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Posts Tagged ‘basil’

Basil Forever!

You Can Grow That!

Basil plant abandoned at a trade show

Among the things left by a vendor packing up after a hort industry trade show was a modest basil plant that I set under lights on my ping-pong table.

I attended a horticulture industry conference in January of this year. When the conference ended, vendors packed up their valuables and left. Some vendors left things behind.

Apparently, when your company produces hundreds of thousands of seedlings for garden centers all over the country, it’s not cost-effective to pack up a few dozen after a trade show and take them back to headquarters.

So, I scored some edible plant seedlings: two rosemary plants, three sage plants, and a basil plant.

Herb seedlings in winter

It’s not convenient to acquire seedlings in January in central Pennsylvania. Last winter was particularly cold, and soil was hard frozen. Without a jackhammer, I couldn’t plant the seedlings outside. And anyway, basil dies when the temperature drops to 32F degrees; in central PA, basil is an annual.

Basil plant and friends on the ping-pong table

Ping-pong never caught on with my kids, and my wife and I haven’t played in years. To-boot, the only south-facing window in my basement illuminates the ping-pong table; it’s a natural place to winter over plants. I hang four-foot-long shop lights from the suspended ceiling to drive 850spectrum fluorescent tubes.

I had some stuff under lights on the ping-pong table—a whole bunch of elephant ears I’d peeled apart from the original corm I’d planted in the spring. It was a simple matter to slip the herbs in among them.

Every now and then I’d harvest a few leaves from the basil plant, and it did OK under lights. Finally, in June I planted the very mature seedling in my herb garden. It didn’t do well, but it grew and between it and a stand of purple basil plants, there was plenty to season salads and sauces. Then winter loomed.

When weather forecasts threatened frost, I cut several stems from the basil plant and stood them in water as you would cut flowers. Years ago I’d done this to hold some sprigs over a few weeks for cooking and was impressed at how easily they’d sprouted roots. This time, roots were my intent.

Basil (and lavender) in the herb garden

The basil wasn’t particularly eye-catching in my garden this summer, so I never once focused my camera on it. However, in several photos, the basil plant provided delightful contrast for the lavender.

Basil forever

The cuttings rooted quickly, and I moved them into flower pots after about four weeks. They’re just now fully acclimated to living in soil, and I’m seeing signs of new growth.

I’ve never grown herbs indoors specifically for cooking. When I have grown them, it’s been as starts for spring planting. This year, however, my basil cuttings are (nearly) entirely about seasoning. Under intense lights, I expect they’ll grow enough to flavor many meals.

I’ll harvest lightly so the cuttings remain strong, and I’ll plant the basil out next June. This will become a rhythm in my gardening year: Set the basil plants in the garden, harvest as-needed, root cuttings in autumn and pot them up, grow them under intense light, harvest modestly through winter, repeat.

It’s easy. You want basil for life? You can grow that.

Basil cuttings root easily in water

Basil is one of the easiest food plants to grow from cuttings. About three weeks in water was enough to produce healthy roots on a tiny sprig.

Freshly-rooted basil seedling under lights

I wonder how a well-managed five-year-old basil plant looks in the landscape. Similarly, I wonder whether a rooted cutting counts as a new plant, or just more of the original. This seedling started as a cutting from my herb garden and should provide seasoning for at least a few meals through the winter.

This link leads to You Can Grow That posts by other garden bloggers.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – You Can Grow That: Basil Forever

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Food in my Kitchen Garden!

Young pears

Anywhere I point a camera at the pear tree it captures an image with many pears. I’ve never seen so many pears on the tree in a season. If they reach maturity, I’ll have a lot of preserving to do!

As I rushed around a week ago Friday getting ready to drive to Ithaca, I captured images that demonstrate food is happening in the garden. I was happy seeing so much progress early in the season but I must not have been wearing my reading glasses.

You see, when I capture photos, I can’t tell immediately whether they’re well-framed, in focus, or properly exposed. Even with reading glasses, the tiny view screen on my camera can make blurred images seem sharp. I discovered when I reached Ithaca that the tiny view screen conceals all kinds of unexpected details. The shocking truth appears in the last photo of this post.

I wish I’d downloaded the photos before I left home so I’d spotted the problem while I could do something about it. I remain optimistic. Perhaps this was an isolated problem that will simply have gone away by the time I get home. No, I don’t believe that. What I believe is that someone else has beaten me to the first peas of the season. Rats.

Lettuce patch

With only a few plants mature, we’ve eaten a reasonable amount of lettuce salad—mostly from plants I’ve removed to thin the patch. I planted nearly exclusively romaine varieties this year. I like the crispness and it seems every year there are more shades of romaine from which to choose.

Basil babies

One of my favorite sprouts, basil, came on strong about six days after I set seed. This is a purple variety, and there is classic green Genovese basil about six inches to the right (not in the photo). I planted six varieties, most from seeds Renee’s Garden gave me to try.

Early tomato blossoms

This is totally crazy, but there are already blossoms on my tomato plants. Well… only the Stupice plants have blossoms, but that’s as it should be. Stupice is a “cool weather” variety that matures in about 55 days! There’s some chance the first will ripen by June 30th, but most certainly I’ll be harvesting in July. That has never happened in my small kitchen garden.

Sweet pepper baby

If tomato blossoms in early June aren’t crazy enough, I found a sweet pepper on its way to maturity. This must have developed from the one flower that had opened before I set the seedlings in the garden. Still, I’ve been impressed that my pepper plants didn’t seem to notice I ripped them out of communal planters and set them into my planting beds. There was no wilting and no apparent slowdown in growth.

Pea pod and aphids

The photo that made me shudder when I loaded it onto my computer and looked at it full-screen is of my first pea pod of the season. One plant flowered about three days ahead of the others. On this day (June 6), two pea rows were green hedges smothered in white flowers. In the middle of it all was this tiny green pod I captured in pixels. Casual inspection of the closeup revealed quite a community of aphids apparently enjoying the little pod.

 

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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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Small Kitchen Garden Bloom Day, August 2011

There are three pots of basil on the handrail of my deck. I put far too many seeds in the pots, and the poor plants grew up stunted. Still, the flowers are delicate and beautiful.

My small kitchen garden, like so many gardens in the US, has struggled through the season. Happily, things are finally moving along, though I’m afraid there is a fungus trying to kill my tomato plants.

But today isn’t about the problems, it’s about the bling! The 15th of every month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. You can learn more about it over at May Dreams Gardens. I failed to capture decent shots of the flowering mint and cilantro. Also, I neglected to photograph corn silk. Still, there were a lot of blossoms today. Please enjoy the photos of what’s abloom in my kitchen garden.

There are two windowsill planters of cucumber plants under the handrail on my deck. This flower snuggles beneath the handrail, and it is one of dozens that have popped in the last week or so.

A bell pepper flower appears healthy and robust. Oddly, my bell pepper plants are thriving while my jalapeno, banana, and poblano pepper plants are struggling.

Despite the appearance of something blighty on some of my tomato plants, they continue produce flowers. I don’t suspect late blight because all the lesions are on lower stems and some lower leaves. I’ve seen no signs of sporulation, so it doesn’t seem likely to move from plant-to-plant. Still, I fear for my tomato crop: it may be quite limited this season.

How’s this? I understand it’s the male flower on a corn plant. My sweet corn is growing ears, and the silk on those is, technically, the female flower. This corn tassel is red and the corn lower down on the plant is also supposed to be red. I’ve never tried red sweet corn, but I suspect it will taste a lot like yellow sweet corn.

That’s a cosmos trying to hide behind a corn leaf. I planted cosmos with my corn because I heard from an online acquaintance that this would keep away corn ear worms. The first ears are nearly ready to harvest. I don’t see evidence of worms, but they can be pretty sneaky, so I won’t know for sure if the cosmos helped until I start shucking.

As long as I’m confessing about planting flowers, here’s an even bigger sin: My wife ceded an ornamental bed to me so I could grow more climbing beans. I set about ten beans across the back of the bed, and then planted five or six types of flower seeds through the rest of the bed. From the looks of things, only two types of flower plants survived, and the first to bloom is a zinnia. The leaves way back against the wall of the house on the left are Kentucky Wonder bean leaves.

On the subject of beans, here’s a flower on one of my bush wax bean plants. The plants suffered heavy chewing by insects until I treated them with insecticidal soap. With new leaves, the plants show more vigor toward reproduction. I’ve harvested a serving of wax beans and anticipate being able to preserve about a gallon of them before the season is over.

Weed. There’s quite a bit of it near my small kitchen garden, and just a few stems actually in the garden. The flowers are pretty so it’s hard to go all anti-weed on them.

I had to finish with a winter squash blossom because it’s all that! This is the biggest squash blossom in my small kitchen garden. It belongs to a neck pumpkin plant and was one of about a dozen gorgeous blossoms peaking out from rain-soaked leaves this morning. Oddly, my blue Hubbard plants have produced about 8 female flowers and only one male flower. I’ve pollinated the blue Hubbards using male flowers from the neck pumpkin plants. So far, they seem to accept this hybrid pollination, but I can’t predict whether the seeds will be viable next year (and if they are, what the squashes might be like). Perhaps I’ll find out next summer?

 

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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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Frost in my Small Kitchen Garden

The first frost of autumn sits lightly on yesterday’s grass clippings: the most recent addition to my compost heap.

The season has turned in my small kitchen garden: there was a significant frost last night. Living in hardiness zone 5b, I hope that you zone sixers have several more weeks of growing season ahead… and I’m jealous of you zone seveners, eighters, niners, and tenners (oh, the cool stuff you can grow in zone 10). Fortunately, the weather forecasts had warned of frost, and I’d taken steps in case they were right.

A Defensive Harvest

It doesn’t take deep cold to kill tomato plants, but they may survive a minor frost. I never take that chance. So, yesterday I picked every tomato that appeared to have any chance of ripening. Some were already partially ripe, while others were completely green. Why had tomatoes ripened on the vine in my small kitchen garden? Because I’m lazy.

Some months ago, I explained why you shouldn’t let tomatoes ripen on the vine. I harvest by that philosophy. However, I planted far more tomato plants than I needed this year, and after making and canning more than three gallons of tomato sauce, I lost interest in doing more… until I heard the frost warning. I couldn’t let all those tomatoes go to waste.

Frost completely destroys basil. So, I cut off a dozen or so plants yesterday, and set them in a bowl of water to hold them over so I can use them today. I thought I’d finished with tomato and mozzarella salad, but it’s too good not to make up one more bowl full. Dill and lettuce I ignored; they don’t mind frost. In fact, I’m expecting another solid week or two of growth on the lettuce plants… I’ll use the dill to make pickles this week or on the weekend—I’ve never made pickles, and I like trying new things.

My Dining Room Table

During my transition from fall gardening to winter sloth, a lot of stuff lands on my dining room table. That’s where I always ripen tomatoes. Now, along with ripening tomatoes, there is a bouquet of basil, a platter of butternut squash seeds, and a paper towel dotted with tomato seeds. These will move on before Thanksgiving.

We’ll eat some tomatoes and sauce or toss the others. The basil will go down with the tomatoes we eat. I’ll put the seeds in the refrigerator in a week or two to convince them it’s winter. In March, I’ll plant the tomato seeds indoors for transplanting to the garden in May. I’ll plant the squash seeds in the garden in June as the spring pea plants begin to expire.

Is Your Small Kitchen Garden on Break?

Is it tempting or sad to think that time has run out this year for gardeners? Actually, it’s wrong to think that time has run out. There’s still much time to do useful things in a garden. I’m going to plant a pear tree soon; later today, I’ll place an order on line and have the tree shipped to me (I’ve been posting quite a bit lately about planting pears).

End-of-season tomatoes, tomato seeds, squash seeds, and a bouquet of basil are prominent on my dining room table. Yes, that’s also a dying Venus fly trap that followed my wife home from the gardening store about a month ago.

If you’re not planting fruit or other perennials, this is a great time to start a new garden. Lay out new planting beds, cut and remove sod, build raised bed gardens, and condition the soil so it’s ready to work at the earliest possible moment in the spring. Some annuals like to start in the fall so they have a head start in the spring, and some seeds winter over just fine so they can pop the moment the soil thaws. I’ve never planted annuals in autumn, so I can’t make recommendations. I have had volunteer plants show up in my garden, and those lead to a few suggestions.

Annuals to Plant in Autumn

Planting cilantro and dill now will likely result in early sprouting in the spring. By planting, I mean to get the seeds in the ground as you would in the spring, but don’t water them and encourage them to grow. Actually, established, young cilantro plants may stay green well until mid winter, and they’ll start growing as the air warms in the spring.

I’ve seen onions winter over and start growing in the spring with no special attention. I’ve also had volunteer tomatoes, squash, and gourds start in my garden, but I wouldn’t plant those in the fall; I want squash to sprout in late spring, and I’d rather plant tomato plants (rather than seeds) after the last frost instead of waiting for seeds to sprout several weeks later.

I’ve heard you can plant some varieties of broccoli in the fall… come to think of it, I once left several “spent” plants in the garden one year, and they started growing again the next spring. I wouldn’t chance this with any common variety; look for hardy, slow-growing plants—and maybe the supplier can confirm they’ll winter over OK outdoors. I’ve also heard peas planted now—or later this fall, will start growing when the soil thaws, and I’d be very tempted to do this… but I never have. If I think of it, I’ll put in a test row this fall and tell you what comes of it next March or April.

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