- Author: Dustin Blakey
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.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
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
In the constant search for green leafy vegetables that will do well in a hot climate I stumbled upon Brazilian Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo) and Okinawa Spinach (Gynura crepioides), and although a tropical plants I decided to give them a try in our dry high desert climate.
Brazilian Spinach: This plant forms a mat of bright green, crinkled leaves on stems about 1' long which flop and root wherever nodes touch the ground. It prefers part shade, and in many places it is grown as living mulch under fruit trees. It is not fussy about soil type, but does require warm temperatures, a fairly steady supply of water, plenty of organic matter and lots of nitrogen since it is a fast grower.
I acquired a couple of rooted pieces and planted them in pots indoors. They very quickly became established and once all danger of frost was past I planted one directly into the garden and the other remained in its pot but was also placed outside. The potted one grew vigorously all summer far outperforming the specimen that had been directly planted, and at the end of the year I once again brought it inside where it served as an edible houseplant. They may do well in planters with plenty of irrigation and shade from afternoon sun.
The leaves are crisp and mild and can be eaten raw in salads or added to other dishes, but if large quantities are to be consumed it is recommended that they first be cooked and strained because of the high levels of oxalate that they contain.
I found that the leaves are a little coarser than leaf lettuce and while not unpleasant they do not have a lot of flavor. I used them as an “emergency” lettuce when making sandwiches, and I certainly preferred them to Malabar spinach which I grew in previous years.
Okinawa Spinach: Is an attractive low-growing plant with purple tinged leaves. The cultural requirements are similar to Brazilian spinach. It can be eaten raw or cooked and young shoots are often used in stir fries or tempura dishes in Okinawa. It has a slightly nutty flavor with hints of pine in the younger shoots. If overcooked it has a tendency to become slimy.