Herbs by Doug Niemeyer
Herbs go back centuries, even throughout the millennia; they have truly stayed “botanical originals” since the third day of creation.
Most, if not all, of what we grow to eat has been fussed with, or hybridized way beyond its original form, taste, and size. But “herb fussing” over the centuries, has not been necessary; and why would this be? Well, you “fuss” with something for three basic reasons: You want it to grow bigger; you want it to produce more; and lastly you want it to be more bug and disease resistant. But did you notice taste was not in this list? Taste seems to get watered down as the size of the vegetable increases; what does the Kool-Aid taste like when you add the third quart of water? Kind of what happens to Hybrid Broccoli; the bigger the head the weaker the flavor. Find yourself some “Open-Pollinated” Broccoli if you want to taste Broccoli.
There has not been any reason to fuss with Herbs; Herbs are prolific growers and they naturally repel bugs and disease; hard to improve on perfection.
You’ve heard the expression “fresh is best”? My wife informs me that even though the price on the 16 oz. jug of Sweet Basil is financially tempting don’t give into it; unless of course you put it on everything. Most herbs and spices have a taste shelf life of about one year; if you’re a professional chef you’re dumping them out after four to six months. So what could be fresher than growing your own herbs?
To start, you will need a sunny spot to grow them; be it an outdoor garden plot or a sunny window sill; more sun the better. And why is this?….. Herbs typically come to us from the Middle East where the “sun” and the “hot” are a way of life. This also answers the question of whether they are perennial or annual here on our snowy side of the globe. But the wonderful thing about growing herbs is that you can take them indoors when it gets cold, and keep them growing all winter.
Soil preparation in the outdoor garden plot consists of building up good draining soil with manure or compost; this will be all the fertilizer herbs need, they are not gargantuan eaters like most of their garden bunkys.
Soil in plant containers or window sill pots must be potting soil; garden dirt gets rock-hard quite quickly, and most people are adverse to the idea of outfitting their sill pots with earthworms to keep this from happening.
A good rule to keep in mind when planting in pots is to secure those that are at least one-third the final height of the plant. Now with that said, you can use the little window sill pots, but keep in mind they will become root-bound in a few months (they never tell you that in the Infomercial, they’ve got you believing you can “will” them to your Great- Grand kids).
Fertilizing potted herbs consists of mixing a weak liquid fertilizer in with one of the waterings that month; nothing is required in the outdoor garden; enough worms wiggle by, leaving their gifts of nourishment, keeping most, if not all herbs happy.
The sunlight requirement for indoor growing is “more is better”, at least 5 hours of direct sunlight. If you don’t have that much don’t worry, if you do what you can; they’ll do what they can. Mist the leaves every so often; winter furnace heat makes the air a little too dry.
Harvest herbs in the morning, the oils are the strongest at this time. The sun causes chemical changes to take place and diminish the natural oils. Mulching around the plants will not only keep the weeds at bay, but will reduce the need to wash your harvested leaves, thus keeping your handing of them and the bruising that takes place to a minimum.
Storage is done three different ways Drying, Freezing, and Fresh.
Drying is the most common, and can be done in a variety of ways. You can hang them in a dry ventilated place. You can lay them on screens in a dry ventilated place. You can dry them in the oven.
Hanging them is the most common; the only drawback is that they could get dusty. You can get around this by putting them in a paper bag, plant down, tie up the opening of the bag round the stems, and then cut out the bottom of the bag. Drying time may take a little longer than the customary two weeks, but the dust problem will be kept to a minimum.
Screen drying is done by stripping the leaves off the stems and laying them on the screen. Cheese cloth laid over them will keep the dust off during the two weeks they need to dry.
The oven set at 150 degrees for 3 to 6 hours is the fastest way to dry herbs. Lay the herbs leaves on brown paper that has had slits cut in for air passage. This high of heat is not recommended for Basil or Chervil, natural air drying is best for them.
Freezing is good for those herbs you like to use fresh during winter cooking. Just place them whole or chopped up into labeled containers. No need to thaw them out before using them, they dice up easier while still frozen. They can also be chopped up and measured out into ice trays; when soup’s on the menu just drop in the required number of cubes.
Fresh is, well, fresh; go out and pick what you need at the moment; no rocket science here.
Finally, what to grow. To make this decision look at your spice rack; what do you use? Grow that!
If you have questions NiemeyerLandscaping@gmail.com A You Tube enhanced version of this article is on our WEB site at www.NiemeyerLandscaping.com. along with a daily gardening Blog with timely information. Also, like us on Facebook at Niemeyer Landscaping.