Of cabbages and kings!

A wannabe king?

With the inauguration nearly upon us, my mind has been thinking a lot about succession, of kings and queens, and presidents….and vegetables. “Cabbages and kings.”

Last year, I found a little trick for creating a bit more space for succession crops. Normally, I dedicate a large space for growing winter squash and pumpkins. Usually they can go in after the shallots which come out in late June/early July, but last year there weren’t many shallots in the potager, due to the wet season the year before leading to a shortage of bulbs to plant. So, as I was wandering around the potager looking for empty space for sprawling, vigorous plants, thinking “I wish there’d been more shallot space” I glanced at the thriving rows of “Candy” and “Patterson” onions. “Too bad they aren’t ready to come out,” thought I, knowing they’d be there until mid-September.

The stick (easier to look for its shadow!) marks the location of newly planted squash seeds amid the onions.

And then the light bulb moment clicked. Not all of them needed to come out! Only one or two right now, to make room for a 4″ potted pumpkin, and as it grew more could be harvested. As it turned out, the vines began creeping down the rows, and a little adjusting them between onion plants only took moments. The onions didn’t seem to mind at all, their tall leaves punctuating between the pumpkin leaves, easily finding the sun. By the time the pumpkin was really taking most of the space, nearly all the onions had fallen over and were ready to be pulled. Brilliant! That was repeated in all the other onion beds, sometimes with a potted intruder like “Butterscotch” squash and sometimes with seeds for two or three bush “Delicata” or a late summer squash. It worked like a charm, and I think being surrounded by all those onions actually helped deter some insect pests. Needless to say, this idea is now a big part of my succession planning.

And, now all those areas formerly designated as “cucurbits” (although admittedly they usually held some very early lettuces, pak choy, etc.) can now host some “real” crops for the bulk of the season. That was a good, useful lesson and I’ll be looking for even more ways to create space for succession crops this year. Areas certainly don’t have to be totally empty before new crops go in. I tuck lettuces around cabbages and broccoli in early spring, knowing that by the time the cabbages grow wide, the lettuces will be gone, so I rarely plant an entire row or patch of lettuces in the potager anymore. They just get tucked in here and there, and are harvested as other things need more space. Same with pak choy, mustard and mache. Maybe this year, I’ll try inserting a pepper plant into a carrot row every couple of feet. Carrots grow so slowly, so very slowly. I could harvest a couple baby carrots to make room initially, and then gradually harvest those closest to the pepper plants as the carrots get shaded. Same with beets, or kholrabi rather than waiting until the whole row has been harvested to replant. Oh! This is going to be fun!

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Six on Saturday: Visualization

The morning view!

Coaches of all sorts say the key to success in doing something is to first visualize yourself making that goal, catching that long pass, making that putt, and then putting in the work to make it happen. That’s where gardeners need to focus during these long weeks of winter. Visualization. Today we awoke to new snow, and while it’s indeed beautiful it’s a reminder that our garden season and signs of spring are still in the distance. So, in the meantime, I’m visualizing for Six on Saturday.

The Front Island, January 16, 2021

1) The Front Island is the first thing most visitors see (although when we will again have visitors is still in question.) I’m visualizing those forsythia in full bloom, the myriad of daffodils of many, many varieties, and the newly added blue alliums.

The Front Garden.

2) The “Cantaloupe” rudbeckia that appreciates the wire ring will be a long time coming, but the hundreds of crocus and dwarf iris will be among the first to appear, followed by over 200 tulips. Oooh! Those luscious colors. Just thinking about them makes me feel warmer.

Will they return?

3) Under my beloved elder, are the winter aconites that made their first appearance last spring still alive and growing? Or, did watering the coleus that grew over them all summer do them in? I’m visualizing them as spreading roots, popping through the soil and snow, and opening their golden flowers….soon!

I love the furry, antler-like branches of sumac in winter.

4) The area under the golden sumac was cleared last fall, and for my first-time-ever snowdrops were planted. I don’t know why I’ve been so slow in planting snowdrops. Maybe because I’m drawn to more colorful plants, but if they bloom before the crocus, I’ll be delighted. Maybe they are blooming, and I just can see the white petals against the white snow????? Okay, visualizing only goes so far.

5) The potager looks a little forlorn right now. The only green are the Lady Cottage’s shutters and porch posts. But if we pulled on our boots and trudged out there, we could peek in the berry boxes covered in plastic, and see robust spinach, carrots and leeks. And, under multiple layers of row cover, are some lettuces that are still looking good. Can you visualize that?

Even the nutcracker is impressed!

And finally 6) even though they aren’t in colorful, mouth-watering, seductive photo packaging, I have no trouble at all visualizing the magical seeds inside that will transform into tiny green shoots and eventually gorgeous produce. Want to know what’s in those plain (what would you expect from an Amish family business?) white envelopes? French Garden beans, French Horticulture beans, Fordhook lima beans, Scarlet Nantes carrots, Quickstar Kohlrabi, Lettuces “Marvel of the Four Seasons,” “New York 12,” “Rouge de Hiver”; Cipollini; Parsnip All American; peas “Green Arrow,” Penelope,” and “Spring.” Spinach “Bloomsdale” and finally, Squash “Jaune et Verte.”

To see lots more garden Six on Saturday posts…maybe some that actually show some plants!…visit The Propagator, who thought up this whole idea of Sixes.

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Time well spent!

Mapping out the succession plantings.

I spent nearly the entire day yesterday doing only two things! The first was attempting to get an appointment for a Covid vaccination, since our governor announced that those 70 years and older could now apply. The first attempt was made on the official website, but the screen said it would be a 90 minute wait. Obviously, I was not the only Hoosier who had heard the news. So, the official telephone number was called and after a brief message, the “wait” music began. That was about 11:30a.m.

While the short, soothing but somewhat monotonous theme repeated and repeated, I began mapping out succession plantings. This is something new for me. Normally I just make a spring map and a late summer map for fall plantings. But, like may of you may be doing, I’ve been watching gardening videos (everything from flower farming to growing sprouts and garden design) and recently watched a Huw Richard’s You Tube on doing a monthly map. Huw is not only easy on the eyes, but has some really good gardening tips, like his “17 hacks” videos. He made some good points on the usefulness of a monthly map, so I thought I’d give it a go. I may be old, but I’m not too old to see value in learning something that might be helpful.

I ended up doing one for March-April and one for May-June, because it’s mostly just crops going in and not much coming out entirely during that period. (And being the frugal person I am, I’m not wasting graph paper!) Also, I didn’t put the job notes on the left as Huw does, because I prefer using my tried and true 3-ring notebook for that. That’s as far as I got because as 2:30, the music suddenly stopped and I grabbed my phone, expecting to finally hear a human voice. Sadly, the music stopped because I’d lost the connection. Actually, I’d been surprised to stay connected that long, because normally out here in the country I lose a call much, much quicker. Back to the computer, which indicated only a 45 minute wait this time.

When connected, the process was actually quite easy, except for the fact that ALL of the available slots for the foreseeable future were already filled in our county! So, I clicked on the neighboring county and finally was able to book an appointment in February in Muncie. Then I began the process again for my mother, but again all the slots in her county were filled (she lives a bit over an hour away from me.) I finally found an opening in a county adjoining hers, and maybe because she’s 95 her appointment is next week! Having those appointments booked, I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to my maps, but by then it was nearly 5 o’clock and the light was getting too dim, even though the Christmas tree lights clicked on at 5.

Yes, our tree is still up and the nutcrackers are still out, and the lit garlands on the potager’s front fence still click on at 6 p.m. The world is a gloomy, grim place right now, and I need all the colored lights and silly faces (that’s the nutcrackers, not D) I can get. I’m leaving everything up until after my birthday. AND, I’m lighting my cheerful little German smokers whenever I want to. I may just keep them out till spring!

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First seeds sown indoors in 2021!

The first indoor seeding for 2021! Doesn’t look like much now, but it’s filled with magic!

Despite my resolve to put off starting seeds indoors, thus avoiding daily trudges up and down stairs, I suddenly realized that if I want blooms this year, the lisianthus must be seeded. I’ve only tried growing it once before, with only minimal success. It’s an extremely slow-growing crop that first of all may take 20 days to just germinate, and then takes months from seeding to even reach a transplanting to small pot stage. As a crop, it just didn’t fit into my commercial greenhouse production (temperatures, time, space) well enough to be profitable and by the time it finally looked presentable enough for customers, the main buying season had long passed. However, now that I’m just growing plants and flowers for my own enjoyment and not profit, the catalog photos tempted me to give it another go. Plus one of my goals this year is to actually make at least a weekly bouquet from my rather neglected Cutting Garden and lisianthus is an absolutely gorgeous, VERY long-lasting cut flower.

Lisianthus “Super Magic Apricot,” a beauty worth climbing up and down the stairs for!

Of course, once that course was set, there might as well be a full flat of seeds sown, rather than just one row, to help justify plugging in the heating mat. So the seed box and “first seeding” list was carried downstairs, along with the “Indoor Seeding Journal.” Some years, I’ve started seeds as early as November, and one year because of travels, as late as mid-February. This year, the end of January or first of February had been the plan, but the seed-starting bug has bit and the 2021 season is officially launched!

Added to the flat were 1) collected seeds of one of my very favorite perennials, “Gold Moss” feverfew. More about it in an upcoming post. 2) Shasta daisy “Silver Princess,” because I found an old packet of seed in the bottom of a box and want to see if it’s good! 3) Sweet fennel, another outdated packet so if it works, great! If not, there’s plenty of time to plant fresher seed. 4) Hollyhock “White,” saved seed from the one that bloomed under the Lady Cottage windowbox last summer. I need more for the Addition Garden! 5) Gaillardia “Arizona Sun,” again saved seed. I love this plant because it blooms from early summer through to frost if I clip off those cute seed balls. However, it seems to be a short-lived perennial only lasting about 3 years, so I always need to start more. Surprisingly, it does seem to come “true” from saved seed, as I’ve done this for several years. With an early start like this, it will bloom yet this year. 6) Lavender “Blue Spear” finishes up the flat, the seeds having just arrived in the mail in timely fashion!

The feverfew and shasta require light to germinate, so they were planted at one end and a light placed nearby. The rest of the seeds were covered. And suddenly, I find myself looking forward to making that trip downstairs to look for signs of life!

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Winter seeding

“Winter seeding” has become the descriptive for a seeding technique that I’ve done for decades, but didn’t use that exact term. It’s basically just sowing seeds in a container and placing the container outdoors where the seeds are exposed to the elements over an extended period, so that they freeze, then thaw, then freeze again repeatedly. This stratifies the seeds so that they can germinate at the appropriate time. This procedure works only for seeds that would normally be outdoors during freezing weather, not for seeds of tender, frost sensitive plants so one mustn’t use this technique for basil, petunias, or other seeds that may die if frozen after they become moist.

A jug cut and filled with at least 4″ of good potting soil. Drainage holes are a must!

I’ve done winter seeding in all types of containers, from wooden boxes to old plastic tubs, recycled cottage cheese plastics, and old buckets with holes in the bottom. Holes in the bottom is a key to success for any planting container because drainage is a must. If your container does not have holes, make some! In recent years recycled gallon jugs have become the container of choice, partly because they are readily available but mostly because they are light weight, transmit light fairly well, hold up to the weather, can be closed or opened easily for temperature and moisture control, and are somewhat critter resistant. Now that I’m not growing commercially, they also are a good size for growing just a few plants. I like 4″ of soil at least, because there will be several plants in a small space, and they will be in the jug for an extended period so roots need to be able to go deep.

Seeding is done, jugs are taped shut and loaded into a crate, ready to go to the potager.

I leave the caps on for the first few days. The potting soil was moist, and the seeds need to absorb that moisture. Most seeds were covered with a bit of soil, but some like the Shasta daisy need light to germinate, so they aren’t covered. That means they could dry out quickly if the cap were off. Be sure to check germination requirements for light/darkness when seeding. I’ll keep an eye on them with a look every couple of days. If we get a bright sunny day, with higher than normal temps, I’ll take the caps off during the day so the seeds won’t bake, and put them back on before night. Since the jugs aren’t taped all around the cut, there is still a bit of air movement, which is a good thing. As soon as I see any germination, the caps will come off and stay off unless it’s going down to single digits F. The crate of jugs was moved to the berry box over an empty raised bed in the potager. There is no plastic on this berry box, so the jugs are open to the elements.

Winter seeded: Primula “Oriental Sunrise,” Lupine “Gallery Blue,” Aster “Light Blue,” Aster “Goliath,” Cornflower “Blue,” Anemone multifida, Shasta daisy “Prieure.”

The nice thing about winter seeding, besides being so easy and not requiring any indoor space or special lighting, is that the plants are already pretty well hardened off. When they get about an inch tall, I’ll take the tape off and open the jugs on nice days so the seedlings start to get a little wind. When they get true leaves and are 2-3″ tall, I’ll transplant the larger ones into individual pots which will go right back into the berry box, with a layer of floating row cover available if it happens to go into the teens, and an extra cover over the top of the berry box if it goes below zero. (Just be sure the floating row cover is supported at intervals in case of heavy snowfall.) This expansion from 1″ to 2″ or 3″ takes longer than one might think, because growth in winter at low temps during shorter days is much slower than in spring. By the time spring does arrive, they will be sturdy plants with dense root systems and be ready to go right into the gardens. In the meantime, the smaller seedlings still in the jugs will have more room to grow and eventually be transplanted as well. I prefer to transplant them into individual pots because if left in the jugs too long, the roots become so entangled they are nearly impossible to separate. Any damage to the roots during separation can set the plants back, although it rarely is fatal and they do eventually recover.

So, the 2021 gardening year has begun, in just a small way to be sure, but it feels good! And, I’ve decided that if I’m going to be gardening again in a few months, I’d better get this old body back in shape, and a little stair climbing just might help!

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No violas in 2021

Since the potager was built, each year over 500 violas were grown and then planted along the potager’s two central paths and in the triangular planters near the greenhouse. As you can barely see from the photo below, they are one of the first crops to go in each spring. The only other green at this stage are rows of garlic. I loved the early color violas provided. However, 500 plants take up a lot of basement growing space and take a lot of my energy. As I age, I’m trying to reduce the workload a bit and am looking for sensible ways to cut back.

The violas usually get planted about April 1st.

Normally, the viola seeds are sown in flats in the basement in December, transplanted into 32’s in early February, and moved to the greenhouse in early March but the decision was made not to do that this year.

By April 21st the violas are blooming, along with the miniature tulip “Bright Gem.”

The violas can withstand the erratic weather that Indiana often experiences in April and May and just keep doing their thing.

By May 21st the violas have become a solid band of color and fill in the space as the tulip foliage begins to fade.

However, for the past two years, the weather has warmed up so quickly in spring and early summer that the marigolds could actually be planted in late April! The violas take massive amounts of deadheading; the marigolds are not as demanding. I started thinking about this change last year, when I didn’t grow enough violas to finish all the edging. The weather cooperated, and the marigolds were able to go in quite early, while the tulips were still blooming!

Last year, the marigolds were planted April 26!

The decision was made to not order any viola seeds for 2021. Now, we wait to find out if that was a good one or not. Will the weather cooperate so the marigolds can go in early? Will a freak frost do the marigolds in? (Last year we did have a freak mid-May frost that required lots of blanket covering. Was that more work than growing 500 violas and 500 marigolds and planting the edging twice? Not nearly!) Will not having violas in that space, leaving it empty for approximately 25 days be too annoying?

Will I regret not having these cheery blossoms come spring?

So, I got an entire extra month without having to trek up and down the basement stairs to tend seedlings. There will be 500 fewer plants to care for, move to the greenhouse, move to the hardening off benches, and then to plant. Also, fewer bags of potting soil to purchase and unload. Right now, that seems like a good idea, the sensible decision. But will I miss those sweet little pansy faces? My heart says “yes;” my knees say “no!”

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December Monthly Review

The potager on Dec. 31, 2020.

It’s hard to believe that this is the final monthly review for 2020, the Year without End, that mercifully has finally ended. It’s strange that time has both “seemed to fly” and “seemed to stand still” throughout the months. Maybe it’s because each day was relatively the same, with no meetings to attend, no community activities, no visitors or travel. Only in the gardens did time march steadily on, with plants coming and going right on schedule, and differing chores marking the seasons. So, with the end of December achieved, here’s the monthly review:

Weather-wise, December was about average for central Indiana but with less snow than usual. I should have taken a photo, because mid-month there was a dandelion blooming in the lawn near the potager! Surprisingly, there were only 8 sunny December days, but I made the most of them. All the summer furniture was moved into the gazebo. The fairy houses and decor were stowed away in the basement; hoses were detached, rolled up and stored; pea fences and buckets stacked. The Lady Cottage got a good tidy up. Best of all, the final two berry boxes were completed and three were put to use as cold frames. And, while the stain/sealer was drying on the last two berry boxes, I stained the Lady Cottage door which badly needed it. There was some weeding done in the potager and lots of cardboard and compost added to top off empty raised beds.

There was no outdoor planting done, and no seeds sown indoors. However, the third and fourth amaryllis bulbs were planted to provide some much-needed cheer in the coming bleak winter months, and the first of the hyacinth bulbs were planted as well.

Harvest wise, it was record production for December! I’m slowly learning what works well here in central Indiana (Zone 4b or 5a, depending upon the map.) Of course the milder weather helped. Last year most of the season-end crops were dug in November, mainly out of my fear they would turn to mush. But, I learned that many of them could actually withstand temperatures in the teens and frozen ground so this year more were left into December, and some trial rows are being left into January. We’ll see if I’m sorry about that decision later on, won’t we? Fifty and one-half pounds (50.5) of produce was harvested this month: turnips, leeks, carrots, red cabbages, lettuces, parsnips, and herbs (cilantro, chives, parsley, mint, rosemary, thyme.) Spinach and kale could have been picked, but in an effort to use up the more delicate lettuces, they were left in the cold. No doubt they will appear in the January list. Last year’s December total was 13.5 so that’s a major jump. It was certainly nice to have an array of fresh vegetables for holiday meals. All of the vegetables harvested were either used as picked, or are now residing in the cool garage awaiting use.

There was no preserving done this month, other than collecting the leaves dropped from the lemon verbena plant moved indoors. They will most likely go into the teapot, although some may be steeped in hot milk and go into a pound cake later on, once all the Christmas goodies are gone.

Overall, it was a very good year, garden wise. I feel so blessed to have been able to garden yet another year, in such a lovely, productive, peaceful place as central Indiana. Now it’s time to make new plans, graphs, seeding charts, arrange notebooks and journals, and gear up to start another growing year. What new records will be made? What new crops will become success stories? What curve balls will Mother Nature throw? It’s all part of that great gamble we call “gardening!”

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The Last photo challenge

I don’t normally participate in challenges or memes, other than “Six on Saturday” but in an effort in 2021 to be more sociable, I’m joining Brian (aka Bushboy) in his “Last photo of 2020” challenge. The rules are simple: 1. Post the last photo on your SD card or last photo on your phone for December. 2. No editing – who cares if it is out of focus, not framed as you would like or the subject matter didn’t cooperate. 3. You don’t have to have any explanations, just the photo will do 4. Create a Pingback to this post or link in the comments 5. Tag “The Last Photo”

Amaryllis “Wedding Dance,” the second of my amaryllis to bloom!
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Saint Basil

It’s January 1st, and while most people are thinking “New Year’s Day,” I’m thinking it’s “Saint Basil Day” and time to do two things. First, bake the traditional St. Basil Bread, a tasty yeast bread that contains (of course) basil and other spices and most importantly, a gold coin. The bread is sliced with all the family and/or friends around the table. The first slice always goes to the eldest, the next to the next-eldest, continuing until the youngest is served. Then a slice goes to whoever else are important “family members” that contribute to the family’s well-being (the milk cow, family horse, guard dog.) Whoever finds the gold coin in their serving will be blessed with good luck in the coming year. The recipe is below.

I love tiny “globe” type basils in pots!

The second project, that I often do while the bread is baking, is to select the basils I will grow this year. There are SO many delightful varieties, and if you haven’t tried some of them, you are definitely missing out on some deliciousness! Of course, the standard “Sweet” basil or “Genovese” basil that is used in Italian cooking and pesto is a must and always makes the list. It’s one of the basils I use most in the kitchen, and also the one for basic “Housewife’s Tea.” But after that, the fun begins. Three of my very favorites are “Clove” basil (or Kaprou) and “Cinnamon” basil which are both spicy basils that are great in tea and in St. Basil Bread, and “Mrs. Burn’s Lemon” basil which has a definite citrus lemon scent and flavor that is also wonderful in tea, St. Basil Bread, and my favorite Italian Cream Cake. These often self-seed in my potager, and so far they are coming true each year since they are on opposite sides of the area. I also love using stems of all three of these basils in bouquets. Clove and Cinnamon have purple flowers, Lemon basil has white flowers and all contribute a lovely scent to any arrangement. The bees love them, too!

Rather than long, narrow stems of blooms, “Cardinal” has a fat cluster!

Then there are the more decorative basils, which can still be used in cooking, but often the flavors are not as appealing or the leaves are not as tender. “African Blue” basil is one that must be grown from cuttings rather than seed, but it is a stunning plant that often reaches 4′ tall and across, with purple-veined leaves and luxurious long basil flower stems. “Cardinal” is one with a large cluster of reddish flowers at the top.

“Thai” basil is one of the more anise-scented basils and is often called for in Thai or Vietnamese recipes. The strongest flavored of the Thai basils is “Queenette” and one that has a weird “exploding” flower head similar to “Cardinal” is “Siam Queen.”

“Tuscany” has large textural leaves. It’s one of the “lettuce leaf” type basils.

Some green basils have been developed for more variety in leaf shape or size. These include the now-famous “Spicy Globe” with its tiny leaves, rounded shape and smaller stature; “Lettuce Leaf” with light green leaves that are somewhat frilly on a stocky plant; “Fino Verde” that has small, flavorful leaves and grows in a more columnar shape; “Greek Bush” which has excellent flavor, small leaves and is good in containers; “Green Ruffles” is very ruffled, a pretty bright green but I find the leaves a bit tough; “Mammoth” will produce leaves as large as your hand, which can be useful if making a rolled or pocket style appetizer stuffed with cheese mixtures. “Marsailles” is very uniform, 6-12″ tall and is often rated the best-flavored bush basil. “Sweet Salad” has medium-sized leaves and is excellent for fresh use, but it’s real asset is that it dries well without turning brown or black. “Green Gate” was the first non-Genovese basil with fusarium resistance, has a high oil content, and also dries well.

Basil “Pesto Perpetuo”

The first true variegated basil, “Pesto Perpetuo” was released a few years ago. It has smaller leaves, a columnar form that can reach 4′, and rarely flowers. The drawback is that like “African Blue” it can only be propagated by cuttings, so you can’t order seeds for it.

Lots of purple-leaved to choose from…this one is “Red Rubin.”

There are many deep purple-leaved basils to choose, which can give a nice contrast in both the kitchen garden and in the flower border if dependable purple foliage is desired. “Purple Ruffles,” “Red Rubin,” “Purple Petra,” and “Osmin” are the most easily found. “Osmin”is a selection of “Opal,” the old first purple-leaved basil released commercially, and still my favorite for its tender leaves, flavor and deep color it gives to vinegars.

“Green Pepper” basil

“Green Pepper” basil came on the market a few years ago. I grew it for several years and never detected the elusive green pepper flavor that it is reported to have. It is a traditional Mayan remedy for stomachache and diarreah, and is also said to repel mosquitoes. There are a few other basils grown mainly for medicinal purposes, or used in ceremonies rather than as culinary herbs, although in some parts of the world they are commonly eaten. These include the “East Indian” (or Tree Basil) which grows quite tall (4-5′) with slightly fuzzy, light green leaves; “Tulsi” or sometimes called “Spice” basil which is sacred to Hindus. “Tulsi” is also a tall basil with fuzzy grey-green leaves, and will rampantly self-seed. I find its scent offensive. “Camphor” basil is tall with a distinctive camphor scent that is used commercially, small pale green leaves.

Only small sample of the basils available are discussed here. It seems every year there are new introductions! Basil is easy to grow as long as one remembers it loves heat and moisture. Seeds need warm soil to germinate, and plants cannot tolerate even a hint of frost. They love sunshine, and to be harvested often. If allowed to set seed, they will quit producing large, tender leaves. The most common problem is fusarium, a soil born disease that can also be transferred through the seeds, so be sure to use fresh soil for basil each year, and do not save seeds from diseased plants. The most telltale sign of the problem is a very dark brown stem that spreads upward, and then leaf drop.

Basils are truly wonderful plants, and essential in many dishes. Enjoy their flavors, their scents, their leaf color and shapes. Put “growing basil” on your New Year’s Resolution list, and you won’t regret it! Happy 2021 to ALL! May each one of you special readers find comfort in your gardens, joy in growing, and many blessings in the coming year. Stay well, stay safe!

St. Basil Bread

Mix together in a large bowl: 1 c. warm strong basil tea (standard basil is fine, or any flavor you like, but I prefer cinnamon or clove or lemon); 2 T. sugar, and 1 pkg. yeast (2 1/4 tsp.) Stir to blend and let rest for 2-3 minutes. Stir in: 2 T. soft butter and 1 egg.

Mix together: 3 1/2 c. flour, 1 T. ground dried basil (any flavor you like, but co-ordinate it with whatever tea you selected); 1 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. grated lemon zest; 1/4 tsp. nutmeg; 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. Stir into yeast mixture until well blended, roll out onto floured board and knead until smooth. Let rise in a buttered bowl in a warm place till doubled in size. Shape into a loaf, and put in a buttered loaf pan. Let rise again. Bake at 425 degrees for 25-30 min.

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Final day…

The final photo for 2020.

The final day of 2020, and although we were greeted with lovely snow that fell during the night December 31st is a gray day. It seems somehow appropriate that the year ends with a bit of beauty but a lot of melancholy, rather summing up the entire twelve months of this disturbing year.

As I focused the camera on the potager from the upper deck, the view made me reflect. The “jolly” snowmen with their flashy red scarves didn’t to much to cheer this year. In fact, there were very, very few celebrations at all in 2020, and little to celebrate, truth be told. Lots of courageous folks were out there keeping our world going, keeping supply chains running, delivering much more appreciated mail and packages, teaching children in difficult situations, staffing food banks, saving lives, consoling our isolated elderly, and much, much more. Those of us who could worked from home, or retreated to our gardens. The total effect of the entire situation may never be truly illuminated, for the “trickle down” devastation is both wide and deep.

2020 was not good in most ways for most people, but there were a few moments in our lives that will make a good memory. Our first great-grand baby was born in January. Sadly, we haven’t seen him in person but he’s delightful in videos, happy and laughing and trying to take his first steps. Technology has become more of a welcome tool, rather than an intimidating frustration, enabling us to link to family we can no longer see in person or hug. My “Happy Hour” Zoom Friday evenings with friends may become a staple even once we can venture out. The population’s “new” awareness of nature and the outdoors, the skyrocketing interest in gardening, cooking and preserving are all good things. Here in Indiana, the weather in 2020 overall was exceptionally beautiful, but many in other places suffered severe storms, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires. It was a year of records, and many of them were not “good things.”

The gardens were more than my happy place this year. They were sanctuary, my safe place, my focus. They provided positive reinforcement, eliminated many trips to the grocery, and became a way to help friends who were not as fortunate financially, health-wise, or space-wise through many boxes of produce.

I don’t know what 2021 will bring, but while hopeful, I am pretty skeptical that it will be much improved over 2020. Nations are plunging into debt. Lots of business will never reopen. Budgets for important projects, charities, and soul-feeding activities have been slashed. People everywhere are struggling to provide for families. And, I just heard that even after vaccination, authorities are urging those who’ve been vaccinated to still social distance, wear masks, and wash hands. Things may get better, but there will certainly be rough times ahead, and progress on all fronts will definitely be much slower than any of us hope.

So, I’m spending this final day of 2020 planning. Planning ways to increase the potager’s production so I can help feed more people. Planning ways I can give more, help more in my small community. Planning how I can stretch my dollars so I can give more to struggling charities. And planning ways to make 2021 better, happier and more comforting. Happy New Year’s Eve to one and all!

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