Got Garden?

Have you planted your garden? It’s mid- May and if the answer is no, you still have time. Gather up the gardening tools, find a nice patch of soil and get to work! If the First Lady, Michella Obama can do it… than so can you!

Plus there are many benefits to planting a vegetable garden; it is a healthy way to relieve stress, your food is healthier and safer - because you control what goes on your vegetables, and produce from the garden provides better nutrition to your family.

You can challenge your creative side by laying out your vegetable garden so that your space looks great.

Whether you have a huge area for a vegetable garden, a small area, or just a deck or patio by being creative you can use your space optimally. There is nothing more satisfying than growing your own vegetables in your own garden without the use of pesticides or chemicals.

With the recession eating away at family budgets, vegetable gardens are growing in popularity, says a University of Missouri Extension horticulturist. "Vegetable gardening is an excellent way to save on the family food bill," said David Trinklein. Seed companies,greenhouse operators and other retailers report a 10-15 percent increase in garden-related purchasing, he said.

You don't have to start gardening alone. In many areas, there are neighborhood or community gardens where families share in expenses and labor. With as little as $50 invested in seeds and gardening supplies it can yield as much as $1,200 in vegetables. With just a little TLC, you might be able to achieve 10 to 15 pounds of tomatoes per plant…and that a lot more than many people realize a tomato plant is capable of producing.

Here are 3 indispensble herbs for the garden:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Basil: Sometimes referred to as the king of herbs (the name is derived from basileus, which is Greek for king), basil has fragrant, bright green leaves on 6-inch- to 2-foot-tall plants. Annual. All zones.

Best culinary varieties: 'Finissino Verde A Palla' bush basil, 'Italian Pesto', 'Lettuce Leaf', 'Mammoth Sweet', 'Mrs. Burns' Lemon Basil', 'Profuma di Genova', 'Red Rubin', 'Sweet Basil'.

Growing tip: Basil thrives when the soil is warm and nighttime temperatures are above 60°, so don't rush springtime planting. To encourage branching, cut back stems to just above the first set of leaves when plants have developed three pairs of leaves.

Harvest tip: Prune often to avoid flower formation. When a stem has developed four pairs of leaves, cut each stem down to just above the first set. Continue cutting plants back throughout the summer, or set out new seedlings in succession a month or so apart and harvest the entire plant for pesto.

Uses: Eggs, fish, marinades, meats, pastas, pestos, salads, soups, stews, and tomatoes.

Chives (Allium)

Chives: Green, grasslike, 12- to 24-inch-long spears form in clumps. Clusters of rose purple or white flowers in spring. Perennial.

Best culinary varieties: Chives(A. schoenoprasum); all zones. Chinese or garlic chives (A. tuberosum); zones 1-24, H1-H2.

Growing tip: Increase the number of plants by dividing in winter every two years or so.

Harvest tip: Gather chives by snipping the spears to the ground (otherwise you'll have unsightly brown foliage mixed in with the green).

Uses: Butters, cheeses, eggs, lamb, mayonnaise, potatoes, rice, salads, sauces, seafood, soups, sour cream, stews, and vegetables.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

Cilantro: Bright green leaves on foot-tall stems look similar to flat-leafed parsley. Cilantro refers to the leaves; the seeds are called coriander.

Best culinary varieties: Grow types that are slow to bolt (go to seed), which are labeled as such or sold as a variety called 'Slow-Bolt'.

Growing tip: Cilantro grows best in cool weather. Plant in early spring after last frost (autumn in the low desert). If practical, start from seed; cilantro has a taproot and transplants poorly. Plant in succession every few weeks through summer. Once it goes to seed, the flavor changes.

Harvest tip: Cut off leaves as needed. Harvest the entire plant before it starts to flower.

Uses: Beans, curries, fish, lamb, Mexican dishes, pork, poultry, salads, salsas, sauces, shellfish, and stir-fries.

My favorite basil recipe is Pesto. On a hot summer afternoon, I love to spread pesto on Puglisi Bread and sip a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc. My daughter loves Angel Hair Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil. Here are two of my favorite Basil recipes – both are quick to prepare and absolutely delicious!

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe

* Note - pesto is always made to taste, based on the ingredients at hand. So adjust the ingredients to your taste. Most pesto recipes call for Parmesan cheese, we often use Romano which has a stronger flavor.

If you want to freeze the pesto you make, omit the cheese (it doesn't freeze well). Fill an ice cube tray with the pesto. Freeze and then remove from the ice tray and store in a freezer bag. When you want to use, defrost and add in grated Parmesan or Romano.

* 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
* 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
* 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
* 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
* Squeeze of lemon juice

1. Toast the pine nuts – Toasting pine nuts gives them roasted flavor, browns them, and makes them firmer, too. It's easiest to do in a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Shake the skillet frequently to ensure even browning—the pine nuts are small and full of rich oil, and will burn quickly if you don't watch carefully. When the nuts are fragrant and browned, take the pan off the heat. Transfer the pine nuts to a plate to cool.

2. Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

3. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese, squeeze of fresh lemon and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 cup.

Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.

Angel Hair Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil


* 2 pounds ripe tomatoes
* 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 red onion, finely chopped
* 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
* 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
* 1 oregano sprig
* Pinch chili flakes
* 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* 1 pound dried angel hair pasta
* 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
* 1/4 cup chopped basil, plus whole sprigs for garnish


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice water bath. Cut a small "x" on the bottom of each tomato. In batches, place the tomatoes in the boiling water and blanch them for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the skins are easy to peel away. Remove and immediately plunge into the ice bath. Peel the tomatoes and halve horizontally. Squeeze out the seeds, using your fingers to get them all. Roughly chop the peeled and seeded tomatoes. Set aside. (You can also use whole peeled canned tomatoes. Simply drain them, seed, and roughly chop).

Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add the thyme leaves, oregano sprig, and chili flakes and saute until the garlic begins to turn golden brown. Add the tomatoes and the sugar, a pinch of salt and black pepper and stir well. Lower the heat and cook slowly until the mixture is fairly dry, about 15 minutes.

Cook the angel hair pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta. Toss the cooked pasta in 1 teaspoon of virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the pasta to the sauce. Add the grated Parmesan and basil and toss well. Place in a large pasta bowl and garnish with Parmesan and basil sprigs. Serve with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and baguette.


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog last week on my SITS day! A friend gave me some basil last week, and it's already dead. I'm terrible with plants. Enjoyed your post... you are very knowledgeable!!

  2. Nicki and Mathis, thanks for comment. Basil loves sunshine. I recommend trying another plant...fresh basil is wonderful. :-)

  3. This recipe sounds great! I love my herb garden!