Herbs—Easy to Grow, so Many Ways to Use

In the summer, there’s no reason to settle for dry, colorless herbs that may have been in your cupboard just a little too long. Simply trot out to your backyard herb garden, ideally as close as possible to your kitchen, and snip your herbs as needed. Another advantage? They’re a great thing to grow in a small space.

a variety of herbs planted, bordered by rocks.

In the winter, herbs are one of the easiest edible plants to grow indoors as well. You’ll need grow lights and some type of aeroponic or hydroponic system also helps.

What herbs lack in calorie count and volume, they make up for in flavor and variety. In addition to a wide range of herbs like basil or Perilla (shiso), there are many, many varieties of each herb. For example, there are sweet basil, purple basil, lemon basil and on it goes.

purple basil with blooming orange flowers

Here, purple basil is interplanted with calendula and fox glove. Purple basil is tasty, but pesto made with purple basil is very unappetizing looking.

Give herbs similar growing conditions that you would give vegetables—neutral pH, sunny location and well-drained, fertile soiland they will thrive. But there are several ways that herbs differ from growing vegetables. One big difference is that you’ll generally only need to grow one or two plants, unless it’s something like basil that you like to eat a lot of. Continue reading

When Your Dreams Outsize Your Garden Space, Choose Your Crops Wisely—Here’s How.

When your dreams outsize your garden space, choose your crops wisely—here’s how.

Grow things you like to eat often. For me, that’s lettuce. I eat salad most days and sometimes twice a day. Salad is easy to make because, well, you don’t have to cook it. Simply wash, chop, toss and it’s ready. After a winter of eating salad greens with a whiff of decay, I relish fresh lettuce.

A Close of of vibrant green and red baby lettuce growing.

Fresh baby lettuce is a welcome treat in the spring.

Grow fast-maturing crops. Don’t grow cabbage or Brussels sprouts, which can take 90 days or more to mature. Do grow crops such as baby lettuce mix, spinach or radishes, which mature in about 30 days. When you grow fast-maturing crops, you can grow some successive crops in the same space, upping your productivity per square foot. After the first crop matures and is harvested, remove its remnants, prepare the soil and plant again. Continue reading

The Biggest and Sweetest is NOT Always the Best When it Comes to Fruits and Vegetables

When compared with many foods, fruits and vegetables are unequivocally healthy. But look more closely and you’ll find a wide variation in how nutritious they are. This variation is given short shrift by most health campaigns, which focus on nudging people toward eating fruits and vegetables and less junk food, period. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. I think most of us, including my 4-year-old, are adept at distinguishing between unhealthful junk food and the merits of fruits and vegetables. But we don’t give much thought to which types of fruits and vegetables (and which varieties) are most nutritious.

Tote of multiple varieties of cauliflower.

If you’re like me, you think just because something is a fruit or vegetable then you can eat as much of it as you want to. For instance, mandarins and super sweet corn, albeit a fruit and a vegetable, veer toward junk food in terms of sugar content. One medium mandarin has 9 grams of sugar, on par with one standard Reese’s cup, which contains 10 grams of sugar. One large white ear of corn contains just about as many carbohydrates (25 grams) as half of a bagel (27 grams). Granted, they do contain more fiber and nutrients than junk food.

Simple slogans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture encourage us to fill half of our plate with fruit and vegetables each meal (a little more vegetables than fruit). This gives us the idea that as long as we eat a certain amount of any fruit or vegetable at each meal, then we have our bases covered and will be healthy. Continue reading

The Princess Garden—Beautiful, Productive and Sustainable

One day when I was biking around town photographing flowers and gardens (yes, I love my job!), I was surprised and delighted to discover a gem of a garden, farm even, behind the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. Both the size and appearance of the garden impressed me. I’ve seen tiny hotel or restaurant gardens with oversized claims of sustainability and farm-to-table practices. But the Princess garden is different.

Vibrant display of nasturtium flowers at the Fairbanks Princess Lodge garden.

Vibrant display of nasturtium flowers at the Fairbanks Princess Lodge garden.

Not surprisingly, I found Gretchen Kerndt busily tending the garden. Gretchen has operated Basically Basil for more than 20 years in Fairbanks, with an emphasis on herbs and, well, basil. I interviewed Gretchen and Mark Winans, the food and beverage manager at the hotel, to learn more about why and how they created the so-called Chef’s Garden.

The hotel has always purchased locally grown food from local farmers, including Gretchen, but in the past few years, it’s gotten harder to fill their orders.

Mark explained, “We had the space out there. It was a no-brainer. We had the perfect opportunity. The tourists love it.’ Continue reading

All About Alliums—Knowing Your Onions, Shallots, Garlic and Leeks

Alliums are the vegetables we can’t do without–onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and shallots. They are so called because they belong to the genus Allium. We add them to pizza and pasta, soups and stir-fries, and Thai and Indian cuisine. So why not make some space for alliums in your garden this year?

Siberian Onions growing in the Georgeson Botanical Garden in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Siberian Onions growing in the Georgeson Botanical Garden in Fairbanks, Alaska.

They are easy to grow but you must first know how to start them. There are several ways.

You can plant onions, shallots, leeks, chives, and Siberian onions from seed. Garlic, on the other hand, does not produce fertile seed so you must plant garlic cloves. Seeds should be started inside about 10 weeks before transplanting outdoors.

But seeds aren’t your only option. I don’t have the patience for starting alliums from seed so I buy sets or dormant plant bundles which can be planted directly outside and show visible, daily growth. Sets are dried, half-grown or baby onions. If growing onions, shallots, or leeks, you can grow them from semi-dried or dormant plants that come in bundles of about 50 or 60 plants. If kept cool and dry, you have up to one week before they need to be planted. You can also buy live transplants, but this is likely more expensive than sets or dormant plants. Continue reading

Want to Grow More Food? First, Make a Plan!

There are so many reasons to grow more of your own food. It’s healthy, it can improve your food security, and it it can be highly rewarding. If you’re hoping to ramp up your production to make a bona fide contribution to your diet, first make a plan.

Containers of Raspberries, strawberries, saskatoons, currants and rhubarb harvested in late summer.

I created a completely customizable Google Sheet to help you do this. Based on the size of your family and preferences for various vegetables and berries, the sheet will help you calculate how much row and square footage you’ll need to grow enough food to reach your desired goals. You’ll have to download it to enter your numbers and you will need a google account. Continue reading