One of my favorite herbs is basil. I like growing it for making fresh pesto and bruschetta, but I also like it just for its delightful fragrance whenever I brush past it.
The downside of culinary basil is that it starts flowering in the middle of summer. Once a stem flowers and produces seed, it becomes woody and the leaves less flavorful. Basil experts recommend harvesting leaves early in the season to encourage the production of more stems and leaves. They also recommend tediously pinching off the flowers as soon as they develop to keep the plant productive as long as possible.
Two years ago, I mentioned that Burpee was introducing a new basil called Bam. It was exciting because, unlike most culinary basils, Bam supposedly resists flowering and continues to produce tasty leaves through the heat of summer. Burpee said that Bam is a productive, fragrant basil that grows to a height of 18 to 20 inches.
The only problem was that Burpee was sold out of plants in 2014, and I could not find Bam last year either. This year, I discovered that Territorial Seed Company (territorialseed.com) has Bam plants for sale, and I have ordered one to try. I am so excited. I will let you know how it does, good or bad!
More readily available are two other nonflowering basils, Greek Columnar, a columnar basil that grows 2 to 3 inches tall with a strong basil flavor, and its sport Pesto Perpetuo, a columnar basil that grows 14 to 18 inches tall with smaller variegated leaves. I have tried them both and found them lovely aromatic ornamentals but lacking the large tender leaves of common culinary basil.
Last spring, I told you about Ketchup ‘n Fries, a grafted vegetable plant with a tomato plant on top and a potato plant on the bottom. I had my doubts, but I ordered one Ketchup ‘n Fries plant from Territorial Seed Company. It arrived in good condition looking like a grafted tomato plant. I asked Trudy McMonagle, Washington State Univeristy Master Gardener Emeritus, to give it a try. She enthusiastically took on the challenge.
McMonagle reported that during the summer, the tomato top produced woefully few small salad tomatoes that did not have much flavor. When she went to dig the plant at the end of the season, she could not find any potatoes. While this grafted oddity has been a successful in the U.K., it was a failure for us. However, our test of one plant is anecdotal and not good science. A better test would be with more plants in local gardens, so let us know if you try it.
Spring Garden Day planned April 23
I am anxiously looking forward to the gardening season and Spring Garden Day on April 23.
This garden workshop includes two presentations. The first one will be on planting trees the right way.
The other presentation will cover sustainable gardening techniques, including using less pesticides, selecting the right plants and reducing plant stress.
There will also be a question and answer sessionons.
The program will be held at Highlands Grange Hall in Kennewick and costs $15. Call the Extension office in Kennewick (509-735-3551) to register.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.