Posts Tagged ‘basil’

Basil Dried Herb Gift Label
Sweet image from Collard Green Princess!

Since basil doesn’t survive winter, not even coastal SoCal ‘winter,’ except sometimes, if you are growing African Blue Basil and the winter is mild, make some Basil Powder!  Delicious sprinkled over oil tossed salads, added to stews and steamed veggies! Grow purple basil as well as the green. Put it in a pretty little glass jar, add a bright ribbon or green garden twine, label, and it is a sweet organic homemade gift!

The best time to harvest is just as the plant starts to bud, well before flowers bloom. Different varieties of herbs flower at different times, so, heads up!  Be on the lookout for buds or newly opened flowers as your clue to harvest ASAP!  Harvest after the dew has dried, and before hot midday sun; evening is fine. You missed the ‘bud window’ and your plants are already blooming? Not to worry. Just know your powder will be less pungent and you will need to use more to get the flavor you want. So keep watch on your plants to take advantage of this tasty window!

Harvest the topmost leaves first. Snip leaves or branches, pinch off flower buds to keep the plant productive. Harvest the entire top half of your plants, or, of course, you can use as much or as little as you want. You can also cut the entire plant about 6 to 8 inches above ground, leaving at least one node with two young shoots intact. The plant should produce a second, but smaller harvest several weeks later.

Traditional Method

Wash, dry – spinner or flat and patted on paper towels. Dry is good; mold is bad.

Use some string, or plant twine, or wool, or a ‘shrink-to-fit’ rubber band, to securely tie the stem end of your basil bunch. If you are tying, make your knots good and tight; when the basil dries it shrinks.

Hang your basil upside down to dry – string a taut line from eyehook to eyehook for a drying area for all your herbs! Choose a dry spot out of the sun, not over the toaster or stove, not burnt nor moldy. Indoors it can take about 4 weeks. If you hang it in a dry attic or airy porch, it might take only 2 weeks or so. It’s dried just right when it’s nice and crunchy and breaks easily.

Organic Gardening.com uses this simple method instead!

  • Don’t tie basil stalks together or hang them to dry as you might other herbs. (mold factor)
  • Pinch or snip leaves from the stems and place them on a screen or absorbent towel.
  • Stir daily and allow to dry until crackly.
  • Store in an airtight container.

You can store stems and leaves whole in zip baggies. You can crumble into particles. Or you can make a fine powder. I use my mini coffee bean machine – only for herbs.

Non Traditional Methods

  • Oven:  Preserving Your Harvest says ‘If using cookie sheets to dry the herbs, place the herbs to be dried on parchment paper to avoid direct contact with the metal trays. Metal contact darkens the color of the herb being dried, causing the Basil to lose its bright green color.‘  Blake2012 says ‘Dry in a very cool oven (high temperatures will result in tasteless herbs).’
  • Sliding tray racks
  • Dehydrator
  • Sun dried
  • Freeze dried – retains green color!
  • Microwave or Freezer! Fastest of all! Caution from Whole Grain Texan! ‘A word of warning: Plant material will catch on fire in the microwave if you dry it out too much — I once had a little mishap when sterilizing sphagnum moss– but if you do it in 30 second intervals it won’t be a problem.’ So don’t let your kids do this without supervision, and don’t be a kid yourself!
  • Though not a drying method, put finely chopped basil in olive oil ‘ice’ cubes!

These methods can be used for any herbs! 

Mint, tarragon, lemon balm parsley, dill, rosemary, chopped chives! Modify your methods for plant differences, ie sage has a much thicker leaf. Have you dried Arugula?!  It’s much like basil, and in fact, is used as a basil substitute! Dried arugula is reported to have a smoky, savory flavor, even a little salty.  Tasty used in tuna salad, vegetable broth, mushroom soup, on scrambled eggs. Sprinkle basil or arugula over your dried kale snacks!

Use your basil on pasta, omelets, scrambled eggs, roast meat and/or veggies, sausages, in salad dressings, on fish. Use in delicious sauces, gravies, dressings, any recipes that use fresh Basil. Now you can say you have two season basil! That’s why we call it ‘seasoning!’ Enjoy it summer fresh, and in winter too!


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15 Super Tips for a Productive Summer Veggie Patch!

Asymmetrical Design

Whether you are tucking things into niches between ornamental landscape plants, planting a patio patch like in the image, setting up a first time summer garden patch, or replanning your annual garden, here are some great ideas to increase your production!

1. If you have space, and are creating a back, or front, yard food forest, always start with your tree placements first! Determine which veggies grow well with each kind of tree. Santa Barbara Mediterranean Food Forests

2. Keep in mind veggies need sun! 6 to 8 hours, preferably 8! They are making fruit, and often many! That takes energy.

3.  Put tall plants to the north (see image below), so they won’t shade the shorties. If there is a partially shaded area, plant your tallest plants on the shaded side so they can reach up to get some sun; put the shorter plants in decreasing heights, in front of them so all get as much light as they can. When you are planting rounds, another batch every few weeks, start in the north or the ‘back’ – the shaded area, and work your way forward.

4. Trellises and tall cages are terrific space savers and keep your plants off the ground out of harm’s way – pests, diseases, damage. Your veggies will be clean, and have more even ripening. Cucumbers, beans, tomatoes. Squashes and melons can be trellised if you provide support for heavy fruits. Even Zucchini can be grown up through cages leaving a lot of ground space for underplantings. Harvesting is a lot easier and certain when those fast growing zuchs are up where you can see them!

Inefficient Single Row Planting

5. There are rows and there are rows! Single row planting wastes space! Compare the images. If you do rows, plant 2 or 3 different plants in side by side rows, then have your walk way, then another 2 or 3 plants together. Whether you do 2 or 3, or even 4, depends on plant size, your reach, and ease of tending and harvest. Plant taller or medium size plants, like peppers and eggplant, by twos so you can reach in to harvest. Plant shorter smaller plants like lettuces, spinach, strawberries together since they are easy to reach across to harvest. If plants in the rows are the same size, plant the second row plants on the diagonal to the first row plants. That way your rows can be closer together and you can plant more plants!

Attractive Multi-row Veggie Amphitheatre around the Eden Project restaurant!

6. Rather than rows, biodiversity, mixing things up, confuses pests, stops diseases in their tracks, because they can’t just go from the same plant to the same plant down a row. Since we are not using tractors, there is no need for rows at all, but they can be lovely. The curved rows in the image are behind the Eden Project restaurant outdoor seating! Truly garden to table!

7. If you need only a few plants, rather than designating a separate space for lettuces and littles like radishes, tuck them in here and there on the sunny side under bigger plants! When it gets big enough, remove the sunny side lower leaves of the larger plant to let light in.

8. Plant what you like, and will really eat along with some extra nutritious chards, kales.

9. Plants with the same water needs are good together. Like a salad patch – lettuce, arugula, spinach, bok choy, bunch onions, radish, chards. Putting the things together that you will harvest together saves time! Put carrots at the foot of pole beans.

10. Overplanting can take the fun out of things. Too many zucchini in hot summers, and you are going crazy trying to give away the over large ones you didn’t harvest soon enough. Too many green beans are labor intensive harvesting, takes forever. Planting green beans too close together is hard to harvest, and they mildew more with low air circulation. Overplanting is delicious when you plant lots of lettuces, carrots then harvest what you thin out! That’s baby kales, chard, mini carrots. These are the eat-on-the-spot-in-the-garden types!

11. Traditionally, and if you lived in the North with cold winters, you planted the garden all at once in spring! If your parents did that, you are unthinkingly likely to do it as well. In our SoCal Mediterranean climate, we plant all year though there are warmer and cooler veggie seasons. But each of these seasons are longer, and overlap! It is easy to get 3 plantings in succession IN EACH SEASON! Some plants will grow all year, mostly the ‘winter’ plants in our coastal gardens, for example, beets, broccoli, onions and cabbages. It takes strength to leave open space for successive rounds. But you can do it. Mark that space off, plant temporary fast growers, nitrogen-fixing fava, or lay down some soil feeding mulch like seedless straw. That space will be super productive when its turn comes.

12. Pole plants, have a lot longer production period than bush, like beans! Indeterminate tomatoes are true vines, can last all season long, but are susceptible to Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi diseases. Might be better to plant determinates, limited growth varieties, in succession. That’s plant a few, then in a few weeks a few more, and so on. Let the determinates produce like crazy all at once, pull them when they show signs of the wilts. If you have only a small space available, or want to do canning, then bush plants are for you!

13. Plants that act as perennials in our climate are smart money plants! Broccoli’s for their side shoots, continuous kales and chards.

14. Special needs or companions!

  • Eggplants, though heat lovers, love humidity, but not overhead watering. Put them among other medium height plants.
  • Basils are great on the sunny sides of tomatoes, and go to table together.
  • Corn needs colonies – plant in patches versus rows! Every silk needs pollination because each produces a kernel! The best pollination occurs in clusters or blocks of plants. Consider that each plant only produces 2 to 3 ears, usually 2 good ones. How many can you eat a once? Will you freeze them? The ears pretty much mature within a few days of each other! So, if you are a fresh corn lover, plant successively only in quantities you can eat.

15. Consider herbs for corner, border, or hanging plants. They add a beautiful texture to your garden, are wonderfully aromatic, repel pests! Remember, some of them are invasive, like oregano, culinary thyme. Sage has unique lovely leaves. Choose the right type of rosemary for the space and look you want.

Please be CREATIVE! You don’t have to plant in rows, though that may be right for you. Check out this Squidoo Vegetable Garden Layout page! Check out the Grow Planner for Ipad from Mother Earth News! They may make you very happy! This is a perfectly acceptable way to play with your food.

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Harvest, Replant, Maintenance, Spring Preps, SEEDS! 

Keep harvesting!  Plant consideringly.  That means, summer planting starts in March.  January, February are generally cold, so slow growth though day length is getting longer.  Keep in mind what space you want available in March for the March starts.  If you are a winter plant lover gardener, one way to do this is to plant another round of your favorite winter plants, then in March designate a ‘nursery’ area, and start your summer seeds there.  Transplant the babies to their permanent locations as the spaces become available.  That in mind, plant more broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes.  Plant an understory of all year favorites – beets, carrots, parsley, radish, and turnips, on the sunny sides of taller plants.  And LETTUCES!  They love January!

January IS bareroot month!  Start bareroot artichokes, short day globe onions, strawberries (if you missed November), asparagus, horseradish (Be warned! Invasive).  Depending on the weather, strawberry flowers may appear shortly after planting.  Remove them so more energy goes into root development.  Seascape, developed by UC Davis, is an everbearer strawberry that produces well in our moderate coastal climate most of the year. Sequoia is an large berried everbearer; Chandler is a June bearer – produces May/June, then done.  For those of you at home, plant bareroot cane berries, blueberries, roses, deciduous fruit trees!  Visit Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero!

Clear overwintering pest habitat, debris; weed.  Turn top soil to aerate and let the bad fungi die, pray for the good ones.  Sidedress your producing plants lightly – add some fish emulsion with kelp.  Sprinkle and lightly dig in cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal or fish meal.  Keep a weather watch; keep those old sheets and coverings about in case of hard freezes.  Farmers’ Almanac on Frost   Weather.com Frost Map  Make this one your home page during cold winter months.  No mulch this time of year; it keeps the soil cold.  Rain Tips!  Secure peas and tall plants.

If you have been growing favas, time to secure them from winds, rain.  Pop in a few stakes and tie them with that green stretchy stuff, or some twine.  If they have too much shade, water or fertilizer, they will go to leaf and no bean pods.  If that happens, pinch off the growing tips.  Take ‘em straight to your kitchen for steaming or stir fry!  Back at your garden, side-dress with a sprinkly organic box fertilizer or fish emulsion with kelp, or whatever your choice is, water well!  Takes about a week for the beans to appear.  Let them get 5 to 8 inches, filled with beans, and their yours – tasty and high in protein!  If you are growing for seed, let the pods blacken and dry.  Black?  Yep, I know, counter intuitive.

Make compost, start preparing your soil for spring planting.  Make raised beds.  Plan your spring garden; get seeds, wait until March to start planting your summer veggies.  Wait for it.  Plants planted out of season struggle with weather, day length, temps, and are susceptible to pests and diseases they aren’t naturally able to fend off.  Now, if you have a greenhouse….

No greenhouse?  Start Seeds Indoors – we are now the prerequisite six to eight weeks away from March!  Start tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, cosmos, zucchini, impatiens, salvia, basil, and others.  Especially start peppers!  They take longer than other veggies.  Otherwise, wait until all chance of freezing temperatures have passed and buy transplants at your favorite nursery.  I’ve seen zucchini started in the ground in January thrive.  If it doesn’t come up, no problem!  Put some more seeds in soon again!  Keep planting.  I haven’t seen it work with tomatoes, but Marshall Chrostowski of Pacifica Institute’s Garden starts his toms in January for late March picking!  He uses heat transmitting black row covers on the ground, and floating row covers above.  That’s clear plastic with holes over hoops.  They make the soil 15 degrees warmer, with 15-20% warmer air!  You can buy floating row covers at your nursery.  Give it a try! Eating garden fresh organic tomatoes late March?! Yum! Row covers will speed up your notorious slow-grower peppers too! Not only do floating row covers warm things up, but they keep flying pests away from your plants! Check out Digital Seed’s Planting Schedule!

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Happy Winter Solstice/Yule, Dec 21st!

I like this saying I found at the Old Farmers Almanac:  Old Frost, the Silversmith has come:  His crisping touch is on the weeds.  – Charles Dawson Shanly

And, bless him, his touch will soon be on our veggies!  Some will love it; kales are said to taste better after a good frost.  Basils, some peppers and other tender plants will fold and die.  Gather seeds while you still can.  It’s tuck & roll time –  ready a stack of covers in case we get some hard freezes.  Keep a diligent weather watch.  Watering the evening before an anticipated freeze will help your plants withstand damage.

December is winter’s June, harvest time! 

Brocs, cauliflowers, peas, are all coming in now, especially if you planted in August, September!

Lettuces are thriving, keep plucking the lower leaves.

Keep harvesting your chard and beet leaves to keep ahead of the leafminers.  Don’t over water making the leaves too soft and inviting.

Cabbages take time to get to the stage to form that super head of tight fitted leaves.  Don’t despair, they are working on it.  Lay down Sluggo or do slug/snail maintenance around your cabbages to keep the pests from damaging your beauties.  Can you imagine what the plant would look like if the leaves were spaced out on a stalk?!  Pretty tall.  Feed lightly during winter to make Nitrogen easily available.  It’s cooler, so uptake is slower.

Your favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, putting it into little nodules on their roots.  So are your peas, both legumes.  They do that!  Little to no feeding for them, they make their own N.

If you tuck in kitchen veggie trim, don’t be surprised if a few potatoes (they look like tomatoes, same family) pop up here and there.  If you like ‘em, let ‘em come if you have space!

If you have everbearer strawberries you may have few berries after a few warm days.  Even a single berry is such a treat!

Collards, kohlrabi and kales are very happy, providing excellent nutrition.  You can eat the leaves of all your Brassicas – brocs, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, and, of course, cabbages!

Carrots are coming!  Plant another round near your peas!  All kinds!  Mix the seeds up for surprises later!

Yes, you can still plant!  Start a new garden with or put in successive rounds of artichoke (give them 3’ to 4’ space), arugula, asparagus – Pat Welsh (Southern California Gardening) recommends UC-157, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, mesclun, peas, potatoes, radishes, and turnips!  As soon as one is done, plant another!

Put in some little bunch onion patches here and there but not by your peas!  Plant some of those little  Italian red ones – so pretty in your salad!  How about some garlic chives?  Mmm….

Remember, this is THE time to be planting your largest garlic cloves – they need twice the fertilizer, so make a super rich soil for them.  If you are so inspired, many plant on Winter Solstice day, Dec 21!  Plant skins on, or for more mojo, quicker sprouting, here is the way to prep your cloves Bob Anderson style:

  • Soak in water and baking soda for 16-24 hours before planting.  Soak separate strains separately. (One T soda to 1 gallon water, or a half teaspoon in a cup of water).  Remove the skins – start at the bottom being careful not to damage the growing tip OR the bottom, because that’s where the roots grow from!
  • Just before planting soak nude cloves in rubbing alcohol for 3-5 minutes and plant immediately.

SideDressing – seedlings up 2 to 3 inches get hungry!  Liquid fertilizer once a week is quick and easy for them to uptake.  Feed your other plants every 6 weeks.  That means, sprinkle fertilizer around your plants or down a row, and dig it in a little, especially before a rain!  Water it in.  Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings.  We don’t want a lot of tender new growth that a frost would take.  Some people love their manures, others love Island Seed & Feed’s Landscape Mix, and some love their stuff that comes in a pretty box!  Plants love a fish/kelp mix.  Try the powdered version for a little less stink.  If you decide to do foliar teas, pick a warm, dry, or breezy morning so your plants will dry well before evening.  Do what makes you and your plants happy!  If you haven’t been fertilizing, think about how hard your plant is working.  Big brocs, for example.  When it starts to head, when plants start to produce, that’s your cue to help them along.

Gophers.  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains.  If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
Aphids?  Watch for curled leaves, squish or wash any or the colony away immediately.
White flies.  Flush away, especially under the leaves.  They are attracted to yellow, so keep yellowing, yellowed leaves removed.
Slimy Slugs, Snails.  Sluggo before they even get started, right when your seedlings begin to show, when you put your transplants in!  Once stopped, there will be intervals when there are none at all.  If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another round.

Make Organic, Sustainable Holiday Garden Gifts!  Plants themselves make wonderful gifts!  Start perusing catalogs for your Spring planting!

Happy Holidays, of all kinds, to you and yours! 
Garden Blessings, Cerena

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BLACK FRIDAY GARDEN GIFTS!  Gifts to Give, Gifts to Get!

Pour a little garden love into your loved one’s life this holiday season!

Lovely Fitz and Floyd Vegetable Garden 8" Pitcher seen on eBay at BlueHowMuch! $29.95

Make Organic, Sustainable Holiday Gifts!  This is the prime time to start winter gift plantings for holiday giving!  Start a salad bowl, make some pesto ice cubes – harvest before your basil freezes, collect basil seeds while you are at it!  Gather seeds to put in pretty little jars – label and tie with a bright festive bow.  Some of those seeds can be used for seasoning, some for planting!  Dry and powder some herbs for teas, pillows, sachets!  Make scented candles or creams, soaps or shampoos!  Sage darkens your hair, chamomile lightens.  Make an herb wreath, or classic orange pomander balls.  Herbed vinegars & oils are simple to make, and beautiful!  In white wine or rice vinegars:

  • Lavender is rose red
  • Nasturtium flowers release neon orange
  • Sage in flower & purple basil are magenta!

Likewise, be thinking of what you can give your loved one or good friend in the way of gardening items!  Buy local!  How about that special tool, a new shovel?  Some seeds?  A container or garden decoration they have been longing for, a beauteous trellis.  Oh, some of those fancy flowered rain boots?!  YES!  Gloves – those old ones are worn out, you know.  Supplies like special potting mixes, fertilizers.  Books on the topic dearest their heart – Recipes, garden specialities, California Master Gardener Handbook!  Sponsor them for the class they would like to take but didn’t have the dough. Garden plates and mugs.  That catalog and a gift certificate to go with it!  Local services, like an hour of time on something that takes a little more doing than one person would like to do alone, or a consult with your local sustainable landscaper!  Hey, it’s a win/win!  It’s sustainable and makes you both happy!  Trifecta!

Oh, and don’t forget to leave your own garden shopping list lying about the house…if someone tries to discourage you from buying something on the list, let them.  Who knows what will show up with a bow on it?!

Next week:  A Little About Onions, a LOT About GARLIC!

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Cucumber Flowers

June is another grand month for planting, more heat, fast growth.  Plant in spots that have already finished; plant for succession, a continued harvest of your favorites!  If you couldn’t take advantage of April or May, step up to it now!  Seeds are good, transplants are faster if your summer palate is salivating!  Hotties like corn, cucs, beans, jicama, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkins, New Zealand spinach, all squashes!  I’ve planted corn in August and got great October corn!  Plant tasty year-rounds – beets, carrots, chard, cilantro, radish, turnips.  Tomatoes with basils now and next month.  More tomatoes if you will be dehydrating for camping, winter stews, snacks.   Try something new –maybe something you can’t get at the store!

Why are we discussing okra in June? Because it is time to plant okra seed for fall gardens. Depending on the variety, first pods are ready for harvest about 2 months after planting. If you plant in mid-June, you will not harvest until mid-August. If you wait until later, cool nights will decrease production. Of course, many gardeners have okra already growing that will continue to produce until frost. If these plants are too tall, they should now be cut back to a height of 4 feet so that re-branching and production will occur before cool weather arrives.  If you are an okra lover, it’s double your pleasure because it is in the hibiscus/hollyhock family and makes breathtakingly lovely flowers!  Okra is like little stars in a salad; you cut it in thin slices across the raw pod.  Or cook it traditionally, steamed, in stew, jambalaya over rice, or deep fried.  If you are driving through Mojave, there’s a restaurant on the main drag that fries it to perfection!  Perhaps the most important thing to know is okra has to be harvested while small to medium, while tender.  Otherwise, you end up with an unchewable tough monster.  Big is not better, trust me.

Biodiversity really works!  Mix it up, spread out your plantings.  Solid blocks (except for corn for pollination) of one plant or overplanting same kind plants in leaf touching rows are particularly susceptible to pest and disease spread, gopher loss.  Lose one, lose ‘em all.  To further confuse pests, pop in some herbs, basil with tomatoes, marigolds, as an understory in the between spaces!  Grow arugula and lettuces in the shade of your mighty corn!

Two on one trellis!  Check out the good size dark cucumbers hanging, and the ‘hammock’ supported melons!

Enjoy your luscious harvests!

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Carpenter Bee - Male, AKA Teddy Bear Bee!

April 15, 2011 I had my first encounter with a huge male carpenter bee – see image! Awesome! They are all fuzzy and yellow (not all black like the females), sometimes called Teddy Bear Bees, and I could totally see why! They hover closely and look you right in the eye, buzz off and come back for another look! They are the largest bees found in California, don’t sting. What a pollinator!

Magic May, Mama Earth’s Bounty Month, It’s Cantaloupe Time!!

Keep planting your summer veggies and year-arounds! If you haven’t put in the summer heat lovers, do it NOW! That’s peppers, eggplant, okra, melons. Absolutely get winter squash in now. It takes time to mature and harden. Beans, beets, carrots, chayote, corn, cucs, summer lettuce varieties, pumpkins, radish, zuchs, chard, tomatoes, more tomatoes, turnips! Omigod, I’m hungry!

Harvesting is like pruning, no? So eat! Keep your plant producing by steady picking and plucking, no storing on the vine! Otherwise, it thinks it did its job, made those seeds, and folds up camp! Keep your broccoli harvested. If you see flower stalks, cut them off ASAP, back to where new shoots can come. If you are getting too many sprouts, cut them back further to slow them down. Eat those bitty zuchs, flowers and all! Use those herbs you planted – basils, thyme, sage, oregano. Just a few of their leaves rubbed, mashed, steeped, chopped, can add luscious flavors! Make pretty bouquet garni for giveaways! Parsley is SO good for you, and beautiful in your garden! Its second year it goes to seed, a biennial. Pull and cook the tasty roots in your soup, or let a plant or two go to seed to feed beneficial insects and reseed your patch.

Oh yes, and, of course, plant cosmos, marigolds, petunias, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, your favorite summer flowers!

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