The most important thing you can do for your garden plants is care for the soil. Treat the soil like a living organism, because it does contain billions of tiny microorganisms and bugs and worms that are so very important for healthy plants.
There is a complicated web of relationships between all the organisms that live in the soil; they feed on each other, decompose organic waste, and share nutrients. They are also able to form healthy relationships with plants that benefit both parties. Bacteria that ‘fix’ nitrogen, for example. This bacteria likes to live in and on the roots of legumes (beans, peas). It can take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that the plants can use. Not only do the beans and peas benefit, but whatever is planted nearby can also use the nitrogen that is introduced to the soil ecosystem. Members of the Brassica family (broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc) do very well planted next to beans because they are heavy feeders.
Organic gardening focuses on feeding the soil because having these good microorganisms in the soil makes all the difference between having healthy plants and having diseased and weak plants. The healthy microbes compete with the pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes, bacteria, and fungi so they don’t get a chance to destroy the food plant that you’re hoping to eat.
The first step in feeding the soil is to stop using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They ultimately do more harm than good, killing the beneficial organisms along with the harmful ones. It’s better to feed the good organisms and let them do the work of out-competing the bad. Next:
Compost, compost, compost. Organic gardeners don’t use compost just for the nutrients that can be found there. The #1 reason to use compost in your garden is for all the beneficial microbes that live in the compost. Introducing these microbes to your garden is key to growing healthy, nutritious food.
There are many ways you can complicate the composting process. If you wait until you’ve got it all figured out, you might never begin. It’s best to just give it a shot and adjust as you go. Start with the basics.
Simple composting steps:
1. learn what greens and browns are: greens are fresh, like grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps. Browns are dry, yellow, brown, like leaves, straw, sawdust, or black and white newsprint.
2. mix greens to browns 1:2
3. keep it moist but not soaked
4. turn it over every month or so in warm season
5. when it looks like soil, add it to your garden.
If you don’t have yard space, consider composting with worms! They live indoors very easily, and don’t smell bad at all. There’s a very good website that can give you more information about this:
Once you have great compost you can also make compost tea. And if you don’t have compost, you can make plant extracts. The following free white paper download will give you a recipe for compost tea and a recipe for making an ‘herbal tea’ plant extract that you can use to feed your soil.
Basil likes it hot, but slow; don’t be too eager to get it into the garden. I learned this the hard way, with plants that were either sunburned from introducing them to the outside too fast, or plants that were frostbitten from the very lightest of frosts that didn’t faze the other plants one bit.
It’s a very sensitive plant, in other words. It responds quickly to moisture and heat, germinating in about 2-4 days if it’s warm enough. It gets a sunburn from spring sunshine if it’s outside too long for the first time. It can sense frost before the frost even arrives, shrivelling up in horror at the impending doom.
Maybe a slightly neurotic plant, but it has a huge following. It’s not that hard to grow once established in the garden. Pesto and tomato sauces are a common use for it, but it also does well in salads and on gourmet pizzas. Treat it well and you will have plenty of opportunity to try many delicious dishes.
Here’s a printable info sheet about growing basil (PDF) for you:
Here are the varieties I’m growing this year, maybe you might like to try some too. It’s not to late to start them indoors!
Genovese: Classic pesto basil.
Cinnamon: Pink flowers, purple stalks, and a cinnamon scent. Sweet and spicy.
Lemon: My all-time favourite. Delicious citrus scent and taste.
Lime: Fantastic flavour. Makes a nice light pesto and goes well with Mexican food, especially if you’re not fond of cilantro.
Purple Ruffles: Does double duty as an edible AND ornamental. Very pretty in the garden as an accent plant, with good flavour for purple pesto.
Thai: Green leaves with purple stems and flowers. Spicy flavour.
Holy Red and Green: This one, I grew for the name and the foliage. It’s kinda fuzzy, which surprised me at first. But it has a mellow flavour and looks pretty in the garden too.
Are you growing some different basils this year?
If you’re interested in learning more about Growing Herbs in Containers, I’m giving a workshop at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery on May 25. You’ll plant your own container full of herbs (included in the price), and take home recipes too.
There are only 5 spots left, last I heard, so sign up now if you’re interested.
Parsley is one of the key ingredients in that famous cure for the common cold: chicken soup. It is slow to germinate but grows well even in colder temperatures once it’s sprouted.
I’ve put together an info sheet for Parsley, as it’s one of my favourite herbs to grow and preserve.
When it’s ready for harvest, I put it in my dehydrator for a few hours. When it’s dry, it gets stored in glass jars. Or big ziplock bags, whatever is handy at the moment. Glass is preferable but sometimes life is hectic and messy and not as well-organized as the photos on Pinterest.
I use parsley in chicken or turkey soup. Bone broth is a very healthy way to get calcium, particularly if you are lactose intolerant. After roasting the chicken or turkey, I boil the bones with parsley, bay leaf, sage leaf, and thyme. I usually let it simmer for at least a few hours on low. Sometimes all day, if I have the time.
When the boiling is done, I strain the broth, putting everything in the green bin. This way I don’t have to worry about kids eating the bay leaves or freaking out about the limp leafy stuff in their soup. The flavour has already been imparted and the broth is ready to sit all night in the fridge.
In the morning, I pick off the hard fat on top and strain the broth through cheesecloth (actually, it’s an old curtain) so there are no little grungy bits for anyone to complain about either. From there I add celery, carrots, kale (minced), and whatever else is in the fridge and asking to be dropped in soup.
In the garden, parsley takes care of itself. It doesn’t mind being cold and wet, unlike some other heat-loving herbs, so it’s a good candidate for a shadier location if you’re working with limited space. Another thing I love about parsley is how easy it is to collect the seeds. There are instructions in the info sheet above; just follow the link to a printable PDF. The parsley in the photo above was grown from seeds I saved myself. Parsley will flower in its second year of growth, providing you with lots of seeds for the following year but not very many greens for preserving. I usually grow another new batch of parsley while still allowing last year’s batch to grow and flower. It comes up early in the spring – always a welcome sight in the garden after a cold winter!
If you’d like to learn more about growing and cooking with herbs, particularly in containers, you might want to attend the workshop I’ll be leading at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery on May 25. See link below for details.
Thanks for reading. If you have any other great ideas for parsley, please let me know! You can share in a few ways:
1. On the Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens Facebook page.
2. In the Kitchen Garden Club – by SKG Facebook group.
3. Use the contact form to email me.
Strawberries are the most rewarding fruit to grow at home. They are hardy to zone 3 (BRR!) and grow on their own in the spring, producing sweet yummy fruit by the end of June.
I would recommend bird netting if you’re going to grow strawberries, because there are many critters who would love to get their paws or beaks on your strawberries. It’s available in garden centres and hardware stores, but I’ve also found it in the dollar store, so check a few places if you’re interested in getting the best deal.
I’ve put together an info sheet for you, partly from my own experience and partly with the help of an awesome Strawberry website.
If you give them a try, let me know!
Peppers are such a rewarding plant to grow yourself. Unique varieties of hot peppers and sweet peppers add new flavours to old dishes, and they also give a gardener something else to talk about. (As if we didn’t go on and on enough already!) Here’s an info sheet to help you grow your own:
As always, you are welcome to join the ‘Kitchen Garden Club – by SKG‘ on Facebook, in order to connect with other food gardeners. We ask questions, answer other questions, show’n’tell our plants and harvests, and share useful info with each other. It’s been amazing to be part of this wonderful community of garden-loving, food-growing people.
This year I’m planning to grow some interesting pepper varieties. They’re already seeded and incubating in my germination chamber (new and improved this year, thanks to some helpful input from a member of the Kitchen Garden Club).
Jalero Jalapeno: Like a Jalapeno, but ripens from pale yellow to red instead of green to red. Also has a more mellow, smoky flavour. I’m planting the seeds I saved last summer. They’re special because I didn’t have a normal garden last summer. Our family left our house in Kitchener on July 23 and didn’t move into our new home in Hamilton until August 30. My garden was a gypsy garden, travelling from campsite to campsite with us for 6 weeks of the summer. Not everything in the garden made it to Hamilton, so I’m happy that these peppers survived and provided seeds for me to use this year.
Thai Red: Awesome little hot pepper plants produce a LOT of little hot peppers. They are just right for pickling; one per jar gives a nice bite to dills. I got in trouble from my sister because I didn’t grow them last year. So, they’re on the list and planted this year already! I’m looking forward to some spicy dills.
FISH: These peppers are on my list every year. Also hot peppers. They are so pretty as plants, even before the peppers come. The foliage is variegated, so it looks like an ornamental garden plant. THEN it flowers and produces pretty peppers that are variegated too! They ripen from green/white stripes, to orange, purple, a rainbow mix, then finally to red and then they’re done. You can eat them at any point, or just let them stay on the plant and watch the show as they ripen. So pretty and fun. And a great addition to hot sauce.
Garden Sunshine: Here’s a sweet pepper. Ripens from yellow to orange to red. Another beautiful garden addition that gets sweeter as it ripens. You can eat it at any point, but I like them red.
Tequila Sunrise: A new favourite from last year, also part of the gypsy garden. It’s a sweet pepper that is shaped like a hot pepper, thin and pointed at the end. My kids enjoyed picking them out of the garden at our campsites and eating them for breakfast.
Corno Di Toro: Something new I’m trying this year. I bought some HUGE Italian seed packets and this was one variety. A sweet pepper, I think – that’s what ‘giallo’ means, right? – but shaped like the horn of a bull (again with the assuming – d’ya like how I ‘read’ Italian?). And they’re yellow. Should be fun!
What pepper varieties are you growing this year?
Mm garlic. Whole bulbs drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven. Grow your own deliciousness, starting this fall. Garlic is planted in the fall, comes up on its own in the spring, grows throughout the summer, and is harvested the following fall.
Tomatoes are the essence of summer; juicy sweet and tart and warm from the garden, that’s how I like them. Add a bit of Lemon Basil and some Goat Feta and it’s a tomato salad fit for a king. Or queen. A gardening queen.