Archive for African basil

African Basil, Our Favorite Summertime Herb

Posted in Herbs with tags , , , , on October 1, 2010 by PickMeYard

We’ve  decided in my family that African Basil  (Ocimum sp. Hybrid) is our new favorite summertime herb.  It not only survived the heat, it thrived.  Most of our other herbs perished.  The other varieties of basil, some thyme, Cuban oregano and the rosemary were the other survivors.

We watered our African basil to get it established when it was first planted.  After it grew to a point where it  didn’t need any more help from us, we just let it be.  It has flowered profusely ever since.  I keep waiting for it to be done flowering, but it’s never done.  The extreme heat and humidity of our Florida summer hasn’t phased it one bit.  It still looks great.

African basil after a two-week drought and months of extreme heat and humidity.

The African basil always has honeybees all over it.  They bump into each other.  We have our African basil growing next to some concrete pavers and we just sit there and watch the honeybees work.  The kids love the “honeybee T.V.”.  That’s our reality television.  Are you wondering if we’re worried about getting stung?  Absolutely not.  The honeybees are doing their job of collecting pollen.  Sometimes a worker bee will get a little annoyed when I stick my nose up next to her so I can really study what she’s doing.  She will usually just jump to another flower if I’m bothering her.  It’s highly unlikely that a worker bee would sting when she’s out collecting pollen.

That's pollen on her legs that she's been collecting. She'll use it to make honey.

Female honeybees are the worker bees. The male honeybee's only job is to procreate.

Our African basil plants are providing the honeybees with lots of pollen for them to make food with.

We want to plant a whole lot more of this African basil.  It’s super easy to care for.  It’s not really a culinary basil though and we’re growing ours in a separate area from our herb garden.  When we first acquired the plant, we didn’t realize it was mostly for ornamental use.  However, it’s a shining star in our garden because it feeds our bees. 

This herb grows from  stem cuttings of an existing plant, not from seed like other basil.  African basil is a hybrid and has only been around since 1982 according to the UF/IFAS Extension Office

Basil is a warm-weather herb, but we manage to grow our African basil throughout the winter in our zone 9b.  It seems to be somewhat more tolerant of freezing temperatures than the other varieties of  basil.  I will make several stem cuttings of our African basil just in case.

Grayson has collected seeds from some very cool varieties of basil to plant in his basil garden.  He’s got it all planned out in his garden notebook.  He will wait until after winter to plant his basil garden though. Our absolute favorite herb catalog is Horizon Herbs, Seeds of Medicine.  We have to practice self-control when we open the catalog because we find so many seeds that we think we need.  It has great illustrations and tons of  information.  Love it!

Come grow with us!

How you feeeeling… hot, hot, hot!

Posted in Gardening Experiments with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by PickMeYard

Most of the United States planted all their vegetable crops in the spring.  We’re different in Florida.  We do most of our cool weather vegetable planting in late September or October.  I don’t even look at the “suggested planting times” on the back of seed packets anymore.  I have just learned what to grown in Florida and when.  It’s definitely not an exact science. 

In late September I usually plant carrots, onions, turnips, strawberries, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, cabbage, corn, collards and lettuce.  Most of these won’t grow well in the heat of a Florida summer… except the collards.  Collard greens do grow in the summer but they taste much better when they’re grown in the winter and the frost makes them taste even better.  Carrots will grow, but the heat makes them taste horribly bitter and yucky.  Tomatoes will grow too, but the heat prevents the fruit from setting.  Cherry tomatoes are an exception and can sometimes take the heat.  Lettuce is a cool weather crop that will bolt in the heat.  “Bolting” is when the lettuce sends out a shoot that goes to seed.  When a plant “bolts” it usually makes the leaves unpalatable.

Herbs usually have a hard time surviving the heat in a Florida summer.  If they’re grown in pots they can be moved into the shade. I keep my pelargoniums alive in the summer by moving them into the shade.  Rosemary doesn’t mind the heat.  Lemon balm, lemongrass and  cuban oregano thrive.  I was glad to see my thyme made it through last summer without a problem.  My new favorite is provence lavender.  I have finally found a lavender that thrives in humidity.  I’m going to plants lots more of this.

Provence lavender in a Florida summer (June).

Provence lavender flowers that thrive in humidity and tolerate heat.

The African basil is thriving in the heat and the bees love it.

Lemongrass. I had cut it way back in March and it's full again.

Our summer herb bed.

Summer herbs in pots.

In the summer time in Florida  we need to grow crops that can survive  the heat and humidity.  The problem with summer is the army of insects that usually arrive.  We’ve learned to tolerate them and we always figure out new ways to fight back without using pesticides.  Our favorite summertime crops are callaloo, peppers, eggplants, okra, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, ginger, turmeric, chives, collards, cucumbers, watermelons, sugar cane, water chestnuts, sunflowers, malabar spinach and passion fruit.  There are so many different varieties of these.  We love the white eggplants and all the interesting kinds of peppers and watermelons.  This summer we’re also growing cassava, malanga, different kinds of peppers, tomatillos  and pigeon peas. 

A young callaloo plant.

A large vegetable amaranth.

A cassava plant.

Bitter melon growing in a pot.

Dried black-eyed peas on the bush.

The top one is a fresh black-eyed pea "snap" and the bottom ones are dried black-eyed peas. Both make a delicious meal!

Young pigeon pea plant in a pot.

Large pigeon pea plant in a pot.

Flowering pigeon peas.

A scotch bonnet plant with a flower. Scotch bonnet is a very flavorful and hot pepper. I cut off just a sliver and cook it with my food. It adds delicious flavor and just enough heat.

We’ve let the chickens loose around the yard for the summer and they are enjoying themselves immensely.  They’re helping with the bug population and are able to find cool places to wait out the afternoon heat.  They’re also taking a break from the egg laying which is necessary for them.  

This is our little bantam hen. Her name is "Sweet Pea" and she is hard at work foraging in the peas.

One of our floofy-headed chickens is chillin' under the rosemary bush.

My dad set up a hydroponic garden inside his screened-in lanai last summer.  It gets full sun but the screen provides some protection.   The bees can’t reach his plants but he still got some gorgeous vegetables in the middle of summer.  He also has a hydroponic garden set up outside the lanai.  His garden changes constantly just like ours.  It looks  completely different every time we see it.

My father's hydroponic garden inside his screeened-in porch.

More of his inside hydroponic garden.

His newly planted hydroponic garden outside of his screened-in area.

When the gardening experts tell me it can’t be done, I usually try anyway.  Sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not.  Since I’m a backyard gardener and not a commercial grower, I have little risk in losing a crop or two. 

The beauty of Florida is that we can grow food all year round. 

Come grow with us!