender. And they both are in season at the same time, which makes it easy to come up with lots of delicious recipes.

Taking a look at our Pinterest wall, one of the most popular pins going around is a recipe for a refreshing blueberry lavender spritzer cocktail, which looks like a refreshing drink for a hot day. Another popular recipe making the rounds is for blueberry lavender ice cream, which looks sweet and rich.

While I have enjoyed the lavender cocktails and ice cream I’ve tried, I thought a blueberry lavender combination would be perfect for a cream scone. Mother Nature has cooperated, as the weather here in Northern California has been a bit cool and gray — perfect baking weather. I took my favorite scone recipe (loosely based on the Smitten Kitchen scone recipe) and added fresh blueberries and fresh lavender. You can substitute frozen berries and dried lavender quite easily. Just reduce the amount of lavender to about 2 teaspoons or so. Keep in mind that lavender, like rosemary, has quite a strong flavor, and less is often better. These scones are so light and flakey, with big, sweet berries, and just the right hint of lavender. They’re perfect with a cup of Ceylon tea.

Blueberry Lavender Cream Scones
2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lavender buds
4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup cream
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
sugar

1. Mix dry ingredients, including lavender. If you’re using a food processor, this should be a quick 8 or 10 pulses. I like to get the lavender buds a bit broken up, to keep from eating a whole bud while eating. If you are using unsalted butter, add the full 1/2 teaspoon. If you are using salted butter, reduce the amount to 1/4 teaspoon.

2. Add the chilled butter in small cubes so that they’re evenly distributed in the dry mixture. If you’re using a food processor, remove the lid and place them evenly around the blade. Pulse the mixture 10 or 15 times, until the mixture resembles course meal. Don’t over mix, or you run the risk of melting the butter. Transfer to a large bowl. If you’re mixing by hand, use two knives or a pastry knife to blend the butter in evenly.

3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream, gently stirring it in, making sure to scrape the sides often. Once the mixture starts to come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently knead it only until the liquid is evenly distributed. Don’t over-knead, or you risk melting the butter and activating the wheat gluten. Both are disastrous to flakey scones.

4. Flatten the dough and pour the blueberries into a small mound in the center. Turn the sides of the dough up around the blueberries, trying to cover as many blueberries as possible. Gently work the dough around the berries, picking it up and turning it as necessary. Three or four turns should be enough to have worked the berries in evenly.

5. Place the dough in a greased round cake pan and evenly spread it to fill the whole pan. Chill the pan in the freezer for up to 1 hour. This will help keep the butter cool.

6. Cut the dough into 6 or 8 portions, and remove each from the pan using a knife or cake server to keep it from sticking. Place scones on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Mix together the egg and milk and brush on the tops. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 425° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tops start to color.

7. Allow the scones to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm for a delicious treat. Store remaining scones in an airtight container for up to three days, or freeze immediately.

Attracting beneficial insects

Attracting beneficial insects

Beneficial predatory insects are an important element of an organic pest control strategy. Unless you have a serious problems, if they are living in your garden they will help to control pests without you having to do anything. While some insects, like ladybugs, can be purchased and released in your garden, you don’t really have to work at attracting beneficial insects, just provide the simple things they need and they will come.

Food
One of their requirements is a source of food, which mainly means lots of small nectar and pollen producing flowers (many beneficial insects are very small and have difficulty feeding from larger flowers). Plants of the carrot (Apiaceae), daisy (Asteraceae) and mint (Lamiaceae) families are all particularly good. This is why the herb garden is always alive with insects and is another good reason for planting many of these plants. Many weeds are good sources of food too. Highly bred garden cultivars aren’t very useful because they are often sterile and don’t produce much nectar or pollen.

Habitat
The other important need is for a diversity of undisturbed habitat, which gives them a place of refuge from predators and a suitable place to survive the winter (they won’t survive in the ever changing annual vegetable garden, which is often bare in winter). This can be a simple border, with a diversity of perennials and shrubs to give them a place to live.

Calendula

Calendula

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) are are delightful flowers to having blooming in the garden — they add vibrant color and attract butterflies and bees and other beneficial insects. They are very easy to grow, tolerate poor soil, bloom all summer, and are prolific self-seeders. The seeds germinate easily in sunny locations and bloom within two months. In very hot areas, they grow better as a spring or autumn flower.

Also known as Pot Marigold, they are not the same as annual marigolds, although they are often found planted near each other in decorative gardens. Part of the daisy family Asteraceae, they are native throughout the Mediterranean region, from Northeastern Africa to Iran. The flower petals of the calendula plant have been used for medicinal tinctures and teas since at least the 12th century. Traditionally, calendula has been used to treat stomach upset and ulcers, as well relieve menstrual cramps. Today, calendula is often used topically, to treat wounds such as burns, cuts, and dermatitis.

In fact, applications of calendula ointments may help wounds heal faster, by increasing the amount of blood flow bringing oxygen to the area, helping the body to grow new tissue. Calendula flowers are full of flavonoids, the plant-based antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It is most often applied directly to the skin as a paste made by blending the fresh flowers with warm water, although it is sometimes used as a tea or rinse to soothe sore throats and inflamed mucous membranes. The dried leaves can be used in a tea, to make a tincture using alcohol, or to create aromatic oils.

Aside from the medicinal properties, calendula flowers make a wonderful, colorful addition to salads, and can be used as a substitute for saffron.

To harvest calendula petals, it’s best to pick the mature flowers in the mid-morning, after the dew has dried. A simple way to dry the flowers is to spread them on a sheet or screen and place them in the shade, making sure to stir them several times a day. This will allow the petals dry evenly and slowly. If you have a dehydrator, that will work well too. Store in a air tight jar in a cool, dark location.

We now offer 11 varieties of calendula to add to your garden layout. There’s the lovely creamy yellow and orange Kabloona, and the beautiful, frilly, creamy pink and yellow bi-colored blooms from Pink Sunrise. For more vibrant colors, the bright pinks, oranges, yellow, and bi-colored blooms of Flashback will perk up any garden.  Why not try a couple of different versions?

Echinacea

Echinacea

This unique cone-shaped flower is native to the United States, and makes a great addition to your garden. The plant produces beautiful purple-pink or yellow flowers with bright, pineapple-like capitula in the center. While many know this plant by it’s flower, it’s medicinal properties are highly concentrated in the roots–which are best harvested after the plant finishes blossoming.

Native Americans used Echinacea after observing sick or wounded elk eating the plant. The native peoples did not use it to treat colds, although they did use it for the common cold’s side-effects including coughing, sore throat, and headaches. Now Echinacea is a well-known plant to use when ill. In fact, most tea blends that are marketed to help treat the common cold include Echinacea! Now you can grow your own Echinacea, and use the harvested root to make your own tea!

Cold Prevention Tea

1 cup Spearmint, dried
1/2 cup Lemongrass, dried
1/2 cup Echinacea root, dried

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Store loose tea in an airtight jar or tin.

When ready to make tea, scoop 1 tablespoon into a loose leaf tea cup or pot. Pour just boiled water over and allow to steep for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove strainer an enjoy. Add honey or lemon for extra flavor, and extra prevention for the cold!

Echinacea is now available to add to your garden; you can find it by Browsing under Herbs.

New Arrivals!

New Arrivals!

We have been busy as little bees in the spring time, working on all kinds of new features and plant varieties for SmartGardener.com! Here is just a quick sample of some of the really special plants we’ve added.

Borage
These flowers are great for any garden, big or small. Their beautiful blue, purple, and pink colors make an attractive addition, and they encourage more pollinators to come to your garden. The best thing about Borage (Borago officinalis), in my opinion, is that it’s edible! Every time kids come to my community garden, I take them on a tour showing them all the things we grow and play plant identification games with them. During the tour, I would always be sure to stop at the Borage, which is now self-seeding in a sunny spot of our garden. No one could identify it, so when I popped off a flower and put it in my mouth they would all go wild in excitement. Usually the braver children of the bunch will want to taste it immediately, while more reserved children stand back to watch their peers’ reactions. “It tastes just like a cucumber!” is a common response, and soon enough all of the kids will join in delight. It’s simple moments like these that always make me love sharing my garden with others, and especially children!

Fun Fact: Give drinks a fun twist by freezing the flowers in ice cubes, or use them as a garnish on salads, cakes, or other desserts.

Growing Tip: Grow Borage near tomatoes, as the plant repels a common pest, the Tomato Hornworm.

German Chamomile
Chances are you’ve probably had German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) in tea. It’s commonly thought of as a sleep aid, but has many medicinal uses beyond that. But did you know that it’s called “the plant doctor” by farmers? Chamomile can improve the growth and health of nearby plants, and has also been proven to improve the flavor and scent in Mints and Basil. You can also give your plants a “sip” of Chamomile Tea to decrease fungal growth by misting it over seedlings to prevent dampening off.

Growing Tip: Since you’ll be harvesting the flowers of the Chamomile plant, try to avoid using any pesticides or sprays.

Important Note: Although it has so many beneficial components, women that are pregnant should avoid consuming Chamomile, as it can cause uterine contractions that can lead to a miscarriage.

Borage and German Chamomile are now available to add to your garden; you can find them by Browsing under Flowers:

Cowpea
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what a cowpea is. That’s probably because we commonly refer to this crop as Black-Eyed Peas (Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata) in the grocery store. While they are not as common on US dinner plates compared to other Peas, like Sugar Snap, they are an important staple crop for much of the world. These heat-tolerant, drought-resistant plants have shown that they can perform well in drier, arid climates where other crops fail. For gardeners in the Midwest, Mid Atlantic, and Southern states, this is an excellent crop to experiment with this year! While Black-Eyed Peas are the most commonly known, other varieties are also available. Red Ripper offers growers a red bean with a cream colored “eye,” while the Pinkeye Purple Hull variety makes a cream colored bean with a maroon “eye.”

Eating Ideas: You don’t have to grow Cowpeas for the seed, though. You can harvest it at any time during its growth, using the greens as a potherb, or the immature pods in the same way as preparing snap beans.

Growing Tip: To avoid fungal disease, don’t water on the leaves of Cowpeas.

Cowpeas are now available to add to your garden; you can find all of our available varieties by Browsing under Vegetables:

Winter Savory & Summer Savory
Both in the same plant family, Lamiaceae Satureja, Winter and Summer Savory offer chefs a fragrant peppery-thyme flavor that complements meats, soups, and bean dishes. Unlike similarly named Winter and Summer Squash, the savories prefer opposite growing conditions. Winter Savory is a hardy perennial that can survive cold conditions, even down to 10˚ F, and tolerates poor soil. Summer Savory is a tender annual which cannot tolerate any frost, but does like the heat, and requires more maintenance, moist fertile soil, and regular pruning. All that extra work will pay of though, since many agree that Summer Savory has a more refined taste and a less pungent kick than Winter Savory.

Since Summer Savory is an annual, you’ll be able to harvest it in your first year, while those growing Winter Savory will need more patience as harvest is slow the first year. While Summer Savory sounds more ideal, Northern climates have too short of a warm growing season to grow it, which makes Winter Savory a good alternative. Winter Savory is also a good option for those who want fresh sprigs year round, rather than only during the warm season.

Planting Tip: In the garden both Savory types are great companion plants as they repel common pests. They are especially good with Beans and Peas, in the garden and on your plate!

Growing Tip: Savory does well in containers, and can benefit from starting off alone, as the plants grow slowly at first and weeds and neighboring plants grow much faster.

Roselle
This unique member of the Hibiscus plant is not grown for its flowers, but mainly for the calyxes. The calyx is the collection of sepals, which are the light green parts behind a flower bud. During bud production, the calyx protects the pedals. Once harvested, the calyxes are boiled to create a variety of different drinks, including a deep-red beverage commonly called “agua de flor de Jamaica.” The intense color from Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) has made it a common food coloring, especially in drinks labeled as “berry flavored.” The flower buds contain natural pectin, so it’s also commonly made into a red, tart, plum-like jelly by simply boiling the flowers and adding sugar.

Fun Fact: The plant is actually native to the tropics of the Old World.

Growing Tip: This plant can get to be 3 to 5’ tall, so plant it somewhere in your garden where it won’t cast a shadow on neighboring plants (unless they prefer the shade).

Winter Savory, Summer Savory and Roselle are now available to add to your garden. You can find all of our available varieties by Browsing under Herbs: