Basil Update

With its clean, fresh, and uplifting taste, basil seems to reflect all that’s pure about gardening. Even if it were dificult to grow, I wouldn’t miss it, but luckily, it’s very easy to grow, provided it has the warmth it likes. My 6 selected basil plants from cuttings of the best bush basils even strectched that preferred warm environment. While my unselected seedling bush basils threw in the towel by early October, the robust selected basils grew on in the cool fall weather till the end of October – something I have never seen in the basil world.

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Basil at the end of October

More pesto! This was so lucky because I was (and still am) under the spell of our new semi-feral cat Koko, even to the point of giving up my bedroom for her beccause it was more centrally located in our house, which led to me not sleeping as well and thus falling behind on things. I have just reclaimed my bedroom, but now Koko is in heat – constantly – so I am still losing sleep. Next stop, the vet. I think I’ll dig out that frozen pesto to get me through!

The 2nd generation cuttings that I took in late September and early October (and rooted in water) are now happily growing on a grow mat near a window and a grow bulb (the Sun Blaster “Future Harvest” 26 watt full spectrum 6400K light).

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Bush Basil plants indoors in January

My only problem has been whiteflies all over the leaves. I tried a typical whitefly remedy of 1/2 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 Tablespoon dish soap (Dr. Bonners) which is then diluted 1 1/2 teaspoon to 1 cup water. However, I could see no improvement. Then I tried sprinkling the leaves with diatomaceous earth powder. That didn’t seem to work well either. My last ditch effort was to transport wandering ladybugs from around the house to the basils. This is the only thing that has worked so far. Even just 2 or 3 seemed to do the job. I try to remember to lightly spray them every day for their drink. I could use a few more but my paltry supply at least keeps the whiteflies at bay. I will probably pot the basils up in larger pots in early February. One bonus is that I’ve had a few pruning tips to use in recipes. All in all, these basils have been a lovely kitchen mini garden in winter and hopefully will become a new row of over acheiving bush basils in the coming summer and fall.

Pawpaw – Largest Native Tree Fruit

pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-1This October, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) grove has continued to produce heavy yields, many more than we can eat. By we, I mean me and the possums. Bob is not a fan  – these people do exist! Since the possums are usually more attentive gardeners than I am (after all, they are up all night), I try to survey the ripe ones, often fallen, every evening before the possums arrive for their nightly feast. But I often “forget” in the interest of starving possums and keeping the kitchen paw paw piles at a reasonable level. pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-3

I love to eat them fresh, which means within 2-4 days, but do freeze some for winter smoothies. Their flesh is generous, thick, creamy, and incomparable to any other fruit, not too sweet, but certainly not tart or sour, but rich with flavors indescribable but akin to butterscotch, bananna, and mango – though deeper and more profound. They freeze well, and keep frozen till the next harvest, but their taste is changed from the fresh experience. These are tough but delicate trees after all, going all the way back to the fossil era, when there were no freezers – they just don’t understand the concept. But I still force them into the modern age, and freeze them to make up smoothies with pineapple, papaya, and vanilla as companions. The base can be milk, nut milk, or a citrus juice. Or anything else you may come up with. pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-2

For many more recipes, attend the Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio, where I intend to go next year, September 15-17 (2017).  Find out more at Ohiopawpawfest.com. I’m hoping to come back with many recipes, such as perhaps a pawpaw salsa, which sounds intriguing. And maybe, pawpaw’s unique flavor could make some exquisite pairings with rare spices and Chinese tonic herbs – ashwagandha? There seems to be much to explore with this forgotten but rising fruit. Also available on the net is The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook by Sarah Bir, with 12 recipes, such as pawpaw gelato, pawpaw cornbread, and pawpaw pudding, which she says tastes like pumpkin pie. Interesting! Her website is Sausagetarian.com. And she has an article on pawpaws at Pastemagazine.com titled:  “5 Ways to Get Your Pawpaws On This Season“.

If you happen to be a nutrition nut like I am, you may be interested to know that pawpaw fruits are very nutritious, being especially high in potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, phosphorus, iron, and niacin. These values are substantially higher than our most common fruits:  banana, apple, and orange. Their amino acid profile is mostly higher also. See Pawpaw.kysu.edu. For fiber, a very small pawpaw (3.5 oz.) has 2.6 grams of fiber or 10% of your daily requirement.

Even more than nutrition, the pawpaw tree has medicinal properties. The leaves, bark, and twigs are used to treat cancer, one of the most difficult tasks for any plant. They contain compounds called acetogenins which modulate the production of ATP in the mitochondria, the energy producer of the cell and which also regulates cell division. Pawpaw twigs also enhance digestive health and help eliminate parasites. The fruits contain papain, which helps with digestion, may improve skin, and supports healthy blood sugar levels. The twigs should be harvested when “biologically active”, which would be in May, just before the tree leafs out. Pawpaws are late to leaf out, putting out flowers first, so there would be no spring rush. Since I just discovered twig benefits in my latest research, I definitely plan to harvest some next spring. I plan to try a twig tea as a pesticide spray on my apple trees as well. For more information and stories relating cancer cures, see herbs77.com. For more on the research on acetogenins, see pawpawresearch.com.

If  you are thinking of growing pawpaw trees, I have found that they love the heat and humidity of the Midwest and Michigan, where I live at about latitude 43, which could be their northern most range (before global warming!).They are also hardy to zone 5 and -25 degrees. They have taproots, which seem to protect them from drought, once they are a few years old, and bring up deep nutrients. Probably because of their perfect adaptability, I have experienced no pest or disease problems in my 20 or so years of growing them. Mine are at the edge of the woods, yet in the sun, in a lower area relative to the rest of our acre, but not in wet soil. I haven’t fertilized them either except for some Azomite minerals ocassionally. They are pollinated by flies and beetles – I haven’t noticed the beetles, but I never thought I would be glad to see flies. Mine are located along a deer path – and we have rabbits, but neither are the least interested! These trees are by far my favorite fruit producer. So easy, so beautiful with their tropical leaves, and so nutritious!  pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-4

PS My varieties are Taylor and Sunflower (which I can’t tell apart) and have formed producing groves. RaintreeNursery.com has 8 or 9 varieties for sale.

 

 

Edible Garden Plants That Grow Themselves (Almost)

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With a new cat to take care of, it’s a good thing that there are at least some plants that come close to growing themselves. Of course, I’m not including my extensive collection of invasives – those have death warrants, but I have a short list of plants that have a valuable edible reward for non-work. They are the ones I will always grow, since they are also delicious. This post will describe my aloes, and subsequent posts will include paw paws, basil, garlic, and daikon radish.

After starting out growing the most common aloe, Aloe vera, a very delicate aloe, I am now growing Aloe ferox or Cape aloe, originally from South Africa. _mg_6844The Aloe veras had a hard time adjusting to outdoor weather, especially to any sun at all, and I do like to clean up my indoor gardens in the spring and place many outdoors for the summer. The Aloe ferox is a larger, chunky aloe, which takes moves outdoors here in Michigan in stride. This variety, having larger leaves, also produces more gel. The Egyptians called aloe the herb of immortality because of the gel which is both antibacterial and antifungal. It is also soothing and healing for sunburns. I also like to use it in smoothies because it contains polysaccharides or complex sugars for sustained energy.

StrictlyMedicinalSeeds.com has a long list of available aloe plants of all kinds. Along with the Aloe ferox, I ordered a couple others, which are more like tree aloes. _mg_7063It will be interesting to see how tall they eventually grow (or not). I haven’t used these in smoothies, but they are fun to watch grow (so far). Richo Cech of Strictly Medicinal Seeds writes that “the leaf mucilage (gel) has a cooling and healing influence – the gel of Cape aloe is very similar to Aloe vera and may be used interchangably for it.” Dr. Group of the website Globalhealingcenter.com has an article on many other species of aloe titled, “Health Benefits of 13 Species of Aloe”.

Aloes are easy to grow, requiring only fast draining soil, sparse watering, and fertilizing only once per year. I simply start with my basic soil recipe, which is equal parts spaghnum peat (moistened), compost or worm castings, and expanded shale (or perlite) and add more expanded shale,perlite, or pumice –  about another one third. I like to place pea gravel around the aloe as a mulch (and it makes it more attractive). I have them dotted around the house, looking like starfish on the ocean floor, and I’m sure by spring, there will be many more “pups” to remove and replant in their own pots. Thank goodness for all the neat pots at Goodwill!

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Last Days of Fall Color Along Lake Michigan

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Is This Gardening?

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In late August, as I was gardening, I heard what could be described as cat chatter from the nearby woods. It strangely had the rythm and cadence of speech, with an overall insistent effect, as if asking for or even demanding help and friendship.  Over the grassy-run-1next few days, I caught glimpses of the cat hunting and hiding under the cascading japanese maples. Soon I started feeding the feminine cat, becoming concerned if she wasn’t on time for her meals, which she usually was.

Over the weeks, she wove herself into my gardening, delighting me when I looked up and saw her running toward me full speed down a grassy expanse,
sleeping on a log,coco-1-2 and dancing down a newly filled hillside. dirt-on-hillside-1
Why didn’t I see the grass that way before, or notice that the logs looked like a beautiful bed, or comprehend the delightful quality of the bare earth on the hillside that slid just enough to make a running footprint exciting?

This small spirit provided grace and movement to the garden, causing my eyes to wander and follow her traceries in a soothing and rythmic way. This was Eden-
like, this was the ancient Kashmir, garden cradle of the world, gladly celebrating life without limit.

But there was a limit. As fall approached and nights got longer and cooler, I realized that this garden cat, named Koko early on, would face brutal Michigan weather and need protection. The only question was how to “snatch” her into the house, because, though she loved to be petted, she was wary of our doorway. So we did the almost unthinkable, we lured her into a cage to eat and quietly closed the latch. I’m not sure who was more distressed, she or I, but we made it into under-cocos-tree-1the house, then bedroom, where I quickly opened the door. One nano second later, she was under the bed. She was now safe, but how does a bed compare to a Japanese maple? She was too quiet, running exuberant legs, now tucked defensively under her.

It so happened I was reading an article the next day by Nyla Khan, “A Walk Down Memory Lane:  Kashmir and Its Environs” describing her feelings on leaving Kashmir for school in Delhi. Her feelings gave voice to what any being, human or animal, must feel after being taken away from a garden. Here is an excerpt:

“I always carried Kashmir inside me,
wherever I went:  the verdure, the aromas, the majestic panorama…….became an integral part of my being. While in New Delhi…..I experienced despair at the disintegration of familian spaces….I traveled to Kashmir for my summer vacations with an insatiate hunger for home and hearth, and an excitement that knew no bounds. After the sweltering heat of Delhi, the nippy air of Kashmir in the months of May and June, made aromatic by the swathes of dahlias and gladioli, swaying to the sounds of birds and crickets, susurrating through the fluttering leaves was a pleasure to my young mind and fluttering heart.”1024px-gustav_klimt_046

My heart was fluttering too as I read this. Seeing a garden as Kashmir-like and wanting to make it more so, and missing something much much earlier, much more primal, something encoded in the far reaches of our DNA, of perfect unity with nature and all that would entail. But in winter Kashimir fades, gardens fade, till they become Gustav Klimt-like atmospheric auras we and they wear like clothing, till they merge again with the verdant auras of spring.

Selecting Basil

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Coco cat with flowering basil, October 2

I have grown many varieties of basil over the years, from the tall Genovese to lemon and purple basils. However I began to notice that the larger basils deteriorated at the slightest hint of cool weather and shorter days in September. If I still needed to make and freeze pesto, I had to search for enough good leaves. I always grew Greek bush basil too, but considered them a novelty, until I read a chef’s five star review of the bush basils over all others, because of their more intense spicy flavor. As well as the flavor, I had noticed that the bush basils seemed more rugged, easier to grow, and lasted later in the fall. The next year, I decided to grow only the bush basils and was able to put in a dozen because of their small size.

That year, I noticed some seedling variations that were quite amazing. One was much bigger than the others, more vigorous, and much later to go to seed. After watching it last and last into October before finally biting the dust, I realized it would be worth propagating (oops, too late!). The next year, 2015, I again planted a dozen or so bush basils from the same seed packet (I save them in the freezer). They were called “Basil, Greek Yevani” organic seed from Botanical Interests, hoping more such variations would turn up. Luckily, there were again a couple of great ones. This time, I rooted 5 cuttings in water in September, to winter over in the house.

But keeping the warmth loving basils alive all winter in our cool Michigan house seemed doubtful. I figured my only chance was to use my seed starting mat which maintains about an 86 degree temperature. I also put them near a south facing window, as if south meant anything in the dead of winter. But I did everything I could think of. I also used some additional light from a bulb in a desk lamp called Sun Blaster 26 watt 6400 K  I found on Amazon. Toward spring, I lost 2, but 3 survived. I planted them out in late May and they took off in a hurry forming huge, not so diminutive, bush basil plants. I planted tomatoes on their south side, which soon grew to 6 feet, shading them from August onward. That didn’t seem to faze them. We  love the pesto they make. My husband is not normally a pesto fan, but raved about this. I did use pine nuts (Trader Joe’s), and I like the recipe called “I Am Graceful Hemp Seed Pesto” from my tried and true “I Am Grateful” book by Terces Engelhart with Orchid from Cafe Gratitude.

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Selected basils on October 2

 

I am now back to taking cuttings from these and rooting them in water for next summer. I’ll use the same system again, but may add my new and improved foliar feed with sea-90, BioAg’s Ful-Power (fulvic acid), General Organic’s BioWeed and BioMarine. Just to make sure the science (we know about) is there, I’ll also now use BioAg’s VAM to inoculate the roots with mycorrhizae. I’m hoping all five make it, (but do I really need 5?).

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‘Wonderful’ selected basil on left with unselected basil ‘Slim Pickins’ on right

My Inscrutible Grape Vines

grapes-2Last winter my husband suggested I should prune the grapes. We have two Swenson Red variety vines. He may as well have suggested I hike across the Sahara Desert. I just started to sweat. Because plants can be intimidating, like a tennis partner who is much much better. In fact, I can only say, like Gaël Monfils at the US Open Tennis Tournamengrapes-1t, when he stopped to tie his shoe in the middle of a point, “I get lost”. If you’ve ever seen an unpruned grape vine, you would agree. However, our laisez-faire approach has produced actual grapes, so much so that we felt compelled to purchase a juicer, so as not to waste them.

I may be ahead in this game, but the grapes may win the match, since pruning may be required to save the yard and house. (I’ve seen what untamed plants can do.) However, I’ve been training for an event like this, by deadheading phlox and other sporting activities. Because plants are like tennis partners, constantly hitting back balls I have to run down, making gardening an endurance sport. Plants only look stationary – they are very active even without visible movement – ask any gardener – when you turn around, they always look different. People may move, but at least they still look the same. (I guess friends would be shocked if I “matured in 60 days”.)

But I will continue to run down flying grapes and other startling occurences resembling plant tennis. And if I ever really learn to prune grapes, I will hastily and happily write it all down.