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23 May 2013

Herbs for the Kitchen

Have you ever thought that it would be nice to cut your own fresh herbs from your own garden to add to your meals. Well you can, as most of the herbs commonly used for cooking can be grown in containers if you haven't space in your garden.

Some herbs are annuals, such as coriander and basil, some are biennials such as parsley and chervil, while chives, marjoram, mint, tarragon and thyme are perennials. However they all grow best in a light, sunny position in well-drained, fertile soil with a good helping of organic matter added.

You are best to sow seeds regularly to provide a continuous supply of your chosen herbs. Coriander and dill quickly go to seed and need sowing every couple of weeks through spring and summer.

Start early in the spring by sowing herbs under cloches or in cold frames. Alternatively sow some trays in a greenhouse, a conservatory or on a sunny windowsill so that you will have plants ready for planting out when the soil has warmed up.

When growing herbs in containers use a soil-based compost such as John Innes potting compost, as there are very few herbs that grow in peat. Soil-based compost also holds moisture better than peat-based compost.

Keep some of your most commonly used herbs in containers near the house for ease of picking.

Only grow mint in containers as it is very invasive when planted in the garden.

Feed container plants weekly from March until September, as this keeps the plants healthy and helps them to produce leaves.

If you are short of space use grow-bags as an alternative to containers.

Rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender are useful plants for coastal gardens.

Herbs such as chives, mint, parsley, or tarragon, which you have grown outdoors, can be potted up and brought inside for the winter. Place them on a south-facing windowsill.

When harvesting herbs, remove foliage from the outside of the plant, allowing new leaves to develop in the centre.

It is best not to pick more than a third of the plant's foliage at a time to enable it to recover.

Morning is the best time to harvest herbs, before any essential oils evaporate.

You can take cuttings of some herbs e.g. marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, bay, tarragon and thyme from late summer to early autumn, while hardy herbs such as oregano and mint can be divided in spring or after flowering in late summer.

If you don't want to, or haven't the facilities to raise your own herbs from seed you can purchase young plants or plug plants from garden centres or online.

If you freeze your herbs you can enjoy them all year round. Either freeze whole sprigs in a freezer bag or freeze chopped herbs with water in ice cube trays.

Herbs can also be used for decorative purposes in the garden - for example thyme or chives can be used as path edging while some herbs can be planted in cracks between slabs in footpaths or patios. They will then release their scent when walked on, though they won't survive heavy foot traffic. Herbs can also be used in a mixed border or added to your vegetable plot.

I hope you decide to try herb-growing and enjoy the smell and taste of fresh herbs in your cooking.

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