Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kitchen Garden 2012 ~ Garlic and Basil...

2012 - the year I finally accomplished my goal (or dream) of a kitchen garden...

Actually my intention was for my vegetable garden to be as visually appealing as it is productive and I think I've accomplished that goal! A kitchen garden or potager is (by definition), a central feature of an ornamental, all-season landscape, it may be little more than a humble vegetable plot. It is a source of herbs, vegetables, and fruits, but it is often also a structured garden space with a design based on repetitive geometric patterns. The kitchen garden has year-round visual appeal and can incorporate permanent perennials or woody shrub plantings around (or among) the annuals.

I realized last season that the first step in creating a kitchen garden was to prevent my free-ranging chickens from having access to this area. I accomplished this my fencing in the entire garden which has proven a success! The fence not only keeps the hens at bay, it also adds a little extra structure, height and visual appeal to the garden.

I've added marigolds along the paths of the garden, both for their color and for hopefully a little protection against garden pests. A dwarf variety of sunflowers are strategically placed in the front as a sunny welcome and to attract bees, butterflies and goldfinches...

Earlier in the season I harvested cool season crops of lettuce, spinach and broccoli--now several herbs are at their peak.

Two years ago I attended a Master Gardener class on garlic:  how to grow garlic, harvest it, braid it, etc...  As an added benefit of the class, we each received a few bulbs of an heirloom variety, Inchelium Red Garlic Allium sativum var. sativum. It's one of the most productive of all the heirloom garlics and probably one of the best tasting. It's also a "softneck" or braidable variety because the tops are soft-stemmed and dry into a grass that can be tied together or braided. All garlics should be planted in the late fall for best bulb development the following year.

I'm a little obsessed with basil. I love its aroma, texture, color...  and I'm also crazy about pesto! This year I planted several varieties. Some are my favorite for cooking and some are just ornamental, but grouped together in my garden they're gorgeous! When I harvest the leaves or prune the plants the smell is intoxicating...

Basil is an easy herb to grow as long as you plant it when the night temperatures are above 50°F. I usually plant basil about the same time as tomatoes. They both need their feet (or roots) to be warm and are actually great companion plants for the garden. Supposedly growing basil around tomatoes can increase the tomato's  yield about 20%.  It's also important to routinely prune basil to have a continual harvest of leaves throughout the season. If the plants are allowed to flower the leaves begin to take on a bitter taste. Some of my basil I simply use as an ornamental plant (as apposed to culinary), and I purposely allow the blooms to brighten the garden...

Greek Columnar Basil is named for its unique growth habit. While reaching 3′ tall, it only grows 10″ across resulting in a stately columnar appearance. It is one of the stronger-flavored basils, good for stews and hearty dishes in modest amounts. Greek Columnar Basil is not the best basil variety for pesto. There are overtones of cinnamon in its aroma. Greek Columnar Basil has smaller leaves and an upright habit, and is late to bloom.

 Mammoth Basil
Mammoth Basil has a stronger, fuller flavor than sweet basil and the leaves are HUGE! The plants have a shorter growth habit and are great for pots and growing indoors.

 Sweet Basil
The gold standard in basil varieties...

 Comparison of Mammoth (left) vs. Sweet (right)

Lemon Basil is one of the most unique and delightful of the basils. It is an asset to a huge variety of fresh dishes, especially salads, whether lettuce or pasta. 

Serata Ruffled Basil has unique ruffled leaves with a good basil flavor. Lovely and unusual as a bouquet filler, as a flavorful plate garnish or perfect for a contrast plant in the garden. Serata Basil does very well in containers too. Pinch plant back to keep compact. Spicy Globe Basil is a delightful garden plant because of its very round, compact shape and tiny, flavorful leaves, roughly half the size of sweet basil.

Magical Michael
Unlike most basils, Magical Michael grows uniformly, making it an ideal container plant or for use in small beds. This is a sweet basil with lush, fragrant green leaves. The flowers are also a curiosity, with purple calices and white corollas. When presentation is important, use the flowers as an attractive garnish or even add color to a salad.

To see more blooms, harvests and gardens, visit these sites:
The Gardening Blog
May Dreams Gardens
A Southern Daydreamer
Tootsie Time
Sidewalk Shoes - Garden Tuesday
Digging - Foliage Follow-Up


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