Summer's Best: Eggplants and Basils

Thursday, June 2, 2011
Fried green eggplant, eggplant parmesan, mousaaka with eggplant, baba ganoush, grilled eggplant – you can go around the world with this vegetable, prized as it is by so many cultures. Long, hot, sunny days give eggplants what they need to produce, and you can provide just that environment in your container garden. In fact, many gardeners report that they get earlier, tastier eggplants in containers, especially big black ones that absorb sunlight and release heat into the soil. Eggplant seedlings are available in garden centers right now, ready to plant and just weeks away from delivering their crop to your table. You’ll find the old standard ‘New Orleans Market’ and other purple eggplants, big and long, skinny ones. But look for white egg-shaped and long green eggplants, too, as well as the cute little striped and multicolored varieties. They all grow the same, but some will be large enough to need a stake or tomato cage added to their pot at planting time. Plant one eggplant plant in a ten gallon container filled with well-drained container soil. Dig the hole deeper than it needs to be and put ½ cup of a composted manure fertilizer in the hole. Cover that with an inch or two of soil, then set the plant into the hole. Be sure the base of the plant is at the same level it has been growing – do not bury the stem of eggplant! Water the new plant well, using root stimulator fertilizer if possible. Growth should be steady and in only a few weeks, the beautiful flowers will appear and soon become little eggplants. The biggest pest of eggplant is the tiny flea beetle. If the leaves look begin to look pale even though you’ve fertilized, look closer. If the leaves have tiny pinpricks on them, called stippling, the flea beetles are sucking the life out of your plant. Spray right away with a garden product containing Neem to control the insects now and prevent blight that can follow them to take advantage of the weakened leaves. Use enough spray to coat the tops and bottoms of every leaf as well as the stem of the plant. Repeat the spray each week for three weeks. Eggplant is a huge part of my summer diet, and while I don’t eat them together, but another essential for summer is Basil.
Herb growing has become a big part of many food gardens, especially container gardens. It’s important to have some salt in our daily diets, but most of us eat way too much. The problem is that salt is a wonderful taste itself and its presence in food brings out other flavors as well. Many of us grow herbs for their bold flavors and find that using herbs in cooking helps cut down on the amount of salt needed to make food taste good. Of course, the bold and subtle tastes in herbs are exciting to our tastebuds, too! Not too many people would know what to do with borage or savory, but everyone eats basil even if they don’t realize it. If you eat pizza or spaghetti or marinara sauce, you eat basil. It is one of the main components of Italian red sauce and is sometimes included in processed tomatoes, too. Basil is the easiest herb to grow and is a summer annual. Grow 2-3 plants in a 5 gallon container and fertilize it lightly when you feed the tomatoes and squash. We plant basil in April and harvest for weeks if not months by snipping off leaves as we need them. The process of snipping keeps the plants growing and branching so there’s more to harvest in no time. Snipping also prevents flowering and seed set, which would signal the end of the plant’s year and is to be avoided. Try basil in your own tomato sauces, ground with pine nuts for pesto and freshly picked with vine-ripe tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. When lots of basil leaves need to be harvested, it’s easy to freeze them for future use. Wash the leaves, cut them into shreds with scissors and fill ice cube trays with the leaves and just enough water to cover them. Once frozen, pop the basil cubes into a freezer bag and store frozen. Try these basils: Genovese, aka pesto basil, is the traditional herb for Italian cooking; Thai basil is sweeter and used in Asian cooking; cinnamon basil has rich, robust flavor. Enjoy them all! Want recipes? Let me know….
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