Friday, June 5, 2009

Fresh Basil, Tomatoes, and More

By Millicent K. Brody

No matter the size, if you have a sunny patch of land somewhere near your residence or place of business, (even if it’s a windowsill or fire escape), do yourself a favor and grow yourself a few tomato and basil plants. Never mind that there’s not a spot of dirt anywhere...grow your plants in pots.

"Tomatoes can grow anywhere there is a concentration of sun,” says David Williams, a partner in Williams Nursery in Westfield and President-Elect of Gardens of America. As a gardner for 45 of his 47 years, Williams brags that the sale of his tomato plants paid for his college education. He also suggests using fertilizer geared only for vegetables.       

“Fertilize your vegetable plants every 3 or 4 weeks,” he advises. “Remember, the average tomato plant growing in direct sunlight is able to yield about 50 tomatoes.”

I might agree with those statistics, and the fact that tomatoes can grow anywhere...except they’re not able to grow in the fresh soil I put down each year at our house. Alongside our front steps is what some would call a window box. Given the right environment, it could easily produce a bumper crop of tomatoes, peppers, and basil. The problem is, before any of these wondrous plants reach fruition, they became a smorgasbord for our resident bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, and skunks.     

That is why I’ve started a porch garden. 
“To grow tomatoes outdoors, you’ll need a pot with a circumference of at least 12 inches,” continues Williams. “The bigger the pot, the more tomatoes you’re apt to yield. I’d also suggest not using soil that is already in the ground. Get yourselves a couple of bags of potting soil, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
If you’re growing tomatoes and basil, add a couple of red and green peppers and look forward to preparing your very own “Garden Pizza”.
For starters, pick up a pre-baked pie shell and fresh mozzarella cheese. Slice and lightly sauté red and green peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes in olive oil. Carefully layer the fresh vegetables in the prepared pie shell. Top with your favorite tomato sauce. Thinly slice fresh mozzarella cheese, and, together with basil leaves, alternate as a topping. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 10 or 15 minutes, or until the crust turns golden brown.

Basil, like many herbs, is also easy to grow in pots. My fresh basil is busy growing on my windowsill.  
“I snip the basil and add it to my sauce, or serve it with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes in a salad,” says Arlene Fine of Morristown.  “I also enjoy preparing this most unusual, refreshing recipe,” she adds. “It calls for fresh peaches, a Vidalia onion, basil leaves, sugar, and balsamic vinegar. 
Into a medium-size bowl, slice four ripe peaches. Slice and add a medium-size Vidalia onion. Add a handful of chopped basil leaves (about 4 or 5). Add 1 teaspoon sugar and balsamic vinegar to taste. Let sit for an hour or more. Serve with your favorite poultry recipe. 
Perhaps you’d like to share one of your favorite home-grown recipes? Please let me know your favorites.

Happy Growing Season!

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