Spring is Here…Time to Prepare Your Garden

The weather is warming up and there is still time to get your gardens prepared.  The average date of the last freeze in North Texas is the third week in March so now is the time to get started.   I’ve followed Neil Sperry for many years for his expert advice on gardening and so much more on his weekly radio show .  I ran across this great online guide titled “Everything you need to know to plant a successful vegetable garden here in North Texas”.

He includes are some very informative tips, check it out.

http://www.star-telegram.com/living/home-garden/neil-sperry/article194406789.html

Pick the sunniest site. Vegetables need sunlight.

Provide perfect drainage. No vegetable crop grows well in waterlogged soil.

Start small. Too many gardeners are overly ambitious at the outset, only to become discouraged by their poor results when they can’t maintain all the space they’ve opened up. Choose only crops your family really likes, then specialize in those. You can always expand the second time through, but if you fail you may never come back.

Prepare the soil carefully. Organic matter is your key to success. Add 5 or 6 inches of a blend of sphagnum peat moss, compost, well-rotted manure, finely ground bark mulch and other organic matter and rototill to a depth of 12 inches.

Know the proper planting time for each crop that you’re growing. This is a really big issue! Every crop has a two- or three-week window in which it must be planted. If planted too early it may not survive the cold weather. If planted too late it may not mature before heat sets in. This is one of the main places where people set themselves up to fail.

Here are some of the main crops and their timing. Late January: English peas, asparagus (perennial), onions. Mid-February: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Irish potatoes. Late February, early March: leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, carrots, turnips, beets. Late March, very early April: beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, cucumbers. Mid-April into early May: sweet potatoes, okra, southern peas.

Choose the best varieties of each crop that you grow. Texas A&M vegetable specialists have lists online. In many cases they will be hybrids selected for productivity, yield, flavor and pest resistance. Many of the old heirloom varieties, tomatoes for example, are notoriously poor producers in Texas conditions. Limit the numbers of those that you try.

Care for your plants regularly. Check them daily once they start growing

Harvest your produce at the peak of maturity. In many cases, that will be before it reaches full size. Cucumbers, okra and summer squash, for example, should be harvested when they’re little more than half their full size. The same goes for carrots, green beans and lettuce leaves, and you harvest broccoli before any of the flower buds actually start to open.

Extend the season by planting fall crops in the same ground. Truth be told, fall vegetable gardens are often more productive than their spring counterparts.

Involve a youngster in your gardening plans. Whether it’s a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or students at a school in your neighborhood, there’s something magical about helping little hands plant big seeds and guiding them in growing vegetables all the way to harvest. It’s something neither you nor they will ever forget.

 

Fresh From the Gardens at the Garden Show in McKinney

The Garden Show in McKinney was a great event!

There were a variety of vendors who were eager and ready to greet you and envelope you in the world of gardening.  I had an awesome time visiting all of the vendors and learning about their products or services. Even bought myself a bunch of fresh, organic herbs...they smelled amazing! The speakers were so informative and passionate about their topics that it motivated you just hearing them speak. I felt honored to be able to share my passion of canning!

Though there was a lot of hustle and bustle leading up to the event and I even lost my voice a bit, I enjoyed every minute of it! From chatting it up with canning enthusiasts to hopefully gaining new canning friends in my seminar "Preserving Your Harvest", my weekend in McKinney was well worth it.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the Garden Show in McKinney and stopped by my booth or joined me for one of my “Preserving Your Harvest” presentations!  It was great meeting so many people and visiting all of the vendors at the show.

 

Thai Basil

Thai food is by far one of my favorite cuisines, and Thai Basil is one of my favorite types of basil. Thai Basil looks a lot different than Sweet Basil. It has small narrow leaves, purple stems, and pink-purple flowers. I still have a very nice Thai Basil plant that I planted in a medium-sized pot this Spring that is still growing strong right now – that is, until our first frost hits here in Texas shortly. That means I have to make full use of my Thai Basil now!

As a personal chef I really like the way Thai Basil holds up in cooking. It’s great in recipes because its sturdy leaves stand up well under high or extended cooking temperatures, unlike Sweet Basil, which wilts under the same type of heat.

Here are a few links to some of my favorite type of recipes using Thai Basil. Of course, I always change a thing or two to suit my own tastes, but these recipes all have the Thai flavors that I love.

Recipes Using Thai Basil:

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/spicy-thai-basil-chicken

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/213947/panang-curry-with-chicken/

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016835-pad-kee-mao

Thai Basil 4Of course, all types of basil are best when use fresh, but there is a way to prolong using basil a couple more months into the winter. I plan to run some of it through a food processor and freeze it in ice trays. It will be good for a couple of months in the freezer. Once it freezes, I’ll just pop it out of the ice trays and place in freezer ziplock bags to use in some Thai soup recipes.

I’ve also included a couple of links where you can purchase Thai Basil, Holy Basil and all types of gardening seeds. Amazingly, there are at least 100 different varieties of basil. Pine Tree Garden Seeds and Rare Seeds are excellent sites. I am also going to order some Holy Basil for planting next Spring. Basil is so easy to grow in a pot and I encourage you to give it a try. Holy Basil is not as easy to find here in the U.S. as Sweet Basil is, so it’s a lot easier to just order it.

For you serious Thai food lovers, there are three types of basil that are commonly used in Thai cuisine.

Thai Basil – used throughout Southeast Asia and also a lot in Vietnamese cuisine and used a lot in Western kitchens. It can best be described as anise, licorice-like, and a little spicy.

Holy Basil – has a spicy, peppery, clove-like taste and Thai people love this basil probably the most. It’s used in India for culinary, medicinal and also for religious purposes.

Lemon Basil – has undertones of lemon in both scent and taste

Sources for Seeds

http://www.superseeds.com/collections/herbs/basil

http://www.rareseeds.com/store/herbs/herbs-a-e/

Health Benefits of Basil

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/basil-herb.html

Herb Pesto

I've said before that even if you don't have a green thumb, growing herbs is easy and fun to do. A sunny kitchen windowsill is a great place to grow herbs if you don't have garden space. I like to grow basil and thyme in little terra cotta pots in my kitchen since I use these two herbs most and its convenient to have them near when I'm cooking. This year our garden has an abundance of herbs and since people always ask me how to preserve herbs I'll share some quick and easy ideas and recipes.

imageimageMaking pesto is the perfect way to use up those herbs. I love any kind of pesto and having a variety of fresh herbs on hand lets me get creative. You're probably familiar with basil pesto but did you know that parsley, mint, oregano, cilantro, and oregano can be used to make pesto? Not crazy about pine nuts? Use almonds, walnuts or pecans instead. Here are a couple of simple recipes for adaptable pestos that can be used on grilled fish, chicken, roasted vegetables and steaks. I also like to flavor mashed potatoes and soups with pesto and I've been known to dip my french fries in basil pesto too.

Herb Pesto
 
Ingredients
  • Fresh Mint Pesto
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup almonds, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh Herb Pesto
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup loosely packed torn basil leaves
  • ½ cup flat leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp oregano leaves
  • 1 tbsp rosemary leaves
  • ⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Process: Add everything to your processor and whirl it around until it has a thick paste-like consistency. I like mine on the chunky side but you may like it smoother. If it's too thick , add a bit of water.
 

Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays and added to other recipes long after herb growing season is over. Just fill ice cube trays, freeze, then pop into a plastic baggy to store in the freezer.