Thursday, May 3, 2012

Easy to Grow Herbs

Nothing beats the taste of fresh herbs. And if these herbs are from my garden...its even better. Everytime, I pinch off  few mint leaves to garnish a tall glass of nimbu paani or grab a stalk of basil from my garden for some fresh pesto, it gives me a small sense of pride. Its so easy to grow herbs! Here is a list of herbs that can be grown in your garden or patio for some instant bragging rights.

Couple pointers :
1) Most herbs are happy when grown in a pot. Be careful when putting mint or other invasive herbs directly in the garden, these will take over your yard and kill everything in sight.
2) Plant perennials and annuals in different beds.
3) Buy smaller plants which are much cheaper. They'll grow huge within few weeks.

Easy to Grow Herbs:
Basil: YEP ! you need one. Don't even think will pay for itself. Annual. Generally, if you cut from the top, you'll encourage bushier growth of your plant. If you cut from the bottom or sides, you'll encourage a taller, more slender plant. Don't chop more than one-third of total growth at any one time. Pinch off any flowers to stimulate growth.

Mint: Grow this herb in a container.  Super hardy and invasive. Try chocolate mint ( Yum), pineapple mint or peppermint. Do not over water.

Stevia: Never heard about this one ??? Leaves have a sweet taste. Literally, pinch a leaf and chew on it. Natural sweetner. Noncarcinogenic unlike artificial sweetners. Leaves can be used fresh or dried. Give this herb some room to grow, it loves to spread out. Annual. Sidenote, Truvia is made from Stevia extract.

Rosemary: Workhorse. Newbies should start their gardening adventure with this herb. Super hardy, drought tolerant ( it actually hates too much water), fragrant, evergreen, perennial. No baby sitting required.

Thyme:  Another workhorse herb. Super hardy. Perennial- comes back strong year after year. Survives freezing temps. Do explore lemon thyme and lime thyme herbs. A keeper in your garden.

Lemongrass: Its a grass so definitely pot this one. Stalks have mild lemony flavor. Also a great insect repellant. Annual but it can survive mild winters with heavy mulching. Perfect for a cup of Gavati Chaha-herbal cleansing tea.

Sweet Bay/Bay Laurel: A distant cousin of Tejpatta. Leaves have spicy flavor. Evergreen fragrant leaves you can pinch off even in winter. Slower growth. Can be potted or planted in the ground.  During winter protect in ground plant from snow.

Oregano: Oregano spreads like mint. Perennial. Strong comeback every year. Thrives in  poor soil and less water. Newbie, are you taking notes? This one should work for you as well.

Herbs that need babysitting...but you will still love them:

Dill and cilantro: Goofy herbs. These are cold weather herbs- good for early spring and fall. With higher temperatures, these will bolt early i.e. leaves become feathery and seeds develop. For southern gardens, cilantro and dill may work in partial shade with heavy mulching. But prepare yourself for droopy plants that die mid summer. Side note, Cilantro does not like to be transplanted.

Curry Leaf Plant/Murraya koenigii: I'll fess up, I have killed one curry leaf plant by leaving it outdoors during winter. From what I read, this plant cannot tolerate temperature lower than 55 degrees. Grows well in Zones 9-11. All other zones need to bring the plant indoors during winter. Plant may or may not survive depending on humidity levels indoors. Sadly, this one is not for me. I'll continue to buy sprigs of curry leaves from my Indian grocery store.

Do you have any fav herbs??

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ahh Spring is here !!!

For the past few months, I lost all enthusiasm to update my lovely blog ...horror !!!. I guess I was waiting for the warm spring sunshine to inspire me. So here I am back with some pictures from my precious little garden.

I started gardening 6 years back. We got someone from craigslist to install and fill a 4 X 8 raised bed. Best $120 investment ever! I later added tons of containers/pots with herbs, flowers, veggies and even fruit trees (!). Container gardening is ideal for someone with limited space such as condo balcony or for someone like me with a shaded backyard. You can easily move containers in sunny spots around your yard. Additionally, with pots there is no need to  amend native soil which can be very expensive.

Yes, during my gardening adventures I have killed MANY plants and learnt some very valuable lessons. Here is a list of my 'lessons' to help those newbies with a shovel in their hand and a produce-filled bucket in their dreams.

1) Mulch your vegetable patch atleast 2-3 inches thick. Georgia heat is super intense and roots need protection from the heat. This also reduces watering need.

2) When I repot an old container or til my patch, I add soaked shredded cardboard, like packing boxes etc. Soaked cardboard attracts worms and they are natures little workers that keep plants happy. Newspaper is not a good idea because the ink leaches into the soil.

3) Always buy two or more cucumber, squash, beans and peppers plants. This helps in cross pollination and you get more produce.

4) If you don't have birds & bees in your garden, there will be no pollination and therefore no fruits. Hang a hummingbird feeder or keep a birdbath next to your patch. I have a bucket of water next to my vegetable patch, this greatly reduced the number of half-eaten tomatoes by squirrels when they are thirsty. Besides, you will see some amazing birds gather around the 'watering hole' ..Quite a sight !!!!

5) Vegetables, container/potted plants need to be fertilized every month with safe fertilizers. Organic fertilizers such as EB Stones, bottled fish emulsions are amazing but it smells bad. Also look out for the NPK number on the fertilizer box, it looks something like 12-10-8. N=Nitrogen produces healthy leaves, K=Potassium and P=phosphate are required for producing and ripening of fruits. So more nitrogen during spring to get the leaves started and more P & K during summer months for fruits.

6) All plants LOVE banana peels, just scratch the surface and tuck peels near the roots.

7) Most of  GA falls under zone 7( yes, we have been rezoned-Marietta is 7a). Buy plants that are zone specific. I once planted a lilac and it died within a month, broke my heart, I tell you. Then a kind person at Pikes told me about a lilac variety called 'Miss Kim' that is heat tolerant and more suitable for Zone 8. My lilac is thriving now. Local nurseries will have zone specific varieties compared to box stores like HD or Lowes.

8) Stake tomatoes, beans & cucumbers when you plant them. This allows the roots to form around the stake and is much easier to do when plants are itty bitty. If you try to stake after the plant is vigorously growing, you will end up damaging the roots and the plant will drop all its fruits & flowers. Yep, I have done that before!

9) To keep squirrel and rabbits away from my veggie patch, I spray red fox urine near the patch.( I know sounds gross)  It comes in a spray bottle. Works every time !!!

10) To help plan your vegetable patch here is a brief list of companion plants.

Eye candy from my garden.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Toddler Lunch 28

Today's Daycare Lunch Bag:

Snack # 1: Blueberries and sweet red apple wedges

Snack # 2: Pack of raisins and honey graham sticks from Back to Nature ( contains no artificial preservatives, flavors, colors  or hydrogenated oils)

Lunch: Pesarattu ( moong dal ) dosa with ketchup. My son loves to eat dosa with ketchup...what can I say!

Pesarattu is a green moong dal crepe that is savory, high in protein content and easy pesy to make in the morning. Soak overnight 1 cup of split green moong dal and 1/4 cup of rice. Adding rice to the batter makes crispy crepes.  Next morning, grind the soaked mixture with chopped fresh ginger, cumin seeds and salt. Batter consistency should be like a pancake batter. Pour 1 laddleful of the batter on a greased pan and spread it around in a circle to make a thin layer. Cook for couple minutes and flip the dosa to cook the other side. For grown-ups, add  chopped green chilies and onions for some heat and flavor before you grind the batter. Delicious !

Recently, I got a number of emails from non-Indian readers asking me to upload pictures of ingredients mentioned in my blog that are not usually found in regular grocery stores. I have included a picture of split green moong dal which can be purchased at any Indian store.