Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Spotlight - Profumo di Genova Basil

Hands down, this is my favorite basil and if I'm only going to grow one variety (which I typically do) this is it. I've been growing it for years. My sowing notes for last year indicate that I cleaned out a packet of 2002 seeds and some of those seeds actually germinated. So I've been growing this basil for at least 11 years and probably longer.

It's not just your typical Genovese basil, it's been bred to have an excellent basil flavor without being too spicy. It's also nice in the garden because it doesn't get to be too big, nor is it too small. I tried a dwarf container variety of Genovese basil a couple of years ago and really didn't like it because it was so compact that it was difficult to harvest. Another time I purchased some basil plants instead of growing my favorite (for whatever dumb reason) and found the plants to be too large and floppy, and just not as tasty. I've grown Thai basil, lemon basil, sacred basil, you name it I've tried it and this is the one that I keep coming back to. The only other basil that I grow every year is African Blue, but I grow that for the bees, good bugs, and it's sheer beauty - it is not good tasting, but it does smell fantastic.

Here's one of my current plants. I took this photo a few days ago and you may have already seen it on another post. Sorry, but I'm not going to venture out into today's 94ºF (34ºC) heat to take another photo, trust me it hasn't changed much in a few days.

This variety makes the best pesto. And it's equally good paired with tomatoes in a classic Caprese salad. I use it in my Asian flavored preparations. I use it with abandon in all sorts of dishes when it is in season. I've even flavored ice cream with it - big yum! The season for basil in my garden is from about mid-June through October, perhaps into November if the weather doesn't get too cold and wet. Fungal diseases are what generally kill off my basil plants weeks before the first frost.

My little plants are already getting a good workout. I keep going out and snipping off shoots. The plants are responding by branching out and getting bushier which is what you want to do with basil. Ideally you do not want to let the plants bloom and the best way to keep them from blooming is to snip the ends of the branches back as I've been doing.

Below is a photo of my basil patch last year. It wasn't as happy as it is this year. I'm not sure if it was because it was growing in brand new imported soil in my brand new raised bed. Or perhaps it was because it didn't like the cooler than usual weather last year.

It eventually came around though and then got completely out of hand. I think I just planted too much of it last year. I also had it growing in a couple of large pots closer to the kitchen so those were the plants that I kept snipping and the plants in the garden were not trimmed enough.

I finally cut it back and made a couple of large batches of pesto. The pesto was great even though I harvested the leaves when the plants were in full bloom. That's another thing I like about this basil, it stays good tasting even when it's in full bloom. I've got my favorite pesto recipe on my recipe blog.

I don't try to preserve basil because I really only like it fresh and I can turn to other fresh herbs when basil won't grow in my garden. So, I'm sorry I can't say how well this variety dries or freezes.

Seeds for Profomo di Genova basil are available from Renee's Garden Seeds.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Garden in Late June 2013, Part Two

Let's get back to the garden tour. This bed is a bit of a mix. Front and center are the two varieties of broccoli that I'm growing for the spring (now summer). Purple Peacock is in the foreground and Di Ciccio behind it. Purple Peacock is doing just ok. I got a very modest sized "main" head from each plant and now they are producing side shoots. Not enough to overwhelm, just enough to give the two of us a modest serving now and then. The Di Ciccio produced larger main heads, one of the plants produced a huge one, and fewer but larger side shoots than the Purple Peacock. Actually, the plants are producing just enough to keep us happy, I really don't want to be inundated with broccoli, I don't freeze it unless there is just far too much to eat fresh.

Beyond the broccolis are the Greek Gigante beans that I planted in the spring of 2012. They were wonderful last year, grew like crazy and provided me with over 7 pounds of dried beans. I was hoping the roots would survive the winter and produce new shoots this year. Indeed they did, I only lost one plant over the winter and one plant died last fall. There are already lots of blossoms now and a number of beans have set already. I hope the early warm weather doesn't slow it down too much. Runner beans tend resent hot weather, but last year we didn't get hot weather until October when the plants were pretty much finished blooming so I don't really know how these beans will react.

The tunnel is providing protection for 45 pepper plants. They aren't the prettiest specimens. But last year I thought my pepper plants were a disaster to begin with and they pulled through to produce a fantastic crop. I've got my fingers crossed for this year. This year I'm experimenting with a bunch of different chiles from the southwest. And of course there are Pimento de Padrons, I've not had a year without those in I don't know how long - 10 plants this year! And a few of my favorite sweet peppers from my sweet pepper experiments last year are back.

The view back from the other end of the tunnel. I keep both ends of the tunnel open at all times to keep it from overheating.

This funny looking arrangement is protecting some Spanish Black carrots while they are in bloom.

It may or may not help to keep them from crossing with any wild carrots (Queen Anne's Lace) that might happen to be blooming within a half mile.

But it will be fun to experiment with these and see what, if anything, I get.

Over here in the fourth bed is where I had favas, lettuce, spinach and other spring crops.

These are the last of the fennel which are starting to bolt. I harvested them immediately after the photo shoot. Now there's nothing left of the spring garden in this bed.

More peppers! I think the count is up to 61 and I might have a couple more to plant. I will be doing a post one of these days about all the pepper varieties I'm growing this year.

Eggplant down at this end. There are three varieties here this year, all Italian. Salangana in front produces an elongated dark purple fruit. I grew this variety last year and found it to be prolific and delicious. The plants with the purple in the leaves are Sicilian. I don't know if they are a named variety. My seeds were obtained in a seed swap. Two of the plants are from the original seeds that I got in the swap and two are from seeds that I saved from the one and only plant that I was able to start last year. It produced a beautiful large classic shaped white and violet fruit. And beyond the Sicilians are a new variety in my garden - Bonica.




When I cleared out the fava side of this bed I found a number of volunteer fraises de bois plants. I dug a few up and am trying to get them established at one end of this bed. The cleared out fava patch is awaiting the Black Futsu winter squash, Halona and Alvaro melons, and Garden Oasis and Tasty Green cucumbers that I'm starting in 4-inch pots. I would have set them out today but it's just too warm out there this afternoon (86ºF the last time I looked). I'll plant them late this afternoon so that they have the cooler night to recover from the trauma.

Thanks for joining me on the tour of my June garden, I hope you enjoyed it!

The Garden in Late June, 2013

Time for another tour of the garden. Bear with me on this tour, the garden is a mess and since I was trying to beat the heat I was taking photographs when the garden was in shade and the hills across the valley were bathed in early morning sun so the contrast made for some poor photography. Anyway, this isn't a beauty contest.

The big news is that the fourth bed is FINALLY built and filled and has some plants in it, mostly tomatoes.

The tomato plants are small still but growing quickly (except for one sickly Galinas cherry) and some of them have even set some fruits already.

Hidden within the agribon cloche at the far end of the bed is the latest sowing of beets. The Towhees have been voraciously munching on any seedlings they can find so I have to hide things from them.

The rest of the bed will be home to more beets which are starting in paper pots, celeriac and celery that are starting in 4-inch pots, perhaps more carrots, and maybe some parsnips. In the meantime it is a handy collecting place for ... stuff.

The next bed over is home to most of the beans. Here's the Italian runner beans that Stefaneener sent me.

They are just starting to wend their way up the trellis.

Next on down the line is the first planting of French Gold filet beans and Spanish Musica beans sharing a trellis.

The next trellis is sporting the second planting of French Gold and Musica beans, quickly catching up to the first stunted planting.

And a day later, this is the trellis with the first planing of French Gold and Musica beans which have been relegated to the compost bin and replaced with Australian Butter and Emerite Filet beans. I really jumped the gun with the first sowing of beans and they never were happy. A number of the seedlings died and what was left was not very vigorous. When I saw the route they were taking I sowed a second round of seeds to plant out in the space next to them and when I had another round of seedlings ready I ripped the poor things out.

The last trellis in the row is home to some English runner beans, Moonlight on the right and St. George on the left. The St. George seem to be more vigorous or perhaps just earlier than the Moonlight. They are already hitting the top of the trellis and producing a few beans and Moonlight is about half way up the trellis and just starting to bloom and set the first beans.

St. George has pretty bi-colored flowers and lovely long straight beans. These beans are meant to be eaten as green beans. I do hope that they get along ok in our unusually warm June weather. I shouldn't complain too much about the heat right now, while most of the southwestern US is sweltering through triple digit temperatures the coastal areas are being mostly spared. The highs here have been and are forecast to remain in the mid-80's (29ºC).

At the very end of this bed is the cucumber trellis. I've got 4 varieties of cucumbers growing here. Once again I tried for an early start and it seems to have mostly backfired. The Garden Oasis, Tasty Green, and Green Fingers cucumbers seem to have resented the early start and are somewhat stunted and reluctant to produce.

The surprise performer here is the Tortarello Abruzzese cucumber. I dug out the 10 year old seeds on  whim and managed to get one runty little seedling going. I almost didn't plant it out because it was so slow to get going, but hey, there was space so why not give it a chance. The dang thing is trying to take over the entire trellis and keeps producing these fuzzy fruits, most of the cucumbers I've been harvesting lately have come from this one plant.

This end of the bed is also home to the 2 zucchini plants. In the foreground is Ortolano di Faenze and behind that is the monster Romanesco. That's not powdery mildew on the Ortolano plant, the leaves have silvery patches on them that are normal for that variety.

Pretty Ortolano, the ants are loving the blossoms.

It's productive, producing a zucchini almost every day.

The Romanesco zucchini also produces a zucchini almost every day on not just one stem...

not just two stems...

a new squash almost every day on each of three stems. Big squash, about 6 to 8 ounces per.

The final shoots are quickly going to blossom on the Early Rapini. I'll leave these to bloom to feed the good bugs, eventually they will probably be engulfed by the encroaching Romanesco zucchini. That twiggy brown stuff is a coriander plant that I left to drop its seeds and produce some volunteer cilantro. On the left the red flowers are closed up blossoms of "Copper Pot" California poppies. I'm trying to get this variety of poppy going around the garden.

This is the very slow to start and finally growing and blooming patch of Purgatory beans (Fagiolo del Purgatorio). I hope to be able to get enough dried beans to make a salad or two and save some seeds too.

Ah, here's a little less contrasty view of some of the bean trellises. The beans on the left are the ones that I ripped out and replaced. They look ok from here, but they should have been much bigger than that by now. So bye bye garden, hello compost!

Another experiment with marginal results. These are the seed pods of Lathyrus sativus, an edible seeded vetch commonly called Cicerchia in Italy. I started the seeds from a packet of edible beans. Only three plants took off. I'm not sure if it was because the "seeds" were old or if I'm trying to grow them at the wrong time of year. I assumed that they would grow like other vetch varieties, around here they grow wild in the spring. Perhaps I'll try an autumn sowing and see if they overwinter and produce a spring crop of beans.

And finally, in the remaining corner of this bed, the Lacinato kale. This plant is struggling with an aphid infestation. The suckers are distorting the leaves and generally making a mess. I swear, if you try to just wash the aphids off they crawl back up right where they were and just resume their sucking.

I washed this leaf off the day before. It was completely aphid free less than 24 hours before. After I did the wash job I went back out to the garden to take a look because I suspected that the aphids didn't just die or crawl off to die, and sure enough there were aphids climbing back up onto the plant. Just to make sure, I waited until the next day and this is what I found. This leaf went into the compost. I'm going to have to either spray or just put the whole plant into the compost.

Why is it that the aphids love that one plant and mostly leave these two alone? Is that one extra tasty or is it just a weak sister? By the way, if you are wondering what that dead brown stuff is, that's the remains of the Dou Miao (pea shoot) plants that I allowed to mature so that I can save the seeds.

This has become a long post and I'm only half way through the garden so I'll continue the tour in another post later.

But one more thing before I go, the primary reason I do these garden tours is because I like to look back at the garden in previous years and compare what they were doing. It's a great way to learn about what does best in the garden at particular times or to see the effects of the vagaries of the weather. Last year at nearly the same time my garden was chock full of spring vegetables - lettuce, kale, broccoli, peas and the summer vegetables were barely taking off. The weather last year was unusually cool all through spring and well into summer. I was also just getting my new garden beds constructed and filled and planted which delayed a lot of the planting. It's interesting to me to see how a warmer spring and earlier start to summer weather this year has cut short the spring crops and helped most of the summer vegetables to get a good start. My gamble to get an early start on the zucchini has certainly paid off (oh my, has it), in previous years my plants were still babies at this time. But my gamble to get an early start to beans did not pay off, they are really no further along than if I had waited until the proper time. The cucumbers were also unhappy about being forced to start early, except for the Tortarello Abruzzese. Perhaps next year I'll start some Toratrello early and then start the rest of the cucumbers at the usual time.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Of Herbs and Pots

This is turning out to be a mish mash of a post that started out to be about my newest addition, or rather reintroduction to my herb garden and then other herbs edged in and then some of the better looking potted plants also found their way into the mess.

So here's the newest addition to the herb garden.

A brand new dwarf Kieffer Lime tree. I've been into a fish sauce groove lately, pairing it with mint and basil, dried chiles and lime juice, and wishing I had Kieffer limes to add to the mix. So I stopped in at one of the local nurseries yesterday and found this nice specimen just begging to be taken home. There's plenty of new growth showing, blossoms, and if you look closely in the photo above there's a small lime on the far left.

I'm hoping that it will be happy in its new pot so that it will fill in this corner and make a pretty companion to the pink flowering caper next to it (and distract from the fake rock speaker below). At this time of year it gets morning shade and plenty of afternoon sun. In the winter it will get sun most of the day. I'm hoping that the wall of the house will absorb daytime heat and radiate back enough of it through the cold winter nights to keep the tree safe from the occaional frost that we get.

Speaking of some potted arrangements that are looking pretty good, here's my 4 year old (maybe 5, I forget) Manzano chile. I had intended to pull it out this year and almost did because it was at least half dead from frost damage. But it was making such a valiant effort to make a comeback that I gave it another chance. I cut out the dead stuff and fed it, and it responded by growing and blooming like crazy. If you look closely you might be able to see some of the purple blossoms and green chiles, there are really big chiles hidden inside the foliage. To the left of Manzano is a 2 or 3 year old Aji Angelo, the only other chile plant that survived both the winter and my spring cleanup work. It may not be so pretty as the Manzano, but it too is covered with blossoms and chiles. Center and right are the newly potted up Spanish capers.

I grew theses capers from seed. They are now 3 or 4 years old (sheesh I can't remember anything today and I'm too lazy to go back and check my records). I think I found a pretty good use for some old oyster shells that I had sitting around. I wanted to mulch the pots but didn't want to use leaves or compost because I suspect the capers would prefer something less acidic, especially because they are already in a bark/peat based potting soil. I like the color of the shells with the foliage and the red pots.

And off in another corner of the garden, some of the herbs that I planted in pots last year are coming back and filling in.

That's Texas Tarragon (Tagetes lucida) above. It makes a good warm weather substitute for true tarragon, and it's pretty too. Below is my purple sage. The plant that I put into the ground didn't even make it to winter, whereas this one made it to and through winter and is looking oh so pretty in its terracotta pot.

Lemon verbena died back completely this past winter and is now making a comeback. I don't use a lot of this herb but love to have it around, if for nothing other than to pluck a leaf and enjoy the fragrance.

The basil plants that I set out in my homemade gopher baskets are really enjoying the mostly warm weather that we've had lately. These plants have already be snipped back a few times. I cut out the central stem shortly after they were planted out and the side shoots are growing rapidly.

It is so nice to have a supply of fresh basil again! I finally succumbed to temptation at the farmer's market yesterday and bought some fresh local organic tomatoes. The first Caprese salad of the season is soon to come.

And about that reintroduction thing. Sometimes you just have to show the ugly bits. This is was my original Kieffer lime tree. Sad. Just plain sad. This poor thing was beautiful and productive once-upon-a-time, but then one winter it got zinged by a freeze. It wasn't a quick end. It lingered for a few years, but every year it became less and less vigorous. Each spring it would put out a little new growth, much of which died, so I would cut that out. Eventually it just stopped growing altogether and I stopped trying to resuscitate it. I stopped watering the pot last autumn to allow it to dry out so that I could easily remove the carcass from the pot. Then the rains came before I could get around to cleaning out the pot. And guess what, it's still sitting there...

It's plenty dry now though, so I need to clean it out and plant something new. What will it be? Something edible. Something pretty too.