Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Growing Herbs

I've been growing herbs since the mid 1980s, when I discovered that many were interesting to grow and easy to sell. In the summer of the year before I had Youngest, when the older two were at school I used to pick raspberries to be frozen for a PYO fruit farm and then went on to sell the herbs there and then after we moved to the smallholding I grew for several years to sell at the gate and at the Suffolk Smallholders Annual Show. Eventually I found all the greenhouse space was needed for starting tomatoes, cucumbers and all the other things we  grew for selling and ended up only sowing parsley and basil each year.

Way, way back I wrote a page for Suffolk Smallholders Society monthly newsletter all about which herbs I would grow if I only had room for a few. Back then we had a huge herb garden which was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time but needed too many hours spent on it to be sensible for a busy smallholders. We cleared it all when the Bay tree centre-piece got to 15 feet tall and more than 8 feet wide!

I can't find a copy of the page I wrote years ago so started again and I can't find the list of herbs we had growing - I'm sure it was more than 20 different ones - several were more like weeds than herbs - Tansy for instance.........I had to pull it out from the flower garden for years after removing the herb garden.

Anyway,  if I only had room for a few Herbs they would be............

Parsley
Slow to get going from seed, it's the one thing that I make sure to buy a new packet of seed each year. It can be sown quite early and there are all sorts of old wives tales about the best methods of getting it to germinate. I usually pour really hot water over the compost before sowing (the old way was to pee on it!) then sow quite thickly and cover with a plastic lid, then keep it in a warm place.
I prefer curly leafed rather than flat-leaf but proper chefs usually seem to use the flat-leaf sort. Parsley will often survive through the winter outside in a sheltered spot giving some new growth early before running to seed in June - that's when I pull up the old clump and start using the new plant. My favourite way to use it is in potato salad and fish-cakes.

Chives
First to reappear after winter, so bits can be snipped to add to sandwiches before there's any other sign of green stuff. Difficult to start from seed but once you have one clump you can easily divide them and re-plant. I like to have two clumps around the garden, so one lot can be left to flower for the bees and another can have all the flowers taken off so there are no thick un-edible stems. Also use this in potato salad and with scrambled egg in sandwiches.

Mint
Either grown in a pot - which it hates, or left to spread in the ground .....depends how much room you have. Another herb hard to grow from seed but once you have a pot it should last years and is ever so easy to propagate from a rooted cutting. If grown in a pot dig out some with a root on to move into a new pot each year. If grown in the ground it might take over but I just  pull out some  each year. If you cut some down when it starts to run to seed in late summer then new growth will appear for the autumn. I use this when cooking new potatoes from the garden and for mint tea. I've tried umpteen times to get Peppermint to grow for me but found it always crossed with the common spearmint so ended up all the same. (I remember a slightly tetchy discussion with a man at one of the Suffolk Smallholder's shows when I had Eau-de-Cologne mint for sale. "How can there be Eau-de-Cologne mint - it's a contradiction and impossible". Oh no it isn't!)

Basil
I love pesto stirred into pasta and tomato/basil sauces also for pasta so always grow some. It needs heat to get started and then a warm place to grow. Some people swear by a pot on the windowsill but whenever I've tried that it's got invaded by greenfly. I nip out the flowering tip when they get to about 9 inches tall to get lots of branches. There are lots of different types of basil but I reckon the big green leaved Sweet Genovese is the most useful. I've seen on youtube that it's easy to take cuttings from basil just by growing in water - must give it a go although I don't need tons.

Thyme
No matter how many times I bought a pot of this to plant in the garden at the smallholding (another herb fiddly to grow from seed) it never lasted more than a few years. Yet in many places in the country it grows in the wild and often seeded itself easily at the smallholding so that I could dig up seedlings to sell. Lemon thyme is lovely but I don't think it's as hardy as common thyme. On moving here I found a patch of common thyme growing in next to no soil right by the paving slabs at the edge of the patio and it's looking well again this year. So maybe at the smallholding the soil was just too rich. Most useful with chicken I used to put a big handful inside the chicken when roasting and more between the skin and breast. Don't use it so much now as I rarely roast a whole chicken.


I've also got a very large Rosemary in the flower garden, some Lemon Balm and Common Sage at one end of a veg bed and lots of golden Feverfew that comes up every year in the rose garden. And of course Laurus Nobilis........... the Bay Tree.

And another good reason for having herbs..........There's a class in the Produce and Flower show for 'A Vase of Herbs' which I entered last year and came second. Hope to do one better this year! And today is the day to decide what to enter as entry forms have to be taken to the village this evening.
Last years 2nd place


Back Tomorrow
Sue

21 comments:

  1. This is so interesting and what a lot of herbs you have grown. Currently I have mint (apple, chocolate and the usual kind, all in pots), rosemary which I grow for its colour, aroma and interesting 'shape' as much as its flavour, oregano which is great for anything Italian-y, chives (for anything), sage and two lots of thyme which seem to do well. Oh, and bay in a pot but it's a bush, not a tree and I do need to prune it back somewhat. I use the bay such a lot, especially in the winter in stews and casseroles.
    I do love my herbs! There's something very earth-connected to pop out and cut a few for whatever one is cooking/making at the time.
    xx

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  2. At the moment I have mint, parsley and coriander in the kitchen and mint, sage and thyme in the garden.
    A vase of herbs must smell amazing. X

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  3. Enjoyed your post on herbs. After I retired I finally had time to grow several types of herbs and enjoy using them in my meals. I live in the tropics so the one I always recommend as the easiest to grow is garlic/Chinese chives. They have a flat leaf and are a bit more wilder than your chives. You need to have them in a container so they do not take over your garden, but they cannot be killed! I use them in big bunches in scrambled eggs. Thai Basil works best in our climate when growing Basil....a long lasting plant. I use the leaves in salads and omelets. I know what you mean about the Bay trees.....they can really grow huge. Aloha

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  4. Like you, I once had a long list of twenty or so herbs and I aim to achieve that again. I wonder why thyme is so tricky to grow, for I have trouble with it also. I am sure, like me, you will have noticed significant changes for the uses of herbs over the years, such as rosemary in sweet cakes and so on.

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  5. I also like curly parsley, it seems to grow well for me in a pot. Chefs seem to be very 'sniffy' about curly parsley though - I wonder why?

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  6. What a great selection of herbs! I have grown mint, thyme and rosemary, but not from seed. As I wasn't an adventurous/experimental cook I never knew how to use them, although I may have put some mint in the peas at times, lol. But I did like growing things and having lots of greenery dotted about in pots.

    I did have an excellent book on herbs which I bought to help me with crosswords and have given that to my daughter's partner as he is a keen cook, (much better than me).

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  7. I've always been interested in herbs and always grown them - various sorts, but am trying to re-establish the herb plot again (WHY? we're moving!) It has gotten relocated a few times, but currently I have Chives, Parsley, Lemon Balm, Elecampane (which is now established as a flower in the main border too), Borage (that LOVES it here!), Bergamot and Comfrey.

    When the children were small (and living was ridiculously hand-to-mouth), I used to start herbs (and flowers for the border) from seed, and grow them on to sell as small plants. I grew quite an assortment of unusual things - I got the seeds from Suffolk Herbs - and did well, until Someone with a Polytunnel muscled in and produced herbs twice the size of mine which were grown outside.

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  8. I have chives, parsley, mint and sage but I don't seem to be a natural herb grower. I'd love an abundant herb bed, but it's just too wet here, so mine are in pots in the greenhouse.

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  9. My herbs are now in pots but I think they always do better in the ground.

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  10. A vase of herbs was one of the categories at our local show. I am now growing mine in tyres so they don't spread too far it seems to be working well.

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  11. I only grow basil and parsley now, and the basil is not doing well - maybe lack of rain and too much heat? I used to have chives which were so pretty when in flower. I would have loved to see your herb garden! -Jenn

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  12. I used to grow lots of herbs when we had a little nursery. After two episodes of breast cancer the nursery has fallen by the wayside, but in the small garden I have retained, I grow the herbs I want to use :- a large pot of different mint varieties for our new potatoes and drinks on the patio; lots of flat leaved parsley because I like the flavour; lots of thymes, both for colour and cooking. I should not like to be without them

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  13. I had a beautiful clump of Thyme this year until the cats decided that they liked to lay on it, lol
    Briony
    x

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  14. I have the first three and use them regularly. That is the nice thing about herbs - the more you cut them the more they come. My next pots will be Thyme and Bay.

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  15. I have a large spreading mint garden which is the herb I use most of because I eat lamb every week and have to have mint for my mint sauce. I often pick up a random herb pot if visiting a garden centre and am happy whatever it is. I love herbs not because of cooking but because they are nice in the garden and I like touching the leaves for a burst of aroma.

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  16. One bed of my perennial garden when we had the house was devoted to herbs. Chives, savory, mint (buried in a pot), rosemary, oregano, sage, thyme. I would plant basil there as an annual too. Now I have basil only in the raised bed downstairs in the garden with four cherry tomatoes. Not much cooking being done so not much use for lots of herbs.

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  17. Around the edge of my mom's old home (double wide manufactured housing) mint grew like crazy. She also had a huge patch of horseradish that got pulled every fall. One year she brought a lilac cutting home from Wisconsin and planted it in her garden. She'd pour ice on it every November to shock it and in the spring she had lots of blossoms. Pretty rare in coastal California. I used to buy herbs in containers and put them in the window, but this kitchen doesn't lend itself to growing things.
    My tomatoes are done for this year, but my husband found a zucchini vine that must have creeped under the fence from the neighbors. I'll keep a weather eye on it.

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  18. I do grow herbs, but I'm guilty of growing and not using all of them. I have Basil and Flat Leaf Parsley on my kitchen window sill and Chives, Oregano, Rosemary & Mint outside.
    I love the idea of a Vase of Herbs. Good luck with this year's entry :)

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  19. A lot of herbs are easy to grow from cuttings (like rosemary) or division (such as thyme). Once you have mint you have it forever. One of my favourites is lemon verbena - its the lemonest of lemon scents. Rachel has it right: grow herbs for the aroma if nothing else. Brush against them of rub them as you walk by, it gladdens the heart.

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