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Posts Tagged ‘you can grow that’

Horseradish Sauce! (Relish?)

You Can Grow That!

Horseradish roots

I dug about a foot into the soil and still had to pull the roots of my horseradish plant. These are just over a foot long and I don’t know how much broke off in the ground.

Remember when I said you can grow horseradish? Do it! My three year horseradish project was very satisfying this Christmas. You might have a similar experience.

In mid autumn, I harvested from my horseradish patch. I’d heard that horseradish is hard to kill; it will take over your yard if you don’t manage it carefully. Harvesting helped me understand the problem.

I dug alongside a root and tried to follow it to its deepest point. Fully a foot into the soil, there was no end in sight and I simply couldn’t dig deeper. So, I pulled and the root broke someplace beneath the bottom of the hole. I suspect the piece left behind will send up a new plant pretty much as a dandelion would under similar circumstances.

Horseradish harvest

I had to break the top of each root I harvested away from the other roots. They were all joined at the top by a raft of root tops and emerging plant stalks.

I dug a second root with similar results. If we used a lot of horseradish, I’d have dug more, but we go through about a half cup of horseradish sauce in a year—pretty much all of that on Christmas Eve.

A horseradish condiment

A few days before Christmas, I took a horseradish root from the refrigerator, rinsed it thoroughly, and used a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Then I grated the root into the consistency of fine (wet) meal. This I loaded into a one-cup jelly jar; there was a half cup of grated horseradish.

To finish, I added exactly enough white vinegar to soak the horseradish—this involved slowly dribbling in vinegar so the grated root could absorb it. I stopped when the top of the horseradish was obviously moist. Then I covered the jar and set it in the refrigerator.

How we use horseradish

Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner is a beef fondue extravaganza. We cook our own cubes of filet mignon in a fondue pot of hot oil.

Horseradish grater

I shredded the horseradish on the face of my grater that seemed most suited to scraping things rather than shaving them. A single, peeled root generated a half cup of horseradish crumbs.

To prepare, my wife mixes up several meat sauces, a few of which incorporate horseradish. I’ve always bought a jar of pickled, grated horseradish to use in the sauces, but this year my wife used my homemade pickled horseradish. It tasted fine.

It took three years to go from my brother’s garden to my refrigerator to my garden and finally to my dinner table. It’s a very satisfying story to accompany dinner.

Want horseradish to make your own meat sauces? You can grow that!

Grated, pickled horseradish

With just enough vinegar to cover the shredded horseradish, after a few days in the refrigerator the horseradish seemed a bit dry. It was nearly exactly enough to flavor our Christmas Eve beef fondue; this is all that remains.

Small Kitchen Garden – You Can Grow That: Horseradish Relish

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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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Winter Squash: You Can Grow That!

squash leaves

The leaves of a neck pumpkin plant form a canopy along the top of a four-foot-tall trellis. Until they start to deteriorate in autumn, winter squash plants add remarkable textures to a garden. Left to run along the ground, leaves create enough shade to keep weeds from getting established.

Winter squash is by far one of my favorite vegetables to grow. Happily, it’s also a really easy plant. It’s easy but for a few challenges:

  • It requires a lot of garden space
  • It’s susceptible to Squash Vine Borers
  • It’s susceptible to squash bugs
  • It can host mold that can kill an entire plant
  • It may not set fruit without human intervention

No, seriously, it’s easy to grow winter squash. You can beat all of the challenges with little effort, and the reward is a harvest of delicious, nutritious, and versatile food that stores well and could last through the winter.

butternut squash on the vine

Squash vines on trellises are strong enough to support the fruits they grow. Here, a modest butternut squash hangs from the vine. I’ve had 17 pound neck pumpkins do the same. The vines hold up fine, but one year three squashes on the same side of a trellis were enough to collapse the trellis.

Optimize Garden Space

Winter squash plants are vines, and a single hill (three or four plants set close together) can spread over 100 square feet or more of ground. Minimize the ground they cover by providing trellises and training the plants up. I’ve run trellises north-south, and others east-west, and the squash have been happy on both. My trellises are only four feet high, but I’d design seven-foot trellises if I were starting over.

On the other hand, under the “Beat the Squash Bugs” heading, you’ll see that I plant squash in the garden in mid-July. I grow peas on sturdy trellises starting in late March and they’re done by July. So, I simply leave the trellises in place for the squash when I stomp down the pea plants.

Beat the Squash Bugs

Your simplest defense against bugs is to grow bug-resistant winter squashes. I’ve had great luck with butternut squash and neck pumpkins. Both seem immune to squash vine borers (SVB), and I’ve harvested squash from them even when they were crawling with squash bugs.

But I have almost no squash bugs anymore and the reason is simple: I hold off until mid July before planting winter squash in my garden. This may shorten your growing season too much if you live in zone 5 or below, but here’s the trick: Start hills of squash in early June by planting in containers.

squash seedlings in mid June

Each sawed-off drink bottle in this photo contains a “hill” of squash seedlings about 14 days after I planted seeds. I start the seeds in early June to transplant in mid-July. Usually, that beats the squash bugs, but for added assurance, I plant butternut squash and neck pumpkin which are both amazingly immune to SVB and squash bugs.

For each hill, cut off the bottom third of a 2-liter soda or juice bottle, poke a few holes in the bottom, fill with potting soil, and set three or four seeds and inch deep. Keep these containers in a sunny screened porch until mid July (or under protective cover such as cloches, hoop tunnels, floating row covers, or screened enclosures), and keep the soil moist. Around July 15th, transplant each hill of seedlings as a single plant into your garden. There’s a reasonable chance that squash bugs will have given up on your garden by then, and none will bother your winter squash.

Will Your Squash Plants Mold?

My butternut squash and neck pumpkin plants have never developed mold, though I’ve grown other types of squash plants that have molded. So, start there. You’re already choosing these varieties because they resist SVB; perhaps they are also mold-resistant. By planting late, you keep the squash bugs down, so there won’t be sap oozing out of the squash leaves. Sap drawn by squash bugs can provide a great environment for mold to grow, so beating the bugs may beat the mold. Finally, by growing squash up on trellises, you promote air movement in your squash patch; that reduces moisture on the leaves and discourages mold.

squash leaves

It’s easy to identify a female squash flower. The blossom protrudes from the end of a miniature squash, and the flower’s pistil is a central stalk that forks into landing platforms for bees. Amazingly, a squash blossom starts to wilt about when the sun is highest in the sky. Pollination must take place before the flower wilts.

Don’t Go Fruitless

Many squash growers report frustration when their plants fail to set fruit. They report that flowers appear, but the young squashes attached shrivel and die. Squash flowers draw more attention from bees than anything else in my garden, and you’ll probably have the same experience. However, leaving pollination to the bees can lead to poor squash production. Photos in this post show how I pollinate my winter squash—every winter squash. It’s one of my favorite tasks in the garden and I’ve never lost a squash that I hand-pollinated.

Grow Squash!

Butternut squash and neck pumpkin are very similar. Neck pumpkins have a milder flavor, but if you serve it in place of butternut, few diners will notice the difference. People in central Pennsylvania favor neck pumpkin for pumpkin pies. But beware! A large butternut squash might weigh two or three pounds. A large neck pumpkin can weigh 25 pounds.

I gotta say: it’s really satisfying to drag a 17 pound vegetable out of the garden. Managing the few quirks of winter squash is a minor inconvenience for the pleasure. Give winter squash a try. You can grow that!

Find more You Can Grow That posts at

winter squash without pollination

If a female squash flower doesn’t receive pollen from a male squash flower, the fruit dies. Amazingly, this happens often even when bees are very active in a squash patch. It’s disheartening to see a squash rot away like this. Protect your investment in squash seeds by hand-pollinating every blossom.

male winter squash blossom

A male squash flower grows directly from a stem; there is no fruit beneath it. The stamen is a single or split stalk obviously coated with pollen. Look carefully and you might also notice a dusting of pollen all around the inside of the blossom.

prepping a male squash blossom to pollinate a female blossom

To pollinate a squash, find and pick a male flower. Then peel the petals away from the stamen. Discard the petals.

hand-pollinating a winter squash flower

Hold the stem end of the peeled blossom and wield it like a brush to “paint” the pistol of the female squash flower. Be careful not to agitate the bees in the blossoms, though in all the years I’ve pollinated squash, a bee has never shown interest in me. Bees have flown into blossoms I was holding before I had a chance to strip off the petals, but the bees ignored me. You can use one male flower to pollinate several female flowers.

neck pumpkins and butternut squash

This small pile of winter squashes includes neck pumpkins and butternut squash. The wine bottle gives you a sense of scale; the largest neck pumpkin in the heap is nearly two feet long. A well-developed winter squash that is still green at harvest will ripen slowly at room temperature in your house.


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Oregano? You Can Grow That!

oregano in my small kitchen garden

After a few years of growth in the corner of my small kitchen garden, an oregano seedling had expanded into a six-foot diameter circle that I had to cut back each season in favor of planting annual vegetables.

More and more of us want to grow food, but for many, the idea is a bit intimidating. Just to get started you may need to prepare space in your yard or acquire containers for your deck or patio. Then there’s the question of what to grow? Starting with a finicky, hard-to-grow plant might lead to discouragement.

How about oregano? Sure, you’re not likely to make a meal out of this pungent herb, but you could use it to flavor all kinds of foods. And, for someone just starting out, there are few plants as certain to succeed as this one.

Oregano Hardiness

Without cover, oregano will survive winter down to hardiness zone 5. While you can start it from seeds, you’ll almost guarantee success if you buy oregano seedlings from a nursery or garden center.

biblical rain soaks my rhubarb

Biblical rains in 2011 drowned many of my annual vegetables along with the rhubarb and the oregano. It was saddening to see the entire herb patch wither into soggy twigs.

You might discover that oregano grows quickly and spreads aggressively. To give you some idea, take a look at the first photo in this post. It features a large green blob that covers a six-foot diameter space in the corner of my kitchen garden. That blob started as an oregano seedling I bought through a school fundraising event. Four or five years passed from when I planted the seedling to when I created the photo, and I cut the oregano back several times in that time span.

Oregano Tenaciousness

Last year it rained in central Pennsylvania. I’m talking about rain of near biblical proportions. There was standing water in my garden for weeks, and it was a struggle to get annuals such as tomatoes, squash, corn, and beans to produce. All my rhubarb plants drown, and by winter all that remained of that big blob of oregano was a tangle of brown, soggy twigs.

oregano survivor

From the rotting twigs of my dead oregano monster, this lone branch sprouted leaves in the spring of 2012. I transplanted it into the new herb bed I’d created at the end of 2011.

Still, this spring, leaves emerged from one of the dead-looking oregano branches. Wanting to add soil so flooding would be less likely in future wet seasons, I dug up that leafy sprig of oregano, held it for a few months in a nursery pot, and then planted it in a newly-prepared herb garden. To help the oregano behave, I set it inside of a root barrier (I’ve come to respect its enthusiasm to conquer).

As the photos show, in just three months the herb has nearly filled its confinement ring. I’ve harvested repeated through those months to flavor tomato sauces and meat marinades.

Do I think oregano is a great choice for someone starting their first kitchen garden? Yeah. You can grow that!

from seedling to ground cover in three months

After three months, my oregano survivor spread throughout the root-containment ring in which I planted it.

rooted oregano sprig

Here’s why oregano is so capable of subjugating whole patches of a garden. The sprig in the photo was headed toward a sauce pan when I noticed roots emerging from the main stem. The sprig had not been in contact with soil but obviously it wanted to be. You can grow that!

Find more posts celebrating what you can grow at You Can Grow That!


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