Month: August 2010

The buzz on bees

If you are not one who swats and retreats at the first sign of a bee buzz-by, I bet you know someone who does. Friend, fellow blogger, and landscape designer Debbie, at A Garden of Possibilities, wrote a fantastic post on bees as part of the Garden Designers Roundtable group she is part of.

I have nothing to add regarding bees – Debbie pretty much covers it all – but I will expand on the value of observation. I’ve been stung three times this season – all by wasps, not honey bees, and all because I wasn’t paying enough attention to my surroundings. Both times I disturbed an existing, but hidden, nest. Had I followed my old EMT training to survey the scene before entering, I likely would have noticed flight patterns and been able to prevent getting stung.

Surveying simply requires standing back and watching for flight patterns to and from a specific area before you begin any digging, weeding, or other disturbing-to-stinging-insects activity. Wasps like to nest in multiple unexpected locations. I’ve found them behind shutters, inside storage boxes, in hollow fences, at the top of wooden tuteurs, in trees, inside a retractable garden hose reel, and under the roof peaks of houses. Yellow jackets, which are actually another form of wasp, commonly nest in the ground.  No matter the stinging insect, observation may be the best sting-avoidance step. Bees, wasps, etc. do not seek to sting people, but do so because they feel threatened. When it’s dry, as is has been in Connecticut, I’ve found bees/wasps to be more protective of the flowers or berries they get moisture from. To minimize the risk of stings, I try to deadhead flowers or harvest berries in early morning or late day when stingers are less active.

yellow jacket on raspberry bumble bee1 For example, it’s not a good idea to reach in bare-handed to pick raspberries under control of what I believe is a yellow jacket as shown here. I love raspberries, but so do they, so I opted to leave the raspberries alone until a time when yellow jackets are less active. But the bumble bee at right was perfectly happy to pose for its photo as long as I did not disturb it. When you take time to observe you’ll notice that bumble bees like to rest on flowers overnight – I like to think they are intoxicated by the nectar.


For more info, and photos, of bees, wasps, etc. visit this University of Minnesota Extension page and this University of Connecticut IPM page … and make sure to visit Debbie’s bee post – it’s worth the read.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 Joene Hendry

Basil, basil, and more basil

I started a lot of basil from seed this season, knowing pesto is a family fave. Son #2 would live on pesto, #1, 3, and 4 love the classic summer pasta dish nearly as much.  I always plant enough basil in the ground and a similar amount in pots to insure I have enough for summer cooking, salads, pesto, and enough to freeze for winter use. Some years the in-ground basil thrives while the potted plants suffer, other years it’s exactly opposite. This year Mother nature is surely watching over basil … I have more than enough to for all these uses … both in-ground and potted plants continue to thrive, thrive, thrive.

I planted multiple basil basilico finessimo verde a palla as border plants.  This variety has anise undertones, flavor- and scent-wise. Here it is in a short row …

basil basilico finessimo verde a palla

… and again with zinnia, and lavender and zinnia.

basil and zinnia basil with lavender and zinnia

Then there is classic-tasting basilico mostrusoso, which usually grows much larger – one year it reached 3 feet tall in a large pot and had leaves the size of my hands – but it is somewhat stunted here by an overbearing cherry tomato. The flavor of the leaves has not suffered though.

basil basilico mostruoso 

Greek basil, a small-leaf, globe-shaped plant, does well in pots. Here it’s in an old stainless steel colander-lined pasta pot with the larger globe shaped basilico finessimo verde a palla. I threw in a little blue lobelia for color … thought planting basil in a pasta pot was rather appropriate.

basil greek mini-basilico finissimo verde a palla 

I also have multiple plantings of basil italiano classico … some with potted heirloom tomatoes, some in perennial beds, and some in a long, narrow, and warm raised planting bed. This summer’s hot, dry weather suited it regardless of where it’s planted – all  plants are about two feet tall and filled with healthy, flavorful leaves.

basil italiano classicoI’d offer my official pesto recipe, but I’ve been making it for so many years now that I kind of wing it. In general I fill my blender with about two cups of fresh leaves, add a couple large garlic cloves, maybe a quarter cup of pecans or pine nuts, and just enough virgin olive oil to insure blending. As the blender works I add fresh squeezed lemon juice, maybe a couple or three tablespoons, to help hold basil’s fresh green color. If I’m going to use the pesto without freezing I will also add about a quarter cup of grated parmesan. If I’m freezing the batch, I leave the parmesan out. I’m not crazy about the texture of pesto frozen with parmesan and prefer adding parmesan as I pour defrosted pesto over warm pasta. I freeze my blender concoction in pint-size canning jars, labeled of course. To use, just move a jar from the freezer to the frig, or defrost the jar in warm water. If I’m really careful, I can stretch out our pesto dinners from my frozen stash until about a month before I have enough growing to make pesto fresh.

For a great wrap, spread pesto on flat bread then add sliced tomato, cheese, and lettuce, or other goodies. Use pesto similarly on home-made quesadillas. I’ve even blended a couple of teaspoons of pesto into scrambled eggs for a yummy breakfast concoction … and pesto spread on pizza dough with mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves is really tasty.

An alternate method for preserving basil involves the blender, fresh leaves, and enough olive oil to allow blending. Add garlic to the mix if you want. Pour the basil/oil blend into plastic ice cube trays and freeze. Once solid, transfer cubes to plastic bags for use in winter sauces and soups.

I don’t try to dry basil – don’t like the icky brown color of dried basil leaves or their lack of full basil flavor.

basil lemon I almost forgot lemon basil (at left), which only seems to grow well for me in pots. It doesn’t like wet feet so be sure not to overwater. Use lemon basil in fresh veggie salads – any combination of fresh beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, or corn; in summer pasta dishes with fresh beans or tomatoes or eggplant or chicken; in cold summer tuna or egg salads; and in scrambled eggs. When I have ample amounts I’ll make a fresh lemon basil pesto … fantastic!

I can’t say any one of the basil’s I plant is a favorite … I love them all. Though I also enjoy the color of purple basils, they tend to get leggy and don’t give me the flavor punch their green cousins deliver to summer pastas, pizzas, breads, and salads.

Fortunately, the dreaded basil blight did not, as yet, hit my plants this year. I had some blight late last year but still harvested plenty of basil for pesto and other uses. If hit by basil blight, it’s best to harvest the plant and pull off blighted leaves before processing. Catch it quickly, though, since blight can quickly destroy basil leaving you with none for winter use.

I don’t try to grow fresh basil inside during colder months – just don’t get enough sun – but by starting a bunch of inexpensive seeds in February and March I have more than enough basil variety for my family’s use and to share as potted plants with neighbors and friends.

Do you have any basil growing tips to share? I know those with more winter sun exposure can grow basil inside from water-rooted cuttings set during late summer. What techniques do you use for basil growing/preserving?

Finally, I have to thank Amy at Backyard Bounty for sparking this basil post. She grows basil and multiple other crops and humans in Montana; pay her a visit.