Spice up your life: grow an herb garden

Herbs are used to flavor foods, promote health, deter bad insects and attract good insects, and accompany some of your vegetables. The herb leaves can be used fresh or dried for use during the winter months. Check your favorite recipes to determine which herbs you want to grow.

Herbs are a staple in the kitchen. All it takes is a few cleverly added herbs to create fine cuisine.

You can easily start herbs from seed in 2 x 2 inch containers using a mixture of potting soil and compost. Or you can buy seedlings from a market garden. The herbs grow well in any soil, including poor soils. Plant in a sunny location.

When the seedlings reach about 6 inches in height, transplant them into 6 or 8 inch pots. Pinch the top to grow a bushier plant.

Zone 3 herbs can be categorized as follows:

1. Perennials that grow in zone 3: chives and horseradish

2. Perennials that don’t overwinter in zone 3, grown as annuals in your garden or as perennials in containers to bring home or in your greenhouse over winter: marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme

3. Bi-annuals: parsley, for example, produces seeds in its second year and then dies.

4. Annuals: basil, dill, garlic and any perennials that do not overwinter in zone 3.

Plant perennials that cannot survive a zone 3 climate in containers. Bring containers inside before the first frosts. With enough light and water, they will grow and provide you with herbs through the winter.

It is quite possible that you also bring some pests such as spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs or others. Control begins with a daily inspection. Control is easier when there are few pests. Two organic insecticides can be used to kill an infestation, neem oil or permethrin. Each has negative effects on humans, so follow label directions. Start by placing the plant in a plastic bag, spray into the bag, then reseal the bag. This keeps the spray in close contact with the plant for a long time.

Follow these few suggestions for specific herbs.

Basil must be kept moist or it will die. It is also very sensitive to frost, so bring it inside before a frost.

Chives are harvested by cutting what is needed for the meal. A large bunch of chives is enough for even the largest family.

Dill is an annual and will self-seed all over your garden. Use green leaves, flowers and seeds.

Garlic is a must in the kitchen. Plant cloves in the fall and harvest them in late summer.

Parsley is a biennial; the second year it produces seeds. Harvest the leaves until they start producing seeds.

The spruce-like needles of rosemary go well with chicken, fish and bread.

Sage is used in poultry seasoning.

Thyme is used in Italian cooking.

The leaves of the herbs can be used fresh or dried. There are several ways to save your excess herbs.

1) Dry the leaves:

a) Pick the leaves when they are dry, preferably early in the morning.

b) Hang the plant, stem and all, in a dark place in your home or dry the leaves in a flat container like a pie plate or cookie sheet

c) When dry, grind them in a blender or magic bullet, and store them.

2) Freeze the parsley, coriander, chives, fennel and chervil.

a) Cut the fresh leaves from the stems, grate them and put them in an ice cube tray. Fill the cubes with water or cooking oil and freeze.

b) To use it, simply add one or more cubes to a recipe.

The best way to grow the herbs you use the most is in containers. The rest, grow in your garden and dry or freeze the excess.

Herbs

Charles Schroder Gardens in the Edmonton area.

Terri S. Tomasini