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plant basil

Decorate Your Kitchen Garden with Basil in Containers


In 2011, I planted three 6-inch flower pots with two colors of basil. These remained on my deck rail for the season, providing flavoring for the too-few tomato salads I prepared until blight wiped out my tomato patch.

Basil is an essential herb in my small kitchen garden. Historically, I’ve started basil seeds when I set tomato seedlings in my planting bed. My motivation: the basil plants mature at just the right speed to be ready when the first tomatoes ripen.

If you followed Your Small Kitchen Garden blog in 2011, you might recall that in nearly every post I whined about water. The rain last year was devastating, and even until mid winter local basements were flooding because the water table had not receded. Despite my whining, the season had some high points one of which was my experience with basil in flower pots.

Decorative Basil on the Deck

Basil sprouts are among the most attractive sprouts in my small kitchen garden each year. I especially loved watching the purple basil get started.

I made the mistake last year of not buying basil seeds until I was planting tomatoes. By then, I couldn’t find Genovese or its ilk in local stores. I did find lemon basil seeds as well as a variety of purple basil.

With all the rain, I figured to control moisture most effectively by planting in flower pots. Then, inspired by ornamental plantings of my friends, I decided to mix the lemon basil and purple basil seeds and create planters that would be decorative as well as productive.

Lessons Learned from Decorative Basil Pots

I placed each seed in the pots deliberately to create patterns. In one pot, I laid a circle of purple around a green center. In two others, it was a green circle around a purple center (there were frustratingly few purple basil seeds).

By far my favorite arrangement was the green center with a purple border, but I have reservations:

Lemon basil is a very tall plant. Well-nourished, it can grow to about 36 inches. The purple basil plants were modest growers. A tall one might have reached 12 to 18 inches. The colors looked great together, but the lemon basil plants overwhelmed the flower pots and cutting them back severely only resulted in further aggressive growth.

I’ll be shopping for basil seeds soon for 2012, and I’ll look for purple and green varieties whose growth habits are very similar to each other. I’ll probably plant a few more pots than I did last year; they look terrific on the deck, and it’s nearly impossible to grow too much basil.

The purple border around a green center is a striking display in many ornamental beds. It also looks great with edibles. I’ll give a little more thought in coming years to the colors and textures of my food plants when I plan what’s going to grow on my deck.

 

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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 Projects in my Small Kitchen Garden

Small Kitchen Garden Heirloom Tomatoes

My peppers are coming on strong this season, but these are tomatoes. I’m so looking forward to harvesting these. They grow very large and contain very little gel; they are nearly all-meat. I expect they’ll produce an enormous amount of sauce compared to what I’d get from a comparable volume of beefsteak tomatoes. The weight of fourteen plants holding, perhaps, 15 tomatoes apiece was pulling the trellis down, but some cross-bracing seems to have relieved the pressure.

There’s a lot going on in my small kitchen garden, and I’d like to share all of it with whomever might be interested. Alas, I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past three weeks, and I’ve been unable to complete the last of my planned plantings. This is awkward because I’m confident that the seasons aren’t going to wait around for me to catch up: what might have grown to maturity had I planted it in early July will probably hit a wall being planted now all of three weeks later.

Still, today I played catch up. Here’s a list of projects I completed today, though I wish I had finished them in June:

1. Shored up the tomato trellises. Technically, I wouldn’t have known in June where to add shoring; the trellises only started to sag last week. Turns out the tomato stakes I converted into tomato trellises aren’t happy holding the weight of 14 heavily-fruited plants. I expected some trouble when I built the trellises; this morning I dealt with it.

2. Planted basil in another planter and in another patch of garden. I really wish I’d done this in June. I’ve had just enough early tomatoes ripen that I’ve prepared my very favorite of all salads Outrageously Good Tomato Salad from a Small Kitchen Garden. However, none of the basil I planted outdoors this year is mature enough to harvest. So, I’ve nearly depleted the basil plant that grew on my basement windowsill over the winter. I’ll need basil in the next few days, and I’d hate to have to buy it at a grocery store.

I first wrote about how I built supports for my over-crowded tomatoes in a post titled Tomato Supports in you Small Kitchen Garden. This morning I added a cross-piece that ties together three tellises. The tops of the trellises are nearly 7 feet high, and plants are already just six inches shy of them. These plants could grow eleven or twelve feet long before a killing frost knocks them out.

 

When cilantro plants get tall and start to flower, they put out a lot of very thin leaves. These tend to be woodier than earlier leaves and they aren’t as flavorful. Better at this point to let the plants make coriander and get some new ones started so they’re putting out large, flat, fragrant leaves when the tomatoes are ripe and ready to go into salsa.

Nearly all my peppers are in planters this season. The plants on the deck’s hand rail have produced a lot of small peppers (the planters are too small for the plants). Many of the peppers are turning red, providing striking bouquets all along the railing.

3. Planted more cilantro in the garden. I’ve already benefited from two crops of cilantro. However, the second crop is getting very flowery which means it won’t be so tender and fragrant in the next few weeks. As the beefsteak tomatoes start ripening, I want a lot of wide, young cilantro leaves on-hand because I’m planning to can salsa this year.

4. Planted another soda bottle with carrots. I’ll post an update of my soda bottle carrot planter within the week. Today I started nine carrot seeds in a 3-liter soda bottle. I’m guardedly enthusiastic about soda bottle carrot planters… but more on this in an upcoming post.

5. Set up a planting box to capture the stolons of my strawberry plants. Actually, my strawberries have put out so many stolons this year that I can’t accommodate all of them. I’ve tried to encourage stolons only from the plants that produced large, attractive berries… but I don’t have enough planters—nor room for the ones I have—to handle all the new growth.

6. Planted sweet potatoes using my home-grown alternative to garbage can potatoes. This is extremely experimental for two reasons. 1: I’m not sure whether sweet potatoes will like the garbage can method that potatoes like so well. 2: I “invented” an alternative to the garbage can that adds a bit of risk to the health of the plants. I’ll provide more details in an upcoming post.

I had to stop gardening when my in-laws and family returned from the county fair; they settled into our screened-in porch where I’ve stashed containers, soil, seeds, and other gardening stuff. I’ve two projects I didn’t complete. 1: Planting my last three tomato plants in a reusable shopping bag. 2: Planting a few beans in milk jug planters.

I hope to finish up tomorrow.

My strawberry plants’ stolons have stolons which, in turn, have stolons. The planters sit on the deck, so the strawberries are getting frustrated in their attempts to clone themselves. I’ve directed stolons into two new planters this year, and will continue to capture these babies until I develop a dedicated strawberry bed in my yard.

 

 

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After Frost in a Small Kitchen Garden

Before the first frost, I had a gorgeous patch of basil in my small kitchen garden. Two frosts in two weeks nearly decimated the patch, but I had saved a bouquet of basil clippings on my dining room table.

The first frost all but wiped out the basil in my small kitchen garden, but I had prepared: I had harvested a bouquet of basil plants and set them in a bowl of water—like cut flowers in a vase.

I used about half the plants to make tomato and mozzarella salad and left the others on the dining room table (they made a nice centerpiece).

Before that first frost, I had also harvested the last of my tomatoes—actually, two large bowls full (about a third of a bushel). This morning, I selected the eight ripest tomatoes from that nearly two-week old harvest and made up yet another bowl of that killer tomato and mozzarella salad.

To complete the salad, I picked through the basil plants in the garden. Last night’s frost had destroyed what was left of the tallest plants. But deep under the weeds and the tall, dead basil plants, I found about six healthy small plants. Then I picked over that basil centerpiece on my dining room table.

It’s Growing!

What I found in my basil bouquet took me back thirty two years to my greenhouse bedroom in my parent’s house: the basil clippings I’d put in a bowl of water two weeks earlier had sprouted roots!

About two weeks in a bowl of water, and this hardy basil stem put out quite a few roots. I’m going to plant this and a several others in a flower pot and see whether they’ll grow into the winter.

I started dozens of plants from clippings when I was a kid, but haven’t thought much about it since. Of course, many plants you might grow in a small kitchen garden must come from clippings of some type. Seedless oranges, for example, can’t possibly grow from seeds, so every one you’ll ever grow must be a clipping from a tree that grew from a clipping and so on back to the very first seedless orange tree.

Breeding True

Fruits and vegetables that grow seeds don’t always reproduce “true.” That is, the fruits from a second generation may not resemble the fruits from which you collect seeds. This is especially true when the variety of fruit or vegetable is a hybrid (meaning it’s bred from two established varieties).

You might have seen this expressed in your own garden. If you’ve lost a few beefsteak tomatoes in the soil one season, and then let volunteer tomato plants grow and mature in the next season, I’ll bet the fruits on that second year plant weren’t nearly as appealing as the first year’s beefsteaks.

I still have a small pile of tomatoes that ripened on my dinining room table. I picked these on the day meteorologists (accurately) predicted we’d have our first frost. Most of the tomatoes were significantly underripe, but they’re looking good now.

Growers maintain the characteristics of apple, pear, peach, grape, and other fruit varieties by starting new plants from grafts—clippings taken from established trees and grown on hardy root stocks. Growers may obtain root stock by taking clippings from established trees, dipping them in rooting hormones, and setting them in water—or a very moist growing medium—and letting them sit for a while… just as my basil bouquet sat in water for two weeks.

Off-Season Gardening

One project on my off-season gardening agenda is to plant herbs in a couple of flower pots. It’ll be nice to have fresh basil, chives, and cilantro on hand through the winter. While I’m at it, I’m going to move my rooted basil clippings into potting soil and see how they do.

Aside from planting a few herbs indoors, I need to pull my tomato stakes and add the dead tomato plants to my compost heap. I also have pea trellises (hardware wire supported by seven foot wooden stakes) that needs to go into the shed for the winter. I have a healthy crop of lettuce that’ll make salad in the next few days, and after that fourteen tons of leaves that are gathering on my lawn will all go inside the rabbit fence and crush the life out of the small rain forest of weeds that has grown in the past two months. If things go my way, I’ll hibernate until the ground thaws.

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