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To harvest rhubarb, stand over the plant, grasp a single stalk, and pull with increasing force in the direction the stalk is growing until the bottom of the stalk pops out of its socket in the plant.

Unless you have a home kitchen garden, you probably aren’t familiar with rhubarb. Heck, plenty of kitchen gardeners miss out on this spring treat. If you have space to grow it, but you’ve never tasted rhubarb, I suggest restraint: don’t plant rhubarb until you know you’re going to use it. I can tell you it’s delicious, but you should decide for yourself; most rhubarb enthusiasts grew up eating it, and I can’t think of a familiar flavor to which I can compare it.

There must be thousands of people who acquired rhubarb by buying a house with rhubarb plants in the yard. If you’re one of those people, you may wonder how to prepare the stuff… at least so you can try it once and decide whether to maintain your rhubarb patch. On the other hand, if you have a home kitchen garden without rhubarb plants, and the idea of harvesting your first significant crop in early-to-mid spring is compelling, you should sample some rhubarb and decide whether to add some to your landscape.

If you pull in the right direction, a stalk comes loose with a fan-shaped scoop at its end as you see on the left. If you twist or bend the stalk, it may snap off, leaving a stump in the ground and at the end of the stalk (right).

From Garden to Sauce

In case you’ve never seen it done, here’s how to harvest rhubarb and cook it into a delicious sauce to serve as a side dish, or as a topping for cottage cheese, yogurt, cereal, or whatever else you eat with a fruity topping:

1. Harvest rhubarb stalks. To pick a stalk, pull it directly away from the rest of the plant in the direction the stalk is growing. It should come free as though popping out of a socket. The bottom of the stalk should end in a pink, fan-shaped scoop. Try not to break the stalk off when you pull it.

I like to cut off the leaves and clean up the bottoms of the stalks before I take them into my kitchen; the leaves go onto my compost heap.

2. Cut off the leaf, and pull off any dry, leaf-like material near the base of the stalk.

3. Rinse off soil, insects, and any other foreign materials you’d rather not eat.

To prep a stalk for the sauce pot, I cut off blemishes and dry spots, wash the stalk, and cut it into segments about an inch long.

4. If there are ugly blemishes or dried out spots, incise them from the rhubarb stalks.

5. Cut the stalks into ¾- or 1-inch sections and put the sections in a sauce pot.

6. Add an eighth of an inch of water or less to the pot; just enough to cover the bottom.

After at least 45 minutes of slow cooking in a lidded pot (and with some sugar added), the rhubarb becomes a tangy, sweet, viscous sauce with a vaguely stringy texture.

7. Cover the pot and set it on very low heat; it will need to cook for 45 minutes to an hour at that setting.

8. While the sauce is hot, add sugar to taste and stir till it dissolves. Rhubarb is very sour; I add about one cup of sugar to every quart of sauce.

9. Refrigerate the rhubarb sauce and serve it cold.

Please visit my blog post Small Kitchen Garden Rhubarb for a discussion about planting and growing your own rhubarb.

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Most of the leaves in this photo belong to young, volunteer cilantro plants in my home kitchen garden. These sprouted about where last year’s main cilantro patch stood, but there are cilantro volunteers scattered through about two-thirds of my vegetable bed.

My home kitchen garden likes to give me surprise gifts. Most of those, I’d rather not receive; my garden isn’t very imaginative and it tends to give me the same presents year-after-year: dandelions, thistle, and a host of other plants I can’t name and I don’t want. I call them weeds.

But other surprise gifts my garden gives me provide a lot of pleasure. These are plants that grow from seeds left behind by last year’s vegetable crop: volunteers. There is only one significant difference between a volunteer and a weed: You would never intentionally try to grow a plant you think of as a weed in your garden. A volunteer is a plant you would grow intentionally, but it’s growing in a place of its own choosing rather than where you planted it.

I’ve spotted dozens of volunteer tomato plants in my home kitchen garden. While they’re likely to produce mediocre tomatoes at best, I’ll let them grow as long as they don’t interfere with the goodies I planted this season.

Stand up to Volunteer

In past years, I’ve had decorative gourds and pumpkins grow as volunteers in my home kitchen garden. I’ve also had tomatoes, peas, beans, cilantro, and dill weed start unexpectedly from seeds left by the previous seasons’ plants. In fact, I planted cherry tomatoes one year, and harvested little red gems three years in a row—the last two years from volunteer plants.

Volunteers start where seeds fall, or where they end up after spring tilling. For me, these locations are rarely convenient. On the other hand, volunteers amuse me enough that I try to work around them. If I weed my garden, I avoid the volunteers. And, if they don’t overshadow or crowd this year’s crops, I let them grow to maturity.

So far this year, I’ve identified volunteer cilantro, dill weed, and tomatoes scattered among my peas, lettuce, spinach, and onions. The dill weed and some cilantro are in particularly convenient places. The tomatoes aren’t so convenient.

I’ll let most volunteers grow, but I don’t have much enthusiasm for the tomatoes. Last year, I planted from flats bought at a garden store. All the varieties were hybrids meaning they’re crosses between two other varieties of plants.

This is not a stand of volunteer dill weed plants. However, I harvested seeds from a volunteer dill plant two seasons ago and planted them last season. The resulting plants were dramatically more robust than the original dill I’d grown from commercial seeds four seasons earier. This year’s volunteer dill sprouts represent a fourth season of dill grown entirely from descendants of those commercial seeds.

Seeds from hybrid plants may not grow at all. When they do grow, they may not produce fruit. If they do produce fruit, it most certainly won’t be the same quality as the hybrid fruit from which the seeds came. But you never know until you try. So, I’ll let the volunteer tomatoes grow and, unless they become a major inconvenience, I’ll see whether they produce decent fruit.

Volunteers Outside My Kitchen Garden

If volunteers in my garden’s planting bed don’t provide enough entertainment, I have a convenient fallback: my compost heap. Through the growing season, it receives damaged and rotting tomatoes, dead and drying herbs and pea plants, and a gallon or so of pumpkin guts. Usually, some of the seeds in all of that take root and I work around the plants. One season, the heap disappeared under the leaves of some large pumpkin vines and I eventually harvested several carving pumpkins.

Garden and compost volunteers are amusing, and sometimes rewarding. I look forward to seeing what pops up in my garden; it’s a little bit like having Christmas morning in mid-spring.

 

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These pepper plants started from seeds some six weeks ago. However, for nearly three weeks they’ve lived outdoors where cool spring days have slowed their growth.

In the 14 years I’ve grown my own home kitchen garden, I had never started seeds indoors. It’s so convenient to buy plants that someone else has started from seeds and set them in the garden the day the frost stops. For most kitchen gardeners, this is an excellent approach. Who has the time, space, and appropriate gear to plant seeds and maintain them for four-to-six weeks before finally setting them in a garden bed?

The down-side of buying flats (packages of four or six seedlings) is that you have a very limited selection. Most local garden stores offer excellent plants but of no more than five to ten varieties. When it comes to tomatoes, you’re likely to find several of the beefsteak plants. Things labeled Big Boy, Better Boy, Bigger Better Boy (I made up that one), Better Girl, Early Girl, Beefsteak, Beefsteak Hybrid, and Big Steak are common. You might find Roma, and some type of cherry tomato… and maybe one uncommon heirloom variety such as Dwarf Grandma Black Vein Pall-Bearer (I made that up as well).

For broccoli and cauliflower, good luck finding more than one variety of each. And, if you want winter squash other than butternut and acorn, you’re simply out of luck.

So… if you want to choose what you plant from a broad selection of varieties, you need to buy seeds and start them yourself. For many plants in many hardiness zones, it’s best to start indoors four-to-six weeks before your last frost. This head start extends the growing season so you can harvest a bigger crop from your home kitchen garden.

My Indoor Starts

I decided to start my own seeds this year. For me it’s not about variety. We’re broke. OK, we’re not broke, but we’re trying to be financially conservative and seeds cost way less than flats of growing plants. There’s that, and I started writing lots of how-to articles about gardening; I coudn’t write about starting seeds without providing at least one example. No wait. There’s one more reason: a neighbor gave me tomatoes of a variety I’ve never seen anywhere else; I wanted to grow them, and that meant starting the seeds myself.

These pepper plants started indoors six weeks ago, but remained there until yesterday. They are many times the size of the outdoor plants, and already have flower buds about to open. The plants that remained inside are weeks ahead of their wilderness survival counterparts. Don’t rush to get your seedlings planted in the garden.

So, I set up low-hanging lights, bought peat pellets and planting soil, and bought seeds months earlier than ever before. I’ve had reasonable success, though some seeds started way faster than I expected while other seeds have taken as many as twenty days to send sprouts above the soil. The most interesting of these (to me) have been the pepper seeds.

A Tale of Two Peppers

I hate that subthitle; please forgive me for it. I filled a windowsill planter and two sawed-off gallon milk jugs with potting soil. I planted bell pepper seeds in both containers indoors under lights. After sprouts emerged, I moved the milk jugs outside to get the plants used to wind and changes in temperature. The window planter stayed inside under lights because some seeds in it didn’t sprout and I wanted to start more (peppers sprout best when the temperature is above 70F degrees).

For the three weeks I’ve had the milk jug peppers outdoors, it has been cold and rainy. The peppers have acclimated, but they’ve nearly stopped growing. In contrast the windowsill planter peppers have charged ahead. There are multiple branches on these plants, and flower buds have formed.

This brings me back to an observation I’ve offered repeatedly: Don’t hurry your garden in the spring. You can plant cold weather crops when the soil thaws, but if the temperature remains low, seeds you plant three weeks later may catch up quickly. Also, no matter how warm it gets in March and April, you could still have frost in mid May. Don’t risk your plant babies by getting started too early.

 

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Young pea plants have a very distinctive appearance. If this is your first season growing peas, watch for emerging seedlings that look like these. Presumably, anything else growing within a few inches is a weed you should remove.

I once had a minor epiphany in my home kitchen garden, and it has come to mind repeatedly as I’ve started working the soil this year. This post shares that epiphany, but with a disclaimer: I called it a minor epiphany because, really, it was more of a reminder of something we all know—or should know—as gardeners.

OK, we all know it, but I suspect that most of us think little about it. The spring pea crop of 2004 (I think it was 2004) brought it home in a most profound way. That’s right; my minor epiphany came to me through my pea plants.

Spring Peas

As in most years, I planted three 14-foot long double rows of peas in April of 2004. The garden was probably very muddy when I planted because it was probably raining.

The peas sprouted and grew vigorously, apparently drinking happily of the copious water that fell on them nearly every day. On days it didn’t rain, skies remained overcast, so the soil didn’t dry out; there was more moisture in the soil than any sane vegetable gardener would want.

On those rainless days, I’d mow the lawn, dumping six or more inches of grass clippings between the planting rows of my garden. The grass-clipping mulch grew high, but the peas grew higher. In no time they reached the tops of my pea trellises. Along the way, the pea plants started flowering and, thankfully, pea pods formed.

I’d check the pods each day, in hopes of finding harvestable peas. But lo, each day the pods were flat.

A wall of peas grows up the trellis in my garden. The trellis runs between two rows of pea plants spaced about six inches apart. It tops out at about four-and-a-half feet, and in several weeks, the pea plants will extend above it.

A Growing Pea Crisis

The clouds and rain continued, I kept mowing more than I wanted, the pea vines grew ever upward, and more pea pods emerged on the plants. By late May or early June, there were three thick walls of pea vines clinging to trellises in my garden. The plants were covered with pods, but I had not yet harvested any of them; I wanted peas, not snow peas.

I was both puzzled and miffed by the behavior of my pea plants. I’d grown this variety for years because they’d been reliable. Now, apparently, they’d turned on me.

Typically, pods form a few inches behind the leading ends of the pea vines. As the vines grow upward, lower pods plump up and you harvest them. A few days later, you harvest peas a little higher up the plant, and so on.

And the Epiphany

After more than a month of continuous overcast skies, the clouds cleared. We had a most gorgeous sunny day. That gave way to another sunny day, and then a third. By now you know where this is headed, right?

Round about sunny day three, every single pea pod on my trellises was plump and ready to harvest. Harvesting peas eight or nine times a season for fifteen minutes at a time is relaxing and enjoyable. Harvesting all those peas in one day is not.

As I cursed the massive load of peas, I also marveled: Peas hadn’t developed in the past month because there had been so little sunlight; the plants put what energy they could into growing. But until the sun shown through, there had been no extra energy to stockpile.

Sure, we all know that plants need sunlight to grow. But it was a real rush to see such a dramatic expression of the phenomenon: Plants capture the energy of sunlight through chemical reactions that release oxygen into the air and assemble molecules into food. All that good stuff I harvest from my garden would not exist but for extraterrestrial-light-powered plant factories that build fundamental links of our food chain.

Bring on the sun!

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Home Kitchen Garden Bare Ground

Each time I mow the lawn, I dump the clippings in the garden. The accumulated depth of the fresh clippings might total four feet, but the clippings decay into the soil. By next spring, the soil is bare… though weeds abound.

This past week finally produced the kind of weather that gets me started in my home kitchen garden. While conventional wisdom says to get out there as soon as you can work the soil, I tend to delay a few weeks. There are a few advantages to this strategy:

1. When the soil first thaws, it tends to contain a lot of moisture; working in the mud is unpleasant, and waiting a week or two lets the soil dry out a bit.

2. I’m usually pruning and grafting fruit trees until their buds start to open; I do this in late winter because those days aren’t miserably cold, but it means I’m busy in the trees when my soil thaws.

3. After the soil thaws, it takes a few weeks for the weeds to start growing. Were I to start in my planting bed at this time, I might not spot the dandelions, thistle, and elephant grass that rooted last summer. These grow rapidly, and in a few weeks their new growth will make them easy to spot; I begin spring planting with a ceremonial removal of last year’s weeds.

4. Sure, cold-weather crops such as peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and onions will withstand cold days likely to hit after the soil thaws, but they won’t do a whole lot of growing. I’ve seen peas sprout in the produce drawer of my refrigerator where it’s always about 42F degrees. But after a month at 42 degrees, the peas were still just sprouts. Why not let the soil warm just a bit so the seeds feel cozier when they go in the ground?

A First Look at my Garden Bed

Last week, I finally assessed my garden bed. To put things in context, here’s how I left things in the fall:

I mulch between planting rows with grass clippings from my lawn. I pile these on all growing season. They keep the weeds down except along the plantings—wherever I maintain a gap for vegetables to grow, there is a green oasis of competing weeds.

Home Kitchen Garden Mint Family

If you find a square-stemmed plant with purple blossoms in your home kitchen garden, it may not be a weed. These are members of the mint family, and you may be growing them as herbs. The square-stemmed plants in my kitchen garden are probably catnip. I don’t want them there, so they’re weeds.

I pulled the tomato stakes and threw most of the dead tomato plants in the compost heap, and I swiped a few panels of the garden fence to put around fruit trees I planted in November. Finally, my kids raked the lawn and tossed all the leaves onto the planting bed.

There was little snow over the winter, so there was nothing to compress the leaves and encourage them to decompose.

Here’s what I found in the garden:

The grass-clipping mulch is gone! It has completely rotted away to bare soil. I’m used to finding a thin cap of dry, decomposing grass on the soil at the beginning of a growing season, but there is none.

There are leaves all over the planting bed, though most had gathered at the east end, blown there by the prevailing wind and trapped by the garden fence. The prevalent weed is dandelion, but there’s also a patch of something out of the mint family—I guess catnip because it has no minty scent.

Rhubarb on the left, and oregano on the right are making excellent starts in my home kitchen garden. I reserved about four feet at one end of the raised bed for perennials, and these are the ones that thank me.

Already, rhubarb is pushing up through the leaves, and there’s a lot of green deep under the dried stalks of last year’s oregano. I planted a single pot of oregano four years ago, and it’s now a four-foot diameter circle that laughs at winter chill.

Finally, I found clusters of delphinium leaves in a corner where I planted them when I planted the oregano. I don’t know what came over me that day; it seems a travesty to have given up garden space for something I’m never going to eat.

Just One More Thing

As I scanned the garden bed, imagining where I’d plant each type of vegetable, I noticed a small patch of grass clippings where a tomato plant had stood last summer. I suspiciously (and gently) moved some of the grass aside and made an aggravating discovery: a rabbit had beaten me to my garden. The nest held at least four nearly-naked babies.

This is the third season I’ve found such an obstacle in my planting bed, and I’ve managed to work around rabbit babies in the past. Thankfully, mother rabbit didn’t approve of my meddling, and she carried her babies off to a new nest later that day.

Home Kitchen Garden Rabbit Babies

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What’s Your Favorite Chore?

Please leave a comment identifying the gardening chore that you enjoy above all others.

As spring slowly gets rolling in my home kitchen garden, I’m doing a few gardening tasks that I particularly enjoy. I’ve finished pruning my fruit trees, and have made about three dozen grafts (here, in reverse order, are posts in which I wrote about pruning and grafting apple trees). I love pruning and grafting because it gets me outdoors in trees while most people are still indoors awaiting warmer weather. There are few times when unadulterated sounds of nature are so audible in my yard.

To pollinate squash or pumpkins, I pick a male flower, tear off its petals, and rub the stamen/anther structure around on the pistols of any open fruiting flowers. Since I started doing this, my squash and pumpkins in my home kitchen garden have been reliably prolific.

With the temperature finally climbing, I plan to lay out some rows in my garden, and start peas, spinach, lettuce, and, perhaps, cilantro during the weekend. The prospect of working in the garden has me a little jazzed, but I admit that I don’t care for some spring gardening chores. I don’t till the whole garden; I turn soil directly where I’m planting. However, I also dig out every weed that I ignored through last year’s growing season. I don’t enjoy weeding, so I reserve the job for early spring when I have greatest enthusiasm for gardening.

Chore Anticipation

As I’ve completed my cherished late-winter tasks, and I anticipate the early spring weeding and planting, I realize I’m looking forward to some specific gardening moments that won’t come until later in the season. Harvesting just about anything is right up there on my list of favorites. Even better is cooking with the harvested produce. I especially love to make new potatoes and peas (I meant to share this mid-winter, but now it’ll have to wait until I’m picking peas), and nothing beats this awesome tomato salad.

Still, there’s one gardening chore that I anticipate more than any other: pollinating squash and pumpkins.

Growing Squash and Pumpkins

A pumpkin surrounded by squash and (shudder) gourds from my home kitchen garden. In a moment of weakness, I planted gourds one season and they came back on their own for two more years. My attitude now: if I’m not going to eat it, I’m not planting it.

In my first year growing squash and pumpkins, I felt some despair when I’d notice a female flower blossom and then, a few days later, fall off the plant along with the fruit. Eventually, I guessed that only pollinated squash and pumpkin flowers grow into fruit, so I initiated the morning pollination patrol.

In the cool of each summer morning, I pluck a male squash flower and strip away its petals. Then I wade among the squash plants, and use the stamen/anther of the flower I hold to paint the pistols of any female flowers I find in bloom.

I listen to birds sing, I watch bees work, I enjoy textures and aromas of the vegetable plants, and I bask in the cool that will soon wilt under the rising sun. It takes about three minutes to spot all the squash flowers and pollinate the ones that fruit. Still, it takes about a half-hour for me to return from this gardening chore that I most enjoy.

What’s Yours?

Please share! Leave a comment describing the one garden chore that you enjoy above all others.

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How did a high school student use lemons to research gardening-related issues?

I recently attended a high school science fair that featured student’s experiments in biology. I was pleased to find many exhibits of interest to anyone who grows a home kitchen garden. Here are some things I learned:

The Best Miracle Grow Potting Mix

One exhibit described an experiment involving flowering cabbage growing in three types of Miracle Grow potting mix. Of the three, Miracle Grow Organic Choice produced the tallest seedlings, while Miracle Grow Potting Mix and Miracle Grow With Moisture Control produced shorter seedlings.

It was clear that the seedlings had received too little light during the experiment, but the difference in growth was obvious. If you’re shopping Miracle Grow, go with their Organic Choice product.

Soil Treatments

An exhibit showed the results of sprouting peas in soil that had undergone various treatments. Starting with one type of soil, the experimenter had baked some soil, amended some with soot and ash, amended other soil with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and amended still other soil with activated coal.

Peas grew best in the soil with added activated coal and worst in the baked soil. Soil amended with soot and ash or with nitrogen-fixing bacteria supported the peas adequately. But were I mixing soil based on the experiment’s results, I’d add activated coal to my potting mix.

The Best Fertilizer for Young Garden Beans

One exhibit described garden beans having been fed with various mixes of fertilizers. Apparently, there were five sets of seeds or young seedlings. Each set received its own fertilizer mix ranging from no additional fertilizer to a 30-10-10 mix, a 12-55-6 mix, a 10-10-10 mix, and an 11-35-15 mix. The experimenter’s conclusion? Fertilizer hinders the growth of a plant.

Save the Lemon Juice for Cooking

To simulate acid rain, one experimenter mixed lemon juice with the water given to bean plants. Some plants received water with a ph of 2, some received water with a ph of 3-to-4, some received water with a ph of 4-to-5, and some received water with a ph of 6. After 10 days of these treatments, the low-ph plants actually shrank while the plants receiving water of neutral ph grew well. What would I conclude? If I use lemon juice on my vegetables, I’ll wait till I’m cooking them.

From a high school science experiment, it’s not clear which artificial lights are best for beans… but whatever type of bulb you use, it’s hard to provide enough.

Artificial Light

In one experiment, some beans grew under halogen lights, others under black light, others under grow lights, and still others under fluorescent lights. Actually, the beans under black light and grow lights didn’t grow; the ones under halogen lights grew very well. But from reading the researcher’s comments, I wouldn’t make decisions about lighting from these results. The plants and their respective lighting were in rooms all over the house—temperature differences may have been a greater factor than lighting differences. Also, apparently there was no control over watering; some plants might simply have dried out while others received adequate water. It’s helpful that the researchers described their methods and highlighted possible flaws.

An Engaging Hour

I spent an hour reviewing the science experiment displays and would have been happy spending more time. I learned about compost, about the effects of filtering light on plant growth, about soil nutrients, about germination rates, about soil types, and about insects (including honey bees).

My favorite exhibit featured a question in bold characters across the display: How do you make flowers last? The experiment had to do with prolonging the health of cut flowers, but I couldn’t help answering that leading question in my own twisted way: If you want to make flowers last, make everything else first.

 

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There are not yet blossoms on my apple trees… and if there were there’d be no bees to pollinate them. This year, my bees will miss the apple blossoms, but next season, they’ll be first in line.

Some weeks ago I started this discussion about getting beehives for your home kitchen garden. Then, I posted a video that describes a starter beekeeping kit and I promised more videos that show fine points about assembling parts of a beehive, and that show how to install a mail-order package of bees in a hive.

If you’re in hardiness zone 6 or below (farther North), plan to start bees in May. Unless there’s a local retailer who sells hives, you should order gear now so you have time to assemble it in April before your bees arrive.

I’ve browsed dozens of videos on YouTube in search of some to help explain beekeeping and show how easy it is to do. There are plenty, each with its own quirks. The two I’ve embedded here show typical steps to starting hives. I’ll be starting at least one hive in May, and will share my experiences as they unfold. But this blog isn’t about beekeeping, so, as the growing season approaches, I’ll present other topics of use to all home kitchen gardeners.

Whether you’re starting bees in May along with me, or visiting to learn more about growing, eating, and preserving your own produce, please visit often, leave comments and questions to move the discussion along, subscribe to my RSS feed, and bookmark to show your support. I’m looking forward to a productive season in my home kitchen garden as I hope you are in yours. In the meantime, please enjoy these videos about beekeeping.

A Frame and Foundation

This video shows a man assembling a frame and installing foundation on it. You’ll see such assembled frames in the next video as the beekeeper there fills a hive body with them.

Low-Impact Installation

I like the installation technique in the following video. Traditional beekeepers often bang the bees around severely and shake them into the hive. This video shows a gentle aternative: putting the shipping container into the hive box and letting the bees emerge from it in their own time. If you use this approach, you’ll need to go in in a week or two, remove the shipping box, and insert frames to fill the space.

If you don’t like to get stung by bees, WEAR PROTECTIVE GEAR! There’s no shame in it, despite the daring beekeepers who work without gloves and bonnets. I’ll be dressed heavily when I work my bees!

 

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I accidentally sprouted roots on a basil sprig, then planted it in a flower pot where it has grown very slowly this winter on a south-facing windowsill.

I’ve reported several times this winter about my answer to cold and snow: I have a small indoor home kitchen garden. That garden consists of two flower pots on a south-facing windowsill, and an occasional canning jar with fresh, young sprouts for salads and breads (I wrote about the sprouts in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).

In my last post, I reported that I found box elder bugs wintering over in my indoor herb pots. This morning, when I went to water my herbs, I made another unexpected discovery: My basil is in bloom!

Three blossoms have emerged on my basil plant, and it looks as though more are on the way.

Accidental Basil

In October I had put some sprigs of basil in water to hold them after the first killing frost. Those sprigs happened to put out roots. I planted one of the rooted sprigs in a flower pot.

The basil has grown poorly. It got too little light, and the soil was too cool on the windowsill. Oh, and when I took vacation one week, the basil got miserably overwatered, resulting in a massive setback for the plant. Still, this morning I found three tiny basil flowers.

It was a great reminder of the coming springtime. I’m so jonesing to plant vegetables.

 

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I planted cilantro in a pot and set it in a south-facing window. I added a grow light, but did nothing to push back the cold from the window. Outdoors in summer, these plants would be at least shin high. The cold windowsill has slowed their growth; they aren’t even ankle-high.

My home kitchen garden just emerged from the ice pack that has covered it for more than a month. Even with the snow gone, the soil is frozen nearly rock-hard. That’s good, because February shouldn’t be a gardening month in central Pennsylvania… unless you grow things indoors.

In the doldrums of early winter, I grow a few things indoors. This winter, I planted a flower pot with cilantro seeds, and a healthy but small crop of the herb is growing on my basement windowsill. I also planted a sprig of basil that had rooted when I set a bouquet of it in water on my dining room table just before the first frost of autumn (I wrote about it in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).

My Indoor Home Kitchen Garden is Pathetic

The bottom line: I’ve been a lousy gardener this winter. I put my meager plantings on a south-facing windowsill, which, I’ve explained in other posts (in Your in-Home Kitchen Garden, for example), is a lousy place for plants in the winter—unless you’ve provided extra light and heat. The winter sun isn’t enough for most vegetable plants, and 65 degrees Fahrenheit makes for slow growth; a central Pennsylvania windowsill in winter tends to run much lower than 65 degrees.

I did put a plant light over the herb pots, but the plants must think it’s early spring; they haven’t grown quickly in the cool air on the windowsill. Were I to harvest cilantro now, I’m afraid I’d kill the plants. That’s OK because I know they’ll grow faster as the days warm. In the meantime, my in-home herb garden has taken on new life: several box elder bugs lurk among its leaves.

At Least They’re Not Roaches

Box elder bugs were news to me when I moved to rural Pennsylvania; growing up in upstate New York, I’d never seen nor heard of these critters. However, during my first autumn in Lewisburg, I’d see hundreds of box elder bugs gather on the front of my house where the sun hit in the late afternoon. A few of them got inside each time we opened the door.

The box elder bugs that decided to winter over in my house have found their ways to my cilantro pot. It feels more like a home kitchen garden now that it has bugs.

Living in apartment buildings in Boston, I found cockroaches amazingly unpleasant. However, I quickly became indifferent toward box elder bugs. The few that winter over in my house ignore my food stores, they don’t reproduce in the house, and they don’t scurry into dark spaces whenever I turn on a light. In fact, I rarely see them—and I never see traces of them, though occasionally one flies by or crawls down a lampshade.

I guess the box elder bugs in my house are as fed up with winter as I am. I’m impressed that they’ve found the few food plants I’m growing, and I’m letting them stay. My indoor herb garden feels more like a seasonal outdoor garden now that it has insect critters scurrying about in its leaves.

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