|Eggplant. I grow an heirloom called long green, but the strategies are the same in controlling the inevitable flea beetle. This tiny insect is seldom seen, but the stippled leaves are a giveaway that they are present. I spray once monthly to deter them with a product that also provides nutrition – WormWise Vermicompost Tea made in Natchez.
Tomato. The yellow pear is bearing delicious sweet fruit, but it is turning yellow. The bed is shallow and I believe it has used up the available fertilizer. I fed it with Mega Green catfish hydrolysate fertilizer made in Isola.
Hot peppers. This year the peppers are limited to my favorite Tabascos and 2 passalongs from neighbors that love very tiny, very hot peppers. All they seem to need is water and warm weather and I expect to be picking more soon.
Sweet peppers. I like bell and banana peppers, but usually find the bells hard to grow. This year the spring was not great for most things, but I am picking bell peppers already and the bananas will be ready soon.
Oregano. The herb that has survived in a raised bed for 4 years is nothing fancy, just a good Greek herb, but I’m tempted to try the oregano I’ve seen that claims to be hot. There’s no secret except very well-drained soil and as little water and fertilizer as possible. With thrifty growth, the taste is excellent and never bitter. Right now it is blooming and as I deadhead it, their smell is grand and will make a fine vinaigrette.
Creeping thyme. Somehow I ended up with both a solid green and a variegated low growing thymes. They are classic growers in that every time I snip some, the plant responds with new growth. Indeed, that’s the clue to growing most herbs – keep cutting to keep growing.
Parsley. I grow flat and curly and find them quite different in the kitchen but they grow essentially the same. My parsley bed is 2 feet square and I add new plants in spring and fall as older ones bolt or simply play out. Right now I am fertilizing the new additions weekly, but once they are established, parsley plants need very little fertilizer to sustain themselves as long as you keep cutting.
Basil. There’s nothing quite like the sweet bite of Genovese basil. I like that basic pesto basil, but have enjoyed Thai and even chocolate basils and recently added a boxwood basil to my daughter’s small container herb garden. You must pinch basil to keep it branching to produce new leaves, so yes, I’m going out to pinch now and will remove some stems entirely. I bought a clump of basil plants in a pot that was too tight to be divided so I put the whole thing into the garden and have been clipping side stems to eat. Now it’s time to really harvest some of the weaker stems entirely so they do not compete with the stronger plants.
A good eggplant dish works with its soft, creamy texture, adds a bit of tart and sweet, and incorporates an element of opposition – crunch – to set off the star. If you have never roasted eggplant, you’re in for a real treat. Assemble the ingredients:
• 2 cups of peeled, chopped eggplant coated in olive oil, salt and pepper
• 2 cups of coarse chopped fresh tomatoes or 1 large can of tomatoes, drained and chopped
• 1 cup of chopped sweet pepper
• ½ cup of chopped onion
• 2 T olive oil seasoned with 1 clove peeled garlic and a sprig of thyme
• ¼ cup of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
• ½ cup of coarse bread crumbs such as Panko
Prepare the eggplant and put it on a cookie sheet or cast iron pan to go into the oven at 350 degrees. Let it roast while you prepare the rest of the dish, turning it once after 15 minutes. Roast until just fork tender. Sauté the onion and sweet pepper in the seasoned oil until the onion is clear – add a sprinkle of salt to help it sweat. Add the tomatoes to the onions and peppers, along with a leaf of fresh basil and oregano if you want a more Italian flair. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the eggplant is ready. Add the roasted eggplant to the tomato mixture, and stir gently. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste and then add most of the cheese and bread crumbs. Reserve some of both. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish or cast iron pan and top it with the rest of the cheese and bread crumbs. Heat thoroughly but do not overcook – about 20 minutes at 350 degrees should do it. Enjoy!