Herb

The important thing to remember about growing herbs is that they are relatively easy to cultivate and will do well as long as they have good drainage and ample sun. Culinary herbs add great beauty to the landscape and provide variety and flavor to any recipe in which they are used.

Plant a Thyme Lawn

Grass AlternativeIn an effort to reduce water use and time spent caring for lawns, some gardeners are replacing their turf with thyme. Thyme is an ideal grass alternative. It requires less water, is generally tough (see “walking on thyme” below), drought resistant, hardy all the way north to zone 4 if it’s healthy, and will spread easily to fill in most of the space that you want it to. Best thing: it becomes a carpet of attractive, lavender-colored flowers that lasts long into the season. If you’re looking to replace your thirsty grass with something more xeric, consider thyme.

There are down-sides to putting in a thyme lawn. It can be expensive. When you’re planting plugs of thyme 6 to 12 inches apart, you can burn up a lot of cash fast. Most sources recommend planting smaller areas. If you have a croquet court-sized yard (in other words, large) you might want to consider planting only part of it in thyme to start. You can always go back and expand your thyme planting another season. The other down-side is the labor it takes to get your thyme in the ground. You’ll need to kill off all the grass where you intend to plant first. This can be a slow and difficult process.

How to do it? The easiest way is to use multiple applications of Roundup. But you’re not in this for easy, you’re in it to protect yourself, your loved ones, and the environment at large from harmful sprays. Digging it up is a poison-less way to do it but a lot of work. You can’t just yank up sod, leaving behind roots that will result in another layer of grass popping up. If you do dig — say you have a small space that will be manageable — dig deeply and make sure you remove any trace of roots. (more…)

Tomatoes & Basil: How Does YOUR Garden Grow?

Tomato GardenCompanion plants for tomatoes — not always a perfect pair!

Last evening, your friendly and inquisitive Planet Natural Blogger visited a couple of distinguished food writers — they are a couple and have a couple James Beard Awards to their credit — to get their opinions on some local barbecue for a story I’m writing. We ate outdoors in their beautiful patio garden, their chickens serenading us from the nearby coop that was just out of sight.

Their garden is incorporated into the modest outdoor living space. A pair of cherry trees, their growing space circled in rock, is at the center of the stone patio (no cherries this year; a late frost took all the blossoms). Around the first cherry tree were various flowering plants. Only the bleeding hearts were in bloom. The earth around the second tree hosted a variety of herbs, partly shaded, that were just reaching picking size. One of those herbs was basil.

Elsewhere, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes were growing on terraced steps in full sun near the walls of their white-washed adobe house. By the house’s entrance, among several other plants and close to some lettuce that was already past its prime, was a yellow pear tomato plant already holding some blossoms. The space, with its various pots, growing areas, and walking spaces, not to mention the table where we sat enjoying ribs and brisket, seemed well designed. But I was puzzled by one thing. Knowing that tomatoes and basil, both full-sun lovers, did so well together, I wondered why they weren’t growing side-by-side. “We tried that,” one of my friends said, “and it just didn’t work.” (more…)

Foraging Wild, Organic Foods

Foraging FoodSpring is a wonderful time of year for foraging food. Greens — dandelions, nettles, wild asparagus, miners lettuce, ramp — are especially fine this time of year and spring mushrooms notably morels, rival the mushrooms picked in the fall. Some wild plants, including fiddleheads, are edible only when they first emerge (and one should be cautious eating even these). Even though nature is doing the gardening for you, it’s important to remember that you want even your foraged plants grown the way you grow in your garden. Organically.

We’ve been amazed at the interest in wild foods that’s grown over the last few years. There’s been a plethora of books released on the subject and classes on identifying, picking and cooking with foraged foods are offered in both rural and urban locations. Even restaurants and gourmet chefs, long-time users of wild mushrooms, have gotten in on the fad, flavoring their dishes with wild greens. Ramp, that favorite east coast spring green that was once harvested by eager Italian immigrants and seen as a measure of class distinction, is now so popular now that it rates a kitchen story and recipes in a major American newspaper. (more…)

Grow Herbs Indoors

Growing Herbs IndoorsBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

There are plentiful reasons to grow herbs indoors: basil pesto, rosemary chicken, maple and marjoram-roasted turkey, fresh oregano pizza sauce, tarragon salmon, cilantro-flavored salsas and spicy chive dip. The rise of gourmet home cooking as well as the popularity of fresh, home-raised and locally-grown foods has increased demands for fresh herbs. Why not grow your own, year `round? With modern advances in grow lights, growing mediums and self-contained hydroponic systems, raising herbs inside a small corner of your home can add year-round flavors, scents, even profits to your life.

Kitchen gardeners have long grown herbs on windowsills, under kitchen fluorescent bulbs and next to indoor orchid lights (see How to grow herbs indoors during winter). The success of these practices, touted in articles, videos and a few misinformed books, varies greatly. There’s seldom enough light in even the sunniest windowsill to yield more than an infrequent harvest, say a pinch of rosemary in February or a few basil leaves at Christmas. Standard fluorescent lamps could help plants over winter and even produce some harvests depending on how close and intense the lights were. Having herbs under lamps two or more feet away might do little more than keep perennials like oregano, rosemary and sage alive, sometimes barely, until they could be transplanted back in the outdoor garden. (more…)

Herb Gardening 101

Herb GardeningHerbs have long been revered for both their medicinal and culinary value. They may cure colds, help you sleep and add flavor and zest to dinner. Fortunately for home gardeners, growing herbs is relatively easy. They thrive in just about any type of soil, do not require much fertilizer, and are not often bothered by insect or disease pests.

Defined as a plant without a woody stem that dies back at the end of each growing season, herbs were once considered a gift of the gods. Elaborate ceremonies and rituals celebrated their growth, harvest and use. Today, herbs are popular in many home gardens, where their leaves are utilized for flavoring and an entire plant may be used for medicinal purposes. (more…)

Growing Thyme

ThymeNative to the western Mediterranean, herb gardeners are growing thyme (Thymus) as a landscape plant as well as for culinary purposes. With many varieties available on the market, it is one of the most versatile herbs and can be used to season any meat or vegetable. In earlier days, it was also believed that a concoction of beer and thyme could cure shyness. Hardy plants grow up to 18 inches tall. Perennial.

Site Preparation:

Thyme prefers full sun to light shade and a well-drained, dry soil amended with plenty of organic compost. Keep it sheltered from cold winds. The plant may not survive severe winters unless covered or heavily mulched. It does very well in containers.

Tip: Use thyme in the rock garden to cascade over walls. It also attracts beneficial insects. (more…)

Growing Tarragon

TarragonA member of the daisy family, Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is the classic herb to accompany fish and poultry dishes. The long, narrow leaves, borne on upright stalks, are a shiny, dark green. Greenish or gray flowers may bloom in the fall. Aromatic plants grow 2-3 feet tall and tend to sprawl out later in the season. Perennial.

Note: Tarragon reportedly aids in digestion and when made as a tonic is said to soothe rheumatism, arthritis, and toothaches.

Site Preparation:

Growing tarragon requires full sun to partial shade and rich, sandy, well drained soil. The plant often fails due to soil that is too wet or acidic. It can be grown outside in gardens or in containers with good drainage in the greenhouse or on a windowsill. (more…)

Growing Stevia

SteviaNature’s sweet secret. Used widely in South America and the orient, herb gardeners began growing stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) when the safety of artificial sweeteners came into question. Native to Paraguay, Stevia extracts are 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Extremely low in calories and all natural. The FDA has approved its use as a dietary supplement. Plants grow 3-4 feet tall. Perennial, sometimes grown as an annual.

Site Preparation:

Stevia grows best in well drained rich soil and afternoon shade, especially in hot climates. Select a site that is protected from cool winds and harsh weather. This is a sub-tropical plant that should be protected, especially when nighttime temperatures fall below 50˚F. Prior to planting, dig in a balanced organic fertilizer or well-composted animal manure. Does well in containers and can be grown year round if given proper care. (more…)

Growing Sage

SageA member of the mint family, sage (Salvia officinalis) is an ancient herb used in medicines to cure anything from broken bones and wounds to stomach disorders, including flatulence, as well as loss of memory. It is a traditional poultry seasoning, delicious baked in a low oven for forty-five minutes with onions, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Attractive plants grow 2-3 feet tall and are equally at home in herb gardens and in ornamental gardens. Hardy perennial.

Tip: Try layering a bed of sage on the grill and flavoring meat with its smoke.

Site Preparation:

Growing sage requires full sun (tolerates partial shade) and well drained, rich soil. Dig in plenty of compost or aged animal manure prior to planting.

How to Plant:

Sage seeds store and germinate poorly. When started from seed, it takes about 2 years to grow to mature size. Most gardeners start sage from cuttings or divisions, using the outer or newer growth. If growing from seed, sow indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. (more…)

Growing Rosemary

RosemaryNative to the Mediterranean and favored by many herb gardeners, growing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is popular for its medicinal and culinary qualities. As a decorative shrub, its rich aroma and blue-green, needle-like foliage makes it a favorite addition to any border. As a culinary herb, its leaves may be used fresh or dried to complement meat dishes, stews and vegetables. In ancient times, rosemary was associated with fidelity and memory. Tender perennial shrub grows 1-4 feet tall.

Site Preparation:

Like most Mediterranean herbs, rosemary can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions, but does best in light, well drained conditions. It requires plenty of light and protection from frost. Rosemary does very well in containers and can be grown in a sunny window, year-round. (more…)

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