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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Five Ways to Use Extra Basil

A bed of basil varieties in bloom.
We're at the height of the basil season. As long as basil gets enough water, and you remember to keep the flower stalks pruned back (unlike in the photo above where all of the basils are in full bloom) then  your plants will be producing non-stop. The more you prune, the better the flavor. But have you run out of things to do with your basil? Of course you are probably making lots of pesto and freezing it for winter (my recipe for fool-proof frozen pesto is on this page).
Basil, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, nuts - regular pesto.

Here are 5 great exciting ways of using basil you may not have tried yet.
Dip a big pile of assorted basil cuttings in water and lay on the grill.

1 - Lemon-Basil Grilled Shrimp. 
Cut a big, double-handful of lemon or lime basil, as in the photo above. Dip it in plain water and lay the basil on a medium-hot barbecue grill. Spread 2 or 3 dozen raw shrimp over the basil, pull down the barbecue lid if you wish, and steam the shrimp for 60 - 90 seconds. Flip the shrimp over and give them another minute. The lemon basil flavor will be steamed into shrimp, giving it wonderful flavor.
Basil Lemon Ice Cream

2 - Nutty Basil Lemon Ice Cream
Karen Keb, editor of The Heirloom Gardener magazine told me about making homemade ice cream with basil this past week. She used sweet basil, pine nuts and lemon, and sounds so good I have to make some, too! Here's the link to her recipe, which she posted on the Mother Earth News website. Thanks, Karen, for sharing your recipe!

3 - Basil Pesto Burgers
Combine about 2 pounds of ground chuck with 1 medium onion, finely chopped, 1/4 cup basil pesto, salt and pepper and mix well. Form into burgers and cook on the grill. The pesto gives great flavor, you won't be sorry you did this! (This method works well with veggie-burgers, too).

4 - Banana-Basil Smoothie
Use any kind of basil for this - I like Thai, but lemon, sweet, Genovese, Greek Columnar, Purple Ruffles, it doesn't matter, they all work just fine. In a blender, put 1 frozen banana, 1 tablespoon honey, 7 or 8 basil leaves (or more, to taste) with 3 cups of milk. I add a few ice cubes, too. Blend it until smooth. For a milk-free smoothie, I use either pineapple or cran-raspberry juice instead of the milk.
Blackberry-Basil Sorbet
5 - Blackberry Basil Sorbet
I especially like Greek Columnar basil or Purple Ruffles for this recipe but any variety works just as well. (The recipe is from my book, Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets, on my website).
Begin with 3 cups of blackberry juice (or blueberry, etc.) Add 1/2 cup sugar, 6-8 fresh basil leaves, 1 cup of water and the freshly-squeezed juice of 1 lemon. Blend well in blender and chill the liquid for at least an hour. Pour into a sorbet maker and freeze until firm.
36 pages of herb and flower sorbet recipes.

There you have it, 5 ways of using up some of your excess summer basil you may not have considered.

Of course, there's always the old stand-by, plain basil pesto toasted on sourdough bread, too!

Fresh or frozen pesto toasted on sourdough bread, that's not too bad, either!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Red Spider Mites Worse in Hot Weather!

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long, Copyright 2012

Have you noticed yellow-splotched leaves on your phlox and petunias? Or on the leaves of grapes, melons, potatoes, tomatoes or other garden plants? It’s likely red spider. They especially like those crops - they really, really like phlox - but they go after over 180 different species of plants.

These tiny creatures aren’t insects, they’re actually more closely related to spiders and ticks. They have eight legs, although you can’t count them unless you use a magnifying glass. An easy way to tell if you have red spiders is to hold a piece of white paper under a leaf and shake the leaf, if you can see what looks like dust, you have mites. Look on the underneath side of the leaf, if you see very tiny webbing, then spider mites are your culprit.

Spider mites feed by sucking out plant juices causing mottled, yellow foliage. Left unchecked they can suck the life out of plants rather quickly. Damage is worse during dry, hot weather when plants are already stressed and mite populations take off like rockets. The mites can be carried on the wind and can spread rapidly to other plants. What can you do?

The worst thing you can do is to use a pesticide! Pesticides kill all the bugs on the plant, including the beneficial insects which are feeding on the spider mites. With the beneficials gone, the unhatched red spider mite eggs hatch and the population explodes, making the problem worse. Some chemical pesticides actually stimulate mite reproduction - so avoid that can of spray.
Hort. Oil Spray is not the same as Dormant Oil.

These little critters thrive in dry conditions. Wash off under the leaves with a spray from a garden hose and they won’t be happy with the moisture. Mulching plants to hold moisture and reduce stress is helpful. So is regular watering the affected plants, with one or two waterings per week. If your infestation is particularly bad, use Horticultural Oil Spray or Insecticidal Soap. Both work. Some gardeners swear a by 1-to-1 solution of rubbing alcohol and water, sprayed under the leaves. The alcohol evaporates quickly and supposedly doesn’t damage plants, however I’m a fan of Insecticidal Soap which is always reliable.

(Note: I sell Horticultural Oil Spray. It's one of the best, organic controls for garden insects and indoor houseplants. $16.95 plus shipping for 1 quart, which makes gallons of spray. Contact me at

Another option is to encourage natural predators (you can order these to increase your beneficial population). Big-eyed bugs, damsel bugs, lacewings, ladybugs and minute pirate bugs all are happy to devour spider mites.

I highly recommend the book, Good Bug, Bad Bug, by Jessica Walliser, from St. Lynn’s Press, which has photos and controls of many garden pests.

While you’re here, click the “Join this Blog” button (upper right corner of this page) to receive future Ozarks Gardening columns from this newspaper.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Drought Hardy Lilies

Lillies in full bloom this week in my garden.
A couple of years ago I received a box of lily bulbs from Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Virginia. I've known Brent and Becky for many years through Garden Writers Association and so I was excited to get to try out some of their bulb varieties.

I'm mostly ignorant about lilies since I focus primarily on plants for eating. As far as I know, most lilies aren't edible, and even if they are, why would you want to eat them when they produce such beautiful flowers?

Lilies up close.
I planted my bulbs, in mid-spring as I recall. I think they're in the family of "Asiatic" lilies, which are among the hardiest and easiest of lilies to grow. They'll thrive in a variety of soils and growing conditions. These you see here are about 5-6 ft. tall and have been in bloom for several weeks. Even in our 100 degree days, these tough lilies have stood tall. I give the soil around them a soaking every few days but otherwise I haven't done anything special for them.
Brent & Becky's Bulbs catalog.

While these lilies are beautiful and a real joy to have in the garden, the bigger thrill is their fragrance. Our days are hot and miserable and it's evening when I get to spend time in the garden. As I weed and move the garden hoses and sprinklers around, just as the air is getting still and cooling off, the lilies burst forth with the most enchanting fragrances! Some evenings I can smell them from 25 feet away - not a cloying, too-sweet fragrance, but a subtle, enticing smell that as relaxing as it is inspiring. Who knew lilies could be such a delicious plant to grow?

These yellow ones bloomed earlier.
The yellow ones, a bit shorter, finished blooming before the taller, two-colored ones at the top of the page started. Sorry, I don't know the names of either variety. Both have multiplied and spread nicely and require very little care. I'm going to give them some fertilizer and bone meal so they will bloom even better next year.
I checked Brent and Becky's Bulb catalog today and they're showcasing their next spring's bulbs, to be planted this fall. They have a selection of some fantastical new narcissus and tulips and even in this heat, it's time to think of next spring.

I hope wherever you are, you are having pleasant weather and rain, and if you have extra to share, these drought-ridden, brown hills could use some moisture.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Good News for Gardeners

Jim Long, Copyright 2012

It seems time for some good news for gardeners for a change. With everyone's tomato plants hung with sheets to block the sun to prevent sunburning on tomatoes and making gardens look like a backyard laundry, I decided to go looking for something to be glad for. (By the way, sheer curtain panels from the thrift shop are my favorite covering to keep birds away from tomatoes and preventing sun-scald on the fruits).
Sheer curtains covering tomatoes to keep from sunburning the fruit.

Here’s something to make this weeks garden chores just a little more pleasant. Every time you see a cluster of Japanese beetles eating your roses, squash blossoms or other garden plants, you can smile and know the bugs have some bad news in their futures.

Japanese beetles were accidentally introduced into the United States in 1916 near Trenton, NY. Japanese beetles have now spread into every state east of the Mississippi River. They’ve spread as far west as Denver - although the current forest fires in Colorado are certainly making the pests’ lives more miserable.

It’s been known since 1920 that Japanese beetles can be temporarily poisoned by geranium flowers - yes, those same geraniums that are probably in pots on your patio! But no one studied how or why geraniums effect the beetles until recently, when scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Ohio began working on the question.

Here’s what they know so far. When a Japanese beetle eats a couple of geranium flowers - any color will do - the bug is paralyzed for about 12 hours, belly up, legs twitching in the air. This leaves it exposed to predators like birds, dogs and the heel of your shoe.

Chris Ranger, an entomologist at AHS is working on a natural, botanical formula for controlling the beetles based on compounds isolated from geraniums. Once the formula is up and working, it will be patented as a spray and we’ll all have access to it. Progress is looking very good!

Other controls available already include the product, Milky Spore Bacteria, which you spread as a powder on your lawn and garden, the bacteria infects the grub stage of the beetles and kills them before they hatch. After 2 seasons of spreading this powder throughout my lawn and garden, I have fewer beetles this year.

Another control that works is the Spring Tiphia wasp, which is an effective biological control for the beetle. You can order the Tiphia larvae and release them into your garden where they go to work on the grub stage of the Japanese beetle. (The “wasps” are tiny, you’ll likely never see one and they have no interest in humans or pets, and don’t sting unless you’re a beetle).The Tiphia wasp is attracted to peonies, so planting those will help bring them naturally to your yard.

(Note: read this discussion on a gardening forum that isn't as encouraging as what I've heard recently. You'll see that the discussion was posted in '04, so opinions may have changed about Milky Spore Bacteria results. I think I have positive results, however it could also be weather conditions that have lessened my Japanese beetle population this year. Also, it's discouraging to hear the parasitic wasp larvae are so expensive, hopefully the link I gave above "order the Tiphia larvae" can be of some help).

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