Last week, when I came home from a weekly grocery run, I stepped warily toward the garden at the end of the driveway. I’m accustomed to feeling like a lousy farmer thanks to the herd of deer in our woods. With a sigh on my lips, I lifted back the giant leaves drooping from our squash and zucchini plants, anticipating root rot or squash bug infestation or something equally disgusting and disheartening.
Gasp—there’s life in there! Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
Truly, nobody is more surprised than I am to find that our pitiful little raised bed is displaying its first fruits. Remember the carnage I found recently, in discovering that our eggplant and pepper plants had their tops chomped off? But as Jeff Goldblum’s character said in the original Jurassic Park film, “life finds a way,” and it seems to be true in our side yard. Hallelujah!
In addition to the first beautiful zucchini, which I almost left to grow another day (nope—I’ve learned my lesson there), we have lots of basil and a whole bunch of yellow squash blossoms. In past years, I mistakenly assumed that loads of blossoms would mean as many actual fruit. But unlike the reality of our “gender lesson” in bell peppers a few weeks ago, squash blossoms do present either male or female, and most of these will not be producing squash babies.
The male flowers are still important, naturally, for their role in pollination of the female blossoms. The hardworking bees, which have taken up residence in the nearby wildflower garden (you know what they say—location, location, location), will be blossom-hopping for the next few weeks to do just that. I hope we continue to see fruit on these plants, and now that I know they’re producing, I’ll be watching the undersides of the leaves to protect against squash bugs. I love zucchini and squash in absolutely every form, and I have a new spiralizer tool I’m eager to try, so I’m crossing my fingers.
And the basil—holy wow, the basil is growing like crazy but is in need of my immediate attention or I may lose the whole lot of it. If you haven’t grown your own, or maybe you have but with varying degrees of success, I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned about properly tending to these fragrant summer herbs. When they start to show these little clusters on the ends of the stems, they’re getting ready to go to seed (or “bolt”), and that would be a disappointing end to my pesto goals because once it goes to seed, the basil leaves lose their full flavor and take on a bitterness that is most unpleasant.
A few years ago, a Pinterest post led me through a simple basil pruning technique which made a world of difference in my herb gardening. The basil needs to be “pinched back.” Removal of those little clusters before they begin to flower will send a message to the basil that there’s more growing to do, and if you keep at it, the plant will continue to become bushier until you almost literally have basil coming out your ears. In my case, it might also help protect the other surviving plants in my garden because deer allegedly cannot stand the smell of basil. Here’s hoping!
It’s easy to do—get up close to the cluster and look for a point along the stem below it where twin leaves are positioned across from each other. Just above those twin leaves, pinch off the stem. That’s all there is to it. I usually take a kitchen scissors out to the garden with me and snip them rather than pinching. It goes faster, makes a cleaner cut and doesn’t leave my hands smelling like strong basil. The stems you snip will stop growing, leaving room for new stems to form from the twin leaves. Where there used to be one stem, there will soon be two.
As you go, the basil will require more frequent pruning because stems will multiply. But if there’s a big jar of fresh pesto at the end of it, I’m in! The plant may grow upward somewhat, but mostly you will see a bushy formation, and each time I prune, I’ll have plenty to use along the way to pesto heaven.
It’s been an exciting day in the garden, and I’m going to whip up something delicious with my first fruit haul. I’ll show you in a day or two what I came up with.
Oh, happy day!