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Cilantro and Dill in my Small Kitchen Garden

Looking north, over the margin of my new herb bed, you can see a scraggly sage bush that I transplanted last fall. I didn’t ask for any of the other plants in the photo, and so they are weeds. By planting cilantro in this space, I will eventually cast shade onto the sage, but only in afternoons; every plant in the herb bed will have direct sunlight until noon.

The herb bed I created last autumn in my small kitchen garden has been doing just fine with all the rain. Unfortunately, I haven’t been particularly clever about the herb bed. While I’ve enjoyed two harvests of tarragon and the thyme and sage are coming on strong, I’ve left the rest of the herb garden untouched. I could have been planting it!

I created the herb bed in a high spot, and I mounded it so it hasn’t held water the way my vegetable bed does. I could have set more perennial herbs in the new bed, and I could have seeded annuals as far back as a month ago!

A Small Kitchen Garden Project

It was rainless and sunny this morning, so my mind sprinted to gardening. When I examined the herb bed, I was impressed at the progress weeds had made. Not a problem; about 60 seconds with a hoe freshened the section I wanted to plant and in about five minutes I had broadcast a small area with cilantro seeds.

In my small kitchen garden there is mud where soil should be. Still, the seeds from last season’s prolific dill plants have sprouted, and there are hundreds of seedlings like the ones in this photo.

To transplant dill seedlings, I selected small clusters in the driest part of my main planting bed. With a hand trowel, I dug two- to three-inches deep, preserving the roots of the dill seedlings inside of cohesive clumps of mud.

Then I turned attention to the highest corner of my vegetable bed. I hoped it might be dry enough to handle some lettuce seedlings. It wasn’t. But as I raked it smooth I noticed a whole bunch of fern-like seedlings: volunteer dill plants!

The muddy, saturated soil had nurtured hundreds of dill plants sprouted from seeds that fell last year. I work around the volunteers when they don’t seriously restrict my planting options. But with the constant rain this year (more than double the average rainfall for spring), I wonder if all I’ll be able to grow reasonably will be volunteers.

An Add-On Gardening Project

Ever the optimist, I thought to salvage some dill plants from the vegetable bed. I may yet plant peas in the main bed along with lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli seedlings that are ever more anxious to escape from their planters.

So, in case real gardening happens this spring, I excavated several soil clumps holding dill seedlings from the main planting bed. These I set into the herb bed alongside the newly-planted cilantro seeds. I rescued only a dozen dill plants, but from past experience, that’s plenty to get my family through the season. And, if the main vegetable bed ever dries out enough to plant, I’m confident more volunteer dill will sprout and rise above whatever vegetables I put in.

For any particular clump of dill seedlings, I dug a hole in my herb bed just a tad larger than the mud clump. In the photo on the left, you can see two of the transplanted dill clumps near the top of the frame, and the clump I’m about to plant just left of the hole and slightly in front of it. I set a mud clump in the hole I dug for it, then gently filled around it with soil from the herb bed. It wouldn’t matter if a little soil got on top of a mud clump, but my goal was to set the top of each clump about even with the soil line of the herb planting bed. With all the moisture and a little care to keep the mud clumps intact along with their dill seedlings, it’s unlikely the seedlings will experience even a hint of transplant shock.

What was Nutmeg, the gardening puppy from hell, doing while I was planting annual herbs? She started her own garden bed. Up against the retaining wall of my vegetable garden, Nutmeg discovered standing water. She quickly excavated all greenery from the area and rolled around in what remained: mud. I’m hoping she’ll expand her garden bed to the south and gnaw away at the mulberry tree that I’ve cut out each of the past 14 years. She’ll have way more fun removing it this year than I will.

 

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Herbs Early in My Small Kitchen Garden

Last year’s rhubarb project continues to look successful. Every plant in the new rhubarb bed has sprouted tiny wrinkly leaves. You’re supposed to harvest lightly in the year after planting. I may pretend that this is the second year after planting since I created the bed at the beginning of last season. I can say with authority: there will be pie.

March in central Pennsylvania is such a great time in my small kitchen garden because that’s when the earliest perennials push through the soil and have a look around. Oh, yeah? Not this year! Nope, we’re having a seriously late start to spring around here, and the early sprouts have been timid at best.

Despite the unseasonable cold and way more rain than my kitchen garden needs, I poked around two days ago to see what has sprung. The late early growth is tantalizing, but I’m not ready yet to start the annuals. I hope your kitchen gardens are farther along. Tell me: do you grow a particular fruit or vegetable that you anticipate above all others? I’d love to hear about it. Please let me know in a comment.

Remarkably similar in color to baby rhubarb leaves, tarragon emerges in my new herb bed. I started this bed last spring to receive rhubarb plants, but I realized it would take enormous energy to complete the bed. So, by late autumn I’d finished the bed and set herbs in it. Tarragon and thyme I’d started from seed last spring have wintered over nicely in the new bed. Just looking at these young sprouts makes plaque collect in my veins; I love to make béarnaise sauce and use it (instead of hollandaise) to smother eggs Benedict. More tarragon probably means more eggs Benedict. I’ll need a bigger belt.

Thyme is particularly hardy in these parts. This sprig, on a plant I started from seed last spring, has already produced abundant leaves despite the low temperatures. I expect to have several decent clumps of thyme within the next few years.

I don’t grow chives in my small kitchen garden; there’s no need. Wild onion is one of the most common “weeds” in this area. When the neighboring farmer mowed his hay field in past years, the air would smell of onions for several days! I created a new herb bed in late autumn last year, planted a few perennial herbs, and this spring there are several volunteer wild onions emerging in the bed. In some places, my lawn is more wild onion than it is grass.

The biggest mess in my new herb garden is a grouping of sage bushes that I removed from an old half barrel I’d planted, perhaps, ten years ago. The barrel stands empty awaiting a new assignment while the sage plants remain dormant. As the days warm (they will warm, right?), I expect plenty of new growth on these usually hardy plants. When I can easily see which sticks are alive, I’ll snap off the deadwood and save it to use in my smoker. Ribs, chicken, brisket, sausage… they all taste delightful when you smoke them with sage wood. Yes, that’s a downspout behind the plants; I may need to add an extender that carries rainwater across the bed so heavy storms won’t carve a hole in the herb garden.

 

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Autumn Shuts Down my Small Kitchen Garden

I had a Christmas cactus when I was a kid, and it never produced a blossom. The one in this photo started as a four-segment branch from my daughter’s plant just two years ago. It blossomed that first autumn, and it blossomed more last November. It’s about to put on a show unlike any I’ve seen a Christmas Cactus produce. The secret, I think, is to make sure the plant knows summer has ended; apparently, cooler days encourage the plant to blossom.

Though Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has been catching up with a backlog of posts that didn’t get written during the growing season, a few things have come up recently and I felt like sharing them.

Christmas Cactus Knows it’s Cold

It has nothing to do with kitchen gardening, but I’ve gotten a little excited about my Christmas cactus. This started two winters ago as three or four leaves broken off of my daughter’s plant. Even in its first year in my care the plant flowered, and last autumn it produced a couple of blossoms. This month the plant has produced several dozen buds– I’m told in response to the lowering temperature. It’s about to put on quite a show!

Do you have a Christmas cactus that never seems to blossom? Move it near a window—especially one in a room that you don’t heat thoroughly in winter. The plant responds to cooler days and nights by producing buds.

Container Gardening Lima Beans

A pair of lima bean pods hangs in front of a baluster below the handrail on my deck. Recently I wrote a guest post for a friend about growing lima beans in containers.

I grew lima beans on my deck this summer. I’d never before grown lima beans, and I was quite pleased with the experience. What’s more, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for my friend Kerry Michaels over at About.com’s Container Gardening where I explained how I set up my planter and how it worked out. Please have a look. While you’re at it, poke around a bit. Kerry writes about growing stuff in containers which is small-space gardening at its extreme.

The Final Harvest from my Small Kitchen Garden

One especially poignant task for me lately was spending a half hour harvesting the last of everything that looked edible in my small kitchen garden. We’ve had several frosts, one of them heavy enough to kill off the tomato, pepper, and winter squash plants. Still, fruits have held on and continued to ripen. But with November looming large, there was growing danger that we’d have cold enough to freeze the produce.

Most of what you see in my “final harvest” photo is peppers, but there are decent layers of green and semi-ripe tomatoes beneath them. I haven’t decided what to do with any of these, but if I don’t decide soon, enzymes will do the job for me and I’ll be adding the lot to my compost heap.

If I get myself in gear, I’ll preserve the season’s last chili peppers by canning, freezing, or dehydrating them. The semi-ripe tomatoes will finish ripening and end up in pasta sauce or curry, and the green tomatoes will end up as green tomato mincemeat for pies.

My gardening is far from finished. I’m still setting perennial herbs into a planting bed I created this summer, and I need to clean up my vegetable beds. There are trellises and stakes that I’d like to move into the garden shed before snow falls. Sadly, facing these tasks emphasizes for me just how much I despise yard work. I’m a kitchen gardener because my small kitchen garden produces better vegetables than I can buy anywhere… and because for an initial investment of about $30 each season, I manage to grow several hundred dollars worth of fruits and vegetables.

By October, my excitement for gardening has worn away and I’m ready to get on with winter. Fortunately, winter recharges me and I emerge from it full of energy and enthusiasm for the next season’s kitchen garden.

 

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Abloom in Your Small Kitchen Garden in July 2010

Yes, some of the broccoli has gotten away from me. I’ve planted the same variety for two years, and in both years it has produced tiny heads. I kind of loose interest in it, though we do eat most of the side shoots. This winter I’ll be shopping around for a breed of broccoli that makes giant heads… the tiny yields I’ve had lately aren’t worth the garden space.

It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, an event that happens on the 15th of each month. Founded by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens, Bloom Day beckons garden bloggers the world over to post photographs of what’s abloom in their gardens. Most of these posts have pictures of beautiful flowers in gorgeous ornamental gardens. Alas, my small kitchen garden isn’t about pretty.

Still, I love the blossoms nearly as much as I love the vegetables… and seeing them heightens my anticipation for the harvest that’s likely to follow. Things are doing extremely well this season. Early heat followed by drought has finally relented to several days of rain and more typical summer temperatures.

Here are the flowers I photographed this afternoon in my small kitchen garden:

 

I haven’t planted dill this year, but there are many dill weed blossoms in my small kitchen garden. The flowers attract all kinds of insects. If I let the dill go to seed as it did last year, I imagine the planting bed will be a veritable lawn of dill sprouts in the spring.

 

The oregano jungle has rebounded from some autumn and spring culling. The flowers are delicate and they provide beautiful contrast for nearly half the growing season. Still, I need to be more aggressive culling this fall; the oregano patch increases about a third in size in a season.

 

Onion blossoms make me happy. The globe of tiny flowers emerges in late spring and lingers for weeks. I cut a bouquet of onion flowers for the dining room table, and they’ve filled the room with a delicious onion aroma for nearly a month. I don’t encourage you to harvest your onion flowers; I had missed a few bulbs last fall, and what sprouted this spring needed to go to make way for the 2010 crops.

 

We’ve eaten bell and poblano peppers from the small kitchen garden this year, and there are dozens of banana peppers ready to harvest. Happily, there are many pepper blossoms which portend a massive harvest. I expect I’ll pickle a lot of peppers… and probably give away a whole bunch of them.

 

This sad specimen is an early cucumber blossom on a plant growing in a container. This is the first time I’ve grown cucumbers, so I’ll probably do some research to learn about what bugs eat cucumber blossoms… I haven’t seen this kind of abuse on my winter squash blossoms in past seasons.

 

The potato blossoms here stand above the background of the cardboard tube in which the plants are growing. I wrote about this project in a post titled Plant Potato Towers in your Small Kitchen Garden. In two of three planters, the potato plants have grown up through an accumulated 3 feet or more of soil. I’ve stopped adding soil, and the plants have gone on to grow well above the containers and produce flowers. One of my neighbors has asked me to invite him when I tip the containers over and dig out the potatoes. He’s as curious as I am to see how things come out.

 

Oh, the tomato blossoms abound! This has been the season of the great seed-starting debacle: I planted a whole bunch of seeds indoors, and they didn’t sprout. So, I planted again as many. This second batch sprouted about when the first batch sprouted; I ended up with double the seedlings I’d intended. After giving away many tomato seedlings, I crammed 84 plants into my small kitchen garden where I have traditionally planted 24.

 

While photographing flowers today, I found the very first barely pink tomato of the season! This may be the largest chili-pepper-shaped paste tomato I’ve harvested, and many more on the plants are just as big. Why did I pick it when it’s so under ripe? I explained last season in a post titled The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie. This baby will finish ripening on my dining room table.

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Small Kitchen Garden Volunteers

weedy small kitchen garden

While I wait for frosty cold nights to end in the spring, weeds grow wild in my small kitchen garden… but alongside those weeds: volunteer herbs! Here, a cilantro plant that must have rooted in the fall keeps pace with a thistle plant whose tap root probably reaches nine or more inches into the soil.

As the owner of a small kitchen garden, I have a lot of enthusiasm for volunteers. The volunteers I’m talking about are the ones that sprout in my planting beds in the footprint of last year’s plants: their parents.

Of the plants I grow, the most successful at reproduction are cilantro and dill. Both toss hundreds—maybe even thousands of seeds onto the soil from about mid-summer until early winter… and dozens of those seeds manage to take root in the spring before I get into the garden. Tomatoes also try to procreate, and succeed occasionally when a fruit falls from a plant and I leave it to rot on the mulch. I’ve even had the occasional squash plant emerge from seeds I can only imagine some rodent or bird dropped during a trip from my compost heap.

Hindrance to Planting my Small Kitchen Garden

As much as I love the volunteers (they provide fresh herbs weeks before I’d harvest any from seeds I plant intentionally), they interfere with my gardening. I try to work around them, but invariably I have to excavate huge patches of them to make way for other produce I wish to plant.

Sometimes I transplant some volunteer herb plants, but mostly I try to harvest them before I till. Dehydrated homegrown herbs have so much more fragrance and flavor than commercially-packed herbs. It’s astonishing how much like fresh herbs they smell and taste.

The day I excavated furrows for my tomato plants, I needed to weed out hundreds of volunteer dill plants and dozens of volunteer cilantro plants. Here’s a three-minute video I recorded in the garden as I harvested herbs:


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Protect Your Small Kitchen Garden from Mint

Mint Plant

The grower of this mint has prevented potential disaster by restricting the plant to life in a flower pot. Let mint loose in your small kitchen garden, and you may run out of space for vegetables.

Mint is a fascinating plant with a wonderful flavor… but be very cautious about planting it in your small kitchen garden. I’m inspired to share this with you because of a tweet I read from @batesnursery some weeks ago:

Plant mint between cabbages for natural protection from caterpillars and other pests and eventually everything else, except mint

The tweet made me laugh, and it brought to mind a garden I visited last summer. This was a community kitchen garden managed by several people with a variety of gardening sensibilities. One of the gardeners insisted that the garden needed to have mint. They planted mint in one corner.

A Small Kitchen Garden Mint Debacle

By the time I saw this garden, the mint had extended itself from the garden’s corner across the entire length off the garden. There were mint sprouts at various intervals along a line trending North, and other pockets of mint sprouts at apparently random places throughout. The gardeners told me they had already pulled the mint!

So, after a season of growth, and another of mortal combat, the mint continued its campaign to capture all the cultivated space… and the surrounding meadow.

This small, shared kitchen garden is under siege from a little mint plant that overtook the planting bed in the previous season, suffered severe damage at the hands of frustrated gardeners, and has re-emerged to wreak further havoc (that mass in the bottom-left corner of the photo is mint).

Contain Mint While it’s Young

My recommendation concerning mint is simple: don’t plant it in your garden beds. If you must, isolate your mint plants by burying a container and planting within the container. Then, don’t let the mint plants escape from the container! Most prudent of all is to plant mint in containers above ground and somewhat separate from your vegetable beds.

If you love mint, and you recognize its potential to provide top-notch ground cover, by all means put it to work. It’s a gorgeous plant with square stems, regal textures, and delightful aromas. But understand its character, and be prepared. I’ve seen many a kitchen gardener despair at the aggressive assault of advancing mint plants.

Subscribe to Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog

Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has introduced a video blog titled Visit with the Gardener, in which I share snippets of what’s going on in my garden and/or kitchen. I try to keep the videos under two minutes and provide either useful tips and techniques – or encouragement – for you to try new things in your kitchen gardens.

Please have a look, and jump over to Youtube to subscribe to my channel. Here’s the link to my channel: Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog. And here’s an example of a recent post on the vlog. Please enjoy:

Some ways to use mint, and more information about growing it:

  • At last, the mojito recipe: pinchy dot org. – After several mojito-making experiments that failed miserably the Mojito Julius, mochajitos, mo-Fritos, and so on I finally mixed some mojitos on Saturday night that were good enough to justify posting the recipe. The instructions are ridiculously detailed, so that you can benefit from all the mistakes I made. (Incidentally, when I got on this mojito kick, I had no idea that it was the it drink of this summer.

  • Recipes What Can I Make with Fresh Mint Leaves – I was craving a Mojito the other day and thought how much fun it would be to grow mint leaves so I could make one for guests. Of course my husband says.

  • How to Grow Mint (Step-by-Step Photos) | Noob Cook Recipes – Detailed step-by-step tutorial on how to grow mint via cuttings. Mint is an easy and fast-growing plant.

  • Grow Mint From Cuttings – Frugal Gardening Tip | The Shoestring … – Grow Mint & Other Herbs from Cuttings from Your Garden or Store Bought Produce. I love to save money in whatever ways I can and being frugal in my gardening pursuits is no exception. So, since I needed some fresh mint …

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