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My Northern Garden - Mary Schier
Sharing experiences and ideas about cold-climate gardening
Updated: 1 hour 19 min ago
This year, I decided to edge some of my ornamental beds with parsley. I got the idea from The Wildlife-Friendly Garden. The author suggested parsley be planted as a decoy plant to keep rabbits out of the vegetable garden. I haven’t see a lot of rabbits in the vegetable garden, so maybe it’s working. (I also haven’t seen a lot of chew marks on the parsley, either, so who knows?)
The result is, I have a LOT of parsley in my garden! I like parsley — it’s probably my favorite herb, but now I need to figure out what to do with it all.
I’ve been making pesto-like spreads from it, which I will freeze for addition to soups, sauces or vegetables during the winter. I also tried Margaret Roach’s approach of rolling the herbs into a log in a freezer bag. Then you can cut some of the herb roll off anytime you need it.
The other night, I decided to try a recipe from a new book I’m reviewing called Preserving by the Pint. This recipe involves chopping the parsley finely with garlic and salt and then setting it on a plate to dry. The idea is you will have a homemade spice mix to sprinkle on cooked dishes or in salad dressings. The garlic odor got a little strong in the house, so I had to set it out in the back porch. After 48 hours (the suggested drying time), it was still damp. I gave it a couple more days, but I think our August weather was too humid for outdoor drying. Time for Plan B. I took the mix, added more parsley and some basil, a bit of olive oil and whirred it in the blender.
I froze several packets of the salty herb mix for using in soups and on vegetables. Last night, I broke off about a teaspoon of it and added it to some cooked broccoli. It was incredible and added just the right bit of herb and salt to the vegetables.
What’s your favorite way to preserve herbs?
Almost every garden book starts with the admonition to “get a soil test.” I hate to admit it but in nearly two decades of active gardening, I have never had one — until this summer.
Some of my vegetable garden boxes have not been performing as well as I thought they should be over the past couple of years. When one area of the garden looks bad and the rest look OK (or better than OK), then soil may well be the problem. I had a coupon for $2 off the standard University of Minnesota soil test courtesy of the Hennepin County Master Gardeners’ Learning Tour, which I went on in July. So, I got out my trowel and collected samples of the soil from a couple of places in the boxes, and took it down to the soil test office at the U’s St. Paul campus. Within a week, I got the results back in the mail.
The results were both surprising and not. In the “not surprising” category, I found out that my soil is a bit alkaline. It has a pH of 7.1, which is slightly high. The ideal pH for growing vegetable is 6.0 to 6.5, some say 7.0. It might be hard to lower the pH much because the water in our area is very alkaline (like 7.5 to 8.0) and that’s the water I use on the garden. Plants generally grow well up to a pH of 7.5, so I likely won’t try to adjust this much. I may see if I can find some more acid mulches (such as pine needles) and use those in the vegetable garden.
Also “not surprising” is that the soil has adequate levels of nitrogen and a high percentage of organic matter — 10.5 percent, which is pretty good though lower than the 19 percent required to have “organic soil.” My potassium levels are in the normal range at 158 parts per million.
What struck me as surprising was the extremely high levels of phosphorous in the soil. The report did not list an exact number but my soil has more than 100 parts per million of phosphorous. A “very high” reading is 25 parts per million. What does that mean? Well, according to this university article, it may mean the composts and manures that I have added to the garden were high in phosphorous. I do use a lot of compost and it generally comes from my own yard or the city compost pile. I’ve also added aged chicken manure to this garden in the past. This University of Wisconsin article on soil tests says that high phosphorous readings are not uncommon in urban soils and that it’s best to avoid “balanced” fertilizers, which most organic fertilizers are.
The U of M recommended that I use a fertilizer with no phosphorous and more nitrogen than potassium. (The exact ratio recommended for me was 30-0-20—that’s nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium or NPK—for you fertilizer geeks.) I’ve done a bit of online searching and most fertilizers with that rating are commercial fertilizers designed for golf courses or other turf-heavy spots. I’ll be looking over the winter for some low-phosphorous options, preferably organic.
Phosphorous is not bad per se. It’s vital for root growth, for instance, but too much phosphorous can promote weed growth (yep!) and lead to stunted plants. Apparently too much phosphorous can also affect plants’ abilities to take in zinc and calcium, which are essential nutrients for vegetable crops.
My plan was to spread a lot of leaf compost that I made this summer over the vegetable gardens this fall. I’ll be doing some more research to see if that is still a good idea. I’ll also be taking soil samples from some of my other garden beds. Knowledge is power, as they say, and the more you know about your garden, the better you can tend it.
Have you ever had a soil test?
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Julie introduced me to Basil Gelato, a creamy, delicious mix of milk, cream, eggs and sugar flavored with lots of whirled up basil from the garden. You can read the recipe through the Notes from Northern Gardener blog. The one problem with the gelato was the color was just a bit too close to Army green.
I wanted to play with the recipe and also see if I could make a version that was dairy free for all my lactose-intolerant friends and relatives. Since the original recipe called for cream, the natural dairy-free replacement was coconut milk. I tempered that with some almond milk and added lime because coconut, basil and lime go so well together in Thai foods. To deal with the color issue, I decided to steep the basil in the ice-cream base rather than whirl it in a blender. The result is just slightly green and totally delicious.
Dairy-Free Basil Gelato
1 can (13.6 ounces) coconut milk (NOT low-fat)
1 cup almond milk
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
2 cups basil leaves
1 lime (used for zest and juice)
Rinse and dry the basil leaves and set aside. In a sauce pan, mix the coconut and almond milks and 1/2 cup sugar and set them on a low heat to warm. In a bowl, mix the four egg yolks, vanilla, salt and 1/4 cup sugar and beat with a whisk (or a mixer) until they are lighter in color and thickened slightly. When the milk mixture begins to steam, ladle about 1/4 cup at a time into the egg yolk mixture to bring the temperature up slightly. After about three ladles, you can add the eggs to the milks and continue to cook the custard, stirring regularly. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will be thickened slightly. Remove from heat and add the basil leaves. Let the mixture steep for at least 30 minutes as the gelato base cools.
When it is cooler, add the zest and juice of a lime. Then strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the basil leaves. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to cool even more. If you have an ice cream maker, get it out and set it up. When the mixture is cool, add it and process until you have gelato. If you do not have an ice cream maker (I don’t), pour the cooled mixture into an 8×8 inch pan that you have lined with parchment paper or wax paper. Put it in the freezer and take it out every 30 minutes and stir it up to mix the icy bits around. In about two hours, it will be frozen and close to ice cream texture. You can cover the pan with plastic wrap and keep it in the freezer until it’s time to serve. When you serve it, set it out on the counter for about 10 minutes to thaw before scooping.
This would be great as dessert after any spicy meal.
I’m not much of a houseplant or cacti grower, but I sure admire people who can keep a plant healthy and lush through the winters in our harsh climate. That’s one reason I usually stop by the MSHS Potted Plant, Cactus and Succulent Show at the Minnesota State Fair.
This year’s show will be held the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22, and now is the time to get your entries ready. The show features categories for growers of everything from African violets to patio petunias, orchids, coleus, roses, begonias, all types of succulents from aloe to sedum, figs, cacti of all kinds and dozens of other species. See the entry information for a complete list of categories.
Entrants should bring their plants to the Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 20. Judging will be done that evening, with ribbons awarded for each category. Judges may also name a Grand Champion and Reserve Champion as well as special awards for exceptional entries.
The show is open to the public during the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22. It’s well worth a visit for any plant enthusiast.