Sunday, July 24, 2016

Use plants to repel mosquitos

Purple flowering Holy Basil on right and marigolds on left

Sunday, July 24, 2016

There are many herbs that work just as well as chemicals to repel mosquitoes.  Here are a few powerhouses:
Rose scented monarda-contains geranoil an ingredient used in some commercial natural repellants
Lime basil-great for cooking and repelling the pesky blood suckers
Catnip has been found to be more effective than DEET in studies
Holy basil-you can use seeds floated in water to kill mosquito larvae
Thyme-repels as well or better than DEET
Herbs also do well in pots so you can put them right where you need them!

Flowering catnip in the background
Natural mosquito trap:
Use a quart jar.
Mash 1 cup fruit and allow to ferment in the sun 1-2 days.
Mix fermented fruit, 3 teas sugar, 1/2 teaspoon boric acid, and 2 drops jasmine essential oil in the quart jar with a lid punched with several 1/16” holes in lid.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

How to use all your zucchini-really

Zucchini bush in flower

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ah, zucchini.  One of the first summer veggies to fruit.  You know summer is officially here when your zukes are flowering and producing nice long fruits.  By mid-summer, the novelty has worn off.  By August, you can’t give the things away!  I even saw a box in my local hardware store with free zucchinis!

So, what’s a gardener to do with all that excess bounty?  Well, you can donate them to a food pantry, you can preserve them in a few different ways, or you can use them in ways I’d never even thought of!  

For preserving, you can freeze them, can them or dry them.  I don’t care for canning zucchini as they are not acidic enough to just use a water bath; the full pressure canner set up is required.  You could pickle them, lowering the pH enough to use a water bath.  There are all kinds of fun pickling recipes out there.  Adding peppers is a way to add zing to an otherwise bland taste.  Just make sure you follow the recipe exactly as the proper pH is critical to safe canning.

I am exploring the freeze and dry methods.  For freezing, first slice them, lay them on a cookie sheet and freeze them.  After they are frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag.  When you need a few, they are easy to get out of the bag.  If you put them into the freezer bag fresh, they will freeze together.  I am trying a few frozen whole.  With a sharp blade, I can slice them when I need them, kind of like frozen cookie dough.

For drying, slice and either use a dehydrator, the sun or your oven.  Zucchini has a great deal of moisture so it will take a while to completely dehydrate.  You can speed the process by salting, squeezing out the excess (cookie sheet weighted down on top of another cookie sheet is an easy way to do this) for about 15 minutes, then either popping into the oven, setting them out in the sun or placing in a dehydrator for a couple of hours should do it.  Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn if you are using an oven.  Recommended temp for drying is 120-200 degrees F max.

I ran across some recipes in Capper’s magazine that looked tasty: zucchini spaghetti and meat balls, stuffed baked zucchini, and zucchini parmesan.  I have tried a variation on the baked zucchini and the zucchini parmesan and both were quite good.

They have this nifty little gadget called a spiralizer that you put a zucchini in and it will make nice long spaghetti noodles.  You can use them just like spaghetti but with no carbs or gluten.  Cool, huh?  Just toss with your favorite sauce and serve.

Grilled zucchini is tasty with sea salt and olive oil.  It is one of our standbys.  Just be sure to not heat your olive oil above 340 degrees F; the smoke point of this delicious, nutritious oil.
Grilled zucchini
There is also fried zucchini.  It is easy to make.  Just whip up 3 eggs with a little milk.  Mix together 1/2 cup of cornmeal with a 1/4 cup of flour, salt and seasonings to taste.  Dip the zucchini slices first in the egg batter then in the dry meal.  Place in 350-375 degree F oil and fry until golden.  If you are going to eat by itself, using a Cajun season salt adds a welcome zing of flavor.

For any extras you have, you can freeze them, too.  Just put a single layer on a cookie sheet and let freeze through.  Then, put all the pieces into a freezer bag.  You can pull out any time you have a craving for fried zucchini!  Just thaw and warm up in the oven.

The baked zucchini was good.  Take a large zucchini, cut in half and scoop out the seeds.  Stuff with your favorite meat stuffing recipe and bake until the zucchini is tender at 350 degrees F.  Mine took about an hour and a half to become tender.  Top with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and put bake in the oven until cheese is golden and bubbly.
Zucchini lasagna

There was a recipe in the magazine for zucchini parmesan.  Basically, you layer sauce, sliced Italian sausage, breaded and fried zucchini to fill a baking dish, then top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese golden and melted.

We didn’t have any Italian sausage, so I made up a stuffing mix which is below.  I just then layered sauce, then breaded and fried zucchini, then meat stuffing until the baking pan was full.  For my pan, it was 3 layers of each.  Then top with mozzarella and parmesan and into the oven at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted.

I was amazed at how delicious the zucchini lasagna was.  It is low carb, gluten free, full of just harvested veggies and a great way to utilize the bounty from the garden!

Here is a meat stuffing mix I really like:  1 small diced onion, 3 eggs, 1 piece of whole wheat toast crumbled, 2 teaspoons of ground garlic, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper, 2 teaspoons of dried mixed herbs from the garden, and a half pound of burger (bison, grass fed beef or venison).  Just mush it all together by hand.  When combined, use to stuff the zucchini or layer as part of the zucchini lasagna dish.

Another option would be to wrap the stuffing in zucchini creating zucchini cannelloni.  Stuff, wrap, cover with cheese and bake until cheese is warm and bubbly.

Then there is the ever classic zucchini bread. Recipes abound on the internet and cookbooks for this perennial favorite.

Now you have several ideas for fully utilizing all your wonderful zucchini besides the compost pile :  )

For other tips on preserving the harvest from the garden, see Preservation garden
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Sunday, July 17, 2016

What's happening in the mid-July garden

Butterfly on zinnias in the garden
Sunday, July 17, 2016

We are harvesting Japanese white egg eggplants, zucchini, peppers, green beans, sprouting broccoli, herbs, garlic, onions, and a few tomatoes.   We are getting steady amounts of rainfall each week so only the pots are needed water.  The flowers are very happy, too! 

Both the hot and sweet pepper plants have peppers on them.  So far, the sweet pepper Tangerine is the only one with ripe peppers for harvest.  The Pimento has peppers that are getting close.  Most of the hot pepper plants are covered in green peppers so it should not be long for them.  The habanero has blooms but no peppers so far which is unusual for this late in the season.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Tomatoes are not producing as much as is typical for this time of the month.  We have gotten way more rain than usual this year.  Our grass is still green and lush!  The small tomatoes have given us a few ripe ones.  The plants greenery are not as full as normal and have had baby tomatoes on them for weeks.  Peppers and tomatoes are both pollinating by insects.  With all the rain we have had again this summer, it is likely washing away the pollen, impacting the production of fruits.  

Oregano in bloom
I harvested our garlic a couple of weeks ago and is getting hardening in the shade on our outdoor, covered deck.  Garlic harvest time is near!

Our basil has been slow to get started but is now off to the races.  I will take my first harvest next week end, cutting down to the first few sets of leaves.  It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Oregano is in full bloom.  The bees love the purple flowers!  It could be cut and dried now, but I love the flowers and will wait until fall.  Harvest and preserve your herbs

Lettuce gone to seed
I fertilized all the pots again as well as the veggies in the garden.  It is good to fertilize pots biweekly and garden plants monthly during the growing season to give them the nutrition they need to produce well. Summer garden tips
  
The lettuce has gone to seed.  When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  I also re-seeded our Earth boxes with some of the seeds.  I had a few small volunteer lettuce plants elsewhere in the garden that I transplanted to the Earth boxes as well.  The lettuce seeds I planted last month have sprouted, but aren’t quit ready to transplant.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

In the greens department, summer is a hard time for most greens.  Sprouting broccoli, different types of sorrel, arugula, dandelion greens, corn salad and herbs are all available.  The heat increases the sharpness of greens.  Succession planting of lettuce and planting types that are resistant to bolting can keep your lettuce crop going.  Plant them in the coolest part of the yard where they are not in full sun all day and get shade in the afternoon.  Pots are a good option to be able to move them to the cooler part of the yard.  Growing summer salads  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

Our zucchini plants have kicked in and we are now getting 1-2 zucchini fruits from each plant each week.  I just love grilled zucchini!  I also found that using it as a substitute for pasta is a great way to use them.  What to do with all that zucchini?!

We had another 2.5" of rain this past week.  Looking ahead, the extended forecast is calling for 90’s and a slight chance of rain.  If we don't get any rain this week, I will water the garden beds next week end.  

Summer garden is in full swing!
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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Fruit for small spaces

Orange tree on the left, fig in the center, kumquat on right
Saturday, July 16, 2016

There are many options for growing your own fruit in small spaces today and more come on the market every year.

We are growing apples, figs, passion fruit, goji berries, strawberries, kumquats, and oranges.  The kumquat and orange trees are growing in the house during the winter and taken outside each spring.

You have 3 options with apple trees.  You can grow columnar apple trees which do great in pots (this is the kind we have), you can purchase a dwarf apple tree that you can espalier against a wall, or you can put an apple tree in your landscape.  Apple trees require full sun and either a second apple tree or crabapple tree in the neighborhood to pollinate with to get fruit.  Apples are ready to harvest in summer, fall or winter, depending on the variety.  Our “Scarlet Sentinel” columnar apple tree ripens in late September.

A fig tree is cool looking and very easy to grow either in the landscape or in a pot.  We had ours in a pot for 5 years and recently put it in the ground.  We got great fruit from it throughout the summer.

Ripe figs
If you decide to put your fig in a pot, this will lower the zone it can survive the winter in by at least one zone.  You can always bring the fig in for the winter, either into your home or a garage.  We have a a “Chicago Hardy” fig that is hardy to Zone 6.  It can grow to a height of 25 feet if planted in the ground.

You can eat your figs fresh, dry them or make them into preserves.  Growing “exotic” figs

“Maypop” is a hardy passion flower vine that survives down to Zone 5.   It is a very hardy vine so either grow it in a pot or make sure it is blocked off from being able to expand into other areas.  They taste a lot like guavas and their flowers are beautiful.

I grew the goji berry vine from seed.  Goji berries are high in antioxidants and easy to grow.  They are self fertile so only one is needed to produce fruit.  They are a vining shrub that can grow 8-10 feet at maturity.  If you keep them in a pot, they will remain smaller.  They are hardy down to Zone 6.

Strawberries are another easy to grow perennial fruit.  They prefer full sun and should be planted in the spring.  There are two types of strawberries, June bearing or Everbearing.  June bearing have one large harvest in early summer whereas the everbearing types produce berries from spring through fall.  They enjoy a rich soil so plant with lots of compost and bone meal.  If they begin to decline in production after 4 years, plant new plants in a different area of the garden.
Back yard strawberries  

There are a couple of blueberries that are compact and acceptable for small landscapes, “Draper” and “Tophat.”  Draper is a bush that grows to 3-4 feet.  Tophat is a nice little bush that can easily be grown in a pot.  It grows to a mere 16-24” high.  Blueberries require an acidic soil, a pH of 4-4.5.  Blueberries are self pollinating, but you will get a lot more fruit if you plant two bushes.  You get fruit in the summer.  If you have an extra, you can easily freeze or dry.

Honeyberry is another fruiting bush and they bear in late spring/early summer, as early as two weeks prior to strawberries.  They are a blue oval type berry and is hardy in Zones 2-8.  The “Smokey Blue” reach 3-4 feet in height, making them a good candidate for a pot as well.  They are high in antioxidants and taste similar to blueberries.  Two are needed for pollination for fruiting.  No special soil type is needed, but prefer partial shade.

Strawberry
Another fruit for small spaces is kiwi and they are hardy for Zones 3-9.  These are vines that can grow to 10-20 feet.  You can use these over an harbor or on a fence.  A male and female are required.  They prefer a part sun location.  The foliage of the Artic Beauty is beautifully variegated with pink, white and green leaves.  These vines fruit in September.

For raspberry lovers, the “Shortcake” variety is a thornless dwarf that grows to a 2-3 foot mound.  It can easily be grown in a pot and is self fertile so only one plant is needed to bear fruit.  It is hardy in Zones 5-9 and fruits in mid-summer.  Both raspberries and blackberries prefer full sun.

“Doyle’s” thornless blackberry plant can be grown in a pot and can produces enormous harvests of fruit.  In the ground it can reach heights of 7 feet.  It is hardy in Zones 3-10 and bears fruit in the spring to early summer.  Another option is the dwarf red blackberry which grows to 1.5 feet in height. 

A slow growing fruit tree that reaches a height of 12-15 feet is a native to North America is the pawpaw.  It tastes tropical with a banana/mango like flavor.  It is also high in protein, vitamins and minerals and hardy to Zone 5.  The fruits weigh around a pound each and are ready to pick in late summer/early fall.  Two plants are required for the tree to bear fruit.  Foraging for wild edibles
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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays


Cucumber beetle
Sunday, July 10, 2016


There are good bugs and then there are the bugs that eat up your harvest or give your plants diseases.  You have to be extremely careful in applying any insecticides (bug killers) as they will kill off the beneficial insects (like bees) that pollinate your veggies and increase your harvests.

The best approach is to let nature take its course.  If you have bad bugs, the good bugs will quickly follow and provide equilibrium in the garden.  When I went organic, there was significant reductions in bad bug pressure by the second year.  I did several things to help accelerate the balance.  I purchased good bugs to release in the garden, planted flowers that deter bad bugs and attract pollinators, applied milky spore strategically, attracted birds to the garden, and used natural sprays and powders judiciously as a last resort judiciously.

You can purchase beneficial insects via mail order or some nurseries carry them.  If you go this route, be sure to release them immediately.  If ordering on line, be sure that you will be at home when they are delivered so that you can get them released that day.

You can encourage good bugs by planting flowers either around your vegetable patch or actually with your vegetables.  I have my vegetable garden actually in my flower garden.  Marigolds are a bad bug deterrent so I added these all around the flower beds.  My flower garden is in bloom from spring all the way through fall.  Many varieties are also edible like the day-lilies, borage, and roses. 

To encourage birds to your yard plant trees, shrubs and flowers that attract birds.  Keeping a bird bath with shrubs nearby so the birds can hide in the shrubs is a great way to get birds into your yard.  

Using a garden hose to dose down the insects can be a good strategy; just make sure that you are not watering a plant’s leaves that are susceptible to fungal diseases such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, roses or peonies.  

Manual removal of bad bugs can be very effective.  Just go insect and catepillar hunting and pull off the insects and throw them into a bowl with soap and water.

For Japanese beetles, I use an attractor that is quite a distance from the vegetable garden.  They love roses so I go hunting for them on our roses every day.  We also applied milky spore to keep the grub population down around the roses so we have fewer adults in the summer.  Milky spore is a microscopic bacteria that takes a couple of years to be effective so get started today.  I saw a huge difference in the Japanese beetle population by applying milky spore around my roses.

For ants, you have to control the aphids.  A recipe for catching the ants and aphids:  2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water in a gallon jug with a lid.  Drill 3 small holes in the lid, large enough for the ants and aphids, but too small for a little bee.  Place in trouble areas.

One non chemical approach I really like is diatomaceous earth.  It is a white powder of tiny aquatic fossils.  The fossils have tiny rough edges that we cannot feel or see, but cut the insects outer "skin" causing dehydration and killing the insect.  Again, DE doesn't know a good from bad bug so use carefully.  I would use DE only sparingly and not on any flowering plants to spare the bees.

If you are unfortunate enough to have grasshoppers, DE is a good option.  Here is a link to other strategies for these ancient pests  Natural control of grasshoppers

Lately, I have had extensive caterpillar pressure on my sprouting broccoli plants (last year they were also very happy on all my broccoli plants).  I tried the "let my garden come into balance" but that hasn't yielded results.  I have tried the caterpillar hunting, but am still seeing my sprouting broccoli be ravished.  The best thing to have done was to not grow any broccoli plants this year so that their favorite food would not be around.  These plants came back in their pots this year from last year.  

For caterpillars, BT dust is a good option.  The caterpillars ingest it as they are eating the plant and they eventually die.  This is my next move!  Make sure to dust the undersides of leaves so that first rain or dew wash off the dust.  You can get a "puffer" that you can put powder in to dust the undersides.  You just fill it up and compress the container and it "puffs" out the dust.  Much easier than turning each leaf upside down to dust!  I bought mine on Amazon and it was called "pest pistol mini duster".  I imagine it is going to take a few rounds to get them under control.

Here are some make your own insect deterrents.  Make sure you test on a few leaves to insure that it won’t adversely affect the plant you are trying to protect.
All purpose spray.  1 garlic bulb, 1 onion, 1 teas dry cayenne pepper, 1 teas liquid soap, 1 quart of water.  Mix water, garlic, pepper and onion together in a food processer, let steep an hour or so, drain through cheesecloth, add liquid soap and you are ready to spray away!
Hot pepper spray.  Good for repelling insects, squirrels, rabbits, and other curious mammals.  1 cup of hot peppers in a quart of water.  Mix in food processor, strain through a cheesecloth and you are ready to use.  Be careful to not get the liquid on your hands and then touch your eyes or mouth.  It will burn.
Tomato-leaf spray.  This is toxic to soft bodied insects like aphids.  It also attracts beneficial wasps.  Take the leaves off the bottom of your tomato plant, 2 cups.  Put in food processor with 1.5 quarts of water.  Let steep overnight, strain out leaves.  Spray on affected leaves, especially the undersides where they like to hide.

If you are just overrun with the bad bugs, you can look on OMRI web site to see what the organic insecticides are:  http://www.omri.org/omri-lists  I use Safer Insecticidal Soap, Neem Oil, and Bt for my indoor plants.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

What is biodynamic farming?

Biodynamic winery in winter

Saturday, July 9, 2016

I have heard the term biodynamic and wondered what was involved.  Some consider it voodoo science and quackery, a scam.  Others feel it is holistic natural way of gardening. leveraging mystical forces.  The description I like is it is organic permaculture with a spiritual twist.  

Biodynamic farming is actually the precursor to organic and sustainable farming.  It is from Dr. Steiner’s teaching of how to work with the earth and heavens to farm in harmony with nature that the term “organic farming” was coined by those describing Dr. Steiner’s farming approach.

Biodynamic gardening was developed in Germany in the early 1920’s by philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner.  Dr. Steiner believed that the soil, plants, animals and everything in the solar system is interconnected.  The backbone of the method is the making of preparations used in minute amounts to enhance production.  Biodynamic gardening results in much enhanced soil and veggie nutrition   and increased top soil depth Biodynamic soil study

Many gardeners feel that the approach is too complicated to implement in their gardens.  However, you can purchase the preparations to add to your compost.  I purchased mine from Malibu Compost.  

There is a deep devotion to the soil’s health, animal welfare, and the cycles of the moon and stars.  It is important that 10% of farmland is set aside as a biodiversity preserve.  As with organic, farms have to be certified to claim their products are “biodynamic” by following the Demeter Processing Standard.  http://www.demeter-usa.org

Free range chickens used for pest patrol (control)

As with organic gardening, biodynamic uses only all natural amendments, pest and weed control.  As with permaculture, biodynamic gardening is self-contained with no outside inputs brought into the farm.   Cover crops are used routinely.  The farm is considered a wholly connected organism.  There is also significant emphasis on water conservation and companion planting.  Planting and harvesting is done by the phases of the moon and astral conditions like those our grandparents followed using the Farmers Almanac.

There are 9 “preparations” used in biodynamic (BD):  BD#500 horn manure, BD#501 horn silica, BD#502 yarrow, BD#503 chamomile, BD#504 stinging nettle, BD#505 oak bark, BD#506 dandelion, BD#507 valerian, and BD#508 horsetail.  BD#502-507 are collectively known as the compost preparations.

BD#500 is a cow horn packed with cow manure and buried in the ground for the winter.  BD#501 is silica packed in a cow horn buried in the ground for the summer.  BD#502 is yarrow blossoms sown into a stag bladder that is hung in the summer sun and buried for the winter.  BD#503 is chamomile blossoms stuffed in a bovine intestine and buried over winter.  BD#504 is the entire stinging nettle plant ground up and buried in the ground surrounded by peat moss for a full year.  BD#505 is ground oak bark packed in an empty skull with the membrane intact and buried in swamp like conditions for the winter.  BD#506 is dandelion blossoms stuffed into bovine mesentery or peritoneum membrane and buried for the winter.  BD#507 is the juice of valerian blossoms that is fermented for a few weeks.  BD#508 is a horsetail tea.  

Cover crops are important for soil retention, soil nutrition, and soil enhancement

It is best if the preparations are made on the property that it will be used.  Steiner believed burying the preparations in the ground gave cosmic and earth energy to them.  If you are going to purchase the preparations, purchase them from a farm in the same continent.  

Spray applications of 501 and 507 raises the top level depth from shallow to a depth of 14” over several years according to biodynamic wineries.  Using cover crops and adding compost to the soil is the backbone of organic practices that has been shown to increase top soil depth.  Biodynamic farmers believe the spray applications enhance these practices to another level.

BD#508 spray is used to combat fungal conditions.  I sprayed my garden with BD#508 this summer as I had lots of fungal pressure with all the rain we got last June and the rain is even greater this summer.  So far, so good.

To try out the benefit of biodynamic in our garden without personally finding the ingredients and making the preparations, I purchased Bu’s Brews by Malibu Compost biodynamic compost tea bags.  I add the compost tea bags to my water pail and water my pots and garden plants after aerating the biodynamic compost tea as recommended.  I then compost the bags in my compost pile that I add back to the garden.

You can purchase wines and food products that are raised biodynamically.  Here is a directory of biodynamic product http://www.biodynamicfood.org

My sister, mom and I at Beckman vineyards
Over the holidays, my sister and mom wanted to know what “adventure” I was up for during my stay in the Los Angeles area.  I wanted to visit a biodynamic farm to talk to the farmers to get a better understanding of what biodynamic is all about.  

The most well known biodynamic farms are likely wineries in the US.  Frey, Beckmen, Quivira, Bass Vineyards, and Benziger are a few wineries that raise their grapes following biodynamic practices.  Beckman Winery is within driving distance of LA.  Beckmen Winery produces excellent wines.  You can visit the winery, have a picnic, and try their wines in their tasting room.  https://www.beckmenvineyards.com


I am a big fan of organic and working with and supporting nature.  Biodynamic farming embodies this approach.  The additional layer with biodynamic is the preparations used in small quantities in your compost piles to impart the energies of the earth and sky.  Dr. Steiner believed all was connected together as a living organism.  Even though scientific proof of how the energies are imparted is a mystery, studies prove the soil and nutrition of plants in a biodynamic farm is higher than conventional.  I think we find out more each year of how interconnected everything is.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Basil in the foreground

Monday July 4, 2016


Basil is a native of Africa and other tropical areas of Asia where it has been cultivated for over 5,000 years.  It is a culinary herb that sends cooks into poetic rapture.  It is probably the favorite of the “sweet” herbs and well known from its use in Mediterranean cuisine.  It has a spicy bite when eaten fresh.

Harvesting Basil
For basil harvest, the key is to harvest before the basil gets too woody.  The best strategy to accomplish this is to not let the plant go to flower.  Just pinch off the flowers and use the fresh basil in a dish or salad.  

You get multiple harvests from each plant in a season.  I get three harvests in our Zone 6/7 garden.  Cut each stem back to the last 4 leaves. Give each plant a good dose of fish emulsion after harvesting to support quick leaf regrowth.  Bees love basil flowers so I plant Holy Basil and Cardinal Basil just to let them flower and keep the bees happy.

Basil plant after harvested
Basil before harvesting
Preserving Basil
You can freeze, dry, make basil into pesto, basil butter, basil vinegar, or basil oil.  

For freezing, you can freeze chopped leaves into ice cubes to be able to pop into sauces. You can also blanch and freeze.  If you don’t blanch, the frozen herb does not keep its color or flavor.  Blanching is simply throwing the herb leaves in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds and then quickly plunge them into a bowl or sink of ice water.  Dry the leaves then put the leaves on a cookie sheet, place in the freezer and when frozen, remove and put in quart freezer bags.  Now you can have fresh basil anytime you need it!

Harvested basil stems
For drying, I place the cut stems into a paper bag that I put in a dry, warm place.  You can also tie in bunches and hang upside down to dry.  Be sure to leave lots of open space between stems to discourage any mold.  When completely dry, I remove the leaves and place in canning jars.

My favorite way top preserve basil is to make pesto.  Pesto is a mixture of fresh basil, traditionally pine nuts (but I use any kind of nut I have on hand-walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, cashews), parmesan cheese, a few cloves of garlic, and olive oil.  You can add spinach or parsley.  Just throw them all together in a food processor and ta-da pesto!

I use about 8 cups of packed leaves (be sure to not include any tough stems), 1/2 cup nuts, 1 cup of olive oil, 1 and 3/4 cup of Parmesan, 8 cloves of fresh garlic and a teas of salt.  After processing, I put half in a quart freezer bag, lay flat in the freezer until ready to use.  Just thaw and toss with your favorite pasta or add to pizza, bruschetta, sandwiches or sauce for a quick and tasty meal.  



For basil butter, chop the basil and mix 1 Tbl, or to taste, into softened butter.

For basil vinegar, choose a white vinegar so that the taste of the basil shines through.  Place fresh basil leaves into an empty bottle and cover with vinegar.  Place in cool, dark area for a month.  Shake daily.  Strain out leaves and use!  You can accelerate the infusion process by covering the leaves with boiling vinegar.  Your creation will be ready in a week.

For basil flavored oil, chop 1 cup of leaves.  Heat 1 cup of oil on low, add herbs, stirring for 3-4 minutes.  Strain out leaves and keep oil refrigerated.  

Lots of options!

Basil turns black when temps get close to freezing.  Be sure to harvest all leaves when it looks like you are getting a frost.  You can also take the the tips and place in water to grow roots and pot indoors for winter harvests.  You can also dig up the plant and repot to bring indoors.  Be sure to put in a sunny window.  Basil won’t thrive indoors, but you will get enough to use as seasoning in your favorite dishes.


Growing Basil
Basil is easy to grow.  It loves warmth and melts when temps get even close to freezing.  The only watch out is too much water.  You’ll get the best flavor when you are stingy with water.

They don’t require much in the way of fertilizer.  Just fertilize at planting and once/month.  A good organic choice is blood meal.  Nitrogen encourages green growth which is what you are after when it comes to basil.

Basil grows well in pots indoors or out. If growing indoors, be sure to put in a sunny window.

It smells amazing when you brush up against it.  You can place next to a garden path to enjoy its fragrance every time you pass by.  To deter deer, plant fragrant herbs like basil around the perimeter of your garden.  Deer navigate with their sense of smell and avoid areas of strong smells.

When flowers appear, pinch them off.  This will encourage bushy growth and keep your basil from getting woody.  The flowers are edible and great adds to sauces or as a zing to salads.  The bees just love the small flowers.  Harvest any time you need.  Be sure to add to the dish at the very end of cooking to keep the strongest flavor.

Sweet basil is used in Mediterranean cooking.  Popular types are Genovese (probably the most famous for Italian cooking), and Mammoth.  Purple Ruffles is more decorative than culinary, but adds fun color as an infusion to vinegar.  Thai, lemon and holy basil are used in Asian cooking.   Cardinal basil has the most beautiful flowers.


Cardinal basil flowers

Basil contains a chemical that might help inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis called BCP, (E)-beta-caryphliene.  Basil is also great for taking the itch and swelling out of a mosquito bite.  Simply crush a leaf and run onto the bite.  It goes to work immediately while releasing its wonderful aroma at the same time.  For more information on vitamin and mineral content,   basil nutritional info