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Rucola and Basilico

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributer

Friday, July 2, 2010

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Photo by Rick Gush

We are busy harvesting arugula this season.

Rucola (arugula)

This is high season for rucola (arugula) and we’re harvesting every few days. Collecting arugula takes a bit of time because each leaf has to be harvested individually, but the result is worth the results. Actually, we grow two different types of arugula: the wild variety that self seeds, shows up every spring and lasts until the summer heat; and another type called “cultivated” arugula that we seed in fall and harvest for most of the winter.

Cultivated arugula can out-yield wild arugula by more than double. While the wild stuff just shows up wherever it feels like, the cultivated crop can be nicely contained within a single planting zone.

The leaves on the wild arugula that we’re harvesting now are leaner than the cultivated variety, but the flavor can be more intense. The older leaves underneath the new growth are particularly crunchy and delicious. The wild variety also has the advantage of being pest-free, while the cultivated type is bothered by a fungal disease that can disfigure the leaves with lots of little yellow pustules.

Obviously, we’re big arugula eaters. In colder weather, my wife makes pizzas in the oven, and we wouldn’t think of eating pizza without generous helpings of arugula as a topping. During warmer weather, we eat a lot of salads, and the arugula serves as the greens base, with or without additional lettuce greens mixed in. In the in-between months, my wife often makes pesto with arugula instead of basil. This makes for a really tasty pesto that we use to flavor pasta or simply to spread on bread for sandwiches.

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Photo by Rick Gush

Our 16 big-leaved green basil plants just don't seem to be enough for our basil usage.

Basilica (basil)

This is also the beginning of the summer basilica (basil) season, so we harvest basil to make pesto often. It takes a fair amount of basil to make a batch of pesto, so we grow a number of different plants in order to be able to harvest large quantities frequently.

This year we’re growing 16 basil plants, all the same big-leaved, green type. I often think this is not enough. Unfortunately basil seems to prefer rich soil with a bit of shade, and we don’t really have a place for more basil plants. Maybe this winter I can think ’bout making some new planting areas specifically for the basil crop.

We’ve tried growing a bunch of the other basils like the little-leaved “Greek” variety, the dark-leaved types and the various lemon- and other-flavored basils. But for sheer bulk of harvestable foliage (which is what we want), the big-leaved green type is our preference.

I don’t even seed the basil any longer, because I like the 6- inch pots with clumps of basil seeded in a greenhouse. These thick clumps pack more harvestable foliage into a small area. The plants do not grow nearly as tall as single specimens, but the percentage of prime harvestable leaves is much higher.

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

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About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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