Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

Here’s an update on our first season garden at our new digs. We enjoy and appreciate comments (including constructive criticism) so don’t hold back on your impressions 🙂

But first, a bird’s eye view of the garden with our Plangarden layout. Click on the image to get the larger size:

Plangarden's Veggie Garden July18 Status

Here's our garden plan as of July 18, 2010

Starting from the top and moving somewhat left-to-right, here are our garden pics starting with our “Tower of Potatoes”:

Roy inspecting our potato tower which is beginning to blossom!

Roy inspecting our potato tower which is beginning to blossom!

Next is the red Kennebec potato and Yin-Yang shelling bean “boxless” plot. A couple of *huge* rocks stuck out of the ground and were removed, leaving large divets. We thought why not fill it with soil and just make a “normal” bed? The potatoes are doing well but we had problems with this plot for the beans. Roy suspects that root-knot nematodes affected bean germination:

Yin Yang Shelling Bean and Kennebec Potatoes in background

Yin Yang shelling beans and four Kennebec potato plants in rear of bed

Our melon and watermelon patch is going nuts! Good thing we provided lots of “crawl area” for the vines in between boxes (~4-5ft). The “Far North” melon (~65 days) already has fruit the size of a baby’s head. The “Golden Midget” (~70 days) watermelon has some fruit about the size of small apples. This 3-pounder’s rind is supposed to turn golden yellow when ready to harvest – can’t get easier than that! As for the “Sugar Lee”, we have had lots of trouble germinating this baby which is supposed to produce 15-18 pounders. Only one plant is growing vigorously, albeit slowly. But if it succeeds, we may be harvesting watermelons through October!

Melon and Watermelon Patch

Melon and watermelon tendrils have draped well over the sides of garden boxes!

The Yin-Yang shelling beans grown in this box are thriving; so are the cukes “Dragon’s Egg” (technically a melon) and “Straight Eight”.

Yin Yang Beans and Cucumbers

Thriving Yin Yang shelling beans and cucumbers in rear

Royal Burgundy beans in the neighboring box are also doing well though surprisingly not as prolific as I had expected (we’ve only had 1 meal and it’s mid-July!). Suspect a small varmit has been visiting. Roy’s looking to see if the Butternut squash have developed fruit (not yet).

Roy inspecting Butternut Squash and Royal Burgundy Beans

Roy looking for Butternut squash fruit. Royal Burgundy beans in foreground

We love it when a stray seed or two goes from soil to compost and back to new soil. These two beautiful purple Amaranth plants are “squatting” in between the bell peppers. We didn’t have the heart to remove them, and the peppers don’t seem to mind it (yet). We will probably harvest the Amaranth leaves for salad and not let them get too large. In the rear of the box are a gorgeous sweet Armenian cucumber (“Metki White Serpent”) and two prolific straightneck yellow summer squash plants.

Bell peppers, Armenian cucumber, Yellow squash & Amaranth

Amaranth popped out of nowhere but don't seem to bother the bell peppers

We think our tomato plants are probably the most spoiled on the planet. Some would probably have abandoned them long ago, but not us. Well, not Roy. I nearly gave up, but acquiesced to Roy’s insistence on buying the black shade cloth that blocks 60% of the sun (~$50) and a misting system (~$25) to cool down the tomatoes in the middle of the day. Since the temps started climbing in the upper 90’s to 100’s in mid-June, these babies have been suffering from blossom drop. I also used old muslin fabric to protect the western side. We had our first attack of tobacco hornworms, but now have them under control, thanks to our chickens 🙂

Heirloom Tomato garden box

Doing everything we can to salvage our heirloom tomatoes from extreme heat

Our last veggie box houses the corn. We sowed two different varieties with different days-to-harvest times about a week apart to further stagger the harvest. We also sowed climbing beans about 2 weeks after planting the corn so that the stalks would be larger than the bean plant. This looks successful so far.

Corn provides trellis for pole beans

We staggered planting of two different corn varieties

Pole bean plant climbing up corn stalk

Pole bean plant climbing up corn stalk

Our first attempt at upside-down tomato plants have not been successful, probably because of the high temps that have overheated the plastic paint bucket containers. The “Celebrity” tomato plant has died, but “Early Girl” is still hanging in there, and produced two ripe (albeit small) fruit. The cloth you see is what I used to cover the plants to protect them from too much sun:

Upside Down Tomatoes & Thai Basil

Upside-down tomatoes may have broiled in those plastic buckets. Thai basil on top.

Finally, here’s the big picture showing our recently-built (final) chicken coop on the left (click on the image for larger pic). We’re still adding more plants, sorely needing ornamentals, but we have had to prioritize. Hopefully next year, we’ll have more grapevines, landscaped paths around the fence, more flowers and attractive shrubs.

Plangarden's veggie garden and coop mid-July 2010

Our veggie garden and coop in the heat of the summer.

Quick flashback to May 1st, just 2 1/2 months ago:

Finished Building Veggie Garden Boxes

Construction of veg garden was a Herculean effort, thanks to abundant rocks, most of which had long been cleared out of this photo

And here it is the morning of April 1st, just 3 1/2 months ago, with snow-covered Mt. St. Helena in the background. It looks idyllic here (gee why did you ruin your view?), but the shrubs you see are a fire hazard (chamise or “greasewood”), and the overgrown former lawn was teeming with yellow star thistle!

View of Mt. Saint Helena from our backyard

A vegetable garden was but a dream in early Spring ...

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Out of curiosity, I compiled a list of articles relating to seed sales forecasts in 2008 and 2009,

… and these reports portend a banner year for seed companies that hasn’t been seen in thirty years.  Giants like Burpee, Park Seed, and Ferry-Morse are anticipating at least a 25% jump in seed sales.  Even boutique seed companies like Renee’s Garden will see a boost in veggie seed sales.

So what does this all mean to us, vegetable gardeners?

Don't wait till the last minute to get that special seed variety!

Don't wait till the last minute to get that special seed variety!

It’s not our intent to create a buying panic.  But if you’re picky about particular varieties, especially heirloom, it may be a good idea to finalize your seed purchases real soon. We live in Northern CA and pretty much sent in all our seed orders for the year.  Specialty garlic and seed potatoes are especially in high demand.  We’ve compiled a shortlist of seed companies we’ve purchased from and which Plangarden users have recommended to us.

If you’ve relied on purchasing seedlings in the past, don’t be surprised if your supplier may run short this spring.  Many people don’t have the patience to grow tomatoes from seed, and may find that supplies will be limited or of lower quality (due to greater production).

Potted herbs are another commodity that may run out quickly.  In the past, we’ve encountered shortages for common herbs like parsley.  We’ve now learned tricks and ways to accelerate germination for hard seeds (generally over 10 days to germinate), so it’s no longer an issue for us.

If you plan on preserving your harvests this year, don’t wait till the last minute to get supplies.  Ball preserving jars and lids saw a 40% increase in sales in 2008.

Finally, ornamental gardeners, take heed: there’s a good chance that nurseries and garden supply stores may be devoting more space and inventory to veggie gardeners!

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Our stevia plant still survives.

Our stevia plants still survive!

We bought our first stevia plants at the local nursery this year after reading about their natural sweetness (over 300x sweeter than sugar!) in one of our seed catalogs.  It’s a sun-loving plant, and we’re still figuring out if it will survive in our cool, N. California coastal climate.

Coincidentally, we recently learned that stevia is set to be the next BIG zero calorie sweetener in the US.

When you nibble on a stevia leaf, it does have a very sweet flavor, though you’ll note a slightly bitter licorice or “greeney” aftertaste.  In 1931, two French scientists discovered the “sweetness” chemical in stevia and developed an extraction process that eliminated the aftertaste.

In 1989, a petition was made by a Brazilian company, Stevita, to classify stevia as GRAS (generally regarded as safe).  But the FDA required testing which would have amounted to $10 million, and the petition was withdrawn.

In 2007, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola bankrolled testing to get the FDA to approve stevia as GRAS.  While these beverage powerhouses will not reveal their stevia-refining secrets, there are several patents out there that will give you a general idea.

As of Dec. 17, 2008, the FDA finally classified stevia as GRAS.

Though we haven’t tried this yet, we also learned that a water extract can be made by boiling or soaking fresh or dried leaves leaves, and then straining.  However, alcohol extraction is believed to yield better results than water extraction.

Cargill claims their first step is water extraction in a Truvia™ infomercial.  They are going to team up with Coca-Cola to develop the new zero-cal beverage sweetener.  PureCircle (which supplies Coca-Cola and PepsiCo)  also has an infomercial on their PureVia stevia sweetener.

If stevia products take off, the outlook for Equal® and SweetNLow has a good chance to sour.

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African Blue Basil is kept in our cold frame.

African Blue Basil is kept in our cold frame.

Here’s our top ten herbs that we grow (more or less in order of preference) outdoors unless specified:

  1. Garlic – … though some may argue this is not an herb.  We consume way too much of this so perhaps it’s more of a “grain” 😉  Our favorite and hardiest variety is Kettle River.
  2. Basil (indoors or in cold frame at the coast).  We go through tons of basil as we love Italian food.  We have African Blue and the regular basil we bought in a pot at Trader Joe’s (still yielding leaves after 7 months!)
  3. Chives – Think potatoes, soup, salads!
  4. Parsely – Italian (preferred) and Triple Curl
  5. Rosemary – Fabulous for poultry and lamb.
  6. Tarragon – French & Mexican.  Great with artichokes.
  7. Oregano – Sprinkle in pizza stick dough!
  8. Thyme – Delicious on pizza!
  9. Sage – Use sparingly for poultry dishes; great for veggies like zucchini.
  10. Marjoram –  This will be sprinkled on our frenched lamb rack on Christmas Day 🙂

We’d love to hear your favorites and what dishes you use them for.  Let us know!

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