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.
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.
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.
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.