Lemongrass – How to Grow It and Use It

how to grow lemongrass and tips for using it

By Anni Winings, contributing writer

I first came across lemongrass while visiting a farmer’s market in Florida while we were traveling. The little old man handed me a bunch of lemongrass stalks and said, “You put those in water and they grow again.” He picked up another stalk and showed me how to chop it and use the inner part of the lemongrass. It smelled amazing when he chopped it up, and I bought a couple of bunches of lemongrass.

Since then, I’ve used lemongrass to add a “what is that!” element to rice; to add a light, slightly spicy lemony flavor to smoothies (not to mention all its purported healing properties); and in all sorts of variations of stir-fries and soups.

As the old man promised, when I stuck the ends of the lemongrass in a jar of water, they did begin to sprout roots. I’ve moved twice since that time, and haven’t been able to take my potted plants across the borders of the new states we’ve moved to, so I’ve regrown lemongrass both from stalks found in oriental shops and from seed.

Once you get a thriving bunch established, you’ll have more lemongrass than you know what to do with.

how to grow lemongrass and tips for using it

How to Grow Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a sub-tropical plant and can’t handle hard freezing temperatures. If you live anywhere colder than about a zone 9a, you’ll want to grow your lemongrass in a pot, and bring it indoors for the winter. And even then, you might want to bring it in, just in case you get an unexpected temperature drop (the weather seems to be doing all sorts of funny things these days).

Grow your lemongrass in full sun, with plenty of water, in a rich, well-draining soil. If you’re growing it in a pot, top-dress it with compost or worm castings every couple of weeks, to make sure it’s getting plenty of nutrients.

Lemongrass will naturally propagate itself, once it’s established. Small stalks of new plants will begin to grow off the side of existing stalks (see picture below).

There are a handful of different varieties of lemongrass, though a lot of times, it’s not specified which variety you’re purchasing, whether in seed form or in stalks. I’ve grown at least two different varieties, though I don’t know what they’re called. I only know they were different because one had red streaks along the lower half of the leaves, and the other one didn’t.

I did a quick search to see who’s selling lemongrass seed at the moment, and neither of the companies that came up have a specific variety listed. (Baker Creek and Park Seed)

how to grow lemongrass and tips for using it

Lemongrass will germinate within a week or two and, if our experience is typical, the seed has a high germination rate. Keep the seeds moist and in a warm spot until they germinate. Transplant them to a pot when they’re about six inches tall, spacing them about 2-3 inches apart, and making sure they’ll have plenty of space for good root growth.

If you want to root your own lemongrass from stalks bought in a store or at a farmer’s market, simply place them in a jar with an inch or two of water, and let them sit until the roots begin to grow. Be sure to change out the water every couple of days. Once you begin to see new leaves growing, you’ll know that the lemongrass has enough roots and you can plant them in a pot.

how to grow lemongrass and tips for using it

To harvest a stalk of lemongrass, grasp firmly near the base of the stem and pull. The inner, white core is what is used in cooking, though the leaves can also be used to make a light, lemony tea.

Remove the outer green leaves and finely chop or grate the lemongrass. When I use it to flavor plain rice, I put the chopped lemongrass in a kitchen muslin bag and sink it in the water the rice is cooking in. Once the rice is done, I simply remove the bag.

A Few Lemongrass Recipes to Try:

About Anni

I’ve loved milk since I was a kid, I tend to collect books, my favorite season is fall, and I’m very allergic to cats. I’m a nutritional therapist, having obtained a Bachelors degree in Dietetics, but without the further qualifications to become a registered dietitian (I got married & had a family instead). I blog at Homestead and Gardens.

how to grow lemongrass and tips for using it

Our Deep Mulch Garden: Final Wrap-Up

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

I’ve fallen in love with gardening all over again.

As many of you know, 2014 was the first year I ventured into the world of deep mulch gardening.

Considering it’s October, I figured it was time to take final inventory of my experience and type out my thoughts and revelations (mostly because I know I’ll forget come next year…)

To sum it up?

Deep mulch gardening is the best thing that’s ever happened to my garden.

Period.

I LOVE IT. I will NEVER go back to bare dirt gardening. Never, ever, ever.

deep mulching garden

To read a little background on this my crazy mulching adventure and to learn more of the specifics of this whole deep mulch thang, check out this post where I talk about mulching for the first time, and then this post where I give a mid-summer mulching update.

For those of you who are curious about my final yields and such, here are all the nitty-gritty details—>

2014 Yields from My Deep Mulch Garden

Keep in mind, I have a rather small garden plot. We have plans to expand, but have to build a literal fortress around anything we try to grow (because of wild critters and our barnyard critters), so while putting in a second plot is on the “list,” it hasn’t happened quite yet! However, I had impressive yields, even from my small plot!

Onions

By far, this was the best onion year I’ve ever had. I planted two long rows of purple onion sets and one row of sweet yellow onions. The were SO happy and grew like crazy. My yellow onions were HUGE and just as pretty as the ones you can find at the store.

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

Now comes the sad part of the story… Our lovely turkey apparently has an affinity for onions, and wiped out nearly the entire harvest before I realized what had happened. So, I ended up with just one measly onion braid. However, that wasn’t the deep mulch’s fault, and next year I know to be extra-careful to leave the garden gate SHUT!

Peas & Beans

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

These were one of the few things I actually struggled a bit with this year. However, I don’t think the deep mulch is to blame. The early part of summer was very cool, and the pea & bean seeds really struggled to germinate. I replanted several times, but never ended up with a great yield. However, I still was able to harvest 3-4 gallon baggies of yellow beans to store in the freezer, so that’ll keep us in beans for a while, at least.

Beets and Kohlrabi

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

The beets were out of control this year! I ended up canning several batches and still have a bag in the fridge to eat! I mostly planted the white albino beets from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but also did half a row of regular red beets. This was my first year of growing kohlrabi, so I just planted one row. However, it thrived in the deep mulch and we had more kohlrabi than we could eat.

Pumpkins

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

This was an interesting experiment, since I decided to plant my pumpkin seeds in my failed hugulkultur bed from last year. I didn’t have high hopes, but poked a handful of seeds into the bed anyway and covered them in deep hay mulch as the plants popped through the compost. Much to my surprise, the pumpkins flourished and we ended up with 10-12 gorgeous Winter Luxury pumpkins from just a handful of seeds. I even had enough pumpkins to preserve for later, and I was able to enjoy my first pumpkin canning experience!

Potatoes

As I mentioned in my mid-summer mulching update post, my potatoes had a bit of a rocky start. Apparently, I covered them with too much mulch, and the shoots had a hard time poking through the thick layer of hay. Once I realized my mistake and removed a bit of the bulk, the green plants happily popped up and grew wildly. (Thankfully, potatoes are very forgiving, even after you try to smother them…)

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

In the past I’ve planted potatoes the traditional way: digging a deep trench, laying the seed potatoes in the trench, and then mounding more and more dirt as the potatoes sprouted. However, I decided to be a bit rebellious this year… I laid the seed potatoes on the dirt, but rather than mounding them up, I simply covered them with hay. I was holding my breath when I harvested them last month, half-expecting to be completely potato-less. But, the mulch came through for me again! I ended up with heaping boxes of gorgeous Yukon gold potatoes from just 3 rows. And the best part? I didn’t have to mess with mounding them this summer, and harvest was super easy– just pull back the hay and grab the spuds!

Tomatoes

how to ripen green tomatoes

In the past, tomatoes have been my nemesis… I’ve had a few years where the plants seemed happy, but ended up producing dismal yields. I planted 8-10 tomato plants this year (mostly romas and Amish Paste tomatoes for making sauce) and surrounded the seedlings with hay mulch. Those few plants gave us boxes and boxes of tomatoes! Our crazy-early freeze forced me to harvest many of them green and ripen them in boxes, but regardless, I had enough homegrown tomatoes to make a full batch of sauce. This is a first for me!

Cabbage, Carrots, and Squash

I planted a few cabbage seedlings this year and they were downright picturesque growing happily in their mulch.

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

The carrots grew happily, although I did have some deformed ones. I’ve since been informed (by smarter gardeners than me) to amend the bed next year with kelp meal or wood ash to prevent the, er, unique formations. I think I also need to work the soil in my carrot rows a bit deeper.

garden2

As usual, I planted my squash too close together, so my zucchini and spaghetti squash had babies… Regardless, we enjoyed ample amounts of chocolate zucchini bread, and have several spaghetti squashes stored away for winter.

The Watering

Wyoming can be desperately dry in the summers. In previous years, I would often water every single day, and my garden would still wilt and dry out. It was… annoying. And frustrating.

With my deep mulch, this year I only watered about twice per week. The hay kept the underlying soil moist and soft, even when everything else outside was blazing hot. This saved me a lot of time dragging hoses around AND seriously cut down on our water usage.

The Weeding

I know everyone has weeds, but in year’s past, we had weeds in epic proportions. My poor baby seedlings usually didn’t even get a chance to germinate before they were already getting choked out. It was vicious.

I would spend hours and hours each week weeding like crazy, but could NEVER get ahead of them. As a mom, a homesteader with lots of other projects, and a business owner, I couldn’t afford to spend that much time in the garden, and was seriously considering giving up gardening entirely. (Ask my husband–I’m not kidding!) I wasn’t enjoying it, and had a pit in my stomach every time I’d go out to check on the veggies.

garden9

Deep mulch made me fall in love with gardening all over again.

This year? I spent about 10-15 minutes every other day checking on the rows and pulling a few weeds here and there. Sometimes I’d add an extra handful of hay if a spot was becoming bare, or pull a bit of hay back if it had scooted too close to the seedlings. But that’s it. For real.

And as payment for my minimal time spent in the garden? I was rewarded with the most bountiful harvest I’ve ever experienced.

G’night Garden

Our gardening season is complete and everything has been harvested. I left many of plant remnants in place and covered the entire garden plot with a generous blanket of hay for the winter. The plan is for the plant matter and hay to begin decomposing to create a whole new layer of nutritious-goodness for next year.

show to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

Come spring, I’ll pull the hay back from where I plan to place my rows to allow the soil to warm up, and we’ll start the process all over again. And for the first time ever? I’m actually looking forward to gardening season.

Where I Got My Crazy Ideas

This book by Ruth Stout  (affiliate link) was the #1 driving force in my decision to use deep hay mulch this year. She was quite revolutionary in her time, and I followed many of her sassy suggestions to the letter. As crazy as many of her suggestions sounded at first, they haven’t failed me yet!

how to use deep mulch in your garden for better moisture retention and fewer weeds!

 

Other Gardening Goodies You Might Enjoy:

What types of mulch have you used in your garden? Any stories to share? 

 

9 Greens You Can Grow All Winter Long

greensfb

By contributing writer Anni W. of TheBestGardening.com

The two biggest challenges to growing food in winter are decreased light and freezing temperatures.

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your fresh garden produce when winter weather approaches. It just means a change in what you grow. Even in places like Canada and Alaska, a little light can go a long way for leafy greens.

Basic rule of thumb: Full sun for Fruit. Light sun for Leaves.

Anything that produces an edible leaf can be grown during the shorter days of winter.

Growing your greens outdoors all winter is possible, but will require a little more planning. You’ll need to grow your plants under row covers or in hoop houses. Choose southern-exposed areas that get as much sun (and heat) as possible. Mulch heavily to protect roots.

You can also grow your greens in pots on a south-facing windowsill. All the greens listed below can be successfully grown in a pot through the winter.

It’s surprising how satisfying it is to harvest your own greens in the middle of winter when there’s snow on the ground outside and the world looks dim and gray.

One reminder… don’t overwater! Indoor plants aren’t exposed to the wicking effects of wind, or the drying effects of the sun. So they don’t need as much water as they would if they were growing outdoors.

9 Greens You Can Grow All Winter

  1. Pea greens
  2. Mizuna
  3. Garden Sorrel
  4. Fennel
  5. Mache/Corn Salad
  6. Salad Burnet
  7. Agretti
  8. Land cress
  9. Arugula

Pea Greens

Pea greens are my favorite – which is why I listed them first. With less light, the pea plant won’t produce peas, but the shoots and leaves still have that wonderful English pea flavor.

Grow a bushing variety, like Little Marvel, in pots indoors, or outdoors under row covers in an area where they’ll be protected from harsh winds and get as much light as possible.

They can be considered a ‘cut and come again’ green if you harvest only the tips of the shoots, starting at around 3 weeks after sowing. I would recommend you buy the seeds in bulk.

Mizuna

Mizuna is an Asian mustard green. It has a spicy or peppery flavor, though milder than arugula. It will grow well outdoors in some areas, with protection, or indoors in a pot as a cut-and-come-again green.

mizuna
Mizuna

There are a handful of different varieties of mizuna. If you’re looking for a more ornamental one, you could try Red Streaked Mizuna.

Garden Sorrel

Garden sorrel is another favorite of mine. I love the lemony flavor of the leaves. It is quite easy to grow in a pot on a southern windowsill all winter long. It likes to send its roots deep, so give it a good, deep pot to grow in.

The best bit? It’s a perennial, so you don’t have to replant it every year.

Fennel

A non-bulbing fennel, such as Grosfruchtiger fennel, can be grown purely for the stems and leaves which have a sweet, anise flavor. A bulbing fennel can also be grown purely for the leaves, though they may not do as well in a pot as a non-bulbing fennel.

For extra color, you could try bronze fennel.

Fennel fronds
Fennel fronds

Mache/Corn Salad

Mache, known as corn salad in America, is a nice, mild-flavored green that grows in tidy bunches. There are two basic varieties – large-seeded and small-seeded. Small-seeded varieties are better suited to cold temperatures. (Pictured below is a large-seeded variety.)

Mache dutch corn salad

Salad Burnet

Salad burnet is another perennial green. It tastes like unsweetened watermelon – kind of a cucumber flavor.

If you grow it in a pot, it’ll be happier if you give a deep pot that it can sink its roots into.

An added bonus are the cute, pink flowers it sometimes produces.

Agretti

Agretti is a much-loved green in Italy and in our home. I first discovered it while looking up Italian vegetables, and I decided to try it. We’ve grown it every year since.

It has a crunchy texture with a tart, slightly salty flavor – which alludes to its ability to grow in salty soils where other plants wouldn’t be able to grow at all.

agretti

Agretti must have cool conditions to germinate. It’s notorious for its low-germination rate (only about 30%) which we’ve found to hold true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t successfully grow it – it just means you’ll have to sow a few more seeds than usual.

Land Cress

If you spent any time in Europe, you’ve probably had an egg ‘n cress sandwich or two. The cress typically used on these classic tea sandwiches is water cress, but land cress (also known as American cress) is a perfectly good substitute.

Land cress is a very hardy perennial. If you’re going to try to grow any of these greens outdoors all winter long – this is the one to try your luck with. Be sure to mulch it well.

Arugula

Arugula is becoming more well-known in America every year. There are several different types of arugula, with varying degrees of spiciness and other tones of flavor.

If you grow arugula outdoors during the winter, choose a more cold-hardy variety (usually the ‘wild’ arugulas, such as Sylvetta).

9 greens you can grow all winter long (that aren't kale!)

John and Anni Winings picAnni and her husband John are parents, homeschoolers, gardeners, and homesteaders. They own TheBestGardening.com, where they blog about soil-to-table food production from gardens and small-acreage farms. Follow then on Google Plus.

 

4 Ways to Save & Ripen Green Tomatoes

how to ripen green tomatoes

I was NOT happy…

…when I found out it was supposed to snow several weeks ago. The calendar had *just* turned to September, and I was not ready to pull out my muck boots and coats. Not to mention this was the first year in a long time that my garden was actually thriving!

So after I finished my little homesteader temper-tantrum, I realized I was faced with a very real problem: what to do with all of my lovely tomato plants, loaded down with very green roma tomatoes…

I agonized over this decision more than I care to admit. Part of me wanted to ignore the weather warnings and take my chances that the supposed snow storm would skip us. But my more cautious side won out, and after asking all the smart folks on The Prairie Homestead Facebook page, I came up with a plan of action to save my poor green tomatoes.

And I’m glad I did–it snowed several inches that night. Thankfully, I’m still enjoying fresh, homegrown tomatoes, weeks after our freak snowstorm, due to the measures I took. Here’s what I did:

how to save green tomatoes

How to Ripen (or Save) Green Tomatoes

You have a couple of different options when dealing with green tomatoes. Being the curious blogger-type that I am, I decided to experiment with several of these choices . Here are all the juicy details—>

1. Cover ‘em.

I’ll be honest–this option scared me a bit, and I worried my my rag-tag collection of sheets and quilts wouldn’t be enough. But, I decided to try it anyway.

I covered some of my plants with sheets, and then topped them with quilts. I tucked the ends of the blankets around the plants to seal them in as much as possible, used clothespins to pinch up the edges and corners, said a little prayer, and walked back into the house for the evening.

The next morning I hurried outside, expecting to see a tomato disaster. But upon removing the blankets and shaking off two inches of snow, I was thrilled to find my tomato plants happy and frost-free underneath.

Now if you are dealing with subzero temps, this won’t work. However if you are expecting a light frost (or freak summer snowstorm…) then blankets should suffice. Just make sure to pull them off as soon as possible so the weight of the fabric doesn’t crush the plants.

2. Box ‘em

I didn’t have enough blankets to cover all of my plants, so I decided to strip several of the plants and place the green tomatoes in boxes to slowly ripen. Now–there seems to be a lot of urban legends surrounding this whole topic of ripening green tomatoes in a box and sometimes it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Some people claim you have to layer them just right, wrap them individually in newspaper, or only box up the ones that are the “proper” shade of green.

how to ripen green tomatoes

Most of you know me well enough to know that I am not the type of person to fuss over details, so wanna guess what I did?

Yup. I picked all the green ones (not paying a lick of attention to their shade of green) and unceremoniously dumped them in a cardboard box. I sort of put newspaper between the layers, but it got all messed up the first time I started rummaging around looking for red ones. So they are mostly newspaper-less.

My unorthodox boxing method worked pretty well. I check my boxes several times per week and remove any red or orangeish ones, and also make sure none are rotting. Some folks claim they can keep tomatoes in a box for months and months before they ripen, but mine usually start turning red within a couple of weeks. (I suspect this has much to do with the temperature of the room you are storing the boxes in–the cooler the temp, the longer they take to ripen.)

Regardless, I’ve had fabulous luck ripening my green tomatoes in a good old-fashioned cardboard box–no fuss required.

If you only have a few green tomatoes to ripen, simply place them in a bowl on your kitchen counter. There’s no need to keep them in the fridge– just avoid putting them in direct sunlight (like a windowsill). They’ll gradually ripen over the course of a few days.

3. Hang ‘em

When I started researching ripening methods for green tomatoes, the suggestion of pulling the entire plant out of the ground and hanging it upside-down was mentioned frequently. So of course, I had to try it.

hanging green tomatoes

I strung a healthy tomato plant (loaded with fat green tomatoes) upside-down in hubby’s shop and waited. And…

*drumroll please*

The green tomatoes ripens, but not any better or faster than the ones in my cardboard box. Bummer.

So, if you are wanting to drive your spouse crazy by hanging tomato plants that shed leaves and dirt clods in their workspace, this is a great method. Otherwise, I think the ol’ upside-down-green-tomato-method gets more hype than it deserves.

4. Eat ‘em

green tomato recipes

If worse comes to worse and you are fresh out of blankets and cardboard boxes, then you can most definitely pick all of your ‘maters to be turned into the most delectable green tomato delicacies. Here are a a few for your culinary pleasure:

 So spill it– what are your best green tomato ripening (and eating!) tips?

how to ripen green tomatoes