Thursday, August 5, 2010

Growing herbs - just do it!

Growing herbs is so easy.  Many will grow easily from seed.  I just stick the seeds into a pot of seeding soil and water well.  They like full sun too.  I was nervous about basil in full sun but it did well - both sweet basil and the purple basil.
When the basil gets about 8-10 inched tall you can harvest it.  Best to go less on height, though, and more on flowering.  When the flower buds start to develop, that's a good time.  Next week's post is all about what to do with that harvest.  And some ideas for the flowers too if, like me, you didn't quite get there in time - its not a disaster!
The pot on the left shows the post harvest basil - it will grow back and I'll get another harvest from it.  The pot on the right has thyme at the back and sage at the front.  One of these may out compete the other.  The trick is to pick more of the fastest growing one.  I am hoping to harvest them as I need them year round.  I'm not sure what frost might do.  Same thing with tarragon which I've also paired with sage.  Tarragon chicken -yum!

I've either grown all my herbs either from seed or from cuttings out of  Al's garden, namely the chives and the Italian oregano (or marjorum).  Lavender and rosemary were hard to germinate but a couple of seeds did and really that's all I need - once these guys get started they are pretty prolific.  That is why, for now, I am growing all my herbs in pots.

Some day I may commit to planting them in the ground, but I've heard that they can take over. I've placed them at the edge of the back lawn so they catch some water from the sprinklers that may otherwise fall on concrete.  I hope to replace the grass lawn at the back with a chamomile lawn.  Has anyone done that?  Would you recommend that.  Please leave a comment with any tips.

I did buy the prettily variegated lemon thyme because I could not find seeds for it.  Something ate my lemon balm and I sowed more seeds.  I noticed dicotyledons which I hope are those seeds germinating.  The lemony herbs add an extra zest to a dish.

Rosemary finally germinated, having been planted at the same time as all the thyme and the sage.  Be patient though, two more germinated nearby, long after the first one. You can see one of them bottom left.
And in this shot you can just see the dicotyledons and the first true leaves  of the other in the top right.
I transferred the soil from the other 3 pots in the seeding six pack in case any of the other seeds decided to wake up and join the party. 

Lavender, I did plant directly into the ground.  It's a contained area bordered by rocks.

When these are both bigger, I hope to harvest year round from them too, so no need to dry or preserve them.

My cilantro (coriander) bolted in May and hasn't come back! I've been slack about resowing the pot, though I've been equally slack about deadheading or seed saving, so if the birds haven't eaten all the seeds they may sow themselves.

Cilantro doesn't preserve well so succession is the way to go to get a continuous supply.  I'm going have to put a reminder in my calendar to sow a few seeds each month.  Nip off the flowers for more leaves, or you can save the seeds and cook with those too.

Lemon grass goes well with cilantro, especially in Thai cuisine.  I started lemon grass from a stalk I bought in a grocery store back in February.  When the roots were at least a centimeter long I planted it, thankfully in a pot.  It has gotten huge and is a very attractive plant too.  All this is from two stalks.

Chives are such a handy herb - they lend flavor to either warm or cold dishes.  I practically ignore mine and they do well.  Even when they flower, I haven't found it to change the taste of the leaves.  They are a really pretty addition to any garden.  Here is a picture of some I took in Al's garden, mine of course are much smaller (not so private joke!)
In the background you can see Al's forest of Italian oregano.  He grows the Italian oregano (sometimes called marjoram), with white flowers and gave me some.  I  grew some oregano, with the purple flowers, from seed.  They look lovely when they all blossom together and the bees love them.  Just as the flowers are about to die back you harvest them at the base of the stalk.  You may have to fight the bees off!

And when the bees are done with the flowers the birds love, love, LOVE the seeds.  I five mocking birds gathered around the herb pots.  I'm hoping that they will snack on some protein too and take out any nasty bugs, grubs and slugs that may gather in the garden too. 

In next weeks post, I'll tell you how to dry the oregano and basil.

If you aren't lucky enough to have the Californian climate, trying growing herbs on your kitchen window still for a year long supply.  It's worth it for the fresh taste.

Byddi Lee