Raise Herbs Or Raise Bountiful Herbs

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Home Page > Home Improvement > Gardening > Raise Herbs Or Raise Bountiful Herbs

Raise Herbs Or Raise Bountiful Herbs

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Posted: Jul 07, 2009 |Comments: 0


What gardener, or non-gardener for that matter, doesn’t love herbs one way or another? Herbs liven up and add new dimensions to otherwise bland dishes in our kitchen or tickle our noses with their pleasing scents in potpourri and toiletries. Herbs also help keep us healthy or make us feel better when we’re ill as commercially prepared medicines or home remedies or maybe just add visual interest to floral arrangements.

The world of herbs that are, or have been used by man for his benefit is one which encompasses literally thousands of members of the plant world. Yet most gardeners do not venture beyond a handful of foundational herbs, mainly used for cooking in their gardening efforts. This is unfortunate because the world of herbs in its entirety can be a broad and enjoyable pass time. For those seeking to stay within the confines of culinary herbs, the spectrum of unique tastes and qualities can be endless.

Along with the culinary uses, there are herbs for medicinal, aroma, dies, insect control, cosmetics and many more. If these reasons are not enough to tweak your interest in trying new herb varieties, consider these:

Collecting herbs can be an enjoyable pass time

Introduces the grower to many new and unique flavors, aromas and uses

Provides valuable knowledge about new plants

Can add visual interest to the garden and landscape

Collecting herbs is a pass time that can take more than a lifetime to explore

There are few gardeners that either do not or have not grown at least a few herbs. Unfortunately, far to many gardeners who have tried their hand at herbs have experienced results that were less than expected. This is unfortunate because most herbs in general and especially those most commonly grown, are less demanding than most of of the other crops you may grow with regularity.

The following information is not all inclusive and no one article or series of articles can encompass the whole of the world of herbs. It is perhaps unfortunate, but much of the success of using and growing herbs is based on experience. Experience that will be gained by getting in and trying many different herbs. There will be be successes and yes, there will be disappointments, but even these can be valuable.

1) Start with an understanding of what unique quality about the herb that you are seeking to extract. By this we mean is it a particular flavor for seasoning? And of this, is it a flavor from leaves, seed, bark or flower. Is it an aroma or medicinal quality? Each of these may require a little different approach to how you raise the herb.

While the medicinal qualities of herbs is not a subject of discussion here, it is prudent to offer this caution:

Caution: Herbs can and do offer many great qualities to enhance our health, cure illness, relieve suffering and in general enhance our quality of life. Herbs have few, if any negative side effects and are generally safe when used properly, but each individual may react differently to a particular herb. However, as with anything else, not all herbs are safe and/or appropriate for medicinal use in a given situation, either internally or externally. Additionally, many herbs will interact with commercially prepared drugs, often in adverse ways. Never use herbs for medicinal purposes without first consulting with a trained practitioner or medical professional.

Some of the most commonly grown herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, lavender (leaves) and the mint family rely on oils that develop within the plant that are called essential oils. These are concentrated and therefore much stronger with lesser amounts of water and fertilizer. Because the oils are less volatile under cool to normal conditions, these herbs are good candidates for drying for winter use. Other common herbs such as basil, cilantro, fennel, parsley, chives, dill weed (the leaves), tarragon and others have their flavors concentrated in the water-borne juices within the plant. This fact causes the herb to loose flavor quickly and therefore more suitable for fresh use and normally have a relatively short shelf life when dried.

Lastly, many plants serve a dual role of herb or vegetable and spice. For this writer the difference between an herb and a spice being this:

If the primary part used is vegetative, such as leaves and or flower, to me it is an herb.

If the primary part used is seed, bark, sap or root, to me it is a spice.

Of course there are exceptions to both of these and thus the reason why there is no consensus as to a clear definition between an herb and a spice. But anyway, if the primary part desired is the dried seed, bark and or stem, there may be a little difference in how you grow these. Some examples of these “dual-role” herbs would be: coriander (the seed of cilantro), fennel, carrot, celery, dill, anise and mustard. All of these things will need to considered when starting your herb garden.

2) Plan your herb garden well before making a commitment. For the most part, your herbs are going to need different growing conditions from your general garden. With herbs, it is flavor, aroma or other qualities other than fruit that you are seeking and many times these qualities can only be brought to their fullest by providing specific conditions that may not be suitable for your general garden.

Consider building raised beds or large containers for the majority of your herbs. Raised beds or containers provide you with the best way of controlling the soil, fertilizer and moisture. Raised beds also allow the gardener the opportunity to group herbs together that have similar growing conditions but containers allow the gardener to double the use of the herbs as a decorative element on a patio, deck or porch. Containers also allow the culinary gardener the added advantage of bringing the herb indoors for fresh use during the winter.

Location, location, location is of the utmost importance with most commonly used herbs. Beyond harvesting herbs for drying, most fresh herb use will be “spur of the moment”. By this I mean it won’t be until you need an herb that you will want to harvest a few sprigs for a culinary dish or possibly a medical need arises out of the blue. Most of the time it is not until a cook has a need of a particular herb that the herb gets harvested and when a dish is being prepared is not a good time to have to run out to a garden some distance from the house.

Exposure is another factor to be considered. The majority of the herbs you will grow will need a minimum of 12 to 14 hours of sunlight daily in order to perform well. While many herbs will tolerate some shade, the flavors may not develop fully with less than full sun. Another factor is drainage. The majority of the herbs you will grow will not tolerate poorly drained soils. For these, you will need to:

Increase drainage by removing the top soil and loosening the subsoil, adding organic matter and perhaps some sand or “pea gravel” (finely ground road gravel) and replacing the topsoil. amend the topsoil with compost or other organic matter. The finished growing area should be at least 12 to 14 inches deep.

Constructing raised beds, loosening the underlying soil and adding organic matter then filling the bed with soil that has been amended with organic matter.

Growing your herbs in containers.

3) Make a commitment to your herbs. For the most part, herbs require little attention. But the attention they need must be met at the time needed or an entire years work will be lost. Good examples of this are basil and cilantro. When it comes to basil, it will normally try to flower early in the year and the flowers will often appear almost overnight. Once flowering starts, the flavor within the leaves will quickly deteriorate and the plant will be lost for culinary use. However, the blooming plants make a great food source for bees and other pollinators, so you may want to grow some extras for them.

Cilantro is much the same, with the exception that you can normally only pinch them back so long and then they are going to seed no matter what. This point will normally be evidenced by a noticeable decline in the flavor of the leaves when they decide it’s time to flower. At that point, either remove the plant or let it seed normally and harvest coriander seed after the seed ripens.

4) Group your herbs according to the growing conditions they prefer. This is not a factor with container grown herbs, but if you grow and use many herbs, you will no doubt grow many of them in raised beds or at least beds dedicated to growing herbs. Raised beds are a great way to grow most herbs and they can be constructed for little or no money and from any material that is handy or appropriate. For most gardeners, two or more beds will be required. One for herbs such as thyme, sage, rosemary, etc., which will be kept dryer and leaner and one for herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, etc. which will be kept moister and have regular applications of fertilizer.

5) Consider alternate uses for your herbs other than for culinary purposes. Many herbs, especially those of the “Umbelliferae” family are especially beneficial as a food and nursery source for many butterflies, predatory wasps and other beneficial insects. This group of herbs includes cumin, parsley, carrot, coriander/cilantro, dill, caraway, fennel, parsnip, celery, Queen Anne’s Lace and other relatives.

As butterflies are an integral interest for many gardeners, consider either planting extras or an entire second bed that can be a mix of many different herbs just for them. The first group of herbs for yourself should be kept sprayed with insecticidal soap to discourage insects or insecticides such as “Pyola®”, pyrethrum, Bt or other biological controls, while the second is left alone for the caterpillars.

Consider planting some herbs of non-culinary species in this bed as well. Herbs such as rue which serves as a food and nursery plant for swallowtail butterflies and members of the “Asclepia” (milkweed) family are primary sources of both food, nursery and shelter for such insects as Monarch butterflies and a wide range of beneficial insects. A final note on the milkweeds is that not only do they provide food, shelter and nursery for insects, but they also provide a great source of material for “natural” Christmas decorations and floral decorating material with their dried pods.

6) Once you have considered all of the items above and have beds and/or containers planted, you will need to care for your herb garden for maximum harvest. As stated earlier, most herbs do not require a great deal of care or high degrees of fertilizer. However, this does not mean that they need none at all. This care begins in the spring when new growth begins for perennial or biennial herbs or at planting time for annuals. Start with an application of fresh compost or well rotted manure. For perennial herbs such as thyme, sage, rosemary and other aromatics, add fresh compost around each plant and lightly mix it into the soil as a side dress when new growth begins. For annual herbs, add compost or rotted manure and dig it into the soil before planting.

Generally, this is adequate for most herbs, especially the aromatics. For all herbs, you should start with a soil test and only add fertilizers or individual elements to keep the soil well balanced. Excessive fertilizers, especially nitrogen should be avoided otherwise you will end up with lush growth and decreased flavor and aroma. For perennial herbs that have been growing in the same location for some time or for new planting areas, adequate herb growth can be achieved with 1/4 to 1/2 the nitrogen recommended for vegetables in your area. Sequential harvests of annual herbs will be facilitated by light applications of fertilizer after each heavy harvest. These fertilizers are best used as slow-release types in order to avoid excessive uptake at any one time. The pH of the soil should be kept in a range of 6.5 to 7.0 for the best herbs.

An organic mulch such as straw, shredded leaves, etc. should be applied to your herbs to help control moisture and suppress weeds. Mulch is essential for most of the aromatics as the roots tend to be fairly shallow and easily damaged from cultivation.

7) Pests, insects and disease are usually not a problem with aromatic herbs due to the high concentration of oils, which tend to repel most insects. Occasionally, aphids and spider mites can be problem. Aphids tend to be more prevalent in crowded conditions where rapid, succulent growth is taking place. Spider mites thrive during periods of hot, dry weather. Both of these are usually easily controlled by a strong blast of water from a garden hose. Should it become necessary to go beyond this, a good quality of insecticidal soap is usually enough.

Annual herbs can be another issue as the highly aromatic oils are not present at the same levels and caterpillars and other chewing insects can be a problem. For these, you may need to employ a regular schedule of spraying with insecticidal soap or hand picking the caterpillars.

Occasionally, fungal diseases will invade your herbs. These are generally best controlled by good sanitation practices.

Remove all weak, damaged or infected parts of the plant.

Keep plant debris and fall leaves cleaned up and removed.

Provide good air circulation.

Never handle the plant when it is wet.

Water early so that the foliage has a chance to dry before nightfall.

Avoid wetting the foliage if possible.

Thoroughly wash your hands and change your clothes after handling diseased plants.

Sanitize pruners or other tools after handling each plant.

If it becomes necessary, use a fungicide labeled for use on vegetables. Try one of the homemade fungicides outlined here.

8) Unless you are growing herbs simply for the ornamental value, harvesting herbs for later use is usually the primary goal of everyone who grows herbs and harvesting herbs for culinary use is the most widely used form of herbs grown today. The stage of growth as well as the means by which an herb is harvested and stored can mean the difference between a tasty addition to your cooking or a vegetative “filler” with little or terrible taste.

Herbs all have a particular point in their growth cycle when the essential oils or other elements are at their fullest. The part of the plant being harvested, whether leaves, flowers, stems or roots will also make a difference in when the herb is harvested. Unfortunately, no one article can provide instruction on all of the herbs available and grown by gardeners and some experience will be required

For many, especially the aromatics, this will be just as the herb is getting ready to flower. For some of these, such as thyme, the flavors will be maintained throughout flowering, but may diminish shortly after flowering and the plant starts to set seed. For others, such as basil, cilantro, fennel, parsley and others, setting flowers will cause the flavors to deteriorate.

If you have mulched your herbs properly, they will be relatively clean to begin with. But, they have been growing outdoors so they will have collected at least some dust that will need to be washed off. Additionally, if you have used any sprays on your herbs, whether organic or not, any residue remaining will need to be removed. Use an adjustable nozzle that can be adjusted to a fine spray and wash both the top the undersides of the leaves. This dislodges not only the dirt and spray residues, but also any “critters” that may be remaining. Allow the plants to dry overnight, or if you wash after harvest, you will need to pat them dry on a towel or paper towels before you start the drying process.

Here are some general instructions for harvesting leaves, flowers, roots and seeds:

Leaves and flowers.
These should be cut in the morning soon after the dew has dried from the plant. Do your harvesting on a dry, sunny day that has been preceded by at least two sunny, dry days for maximum concentration of oils. Cut flowering stems when the flower buds are just beginning to open. An exception to this is the mints, which develop their highest concentrations of oils when the flower spikes are in full bloom.

If your harvest is to be large quantities of herbs, use a mesh or other open-weave basket to allow air circulation. Never stuff your herbs into buckets or plastic bags. Harvest only as much as you can conveniently process and dry at one time. You can cut back most perennials to about one-half. Most annuals can be cut down to a few inches. If it is near the end of the season, consider pulling annuals entirely.

For drying, there are a variety of options available to the gardener. Today, any dark, well-ventilated room where the temperatures run between 70 to 90 degrees F can be used as well as the rafters of an open garage, shed or even a ventilated attic. You can use screen-covered frames (window screens work well) over which cheese-cloth has been applied (never place your herbs directly on the screen), a warm oven (if it can be set low enough with the door propped open) or specially designed dehydrators provided they have good temperature control. Some people even claim to have good success using a microwave. However, I’m skeptical of using a microwave due to the way it heats objects and the potential to damage the herbs at the cellular level.

Some herbs are best having the leaves stripped from the stems before drying and laid in a single layer on wracks. These include: basil, dill, lemon balm, lovage, mint, sage, lemon verbena and tarragon. Herbs that have small leaves can be dried left on their stems. These include: thyme, summer and winter savory, rosemary, oregano and marjoram. The leaves will be removed after thorough drying for storage. Herbs in this category are traditionally tied in small bunches and hung to dry. However, they can be laid in a single layer on wracks just as well. The advantage to hanging the herbs in bunches is that it frees up wrack space for other herbs.

Given the right conditions, herb leaves and flowers should be dry in three or four days. I n the event of cool and/or humid weather, it may become necessary to spread your herbs onto a cookie sheet and finish them off in a warm oven at 115-125 degrees for a few minutes. In order to achieve this, you may need to use a thermometer and adjust the door open. Do not exceed 125-130 degrees F. or the herbs may be damaged and turn your pan or pans around frequently to assure even drying. Once dry, store in airtight containers in a dry, cool, dark place.

If you are using a commercial dehydrator/ dryer, do not rely on the factory settings as these are often wrong and the temperatures that are actually produced will either be to high or to low. Choose a dryer that has an adjustable thermostat and then check the actual temperature of the air using a thermometer and adjust the heat accordingly.

The above instructions are for herbs that can be dried, but many herbs do not dry well and are best frozen. These herbs include basil, dill, cilantro and chives. To freeze herbs, start as with other herbs by washing and drying the leaves. Plunge the leaves into unsalted boiling water for 30 to 50 seconds or just until they start to become soft. Immediately remove the leaves and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. This is a process called “blanching”.

Remove the leaves to paper towels or a towel and roll tightly to remove excess water. Then remove and coarsely chop the leaves (you can chop them finer later if your dish calls for finely chopped leaves). Place approximately one tablespoon of tightly packed leaves into each cell of an ice cube tray and place into the freezer to freeze overnight. After freezing remove from the herbs, place in labeled freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to three months.

Some sources say that dill, chives and basil do not need blanching. I prefer to blanch all of my non-savory herbs, but you should experiment for yourself to determine which method works best for you and you prefer.

Some herbs you may want to try, such as angelica and lovage produce roots that are often used. Dig these roots in the fall after the top growth has died down or very early spring before new growth begins. Thoroughly wash the roots and slice or split the large roots for faster drying. For drying, the roots can be placed on screens lined with cheesecloth and placed in a warm location like an attic to dry. For faster drying you can place these in single layers in a food dehydrator or commercial dryer at 120-125 degrees F turning several times each week. It may be necessary to finish the roots off in a warm oven if they don’t dry sufficiently in the dryer. It may take as long as six to eight weeks to properly dry some roots. Periodically test the roots for dryness. They should snap when you bend them with no rubbery consistency. When dry, store your roots in airtight containers in a cool, dark location.

Seeds of coriander, dill, fennel, caraway, anise and celery are easily grown at home. When the plants begin to mature and turn yellow, but before the seed is fully mature and starts to drop, cut the seed heads leaving a few inches of stem. Trim the stems very short and place on drying wracks for five to six days, or until the seed can be knocked off the heads easily. Remove the chaff (called winnowing), and then spread on drying sheets for another week, stirring frequently to prevent molding. Store the seeds in airtight containers in a cool dark location after they are completely dry.

9) Many herbs can be successfully grown indoors in the winter, however the rate of growth will normally be slower and these should be used fresh. Herbs grown indoors require basically the same growing conditions as outdoors. They should be placed in a sunny west or south window in containers filled with well-drained potting soil. For most gardeners, I would strongly suggest the addition of supplemental grow lights as well, due to the decreased light intensity in the winter. If a sunny window is not available, most herbs that would normally do well indoors can be successfully grown under grow lights for fresh herbs all winter long.

Good drainage is vital to herbs, whether indoors or out. Never allow your herbs to sit in saucers of water. Water to the point that water starts to run out the bottom of the container, allow the excess water to drain from the container and then drain the excess water from the saucer. Allow the container to dry moderately between waterings.

Seed new crops of annual herbs in late summer for growing indoors and discard in the spring. Perennial herbs can be raised in containers that are moved indoors during the winter or dug in the fall and potted up for fresh herbs in winter. Perennial herbs will perform best if moved outdoors in spring when the weather has warmed. A light frost on such herbs as chives, mints, and tarragon will not harm the herbs. Keep all of your potted herbs in a location that will receive some protection from intense heat and winds.

While indoors, fertilize your herbs with a good quality houseplant fertilizer at one-quarter strength or just enough to maintain healthy growth. Keep your herbs pinched back to maintain a pleasing shape and appearance and use consistently to keep new growth coming on.

10) Many perennial herbs are perfectly fine grown outdoors year round, yet others, including some that are not known to be hardy in your area will need special attention when the cool weather of fall appears. If you are only a zone or two outside of the herbs preferred growing region, you may opt for carefully choosing a “micro-climate” within your landscape where the herb can find a warmer growing area.

Normally, you will want to look for areas along the south side (in the northern hemisphere) of buildings, walls, fences or the south side of dense shrubs, etc. these areas tend to be warmer throughout the year and in particular, the winter. By planting marginal plants in micro-climates, along with winter mulch, it is possible to grow many herbs you might not otherwise be able to grow. For herbs grown directly in the ground, a covering of leaves or straw applied after the ground freezes (for most northern gardeners) will normally be all that is needed to protect your herbs through winter. The reason for applying the mulch after the ground freezes is not to prevent the ground from freezing, but rather to keep it frozen. Repetitive freezing and thawing of the soil will heave (push out) many herbs out of the ground. Mulching insulates the soil and helps prevent heaving.

In areas where the ground does not consistently freeze solid, or freezes very shallowly, mulch early in the fall, not to keep the ground frozen per say, but rather to stabilize the ground and allow it to heat and cool slowly. If it does freeze, the mulch will keep it frozen. If it does not freeze, it will keep it warm enough for the roots to continue to grow. Every area is different, but mulch is always a good idea whether early or late in the fall.

Container grown perennial herbs are different situation. The root system is contained in a relatively small area that is susceptible to temperature changes. These will normally freeze solid quickly when it gets cold, but will thaw just as quickly. Additionally, the containers are susceptible to cracking with winters freezing. There are a couple of ways to approach caring for these herbs reliably. After the first hard freeze:

Bring the containers into a protected, but unheated area like an unheated garage or shed. If the shed normally gets very cold and then warms inside during the day, you will want to wrap the containers with old blankets or insulation (use the wrapped insulation) to keep them frozen.

Group the pots together inside of an enclosure keeping the tops of the pots relatively the same height (this makes it simpler to find individual pots later). Ideally, the enclosure will be in a protected area that is shielded from the winter winds. The enclosure can be as simple as chicken wire that is approximately six inches higher than your tallest pot or a cold frame or other such enclosure. Space the pots approximately 4 to 6 inches apart to allow adding insulating mulch later and keep the entire grouping not more than 3 or 4 feet wide (or narrower if you will be working from only one side) so you can reach each pot later. Place some form of stake or flag into each pot to make it easier to find each one later.

Surround and cover these with either straw or a mixture of ground straw and leaves. Avoid leaves alone as these tend to pack and stay water-logged.

During the winter, your herbs may be dormant but there is still activity in the roots. Therefore, you will need to periodically check your pots and water them sparingly during the winter when the weather moderates. Do not soak the soil because it dries very slowly in cold weather, which could cause the roots to rot. Keep the soil just slightly damp and water only when the soil dries an inch or so down.

When the weather starts to warm in the spring, start watching for signs of renewed growth. Remove most of the mulch that is covering the pots (the top only) and all of the top mulch as soon as new growth begins. Whether stored inside or out, remove your herbs to a protected, but sunny location as soon as new green growth appears and begin watering normally. After new growth has begun in earnest, give your herbs a light feeding of slow-release fertilizer. These applications apply equally as much for your herbs growing in the ground.

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Hillbilly Gardener
About the Author:

The Hillbilly Gardener was born Lyndell G. Miller and can be found at
http://www.jerrysplantsonline.com/about_us.htm where he resides as the driving force and inspiration for all things gardening and outdoor living. There are few things about gardening that he hasn’t tried and after spending almost 50 years with his hands in the soil, he gets some of his greatest pleasures from helping others learn the joys of gardening and learning how to do more with less.


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Your herbs work hard to provide you with foliage and flowers for your use, but sometimes they just get tired. Or perhaps they’ve been growing hard for you and they’ve outdone themselves by becoming overgrown and unattractive. Many herbs will live and produce successfully for many years. After they’ve rewarded you so well, don’t give up on them by replacing them. Bring back that vigor and robust production they once had, as well as making them attractive sculptural elements for your patio.

Hillbilly Gardenerl

Home Improvement>
Jul 22, 2009

Organic Or Non-Organic – That Is The Question

True gardening isn’t about being “organic” or “chemical”. It’s about having a respect for your soil, your garden, your environment and yourself. It’s about using good judgment and only bringing as much force to bear as is needed and occasionally it might require a “bigger hammer”. But after the emergency has past – put that big hammer back in your toolbox. You don’t need it anymore and if you used good judgment and sound reasoning, your big hammer will grow rusty.

Hillbilly Gardenerl

Home Improvement>
Jul 14, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere – Water Conservation Is Everyone’s Business

Our earth is covered by 71% water. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? With so much water on this planet why be concerned about turning on the tap and using as much as we want? he sad fact is that for most people in the industrialized world, more than enough water passes within their grasp to meet the majority of their needs. At least the needs of their outdoor world. Sadly, for most of us in the modern world, it is all to often taken entirely for granted. We turn on the tap and expect it to be there.

Hillbilly Gardenerl

News and Society>
Jul 09, 2009
lViews: 147

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The Hillbilly Gardener was born Lyndell G. Miller and can be found at
http://www.jerrysplantsonline.com/about_us.htm where he resides as the driving force and inspiration for all things gardening and outdoor living. There are few things about gardening that he hasn’t tried and after spending almost 50 years with his hands in the soil, he gets some of his greatest pleasures from helping others learn the joys of gardening and learning how to do more with less.

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