Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Growing Basil

I love to grow basil.  The Italian Large Leaf variety of basil to be exact.  This variety of basil has such a nice aroma to it, you can almost smell the mozzarella cheese, home grown tomatoes and olive oil you can add to your basil for a nice summer dish.

Just as good as the smell of fresh basil, is how easy basil is to grow at home.  Basil is one of those plants that can be grown in your backyard vegetable garden or in pots, if limited space is an issue.  Either way, your basil will grow fine.  The downfall of basil (as if basil really had any), is that basil loves heat.  Even the slightest cooler temperatures (under 50 degrees Fahrenheit), may make your basil fall over and begin to wilt.

The upside of your basil, because basil loves heat, your basil will do very well in the summertime.  With your basil’s quick to maturity growing capabilities, you can be enjoying fresh basil in just a few weeks.

Basil seeds are fairly small and while you can plant your basil seeds up to a quarter of an inch deep, all you really need to do is lightly cover your basil seeds with some soil.  

If you are going to start your basil seeds indoors, just make sure your basil seeds, when planted, are placed in a warm location and receive at least 5 hours of sunlight daily.  If you decide to sow your basil seeds directly outdoors, you want to make sure that temperatures remain above 50 degrees, or otherwise cover your basil with a cloche, row cover etc.

The Italian Large Leaf variety basil, when given the room, will grow very large.  So make sure you space out your basil at least eight inches.  Your basil will use up that space.

Regardless of which variety of basil you decide to go with (there are plenty to choose from), most varieties of basil love full sun and require a light, but even watering.  As a side note, basil is a great companion plant for tomatoes.

A lot of people like to “warm” up their garden beds for their basil.  This can easily be accomplished by laying a clear .6 mil. thick plastic tarp over top of your garden beds and letting the sun do the work for you.  This process will create a nice warm area for your basil.

Expect your basil seeds to germinate in as little as 5 days, although 10 days is more likely.  

One of the beauties of basil is that you do not need to harvest the entire plant.  You can simply snip off basil leaves with a pair of scissors and use it when you need it, leaving the basil in the ground to continually grow.

The real hard part is finding recipes for all that home grown basil you are about to grow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Compost, Vegetable Gardener’s Gold

There is a lot of talk these days about gold and precious metals, but for the home vegetable gardener, nothing is more “gold” than compost.  Compost is the ultimate source for everything your plants need to grow and produce.

Compost is more than likely the answer to any vegetable gardener’s question on soil improvement.  How do I enrich my soil? Compost!  How do I make my soil more friable? Compost!  How do I make my soil better for water retention capabilities? Compost!  Yes compost is really the answer to a lot of vegetable gardening questions.

If you think compost is too good to be true, then all you need to do is go ask any fellow vegetable gardener that has been growing their own veggies for some time and they will be the first to tell you that compost is the answer.

So what is compost?  Where do you get compost?  Is compost safe to use?  

Compost is nothing more than taking organic material and letting that material breakdown naturally.  Such material would include, grass clippings, leaves, wood ash, your leftover dinner, coffee grounds, tea bags and so much more.  It would not include, aluminum cans, plastic containers and so on.  That stuff is called garbage, but you probably know that already.

As you can see from this basic list of materials you can make your own compost from the items that you already have in and around your house.  Forgo the garbage disposal and start composting (which is the act of creating and making compost).  I will get to more on composting in a second.

So is compost safe to use?  The answer is absolutely!  In fact I truly believe you would be missing out on a successful garden without compost.   Compost, as stated before, enriches the soil by adding nutrients, and compost has even shown in some studies to help your vegetable plants fight off disease and insects.

Composting, the act of actually creating compost, is easy.  The two easiest methods of composting, at least to me anyway, is a compost pile or trench composting.  

A compost pile is as it sounds, a pile of the organic material mentioned earlier.  You would take an area of your yard, property etc, and simply make a pile.  Over time this pile would break down into healthy usable compost.  Of course if you live in a suburb development, town home area and so on, a compost pile may look unsightly to “non” vegetable gardeners.  So you can either convince your neighbor’s to get on board with what you are doing (the harder path), or simply enclose your compost pile, to make the pile look “neater”.

The second composting method is trench composting.  This is where you will immediately bury your organic material about 18 to 24 inches into your garden.  The downfall of this composting method is that you cannot, actually I should say, you should not bury anything while your vegetable plants occupy your garden area.  You don’t want to disturb your plants’ roots.  In the end you will have to keep a compost pile anyway.

So here is a breakdown as to why you should have a compost pile:

  • Compost provides nutrition for your plants
  • Compost will improve the aeration, friability and water retention of your soil
  • Compost will keep your soil’s pH in optimal balance
  • Compost is free!  Ok, compost is virtually free.  You still have to add the material to a pile to make it.

Start your own compost pile today!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grow Carrots from Seeds

Every time I cut up a carrot, especially the carrots that I harvest from my home vegetable garden and have grown directly from carrot seeds, brings back memories of my childhood when my grandmother would pull some carrots from her home vegetable garden and use them in her homemade chicken noodle soup.

I remember the image vividly of those long bright orange carrots coming out of the dark rich soil in her home vegetable garden directly behind her Trenton, NJ house.  I remember her cutting those carrots up with a knife, using such precision that the sight of the evenly cut carrot slices would make an electric powered carrot slicer or food processor jealous.

She would then add the carrot slices to her homemade chicken soup broth to soften, and then finish the recipe.  While I have never been able to duplicate her chicken noodle soup recipe, no matter how hard I have tried, duplicating the process of growing carrots from seeds at home in my own vegetable garden has become almost second nature to me these days. 

Growing carrots from seeds, while challenging, is not impossible.  A couple of challenges you will find when growing carrots from seeds in your own home vegetable garden, include, the size of the carrot seed, spacing those seeds out, and, making sure the soil you are growing your carrots in is friable.   That is … the soil for your carrots should be very loose or able to crumble into small pieces.

Let’s first talk about the size of your carrot seeds.  Carrot seeds are very small.  Not as small as celery seeds (celery is another ingredient in grand mom’s chicken noodle soup), but hard to handle on an individual basis nonetheless.  If you plant carrot seeds too close to one another, the growth of your carrots will be inhibited and then you will end up with either small and fat carrots or your carrots will not grow at all.

A good friend of mine online, Gardening Jones, writes a wonderful blog.  On her vegetable gardening blog, she writes a step by step process on how to make your own seed tape and she uses carrot seeds for her example.  I have linked to that blog post here:

A seed tape is nothing more than as out it sounds.  You take your carrot seeds, place them on a long piece of tape, usually a masking tape variety, spacing your carrot seeds out as per the instructions on your carrot seed packet, and then plant the tape (with the carrot seeds on it of course) at the depth that is written on your carrot seed packet.  Moisture and weather conditions will remove the carrot seed tape’s adhesive.  This allows your carrot seeds to be planted as normal except your carrot seeds are nicely and evenly spaced out for optimal growth.

As for the carrot seed tape, or in the case of Gardening Jones’ carrot seed tape tutorial, tissue paper, that will simply erode away and become compost in your soil.  So you do not need to worry about taking the carrot seed tape out once planted.

For the soil your carrots will grow in, it needs to be loose, friable and crumbly.  If you have soil that is heavy in clay, the quickest way to accomplish what your carrots need is to add plenty of perlite, compost and peat.  This will loosen your soil up for your carrots, very quickly.    While perlite and peat are available at any home center, you will more than likely need to make your own compost.  These ingredients also add other useful things to your soil for your carrots; however I will save soil enrichment for another time.

Proper spacing and loose soil will ensure that when you grow your carrots from seed, great results will happen, every growing season.

About the Author 
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us. Be sure to join Mike`s vegetable seeds mailing list

Watch the video below to learn more about Mike`s Seeds of the Month Club: