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: Carmen Kappos
Have you ever found an old seed packet and wondered what to do with it? Seeds deteriorate as they age which can give variable results. Fortunately there is a simple way to see if seeds will germinate. You can use this easy rolled paper towel test to check for seed viability.
This seed viability test takes seven to ten days and will give you an idea of how well your seeds will germinate.
- Lay a moistened paper towel flat
- Place a row of ten seeds starting along one edge
- Roll up loosely
- Carefully place the damp towel in a plastic bag and seal it to hold in the moisture
- Place the bag in a warm spot (On top of the refrigerator is ideal as that area is generally a consistent seventy degrees)
- Check every couple of days: if the paper towel is drying out, gently mist with water, but as the bag is sealed, it should not dry out
- At the end of seven days, unroll the towel and see how many seeds have sprouted. (Some seed will need ten days to two weeks to germinate. The seed packet may have this information.)
The recommendations are that if less than seven out of ten (seventy percent) seeds have sprouted, then you are probably better off getting fresh seed. If seventy to ninety percent have sprouted, it should be fine to plant but sow the seed a little thicker than you normally would. If all the seeds have sprouted, plant as you normally would.
If it is time to plant, you can use the sprouted seeds if handled carefully. Often the roots have grown into the damp towel. If so, cut the paper towel between seeds and plant with a little bit of toweling. That way, the roots and growing tip will not be damaged. If not grown into the towel, handle carefully by the top so not to damage the root, planting right away so that it does not dry out.
I was surprised to see that five- and seven-year-old flower seeds that I tested had germinated. Keep in mind that fresh seed usually gives the best results. Vegetable seeds should be no more than two to three years old with some exceptions. Onion, chive, parsnip and parsley seeds are recommended to be stored for only one year.
If you are just planting a garden for the first time you will, no doubt, want to grow tomatoes.
Once you tell someone you're putting in a new garden you likely will receive helpful(?) advice from friends and family.
No matter where you live there are a lot of funny rules for planting tomatoes. Some of this handed down wisdom is legitimate, but others are clearly just made up and passed along because they are memorable. When I first moved here, several people told me never to plant tomatoes before White Mountain Peak is snow-free. That's clearly too late most years, but it is easy to remember.
The thing about gardening is that every year is different. That's part of the challenge! For this year, at least if you live below 5,000 feet, you should already have planted your tomatoes. As I write this, it's April 27. If you haven't planted your tomatoes, get them in soon. It's probably about time in Coleville and Walker, too.
A good tomato for new gardeners is 'Juliet.' It's a grape tomato, but large for that type. It is good in salads and dehydrates wonderfully. Unlike some fussy slicing tomatoes, it will continue to set fruit all summer. A larger tomato that is tough to screw up is 'Celebrity.' I've had good luck with it in containers. It hasn't been a huge producer for me, but it has been very consistent all the way until fall. Many gardeners in our area raise 'Early Girl' without problems. All of these varieties are (usually) easy to find in our area. If you can't find these, just plant what you can get.
For almost everything in the garden, you should plant transplants level with the soil in the pot you get it in. That's true with tomatoes, too, but there is an exception: tall tomato transplants can be planted deeply if you pinch off the lower leaves. They will grow some new roots on their stems and survive the deep planting. You can do this to shorten the plants so your trellis has more room to support the vines. They also do fine if you don't plant deep.
Make sure that your plants are well-watered before transplanting, and them water them afterward.
For the first week or so after transplant, you may need to water more frequently than you expect since the roots are confined to a small area. Check on the plants a couple times during the day for the first week. You will see what they need.
Your plants will probably need some fertilizer. I use 1 tablespoon of water soluble fertilizer in 1 gallon of water, and give each plant 1 cup of that solution within a few days of transplanting. You can use 1/3 cup of fish emulsion instead if you prefer, but it's stinky and of interest to skunks and raccoons. Repeat this in about a month or so.
Tomatoes are vines and require support. It is not a good idea to let them sprawl all over the ground. There are as many ways to stake tomatoes as there are gardeners. Anything that holds them up is fine, even a bamboo stake with the plants gently tied on works OK.
I use modified cheap tomato cages from the hardware store. Straight from the store, these things have a terrible design with the wide part at the top, so I cut off the 3 "legs" and bend them into hooks like tent stakes. I then turn the cage upside-down (small end up) and pin them to the soil with my newly made hooks. These are very secure, and hold plants well. The 2 pictures on this post show how it's done.
Whatever system you decide use is fine. Just be sure that it is secure.
The rest of the work of raising tomatoes is keeping the weeds and pests under control. If you check your plants daily, it's not that big a deal. Most tomato pests can be blasted off with water or plucked off by hand.
Hopefully you'll have a successful crop this year!
If you have questions contact the Master Gardener help line at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Author: Erich Warkentine
The Farm + Food Lab, located in the City of Irvine's Great Park, features themed raised-bed gardens, fruit trees, vertical gardening, a worm compost bin, and solar and wind-powered lights. It is operated by a partnership consisting of the City of Irvine, Solutions for Urban Ag, and the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County.
During a recent visit to Southern California, we visited the Farm + Food Lab. It turned out that officially it was closed due to high winds, but we introduced ourselves to two of the people who were working on site and were privileged to be given a private tour! Everyone had their own tour highlights, but two on which we all agreed were (1) the survivor tree – progeny of a tree from the center of the 9/11 building complex – which is now growing big and strong; and (2) three progeny of the Manzanar Pear Trees.
Some of the themed beds include the Pizza and Spaghetti Garden, Butterfly Garden and chicken coop, and pollinator garden.
The Orange County Master Gardeners present classes to the community on such topics as garden tool care and maintenance and fruit tree pruning and berry planting. Orange County Master Food Preservers have presented classes on food preserving.
For more information, see: