Mint has got to be one of the easiest plants to grow. Just plop it into some reasonably rich soil in a reasonably sunny spot and watch it take over. Evidence of its opportunistic habit probably lives in your garden right now. It certainly does in mine. The ‘Chocolate Mint’ I attempted to reign in by planting in a pot last year has busted loose spreading into the soil outside my community garden plot and into the plot next to it. Thankfully my neighbor doesn’t mind the invading plant and I am not short on friends willing to take fresh ‘Chocolate Mint’ off my hands. Everybody wins.
So while making even more mint may seem a bit ridiculous, I’ve got a project on the go that requires mint and lots of it. I could go out to the store and buy a couple of ready-to-go seedlings but since the timing isn’t critical I figured I’d save some money and make my own using the five or so varieties living at my community garden plot.
The process is easy. Simply cut a few stems about 4 or 5 inches long just below a node (the juncture on the stem where leaves are attached). Pluck off one or two sets of leaves, stick the stems in a small cup or jar of water and wait.
Most mint varieties will produce roots by this method in no time. Yes, you can go the soil route, rooting cuttings directly into potting soil or a vermiculite/perlite mix instead of water. Some say this is the best method for the health of the plants and while I would agree when it comes to most other plants, I couldn’t be bothered with the added hassle when reproducing easy-rooting plants like mint or basil.
Once roots have formed, pot up or plant the new plants in-ground and you’re done. You can add a little vermicompost to the hole if you want and of course water them in well to get things going.
The garlic mustard population is really getting out-of-hand at the community garden this year. I’ve discovered loads of it in unused areas of disturbed, lousy soil and it is expanding rapidly into the edges around plot beds. I was diligent in removing much of it last year so the population isn’t big enough yet to really get under my skin, but this plant is so prolific, and such an evil overlord taking over wherever it sets roots that I’m going to have to get at it with due diligence to avoid disaster next year.
For those who’ve had the good fortune of avoiding it, garlic mustard is an extremely invasive, biennial plant that was probably brought to North America by European settlers, most likely to be cultivated for food and medicine. And I can see why. It’s delicious stuff and the herb books are filed with useful garlic mustard-based remedies. The plant also over-winters nicely under snow, even in my region, which for settlers probably meant something green in the cold months. Unfortunately the plant got loose and has since become a bit of a botanical menace, encroaching on native woodland plants in many parts of the Eastern United States and southern parts of Ontario, Canada (where I live). In fact it’s become such a pain that local communities are starting to band together on special garlic mustard eradication days, going out into woodland areas in groups with the sole purpose of removing the plant.
But like I said, there is a bright side to this — we can use our mouths and stomachs to help keep this bad ass botanical in check. The leaves have a strong garlic flavor and the roots have a bit of a kick making them a good substitute for horseradish (incidentally also a menace). When pockets of it started to turn up in my own gardens last year I figured I might as well figure out some use for it while going through the pains of pulling it out. We’ve tried a few recipes but I am finding that I am as sensitive to this plant as I am to garlic itself. We’ve enjoyed it, but in much smaller quantities than are harvested. The other key to use that I have found is to mix it up with other ingredients. This tempers the bitterness, and in my case prevents digestive upset.
While the leaves are bitter, young leaves can be eaten fresh in salads if you remember to harvest in the early spring. The plant is generally tastier BEFORE the flowers and seeds appear which is a good thing because it’s advised to get them out of the ground before the seeds have a chance to spread. It can also be sautÃƒÂ©ed or wilted like spinach. The garlic flavor goes nicely with butter. And mushrooms. Maybe with a pinch of salt and a splash of lemon. Yum. Pesto is a popular use since the bitter garlic flavor works nicely on pasta, no additional garlic required. Making pesto is also a good way to use up and store the plant for long term use. Just package it up and keep it in the freezer. Don’t worry about running out, for better or worse there will be plenty more next year.
Garlic Shown: Stiff-neck which tends to be hardy and stores well over the long term.
Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.
During the spring and summer months I grow indeterminant tomatoes (large, vine plants) in large garbage bins like this one purchased for $10 each a number of years ago at the local Ikea. The flat grey colour has faded significantly over the years but the containers are still holding up under the wear and tear of hot summers and winter heaving caused by fluctuating temperatures.
I typically fill each container with a single tomato plant and surround it with 4 basil plants. With the weather being warmer this fall I decided to try and keep the rooftop deck productive AND aesthetically pleasing by replacing the spent tomatoes with attractive, cold-hardy edibles previously growing in smaller, individual containers. This also allowed me to get a head start on clean-up bringing in some of the smaller, terra cotta containers that will eventually come indoors for the winter.
In This Container:
- Tri-color sage
- Pansy (will keep flowering. Flowers are edible.
- ‘Lacinato Blue’ Kale aka ‘Dinosaur’ Kale
- ‘Red Bor’ Kale
- Cinnamon Basil (not cold hardy but surprisingly still going strong.)
Everything in this container is edible. Unfortunately, while we were away a squirrel made a hearty lunch of the dinosaur kale but everything else is still thriving and ready for picking whenever we need a bit of sage for our eggs, some flowers for a salad, or kale to flavour a soup.
Proudly cradling the basil harvested from my community garden plot. Varieties include: ‘African Blue’, ‘Purple Ruffles’, ‘Sweet Basil’, ‘Genovese’, ‘Columnar’, ‘Spicy Globe’, ‘Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil’, ‘Dark Opal’, and ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ (a variegated variety).
I reluctantly harvested the remaining basil plants from my community garden plot last weekend. With the temperatures dipping low it was time to take the plunge or risk losing all that lovely fresh basil to the frost. I am yet to harvest the remaining plants growing in containers on my rooftop deck but we are enjoying nipping out for fresh leaves to put on sandwiches and in salads so late into the fall season. Really with such a mild fall I am shocked that we have been able to hold out for so long. Basil is notorious for hating cold, wet weather and has never made it this far into the Fall (in my memory) before turning black and flopping over in defeat.
Between last weekend’s mad pesto/pisto making operation, and the basil I have been drying in bunches since mid-summer, I’d say we’re pretty well stocked until the first plants are ready to be pinched back next summer. I think this may be the first time that I’ve been able to look into the freezer and say with a sense of authority that the bounty is good.
The following is a very short clip revealing how frugal I can be about the basil. What can I say, each leaf is like a tiny nugget of gold!