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November 16, 2004

DESERT BLOOM: Kitchen Gardening


When temperatures drop in other parts of the country, the last thing almost anybody wants to do is go about gardening outside- frostbite, you know. And even here in the great American Southwest, winter can mean cutting back on outdoor gardening time. And, just as an aside, it definitely means cutting back on outdoor watering. But you already know that. Of course, people who have no yards are in the situation of not being able to do outdoor gardening any time of the year. But not having a yard, or it being too cold to go into the yard doesn't mean that there's no opportunity to grow something lovely - or tasty. In fact, there's no reason not to have a kitchen herb garden growing literally in the kitchen! Honestly! And that can be a year-round activity.

Many of the plant parts we use for herbs are the green leaves; things that'll grow fine as long as they receive sufficient light and water - sound familiar? And they are so simple! For instance, take cilantro. It's critical in so many national cuisines - from Mexico to Burma. And like so many other herbs, it's considered medicinal. The Aztecs used it to deal with digestive complaints and medieval Europeans thought it was an aphrodisiac.

But back to the plant. Buy the seeds and put them in moist potting mix. Give the seedlings at least six hours of bright light a day. Don't crowd the seedlings in the pot; thin them out, spread them into new pots. Once a plant has a dozen or so leaves, you can start picking them off and adding them into salad dressing, salsa, mashed potatoes, whatever. I mentioned once that my favorite culinary trick is to take those tiny garlic cloves at the center of the bulb and stick them into the soil, or even into other plants. The leaves that emerge are perfect to use instead of chives.

I know I've been talking about herbs, but don't forget that lettuce and spinach will both work fine in pots. Not iceberg lettuce; I'm talking about the leafy kind. Of course, these plants won't be as big as any you'll buy at the supermarket, but you'll have it fresh from the kitchen! What could be better than that?

It's important to keep many of these plants from flowering. If herbs like basil, coriander and parsley are allowed to bloom and produce seeds, first the leaves develop an off taste, and then the plant dies. Not all herbs do this, but any of them that're annuals will. It's their nature. Just like other annuals, for instance marigolds, or lettuce and spinach - once the plant produces seeds, it dies. The odds are that you're not trying to get herb seeds - unless you've planted dill or caraway, which probably wouldn't be such a great idea unless you have a very tall window with lots and lots of light - but you're very likely to be trying to continue leaf production.

So what do you do to keep the leaves going? Trick the plant! Once you start to see flowers forming, pick them off - pop them in your mouth, drop them in the salad, just don't let the plant get into seed production mode.

This little deception works with almost any annual where you want to keep the plant alive. Coleus, for instance. Who grows coleus for the flowers? Nobody, really. They're not terribly attractive. All you want is the gloriously colorful leaves. See flowers? Pinch them off!

Of course, lots of herbs aren't annuals, and for them, flower production means that the plant might go through a period where leaves will be secondary. Some of the most popular herbs, like marjoram, rosemary and sage, they create flowers and leaves with no problem. If you pinch off flowers, then you'll have consistent herb production, but it's not going to be a cataclysm if the plant throws out a few seeds. And the fact is - you probably don't have nearly enough light inside for there to be a bumper crop of flowers. That's a big reason that I've only been talking about the leafy crops. To get most herb flowers, like borage or dill, for instance, or fruiting vegetables like peppers and squash, you'd need a lot more light than most window gardens, even if it's a sunny window, could provide.

Personally, I would just love to have a warm, really sunny atrium in my house - I'd be growing different colors of cherry tomatoes in hanging pots ten months a year (not July and August). Sadly, I don't, but if you do, think about trying any miniature fruiting vegetable that grows on vines, like miniature melons. But if not, find seeds for your favorite legal herb and get growing.

For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

See discussion rules.


AngelaFeb 19, 2015 | Tricky Spring
If you're thinking that our warm weather means your plants are safe from a late frost, you're probably right. But then again, you never know. It only seems that Jack Frost has skipped a visit to Southern Nevada this year. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 14, 2015 | Selective Pruning
Norm Schilling guides gardeners to keep up as Spring approaches. Selective pruning will keep things on track in the yard.

NormJan 21, 2015 | Prepare for Spring Now
Don't look at the calendar. Look at your plants to tell you what do to in the yard right now. Your plants think Spring is near, so use this time to transplant and prune. Desert Gardener Norm Schilling tells us what to look for.

NormDec 30, 2014 | Winter and Citrus
Citrus can thrive in Southern Nevada - even in our cold - when you choose the right varieties. Norm Schilling tells us how.

AngelaDec 13, 2014 | To Prune or Not to Prune
As winter draws near, leaves begin to fall. And the bare view may prompt some excessive pruning. It's tempting, but your plants may appreciate a little restraint. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormDec 6, 2014 | Prepare Your Plants for Cold Weather
It's not cold . . . yet, but Norm says be ready and your yard will appreciate it. Don't let a cold snap cost you your investment in plants in your yard. Norm Schilling has some ideas to get ready.

AngelaNov 25, 2014 | Evergreens
As we head into the holiday season, more attention is given to 'evergreens.' Too many cones on a pine tree might be a sign of weakness. Angela O'Callaghan tells us all about evergreens on Desert Bloom.

NormNov 14, 2014 | Fall Colors
Even in the desert, Fall colors can brighten your landscape. Here's Norm Schilling with Desert Bloom.

NormOct 28, 2014 | Fall Colors - Web Only Edition
With glorious weather for our yards to fall back into bloom, Norm has some additional suggestions for color to add to the profusion of blooms for this time of year. (Web-only content)

NormOct 7, 2014 | Second Spring
The call it a "second spring" Norm Schilling has some plan ideas to make Fall colorful in your yard. He has a checklist of plants looking their best, because now is the time to plant in Southern Nevada.

AngelaSep 30, 2014 | Fountain Grass
A weed by any other name is still a weed even if it doesn't look like one. If only everything in our gardens thrived as well as weeds. Here is Angela O'Callaghan.

NormSep 15, 2014 | Desert Heat
Norm describes a significant casualty of the desert heat. There's going to be a big gap in Norm's Yard and a lesson on the reality of our desert landscape.

AngelaAug 12, 2014 | Organic Pesticides
Choosing a method for ridding your garden of an unwanted guest, be it bug or weed, is not always a simple choice. But the more you know, the better it goes. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormJul 28, 2014 | Lose that Lawn
We know, it's a desert out there including every place there's a lawn. Norm Schilling reminds us all the ways he wants you to consider losing the lawn... permanently.

AngelaJul 14, 2014 | Protect Fruit Trees from Birds
If you put a good deal of care into growing fruit trees, there are likely some birds who will take advantage of your effort. Here's Angela O'Callaghan.

NormJul 10, 2014 | Palm Care, Part 2
To keep, or not to keep. Norm Schilling ponders his palm trees, on this edition of Desert Bloom.

NormJun 10, 2014 | Palm Care
Norm Schilling has mixed feelings about how we use Palms in our yards. Full grown palm trees transplanted into the entry way of a mall is a common sight that tells Southern Nevadan's "something" is nearly open for business. He reminds us that those palms come with challenges.

AngelaJun 3, 2014 | Hot Weather Plants
As temperatures across the Valley begin to climb, you might be wondering what will survive in your garden in the months ahead and what probably won't. There are some 'sweet' options. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormMay 20, 2014 | Desert Color
Norm Schilling just got back from Belize and has some ideas for lush leaves in your desert yard. He reflects on some well suited plants to provide color and variety in this edition of Desert Bloom.

AngelaMay 6, 2014 | Emerald Ash Borer
Raising a healthy shade tree in the Mojave is not always easy. And if one particular insect makes its way here, it could get even harder. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

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