How Does Your Garden Grow?

Since I had spent the past year kicking cancer’s butt, I didn’t grow as much fresh produce or herbs as I once did last summer. However, I did grow a few of my beloved San Marzano tomatoes (plants from the Carbondale Farmer’s Market,) basil, a bit of oregano and rosemary– and a lot of mint. This gave me some flavorful options: salsa, pestos, gazpacho, and more.

Above: San Marzano Tomatoes and Thai Basil

Below: Herb Pesto and a bit of Pico de Gallo sauteed with mushrooms.

So far this season, I have a little lettuce, thyme, oregano, parsley, basil cilantro, and an expanding mint patch. I still need to finsish areas for tomatoes, peppers, onions, lots of basil, and hopefully even watermelons…. and more flowers. I am a fan of edible landscape.

Mixing herbs and flowers and veggies can be a good thing. Consulting a companion planting chart might be wise if they will share soil. Essentially, some have researched the Native American practice of planting certain plants together that support each other’s growth. Tisquantum, also known by many as Squanto, acted as a lifesaving liaison to the pilgrims. Without his assistance and sharing his knowledge of companion planting and organic fertilization, food would have been much more sparse. What is referred to as the Three Sister’s Method involved planting corn, beans, and squash together for successful growth. Squanto also taught the new immigrants to plant fish with corn as natural fertilizer. People now also may use other organic material when planting such as egg shells and shrimp shells.

Above: Cayenne peppers

Below: Japanese Eggplant

Listed below are some common companion planting groupings:

Tomatoes/basil

Corn/squash/beans

Mint/peas

Onions/garlic

Garlic/roses

Some No-No’s/Plants that Don’t Play Well Together:

Dill doesn’t go by tomatoes, rosemary, sage, onions, peas

Tomatoes don’t go by corns, peas, beans, cucumbers, squash

Fennel doesn’t go with onions, parsley, asparagus, cucumbers, carrots, nasturtiums, marigolds

There are also some functional benefits to landscape gardens beyond beauty and food. Marigolds have been used for many years as a detourrant to wildlife eating gardens as well as mosquitoes when used as a border.

Below are a few plants and what they are known for repelling:

Marigolds- plant lice, mosquitoes, rabbits.

Above: Marigolds

Chrysanthemums- Ants, Japanese beetles, roaches, bed bugs, spider mites, silverfish, ticks, lice

Mint- spiders, ants, mosquitoes. (Will spread and take over an area quickly. Planters or separate patches are best.)

Below: Fresh Mint

Below: Basil-mosquitoes, houseflies

Citronella grass- mosquitoes and flying insects

Lavender-Gnats, mosquitoes

Chives-Japanese beetles

Petunias-beetles, leafhoppers, aphids, tomato worms

Above: Petunias

Bay leaves- flies, roaches

Garlic-beetles, root maggots, carrot root flies, moths,aphids

Rosemary-bugs

Above: Rosemary

I’m also a fan of repurposing or using unexpexted items as planters. A few things, usually at least tomatoes, tend to go directly into the ground when possible, but that also increases the prospects of weeds. I have previously turned old door frames and box springs into raised garden beds for more shallow-growing plants like my oregano, lettuce, and green onions.

In Southern Illinois, we are blessed to have a climate that allows us to grow many things. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Last Minute Dip

Are you searching for a tasty dip or appetizer for last minute company or a get together? This dip is only three ingredients and literally can be made in seconds. All you need is a softened brock of cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese, a packet of Sazón, and some basil pesto.

Ingredients:

1 block of cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese

1 packet of Sazón (found in the Latin foods isle)

1/4 cup of basil pesto

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Adjust to taste by using more or less pesto. Serve with crackers or veggies.

Oregano Pesto

A few years ago, I repurposed a very old mattress box springs into a raised herb garden. The oregano I planted has made it through a couple winters and continued to grow stronger each spring. This is good. Southern Illinois seems to have a climate that pleases oregano.

One of my favorite meal prep uses for oregano is in pesto. The other night, I had walnuts and some manchego cheese nearing their expiration. So, you guessed it. Pesto they became. I tend to switch up the cheese and nut type with whatever I have that seems like it makes sense–such as parmesan and pine nuts or even sunflower seeds. You do want to use a harder cheese, with a consistency such as parmesan, so that you don’t end up with a gooey mess.

Once made, I like to spoon my pesto into pint canning jars and top each with a little pool of olive oil at the top to help keep it from drying in the fridge or freezer. Ideally, the pesto jars should keep for a couple weeks in the fridge or a few months in the freezer. Just make sure whatever you store it in is airtight and kept at a food safe temperature as this is not a canning process. (Simply using a canning jar does not make it canned…) You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and pop the cubes into a freezer bag for storage.

Oregano pesto is handy thing to have in the fridge on standby. It adds an extra layer of flavor to soups and sandwiches and can be added to omelets or egg dishes. Pesto also stands in great as a wet rub on meat. Be creative. It is wonderful as a spread itself or mixed with other ingredients to make other variations.

This is the basic recipe:

Ingredients:
clean, fresh oregano, approximately two to three cups
cheese–such as manchego or parmesan, approximately one and a half cups grated
nuts–such as pine nuts or walnuts, about one cup
juice of one lemon
honey (or sugar), about a tblsp
kosher salt or sea salt
crushed black pepper
one clove garlic, minced
about a 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions
:
1. Chop together the oregano, cheese, nuts, lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper, and garlic in the food processor.
2. Slowly drizzle in olive oil.
Add more olive oil for a thinner pesto if desired.
You may also use a traditional mortar & pestle method to combine ingredients if desired.