The Herb Garden Experiment: Basil

For my readers who don’t live in South Florida, growing an edible garden in the subtropics is HARD.  First of all, it is extremely hot here.  While Northerners are growing beautiful, bountiful summer gardens, we Floridians are sweltering in 95 degree heat (107 degrees with the heat index).  Out of necessity, we garden in the winter.  Plants just don’t grow in the feverish summer weather.  Second, we have all sorts of creepy, crawly bugs that like to munch on our plants.  I’m sure there are “Up North” bugs but – let me tell you – they are nothing like our “Down South” insects.  Have you ever seen a three-inch long cockroach in your bathroom???  There was one INSIDE my toilet in college and I about lost my mind.

Growing up in good ol’ Jupiter Farms, my mother (JUP Mama) grew an organic garden in our front yard.  It was a brief endeavor, ending shortly after the beloved family mutt, Buster, devoured JUP Mama’s prize-winning tomatoes.  To ward off pests (see bug problem, above), my mother coated the fruit in fish oil and covered them with pantyhose.  Attracted by the pungent smell, Buster pulled the entire plant out of the ground and ate everything – including the pantyhose.  The next day, the garden was tilled under and my mother decided she would stick to growing orchids.

I guess you could say a “green thumb” runs in the family (when the dog cooperates).

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My first attempt at apartment gardening – my pitiful basil plant.

So, now that I no longer live near the ocean (salt is not good for plants either), I decided I would try my hand at apartment gardening.  “How about an herb garden?” I asked myself. “I love cooking and fresh herbs off the patio would be delicious.”  I did some research and discovered that basil is the best herb for beginning gardeners.  It’s easy to tend to if you buy a pre-potted plant and will wilt to alert you that it needs water.  “Perfect!” I thought.  And I rushed right out and bought myself a cute little basil plant from the grocery store.

It’s been about two weeks and I’m already having problems.

First, I can’t tell if (a) I’m under-watering or over-watering or (b) if I’m giving it too much sun or too little sun.  My little plant seems to be a wee bit lopsided.

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It leans to the right…

Some of the leaves are starting to droop and a few even fell off!

I also found these tiny black dots on the leaves.

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The mysterious tiny black dots.

I have two theories on what they could be:

  1. Spider mites – which really aren’t insects, but tiny arachnids (Ew, spiders!!).   According to my Google search, they live on the undersides of the leaves and suck the plant juices, weakening the basil plant.  They love hot, dry conditions, of which we’ve had a lot lately.  For the first time in my life, I’m actually praying for a little humidity.
  2. Poop – JUP Mama suggested the black dots could be worm poop and to give my basil plant a good inspection.  Wear gloves and pull off the worms.

I have found some webs on the plant, which makes me lean toward spider mites… but I’m not entirely convinced.

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To top it all off, something has been snacking on the leaves.

It’s hard to find leaves to use in recipes when they all are covered with either mites/poop or have big chomp marks.  Not very appetizing.  I set up a “slug trap” (beer in a shallow mason jar lid) but no such luck.  The culprit is still at large!

Do you have any ideas about what could be ailing my basil plant?  Any natural solutions to getting rid of mites, worms, or slugs?  I’m open to all suggestions except pesticides, because obviously I plan on ingesting these leaves once the plant is healthy.  Post below in the comments section or shoot me an email at NativeJUP@gmail.com.

Happy gardening!

JUP Girl

Next in the herb garden: Aloe Vera.  Stay tuned!

 

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6 Comments

  1. Hi JUP girl,
    I am italian, so herb gardens are a must. I suggest you grow your herbs indoors for the hot summer. Make sure there is a sunny spot to put your basil in OR when you are home take it outside for the sunshine a couple hours than bring it back in.
    Another trick I have learned is to water the dirt and not the whole plant. They love a full dish of water that can be drunk from the roots up.
    I have no ideas about the bugs, but I have invested in a tower garden which is all hydroponics. Check it out. You can grow up to 20 plants year round without dirt and animal issues. We have ours on our balcony and it is doing terrific. It can be moved around and looks really neat. Much easier than a garden to till, weed and water, with much greater return.
    I will text you the website so you can investigate. d xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dawn – just wanted to send you a quick note that I have moved my plant inside and it is immediately doing better. I came home last night and it was completely wilted from the heat! It still looks a little sad because it has big bite marks out of the leaves but I’m still working on that.

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  2. I think those spots are spiders. I buy an organic pest spray that is a bit pricey but you only have to wait 1 day after spraying to harvest. The ingredients are all natural oils and such, you may be able to buy the essential oils if you want to go super DIY but not sure if that will be any less expensive. Overall your basil plant looks very healthy. Be careful to not let it flower! Once it flowers, the leaves on that stalk will taste more bitter. You can keep snipping them to keep them from growing. Also, look up how to cut basil without killing it off… there is a certain place to cut when you want to take a LOT of basic but don’t want to strip the stalk of all the leaves. Youre doing get! Two GREEN thumbs up!

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    1. Thank you for your advice! I hosed off the plant pretty hard and the little black dots went away – I think you are right, they were spiders. Right now, the basil plant is living inside because it is too hot on the patio. I have read something about cutting the stalks just about a new set of leaves. Do you have a pesto recipe that you like? Because I think if I harvest my plant soon, it may start to grow better.

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