Behind the Fence

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Growing Herbs


Last month I presented information on growing herbs at the Purchase Area Master Gardener Association Herb Appeal “Living Healthy with Herbs.” I was asked for my notes, which I happily gave to one of the attendees. There was a bit of disappointment that I had not provided hand-outs. I offered to put my notes on my blog for references and for folks that were interested but not able to attend. By the way, if you were not present, you missed an excellent, informative presentation by the key note speaker, Marcy Snodgrass of 3 Hearts Yoga and Juice Bar in Murray, KY. I learned so much about the health benefits of herbs! Did you know that piece of parsley that often accompanies a restaurant meal is a super food, chocked full of vitamins and anti-oxidants?

I talked to the group about growing common herbs, why we grow them and shared a few tips.

Common Annual Herbs (the ones I grow in my garden)

Basil is the one herb I can’t live without. There are many varieties; I usually grow Sweet Basil, Greek Basil and Genovese. Sometimes I plant Lemon Basil, Purple Basil and any other that catches my fancy. I either dedicate a raised bed to basil or plant it amongst my other garden plants. After I get the plants in the ground in late spring, I start seeds for replacement plants later in the summer (just planted my late crop this week.)  I like to let some plants go to flower for the butterflies and bees.

Basil requires more water than some of the other herbs, a good soaking about once a week. Other than compost, I feed my a little fish emulsion if they look like they are hungry.

At our house we use a lot of basil; on pizza, substitute for lettuce on bacon and tomato sandwiches, on bruschetta, in pasta salad and of course pesto.

Cilantro/Coriander (cilantro is the leaves, coriander is the seed) is another favorite at our house. If the seeds are not harvested, they will reseed and, with the help of the birds, will pop up all over the garden. It is a cool season herb and will bolt in the summer heat, but I have found some that are slower to bolt. I grow it year round in my greenhouse that is only heated when the temperature drops to 40° or below.

Cilantro is most often used in Tex-Mex foods. Coriander seeds are dried, crushed and used in baked goods as well as other dishes.

Dill is another annual that reseeds. It grows just about anywhere. The seed heads can be dried to preserve. Of course it is used in dill pickles; also it is excellent in dips, potato salad, on fish and new potatoes. It is also favored as a host plant for butterflies.

Favorite Biennial Herbs

Fennel has an anise type flavor. There are two types, leaf and bulb. It can be invasive and can cross-pollinate with dill and cilantro. I like to braise slivers of fennel bulb in olive oil and serve as a side dish.

Parsley, like cilantro grows best in cooler weather. There are a number of varieties, the most popular are curly and Italian broadleaf. If left to flower, it will reseed creating plants for the following year. It often appears as a garnish but, as I learned from Marcy, it is quite the

power food. Marcy adds it to her juices; it also makes a nice pesto. Knowing its health benefits, I plan to use it more often in salads and soups. I think it would also be nice on sandwiches.

Parsley is also a host plant for butterflies.

Common Perennial Herbs (the ones I have in my garden.)

Rosemary is a tender perennial, which I cover with a thick plastic in the winter. That worked well for my 7-year old rosemary tree until this past winter. Even though it was covered, I lost it due to the extreme freezing temperatures. It is easy to propagate by stem cutting which I usually do each fall. Not last fall, so I am currently without rosemary and have really missed having it. Rosemary tolerates the dry, hot summer weather and it dries well for use in the winter. I use it in meat and vegetable dishes; it is especially nice with roasted vegetables.

Lavender is another tender perennial. I lost 3 of my 4 plants over the winter. English lavender tends to be a bit hardier. Lavender thrives in full sun with good drainage, it does not need fertilizer. Mostly it is used for fragrance, but it is also good in desserts. Bees love it. It can be preserved by cutting and hanging in a cool dark spot to dry.

Thyme for the most part is hardy, but there are a few culinary varieties that are tender. There is no care for thyme; just plant it and watch it grow. I have creeping thyme along my garden paths and love to get a whiff of fragrance when I step into it. It is a magnet for bees, so one must be careful! I really like lemon thyme on steamed vegetables.

Sage is very hardy. It is the only herb my mother grew and she used it only at Thanksgiving. In addition to poultry dishes, I make a brown sage butter to coat butternut squash ravioli. Yum!

Oregano is another hardy perennial herb, most often used in Italian dishes. It is very easy to dry and is loved by bees and butterflies.

Marjoram is similar to oregano but milder. It is a tender perennial.

Tarragon is hardy; it dies back in the winter but emerges again in the spring. French is preferred over Russian for the licorice-like flavor. It is used in salads and Tarragon Chicken but my favorite is Tarragon Ice Cream. It dries well and can be frozen in ice cubes.

Chives are hardy and can become a pest due to the reseeding. Make a note to dead-head before it goes to seed. It is used to flavor many dishes, especially eggs, new potatoes, potato salad, dips, anything where a mild onion flavor is desired. It is best preserved by freezing.

Mint is not only hardy but vigorous. To prevent it from becoming invasive, it should be planted in a pot. In addition to flavoring tea, it is used in desserts, with lamb, as garnish and with some vegetables like peas. Mint attracts bees and butterflies.

In addition to culinary herbs, I grow bee balm for the bees, a butterfly bush for the butterflies and tansy to ward off mosquitoes.

Herbs are grown to enhance our foods, for medicinal uses, to improve health and well-being, to lure bees and butterflies, for fragrance and to make our homes and gardens inviting. They are readily available in the markets so why should one bother to grow herbs at home?

For me the convenience is worth the bother. I may not want to run to the store just to get basil or cilantro, and sometimes the store I go to may not have the herb I want. Having them just outside my door encourages me to use herbs more often. Another popular use is to add a pretty herb to a floral arrangement or make a herb centerpiece. We know that our taste in enhanced by our smell. If the herb used in the meal shows up in the center of the table, the flavor of the food is enhanced.

In the garden, herbs are known to deter insects. Marigolds are widely used to ward off aphids; wormwood, tansy, lemon balm, basil and citronella are thought to deter mosquitoes. According to Louise Riotte, author of Tomatoes Love Carrots, herbs are useful as companion plants; basil improves the flavor of carrots, dill improves the flavor of cabbage, parsley aids growth of tomatoes and roses, chives deter aphids and Japanese beetles. As mentioned earlier, many herbs attract bees and butterflies to the garden.

Whether growing in raised beds, a formal garden, tucked among perennials or in containers, herbs are quite easy to grow. Often they will grow where nothing else will.
They only require soil, sun, water and very little nutrients. I only amend the soil with compost and worm castings. If a plant isn’t growing well or the color looks anemic, I will give a little fish emulsion. Most do not require a lot of water. If they look thirsty during a dry spell, I give them a long drink of water. With the herbs I grow, the exception is basil, parsley and cilantro which do better with a good soaking once a week. Pinching the tops out of plants like basil and cilantro will make them bushier and prevent them from going to seed. Herbs are most favorable and fragrant if cut just before blooming.

If you are inspired to start a herb garden, I believe the Purchase Area Master Gardeners have some left-over herbs they are selling really cheap. Leave a comment or email me at and I will give you the information on how to get them.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Worm Relocation

My pet worms received new homes over the weekend. They started out in the gray bin about 7 years ago. A few years later a good friend decided she no longer wanted to do vermicomposting and gave her bin to me. By that time my worm population had expanded enough to have two bins.
Both containers have served me well, but the original bin recently became cracked and started leaking all that wonderful compost tea (and it kind of made a mess) on the basement floor.

The larger bin is still in pretty good shape, however worm poop is heavy and I can’t move it outside to harvest. Instead I scoop the poop into a bucket and carry it out. A much easier way is to take the bin out, dump it on black plastic, form the poop into a mound; the worms will head toward the bottom away from the light. As they move down, I scoop off the top until there is just a mass of worms left.
So I asked Handy Randy to make me two new bins, one to replace the cracked one and the other to replace the large one.
On the left is the large bin, replaced by the one on the right.

It is pretty easy; he just put three air holes on each side of a plastic container and covered them with screen which he glued in place with E-6000.

Here is a link to an earlier post about vermicomposting. If you are interested in starting your own worm bin, I have worms to share. This is one of the easiest and most valuable garden projects I have experienced.

HR also put together my new compost tumbler replacing a metal one that rusted after 10 years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Herb Garden

This past winter took its toll on the herb garden. My tender perennials didn’t make it through the extreme low temperatures. Although it was covered, I lost a 7-year old rosemary tree in addition to 3 of my lavender plants.

I thought the tarragon was gone, but found a sprig still living.


The sage and oregano survived but were stunned. Fortunately for the bees, the creeping thyme and bee balm in the potager were not affected by the harsh winter. Nor did it stun the weeds!

A redo was in order.

After pulling all the weeds (and applying a little weed killer to the stubborn Bermuda grass,) I put compost with worm castings around the existing plants.

I placed a pretty little bird bath where the rosemary stood.
Replaced the faded “Herb Garden” sign; to see how I made this sign, click here,
and planted basil in a pot.

Thursday I hope to find rosemary and lavender at the Purchase Area Master Gardeners Association Herb Appeal plant sale.

Herb Appeal is an annual luncheon focused on herbs. Under the direction of Laura Duff, of A Pampered Palate, Master Gardeners prepared a menu using herbs in every course. Keynote speaker, Marcy Snodgrass of 3 HeartsYoga and Juice Bar will speak on “Healthy Living with Herbs.” I will conclude the program by offering tips on growing herbs. I will share my tips next week on this blog.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Up for a little mystery?

I have some very healthy organic tomato plants growing in my compost bin. I have no idea what variety or if they are heirloom or hybrid. I will be happy to give them to anyone that likes surprises. Just stop by the potager. I am usually in the garden between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. If I am not at home, just help yourselves. For those of you that are not familiar with the potager, just walk straight back on the east side of the garage and you will find the compost bins. If you see weeds (and you will) feel free to pull them!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Show off!

Peggy Martin came out to welcome the Happy Hendron Homemakers Club to the potager on May 20. As always she made quite a statement! And of course there is the expected question; “What kind of fertilizer do you use?” The answer is none. If I don’t forget, I put compost around the base in the fall but that is one only care I give her. That is except for extreme pruning several times a year.
She is quite aggressive! To learn more about Peggy Martin and her heart warming story, click here.
If I promised you a cutting from my Peggy Martin rose and you have not picked it up, please let me know. I have two.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Results of the Mason Jar Rose Propagation

If you recall, last fall I shared with you how Mrs. Watson at the nursing home gave me her tip on propagating roses. Basically she took a cutting in the fall, stuck it in the ground, covered it with a Mason jar and left it alone until spring. That is exactly what I did with these roses (except, since I didn’t have Mason jars, I substituted glass vases and plastic containers.) These are the results. It can’t get much easier than this!

Knock Out Rose on east side of house.

Knock Out Rose on south side of house

Peggy Martin Rose on east side of house

I also put some cuttings in the greenhouse. They are quite a bit larger than the ones grown under the vases, but if one doesn’t have a greenhouse, the jars worked very well.
By the way, if I promised you a Peggy Martin Rose and you haven't received it, please let me know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's a Working Garden

Nothing like a pending visit from a garden club to move the garden clean-up to the top of the priority list!

Yesterday there was a 60% chance of rain so I headed to the garden before breakfast, thinking I could get a few chores done and eat when the rain started. By noon, I was famished, so I took a break and ate breakfast. No rain yet, so I headed back to the garden. By 4:30, I was one tired gardener! (Still no rain.) All though it is far from the pristine state of a year ago when it was spruced up for Artin the Garden,  it does look more like a working garden and less like a neglected garden.
Winter was really hard on the potager. It took some plants, like my rosemary tree and lavender hedge. I thought the fig trees had bit the dust also,


but on further inspection there is nice new growth on the bottoms of the trees


The strawberry tower didn’t perform as well and needs some repairs and refurbishing with compost.

 But there is a nice crop near the previous strawberry bed.

The new double rain barrels are not holding water (probably because I forgot to open the spigot and drain the barrel, which caused the zero temperatures to do some kind of freeze and expansion thing. (I don’t think Handy Randy is very happy with me about this,)
With a few more tweaks, I will welcome the garden club to tour my garden on Tuesday.

Monday, March 31, 2014

I thought it was a good deal……..

I read about Garden Alive seed mats for Square Foot Gardens in a local newspaper column. For $3.75 I could get a mat already seeded, just lay it on top of the soil and water. I went to the web site and placed an order for a lettuce mix and spinach. While I waited for the seed mats to arrive, I prepared a couple of 4-ft. square raised beds, adding plenty of compost.
In just a few days I had my seed mats.
I read the directions on the package and headed to the potager. When I opened the package, what a surprise! Yes, in each package I had a square of seeds already planted, but it was 1-ft squares, not the 4 ft. I expected! No, I was not misled. As typical for me, I read what I wanted to read. So, while this is a handy way to plant, it is pretty costly, about $15 to plant a bed of lettuce. Do you know how many lettuce seeds you can get for $15? Thousands!
I have plenty of lettuce and spinach seeds left over from last season, so I totally out of luck!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Taking a Break on I-65


Located just off  I-65, near Jemison, Alabama,(about 20 miles north of Montgomery) Petals from the Past is roughly half way between our home in Paducah and our daughter-in-law/granddaughters’ home in the Florida Panhandle, making it a fun and convenient place to take a break. I look forward to browsing the gift shop and always come away with a treasure.

The fairy garden corner has expanded since my last visit.

Most everyone, especially gardeners, are looking forward to spring and warmer weather. For most of us it is a matter of simply being tired of the cold, snow and ice. Not so for the folks making a living in the growing business. Last Friday I caught up with owner, Jason Powell, and realized just how much time and effort it takes to keep up with Mother Nature. Jason and his crew have been moving, covering and uncovering plants for weeks as the temperature warms and cools. From the looks of the nursery, they have kept up. Although they are about 3 weeks behind their usual schedule, everything looked alive and healthy.

They have a large selection of old as well as found roses. To survive through the years, these roses have to be hardy and pretty much care free. Remember Peggy Martin’s story?  I have bought roses from Jason in the past and have not been disappointed. I had to restrain myself this visit as I am totally out of garden space.
When you find yourself traveling down I-65, take a minute hour and stop in; I guarantee you will not be disappointed!

See who followed me home!

There is no sign for the nursery, click here for directions or put their address in your GPS 
Petals From the Past, 16034 County Road 29, Jemison, AL 35085

Saturday, March 8, 2014

She is Waking Up!

After a long…………winter’s nap, the potager is trying to wake!

Yesterday she was still covered in snow, but with the 50 degree temperature, things were beginning to thaw. It sounds like that trend will continue.