Thai Basil

Thai basil grows very similar to other basils. It does well in fertile, well-draining soils, and can tolerate some drought. It has been much slower to flower than the common Genovese basil and more resistant to bolting in hot, dry weather. This basil grows a bit slower than many other basils, but puts on a spectacular flower show and is worth the wait.

Taste and Smell

Thai basil is more pungent than other basils. It has a peppery, licorice-taste that is very pronounced. It is definitely a savory herb which is why it balances so nicely in sweet and sour dishes or things like curry with a sweet coconut milk base.

Thai basil has a strong, lingering black licorice or anise scent that becomes even stronger when dried. This is one of the best drying basils I grow in my garden.

Leaves

Thai basil has light green leaves with rose hued stems. The leaf color is a bit more lime or yellow-tending than than the shiny, brightness of the more common Genovese basil. The leaves are also more narrow and tend to be smaller and more angular in shape.

Thai basil leaves seem more prone to insect damage than is typical for the other kinds of basil I have experience growing. It also seems to be less of a nutrient scavenger than other kinds of basil and requires more care to avoid chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves).

Blooms

Thai basil has blooms that more closely resemble lilac flower clusters than the tall flower stakes that are more typical of most basil plant. They are incredibly beautiful in clusters. The flowers also hold up well when cut and are excellent in aromatic herb bouquets.

Growth Habit

This is one of the more compact and slower growing basil plants I have grown. It also doesn’t spread as wide even with regular pinching to encourage bushiness.

These plants seem to do best in direct sunlight. The interior leaves show a lot of yellowing if plants aren’t allowed enough room to grow.

Mature height in fertile soil ranges between about 2-3 feet, width is about 1 foot wide. I only grow this plant in fertile, vegetable garden soil because it seems more finicky than other basil plants.

Planting Details

  • Starts easily from seed. Can be direct planted or transplanted.
  • It does exceptionally well growing through hot weather even with minimal rain or watering and is slow to flower even under extended heat stress.
  • Needs warm temperatures to germinate. Seeds started in late May in North Carolina, in 80 degrees F germinated in 4-5 days. Germination rates seem lower than for most basils I have tried. So, I heavily over seed for this plant.
  • Water daily until plants are at least a few inches tall for faster growth rates.
  • Thai basil’s compact size and slower growth rates make it more weed prone in general. By starting more plants, closer together, then harvesting the thinnings, to use in cooking, you get more yield and have less weed competition at the outset.
  • This basil also seems to need regular fertilizing for peak health. Compost tea applied weekly to the roots intensifies the color and aroma of the leaves.
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Persian Basil

Persian basil grows very similar to other basils. It does well in fertile, well-draining soils, and can tolerate some drought. It has been much slower to flower than the common Genovese basil and more resistant to bolting in hot, dry weather.

Taste and Smell

Persian basil is very mild in flavor. It can be used fresh in salads as whole or chopped leaves. It has a hint of licorice and mint as well as the savory, green flavor common to most basil. The leaves are a bit meatier than Italian-style basils.

There is a hint of cinnamon in the flower blossoms. The leaves smell more strongly of licorice than some other basils. Overall, though the aroma is mild like the flavor.

Leaves

Persian basil has green leaves with purple hued stems and veins. The leaf color is darker and more subdued than the shiny, brightness of the more common Genovese basil. The leaves are also more narrow and elongated in shape.

Blooms

Persian basil has purple flower stakes with white flower blooms. The stakes grow from the center of the leaves starting the size of a button and growing to 3-4 inches in length.

Growth Habit

The plants are about 1 foot wide with minimal pinching. However they can spread out a few feet if you continually pinch growing heads to encourage bushiness.

They also seem perfectly happy to grow in large , overcrowded groups, and do an excellent job at stifling weeds. The plants along the outer perimeter will lean over to get sun and air and then set new roots and spread. Even well-shaded inner leaves show no signs of discoloration. So, I suspect this plant can even tolerate a fair amount of shade or being grown in indirect window sunlight.

Mature height in fertile soil ranges between about 3-4 feet. The plants are shorter in drier, less fertile soil.

Planting Details

  • Starts easily from seed. Can be direct planted or transplanted.
  • This basil grows slower than other basils at first. So it may need weeding for the first few weeks. But then it catches up quickly and does exceptionally well growing through hot weather.
  • Needs warm temperatures to germinate. Seeds started in late May in North Carolina, in 80 degrees F germinated in 2-3 days.
  • Water daily until plants are at least a few inches tall for faster growth rates.
  • Thinning is optional. This plant seems to self-select the winners if you over seed and then adjusts well to overcrowding.
  • It’s beautiful to plant in bunches for more impact than from individual plants.

Harvest and Succession Plant Your Homestead Potager

The garden explosion happened. Those tiny, seedlings I showed pictures of in the last post Plant Your Homestead Potager suddenly started to look like fully-fledged plants.

Even when you visit your garden daily, and observe the incremental growth, there is still this moment when you realize “Wow, this is a real garden.”

Honestly, it was a real garden from the first moment you poured your intentions into it. Yet, it always seems so surprising when your effort starts to pay off and your aesthetic ideals of a garden are gratified.

Stop and enjoy this moment. Savor it like you would a perfect, but fleeting sunset. Take some mental, or actual pictures, to refer back to from year to year. Then, get out your harvest basket and scissors and get to work.

Harvesting as Health Care for Your Garden

This is the point in time when you really have to be diligent. If you don’t stay on top of your harvesting and garden care, your plants’ heath will decline quickly.

So-called “pests” will come to help eradicate failing plants. We call them pests, but really they are just nature’s helpers, culling the poor performers so they don’t go to seed and start generations of weak plants.

As plants fail, the biological life in your soil will lose their sense of purpose. Those damaged plants begin to process nutrients poorly, leaving too much behind in the soil. . Those once eager biological workers start to go dormant from boredom as the nutrients they provide begin pile up and their efforts go unappreciated by dying root systems.

Don’t worry. This does not need to be the fate of your garden.

All you need to do is harvest and replenish what you take. Then, you’ll have a continuous supply of fresh food. Your soil life will be busy and satisfied. Your plants will be healthy and you won’t need the services of nature’s pest-like plant killers who offer a quick end to suffering plants.

The Continuous Harvest

If you took my advice and over seeded, you can use your scissors to cut out the extra plants that are smaller in size. Leave the largest, healthiest plants in the ground to grow out to maturity.

The Art of Thinning

If all those extra plants with edible greens look healthy, and aren’t developing slug problems, I thin in increments. That way I get a harvest of baby greens every day for a week or two. Even a small handful of fresh tasty greens can spruce up an omelet, make a great side salad, or be tossed with olive oil and salt when you need something salty and crunchy on warm days.

– Warning

If plants show signs of insect damage or leaf discoloration, then I thin brutally, leaving only those plants that have the best chance of success. Heavy rains followed by periods of hot, sunny days can create fungal problems and encourage slugs to move in. So, when that happens, I also speed up my thinning process to maintain good air circulation and avoid creating a slug heaven.

– Minimally Thinned Root Vegetables

Most plants ultimately need plenty of space to grow to mature size. However, there are a few that can grow to a large size even in close contact with fellow plants. For example, beets, turnips, and radish can grow in groups of 3-4, almost right on top of each other in fertile soil.

The bulb portions of the plants just push each other apart as they swell. Then, you can carefully harvest the biggest of the bulbs and let the others continue growing. You do need good airflow around your clusters though. So, you will still need to thin many of the greens for good root production.

– Non-Edible Plant Thinning

Even for plants that I can’t eat the thinnings of, like tomatoes and peppers, I still thin incrementally. High-performing, young plants really seem to benefit from a little competition and companionship at the outset of planting.

This method requires is a delicate balance though because once the strongest plants are established, they can become stunted by crowding. Usually within 2-3 weeks in warm weather and 3-4 weeks in cool weather, it’s time to let your winners make the rest of their journey toward plant maturity on their own.

Leave Non-eDible Roots In Place

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, bacteria and fungi form relationships with plant roots. So, if you rip out your plant roots every time you harvest, you end up taking a lot of those amazing garden helpers with you.

Instead, leave the roots in the ground when you can. Small roots decompose quickly. Even large roots can be left to decompose if you have room to plant around them.

If your plants have become pest infested, though, you’ll want to pull those roots out and throw them away so that you don’t run the risk of harboring lots of larva in your soil and plant matter.

Here’s an example of my kohlrabi seedlings before thinning.

Now, here’s what it looked like after I harvested the baby greens to use for making a variation on Palak Paneer. I only left the two largest plants on the outer edges of the photo so that they can continue to grow to maturity. The rest were dinner and delicious!

Fertilizing

If you need another application of organic fertilizer for your heavy feeders, then you can do this after you complete your thinning process.

When using slow-release, meal-based fertilizers like feather meal and bone meal, or organic 4-4-4 mixes, you can sprinkle them directly on the soil all around your plants. I like to cover them with a thin layer of compost and then water them in to help them start to penetrate the soil.

When you eventually harvest your mature plants, you’ll also want to fertilize the bed again before you start a new crop. Then, you’re all set to start growing your next crop.

Succession Planting

As you finish harvesting your cool season crops, you’ll most likely want to put in warm season crops. For example, if your March planted peas are spent, then it might be time for your late-May planted green beans. When cabbage comes out, okra might go in.

If you are removing warm season crops, it may be time to start planting for a fall harvest. Fall gardening really starts in summer. This is usually around late July through mid-August. But the exact timing for fall planting depends on your climate and growing season.

Your fall plants need to be well-established before your day-length shortens too much and soil temperatures cool. Winter cover crops are generally started around this time too.

If it’s not quite fall planting time, you may need to grow a short term, hot season cover crop like buckwheat or cowpeas. The important thing is never to leave your beds unplanted.

I often put my new seeds in the ground a few days before I harvest the entire mature plant (e.g. cabbage heads). That gives the seeds time to acclimate and activate. Once I remove the ready to harvest plants, those eager seeds seem to sprout instantly.

Note, this only works if you can leave the mature plant roots in the ground. You don’t want to disturb newly planted seeds by pulling out old roots.

Come and Cut Greens

Lettuce Bed Before Harvest

For densely planted come and cut greens, like the lettuce bed shown above, I harvest in sections. This promotes good air flow and keeps the bed looking full even after I fill my salad bowl.

You want to leave at least an inch of leaf producing part of each plant so that the lettuce leaves can regrow from the base. Many of your lettuce plants will actually make multiple heads and start to become more productive as you harvest them.

Lettuce Bed After Harvest

Once that happens, you’ll be able to harvest a section of your bed almost daily . Then, a week later when you’re ready to re-harvest that first section, it will be lush and ready to cut again.

If your plants start to bolt (send up flower stalks), you need to harvest them all the way to the soil at each cutting to kill those plant and make room for more. Right after you cut a bolting section down, add some more fertilizer to the soil and cover with 1-2 inches of compost. Then, re-seed your next round of lettuce right over your just butchered patch.

If you do this in segments, your garden bed will never be completely bare while waiting for new seedlings to sprout. When you get your timing exactly right, then you never want for lettuce.

In hot climates, your second planting may need to be a collection of oak leaf lettuces or alternative greens like New Zealand spinach that better tolerate excessive heat.

Salad Preparation Tip

Cut your lettuce up into bite size portions and put them directly in your salad spinner in the garden. Then, all you need to do is give them a rinse and spin back in the house and they are ready to eat.

Slug Tip

Also, if you do have issues with slugs, they tend to be heaviest in the bottom inch or two of the cut leaves.By trimming that area and throwing it on top of your compost pile to dry out in the sun, you remove the slugs from your lettuce bed and have fewer pests to wash out of your cut lettuce.

Conclusion

Your timing and efficiency at harvesting vegetables from your potager will get better the more you do it. Take notes on what works and what doesn’t. Visualize ways that you’ll improve your process for next year as you go along, even if it’s too late to correct things this year.

In my experience, the best time to plan your garden for next year is actually right now while you are in the thick of the growing season. You may not formalize your plan until winter when you have time to sit down and write it out. But, by solving challenges and making plans for your future garden now, and keeping good notes so you remember, your work will be mostly done before you put your future plantings on paper.

Next time, we’ll start to get into the details of making compost right in the garden. In the meantime…Bon Appétit!

Seed Starting

Seeds may look like tiny, innocuous things. But they have the power to explode into life with the least bit of encouragement. Often, a little water and warmth can ignite that spark of transformation.

The Seed Life Cycle

The tiny living being that emerges has no idea what waits on the other side. All it knows is that when the conditions are right, it must try to become.

When soaked in water, the contents of the seed swell. This swelling expands the outer shell allowing the little life inside to begin to breath. As it breaths, it grows and develops until it bursts through the seed exterior. 

In the beginning, that little seedling is completely supported by nutrients from the seed and its own will to live. Within just a couple of days though, the seedling loses its independence. Then, it must rely on its environment to provide for its needs.

Tentatively, plant parts start to reach up for sun. Simultaneously, almost imperceptible roots reach down for nutrients in the soil. As the plant feels sun and tastes soil, it begins to grow.

Its original seed-breaking leaves, called cotyledons, eventually give way to true leaves. These leaves are tiny versions of what the mature plant leaves will look like. The delicate, young roots also branch and dig, anchoring themselves into the earth. 

The stem of the developing plant is something like a service elevator. Leaves use the stem to send encapsulated sunshine (or sugars) down to the roots. The roots use the stem to send nutrients and water drawn from the soil up to the leaves.

As long as that exchange of energy keeps happening, day by day, the roots grow deeper and wider and the plant grows taller and larger. This growth is very slow at first, but as the plant gains size, the growth speeds up.

Eventually, the plant bears fruit. All plants bear fruit in some way.

Fruit is a metaphor for the plants reproductive method. It may be the actual fruit, like an apple, that contains seeds. It may also be a flower head that produces seeds. Sometimes it is fat roots that store enough energy to send up new plants (e.g. ginger rhizomes and potato tubers). 

The dream of a seed is to grow into a plant so that it can send more seeds out into the world. In other words, it wants to be fruitful and multiply. 

The Intricacies of Seed Life

That’s a very simple explanation of the seed life cycle. But most people don’t even look that closely at this magical process that forms the basis of life as we know it. When you do begin to pay attention, it becomes obvious that all life starts from some kind of seed which is either nurtured, or not, by the environment around it

Gardeners know better though. We realize how delicate, hopeful, and incredible seed life is. We respect this process and depend on it to sustain our bodies and our souls.

For example, we know that some seeds will only start when exposed to warmth, moisture, and sunlight. If the outer seed skin can’t feel the sunlight, or something like it, then nothing happens.

Other seeds will only germinate in darkness. They must believe they are enveloped in soil to attempt the treacherous trek from seed to a living, breathing plant form. 

Frankly, some seeds are simply too weak to spark to life even when offered the perfect conditions. That’s why we always start more seeds than we need. We are hopeful, yet we are also practical. 

We gardeners also know that even the strongest seeds only grow into healthy plants with proper encouragement. We do this by starting our seeds in loose disease-free soil. We add fertilizer and water as necessary for growth. Then we ensure warmth or coolness and sun or shade to make our plants feel at home. Much like taking care of any baby, proper care is essential to plant growth. 

The Homesteading Life Cycle

Homesteading is also very much like this. Your dream of homesteading is like the seed. With the right conditions, it can spark a whole new life for you. However, you have to create the right conditions for that to happen. 

To sprout the seed, you must commit to start homesteading now. That act alone will generate all the energy you need to break through and actually begin living your dreams. 

Yet, to grow the dream from its early development phases to something grand and life-encompassing, you must also feed it.  Similar to the way the leaves and the roots work together,  in homesteading your mind and body must also work together to grow your dream. 

The Mind Body Connection

You must learn new concepts with your mind. Then you must practice them with your body. Many people who want to become homesteaders stop at the learning part. They gather so much information but never put it to use. 

The result is basically like sprouts grown on your counter. They start out with all the promise of a new plant. Without soil though, they will never become more than sprouts. 

Some people stay at the sprout phase of homesteading. They try a new recipe that is closer to cooking from scratch. Or, they buy some herbs from the garden center and grow them in a sunny window sill until the plants get root bound or light deprived and start to die.

There’s nothing wrong with doing these things. However, if you really want to grow to your full potential, you need to follow the entire life cycle of your dream, from seed to seed. You must germinate your ideas, feed them, and give them the care they require to be fruitful. 

For today, it is enough to understand the magic contained within the seed. Soak in this idea of how seeds become plants, how dreams become realities. Revel in the absolute wonder of the fact that something so small and seemingly inert can be the basis of an entire new life. 

Time to Try

If you are feeling adventurous, and have the time, then why not also try to sprout some seeds to begin developing a deeper understanding of how things grow. 

Don’t just go through the motions.  Pay attention to the process.

Write down observations like how long you needed to soak your seeds until they swelled or how long it took them to germinate. Also, notice if any of the conditions in your home seem to have an impact on the seeds. Did most of the seeds sprout during the day when your house was warmer or at night when it was cooler?

Observation is one of your best tools for becoming an effective homesteader. Start practicing it every day. 

How to Grow Sprouts

Most of us are used to seeing or eating the mung bean sprouts from the grocery store. However, that’s just the beginning of what you can sprout. If you can eat the leaves and seeds of a plant, then you can generally eat its sprouts too. 

What to Sprout

For this exercise, you probably don’t need to buy anything.

Do you have any dried whole beans  in the pantry (pinto, Northern, kidney, cranberry, turtle, black-eyed peas, lentils, etc.)?  Start with those. 

If you don’t have any whole beans, then you may need to buy those. But you can get them for a couple dollars at any grocery store and most convenience stores. 

Easy Sprouting Tray

Next, do you have any plastic take-out food containers or other inexpensive plastic storage container to sacrifice to this project? Flat, rectangular containers work really well. However, any container will do. 

Because your seed begins to breath from the moment is saturated with water, poke a couple holes in the lid of your container to allow for airflow.  Those takeout lids tend to crack when you poke them with a knife, so I typically only make one hole on each side of the lid. 

For Straining

Other than that, all you need is a fine sieve to strain your soaked beans.

If you don’t have one of those, a colander lined with a thin towel or part of an old sheet will work too.

Basically, you just need something that will allow you to strain the excess water from your beans without damaging them. 

Start Sprouts

start sprouts

As with any food preparation, wash your hands and clean up your kitchen work area and utensils before getting started.  

  1. Wash your beans thoroughly by putting them in a fine sieve, or towel-lined colander, under your running faucet for several minutes. Cold water is fine.
  2. Spread your seeds in your container and cover them with water to soak for 4-12 hours or until they plump. 
  3. Once your beans are plump, strain away the extra water using the sieve or towel-lined colander. Then wash them again. 
  4. Spread the beans out in your container so each bean gets good airflow. Put your punctured lid on top to increase the warmth inside the container and help maintain the humidity. 
  5. Twice a day, transfer your beans back into your sieve or colander, run water over them, and then spread them out in your container again. Washing keeps the beans moist and prevents mold and bacteria from building up.
  6. After a couple days of doing this, your beans will start to sprout. At this point, stop transferring them to the sieve or colander. Instead, just add water to your container and then carefully tip it sideways to drain completely. 
  7. Within 1-2 days of germination, your sprouts are ready to eat. Shake lose the seed shells and enjoy. 

Safety Warning

Similar to eating any uncooked vegetable product (e.g. lettuce, spinach) that has come into contact with potential soilborne pathogens, all seeds may contain E. Coli, Salmonella, Listeria, etc.. As such, your sprouts may be a potential source of foodborne illness. 

I personally eat them raw all the time. But, food safety experts say the only safe way to eat a sprout is fully cooked. Please use your own discretion on eating raw agricultural products.

One Skill, Multiple Uses

Once you have an understanding of how seeds germinate, you can use this information to start an entire garden or food forest. There are a few more steps involved after starting seeds. However, it begins with a seed and the courage to start something new.

Down the road, when you add livestock to your homestead, you can use your knowledge of sprouting seeds with water, warmth, and light to grow fodder for your livestock. The only difference between growing sprouts on your counter and growing it on a grand scale for your livestock, are the tools used.  

In homesteading, all skills are simple, sometimes they are just scaled up to a level that makes them appear complicated. Sprouting seeds on your counter is only the beginning of something much bigger. †

Tomorrow, continue your journey with The Importance of Observation

Simple Homesteading Starts Now

Why do you want to homestead? Greater security? Self-sufficiency? To increase your skills? For a deeper connection to nature? Better health? Tastier food? To live a simpler life?

All of the above and then some?

We all have different reasons for wanting to homestead. Each of us also has unique ideas of what homesteading means. I think, that’s how it should be.

Homesteading is a deeply personal act. This is your dream. This is your life.

Now, I may not know your exact dreams or reasons for wanting to homestead. I also don’t know your personal living conditions, your financial situation, your challenges, or your aptitudes. We are strangers connected only by our desire to homestead.

Yet, even without knowing you, I know with certainty, there is only one big difference between you and those people who are already living their homestead dreams.

Here it is.

Those other people got started.

That’s it!

They are not smarter than you. They are not more creative. They don’t have magical powers to grow things or make things that you simply don’t possess. But they did make up their mind to start homesteading.

Start Simple

You have to start the journey one day, one idea, and one activity at a time. Simple steps are all it takes. Trying to do anything other than starting simply is an invitation to frustration and failure.

In fact, if you choose the simple path to homesteading, then deciding to homestead is the hardest part. It gets much easier from here.

Make up your mind that you will start now. Don’t wait until you have your dream property, more time, or more money.

Begin exactly where you are. Use the things you already have. Rely on the skills that have gotten you this far in life.

Then, take focused, but simple steps toward your ultimate dream each and every day. Even the smallest steps in the right direction move you forward toward the homesteading future you want.

No Excuses

I know the excuses are already starting to line up in your head. I heard them all too.

I don’t know how. It’s too complicated. I don’t have land. I don’t have money. I’m afraid. It’s selfish. It’s too late. My family won’t understand. I don’t deserve a beautiful life.

These are all lies. They are the lies we tell ourselves so we don’t have to take risks and reach for the things we want. And they are a total waste of time.

As someone who lives on the other side, on the homestead of my dreams, I assure you, the only difference between me and you is that I heard the excuses. Then, I made the commitment to homestead anyway.

My Wish For You

Now, I may not know you personally, but I want this life for you. I want it for you because you are the kind of person who would wish for self-sufficiency over mindless consumerism.

You want to grow your food so that it is wholesome and nutritious — not just for yourself but for our planet.

You want to raise your own livestock – whether it be worms, honey bees, quail, chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, cows, pigs, or other animals  – so you can treat them with dignity and face those relationships honestly.

You want to make things yourself so you don’t have to bring home endless plastic packaging and support hidden human and environmental costs.

I want this for you because you are the kind of person who wants a meaningful and mindful life. So, even though we might be strangers, we’ve got some things in common.

Simple Steps

I started this website so I could share simple steps to help new homesteaders start living their dreams right now. That’s because I know homesteading is only hard if you try to do it all at once or take on more than you are ready for.

When you do it slowly, methodically, with careful intention, it is easy. It’s personally enriching and downright enjoyable. Plus, you get faster results doing it the simple way than you do bull-dozing into it without laying the ground work first.

No, it’s not going to be perfect. Yes, there is a lot of work involved. But, your life is not perfect now. And you are no stranger to hard work.

The difference is that when you start taking simple steps to create your homestead, the hard work you do and the imperfections that result are somehow exactly what you need to feel at home in your own life.
Home – as in a place to belong – is the defining word in homestead. And I think it’s what we are all really looking for.

Yes, this is the pep-talk post. Truthfully though, just by making a commitment to start living the homesteading life you want — choosing that act of bravery — sets in motion the start of your incredible homesteading journey.

Today, make this promise to yourself.

Simple homesteading starts now.

 

Tomorrow, continue your journey with Seed Starting