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Posts Tagged ‘herb garden’

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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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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