Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The industrious vegetarian

Condo living suits me. When house-dwelling friends are busy mowing their grass, I'm lolling on a chaise longue in air-conditioned luxury, with gin and tonic, a tray of peeled grapes and the TV remote all within easy arm's reach.

Sometimes the remote clicks to a program like The Victory Garden, and I'll dream about what it would be like to have a garden.

But wait, I don't have to just dream.... I do all the gardening I want in containers on my back deck. My favorites are herbs. They are so delicious fresh, and so expensive at the store, that it's cost-effective as well as fun to grow your own.

Plus, herbs are so easy. I haven't even gotten off the chaise longue to do any planting yet this year, and already the perennials from last year are going great:

The sage is in beautiful blue bloom; the lavender is covered in fragrant purple flowers; and the little pink pom-pom chive bossoms are just now fading away. The oregano is crowding the chives and threatening to take over its container. The rosemary is stretching toward the sky.

This weekend I'll put in this year’s crop of basil - perhaps the most satisfying herb of all to grow. Two or three sweet-basil plants will keep me in pesto all year. Just plant the basil in an all-purpose potting soil, place it in a sunny spot, and water diligently to keep it growing. In the heat of the summer I usually water every day. It will droop sadly if it gets too dry. But be sure the container drains well, too, to keep the roots from rotting. You can give basil some fertilizer from time to time to maintain the plants' vigor.

And the only other secret to keep basil going through the summer is to keep it from blooming. Once the plant blooms it seems to feel that its work is done, and it will stop producing as many tasty leaves. So when you see the flower buds forming, clip them off before they open.

Harvest basil through the summer by clipping stems just above a pair of leaves, and the plant will grow even bushier and more productive.

The National Garden Bureau has more about growing basil here.

Another excellent source for information about container gardening is The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey (Workman Publishers, 2002). Anyone interested in growing food in containers will benefit from this book.

It thoroughly covers herbs, and also vegetables, fruits and edible flowers. The authors provide many ideas for combining plants into attractive as well as practical arrangements. And they include recipes for making use of your bounty. Not all of the recipes are vegetarian, unfortunately. But vegetarian or vegan cooks will usually be able to see ways to modify the recipes to make them usable.

Readers, are you planning to grow anything - in a conventional garden or in containers - this year?

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