Category Archives: You Can Grow That!

You Can Grow That: Hyssop for the Fourth of July

hyssopToday’s “You Can Grow That” falls on July 4. “You Can Grow That” is a collaborative effort by gardeners across the nation to encourage others to grow something by posting about a plant on the fourth day of the month. Because today is Independence Day, I chose to write about hyssop, a popular colonial herb. Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis, was introduced to the Americas by John Winthrop, Jr., in 1631. It is documented that he brought hyssop seeds, along with other herb seeds, from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is also documented that Quaker farmer and America’s first botanist, John Bartram, grew hyssop in Philadelphia. George Washington grew this herb at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s records mention hyssop at Monticello. Bernard McMahon, a Philadelphia nurseryman, included hyssop in his list of kitchen herbs in his book, The American Gardener’s Calendar, published in 1806.

Traditionally, hyssop has been grown for medicinal and culinary qualities. Hyssop tea helps with chest congestion. As an antiseptic, hyssop has been used to heal wounds. The leaves have a menthol taste and can be used to flavor green or fruit salads, make tea, or used in preparing meat or game dishes. Flowers are used as a garnish or in salads. The leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dry (they dry well). Hyssop also is used in perfumes, liqueurs, and wines and as a strewing herb.hyssop

Today, hyssop is popular as a landscape edible and beneficial plant for pollinators. Hardy to zone 3, it is a perennial in my Virginia garden which is partly why it was so popular with the colonists. It comes back year after year and seems to be deer and pest resistant. I certainly have had no problems with mine. Hyssop has dark green, lanceolate leaves that are opposite to each other on the stem and each pair is at right angles to the one above, giving a whorled appearance. The plant is bushy if left to grow to its height of 2 to 3 feet but can be clipped to be a border plant. Mine rewards me with purple flowers from June through August but there are white flowered and pink flowered types as well. The flowers are small but many on a stem, which can be cut for flower arrangements.

Hyssop can be grown in full sun or morning sun to afternoon shade, in well-drained soil, with little or no fertilizer. It is easy to grow from seeds, cuttings, or division and usually the large nurseries will carry it in the herb section in the spring to early summer.

You Can Grow That: Lettuce

lettuceYou can grow lettuce, it is one of the easiest plants to grow in the spring. Lettuce needs very little soil to grow and tolerates cool days and frosty nights. In the spring, lettuce should be given as much light as possible. Think container gardening or  garden beds where trees have not leafed out yet.

In my Northern Virginia garden, I  sow seeds in containers and the garden bed in March and again every 2 weeks thereafter until the end of May. Lettuce seeds are very small so just press them into wet soil. Afterwards, make sure the soil does not dry out, which may mean watering often, depending on the weather. The squirrels like to dig in my containers on the deck so I apply a dust of blood meal. In the garden bed, the slugs like to dine at night so I throw down broken eggshells. I tend to sow too many seeds so as the seedlings emerge, I pull to create more space for the remaining soldiers and use them in salad or transplant to other areas of the garden that are waiting for the warm weather veggies. The nice thing about lettuce is that you can grow them before the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants so you don’t need more land; you just double up on your existing land. This year, I sowed lettuce seed in March in a very large Smart Pot called the Big Bag Bed–it is the size of a kiddie pool! By April, I was able to transplant quite a few in a garden bed. Just now, in May, I planted peppers in between the lettuce in the garden bed so by the time it is summer the lettuce will have been pulled (it will be too bitter) and the peppers will grow into the space.smart pot

My family prefers the loose-leaf and romaine varieties. Loose-leaf, or cut and come again, has leaves that are loosely splayed outwards from the crown. They are the easiest to grow, quickest to harvest, and come in a variety of colors.  The entire plant can be cut at the base but most people cut the outer leaves as needed so the younger, inner leaves can take their place. Within this group are some of the best heat tolerant varieties. Romaine, also called cos, is not as sweet to me but I find that homegrown romaine is much tastier than store bought. Its stiff, vertical leaves are great for sandwiches and wraps. Romaine has the highest nutritional value of all the lettuces so it is a feel good mommy lettuce.pepper with lettuce

There are two other types that I have not grown. Butterhead, such as Bibb and Boston, has small heads of dark green leaves. These plants are so tight they have to be cut at the base and harvested whole. Crisphead is the familiar Iceberg, a tight ball of light colored leaves that requires a long cool season so it would be too challenging for me.

Try growing lettuce, you would be amazed at how it is easy and tasty!

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something by posting gardening articles on the fourth of each month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more articles.

You Can Grow That: Lemon Balm

lemon_balm (2)You can grow lemon balm. One of the easiest herbs to grow, lemon balm is a perennial bush grown for its lemon scented leaves. Lemon balm thrives in morning sun and afternoon shade in my Virginia garden and comes back in the spring, reaching about 2 feet tall by early summer. Hardy to zone 4, lemon balm co-exists well with other plants in the garden, serving as a beautiful green “landscape edible” but also as a pollinator plant. Its botanical name, Melissa officinalis, refers to the bee attracting white flowers (“Melissa” is Greek for “bee”) and long-serving medicinal qualities (“officinalis” refers to historical medicinal value). Actually, lemon balm’s medicinal value dates back over 2,000 years but for my family I tend to focus on lemon balm’s culinary uses. Fresh leaves add lemon flavor in baked goods such as pound cake, muffins, scones, and cookies; fruit salad; sorbets; butters; cheese; and fish and chicken dishes. Plus, the leaves’ wrinkly texture provide visual interest as a garnish in fruit salads, drinks, and desserts.

Out of all the herbal teas, lemon balm tea taste most like black tea, without the caffeine. I use the dried leaves for hot or iced tea either alone or as a base to which I add more pronounced fruity flavors from other plants. In the spring and summer, I pick the leaves as I need them or shear the entire plant down.  The plant revives quickly and a second shearing can be done before the fall.

Lemon balm is easy to grow from seed but also cheap to buy as a small plant. If a friend has it, get a stem cutting and root it in water. As a member of the mint family, lemon balm roots easily but this species is not as invasive as mints because it spreads by seed instead of runners. Mine has never spread but I have used it to make great gift plants.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more entries on the fourth of the month.

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You Can Grow That: Spinach

spinachYou  can grow spinach! Spinach has to be one of the easiest greens to start from seed. Here in Virginia, I sow spinach in the cool spring months and again in the fall. We are in Zone 7 so our winters are so mild enough to over winter fall planted spinach with garden fabric in order to harvest leaves throughout the winter. Now in March, I sow seeds in the ground and in containers on the deck (for last minute dinner salad harvesting). I plant the seeds about a half inch deep and water. Later, I thin them to prevent overcrowded mature plants. Every couple of weeks, I sow again, in different places, for a continuous harvest. It is best to grow different types, from savoy (wrinkled) to smooth leaves, to heat resistant cultivars, and in different places in the garden to avoid slugs.

We use spinach in everything from salads to sandwiches, stews, egg dishes, soups, and pasta. For salads, we prefer the savoy and semi-savoy type, the wrinkled leaves, because the leaves hold up well in salads and the salad dressing clings to the leaves. For smoothies, quiches, and egg dishes, we use the smooth leaves, which I roll up like a cigar and cut with small scissors to create ribbons.

Although I may harvest the entire, mature plant when I need a lot of spinach for company; usually I cut the outer leaves as I need them. I always look for insects and then submerge the leaves in a large bowl of cold water (thinking I am drowning anything hidden in the leaves). After draining in a colander, I spin the leaves in the salad spinner (hopefully flinging any survivors to their death against the spinner’s plastic walls). Fortunately, I rarely see bugs.

Like all greens, spinach needs nitrogen for its leaves. In early spring, I amend the garden beds with compost or alfalfa meal (a store-bought, nitrogen-rich amendment) but lately, it seems that all bags of potting soil come with fertilizer so the container spinach does not seem to need the extra boost.

By June, my spinach throw up their flower stalks in the air and call it a day. Rebelling against summer’s warmth, their leaves become too bitter to eat.  Now taking up precious real estate, spinach gets relegated to the compost pile and my attention turns to heat loving veggies while the remainder of my spinach seeds lie dormant in the house, waiting for fall.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ to read more posts.Youcangrowthat

You Can Grow That: Chervil

chervilChervil is ephemeral grace. Its finely cut, green leaves emerge during cool spring months, dissipating quickly with summer’s heat. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a very old European herb, one of the components of fines herbs of French cuisine. It is not as well known here in America but it is easy to grow for culinary use. A cousin of parsley, chervil’s leaves are similar but more finely cut and the overall height is smaller, about one foot tall and wide. If left to flower in the summer, the compound umbels display small white flowers, again, similar to parsley or carrot. Because chervil is a hardy annual, seeds should be sown every few weeks in early spring here in Virginia and then again in late summer for a fall crop. Chervil prefers moist soil and partial or afternoon shade.

Leaves can be harvested fresh and taste like a combination of parsley and anise (licorice). Wash and finely cut the leaves to add to egg dishes, fish, fruit salad, cream cheese, cream sauces, cheese dishes, and butter. Add to vegetables such as carrots, beans, corn, and peas during the last few minutes of cooking. It is best to add chervil at the end of hot dishes such as soups and stews because the lengthy heat will make it taste bitter.  The leaves can be dried as well, simply wash and lay flat on paper towels for a few weeks or hang upside down.

You can grow that is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Click on the logo below to read more posts.

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You Can Grow That: Parsley

parsleyParsley is one of those easy to grow landscape edibles that adds beauty to your garden and flavor to your cooking. Here in Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground all winter long (I took this photo in January 2016).

I always use parsley fresh, not dried, partly because I have several plants in my garden, year round. Since it is a biennial, I sow seeds every spring to ensure that I have plants. Mine are Italian Gigante from Renee’s Garden  which is a type of flat leaf or Italian parsley, best for culinary purposes. There is a curly leaf type but that is best used as a garnish. Parsley can be grown from seed or can be bought as a small plant from the local nurseries in the spring/summer. Sometimes, if a plant begins to flower before I am able to harvest the leaves, I let it flower and set seed so the seed can drop and germinate next year. I started growing parsley years ago and now have a string of plants just beneath the deck, in a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. My plants are in the ground but they also can be grown in containers and window boxes.

To harvest, cut outer, older leaves at the base, leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.  Cut with scissors (don’t pull) and put in a large bowl of water for about 20 minutes (to wash the foliage and drown any bugs). Pat dry and cut the leaves and stems into small pieces with scissors or a knife.

I harvest leaves for my bean stews, roasted vegetables, pierogis, pasta, and salads. I have used leaves for garnish for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and on plates of fruit.

Known for vitamin A, C, and K, parsley’s high level of chlorophyll also freshens your breath!

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Click on the logo to read more posts.

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You Can Grow That: Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil

lemon basilEvery summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large pots on the deck and in the vegetable garden. Throughout the summer I harvest the leaves and use them fresh in fruit salad; with seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes; as garnishes for drinks, desserts, and salad; and in syrups and vinegar dressings. My family particularly likes using the fresh leaves for tilapia and other white fish fillets. We layer a few stems on aluminum foil on a broiler pan, then layer the fish fillets on top, drizzled with butter and chopped scallions or bread crumbs, and broil until the fish is cooked. The leaves turn black, which is fine because you can throw them away before you serve the dish but they leave the fish infused with a unique smoked lemon flavor. We also like to make syrups by boiling 1 cup of sugar, ½ cup water, and about ½ cup of leaves in a small saucepan for a few minutes. After straining out and removing the leaves, we let the syrup cool and then drizzle the sweet lemon liquid over fresh fruit or cold drinks like lemonade and ice tea.

Mrs. Burns lemon basil is an heirloom cultivar of a sweet basil and yes, there really was a Mrs. Burns who introduced the plant in 1939 in New Mexico. This particular cultivar is different than “lemon basil,” the lemon flavor is supposed to be more intense and the leaves are supposed to be larger than lemon basil. Certainly the leaves are lighter, smoother, and more pointed than sweet basil.

In addition to its culinary use, Mrs. Burns lemon basil attracts birds after the plant has flowered and set seeds. I deliberately do not harvest some of my plants to have a stand of tall flower stalks with whorls of seeds by summer’s end. Yellow finches in particular love to eat the seeds off the stalks. Then in October, before the first frost, I cut the stalks and put them upside down in a large paper bag. Later, while watching Downtown Abbey in January, I pull the stalks out of the bag and extract the remaining seeds to plant in May. It’s a full circle but then so is gardening.

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Gardeners usually post articles on their blog on the fourth day of the month (fourth day, four words: #1: You; #2: Can; #3: Grow; #4: That). Click on the logo below to read more posts.

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