basil

Herbs and Your Health

Ever suspect you might have bad breath, and not an ounce of mouthwash on hand (but don’t dare lean to your lunch date and ask)?  And speaking of bad breath, how’s your sinus?  A bit stuffy today?  Not to worry — simply munch that sprig of parsley on your plate, dab a pinch of chili pepper on your tongue and problem solved.   It’s the natural solution.   Parsley freshens breath while the capsaicin in the pepper clears the mucus–voila!

And let’s say that handsome waiter bumps your arm with the oven-hot skillet dish you ordered (an accident, though you couldn’t be mad at him, if you tried!). The incident left a mild red burn.  Sure, mild is a relative term, but if you’ll pluck a branch of aloe from the attractive plant in the nearby window, then squeeze some of its gooey gel over the burn, the healing will be almost immediate.  Disregard the “stink” factor — we’re concerned with saving skin here, not sensibilities.

Basil is a wonderful digestive aid. Calms the belly while you’re woofing down that glorious gooey piece of pizza. And if your sweetheart takes you out for a night of sushi come Valentine’s Day and your stomach disagrees, nibble a bit of the pretty ginger on your plate.  It also helps ease nausea, though my preferred remedy is Coke.  Much like chicken soup eases the symptoms of a cold — and I couldn’t tell you why —  this soda cures a tummy ache like nobody’s business!

Need a wakeup call? Ask rosemary to do the honors. This herb gives you the mental boost you need for any task — and smells divine. Another reason to include rosemary in your garden? Cooking foods at high temperatures creates HCAs (heterocyclic amines), potent carcinogens believed to contribute to cancer. Rosemary contains carnosol and rosemarinic acid, two powerful antioxidants that destroy the HCAs. Rosemary Chicken, anyone?

Other notables include St. John’s wort to ease stress. Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Have arthritis? Try a dash of turmeric.

This list is but a few, but I think you get the idea. Your garden is like nature’s pharmacy so keep growing and keep healthy!  I knew this gardening thing was a good idea. 

Maintain Vigilance

One thing to keep in mind about gardening is maintenance.  Not only do things go “bump in the night,” they go chomp in the garden.

Tami’s lettuce have gone to flower, now taller than her okra, and the bugs are in hog heaven–sans the swine.  Ick.  At this point, Tami need only remove the plants and put them in the compost pile–her new compost pile!  Yep, she’s decided to join the organic ranks and start her own compost pile, beginning with the pile of oak leaves she recently raked up.  Smart.  Very smart.  Best of all, it’s mere feet from her garden.

The okra are growing gangbusters and spitting out “cobs” all over the place.  One thing to keep in mind when you’re growing okra, is these guys are fast operators.  Once they begin producing, you’ll want to visit every day.  This will ensure you harvest your okra at its most tender because trust me, large cobs of okra are tough and NOT delicious.  Great for seed saving though!

Always a silver lining (if you know where to look).  Moving right a long… Tami has her first watermelon.  Isn’t it adorable?

Won’t be long before this little guy is burgeoning from the vine.  Note on watermelon harvest:  in Florida, these babies have a tendency to explode during hot summer days, so while you’re visiting each and every day, keep an eye on the melons.  Give em’ a tap and when you hear the nice dull “thump” sound, pull that rascal from the vine and haul it onto the picnic table.  Another good indicator is to check the curly tendrils.  Light green = not ready.  Brown and dry = thump it baby, thump it!

Another technique is to press your thumb nail into the skin.  If it makes an indentation, not ready.  No mark, you should be good to pull.  Tomatoes are a much easier fruit when it comes to harvest detection.  Red, they’re ripe.  Green they’re not–unless you’re a Southerner and like your tomatoes green.  Tami’s are looking mighty fine.

Her basil could use a little pinching.  I prefer to pinch the budding blossoms from mine before they reach 1/2 inch, then toss them into my lunch salad.  Mmmm…  Aromatic and delicious.  Did you know that basil eases digestion?  Wunderbar.  Nothing like making my roughage go down “easier.” 🙂

Have you seen the recipe for my favorite summer salad?  Strawberry and goat cheese and oh-so-delicious!  Add basil for an added delight.

And since we’re speaking of maintenance, these squash need some attention.  Fungus.  Very hard to rid the Florida garden squash of fungus, what with all our rain and humidity, but we must. 

This plant wants to survive and produce more squash.  It simply needs a helping hand.  So Tami will remove the diseased leaves and allow the center healthy green ones to thrive.   Remember, your plants want to produce and sustain you.  They just need a little help sometimes!

Tami’s Growing Strong

For a first time gardener, Tami is doing AWESOME.  In this bed you can see her plants look great—squash, peppers, tomatoes and basil are all thriving together in harmony. If you remember, she planted the basil right in between her tomatoes, because these two make wonderful companions in the garden.  Funny, they make wonderful companions on the dinner plate, too.  Coincidence?

She’s pinched tomato suckers and pulled basil flower heads to keep these two healthy and happy.  To continue this progress, she can prune her tomatoes once they begin to grow past the top of her tomato cage.  This will also help to keep them full and strong.

The next bed over is residence to her okra and lettuce AND her first harvest.  Already!  Can you believe it?

Okra and lettuce make great companions, especially here in Central Florida because the canopy of the okra shades the more delicate lettuce leaves allowing them to flourish with ease.  (I’m about ready for a salad.  Anyone else?)

Upon closer inspection, we notice remnant damage on her okra leaf from the aphids and ant battle.  Not sure if this is from the diatomaceous earth of the aphids sucking the life out of the plant.  Will have to get back to you on that one.  But the plants appear to be fine in general, with no lasting trauma.

Next up is our pole beans which suspiciously resemble bush beans.  Now these varieties can produce very similar bean pods, but the big clue?  No climbers. 

Hmph.  Never know what’s in these bags we buy these days.  Remember our weed plant inside the blueberry?  It happens.  Course in my garden it’s usually do the fact that I occasionally forget what I’m planting where—despite my fabulous excel program!  Sheesh.  Yet another reason to become self-sustaining!  (Just keep your brain cells more organized than mine.)

Go figure.  Anyhoo, everything looks great.  Beans are plump and her cucumber and watermelon are bursting with life from their in ground “hill” site.

Garden Gals Share the Adventure!

What an inspiration these gals are, what with their fabulous green gardens and baskets of veggies–and you should see their thumbs.  They’re totally green!  After watching Ashley’s glorious experience in the garden, her father decided to start a garden of his own.  Isn’t that great

Me?  I LOVE sharing the adventure.  It’s too easy not to and brings such joy to those who partake, how can I not?  Remember:  Ashley’s already planning on adding another planter box for next season!

Back from vacation, Julie was momentarily distracted by the beach…and Fourth of July celebrations…but don’t think for a second she isn’t back in action!  Yes, there were casualties.  She lost most of her squash and zucchini while she was cavorting and carrying on, though this fella seems quite determined to stick it out.

Go zucchini, go!  And her tomatoes are holding on, sprouting as though she were never gone.  Didn’t I tell you Mother Nature will make allowances for the gardener with all the exuberance and none of the time (or talent, for some of us :))?  You bet she will and these ruby reds are proof positive!  

Now I will be honest with you.  When I photographed this melon, I thought he was doomed.  A goner.  Small and covered in green, I thought for sure he’d been overcome by a mold of some sort.  But alas, it’s not the case!  This is a special breed of melon (one I’m not familiar with which is no big stretch–I’m as green as they come and sometimes that pertains to know how).  Good thing I’m an eager student!

It’s called a Sugar Baby melon and it’s supposed to look like this.  Whew!  (Almost fainted when I saw her reach in and pick it up bare-handed.)  Gardening can get gross.  Exhilarating, but gross.

Her herbs are loving life.  In Florida these will thrive without full sun.  Actually, from what I’ve seen, full summer sun is NOT an herb’s friend.  No, ma’am.  My basil is not nearly as plump and luscious as Julie’s.  Though hers could use a pinch. 

Nearby, her cilantro has grown wild and wooly and is now flowering, soon to produce coriander seeds.

Did you know that cilantro and coriander stem from the same plant?  They do!  First you’ll harvest the flat wide leaves of cilantro–perfect for any salsa–and then you’ll wait and watch as they produce pretty white flowers which will then produce seeds.  Once the seeds turn brown, you’ll have yourself a fresh supply of coriander for the kitchen.  Doesn’t that sound delightful?

More than delightful, it’s YUM.  This gardening thing is so rewarding.  From basket to belly we gardeners really do live the sweet life.

Summer Heat in the Garden

While I love a good old-fashioned sun-shiny day, I don’t enjoy heat stroke–which is what you’ll end up with in Florida these days, if you’re not careful.  Now granted I’m not known for being real careful and I do tend toward action before planning, but even I know to stay out of this heat!  If only our plants could be so wise.  Or fortunate.

Look at this poor thing.  Drooping, withering, begging to be let into the patio.  Reminds me of my dog (though he’s not satisfied with merely being on the patio, oh no!).  He wants to be in the house, on the tile, never mind he’s wet from his recent dip in the pool. 🙂

Silly boy.  Sad plant.  This is Ashley’s topsy-turvy experimental tomato plant and looks a lot like the tomatoes in my garden (which BTW have no blossom end rot, thank you very much).  Only my compost pile tomatoes seem to be enjoying the weather. 

While this fellow was having a good run there for a while, he’s no longer enjoying the ride.  So like any warm-hearted gardener, she’ll take this poor baby inside and place him on a sunny corner of her porch. She’ll water him and feed him and nurse him back to health and hope he responds. 

Which he will.  Given the proper care and feeding he can thrive once again.  It only takes effort.  Why, one only has to look at her lettuce to know this woman has basketfuls of effort! 

Whoever heard of lettuce growing outdoors in the heat of Florida?  Not me.  Mine are long since burnt, I’ve the plastic store-bought bags of lettuce to prove it.  We’re fresh out of greens at my house!  And carrots.

But Ashley’s harvesting those, too.  Sure this little guy is a tad on the slender side, but he’s golden and gorgeous and he’ll taste just the same. 

Guess there is a silver  (icy and refreshing) lining to an otherwise scorching day:  Gardeners can achieve success, despite the heat.  Save for those leggy basil of hers.

Didn’t stand a chance really, because basil will do that to you.  If you don’t diligently pinch their buds they will quickly grow legs that can outrun Twiggy! 

“What? You don’t know who Twiggy is?”

Hmph.  Fine.  When I think of her contemporary, I’ll get back to you.  Until then, enjoy your summer garden! 

Or what’s left of it.

p.s.  Julie’s still recovering from vacation.

The Kids Are Off and Running — Literally!

It’s great to see their excitement.  When it’s time to garden, the kids line up, water bottles in hand, anxious to head for the garden.  Once the door opens they dash out, run cross field and straight to the garden!  I tell myself their exuberance has nothing to do with escaping the monotony of being in one room all day long, cooped up as the teacher pours information into their absorbent minds.  No.  This an excitement solely geared toward the adventure of gardening. 

That’s what I tell myself.  Besides, it is exciting

First stop — a quick review through garden etiquette.  No stomping across beds, no throwing worm castings or top soil on the walkways (black gold!), no putting unidentified things into your mouth, no digging without gloves, no rough handling of the sprouts…   Now that we have that settled, we’ll amend the sandy soil.  In additon to putting in  seeds, we’ll be transplanting ; a delicate process indeed.  (Don’t mind those brown weeds you see – we’re not after perfection but production – and those dead old things pose no risk.)

Our tomatoes and peppers have had a great start but now it’s time to introduce them to their new home.  And don’t forget the basil! 

Fifth grade students handled the task with grace and aplomb.  (These kids really are amazing.)  Settling in the tomatoes and peppers, they moved on to the onions and carrots, astonished by the size of the tiny carrot seeds. 

With incredible focus, they learned to “pinch and roll” the multitude of seeds into the channels drawn across the top of the bed, gently covering them with a fine veil of black dirt, not to mention of healthy shake of worm poop!  Er–I mean, worm castings.  We do want to keep this scientific, and all.

Finished with the task at hand they were ready for their next assignment.  It was then I had to break the news.  “Sorry kids, but it’s time to head back to class.”

Met with the expected frowns and protest, I assured them we would meet again next week for another exciting chapter of gardening! 

Cheers abounded as they cleaned up their work area and trotted back to class.  Turning back, I collected my things and thought, not bad for their first attempt at transplanting.  And to think we only lost one tomato.  It was during the process of “staking” the plant to its bamboo support when one boy pulled it out and asked, “Is this okay?”

I nearly fainted from shock.  “Agh!  No–you killed it!”  (You have to understand, I raised these babies from seeds!  It’s devastating when you lose one.)

He looked at me and I looked at him.  I nodded.  “You’ll have to give that one a nice burial, perhaps in the compost pile.”  Then I assured him, “Don’t worry.  It happens.  And look.”  I pointed to the tender sproutlings left behind.  “At least you had the trio!  We’ll just stake those two and we’re good to go!”

Then the Brownie Girl Scouts whipped in for an afternoon of gardening and boy o boy —  talk about energy and enthusiasm — these girls were all over the business of planting pole beans and got right to it! 

From dishing out dirt, tossing in seeds, patting in fertilizer, it was all I could do to keep up with their frantic pace.  I can’t be sure, but we may have pole beans growing all over the garden at the rate these spirited gardeners worked! 

But I never met a bean I didn’t like, so we’ll welcome them anywhere they show up.  Next up:  corn.  And lower elementary.  Talk about energy in the garden–you can’t beat this! 

Working in shifts, these kids were meticulous in their corn planting duties, surprised you could plant the kernel from a corn cob and it would turn into a whole plant.  Didn’t even phase them that our kernels were red.

“Ever seen red corn before?”

Hands shot up.  “I have!  I have!”

With a hand to my hip, I raised a brow.  “Really now…”

When I said they were telling me “stories” they assured me that was not the case.  They’ve seen it.  For sure.  (There is such a thing, but it’s fun to test their determination which I must admit, remained adamant.)

Our kernels are red, because they were chemically treated to keep them viable and strong for planting and sprouting.  While we’re growing organic, it can be hard to find untreated non-hybrid seed, so this will prove our exception.

Digging diligently, they added dirt and raked it smooth, careful to keep to the rows and not the beds.   We spaced out the holes, staggered our pattern and discussed the reason why.  (Corn grows real tall and needs a little elbow room!)

We even tossed out the worm poop to give them a good and healthy start.  Plants LOVE worm poop and kids LOVE tossing it.  And they refuse to call it “castings.”  It’s poop.  Plain and simple.  You gotta love kids

Another great day in the garden was had by all, not to mention great progress was made.  We’ll invite the little ones (primary/kindergarten) later next week to try their hand at bean plopping and poop tossing (something tells me they will LOVE LOVE LOVE it!)  

And what’s NOT to love about the care and feeding of your plants?