Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Purple Basil vs. Red Perilla

I have to share with you one of my little pet peeves.  I have several customers each year comment while they are browsing through the basil plants that they have "TONS of basil that just comes up everywhere".  Some claim that it must be a perennial basil and some claim that it just seeds everywhere.  I explain to them that if they have a basil that seeds so prolifically, then they probably don't have basil after all but rather red perilla.
Do you have a patch of purple basil that seeds like this?
Red Perilla is an herb and is often called beefsteak plant.  It is edible, but it is not in the basil family and does not have that lovely basil flavor, but it does have a pleasant flavor and can be used in many dishes.  The best description that I have ever read comes from The Big Book of Herbs by Arthur O. Tucker and Thomas DeBaggio.  I quote "Beefsteak plant looks so much like basil that some gardeners believe they have discovered a "perennial" basil, or, at the very least, a basil that self-sows so extensively that they will never have to purchase basil seeds or plants again.  This claim of a reseeding basil is another example of the old adage that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Although it is not a perennial basil, beefsteak plant can stand on its own as an interesting, flavorful herb.  An alternative name used by gardeners who must endure continual emergence of seedlings every spring is "wild coleus"."
Red Perilla (Perilla frutescens) or Beefsteak plant.
Some of the differences are serrations on the edge of the leaves (although ruffled varieties of basils also have serrated leaves) and I notice a difference on the veining with the perilla have a little more curve to the veins coming down the leaves.  And, of course, basil smells like - er - basil.
In Japan perilla is called shiso and is frequently used in Asian cooking and often eaten with sashimi or cut into thin strips in salads, spaghetti, and meat and fish dishes.  In 2009 Pepsi Japan released a new seasonal flavored beverage - Pepsi Shiso.  There is also a green variety, but the red variety is often used to add color to dishes, even as a dye for some foods.
Green Perilla
Here are some pictures for comparison:
Purple Ruffles Basil
Opal Basil
Osmin Basil (purple variety)
Red Perilla.  Note that the leaves do not seem as glossy.
Another perilla of note is Perilla magilla - a landscaper's dream! 

Perilla magilla
Perilla magilla is an ornamental variety that gardeners love!  It looks like a coleus but can be planted in full sun!!!
I hope this clears up some mystery about basil/perilla.  Do you have any questions about your basil?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tomato Salad

I love this time of year!  The fresh produce is all around us.  I was hoping to have a large garden this year.  We did manage to get some things going, but it's going to be very late in the season before I have much of my own veggies to harvest.  But I am hitting the Farmer's Markets every week and selling my delicious jams and jellies..........but while I'm selling, I'm also shopping!!!  Quite a nice bonus!
Some of the fresh produce that I bought this past week at the markets.
So let me share with you my simple salad recipe.  I made this tonight and took it to our Master Gardener meeting.  Everyone asked for the here it is!
First, let's get one thing recipes are not strict lists of ingredients and measurements but merely suggestions!  I often gather whatever I have on hand and then improvise.  So that's how this 'recipe' began.
For tonight's salad I used 2 cucumbers (about 6" each) 1/2 golden zucchini, 1/4 or less red bell pepper, maybe about 2 Tbsp. onion (chopped small), 1 clove garlic (chopped fine), some red ripe tomatoes (maybe about 2 cups chopped) and DARN IT, I meant to add some corn, freshly cut off the cob and forgot to add it!
After chopping the veggies and tossing them in a bowl, I added a couple of pinches of sea salt, a little coarsely ground black pepper, some freshly snipped dill and then drizzled it with some Italian dressing.  Then right before serving I tossed on some feta cheese (maybe about 1/2 cup).  Our local grocery store had some feta cheese with sun dried tomatoes and basil - so it was a great blend.
All those pretty veggies tossed together and topped with feta cheese.
You can change up this 'recipe' in many ways:  Spice it up with more onions and garlic and even add some jalapeno peppers.  Mix in some black beans and serve it with tortilla chips!  Use an oil and vinegar dressing instead of Italian.  Add in the corn that I forgot to add!  Use cilantro instead of dill.  Use basil instead of dill.  Any of these ingredients can be omitted or increased, the dressing can be changed to ranch or even raspberry vinaigrette.  Serve it as a side salad.  Serve it on a bed of salad greens.  Serve it on crusty bread as bruschetta.  It's very versatile.....and delicious.  How can you go wrong with fresh, locally-grown veggies?
What's your favorite summertime recipe?

Garlic harvest

It's time to harvest our garlic!  Well, actually, we should have been harvesting our garlic anytime in the past 2 weeks, ......... but what I harvested today is looking pretty good!
The garlic that I harvested from one of our garlic patches.
I've been telling Shawn for the past few weeks that we need to get our garlic harvested.  If you remember one of my earlier blog posts last November, we planted our first garlic this past fall.  Garlic needs a longer growing season than most plants, so you need to plant it in October or November. 
Several years ago, a local man who raised lots of garlic (I believe he planted around 1500 garlic cloves each year!) did a program for our herb group in Greenfield and he said that he always harvested his garlic on the weekend closest to the 4th of July.  So we should have been harvesting a couple of weeks ago.  However, I also did some reading and chatting with other folks and got the opinion that the 4th of July might be a little early to harvest.
You want some of the leaves to be dying off and browning......but you want the protective papers that surround the bulb to still be intact.  Leave it in the ground too long and the paper wrappers will start to deteriorate.  Harvest your garlic too early and it won't dry and store as well.  So it's all trial and error for us at this point.
We planted 6 varieties of garlic -- 2 of them were softnecks and 4 of them were hardnecks.  Today I harvested Silver Rose - which is a softneck variety.  I was very pleased with the harvest!  The first few bulbs I unearthed were rather puny and disappointing.  But soon I was digging up more substantial-sized bulbs and some of them were plump and full!
I will put them in the barn to cure for a couple of weeks.  I'll trim off the tops and rub the dirt off of their skins.  Maybe I'll trim the roots shorter once they are completely dry.  I might even try my hand and doing a garlic braid (which you can do with the softnecks, but not the hardnecks).  And once they are cured, I think I'll store them in the basement and I'll save back a few of the nicest bulbs as my 'seed' for next year.
Tomorrow I'll try to get another variety of garlic harvested.
I laid them loosely in my garden cart to put them in the barn.  I hope that tomorrow we come up with an idea of what to put them on in the barn so they can spread out and dry.  I ended up with 67 bulbs from this patch.
I'll update you later on the rest of the harvest!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Our little Fairy Garden

Many of you know my daughter Grace and know what a promising young gardener she is becoming.  You have probably bought some of her flowers that she sells at GardenFest every year -- she starts most of them herself from seed.  She does the seed trays, she transplants the seedlings and she takes care of the whole process.  (I help with the watering and the transporting for her.)
Here is a picture of Grace and I at our booths during GardenFest 2008.  She has grown up quite a lot in the past 3 years and now is as tall as I am!
For the past few years we have talked about doing a Fairy Garden.  Grace has enjoyed many books about fairies in the garden and has done some research on it.  But we are always too busy in the spring with the greenhouse and garden shows that by the time we get around to doing something in our own yard, the weather has turned too hot to want to do much of anything too demanding.
This year has been a little milder -- or at least we have had some up and down weeks in the tempurature.  So it has allowed us a little more stamina to be creative around the house and yard.  We had picked out a nice spot under one of the maple trees.  It is in the side yard where there is not much foot traffic, but it is visible from the front porch and driveway.
Grace spent an evening digging out the sparse patch of grass beneath the tree and then working some composted material and some potting mix into the area in an effort to enrich it and loosen it up for some tender new plants to take root.
I suggested that she plant as many 'tiny' plants as we could find in the garden - because fairies are small and like tiny plants with small leaves and blooms.  We planted some Corsican mint which has tiny, tiny leaves and even tinier blooms.  The little blooms are lavender colored and it will add some nice fragrance to the garden with its minty smell.  We also had some miniature lamb's ears and some native geranium that we had gotten at the Hancock Co. Herb Society plant sale. 
Thyme is absolutely a "must have" plant for a fairy garden.  Not only does it have tiny leaves and blooms which are pleasing to fairies, but it is reported that the fragrance of thyme will help you see the fairies!
We added some blooming plants to the garden that Grace had grown herself - zinnias, cosmos, and galliardia.  I thought they would be too big, but Grace assured me that we needed to add some larger blooms to the bed because fairies use those blooms to make their clothes!  Something that I hadn't thought of.  Those blooms will also attract bees and butterflies to the garden -- friends of the fairies.
Grace as she is placing her pots of plants in the garden - deciding what plants will go where.
A fairy statue to adorn the fairy garden.
Since she planted her fairy garden about 4 weeks ago, she has come up with many new ideas of things to add to the garden.  She has added some rocks that will serve as a resting platform with smaller rocks as steps.  More rocks will be added as we find them and used as edging in the garden.  She plans to add a tiny swing made of twigs and jute.  And another fairy has been added that was given to her as a birtday gift 2 years ago.
Grace looks very satisfied after planting her fairy garden.
I'll post more pictures in a later blog as she adds more items and the plants start to fill out.  I can't wait to see what it will look like in another month!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Garden Tea

I know this is a little outdated, but I've had some really good stories to tell you and haven't had the time to sit at the computer.  So I am trying to catch up with all of the things I want to share with you.


Back in June, I was happy to again be a part of "A Garden Tea".  It was held on Sunday afternoon, June 5 and was co-hosted by The Herb Society of Central Indiana and the Purdue Master Gardeners of the IMHM Medicinal Plant Garden.  IMHM stands for Indiana Medical History Museum and is located at 3045 Vermont St., Indianapolis (formerly Central State Hospital).  This group of Master Gardeners has planted beautiful gardens on the site with medicinal plants.  The thought behind doing the tea was to get more people to visit the museum and gardens.
St. John's Wort

You can see some of the beautiful medicinal plants in the pictures.  Touring the gardens would be enough to entice me to visit -- but the day was rounded out with many other delights!  There was a tent with beautifully decorated tables and herbal tea and lemonade and many other tasty treats. 

Beautiful table centerpieces in the refreshment tent.
There were fresh-cut flower arrangements on all of the tables -- gracefully arranged in tea pots!  These beautiful arrangements were given away as door prizes throughout the day.  The Herb Society had also made favors of herbal tea that were given to each visitor. 
Two programs were each given twice during the afternoon.  Kathleen Hull, MD gave a talk on medicinal plants and I gave a talk on the benefits of herbal teas.  Both programs were well attended.  My talk was in the lecture hall - which is an historically delightful room at the Medical Museum.

Lecture Room

Judy Eudaly, harpist, provided live music throughout the day.  She was in the loft of this room so it was a joy to spend time here while I prepared for my program to begin.
We were so glad that the light rain that began the day disappeared and the Plein Air Artists were in the garden painting.
Plein Air Artist
I believe this event will be planned again next year, so hold open a spot on your calendar.  It should be around the first week in June. 
You can learn more about the Indiana Medical History Museum by going to their website:  I will again be at the Museum this coming Thursday (July 14) as I present a program about "Civil War Herbs".  Program begins at 6:30 pm and you can find more information on their website.  (I think you might have to register if you would like to attend.)
You can also keep track of events of The Herb Society of Central Indiana by visiting our website:
Raised Bed in the garden with fennel and foxgloves.
I've recently joined the Herb Society on a trip to a lavender farm -- I'll post more on that in a few days!
Have you even visited the Indiana Medical History Museum?  Do you grow any medicinal plants in your garden?  How do you use them?  Please share with us!