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Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

Finally there’s Soil in my Small Kitchen Garden

When your broccoli seedlings remain in their very limited planter about a month too long, they might produce disappointing florets. This tablespoon-sized floret represents what each of my plants produced about three weeks after I finally set them in the garden. It didn’t help that I set the seedlings in soil that was nearly mud… or that several days of subsequent rain kept the roots far too wet. Perhaps as things dry out the plants will send up enough side shoots to make a decent meal.

Since planting season started some three months ago, I’ve reported again and again that there is no soil in my small kitchen garden. That’s right: where, every growing season for the past sixteen years there has been soil, this growing season nature replaced my soil with mud.

My Earliest Starts

I managed to plant cauliflower and broccoli three weeks ago while the mud was a bit dry (as mud goes). Sadly, the plants had been pot bound long enough that they were flimsy… and further rains stressed the plants once they were in the ground.

For the first time ever, I saw a rabbit chewing on one of my vegetable plants. In 17 years of kitchen gardening in Lewisburg, I’ve had rabbits nest in my garden and I’ve watched many of them feed on my weeds. This year the rabbits decided that broccoli and cauliflower taste good. I’ve since mended my garden fence.

Within ten days of getting their roots in the ground, my broccoli plants sent up center stalks bursting with florets… tiny florets any one of which would make a single forkful on a dinner plate. Had I harvested from ten plants, I’d have gotten a single serving of broccoli.

Then a rabbit decided that brassicas taste better than native plants and had a few meals in the mud.

My Small Kitchen Garden is Coming On!

There have been a few positives about this growing season:

  • I planted all the lettuce seedlings in planters on my deck and, though the lettuce is a tad bitter because of early heat, we’re eating fresh salads pretty reliably.
  • I started artichokes indoors. When I planted the brassicas, I also set five artichoke seedlings in the garden. Actually, I set three in a new bed near my rhubarb, one in the back of the new herb bed, and two in a two-gallon planter on the deck. One of the plants has already put out a choke.
  • Cilantro I seeded in part of the new herb bed is coming on strong. I’ll do a second planting in a week or so.
  • The volunteer dill seedlings I moved from my main planting bed into the herb garden are filling out nicely.
  • Thyme and tarragon I started from seed last year and set in the herb garden in the fall are growing strong. I may want to add more thyme plants this season.
  • The sage bushes I moved from an old half-barrel planter into the new herb bed in the fall have filled out and may soon need some serious pruning.
  • The mud is gone, replaced by soil. I’ve planted 55 tomato seedlings in the main planting bed and more than 24 chili pepper seedlings of four varieties.

It’s two months later than in past years, but my small kitchen garden is finally on its way!

I’d never grown lettuce in containers, but when my raised planting bed remained mud for the first two months of the growing season, I realized I’d have no homegrown lettuce if I didn’t try something new. We’ve had several garden salads but it has been very hot. Chances are the lettuce will bolt soon; I’ll probably plant again in August and hope to have plenty of fresh salads well into November.

 

Not my best photographic work, but clearly a choke has formed in my small kitchen garden. I love photos I’ve seen of artichoke plants, so I decided to grow some this year. I hope I see more food on them, but I’ll be happy if the plants mature and look at least vaguely like the ones I’ve seen on other blogs.

 

Yes, the soil is dry and weeds abound, but the dill seedlings I rescued from my main planting bed are thriving in my new herb bed. Cilantro I direct-seeded grows at the left front of the photo, and sage grows at the rear of the photo. Out of sight at the far end of the bed, thyme and tarragon plants are growing very nicely.

 

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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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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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August 09 Bloom Day in a Small Kitchen Garden

My small kitchen garden is still fully abloom, which portends great things to come. The blossoms also provide fodder for me to participate in another Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts Bloom Day wherein she encourages garden bloggers everywhere to photograph their blossoms, post them on their blogs, and then add a link to the Bloom Day list.

My small kitchen garden this month has blossoms that are quite similar to last month’s blossoms. Still, there are a few changes, and all-new photos. I don’t really grow flowers, but if I don’t get any in my garden, I won’t get any vegetables and fruits either… and that would make me very sad. Please have a look and see what the future holds for my small kitchen garden.

 

Cilantro flowers abound in my garden. My cilantro patch is very mature, and blossoms are giving way to coriander. These cilantro flower clouds—volunteers that planted themselves last fall—float among my tomato plants. Similar volunteers are making coriander throughout my planting bed.

 

My oregano monster is in full-bloom: dozens of stalks of flowers stand above the foliage. My oregano is spreading; trying to consume the planting bed. So, a few days ago I trimmed back the edges of the monster. I’ll dig out a lot of oregano roots when my annuals die back in the fall.

 

My pepper plants this season have messed with me. Peppers I potted in gallon jugs grow side-by-side with peppers I potted in a handrail planter. The gallon juggers matured and produced fruit while the handrailers turned into bonsai pepper plants. About a month ago, I shuffled plants out of the handrail planter into an in-ground planting bed… but I left some plants in the planter. Now all are growing as though they mean it. So, August has brought a new round of pepper flowers, and I’m eager to harvest peppers in September. Most, I suspect, will end up in gumbo.

 

Oh, beans! I harvested about a gallon of wax beans over the past two days, and there’ll be another half gallon ready tomorrow morning. The climbing beans are still flowering and producing new beans which makes more than a month of production with no end in sight; typically bush beans spew huge amounts of beans very quickly and you need to plant them in stages if you want to harvest through the whole summer. I’ve taken a one-and-done approach with bush wax beans, and they’re flowering madly even as I pluck the gorgeous yellow pods.

 

Tomato Blossom in my Small Kitchen Garden

I’ve been lucky this year to be in the one 50-mile swath of the United States that hasn’t been too hard on tomatoes. I’ve canned 1 and ½ gallons of tomato sauce, I have about 12 gallons of tomatoes ripening on my dining room table, and my plants are producing about two gallons of tomatoes each day. To keep me on my toes, the tomato plants continue to produce those demure yellow flowers. I suspect that flowers in mid August will not produce ripe tomatoes before the first frost.

 

Thistle Flower in my Small Kitchen Garden

Here’s a volunteer I really don’t want in my small kitchen garden… but it’s so pretty. I think thistle plants are quite attractive, and the flowers are gorgeous. Of course, I’ll pull this plant in a day or two and add it to the compost heap. But there it is blooming on Bloom Day.

 

Squash Blossoms Below in my SMall Kitchen Garden

The big change in my small kitchen garden from mid-July to mid-August is the overwhelming emergence of winter squash. I had set seedlings in the garden on the first weekend of July, and a month later squash plants covered a big chunk of the planting bed. The vines are maxing out. That is, they continue to put out more stem and leaves, but the new stems are very slender, and they don’t seem to support fruiting flowers. New fruiting buds are tiny, and they seem to wither and die even before the flower opens. That’s OK, there must be 15 – to – 20 butternut squash fruits under the leaves. And, despite the lack of viable female flowers, the vines continue to produce daily explosions of bright orange male flowers. I couldn’t choose just one squash flower photo for this blog post, so I’ve included three of my four favorites (the one I didn’t publish was a bit esoteric).

 

A Squash Flower Hides in my Small Kitchen Garden

A volunteer tomato plant, self-seeded from last year’s crop, makes a small jungle surrounding a squash blossom in my small kitchen garden.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Squash Flower

Few things are better in my small kitchen garden than the time I spend among the squash blossoms in August.

 

Thanks so much for visiting!

 

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July 09 Bloom Day in a Small Kitchen Garden

In the category of Flower closest to my kitchen: A bell pepper plant is just starting to set fruit. I have great hopes as there are already dozens of banana peppers and a few jalapeno peppers ripening just a few feet away.

Flowers are not the point of a small kitchen garden. However, without flowers, there are very few food products a kitchen garden can produce. So, though I often joke that I’m too lazy to plant something that I won’t eventually eat, I am very fond of flowers.

I’m also very fond of the on-line gardening community. While many participants in that community discuss their food-growing activities, it seems a majority prefer the time they spend with their flower and ornamental gardens. From the photos on their blogs, I know I’d enjoy spending time in their gardens as well… but I have no flower- or ornamental-garden to offer in kind.

And then there’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day started by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens: on the 15th of each month, participating garden bloggers post entries about what’s abloom in their gardens. This month, I’m joining the gang. But my post isn’t about nasturtiums, pansies, cone flowers, daisies, black-eyed susans, and clematis. You won’t find such things in my garden (sure, you’ll find them in my wife’s garden, but she doesn’t blog). Still, my small kitchen garden is blooming its head off, and I’m psyched because nearly every blossom means another goody to eat growing in my yard.

In the category of Tallest herb in my small kitchen garden: Dill weed volunteers grow where seed fell from last year’s plants. This variety of dill grows about five feet tall.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Cilantro

In the category of Don’t get me started: If I left all the volunteer cilantro plants to grow as they please in my small kitchen garden, I’d never again have to plant the herb. However, the volunteers rarely start where I’d like them to. Shortly after they flower, the plants produce coriander: the round seeds that either plant themselves in the garden or season a variety of Asian and South American foods.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Cilantro And Lettuce

Yes, more cilantro flowers. I wanted to point out that flowers aren’t the be-all and end-all of pretty in a small kitchen garden. Several varieties of variegated lettuce are still growing where I planted them, and they provide an attractive background for this volunteer coriander factory.

 

In the category of Invasive, noxious herb: About five years ago, I planted a tiny oregano plant from one of those 1.5-inch-cubed nursery pots. There is now a five-foot diameter circle of densely-packed oregano shoots, and they have just started to flower. No doubt, this fall I’ll be excavating oregano roots to decrease the plant’s footprint by at least half.

 

Weed in a Small Kitchen Garden

In the category of Winningest weed: It’s tiny. It likes my small kitchen garden planting bed. It’s gorgeous. I had to kneel with one elbow on the ground to get close enough for the photo.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Climbing Bean

In the category of Most fun for the money: In my first year growing climbing beans, I have become enamored. The flowers look a lot like all other bean flowers I’ve grown. However, I’ve had a lot of fun tying up strings and training the bean vines to use them. The tallest climber is about to pass the end of its string and become entwined with the kids’ play set (my youngest child is 13 years old, and the play set sees play about once a year).

 

Small Kitchen Garden Tomato Flowers

In the category of Another tomato blossom photo: Yes, I’ve photographed a lot of tomato blossoms over the years. This photo is a little different as it vaguely captures the components of the tomato support system I erected this year in place of tomato stakes.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Onion Flower

In the category of It’s cool to be different: I love the round cluster of flowers that emerges at the end of a long onion stalk. Ideally, your onions don’t flower; flowering generally results in a smaller onion bulb with a short shelf life. However, crazy weather can cause flowering, and growing onions from sets can also lead to flowers. No matter. My onions are plump and I’ll use them quickly once the stalks flop to the ground. My onion flowers look grand.

 

Honey Bee on Clover

In the category of: Who’s happy on Garden Blogers’ Bloom Day? And: who doesn’t have clover flowers in their yards and gardens?

 

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