Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Love fresh chopped herbs? Tips to grow your own

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Want your family and friends to think you are a skilled chef? Then you should think "chopped fresh herbs." For example, the basil variety Genovese produces a plant lush with large leaves that emit a tantalizing fragrance. Chop them up and toss into salad dressings, pasta, omelets, sauces, ratatouille and vegetable pies. Better yet, chop up a mix of several herbs, including parsley (preferably Italian flat leaf), thyme, summer savory, oregano, rosemary and sweet marjoram. Nothing jazzes up a dish more than mixing in fresh herbs.

We favor growing the majority of our herbs in clay pots, large pots for most, since the plants remain cleaner, that is, less soil splashes onto the foliage than occurs with garden-grown herbs. And, in the case of mint and oregano, growing in pots prevents these fast spreading plants from taking over the "south 40" as happens when growing in the garden.

While this may seem a better topic to be discussing in spring at the onset of the growing season, there is a good reason for bringing it up now. Herbs in pots can be brought indoors and grown on through the winter — and this is a good time to plan for that. Annual herbs, such as basil, parsley, dill and cilantro, can be started now, while perennial herbs in the garden may be divided and potted up. The key to growing herbs indoors will be lighting. Assess where in the house the plants are likely to get the most light, e.g. a kitchen window or broad picture window in another room in the house. How many plants will that location be able to handle? Will supplemental lighting be required? In any case, herbs to be grown indoors should be moved in no later than the end of this month while night time temperatures outdoors are still mild. This will make it easier for the plants to adjust to the indoor environment.

Growing and using fresh culinary herbs year round will surely enhance your reputation as a skilled chef.



OUT IN THE GARDEN ...


Skilled and unskilled gardeners will enhance their reputation or not .by tending to these tasks:

- Wait 10 to 14 days after the tops of onions and shallots have flopped over before harvesting. The bulbs will continue to increase in size during that time. Onions and shallots will also be easier to pull up then, since the roots will have become weaker. Cut the tops of the onions only if the necks are completely brown and dry, leaving an inch or two of neck on the bulb. Otherwise, tie onions in bundles and hang them in a warm airy location to cure for several weeks before placing in a cool, dry area of the basement.

Back in the day on the family onion farm, we'd cut the tops off the onions at the time of harvest and put the onions in crates stacked in the field to cure. The top crates were covered with burlap. While that is not practical in the home garden, the concept is the same. That is, spread the bulbs out on some surface or screen mesh in a warm airy spot and cover with burlap. Another and even easier method is to cut the tops off the onions and shallots and store them in mesh bags that can be hung up to dry. This is the method I now use, but it requires that I save the mesh bags in which oranges are often sold. Also, grocery stores typically get produce in mesh bags. Ask your produce person for some bags. However, if you need an onion or shallot for cooking or using fresh, pull it up at any time. Onions and its relatives are vegetables that can be used at any stage of development.

- Harvest cabbage as soon as the heads feel firm. Otherwise, with the frequent and heavy rains of late, the heads are likely to split and nothing gives me a splitting headache as much as a split head of cabbage, that is. If, for some reason, you choose not harvest the hard-headed cabbage, as when there are far more than you can use, grab the head firmly and twist. This will break the roots and reduce the uptake of water. Do not try this on hard-headed humans lest you want to risk a twist of fate.

- Be sure to rid the area of weeds, especially lambs quarters, before making a late sowing of beets, spinach and chard. Also, sow these crops where none grew earlier this season. These practices will reduce the incidence of leaf miner insects in the fall harvested crops.

- Look for hairy, often reddish, growths at the base of leaves on the stems of roses. These are called mossy rose galls and are the result of the gall-wasp laying its eggs in the leaf buds earlier in spring. While the galls do little or no harm to roses, they may be removed by pruning.

- Start a Japanese beetle collection competition among the gardeners in your neighborhood. The beetles seem most common now on raspberry, grape, cucumber and bean plants. Consider expanding this sporting event to bean beetles, potato beetles and cucumber beetles. There will be no losers in this competition.

- Rinse, dry, and grind up egg shells — in a coffee grinder — to create a fine powder, similar to diatomaceous earth, to use for pest control. The powder can be spread on the ground around plants prone to attack by slugs or dusted directly onto plant foliage to deter flea beetles and other insect pests.

- Collect some seeds from lupines. Since lupines do not transplant well, sow the seeds directly into a flower border or into a meadow garden. Germination rate of lupine seeds can be improved if seeds are placed in a freezer for several days, or if individual seeds are nicked with a file.


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