Veggie Tales Day 20

Chives

Chives

Herb Gardens. Boot Camp is almost done, and growing herbs is definitely the easiest way of getting going with your edible garden. I’ve written often about herbs,  so I won’t re-hash everything here. A few quick notes:

1. Most of our popular herbs originate in the Mediterranean, so they like sunny exposures, but most, with the notable exception of basil, will tolerate a moderate amount of shade, so as with greens that I mentioned in Day 19, they can be tucked into ornamental borders, or between tall plants, or grown in containers, or in devoted raised beds. Really, almost anywhere.

2. Many of the annual herbs will self-seed, dill and cilantro (the seed of which is coriander) being the commonest.  Basil is annual, but doesn’t self seed in my garden–maybe because it never grows enough to actually make seeds.

3. Basil deserves a note of its own: It loves heat and full sun (8 hours per day here in coastal BC), enough but not too much water, really good drainage, so containers or raised beds are suitable locations, constant harvesting, pinching out of new growth tips to stimulate more new growth tips. Don’t plant it out until the nights are consistently over 10 C. (Same rule as tomatoes.) It is said to be easy to grow, but I have failed more often than succeeded.

4. Mint also needs special care–plant it in seclusion! Either in a pot, or otherwise contained; all the mint family will spread like wildfire. You can use a 2-gallon black plastic pot and cut the bottom off and plant it whole in the ground, But you’ll still need to catch flowers before they set seed, because the seed will scatter and you’ll be finding mint everywhere. But you might like that–most mints are attractive plants, not too big, and will help deter pests because of their strong fragrance.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I'm still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I’m still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

5. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage are all easy to grow–even for me!– and hard to kill. Rosemary would also belong in that category except for our wet winters here. As long as they have a little shelter, and really good drainage, your rosemary will do well. Last November’s 2 weeks of -10-12° weather was hard on the larger of my rosemary plants, but the smaller did just fine.

Rosemary--Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary–Rosmarinus officinalis

One day left–tomorrow’s lesson is TOMATOES!

Advertisements

Window Sill Herbs

I subscribe to quite a few gardening and design blogs, one of my favourite being Northwest Edible LIfe. Today’s guest author on Erica’s blog is Grace Hensley of eTilth.com, who vegetable-gardens in 150 sq ft of space, which is just about how much room I’ve designated in my garden for edibles.

You can go to either or both to read the article, but I just have to highlight this one paragraph because of my absolute FAILURE at growing basil.

Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden

Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden

“Don’t bother with planting basil in the ground; it’s too cold here. Instead, buy one fresh $4.00 packet of basil at the grocery store. Gently snip off the bottom centimeter of each stem and the lower leaves. Put each stem in a jar of water on your windowsill, with the leaf junction below the water line, and it will form roots. Make sure to change the water at least weekly. You should be able to grow and eat that small purchase for many weeks.”

That’s definitely my plan for this year–no more guilt over sowing 6 different kinds of basil and harvesting enough for one meal. It’s grocery store basil all the way. Let’s see how well it works.

Anyone on for the contest? Comment if you’ll join me, and we’ll keep one another updated here.

5 Herbs That Thrive in Winter

A BIG disclaimer to start with: I live in coastal BC, Zone 7b to 8b (depending on your micro-climate). So we have a big advantage when it comes to herbs–most common herbs will survive, even thrive through our rainy but seldom frosty winters (today notwithstanding).

1. Basil

I’ll start with basil, because it’s a favourite, and because it WON’T survive outside, so needs to be brought inside and placed in a full sun window. I’ve seen recommendations to dig up your outdoor basil plant and bring it in as a houseplant, but here’s what happened when I did that:

Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden

Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden

This is not how you’d like your basil to look. So if you plan to salvage it from the garden I suggest you dig it up when it still looks big and bushy. Preferably I suggest buying a new one and keeping it inside.

2. Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis is a Mediterranean herb that loves full hot dry sun, but will usually tolerate our cold wet cloudy winters if placed in a spot that won’t get too cold or too windy. Your best bet is to plant it on the sunny (south) side of the house/balcony, close to the wall. The warm building will provide some protection as well as reflecting the sun toward the plant. We’ve certainly had rosemary-killing frosts here in Metro Van, but they only happen every 5-10 years. And the older your rosemary is, the better it will tolerate the cold.

Rosemary--Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary–Rosmarinus officinalis

3 , 4 and 5. Oregano, Thyme, Sage

Origanum vulgare, Thymus vulgaris, (I guess you have to know Latin to understand why one is a female herb and the other a male herb?–Latin scholars, please enlighten me here…), and Salvia officinalis, are also Mediterranean herbs that like the same conditions as Rosemary, but are much more cold-tolerant. Whether potted or ground-planted, very wintery and less-wintery winters, my oregano sage and thyme have weathered them all. Oregano and thyme are what some call “thugs”–they self seed like crazy and are hard to kill. But they’re also easy to pull up if they’re in the wrong place, and don’t really crowd out their neighbours. Sage grows like a small shrub similar to rosemary or lavender.

6. Parsley

Petroselinum crispum is a biennial, which means it grows leaves its first year, and a flower stalk in its second year. After flowering and setting seed, the parent plant dies, but the following year the seeds that fell the previous year will germinate and lo!, another new parsley plant! Does very well in coastal BC. Grow your parsley room where it will have room to sprout new babies, and you’ll have a continuous supply of parsley, even through the winter.

Don’t confuse Parsley with Cilantro, aka Chinese Parsley, which is an annual. It needs to be re-grown every year from seed, but self seeds very well. If you allow the flower heads to set seed and mature before you cut it down (or don’t–see my post about Fall clean-up), new cilantro will start to grow in mid spring.
And if you collect seeds instead of just letting them fall, you can succession-sow them and have fresh garden cilantro right up until the hot days of summer start. Then start to sow them again and when it gets a little cooler, they’ll germinate and give you more harvests.

5 Herbs — Happy Plants in Winter

There you have 5 winter-happy herbs and 1 winter-sad herb. Next year start early and you’ll discover the fun of harvesting your own herbs for cooking, teas, candies, whatever.

Leave questions and comments. Oh, and all you Latin scholars, I really want to hear from you! Don’t forget to click on the Follow button.

These Are a Few of My Favourite … Herbs

Everyone seems to want to grow herbs. When I look at custom garden designs, many of them have a dedicated “herb garden”, often in a knot garden kind of look. Here’s a link to a detailed How To for an Herb Knot Garden, thanks to DIY Network . Personally, I prefer to have my herbs scattered among all the other plants of the garden. For a few reasons:

Flowering Herbs

All your herbs will flower at one time or another, and it’s nice to have them contributing to the overall look of your flower or vegetable beds. Chives for example put on a lovely show of purple balls, so why isolate them when they’d look lovely with anything red or yellow or white–or almost any colour.

Image

Chive flowers and friendly bee.

The picture leads me to another reason to plant your herbs in mixed-use beds:

Attracting Beneficials

There’s no way to avoid the presence of precious-plant-eating garden denizens, but there are LOTS of ways to minimize them, and most important of those ways is to attract to your garden the good insects that feed on the bad insects. You do that by planting the plants the good guys like, inviting them to your house. Then they see that you’ve also laid the table with their other favourite foods–like aphid larvae–yum, yum!

A lot of flowers attract beneficial insects, but it seems the flowers of herbs are particularly adept at that. Diane’s Flower Seeds has a list of flowering plants that attract bees, butterflies, lacewings (the list of beneficial insects is pretty long…), and the vast majority are herbs.

Pollination

You can see in the chives picture the flowers are attracting bees which are key to pollination. So plant bee-loving herbs near tomatoes or cucumbers or squash. Thyme,  oregano, dill, parsley, cilantro, all are herbs that will attract the bees.

Sun or Shade

Some herbs will grow in almost any amount of sun or shade. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the mint family, which means it’s a THUG. It’ll grow anywhere, take over any space, and outcompete anything that was there before it. But the smell is divine, and makes some kind of therapeutic tea (you can tell I’m a real fan of herbal teas…), so if you want to grow it, just make sure it’s in a container–containing it from spreading.

Image

Lemon Balm–I’ve been pulling this out of the garden for three years, thanks to the tenant’s love of herbal teas.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) on the other hand wants FULL sun, and lots of heat. So don’t plant it until our coastal BC nights are over 10 C. That’ll be June at the earliest.

Unfortunately for the person with a mainly shady garden, almost all herbs (excepting the afore-mentioned mint family) want at least half-day sun. But if you don’t have outdoor sunny space, maybe you have indoor sunny space–a window sill? Basil will still grow happily indoors as long as that window is south facing with the sun streaming in almost all day.

So here are my list of favourites: first the part-shade-tolerant:

Parsley: EASY to grow, perennial, fabulous rich green colour, hard to kill.

Image

I’ve accidentally dug up the parsley many times thinking it was buttercup, and it always comes back. But unlike the dreaded mint family, it’s quite civilized in its spread.

Oregano: even tho’ it’s a Mediterranean herb, indicating full sun and lots of heat, it really will grow in quite a variety of spots, and perennial in our zone. Mine is in the sun until the vegetables grow up in front of it, then it gets lots of shade. It’s still happy as a clam.

Image

Growing at the foot of the grapevine in this picture, under roses in another spot.

Cilantro: (Coriander sativum) What a brilliant herb. It tolerates cold, so it can be planted as seed really early in the spring. I sowed seed last fall, and it’s coming up now. Once the weather gets warm, it’ll begin to flower, and that’s the end of the cilantro, but not the end of coriander–the seed of the same plant. Wait for the seed heads to get white, and you can collect the seed for cooking or for replanting. But you don’t have to wait for next year to get more, you can keep sowing seed all later summer and fall. Once the nights get coolish again,  your cilantro will happily keep putting out leaves. And a little shade from perennials that grow up around it will help keep it cool as the weather warms up–giving you maybe a few more weeks of harvest. The more you take, the more you get.

Image

Cilantro in amongst the garlic–that is, I think it’s garlic…

Favourites that really want a lot of sun:

Basil: I just can’t be without it. And when there’s lots and I want to harvest more than I need now (to stimulate more growth–take more and you’ll get more!), I just put the fresh leaves/stems in a baggy and freeze the whole shebang. Or of course you can make your batch of pesto and freeze it in small portions. Basil won’t survive our winters–in fact it’ll barely survive our Falls. Before the nights get cold you can dig it up and put in a pot in that sunny window. Should be able to get a few more harvests from it.

Dill: Wants lot of sun, but it’s another plant that tolerates cool temperatures, and will start to flower as it gets hot, and stop making leaves. So don’t sow all your seed to begin with; sow about 1/4 of the seeds now, then once those flower, start another batch, and every few weeks after that.

Rosemary: Another herb it’s hard to be without. Rosemary wants full sun, and altho’ it is perennial in our zone, it’s best to offer it some winter protection in case we get a colder than usual winter. I bought two rosemary plants late in the season last year, and potted them in 1 gallon pots so they could live on the protected porch through the winter. When the soil gets warm I’ll plant them out in the garden.

Image

You can see it’s been a little cold-damaged on leaf tips, but it’s happily putting out new growth.

This post is already way too long, so stay tuned for the next one when I’ll tell you how you can grow most or all of these in containers.

Feel free to ask me questions, after all, that’s the point of this blog. And share in your chosen forum. 🙂