While we have grown vegetables in the past, starting them from seed is a new experience for us. I have been trying to do everything right, with the knowledge that if our seeds fail, it’s not too late to buy some plants. In mid-March, we planted tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers in peat pots. The tomatoes have recently grown big enough to thin and transplant, and the others are well on their way. I planted three varieties of tomatoes (two cherry and one heirloom) and chose two of each to transplant into plastic containers. They will stay here until they are big enough to transplant again into large pots.
The miniature tomato leaves are so cute.
At the end of March I planted some herbs, including basil, mint, and catnip. I love how tiny the mint seedlings are–they’re practically microscopic!
Last weekend I planted another tray of peat pots with lettuces, beets, and spinach. It is amazing how these tiny little seeds (if all goes well) will provide us with delicious vegetables. Isn’t nature wonderful?
The weather is getting cooler and it is time to harvest my herbs before the first frost. I made a last batch of pesto with all the remaining basil and harvested about half of the mint for tea. I am very impatient, so I opted to oven-dry the leaves.
First I rinsed the branches in the sink to get rid of any dirt and insects. Then I spent quite a bit of time picking off the good leaves, which I washed again, put in the salad spinner, and then laid out on a clean dish towel to dry a bit more.
While they were drying, I preheated the oven to 180° and then put in the leaves on a cookie sheet, propping the door with the wooden handle of a corkscrew (I read that I should use a wooden spoon for this, but I couldn’t find one–I don’t know what it says about our house that it is easier to find a wooden corkscrew than a wooden spoon). It took about an hour for the leaves to dry completely.
The result was pretty good, but not quite as flavorful as I’d hoped. Next time I will try a slightly cooler oven to see if that improves the flavor.
The growing season is drawing to an end and it is time to preserve some of my beautiful herbs. The best way I know to preserve basil is to make pesto. I took about half of the remaining basil from the garden and removed the best leaves, which gave me about three cups of basil.
I used the same recipe as last time, but I think I added too many pine nuts, as it turned out nuttier than before. I spooned the finished pesto into an ice cube tray and covered it with a thin layer of olive oil. I added some fresh rosemary to some of the empty slots in the tray and covered it with a generous amount of olive oil, then popped it into the freezer.
The result? Beautiful cubes of frozen oil and herbs.
I took them out of the tray and put them into plastic bags in the freezer. When I want pesto, I can add a cube or two to hot pasta. I’m planning to stir the rosemary cubes into roasted potatoes. I made some roasted cherry tomato cubes as well and I’m looking forward to using them in pasta. They start to melt pretty quickly, so I think adding them to dishes will be no problem. I plan to preserve more of my herbs this way–I like that the cubes are a nice serving size.
The past several weeks been very hot and dry, which has taken its toll on some of the plants. I gave up on the strawberries a long time ago, but everything else is holding up fairly well. It has been two months since my first tomato harvest and there are still plenty of tomatoes and even new blossoms.
I’m ashamed to say I’ve let a lot of them go to waste because I can’t keep up with them. I’ve frozen some (just popped them into the freezer whole in a single layer, then transferred them to bags when frozen) and today I’m slow roasting some more.
There is one tiny eggplant and we will probably get at least one more. I haven’t been the best about watering this plant, which is probably why it has taken so long to get fruit.
The herbs are doing fairly well. I cut back my Italian basils significantly to remove the flowers and some yellowed leaves, and removed quite a few leaves to make pesto. I plan to make another batch of basil soon. My Thai basil looks a bit sad and I haven’t used it at all. The rosemary is fine; I don’t use it as much as I had anticipated, though. I will look into preserving it by drying or freezing soon. The mint is huge.
I haven’t used any of it–I bought it with the thought of using it to flavor water and tea, but I never think of it. I’ll need to figure out something to do with it fairly soon.
It was a small garden this year, but it turned out fairly well despite my negligence when it comes to watering.
I love, love, love classic basil pesto and I’ve been meaning to make it for quite some time. My basil plants are huge, though they suffered somewhat from the heat and lack of rain (and my forgetfulness when it comes to watering them). I used this recipe as an inspiration, though I used a food processor rather than chopping everything by hand. Firstly, I do not have a mezzaluna, and secondly, I was way too hungry and impatient to do things the old-fashioned way.
The original recipe is kind of vague, so I interpreted it using what I had on hand and by skimming a few other recipes. Here’s what I used:
about 2 cups of basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 cup freshly-grated basil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cloves of garlic
I began by toasting the pine nuts in a skillet until they began to brown. I was pretty cautious, as I’d read that they burn quickly, They turned out nicely, though. Then I added everything to the food processor.
I transferred the pesto to a small container, then covered it with olive oil.
I served it with tricolor rotini and a simple salad of chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and freshly-ground pepper.
I now see why pesto is so expensive. It takes a lot of basil! Fortunately, I have plenty more and I anticipate making as much pesto as possible before the frost kills my basil plants.
It’s hard to believe that June is halfway over–where has the time gone? We have had quite a bit of rain this year and the garden is doing beautifully. The tomatoes are getting really big, and I was happy to see a fat bumblebee buzzing among their flowers. I transplanted one of my cherry tomatoes from its too-small pot into a five-gallon fabric Smart Pot. I’ve been curious about how well these work after reading reviews on Amazon, so I ordered one to test out. We’ll see how it does. While transplanting, I discovered a few little green tomatoes on two of the plants.
The strawberries don’t seem to have grown much, but one of them has blossoms (which didn’t photograph well).
I also found a spot in the garden for the tiny eggplant from last week’s CSA share; I hope there will be enough room for it to reach full size. It has already grown a bit, as you can see by comparing the picture from the 4th of June.
The herbs are also doing well; the basil and mint are getting pretty big. Since my last garden update, I added rosemary and Thai basil to the little herb garden along with the new basil from the CSA. We should have more than enough basil soon. Everything is going well except the weed situation–I hate weeding and am hopelessly bad at it, but I’m trying to keep up so the plants will stay healthy.
Our first CSA pickup was this week. The share consisted of many leafy green things: red and green leaf lettuce, bok choy, chard, spinach, and arugula. Additionally, there were some garden plants available. I chose basil (I’ve already planted Genovese and Thai basil, but I love it so much I couldn’t turn down another) and an eggplant. I’m not sure where I’ll put it in the garden but I think I can find some room.
So far all I’ve made is a salad. I’ve been looking up recipes for the chard and bok choy–I think I’m going to learn a lot about cooking with vegetables this summer.
Oh, and while I was cleaning leaves for the salad, I found this cute little inchworm.