Basil is one of my favorite things to grow in the garden. It's easy, mostly pest-free, and best of all: I like it.
I usually go overboard and grow more than one kind of basil in the garden. This year I grew sweet basil, Thai basil, and ‘Mammoth' lettuce-leaf basil.
If you don't raise lettuce-leaf basil, you should consider it for next year. Lettuce-leaf basil is really fast to de-stem for processing which is great for lazy folks like me. ‘Napoletano' is my absolute favorite basil, but it was out-of-stock everywhere this year, so mild-tasting ‘Mammoth' it was.
Although I use fresh basil regularly, I never seem to make a huge dent in my garden's supply because I grow more than I should. Eventually the plants will begin to flower around mid-July. Each type of basil flowers at a different time and previous harvesting will also affect when it flowers.
An efficient time to harvest basil is just as the flower spikes begin to be visible, but aren't fully expanded. The plants will have lots of leaves ready to be used and the flavor is still good.
Today was basil harvest day in my garden, but I probably should have started last week.
I usually dry all my sweet basil, and use the Thai and lettuce-leaf basils fresh, but this year I had a lot of lettuce-leaf basil ready to harvest all at once so I had to preserve some. After drying and freezing, I still had some left to use up. So I went to my backup preservation plan: salt drying.
Salt drying relies on salt to draw out moisture to preserve herbs. Since there is no heat involved, the delicate aroma of the herbs is not as affected as by dehydrating. Any herb can be salt dried, but I'm not sure that's a good idea for every herb. I can't imagine finding a use for salted mint.
To salt dry basil, use a clean, wide-mouth jar. Put some salt in the bottom and alternate layers of washed, dried basil leaves and salt. I use kosher salt, but use whatever suits your fancy. (Remember, the basil will overpower any flavor subtleties of expensive specialty salts.) Sometimes I put a few peppercorns or fennel seed in the salt too. After filling the jar, store it in the refrigerator and it will keep for months.
Whenever you need some basil, pull out some leaves and add them to your recipe, adjusting salt if desired. When you are finished using all the leaves, you are left with a basil-flavored salt, also handy in the kitchen!
I've found that this method is very good with Thai or holy basils. I can pull the leaves out and add them to sauces. They do a good job retaining their distinct flavor this way. The small leaves fit well into the jar to make neat layers. This year I used the small leaves toward the top of my lettuce-leaf basil plants. The ruffles made it a little harder to place into the salt, but it worked if I packed it all down between each layer. I probably didn't get as much basil in the jar as with Thai basil as a result.
I am thankful that basil is so easy to preserve since I'm always swimming in it by mid-summer. Good thing it's something I actually use, unlike the radishes I plant for no apparent reason.
P.S. Before you ask: No you cannot safely can basil at home, even with a pressure canner.
I am always amazed to find out that some people plant more than one zucchini plant. My single plant is a giant monster that produces more than I can sneak into our dinners.
Zucchini grows great in our area with one big caveat: squash bugs. I suppose they are something of a blessing since if we didn't have them destroying our plants, we would all be neck-deep in them.
The plant we call zucchini in the USA is a kind of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), The word zucchini comes to us from Italian, but the species is native to the Americas. In the 19th Century, the modern variety as we know it was bred in northern Italy, so zucchini it is.
Because our climate is fairly inhospitable to pathogenic fungi, there aren't too many diseases that affect summer squashes here. Our primary pests are squash bugs.
Summer squash varieties like zucchini are very sensitive to feeding by squash bugs, and plants will begin to wilt and die if these pests aren't controlled. This page has information on their control. Most gardeners on the east side try to manually remove them on a regular basis from susceptible crops.
If you are able to control the squash bugs, you will likely encounter an even bigger problem with zucchini: the fruit. Most zucchini plants are very productive, to the point of annoyance. Gardeners who have more than a couple plants have been known to disappear for weeks on end under the burden of their abundant harvest. This is serious business!
The internet has lots of great recipes for zucchini, but eventually you too will face the Zucchini Apocalypse. The threat of violence caused by a family that refuses to eat one more zucchini dish cannot be understated! (Zucchini chili was not a big hit at the Blakey home.)
The best way I've found to use zucchini is to strike up a conversation (6 feet apart, of course) with a fellow gardener about squash bugs. If they tell you they've given up on zucchini due to squash bugs, you may be in luck: immediately propose a trade for something like chileno peppers or tomatoes. You'll need to act fast before another desperate gardener reaches them first!
Another often overlooked way to use up zucchini is to preserve them for later use. This recipe for zucchini bread and butter pickles will use up 16 cups worth all at once! Since I already have a cupboard full of cucumber bread and butter pickles, I needed to go to Plan B: zucchini chips.
Zucchini sliced into ¼” thick slices can be dehydrated with some seasoning into tasty chips. In my two latest batches I used either chile-lime seasoning or seasoned salt. Lemon pepper, Cajun spice mixes, dehydrated kimchi powder, or salt and pepper all work very well. (Instructions for dehydrating fruits and vegetables can be found in this fact sheet.)
Preserving zucchini allows you to eat it during the off-season when the memory of your Zucchini Apocalypse is distant. Trust me: it tastes better in November.
- Author: Alison Collin
With bulb catalogs appearing in our mailboxes and high temperatures precluding gardening for much of the day many of us are no doubt dreaming of the spectacular flowers that we will be growing next year.
These bulbs will grow in the more moderate climates of the Owens Valley, and also in higher elevations such as Mammoth where they live quite happily under the winter snow and will burst into flower as soon as light reaches them. They are unlikely to do well in hot desert areas even with irrigation. Plant them as soon as you can since they should not dry out, and they begin to put out new roots in early fall.
As with all bulbs it is important to remove dead flowers before seeds begin to grow, but leave the foliage on the plant until it has completely died down, because after flowering the leaves provide food for the bulb to enable it to flower the following year.
Bulbs look best if planted among other plants, rather than poking up in patches of bare soil. If bulbs are planted among other perennials it is possible to disguise the dying foliage by carefully planning how you plant. I have a large hardy geranium which is generally floppy and emerges after crocuses have finished flowering and so covers that foliage and gives them some extra shade in the hottest part of the year.
Unfortunately some species of bulbs are very attractive to gophers and ground squirrels so if you live in an area that is also home to these animals it pays to plant the bulbs in wire cages.
About Specific Bulbs
Narcissus: Daffodils are hardy and live for years making increasingly large clumps, and are generally left alone by deer and gophers. They come in an enormous range of heights, shapes and colors including pink and white as well as the better known yellows. Pink trumpeted daffodils do tend to lose their pink coloration in hot sun. Some are strongly perfumed with several smaller flowers on a stem, while others have only one flower with a large trumpet. Different varieties bloom at differing times from February to early May.
The other main type of crocus are the Dutch or Large Flowering types which can reach up to 5” but generally have fewer flowers per corm. They come in similar colors to those of the Species types. They grow in USDA Zones 4-8 but won't naturalize where winters are warm. Plant species crocuses about 4” deep and the larger ones an inch deeper./h4>
I have been working in Cooperative Extension now for a few economic downturns, and a common response to national financial calamity is a desire to become more self-sufficient. This is a completely rational response. Along with that sentiment comes an increasing interest in starting small farm businesses.
My job is to advise people and answer agricultural questions. The best part of the job is helping people be more successful, but sometimes my job is to try to talk a person out of jumping into farming prematurely, especially in our fickle climate in the Eastern Sierra.
Possibly because we all eat and have access to fruits and vegetables year-round, we underestimate the difficulty and infrastructure needed to accomplish that feat. Numerous books, websites, and social media accounts encourage people to become farmers. They do a great job making it look easy.
Farming, however, is not easy, which is why the average age of U.S. farmers is 57 and getting higher.
There are two essential components to agriculture, and a successful market gardener has to navigate both:
The horticultural part (growing, pest management, irrigation...)
The business end (financing, labor, harvest, equipment, laws, marketing, insurance…)
Just to keep it interesting, weather, economic policies, and disasters can all lay waste even to the best of plans in agriculture.
I'm not sure anyone would consider opening an art gallery to sell their paintings and attempt to learn how to paint after opening their shop, but this is the usual approach that beginning farmers on the Eastside try to take. They would need to learn to grow in our climate, get their site's soil and weed issues under control, and learn how to run a farm business all at once. That's a difficult challenge!
If your primary question is “What all can I grow here?” then you are likely not ready. A person who instead asks: “I can grow _____ well. Can I sell that profitably?” will be more likely to succeed. USDA has a good web resource dedicated to new farmers that handles the business planning part of agricultural enterprises.
It would be great to see more small market gardens in our area. If you are committed to beginning down that path, here are some tips to help you out:
Begin first by learning how to grow things in our climate for a few years. If you are new here, you will see our climate is not like other parts of California.
Start small and keep your off-farm employment while you learn.
Check out our Master Gardeners' website.
Find out when crops are ready for harvest in your garden.
Learn how your soil works and begin to improve yours. This website (SoilWeb) has infomation about most soils in California and is a good place to start. Get a soil test done if you have questions about your soil data.
Figure out how/when freezes occur in your location. This can be a deal-breaker in our climate. Some locations can freeze all year. Frost charts are helpful, but no substitute for experience.
Get control of your weeds. Ground that seems barren in the Great Basin suddenly explodes with weeds when irrigated, especially in new gardens. Solarization seems to work well here.
Make a business plan. You should know how much it will cost to grow, whom you plan to sell to, and what price you can get.
Grow what you are passionate about. Most growers do not get rich from growing. Passion will keep you motivated long term.
Commercial growers are subject to various regulations. You will need to learn about those, but you need to know what exactly (and how) you will be growing or selling before tackling those issues.
Finally, don't forget to consider your time availability. Gardening in the Eastern Sierra coincides with hiking and climbing seasons. If your interests are focused on the outdoor activities available here, then you will eventually run into a conflict that you must sort out. During growing season, farming is full-time(+) work, and plants don't take vacations. Not every crop is equally intense, so learning what works for your commitment level is important up front.
All that said, it is possible to successfully operate a market garden in the Eastern Sierra. Take it slowly. Learn how to grow crops here, and discover what works for you. At that point you will be in a great place to make the leap into commercial growing.
- Author: Alison Collin
I had a good patch of California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that had just finished flowering when I noticed the foliage on one of them was somewhat grayer in color than its neighbors. I did not think much of it at the time and put it down to being some sort of natural variant. As a Master Gardener I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself for not taking more notice!
The plant was suffering from powdery mildew, a fungal disease which, unlike most fungal infections, prefers dry weather. I have lived in the Owens Valley for ten years and so far have not seen much of this on my plants in previous years; even my variegated Euonymus which is renowned for its susceptibility has escaped.
Thanks to my inaction a few days later all the rest of my poppies were almost white from the infection, and then I noted the early symptoms on a previously healthy mahonia.
Many plants can be attacked by different species of powdery mildew and it is commonly seen in cucurbits – squashes, cucumbers, melons etc. as well as many fruits such as grapes, apples. Flowers such as zinnias, monarda and lupines, and roses are particularly prone.
It commonly begins on new growth, but if left unchecked can eventually distort the growing tips and buds as well as the leaves.
The fungal spores which overwinter in plant debris are spread by wind, and tend to attack plants in shady areas and also where there is not good air circulation, so avoid planting susceptible plants in those situations, and prune excess foliage to allow air circulation and sunlight to reach more of the plant.
Try to avoid the problem choosing resistant varieties when planting species known to be susceptible .
Some control may be achieved by pruning out affected areas if small, spraying with water to wash spores from the leaves, or spraying with a fungicide.
For more detailed information on how to avoid Powdery Mildew and methods used to contain or control it check out the following: