Friday, July 12, 2013

If it keeps raining I'm building an Ark.

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the farmer’s market. Today we start the episode off with a picture sent to us by Marsha Howe the organizer behind Sustainable neighbors of the harvest on the Arsenal Bridge. I believe the picture was taken by Bryan and it speaks for itself.

How about them veggies folks? They look as good as store bought but are likely better for you!

For those who do not know, the Arsenal Bridge is in Fayetteville and connects the Cape fear Museum property and Arsenal Park. It’s a walking bridge that runs over Martin Luther King Highway, and bears waist-high cement planters that tend to go wild during the summer months. Through the Coffee Klatch program organized by Byran the bridge has never looked better and as you can see, it has also never been more productive.

In case your wondering this is the bridge as seen from the freeway, this image is curtsey of google maps. I think this image is a year old.

Today’s main topic is the first of a short series where I will be talking about a specific herb every post and what it is used for. This topic has actually come about due to conversations at the booth on Saturdays. Many a Farmer’s market visitor has stopped by and asked for herbs and thus it tells me what you all might have on mind now that the mad dash to get the veggies planted has passed. Today’s Herb will be basil, the plant that receives the most inquiries at the booth and by email. So with that said lets take a look at the most well known herb in any garden, Basil.

The most common basil we see in the plant trade is Ocimum basilicum which ought to be distinguished as ‘common basil’ simply for the fact it bears different characteristics then the preferred sweet basil.  There is no doubt they both can be used for the same, but the true sweet basils have been bred for larger leaves and higher essential oil content. Some examples of these enhanced sweet basils can be found with the Mammoth O. basilicum ‘Mammoth’, Lettuce leaf O. basilicum ‘Crispum’ and Genovese O. basilicum ‘Genovese Gigante’ types. Not to say that they all don’t make for a wicked pesto, but admittedly when the leaves are larger one has to do somewhat less harvesting. In the end it is still more cost efficient to go for the common basil or the Genovese basil as both are more productive and rugged. That said there is a relatively new basil variety called ‘Pesto Purpetuo’ which is O. x citriodorum a hybrid. This hybrid bears leaves that have a white or light green margin, and never flowers. For pesto that’s a godsend because you won’t run out of leaves, but the down die is that the individual leaves on this cultivar are small so numerous plants are needed. Also since it produces no flowers it’s a bit hard to save seed so cloning from cuttings and keeping this one as an indoor plant are options. The sweet basils are best known for their use in the common Italian seasoning mix, as pesto and with any sort of pasta. Few realize that basil also is really good joined with rosemary and oregano as a scent-seasoning add on for any sort of broth or sauce. The combination of the three yields some antiseptic and antimicrobial properties allowing said broth or sauce to keep a bit longer.

But a discussion of basil isn’t quite complete without covering the flavored varieties. For those familiar with the basil clan you know that there are a plethora of basil varieties with unique flavors that aren’t just sweet. This assortment of flavors makes for a culinary power house in dishes where traditional basil might not be welcome. Some prime examples include Clove basil O. gratissimum, Lemon Basil O. americanum, Cinnamon Basil O. basilicum ‘Cinnamon’ and, Thai Basil O. citriodorum. I know there are also licorice basils, Camphor basils and additional varieties of ‘spicy basils’ such as spicy globe O. basilicum ‘Spicy Globe’, but I am not covering them in any detail here because of the difficulties in getting specimens and also some of the dwarf type basils suffer from a number of diseases that can be problematic. Despite this, most gardeners are not sure how to use the flavor basils; fortunately the uses are fairly easy. Cinnamon basil works well with pork, lemon basil is good with fish or anything that calls for lemon and pepper. Thai basil is effective in soups, and adds a scent to most things that is quite nice. Clove basil for note is a tender perennial and is a tad more sensitive then Lemon Verbena, but it can be used as its name suggests in any dish that calls for cloves. Additionally clove basil finds use in stir-fry.

Flavor is good and all but what if you want to make a pesto dish that will make everyone’s eyes cross? Well basils also have a color guard of sorts; that is basil varieties that are flavorful, but also attractive to the eye.  I admit a bias to two members of this category, Blue African Basil O. basilicum x O. kilimandscharicum and, Red Rubin Basil O. basilicum ‘Red Rubin’ . Favorites aside there is also Purple Basil O. basilicum ‘Purpurescens’ , Dark Opal Basil O. basilicum ‘Dark Opal’ and, Purple Ruffles Basil O. basilicum. Despite this the ‘color guard’ basils are often treated as ornamentals because it is thought that their taste isn’t quite up to snuff with the flavor or sweet groups. I must admit a lot of the color varieties are not like the flavored or sweet types as they have differing flavors entirely. For instance blue African has a strong anise-camphor flavor and can impart a weak blue-color to a recipe. Red Rubin is interesting for it’s heirloom randomness, some plants will be green others freckled with red or blotched, and yet others stay that great red-burgundy color. Even so it tastes like a common basil and can be used the same way, even to make freaky pesto. The dark opal and purple types are a bit different in that their flavors but have great coloring that can be used to dye food a light purple tint.

With all that said the basils are a versatile group, though in the interest of brevity and to point out the easier growing types I skipped the purely ornamental basils completely. It is safe to say that a garden without basil is a garden that is lacking, and on the topic I will leave you with one more fact. In the drought season, humming birds will feed off of basil flowers, and they are a major attractant to pollinators of all shapes and types. Even if you don’t like to use basil in cooking you have a reason to use it if only for feeding the critters. As you may already know this weekend I will be manning the sustainable Neighbors booth and I think filling in for Marsha as she has to be at the SPIN class which is another Sustainable Neighbors event. You can find the City/ Farmer’s market in downtown Fayetteville. The market runs from 8:00 am through 1:00pm (I will be there from 9-1 ish) and is located at 325 Franklin Street. I have some new stuff from the USDA, and will have copies of Southward Skies available for purchase. Keep in mind the Market is a rain or shine event barring exceptionally bad weather such as extremely high winds or violent storms.

Plant List (as of 7-12-2013)
6x Beefsteak Tomato (large slicing)
5x Burgundy Okra (Red Heirloom)
6x Banana Pepper (Sweet)
5x Red Carolina Wonder Pepper (Sweet, Bell)
2x Green Carolina Wonder Pepper (Sweet, Bell)
1x Red Peter Pepper (Spicy)
2x Habenero Peppers (Hot, Freshly Repotted)
4x Strawberry, Galore Rose (freshly repotted)
4x Strawberry, Ozark Beauty (freshly repotted)

2x Berggarten Sage
2x Cinnamon Basil (freshly repotted)
2x Sweet Basil (freshly repotted)
2x Common Sage (freshly repotted)
3x Italian Parsley (freshly repotted)
5x Allium proliferatum, Egyptian Onion (herb)

2x Sanseveria cylindrica, African Spear (Houseplant)
1x Peperomia verticillata, Rotary Plant (House Plant)

-plus whatever else fits in the truck!-

Next week
4x Horehound
4x Italian Oregano (Origanum x Majoricum)
3x Sweet Basil
2x Cinnamon Basil
4x Eggplant, Japanese Long (Freshly Repotted)
4x Tumbling Tom Yellow Tomato (Cherry, Freshly Repotted)

Available Soon
4x Lavender Hidcote (dark blue flowers)
4x Lavender Provance (royal blue flowers)
4x Lavender Cotton, (grey type)
3x Sweet Basil
2x Cinnamon Basil
10x Allium proliferatum, Egyptian Onion (herb)
2x Peperomia verticillata, Rotary Plant (House Plant)

This wraps up another episode of lost in the farmer’s market, next week we will be covering another group of herbs, the Sages. I hope you found this post useful and informative, and if you have any herb* related questions feel free to post a comment. As always watch out for our storm activity, lighting and flash floods are serious business.
As always folks keep ‘em growing!

*Queries about legal herbs only please.

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