Discover more from The Weekly Dirt with Jessica Damiano
and getting ahead of aphids
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Growing fruits and vegetables is as much about eating as it is about gardening. Sure, we need to know that blueberries like acidic soil, potatoes should be mounded, and determinate tomatoes need to be staked. But eating the fruits of our labor is really what it’s all about.
Years ago, the cafeteria at the long-defunct Prodigy Services Company, where I worked from 1987 to 1992, had a salad bar, which included a fantastic tortellini and pesto dish every Thursday. Pesto wasn’t as popular then as it is now, and that was only the second place I’d encountered it. It was perfection.
Aside from Prodigy, the world’s first “interactive personal service,” there were no online resources back then, so I scoured cookbooks for a recipe. I found one or two, but they didn’t come close to the elusive Prodigy Pesto.
After I left the company, the garlicky, basil-y sauce haunted me as my search continued. Over the next few years, I found and made countless pesto recipes, but none could compare. Some were too bitter, others too bland or too oily, most too salty. So, I started tinkering with the ingredients and proportions until I nailed it.
So here, as the season winds down, and tomatoes give way to greens and brassicas, is my recipe for basil pesto.
I stir it into hot pasta or gnocchi, use it as a sandwich spread (with tomatoes and mozzarella or tofu), spread it on salmon before baking, stir it into minestrone or other fall soups, and make yogurt-pesto dip for raw veggies or chips.
Consider it the last taste of summer, and please share own your garden-to-table recipes in the comments.
1/4 lb. fresh basil leaves, rinsed and towel-dried
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste (optional)
Place basil, garlic and 2 tablespoons of the pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined.
Add cheese and sugar, and process further to achieve a creamy-yet-grainy texture while drizzling in the oil.
Stir in the remaining pine nuts with a spoon.
Taste for salt and add a bit, if necessary. You might not need to. It will depend on the cheese you use.
Use high-quality olive oil, and avoid over-processing or your pesto may turn bitter. Store topped with a thin layer of olive oil in a glass jar in the refrigerator (the oil will keep the pesto fresher longer. Just pour it off or mix it in before using).
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: My goal is to have as many native plants as possible. I love false sunflowers, but for the last two Augusts, they have been infested with aphids. Is there any way of preventing that from happening again next year? —Kieran Scott, Niagara, Ontario
DEAR KIERAN: Aphids are tiny pests with piercing, sucking mouthparts that suck the life-sustaining sap out of plants. Their sweet, sticky excrement, called honeydew, attracts ants and is a host for black sooty mold.
As it turns out, the unsightly mold is even more harmful to plants than the aphids themselves because it blocks sunlight from reaching foliage, interfering with the plant’s ability to photosynthesize or produce food for itself. An aphid-infested plant can essentially starve to death.
The good news is that if you catch aphids early, they’re usually very easily removed with a stream of hose water (use your fingers to rub the stubborn ones off as you rinse them off).
If the invasion is severe, however, you might have to resort to a spray of Neem, which kills aphids by smothering them. The organic oil, derived from the seeds of the Neem tree, will only affect insects that contact it when it’s wet, so repeated applications may be necessary.
Neem is safe to use on edibles and is nontoxic to people, pets and birds. Still, to avoid killing bees and other pollinators, it’s important to apply it only after dusk when beneficial insects are less active.
If your false sunflowers become severely infested in early summer, you can trim off as much as a third of the plant. Blooming will likely be delayed, but the plant should otherwise be fine.
Keeping the area clear of weeds and avoiding high-nitrogen fertilizers will help prevent the problem.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Replace spent summer annuals with chrysanthemums, cockscombs and miniature ornamental peppers, as I just did, or with your favorite fall-toned flowers, and sub out withering summer vegetables with greens (and, if you hurry, radishes).
👏 Sunday shoutout
Reader Caroline La Scala writes, “This morning glory came from a seed in the ground under the window from last year. It has taken over almost the entire front, and I love it.”
Send in your photo, and you could be featured next (bonus points if you’re in the picture!)
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
THIS WEEK: Easy houseplants for neglectful gardeners
LAST WEEK: The mutant tomatoes are here, and they come in peace
BEFORE THAT: Annuals are the loyal friends every gardener can use
You can read all my AP gardening columns here.
📚📺🎵 Random things I enjoyed this week
I’ve always loved him, and The Finding Raffi podcast about the children’s singer’s life and career solidified my feelings. His integrity, philosophy and flat-out goodness are beyond admirable and make me want to give him a hug. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts.
I’m a little late to the party, but I watched the first two seasons of The Bear this week. It makes me glad I didn’t go into the restaurant business, but also makes me wish I did. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve seen all year.
I can’t get enough of Dude with Sign on Instagram. He’s funny, insightful and pretty much says (writes) what we’re all thinking — or wish we’d thought of first.
This newsletter is member-supported
This week’s newsletter was made possible by generous support from Pat, Kieran, Carolyn Bove and a couple of anonymous donors. THANK YOU!
I’m a freelance writer who juggles various gigs to piece together a living. I spend hours every week writing The Weekly Dirt, answering your questions and sharing advice to help you achieve the garden of your dreams. As much as I enjoy it, I have bills to pay, so can’t afford to work for free. If you work for a paycheck, I’m sure you understand.
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I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.