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Friday, May 21, 2010

Why Pot Size Is Important

I planted my basil cuttings last month in the flowerbox located at our veranda.  The soil was purely made up of clay garden soil that my mom-in-law bought several years back.  The flower box only had one small flowering plant in it and I amended the soil with 14-14-14 Osmocote fertilizer.  These are the two basil cuttings that I have made previously.  The leaves are really green and shiny, with the stems soft and tender.  Once you are at least a foot from the plant, you will definitely smell the fragrant aroma of the leaves.

This one was planted in a smaller container because I was sorely lacking in potting soil.  As you can see, the plant is small even if the potting soil was given fertilizer.  The restriction of the roots has created a plant that is stunted in growth.  The best size for basil is at least 12 inches both in depth and in diameter.  I’ll see what I can do with this one; I would probably buy another set of potting soil next month for this.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Re-Potting Basil in Containers

My Daughter looking over as I work

Remember the second basil transplant that I had, the one that I over-dosed with fish emulsion? I’m seeing some new growth of leaves, but stunted growth.  I was wondering what could be the problem as I have given my basil proper fertilizer and observed proper watering practices.  I took it out of its container and here is what I found:

The poor plant is starting to become root-bound.  The roots are starting to go through the container holes, passing the broken terracotta pots that I placed at the bottom.  When I removed the terracotta pieces, the roots started to fan out.  Since I do not have the proper feed to promote root growth, I decided not to cut down the roots.  I already cut them once; I dare not do it again in the absence of any root medication.  It is very much ideal to cut down the ends of the roots and promote root growth with fertilizer that is weak in nitrogen but moderately high in phosphorus and potassium. 

I picked a container that is about 8 inches in size, the smallest optimal size for growing basil in containers.  I lined the bottom again with broken terracotta pots and placed 3 inches of potting soil at the bottom.  It would have been ideal to place 2 inches of soil and an inch of compost at the bottom, giving the soil a light, but firm push as you go (tamping).  Place the plant on the soil and check to see if the top level of the soil of your plant is 2 inches below the lip of the pot.  I had to make it 3 inches below to make room for the earthworm castings that I bought in my local garden store.  Gradually fill the container with soil around at the side, firming it down to make sure that your soil will not recede every time you water your plants.

The instructions for my worm castings were to place an inch on the top of the soil, carefully mixing the top soil with the castings in order not to damage the shallow tap roots of my basil.  I watered the pot until water flows through the drainage holes.  A gardening staff told me that you must water plants immediately after transplanting for the roots has been disturbed. 
It is important to inspect the roots of your basil every once in a while.  Basil can have aggressive root growth, and you will need to repot every once in a while to prevent it from getting rootbound.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Getting Into The Parsley Challenge - Part 2

I found a little earthworm in one of the orchid pots.  Ever since I was a kid, I have always heard of earthworms being beneficial to garden plants.  Being the novice container gardener, I had the hair-brained idea of placing the earthworm in my parsley… And the result???

A wilting, sick-looking parsley that should have been healthy and full of foliage.   It is, indeed, very annoying.  I found out that worms used in container gardening will actually eat away any organic material in the pot.  My potting soil is entirely made up of organic material, and sadly, the roots of my parsley are also organic… The worms will eventually render the soil of the container into the consistency of clay.  As a result, the soil will retain too much water, drowning the roots.  The clumped soil and accumulated water will prevent the roots from getting oxygen, and also cause anaerobic breakdown.  As a result, your plant will eventually wilt down because it is unable to absorb water and nutrients.

I actually planned on buying a new set of seedlings and grow it in the same container.  It can be done as long as the container is washed well with soap, bleach, and water.  This is to remove any eggs that are stuck on the sides of the container.  The potting mix should be disposed as well.  These actions must be done to prevent future proliferation of worms in the container.  I will not risk it, for I do not want another episode of this one.
Lesson learned: do vermicomposting in a separate container, and not in your container garden.  

Growing Basil from Cuttings Part 1 Section 2 - Progress & Problems

April 20, 2010: After 6 days, roots can now be seen emerging from the stems of the basil cuttings.  Roots this short cannot be planted yet as they are not yet fully formed to help support the cuttings for proper growth.  I think they are about 1/2-3/4 of an inch long.  I should rejoice with the formation of roots on my basil, but I have encountered a couple of problems while the roots are forming.

My first problem?  Birds.  They are everywhere, these little creatures.  Originally I started with 3 basil cuttings, and now I ended up with 2.  I do not know which of the numerous birds that flock our veranda took the cutting; the aroma must be really enticing for them to nip the cuttings off the glass.  I had to protect the basil cuttings from birds by placing a net around it.

Second problem is the formation of powdery mildew on the leaves of the basil cuttings.  I could not find a small container that has a small lip, so the leaves are always wet.  Make sure that you have one before you start creating basil cuttings.  I do not know yet how to stop the progression of the mildew without using any harmful chemicals that poison the birds.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to find an organic solution soon enough before I place them in pots.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Proper Way of Harvesting Basil

After a month, my basil is now fully established.  I wanted to cook linguine in creamy mushroom and basil sauce, so instead of buying fresh basil (or using the one in the green bottle), I decided to harvest my basil.  Now, harvesting is not as simple as picking off a leaf here and there.  There is a technique in harvesting basil, which is pretty much very important if you love your herb.  Improper harvesting will result to a weaker plant which will not reproduce the same way as it did on your “first” harvest.

I harvested the plant the same way I prepared cuttings for propagation.  The stems are cut with a sharp knife for I will also use the stems to promote rooting.  You can also pinch off the stems with your fingers or with the use of sharp kitchen scissors if you do not plan on propagating your herb.  

Harvesting basil must be done by cutting the stem three nodes down, starting from the very tip of the branch.  The node is where the leaf and the branch meet.   The picture will give you a good idea where the node is going to be, and where to cut.  I removed the big leaves and left the small leaves at the very top.  

Unlike basil bought in supermarkets, I only needed a small amount of leaves to flavor my dish.  Good things come to those who wait before harvesting basil.

Note: this tip for harvesting basil can also be employed when pinching off branches to encourage bushier growth, and never harvest more than a third of the plant.

Now if you have a lot of basil plants, and even just three of them, you will be surprised at the amount of basil you can harvest from your established herbs. If you want a look on how much basil you can get, see the recipe video below from Chef Pasquale as he shows how he harvested basil from his very own garden to make his pesto sauce.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Growing Basil from Cuttings Part 2

One of my basil cuttings sprouted roots.  I measured the roots and found that they were already 2 inches in length.  I decided to plant them in a small container to see how this will grow.  I still have other batches of cuttings waiting to grow roots, and will plant them once roots have formed.  When you decide to grow basil from cuttings, others suggest dipping the ends of the stem in pure honey.  Honey is believed to have anti-microbial properties that will help prevent pathogenic microorganisms from harming the plants as they develop roots.  This is only done when you decide to directly place the cuttings in the soil.  I, on the other hand, prefer to let them grow roots in water to help give them a head start.

Pot Specifications
It is suggested that you use small pots of 3 inches in size for growing basil cuttings.  A large pot will only promote root rot, as others have experienced.  Since my place is very hot, with temperatures reaching 37 degrees Celsius in midday, I used a pot that is 5 inches in size – and I also do not have any pot smaller than that.  I prefer to use plastic as terracotta pots can take in a lot of heat, and also leach out water from the soil.  The bottom already has pre-made holes for drainage.  To prevent soil from eroding, I placed several small pieces of broken terracotta pots at the bottom. 

Planting the Cutting
I placed a potting mix of perlite, vermiculite, organic matter and compost in the pot.  Fill the pot until it reaches 2 inches below the lip of the container.  I dug a hole at the center that will accommodate the cutting up to slightly above the roots.  It would be better if you can fill the pot about 3/4 of the way and create a mound at the center.  This will help you spread the roots slightly.  Whichever method you choose, always make sure to treat the roots carefully to prevent damage.  Carefully cover the plant until you cover the roots completely.  I covered the cutting almost up to the level of the lowest set of leaves for anchorage. Afterwards, water the cutting until you see water drain from the pot.  This is highly essential as the cutting has grown used to a high-moisture environment.  Others report seeing the cutting wilt for a couple of days or so before becoming established.  To help the cutting, I placed it in a shaded area, north side of our house.  It will have to stay there for 24 hours, with sun exposure of 1-2 hours the next day.  This will have to continue for 3-5 days to harden off the plant. 

It is advised that you put fertilizer that promotes root growth.  I gave it a dose of fish and seaweed emulsion decoction that is slightly weaker than what the instructions in the bottle said.  Let us see how this basil cutting will grow, and hopefully, it will grow well.  

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Growing Basil from Cuttings Part 1

April 13, 2010 Here is my pride and joy nearing its fist month.  The foliage has grown and the height has increased.  The grayish cover on the soil is made up of earthworm castings.  I also sprayed my basil with fish emulsion last April 11 around night time.  The sun and temperature during this summer season is positively scorching.  The temperature reaches up to 38 degrees Celsius during noon time and around 32 degrees Celsius during the afternoon.  The basil at the bottom is a victim of too much fish emulsion sprayed at 4pm in the afternoon.  That basil is the second transplant that was removed from the pot.

April 14, 2010 I had to pinch back my basil as it is starting to become leggy.  The picture at the bottom show the trimmings that I got from the plant.  The trimmings were removed with the use of a really sharp knife as pinching or using scissors can damage the delicate tissues of the stem.  

Since I do not plan on cooking the leaves, I decided to grow basil from cuttings.  The lower leaves were removed, as the level of leaves mark the limit of root growth.  Aside from that, the more leaves your cuttings will have, the faster it will dry up when it is planted in soil.  It is ideal that you should have at least 3-4 inches of stem that will be submerged in water.  The more stem area that you have, the more roots your basil will develop.  Some websites will tell you that it will take about 3-4 weeks for basil cuttings to develop roots.  I, on the other hand, have seen otherwise.  See that really small, weak looking cut of basil at the right of the cup?  Click on the picture and magnify.  If you look closely at the picture, you will see formed roots starting to become dense.  It took about a week for roots to appear, and I am guessing that by next week it will have established roots.  Let us see how this will go.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reviving A Lost Orchid

March 28, 2009: This is the orchid that my mom-in-law bought years and years ago.  Problem is, it was not taken cared of when she left for the States.  I will try to revive this plant and see if I can make it bloom.  My first step was to place the plant in running water for 15 minutes.  I wanted to use fresh charcoal, but the roots were firmly attached to the pot.  I opted to just place fresh new ones to fill the container and placed in a spot that is free from direct sunlight.  The aluminum tray is filled with water and the container is suspended on a bed of charcoal.  This is to give a humid environment that will help the plant to revive itself.  

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Getting into the Parsley Challenge

Parsley is a great herb for sauces and salads.  There are two varieties of parsley that you can grow in your garden.  One is the curly leaf parsley, which is great for garnish. And the other one is the Italian flat leaf parsley, which has a stronger, pungent flavor that makes it great for cooking with sauces as well as other dishes.  The one I have here is the flat-leaf variety.  Growing parsley in containers can be relatively easy, but when you are starting with a cultivar such as this one, it can be really challenging.  Among all the plants in the herb garden, this one had less problems when it comes to leaves.  The other plants already had yellowish to golden specks on them, indicating stress as well as pest problems.  The problem with this one is probably over-watering.  The size of my container here is about 6", although it would have been better if I picked one that is at least 8".  For information on how I transplanted my parsley, visit my general gardening section.   
On the 7th day, this is what it looks like.  I trimmed off the less-healthy leaves one by one to encourage growth. Trimming when growing parsley in containers must be done very close to the ground.  This way, you encourage the plant to produce more shoots and produce more foliage.  The problem with parsley is that it takes quite a while before you are able to harvest them.  It takes about 3 months for your plants to produce enough leaves for harvesting.  Care is done by giving the plants 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water every day to keep the soil moist but not wet.  Once the top-soil feels dry, that is the time you give them water until it drains at the bottom.  Never give them too much water as it is easy to give them too much water when growing parsley in containers. I sprayed them with a solution of 1/2 teaspoon fish and seaweed emulsion mixed with 1 liter of water and side dressed the soil with 1/2 cup of the solution.  The instructions in the container said to mix 1 tablespoon of the emulsion with 4 liters of water.  I think I may have prepared a diluted mixture.  Next time I'll try 2/3 of the emulsion to 1 liter of water.  This is to be done every 2 weeks.

March 31, 2010 I had them moved on our roof deck for they are not getting enough direct sunlight at the veranda.  They are growing quite nicely, but I made a mistake of spraying them with fish emulsion.  Some leaves got burned, so I have to space the spraying every 2 weeks when it comes to my parsley.  Since the sun is high, I gave them water until it flows through the drainage holes.  This is the second time it got that much water as I am growing parsley in containers.

April 5, 2010 I went up to take a look at my herb garden and was surprised to find that flowers are starting to form in my parsley.  From what I know, parsley is a biennial, meaning it should produce flowers by the 2nd year.  I have to pinch them out or my parsley will lose its flavor.  Aside from that, the tips are starting to grow brown, so I have to move it again to another location that has the best of the morning sun, but with an afternoon shade.

Oregano: My Joy of The Mountain

If you are just starting your herb garden, or starting on gardening for that matter, then oregano is just the thing for you.  This hardy plant grows in almost all types of conditions, and thrives most when not being showered with too much attention.  Oregano is perfect for container gardening with little attention and care.  The soil requirements for growing oregano in containers is not rocket science. It can grow in almost any type of soil, but grows well in soil that is light, well-drained, alkaline, and low on nutrients.  Exposure to arid conditions can even make this plant grow well, as long as its roots have enough room to grow.   My oregano seedlings came in 3" seedling containers made up of thin plastic.  How I transplanted my oregano is described in my general gardening section.  My daughter was with me and asking questions why I'm breaking down the terracotta pots and why am I making a mess at our living room.  I could not do it outside for even if it was around 3pm in the afternoon, the sun was high and scorching.

The second picture is taken on the 5th day.  The birds were showing interest on them, so I had to protect them in some way.  I still have 2 seedlings in this 6" container.  You should have at least 12" of area for growing oregano in containers, and that is just for one plant.  Time will come that I will eventually have to separate the seedlings of my oregano.  They are already starting to crowd each other in their small world.

This was taken on the 7th day.  They are now starting to be as high as the sticks that I placed around them.  I then made a decision to separate the two oregano plants.  The could barely hold one plant, much less two.

I separated the plants by cutting the smallest one close to the ground as possible.  I did the separation when the sun was not that high and the temperature was not that hot.  I buried the plants up to the level of their first 2 leaves.  This is to give them a lot of space to develop roots.  I did not trim the leaves off as the plant was top-heavy.  If this oregano was bigger, the lower leaves would have been trimmed off to allow a depth of 4 inches for root development.  What's good about oregano is that they can develop roots even without any encouragement.  Just give them enough soil and moisture, and they will grow just fine.

You do not need a lot of fertilizer when growing oregano in containers.  Too much nourishment will give your plants a bitter, acrid taste that makes them not suitable for cooking.  I just sprayed the leaves with seaweed and fish emulsion to protect them from pests.  There is no need to side dress the oregano, spritzing them will be enough.

March 31, 2010  This is what my oregano looks like on its second week.  The leaves are thick, sweet-smelling and starting to become heavy.  The stems are now showing signs of bending because of th weight of the leaves.  I only sprayed them with fish emulsion and no side-dressing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fresh, Aromatic Basil Grown in Container Gardening

Basil is a great herb to add in pasta sauces as well as some other Mediterranean dishes. Although I can easily buy basil in dried form, nothing beats the flavor of fresh herbs.

This picture was taken on the first day of transplant.  I do not have the patience to start them from seeds, so I opted to buy a seedling in a local herb garden store.   The container for my basil is sized 6", although it should be around 8" in depth and diameter.  As you can see, there are two seedlings in this container.  Actually, there are 3 of them in there, the smallest one being covered by the large basil at the left.  This was bought at March 17, 2010 at 10am in the morning.  I transplanted the basil at around 3pm when the sun is still high but not that hot enough to cause stress.  The specifics on how I transplanted the basil from its seedling container is described in the general gardening section of this blog site.  I was given a pamphlet for growing basil that briefly describes how to take care of my seedlings.  Basil prefers soil that is rich, light, and drains well with a pH of 5.0-6.0.  Initially, my seedling is around 3 inches tall.

5 days later, I had the uneasy feeling that I should check on my plants as I was preparing for my daughter's graduation party... True enough, I found my plants in a sad state after they were massacred by the local birds.  Notice the leaf of the plant at the right.  The birds made a feast out of them, including the other plants in my container garden.

The leaf on the ground is part of the first pair of true leaves that the birds chomped off.  It still has the beak marks of the birds that wanted a taste of the basil.  Who can blame them, the plant was sweet-smelling and highly enticing for any birds and humans to eat them as they are.

This picture is taken on the 7th day of the transplant.  I kept the soil moist, but not wet by giving the plants deep watering whenever the soil is dry to a depth of 1-2 inches.  This is necessary as the summer sun here is really scorching and you can see the soil getting dry on the next day.  The leaves are now big and the foliage is starting to develop.  It is about 5 inches tall.  The set of leaves of the top will be the last set of vertical leaves.  New ones will have to be pinched to encourage lateral growth.

On the 8th day, I had to force myself to cut the down the other seedling.  They are starting to crowd each other inside their small space.  Basil needs at least 6 inches of land area if you wish to plant them in rows.  A container that is sized 18 inches can hold 2 plants adequately.  I sprayed the leaves with a solution of 1/2 teaspoon seaweed and fish emulsion added to 1 litter of water on the day after the transplant.  It is not a good practice, I know, but I was only able to get my hands on the emulsion that day.  The solution is sprayed on to the leaves until the water droplets start to run down on the leaves.  A cup of the solution is then poured over the soil for nourishment.  Spraying and feeding is to be done every 2 weeks to maintain the health of the soil as well as to prevent the plants from getting sick.

This is the other seedling that I removed from the pot.  I made the mistake of cutting the roots to remove them from the pot.  I had hoped that transplanting them with some roots attached will help them grow.  I also sprayed them with a solution of seaweed and fish emulsion.  I hope it will thrive soon enough.  Removing this basil was not an easy decision to make...  I plan to place a tray of chives at the along with the plants to discourage green flies that damage the leaves.

March 27, 2010, 9am in the morning.  Now, this shows promise.  My basil is now standing slightly straight, and the tops are no longer touching the protective screen that I placed around it.  It still does not look much, but this is already a huge improvement from the past couple of days.  The other plant is already established and producing shoots nicely.  This weak one had a week's worth of delayed development because of lack of roots.

March 31, 2010: It is now the second week of the initial transplant.  My  basil plants are growing nicely.  I had to sacrifice personal comfort for they were only getting up to 4 hours of direct sunlight on the veranda.  They are now located on the flower box placed on the roof deck of my husband's house.  The one in the blue-green pot is the original plant in its original soil.  This one at the right was the sad-looking plant that was separated on March 27.  I had to spray them again with fish emulsion for the amount of sun they are getting is more than what they usually.  It's a good thing that the weather is cooperating as the sky is overcast for the last couple of days.

April 5, 2010 There was a problem with the 2nd basil transplant.  For some reason, the old leaves started to dry up and turn yellow.  I do not now what to do, so I decided to just leave them be.  The new leaves are still green and growing.  I'm thinking of giving them a dose of fish emulsion on Wednesday if things do not go well.  New leaves are starting to grow, even between the old branches.  I pinched off the top new leaves to encourage lateral growth.  I then had an idea to plant the pinched branches to see if the cuttings will start to grow.  Let's wait and see what will happen.  The soil was made of clay, and I experimented by mixing about a liter of sand to make it loose.  This will not be an organic herb for I had to prepare the soil with Osmocote 14-14-14 slow-release pellets.

April 7, 2010  Sadly I would not know how this experiment with the cutting will turn out because the local birds made a feast out of it...... Which is a good thing for I've read that I did the procedure wrong.  I'll do another cutting next week and see how it will turn out.

Part of this article can be seen in growing basil in containers, hosted by Ezine Articles.

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