Tips for Enjoying Your Garden All Year

When times are tough, Americans return to the land; here are tips from modern Victory Gardeners.

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The Boomerater™ Report, our weekly collaboration with online baby boomer resource Boomerater, this week explores ways to make basil last through the winter. Some of our readers may know about the Victory Gardens of World War II. In 1943, 20 million gardens produced 8 million tons of food to help the war effort and keep families fed. In today’s tough economic times Victory Gardens have regained popularity, both to keep costs down and to ensure healthier, organic food for our families.

[See Tips for Finding Low or No-Cost Entertainment.] Now that the bountiful crops of summer have been harvested, modern gardeners are looking for ways to extend the growing season into the winter. "A favorite crop in our garden is basil," a Boomerater member writes. "Has anyone had success bringing basil in from the garden to make it last through the winter?” Other Boomerater members shared their tips:

Growing Gourmet Gifts. With the high price of fresh herbs at the store (especially in the winter) we have tried bringing all types of plants indoors, with mixed success. Rosemary and garlic chives have lasted well all year to be replanted outside the following spring. Basil is more difficult. The plants we put in the garden in May come indoors in October. They make it until about February, but get leggier the older they get. I think this is probably due more to the age of the plant than the growing conditions. This fall we are buying fresh, young plants and expect they will make it through the year in the greenhouse or on a sunny window sill. Also, we'll start different variety of seeds to see which are most successful. Basil is one of the most versatile herbs for cooking. Hint: If you freeze pesto in ice cube trays put a few drops of oil on top of the pesto in the trays the pesto will stay bright green. Sunny and savory solutions. A sunny window sill will keep your basil going for awhile but don’t be surprised if it starts to lose leaves mid-winter. Indoor basil plants are generally pale and leggy. But it is certainly worth a try if you can find the right spot. Or harvest the plant and make pesto (without the cheese) to freeze and you will have a taste of summer flavor long into the cold dark days of winter. I freeze the pesto in ice cube trays and then store the cubes in a large freezer bag.

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Pesto, Presto! I make pesto with either pine nuts or walnuts and Parmesan cheese. Freezing works for the entire winter and it is easy to thaw small quantities to toss with pasta. Our growing season is pretty long for basil, but I haven't had long-term luck indoors. If you haven't tried African Blue Basil, it is hardier than Italian outdoors and may keep better indoors.

Freeze It. We harvest our basil at the end of the season, and then wash and dry the leaves before freezing. Do not freeze even slightly damp leaves. Then we stuff the leaves into a few empty glass spaghetti-sauce jars with Mason lids. You can get a lot of basil in a single jar! During the winter, we scoop out as much dried basil as we need for a recipe. We have found it tastes nearly as fresh as when it was picked.

Flavored Oil. Just tear a large bunch of basil leaves (discard stems) into rough pieces and wash. Pound the leaves, using a pestle and mortar, with a little olive oil to release the flavor of the leaves. Add more leaves until all are crushed. Fill half a sterilized bottle with olive oil and half of the basil leaves. Add a pinch of rock salt and fill the bottle up with the rest of the leaves and olive oil. Seal firmly and let the infused oil stand for two weeks, occasionally turning the bottle upside down to mix the flavors. Strain the oil into a clean bottle. You can add a sprig of fresh basil if desired. - looks nice and adds to the flavor. This basil-infused oil is wonderful on a toasted baguette, and in salad dressings, soups and sauces. While it’s not fresh basil, the flavor is the next best thing.

Add your own tips for ways to grow and use basil or other plants on Boomerater. Boomerater is an online resource for baby boomers, covering important topics such as financial planning and relocation. The site also contains forums where boomers can post questions and swap first-hand experiences. If there are questions on your mind that you would like answered by other people who have faced similar situations, or you have advice of your own to share, go to Boomerater.com and participate in the forums. Say that The Best Life sent you.

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