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Friday, October 24, 2014

Culinary Herbs to Grow in the Garden

Fresh or dried, herbs add flavor and depth to almost any dish. But purchasing fresh herbs at the supermarket can get expensive. If you grow your own herbs, whether in a large garden or in a few small pots, you'll not only save money, you'll impress your family and friends with your culinary genius.

Rosemary Shrub
A hardy perennial native to the Mediterranean, the rosemary plant now grow almost worldwide. In temperate climates, such as the southwest United States, a rosemary plant may live as long as 15 years in an outdoor garden.

Rosemary has an earthy, pungent aroma that complements beef and chicken, and just a little is needed to add depth to roasted vegetables. 

Sage Plant
Sage has an earthy aroma that reminds you of Thanksgiving dinners and hot pork roast sandwiches. A perennial herb, sage produces for up to three years before its leaves start to lose that rich, pungent flavor. Use fresh if you want a strong, savory taste but use sparingly, as fresh sage can overpower other flavors in the dish. 

When drying this herb, leave the leaves whole. Rub the dried leaves between your fingertips when you add this herb to your dishes for controlled, subtle taste.

Oregano Plant
The word oregano means, "Joy of the mountain" in Greek; it grows wild and in abundance in that Mediterranean country. This earthy herb has a strong, sharp flavor to it that balances well with sweet tomato sauces, is essential to Mexican cooking, and adds a rich flavor to eggs and sausages. 

Common thyme grows well under a wide range of conditions, making it a kitchen garden favorite. Use thyme in sauces, marinades, and in soups, and pair it with chicken, fish or roasted vegetables.
Thyme Plant

If you want to eliminate table salt from your cooking, replace it with thyme. This herb brings out the natural flavors of food, enhancing any dish in much the same way as salt does, only without the negative health effects. 

No garden is complete without basil. Try adding a variety of basil plants such as spicy globe, purple ruffle, Thai basil and of course, sweet basil. Use spicy globe in Mexican dishes, and purple ruffle or Thai in stir-fry.
Basil Plant

Sweet basil is an essential ingredient in many Italian dishes. And nothing tastes fresher on a summer's day than sliced tomatoes topped with thin slices of mozzarella cheese and sprinkled with ribbons of bright green basil.

An annual herb, parsley does more than garnish your plate for presentation. It has a savory undertone to it that adds depth and interest to soups and stews when stirred in at the last moments of cooking.

Parsley Plant
Parsley grows best in the cool weather, and though it doesn't have a long growth period, two or three plants may provide you with enough parsley for drying to last you to the next growing season. Use this dried herb with dried basil, oregano and thyme for an herbal seasoning mix perfect for meatballs or Italian meatloaf. 

Mint has an unmistakable scent to it: sharp, crisp, fresh. Used in an array of foods, from meat to vegetables to candy and cocktails, mint is an abundant producer. One plant in your garden is likely to suffice simply because it continues to spread. Consider growing mint in a container to control its prolific growth habit.

Mint Plant
Herbs add finesse to your dishes, and though your family and friends may not say, "Oh, I taste the oregano in this enchilada sauce," that's okay. What you want them to say is, "These are the best enchiladas I've ever had."

The contents of this blog, including images, are copyrighted to productions.  2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Summer Winter Garden

In the last couple of weeks or so, it has rained quite a bit, about four inches. Here in the valley of the sun, that's a considerable amount. We have dust storms, windstorms, thunderstorms.
These are the monsoons. Monsoon season is upon us.

Right now, we are caught in this pseudo season, a mixture of high temperatures and high humidity, followed by brief but intense storms of various sort. The monsoons come during the last few agonizing weeks of summer, a time of burning sunlight and thickened air, and of indoor activities.

Devil Grass
No one I know keeps a full garden in the summertime. The weather is either too hot or it's raining buckets. You keep your hardy perennials alive, such as rosemary, but you would have harvested your veggies weeks ago. This is our version of wintering over.

And some of the photos here are the equivalent of those images of the beds in gardens west of the Rockies in the last cold days of winter, the soil still half frozen. Here, though, in the valley of the sun, after four inches of rain and brutally high temperatures, I have Devil Grass.

Tomatillo and Cayenne in a barrel
Devil grass is Bermuda grass and it can't be killed, merely subdued. It does not give in easily though, and I may have to, am likely to, resort to chemical warfare. I could pull the grass by hand from the nooks and crannies of my garden, but that doesn't really subdue the green devil as much as it encourages it to try harder. So, chemical warfare it is.

Looking at What's Alive
Early in the year, I scattered seeds around the garden in a free form fashion. The result was a wild hodgepodge of seedlings popping up, and more than half of the
seedlings did mature to yield a fair amount of veggies. The tomatoes did especially well.

Now in the miserable heat and pounding rains grow tomatillos and peppers, both sweet and hot. And one arugula plant. The herbs are doing well, but there's a lot of empty space in the beds.

Empty space
Soon, though, the hot weather will abate, and Phoenix gardeners can
leave the confines of their air-conditioned homes and feel the funky Phoenix soil in their fingers once again.

Thinking about a Remodel
Garden beds are my preferred method when soil gardening, but the low beds do present some issues. The reason the Devil Grass is so prolific is that the beds are watered nearly every day. The water feeds the grass roots and the walkways fill up with the stuff. As I say, it needs subduing.

Puppy with peppers in a barrel
The second issue is my back. I have what is clinically referred to as a bad back. Every year, it gets a little harder to kneel down and get back up. So we may be raising the beds.

We also have to consider how to provide shade for the garden in the late spring and throughout the summer months. Those beds with perennials or heat tolerant plants need protection. We need to find an efficient way to add shade when needed and store the material away when it's not.

Starting Seeds
Hardy oregano
Come the first of September, I'll start seeds for the soil garden. It will be a fall garden, but here a fall garden is tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, squashes, carrots, and all manner of greens and herbs.

While gardeners in other parts of the world put their gardens to bed, and spend winters in front of a cozy fire reading seed catalogues, I'll be gardening.

And when summer comes around again, and the others are reaping the rewards of what they have sown, I'll be in front of the air conditioning vent, reading seed catalogues.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bare Root Strawberries and Garden Updates

Strawberries are a popular snack in our household, and sliced strawberries with whipped cream is one of our favorite desserts. Of course, we use low fat whipped cream. The problem is strawberries can be expensive, and they go bad rather quickly.
Strawberry Bed

So I want to grow my own. I've made several attempts to do so, with only moderate success. But I've learned along the way, and I'm hoping I'll have a more bountiful harvest this time around.

In the strawberry pot, I've planted Sequoia strawberries, a June bearing berry that should yield a crop of luscious strawberries in the early summer. I've also planted Quinault in the soil garden. Quinault is an ever-bearing berry, which, theoretically, means it bears fruit in all four seasons. I don't really expect to see much action in the height of the summer months, but otherwise, the Quinault may prove, um, fruitful.

Aquaponics Update
We recently updated our aquaponics system. We changed out the 40-gallon barrel for a one hundred gallon tub, and added a lot more fish; we now have around 40 goldfish in the system and will likely add more in the coming weeks. We also moved the grow bed so the plants would get more sunlight, yet still have shade when needed in the summer months.

The increase in fish should increase the nutrient value of the water feeding the plants, and the new location for the bed should allow us to add more varieties of plants. We've done well with greens and shade loving plants, but we want to add other veggies, such as tomatoes, celery, beets and beans, so more sunlight should afford us that opportunity.

Tire Garden Update
The tire garden is doing quite well. We're already harvesting lettuce, kale and broccoli, and will likely continue to do so into the warmer months. The Texas Tarragon, however, isn't doing as well as I would like. It's struggling a bit, but I'm reluctant to move it at this point. Come the summer months, it will be in a perfect place, with morning light and afternoon shade, so if it can just hang on, it may flourish come April and then into the summer.

Texas Terragon
After the broccoli, lettuce and kale is spent, I'll plant fennel, dill and mint. These herbs are invasive and may take over a garden bed; they can also be detrimental to the health of neighboring veggies. The tire garden affords each one its own space in which to grow and thrive.

In the coming weeks, we'll be updating our hydroponic systems, adding more plants to the aquaponics systems, and readying the soil garden for the warmer weather. That's one of the things I love most about gardening – there's always something new going on.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Time to Be Outside

It's nearly Halloween, and in other parts of the country, that means cooler days and even cooler nights. The temperatures drop down and before long, there'll be snow on the ground. The residents in these northern and eastern regions are thinking about preparing their gardens and yards for the cold weather, and putting up the garden harvests- canning, freezing, drying and otherwise preserving for the gardenless days ahead.

Here in the Valley of the Sun, we're emerging from the long hot summer. We've planted our veggies and are planting still more. We're seeding our dying Bermuda grass lawns with rye seed, and we'll have green grass in the winter months. We're spending more time outdoors in the warm afternoons, the cool evenings, and the chilly mornings.

One of the things people like to do here in the fall and winter months is spend time around a firepit or outdoor fireplace. While not all of us have well-appointed outdoor living spaces, we may have little bits of space in our backyards where we can sit beneath the moon and gaze into the flames dancing inside our little chimeneas.

We put a lot of work into our gardens, into our veggie gardens, flower gardens and into our landscaping. On these cool nights, when the work is done and the constellations loom high, we should remember why we do this, and step outside, snuggle up together and let the flames lull us into a dream.

Bob and I spend a lot of time working; we both have day jobs and when we're not working, we're working on producing more videos, focused on the DIY lifestyle. I spend my free time writing, and gardening, and writing about gardening.

We're like a million other people, working, working, working. This post is about taking a break. So take a break tonight. Take a break and spend some time watching the flames. Dream a while. It's good for you, and your garden will be all the more beautiful for it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Making a Tire Garden

One thing about gardens is they are great for experimenting. You can try different plant companion combinations, different soil mixes, different containers and methods.

In the last few months, I've departed from the 'rules' of gardening and engaged in free style planting- planting seeds with no thought to placement, season or symbiotic relationships. I'm also disregarding my drip system and spraying the garden beds with a watering wand, soaking the soil and sometimes the young seedlings.
Okra plants in October

So, in the spirit of rebellion, I shrugged off the cautionary tales of tire gardening and embraced the concept of re-using a usually cast-off product. The studies I've read concern themselves with shredded tires for ground cover, that the heavy metals leech into the soil. Well, once the integrity of the tire is destroyed, as in shredded, then yes, leeching is likely imminent.

But even the Environmental Protection Agency says intact tires are fine for garden containers, so Bob and I set one up. Now, we'll see what happens next.

Free Style Gardening Successes

Zucchini with Flower
As of this writing, I've harvested okra and zucchini, Anaheim peppers and jalapeno peppers, cucumbers, herbs and even a few beans. My free style garden is moving along rather well, and if the fall season brings forth its customary good weather here in the valley of the sun, I should have a good harvest.

The success of a garden is measured by its harvest, and in the last couple of seasons, my success has been limited. But I have more hope for this season, and I think our tire garden will add to that success.

Updating Our Aquaponics and Hydroponics

We're in the process of preparing for the upgrade to our aquaponics system. We'll add a larger fish tank and an extra grow bed, as well as reposition the grow beds. It's a long process, but now that the temperatures no longer rise above the 100 degree mark, we can move along at a quicker pace.
Aquaponics Bed with New Plantings and Waiting for the Upgrade

We're also looking at updating our approach to hydroponics. We have, traditionally, used buckets and plastic containers for our hydroponics systems, but the systems aren't particularly attractive. If you want hydroponics at your front entrance, for example, a big orange bucket won't cut it. So keep a look out for some of our upcoming experiments in updating the look of hydroponics and of course, for our new aquaponics system.