Small space gardening

Posts tagged ‘Utilizing side yards’

How to Grow and Dry Herbs

If you’re a newcomer to herb planting and harvesting, here are some quick tips to get you off to a good start. This post is specifically about basil, but the process would be the same for many of the most commonly grown herbs.

Meet my basil plants that live on the south side of my house. They replaced some ailing spirea bushes, and look right at home among my other foundation plantings. The sun there is brutal, but they appear to be happy and well-adjusted because they’re getting the required six to eight hours of sun per day. The photo is actually of two plants, planted a foot or two apart that have mingled together beautifully.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If you’re hoping to plant your herbs in a tiny space or a small pot, I hate to burst your bubble, but you might want to re-think that idea. Basil, as well as most herbs, when given enough room to mature will grow to the equivalent of a medium-sized bush.

I have a tiny suburban yard, so I have to get creative and be practical with my limited space. I like to use my little slice of the planet for plantings that are not only beautiful but edible too. There’s no reason why basil can’t be used as a foundation planting.

Many people have the standard evergreens, spireas, boxwood and such around their foundations, but here you can see from left to right are a tomato plant, a barberry bush, and some basil instead. Not pictured, to the left of the tomato plant are pickling cucumbers that grow up onto a trellis to save space, and to hide an ugly air conditioning unit.

 How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Another view from left to right shows barberry, basil, burning bush, onions and peas (in the upper right). Also planted in this area are beets, a pepper plant and some red cabbage. All of this in a tiny side yard!

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

OK, back to the herbs. The best time to harvest herbs such as basil and oregano, is before they flower. Once they flower, it takes a little more time to prepare them because the blooms need to be snipped off. But it’s not a big deal to cut the flowers off with a pair of scissors, and the herbs will still taste just fine. If you look closely at the top of the stem in this photo, you can see there are no flowers forming yet.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

When the flowers form, it’ll be obvious because they’ll look like…well…flowers. Basil blooms can be pinkish/purple or white.

 How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Basil can be harvested in the spring in zone 5. The stems can be cut at the ground, and new ones will grow right back. If harvested in fall, basil will return in the spring.

After it’s cut, I remove any grass, weeds or critters that may be mixed in, and then give the stems an extra shake for good measure. I don’t use any chemicals on my basil since nothing insect-wise or disease-wise ever seems to bother it. That being said, I don’t soak the leaves in water before I dry it. Mother Nature’s rain keeps the basil clean enough for me, and a little dirt (protein) never hurt anybody anyway. (I do inspect it for dirt, but it seems a little counterproductive to me to unnecessarily wet down something that’s supposed to be drying out.)

If you cut a large amount of basil, and lay the stems in a ginormous pile, you won’t live long enough to see them dry out because, yes, it’ll take that long. I’ve also heard that they can mold if they take too long to dry, but I’ve never had that issue. I spread them thinly on a cookie sheet for drying.

A more efficient way to dry herbs is to tie the cut ends together, and hang them in small bunches so the air can circulate on all sides. I don’t have a good spot for hanging herbs, but I wish I did so I could be all glamorous like Martha Stewart.

Drying them in the sun is a no-no because they’ll fade and lose their flavor. I’ve read that you can dry them in the oven, but why? I prefer to go au naturale.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Within 24 hours, you can see in the photo they’ve wilted quite a bit, but they’ve got a long way to go. I flip the stems over, and fluff them up often so the bottom leaves will be exposed to the air too.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s the basil after two weeks of drying time. You’ll know it’s ready when the leaves crumble when you rub them between your fingers–anywhere from two to four weeks. You may be wondering if a person might get tired of having a pile of wilted leaves on their kitchen counter for weeks. The answer is yes. But I do it anyway in hopes of being a tiny bit Martha-glamorous, a little more healthy and a few dollars richer.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

To strip the leaves, I hold the cut end of the stem, and pull my fingers down the stem to the tip and the leaves come right off. If you try to strip them by going the other direction, the small branches can prick your fingers. I strip them directly into my food processor bowl.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s what’s left when I’m finished. The stems go into the compost pile or my worm-composting bin.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Now the leaves are ready to be chopped. Some people believe they have more flavor if left whole while stored, and that they should be crushed when you need to use them. I’m thinking a shriveled up leaf is going to have the same amount of flavor whether whole or chopped, but more importantly, they take up much less room in if they’re chopped. You be the judge.

 How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Here’s the finished product. Being a sort-of-hoarder, I’ve got a decent stash of spice containers that I save for storing my own dried herbs. It’s nice to have the containers if you’re giving your basil to friends too. If you put it in a Ziplock bag, your herbs could be mistaken for an illegal drug and you could find your little Martha-self in the slammer (just like Martha, in fact). Food for thought.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

As was mentioned earlier, the leaves shrink up considerably after they dry, and after they’re put through the food processor, they really shrink. So although you may cut several stems thinking that you’re going to end up with a crap-load of basil, keep in mind that you’ll probably be surprised when your crap-load of basil does not end up being a crap-load of basil at all. (I like the word “crap-load”). Just giving you a heads up on that.

And here’s my home-grown basil. I’m good to go until next year.

  How to Grow and Dry Herbs / MyUrbanGardenOasis

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

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Mid-March Gardening in Zone 5 and My Garlic Surprise

Today is the officially the first day of spring, so I thought it fitting to publish a new post today. Allow me show you what’s coming to life in my zone 5 tiny city garden, and what types of veggies can be planted now. If your yard is ho-hum, and you need some motivation to get planting, I hope this post works for you.

My beautiful crocuses are blooming, and they’re the first sign of spring in my yard. I planted them a couple of years ago because by the time March rolls around, I’m in desperate need of a reminder that nice weather is on it’s way. I was also looking for a colorful header for my post, and now my little bursts of color are the star photo. Crocuses will make their way through the ground so early in the spring that they will even bloom through the snow. My little beauties have multiplied, and I’ll probably start moving them around to other areas of my yard this year. I’ll do that in the fall.

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In addition to the crocuses, here are other plants waking up from their long winter naps. In just a week, my miniature rose-bush went from this…

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To this…

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My clematis went from this…

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To this…

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My chives from this…

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To this…

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Some other pretties in my yard–

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These onions are sprouting from last year!

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My cilantro is going gangbusters. I tried planting cilantro two different times in past years because at my house, we love to make fresh Pico De Gallo. I was 0 for 2 on that deal. Then last year it just took off, and has been re-seeding ever since. Cilantro is a cool weather crop that comes up in the early spring, bolts and goes bad in the heat of the summer and then re-seeds again for a beautiful fall crop when the tomatoes are ready. What an incredible combination! When the cilantro produces its tiny, tan, ball-shaped seeds (coriander), I rub them off the stems, and let them drop to the ground and the cycle continues. I guess sometimes persistence pays off! I probably should thin out these plants so they’re not so crowded. Too much togetherness isn’t a good thing in the plant world!

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Before we get into what to plant in mid to late March, let me show you what my last major outdoor project at this house is–hopefully. Since our weather has been unseasonably warm, we were able to complete it last night at 9:00 p.m. in the dark. For three years, I’ve wanted to get rid of the river rock on the south side of my home so I can substitute it with mulch. I’ve wanted to plant veggies in with my landscaping in that sideyard where the sun is best, but haven’t been able to do it with the rocks in the way.

My friend, John, came over and worked like a mad-man for eight hours scooping and hauling 40 feet of 4” to 6” deep rock from my side yard. I am a happy little gardener now, and can plant to my heart’s content. Almost. I really have to work the soil because it’s so compacted from all the rock, and is mostly clay, but that’ll happen over time. It doesn’t look great yet, but it will when my plantings grow to fill it in. My goal is to build a trellis or two for cucumbers or green beans to grow on, but we’ll see how that goes later. Here are before and “during” pictures. I’ll be showing after pictures in another post later in the season. In case you’re wondering, I have such long downspouts because I have them directed to empty near some new trees I planted.

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My other project was hauling 10 large bags of rabbit manure in my little economy car for my garden. I must tell you it was not a pleasant ride home. Peeeeeeyooouuuuu! I put poo on everything. I spread it in my flower beds, around my birch trees and in my garden plot. It’ll sit for two months until I get ready to plant my main vegetable garden, and then I’ll work it into the soil, and hope for a bumper crop!

You can Google the benefits of rabbit manure if you like. I read it’s the best manure because it’s high in nitrogen. It’s not too acidic either so you don’t have to let it set a year before you use it like you do with other manures. I’m sure my neighbors weren’t too happy about the aroma after I spread it around the yard, but the smell diminished substantially after just one day. They’ll be glad they endured it when I offer them some tomatoes, and what’s wrong with bringing some of the country to the city anyway? (The Green Acres theme song is playing in my head right now.) Here’s my freshly “manured” garden plot.

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Now onward and upward with what you can plant this early in zone 5. I planted lettuce last week. I love the mixed varieties, and plant them every year. The mix I plant is called “Mesclun”, and it has several different shapes and colors of leaf lettuce all in one seed packet. I’m so glad someone had the idea to mix them so I don’t have to buy several different kinds. Love it!

It’s nice to buy store-bought heads of lettuce, and mix in home-grown varieties with it for a gorgeous, colorful salad. I don’t care for the taste of leaf lettuce by itself, but love it mixed with store-bought. Lettuce is a cool-weather crop, and will wilt and bolt in the heat of the summer, but grows well in zone 5 in the spring and in the fall. Vegetables that bolt will have a bitter taste to them, so it’s a good idea to just pull the plants out and throw them in the compost pile. This year with the Central Illinois mild winter, I was harvesting lettuce and other crops well into December. I was glad I took the time to plant a fall crop in late summer. As you can see if you look closely, my lettuce has germinated already.

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For a tiny garden, I have to show you the best garden tool ever. It’s perfect for planting tiny rows of seeds, and the blade is only about 2” wide. I bought this one at an estate sale for a couple bucks, and it’s my favorite.

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I just planted my onion sets. The ones I had were a couple of years old and were a bit “crispy”, but I tried planting some anyway because there was still a hint of green in the centers. I often use leftover seeds from prior years, and they grow just fine. The germination rate is supposed to decline after a year or two, but I’ve never noticed any difference.

The onions should sprout pretty quickly so I’ll know soon if planting crispy onion sets was a good idea or not. Onions are one of those vegetables that I don’t use my garden plot for. I tuck them in the soil all over the place—anywhere there’s a tiny space in the sun. I plant them in between bushes, strawberry plants, ornamentals and in with my row of lettuce. As soon as I pick a few, I plant a few more so I have them all summer, fall and sometimes into winter. When harvesting, you can pull them out by the roots or chop them off and watch them regrow! Often they will resprout in the spring if you left some in the ground from the summer before.

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I’m growing cabbage for the first time this year, and am planting a smaller variety called “Red Express” cabbage. I’m planting these where I just removed my landscaping rocks, so I’m not sure how well they’ll do. I dug down several inches to loosen up the soil, brought in some soil from my garden plot to mix with it, and then put down a fine layer of store-bought garden soil that I had leftover from last year. Then I scattered a few seeds around, and put more of the store-bought garden soil on top of them. They are only supposed to be buried 1/8th of an inch deep; so again, I wanted fine soil so they could push their way through it. Then I lightly pack the soil over them.

I put some chicken wire around them to keep the rabbits away, and gave them a drink. I’m loving rabbit poo in my garden, but not the actual rabbits! Now it’s a wait-and-see game. I always plant extra seeds, and then thin them out. In this case, I have a friend, Cinny, who’s planting a garden, and I’ll offer her some of the seedlings if they grow. She’s a veggie lover too. She went with me on my manure adventure, and filled her car with poo too so she’s a rabbit poo newby just like me.

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I would like to take a moment to explain my garlic clove discovery. I’ve tried planting garlic cloves before, and never had much luck with them. The heads were so small that preparing a clove for cooking was like performing microsurgery. I went on the internet for information on growing it, but could only find information on planting it in the fall, and leaving it in the ground over the winter. Anyone who lives in zone 5 would reason that you don’t plant something like garlic in the fall intending to leave it in the ground over the winter and expecting a crop come spring. Not with the snow and sub-zero temps.

Last spring I planted garlic again, determined to give it another try, and never did harvest it. The shoots shriveled up, and I forgot about them. Low and behold, this spring I have sprouts all over my planting areas where I tucked a clove in the ground last spring. I saw the sprouts, and back to Google I went. I read that for those of us in zone 5, we really are supposed to plant garlic in the fall, and harvest the following spring. So for all of you zone 5 garlic lovers, I’ll remind you in the fall to plant your garlic! You can bet I’ll be planting it again too. I have no guarantees of how my garlic will turn out after being in the ground all last spring, summer, fall and winter, but judging by the tops, they’re looking pretty good. I’ll keep you posted on how they turn out. Oh, and the furry legs belong to my dog, Conner.

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So today I planted peas, radishes and spinach.

Since peas need something to grow up on, I made a simple fence that I use every year just for them. I buy the edible pod varieties of peas so I can either pick them early and use them as a stir fry ingredient or wait until they mature and use the shelled peas in lettuce salads. Peas will die in the heat of the summer so you need to plant them now, and again in August if you’d like a second crop. You have to be gentle when you pull the pods off the vines or you’ll pull the whole vine out by the roots or damage it. Here’s the fence I grow my peas on. Again, I surround these with chicken wire.

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Here are before and afters of the area. My heart goes pitter-pat every time I see a photo with my rocks out of the way.

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I plant spinach and radishes in these areas sectioned off by some scraps of bamboo. I would like to hope that sectioning my veggies off with bamboo would keep people from walking in that area, but I had two people, who shall remain nameless, walk in my lettuce after I planted it. You know who you are, and I forgive you.

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Both spinach and radish seeds are pretty small so, as I did with my cabbage, I sprinkle some store-bought soil on the ground, sprinkle my seeds, and then cover them again with store-bought soil. Then I gently pack the soil, and water the area. The problem I find with just putting tiny seeds directly into garden soil is that they can fall in between the small clumps, and not have good soil contact. This is especially true when planting early crops because the ground is often still damp, and it’s hard to get rid of the clumps in order to plant correctly. Since peas are a larger seed, for example, I just put them directly into the garden soil, and they should be fine.

Now you’re up to date on what you can be planting in zone 5. Now is also the time to plant potatoes, rhubarb and leeks. Don’t wait too long for these types of veggies or they’ll fry in the hot sun just when they start to produce for you. Or if you just don’t get them planted in time, you can always plant them in August, and you can enjoy a wonderful fall crop.

I hope you’ll hit the “follow” button in your browser bar and follow my garden through the seasons!

If you have an interest in Redesign, please feel free to check my other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on my website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

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