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herbs

volunteer dill seedlings

In 2007 I bought Mammoth Dill seeds and scattered them in a three-foot space in my garden. The plants thrived and three years later, the great grandchildren of those seeds emerged with weeds in early spring. I’ve had “volunteer” dill plants every growing season since that fateful first planting.

Dill is one of the most distinctive herbs you’re likely to grow. Many herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, fennel, sage, and cilantro contribute to flavor combinations more often than they stand on their own. Consider packaged seasoning mixes labeled Italian Seasoning and Poultry Seasoning—both distinctive for the combinations of herbs they contain. Cilantro often punctuates heavily seasoned Mexican dishes and Indian curries.

It’s less common for a recipe to combine dill with other herbs. Rather, potato salad, salad dressings, marinades, and soups feature dill; instead of blending, it becomes a prominent flavor in the dishes it seasons.

Dill is one of the easiest food plants you might ever try to grow. In fact, it’s so hardy and eager that after the first season you plant it, it may appear year after year in your garden and you won’t need to plant it again.

Photo captions provide more information. You can grow that!

dill plant

Maturing dill plants resemble nothing else I grow in my home kitchen garden. To me their stems look vaguely similar to bamboo while their leaves are more like ferns. A Mammoth Dill plant can grow four or five feet tall.

flowering dill plant

A dill plant puts up one main flower head comprised of dozens of tiny florets. Given time, the plant may produce all kinds of additional flower heads. Many dill pickle recipes call for you to add a full head to each pickle jar—you can use a head in full bloom, one that is just budding, or one at any stage in between.

dill plant gone to seed

When a dill plant finishes putting out seed heads, the plant dies and the seeds dry. This head has already dropped quite a few seeds and the ones remaining would be adequate to start a small dill plantation. The dozen or so other heads on the plant also dropped seeds. Dill seeds sprout when they’re damp; they don’t care if there’s soil covering them. They don’t wait for warm weather. They are among the first things to sprout (along with weeds) in spring. If you’re just starting to garden and you want to build confidence, plant dill. You can grow that.

Find More You Can Grow That Blogs

You Can Grow That is a celebration of gardening. Find other participating blogs at the website, www.youcangrowthat.com.

 

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basil blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Opening once again with basil blossoms! My porch basil started flowering over two months ago. This is a small habit plant intended for container gardening, and I’m done with it. The plants were tiny, the leaves ridiculously small, and I’ve had way more satisfying results planting regular old basil plants in containers. Even a standard-sized plant, stunted, provides a better yield than the container basil did. Still… pretty flowers.

Yikes! Summer blew through my home kitchen garden while I was writing a book about preserving produce. The book is on its way to the printer, and I’m still getting a grip on the blogging I failed to do.

Here it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in October, and I’ve been preparing blog posts about what went on in April and May. Despite the book-writing distraction, I did plant a kitchen garden—in fact, I expanded my garden this year. And, while we had our first frost two nights ago, even the basil survived in relatively decent shape; much still grows out there, and there are flowers… though my photos for this bloom day show little different from the past two Bloom Days.

It doesn’t matter! There are flowers in my home kitchen garden, they’re beautiful, and I shot them. Please enjoy.

 

late season broccoli in a home kitchen garden

The broccoli I started from seed indoors last February produced poorly at first, but it eventually put up side shoots and other growth that extended some plants as tall as eight feet. The floret production was too sporadic to keep my interest, so I’ll be trying a new variety of broccoli next season. Flowers from the unharvested side shoots attracted all kinds of interesting insects from July through today (notice the cluster of insects on the left side of the main stalk; I don’t know what they are, but they weren’t particularly energetic on this 48 degree day.)

 

cilantro blossoms in a home kitchen garden

A small stand of cilantro has just started flowering, so it’s not likely to produce seeds before cold stops it. I’ll be curious to see whether the plants overwinter and try to produce seeds next spring; I’ve had younger plants over winter very well, but I’ve never had mature and growing cilantro plants at the start of winter.

 

dill blossoms in a home kitchen garden

There’s dill in every stage of growth in my home kitchen garden. The stems, leaves, and flowers look exotic to me, but having such fine-textured leaves and flowers, they are challenging to capture well in photographs. Several giant dill heads already dumped thousands of seeds in the garden, so I doubt I’ll need to plant this herb in the spring.

 

neck pumpkin blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Several overly-optimistic plants simply don’t understand what all the recent cold means. The neck pumpkin plants put on a secondary growth spurt, and there have been nearly a dozen new fruiting flowers. This one almost certainly wasn’t pollinated: no insects flitted about in the cold as I was taking pictures today. It seems pointless for me to pollinate the flower manually as any fruit that sets now will just freeze and die within three weeks.

 

chili pepper blossom in a home kitchen garden

Many of my pepper plants continue to flower, and examining them reminded me that I need to harvest the ripe peppers before we get serious frost. I’ve delayed because peppers keep very well on the plants; they may be full-sized and ready to eat green in July or August, but they can continue to ripen for months until you’re ready to use them.

 

tomato blossom in a home kitchen garden

Even the tomatoes continue to try to make fruit. I’m guessing, but I believe I’ve handled over 400 pounds of tomatoes this season. At peak, I harvested an average of 15 pounds per day. Even now I’ve 30 pounds of ripe tomatoes awaiting attention on my dining room table, and there may be 15 to 20 pounds still on the vines. Thank goodness today’s flowers have no chance of producing viable fruit before a killing frost shuts them down.

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Tomato Flower in a Home Kitchen Garden

If you’ve read my blog this season, you may be shaking your head and thinking, “Please, not another tomato flower.” This one is amusing to me because it’s on a tomato plant in my deck-rail basil planter. I filled the planter this summer with a mixture of compost and soil from the garden bed. Somewhere in the mix, there was a tomato seed left over from last season, and it decided to sprout. It put out its first flowers in time for September’s Bloom Day… far too late to produce meaningful tomatoes.

It seems only a month ago that it was August 15th in my Home Kitchen Garden. That’s significant because the 15th of each month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. The tradition, started by Carol at May Dreams Gardens is for garden bloggers everywhere to photograph and write posts about what’s blooming in their own gardens.

I don’t deliberately grow flowers, but they’re a necessary step in the growing of vegetables and fruits. I like the flowers because they represent food I’ll be eating three to six weeks from blossom time… that is, assuming the plants in bloom don’t freeze to death before they produce fruit or vegetables.

Unfortunately, the growing season here is trending toward conclusion. I imagine we’ll see frost before the next Bloom Day so I’m trying to enjoy the flowers for flowers’ sake. But I feel a tad melancholy knowing that most of the flowers in my home kitchen garden have come too late to add to my larder.

Pepper Flower in a Home Kitchen Garden

Also on my deck, the pepper plants have completed one fruiting cycle and have started a second. The first time around, my pot-bound pepper plants produced plenty of pleasing but piccolo piquant peppers. If peppers from this second round of flowers look good enough, I might move the planters indoors when frost threatens.

 

Butterfly & Rosemary in a Home Kitchen Garden

Sheltered from prevailing winds by our house, a small rosemary plant has survived two winters. Its delicate purple flowers had lured critters besides me to get close.

 

I liked the idea of capturing some bean flowers alongside a developing bean… didn’t really like any of the photos, but I still like the idea. The upside is that I discovered the climbing bean plants entwined with the kids’ play set had developed another crop of beans since last I’d looked; we had very fresh green beans with dinner today.

 

Oregano in a Home Kitchen Garden

Yes, the oregano is still in bloom; it has been in bloom since mid July, but it looks as though the blossoms are about done. I’m guessing there are a lot of seeds tucked away in the petalled stalks holding the flowers.

 

A Home Kitchen Garden Squash Flower

A few branches of my winter squash vines have grown through the garden fence and they’re still putting out flowers. I haven’t found female flowers in a few weeks, so I don’t anticipate more squash fruits to develop. However, this male flower is cleverly trying to conceal a ripening squash that has remained safely inside the fence.

 

Broccoli Flowers in a Home Kitchen Garden

The bees were abuzz on the broccoli flowers this morning. No, I don’t grow broccoli flowers… I grow broccoli buds, and we eat them. However, like so many kitchen gardeners, I eventually tire of keeping up with the broccoli. After harvesting the central bud cluster, I revisit the plants for many weeks, cutting off the side shoots and feeding them to my family. At some point, I overlook those side shoots and some of them flower. Then, judging the “ready” clusters from the “too old” clusters becomes a chore rather than a task… and soon I’m growing broccoli flowers.

Many people tidy their home kitchen gardens by pulling plants in which they’ve lost interest. I encourage you not to hurry: you do a great favor to pollinators when you leave plants to flower. At least six large bees, two or three butterflies, and another half dozen insects I couldn’t identify flitted from blossom-to-blossom as I tried to capture an image that screamed “BROCCOLI!”

 

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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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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.

Please enjoy these other articles about growing herbs:

 

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Basil will grow happily for you during winter in a pot in your house. When you plant any herbs or vegetables from seed indoors, use commercial potting soil. Bringing soil inside from your yard or garden risks introducing pests that may attack established house plants.

If you have a home kitchen garden in the norther hemisphere, you may be putting it to bed for the winter. At least those of us who live in hardiness zones 8, 7, 6, 5, and lower are dealing with (or have already dealt with) this unhappy truth. But winter is no reason to suspend gardening altogether. Rather, winter provides opportunity to manage simple gardening projects with relatively large returns.

If you don’t yet have a home kitchen garden, don’t put it off until spring. Start now and within four-to-six weeks, you can start harvesting tasty homegrown herbs and vegetables that will help keep you pumped for spring planting.

A Home Kitchen Garden Indoors

There are plenty of herbs and small vegetables that are happy to grow indoors. I poked around for a bit, looking for a good instructional video explaining how to set up an indoor planter. Sadly, most of the videos I could find on the subject started with established potted plants. At this time of year, you’re more likely to be working with seeds.

With that in mind, if you’d like step-by-step instructions for planting herbs in a flower pot, please check out the article, A Very Small Kitchen Garden: Basil that I wrote in August of 2008. My intent with that article was to provide enough detail that even someone who had never before planted anything would be able to muddle through.

Simplicity Overkill

While searching for the perfect instructional video, I came across a thinly-veiled advertorial for a seed company in Maine. This company packages seeds sandwiched between sheets of biodegradable paper. You toss the seed sandwich into a flower pot with soil, water it, and you’ll soon have a small home kitchen garden.

At first, I thought, “silly.” Then I thought it was a good idea for less experienced gardeners who want minimal bother… but it would probably be crazy more expensive than buying seed packs and planting them more traditionally.

So, I hopped over to the web site mentioned in the video and found the seed packs aren’t unbearably overpriced. True, you’d get more seeds for the same money if you bought traditional packets, but that’s no bargain if you use them to plant a single flower pot during the winter. What’s more, this seed company, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, offers a special deal: six “seed disks” (that’s six varieties of seeds), six flower pots, and six saucers for $10.95… a very good price for a sizeable indoor herb garden. Here’s the rub: these sets are back-ordered through late November!

Have a look at the video. It’s a simple idea that certainly has a place for beginning home kitchen gardeners. And, if you happen to buy anything from Johnny, please let them know you heard about them from http://www.homekitchengarden.com. Thanks!

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