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How To Grow Herbs

Growing your own herbs is easy and can add flavour and interest to your cooking pot. Planted in beds, scattered throughout borders in a dedicated herb garden, or grown in pots and window boxes they are a must for any garden. Although some of can be grown by seed, it’s frequently easier to buy ready grown plug plants. Not only will they establish quickly, but most will be ready to start using straight almost away.

Many herbs come from the dry hot regions of the Mediterranean where soils are relatively poor, water is in short supply and conditions are generally tough. Planted in UK gardens where the soils are lush and the conditions easier they tend to grow well, even excessively (eg. Mint) at times. Some such as Rosemary is hardy shrubs and will last for many years outside while others such as Basil are annuals and need replanting regularly.

Growing a mixture of herbs such as basil, Thyme, Coriander and Mint in a window box or hanging basket is easy and means that they are at hand for use in the kitchen.

When growing herbs in containers it is a good idea to use a soil-based compost such as John Innes No. 3. Few herbs grow in peat, and a soil-based compost retains nutrients and is heavier (which will help stop your planters blowing over).

As a general rule when planting herbs in the garden choose a sunny protected position where the soil is free draining. Ensure they do not dry out in the summer and feed regularly to ensure good foliage growth.

Specific sowing and aftercare information can be found below.

Pest And Disease

Sow in early spring but do not plant out until the soil has warmed up. Plant 8 inches (20cm) apart in rows 12 inches (30cm) apart.
Keep plants well watered and in shaded conditions
Pick leaves as soon as they unfurl and use fresh or cut the entire plant down in late summer for drying and using over winter.
A classic ingredient in Italian cooking superb in sausages, spaghetti and stuffed tomatoes.
Few problems
Sow in early summer and thin the plants to about 12in (30cm) apart in rows approx. 18in (45cm) apart.
In November cut down to just above the crown and keep in the dark at approx. 10deg C. They will then shoot and produce the classic crisp, blanched leaves throughout the winter.
Break the shoots off just before they are needed. The crown should sprout again giving you a successional crop.
Delicious winter salad crop with a distinctive crisp texture and bittersweet flavour
Few problems
Sow in spring approx. 12in (30cm) apart. Water in well.
Keep well watered throughout the season.
Planted in spring they are ready for cutting in approx. 5 weeks. It is also possible to sow in a heated greenhouse and harvest just 2-3 weeks later.
Add a fresh spring onion taste to soups, salads, scrambled eggs and cream cheese. The bulbs can even be pickled.
Few problems
Sow consecutively through late spring and early summer in rows 12in (30cm) apart and then thin to 9in (23cm). Water in well.
Keep well watered.
Harvest just 6-8 weeks after planting. Cut and dry leaves when 12in (30cm) tall just before the plant flowers or allow seeds to form then cut and allow the seeds to dry and turn brown, shake the seedheads to release the seeds. Dry at no more than blood temperature or the flavour will be lost.
Leaves are delicious with fish, roast chicken, vegetables and chopped into salads. The seeds are a traditional soporific used in 'gripe water'.
Carrot Fly attacks all members of the family Umbelliferae, which includes carrot, celery, dill, fennel, parsley and parsnip. The adult flys very close to the ground so the best control is to use physical barriers such as covering with fleece or fine mesh netting.
Sow in mid-summer and cover in cloches in late summer.
Whitewash the cloches in late summer to keep the sun out and blanch the plants for winter eating. For summer eating do not apply cloches and pick like lettuce.
Pick during the summer like lettuce or blanch for winter eating.
Crisp bitter lettuce substitute for summer and winter eating.
Slugs. Use slug pellets or pick the slugs off by hand.
Sow 3 seeds per hole approx. 18in (45cm) apart in the spring.
Ensure you plant in rich chalky soil in plenty of sunshine.
Virtually all of the fennel plant can be harvested. Start with the leaves during the summer then dry the seed heads and use the seeds in autumn and finally harvest the bulb when it has gone brown in the autumn.
Leaves can be used in sauces, salad dressings and marinades. The bulb-like root/base can be sliced and used in salads or cooked whole. The seeds can be used in sausages, bread or even apple pies!
Carrot Fly attacks all members of the family Umbelliferae, which includes carrot, celery, dill, fennel, parsley and parsnip. The adult flys very close to the ground so the best control is to use physical barriers such as covering with fleece or fine mesh netting.
Sow seeds in spring in shallow drills approx. 8in (20cm) apart. When the seedlings have two true leaves thin to approx 12in (30cm) apart transplanting the seedlings elsewhere.
Ensure you plant it in a well-manured soil in a sunny warm spot a keep weed free.
Collect leaves and flowers just before the buds open at the end of the summer and dry at temperatures under 38 deg. C for use throughout the year.
Deliciously spicy flavour perfect for meats (especially game) and stuffings.
Few problems
Plant mint in autumn or spring either in containers or in drills about 1ft (30cm) apart.
A very easy to grow herb with few problems. Simply keep well watered and to keep its rampant spreading nature under control plant away from other crops or in containers.
Harvest fresh mint can be done virtually all year. For drying, cut stems just before the plants set flowers at the start of summer.
Mint has many different uses from the traditional accompaniment to lamb it is also delicious when mixed into new potatoes with melted butter.
Few problems
Sow every year in early spring and later in mid-summer to ensure a fresh crop. Sow thinly in rows approx 8in (20cm) apart and keep well watered while they germinate (5-8 weeks). Thin to 3 inches apart.
Keep well watered.
Pick a few leaves at a time to start then as the plant grows bigger pick larger bunches. For drying, purposes use a high temperature then rub between your hands and store in a dry cool place.
Rich in vitamin C and Iron it can be used as a garnish or chopped into soups and stews.
Carrot Fly attacks all members of the family Umbelliferae, which includes carrot, celery, dill, fennel, parsley and parsnip. The adult fly very close to the ground so the best control is to use physical barriers such as covering with fleece or fine mesh netting.
Sow in light, dry soils that have been limed. Sow in early spring in shallow drills approx. 6in (15cm) apart. Then replant into long term position where it has enough room to create a bush approx. 5ft (1.5m) tall.
Cut back in mid-summer so that new shoots have time to harden off before winter. Mulch the root area in the autumn.
Pick leaves in the second year throughout the year. Use fresh or dry gently for use later.
A fantastic addition to roasts and adds real flavour to barbeques.
Few problems

Containers and Window Boxes
If I had to choose some 'must have' to put in a window box on the sunny side of the house I would include chives, oregano, lemon thyme and creeping rosemary to drape over the edge. However, on the shady side of the house, I would have a salad herb window box which would include wild rocket, chervil, French parsley and red mustard.

When growing herbs in containers, I have two important tips. The first is to use a soil-based compost, either organic or something like John Innes potting compost. This is because there are very few herbs that grow in peat, and a soil-based compost retains moisture which is a must to stop containers drying out. I also advise watering in the morning rather than the evening because this gives the plants a chance if the temperatures are hot during the day, especially for containers grown in full sun. The second tip is to feed container plants weekly from March until September. This keeps the plants healthy, help them produce leaves, especially on cut and come again salads. I use a seaweed-based feed, however, you can use any proprietary feeds that boost leaf production.

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