By Frank Gabriel
Having already acquainted you with the process of seed starting and fertilization, this issue’s column will deal with the specifics of how to manage your plants.
Beginning with the process of transplanting, which can be enormous shock to the system of tender foliage.
When moving seedlings to larger digs, turn their containers over while gently applying pressure to the bottom in order to loosen roots, never actually pulling on young plants themselves.
Once free, immediately place them in a shallow hole in the larger pot.
Add potting soil to provide structural integrity, then enough water to dampen, but not thoroughly soak the soil.
Some plants, especially tomatoes and peppers, should be staked as soon as possible, in order to manage their growth.
We have an unusual, secret-agent tool designed for just this very purpose; worn-out pantyhose.
You read correctly.
Cut in to wide, thin strips, this clingy, but flexible material provides just the right level of support.
What it won’t do is cut into the flesh of, or even break, stems of plants as they sway in the mercurial breezes of spring and summer in coastal southern New Jersey.
It’s also easy to remove and adjust as your plants grow taller.
This summer, my garden features a wide variety of herbs, but most notable, four different kinds of basil.
There is a reason why this healthful, fragrant green is known as ‘The King of Herbs.’
In fact, the word ‘basil’ derives from the Greek language, basilikón photon, meaning “royal/kingly plant”.
(Those who know me should be having a good chuckle right about….now.)
With hundreds of varieties, you should be able to locate at least two or three for yourself.
Pictured with this feature are my 2017 quartet; Genovese (aka ‘Sweet’) plus purple, Royal Thai (often confused with purple, incorrectly) and a newer varietal grown from seed, called ‘Lemonade.’
Each possesses slightly different flavor profiles, making them ideally suited for creative cookery, especially raw in salads or to finish a recipe.
The key to growing basil is simple, quality, well-drained soil and sparing water.
Not the hardiest of plants, they require a gentle touch early on, but that extra work will be rewarded with a bounteous harvest come July, August and September.
Another herb I’m growing in multiples this season is thyme.
Absolutely essential for meats, sauces, fish and vegetables, thyme is a sturdy, quick-grower which tends to monopolize space given.
Unlike basil, it prefers more water, growing into wide, Bonsai-like bushes.
Our choices this year were English (or ‘Common’) and lemon but you will also find types called silver, orange and creeping (for the aforementioned tendency to spread.)
Thyme prefers hot, dry conditions and full exposure to bright sunlight.
Among the easiest herbs to cultivate is parsley.
Like most chefs, we prefer the broad-leafed Italian type, utilizing it in sauces, pesto and universally with all seafood.
(For us, a most essential ingredient in quality tuna salad, removing any hint of fishiness.)
Since parsley grows so profusely, we like to keep it in long shallow planters and harvest frequently, typically on a daily basis.
Rosemary, another personal favorite, requires almost as much careful attention as basil.
Although it can survive throughout winter, it’s extremely easy to harm by overwatering or not exposing to enough sunshine.
A roster of other inhabitants of our garden bower this year will include dill, wonderful with potatoes, chicken and fish, spearmint, for fruit salads and teas, pineapple sage, an unusual aromatic hybrid that seems to repel flying insects, plus chives and spring onions.
Armed with even a few of this dizzying palette of tastes, colors and essences, you will be well underway.