The summer months allow us to be outside more and indulging in the joy of growing things is far easier and more pleasant than in the winter months.
Herbs are a highly practical and useful type of plant to grow. The rewards come quickly in a matter of a few weeks. If where you live has no garden, herbs are attractive and great plants to grow in pots or containers.
Herbs fresh from the garden offer flavour and interest to salads, meats, pasta; in fact any cooking can be enhanced. The most used herbs in New Zealand are basil, coriander, chives, garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage and mint.
Other frequently used herbs are dill, horseradish, hyssop, marjoram, oregano and tarragon. These are generally readily available as plants and often seed from the garden centre.
Growing herbs is rewarding and popular among gardeners.
They are grown mainly for their fragrance or for their culinary value.
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Many herbs are regarded as practical medicinal remedies and many are cultivated for medicinal or culinary uses in different parts of the world. This has been so for thousands of years and today research into medicinal herbs is on the increase.
Before the days of refrigeration and the wide availability of food in so many forms, herbs were often an essential part in the preservation and flavouring of foods. Today the major use here in New Zealand is flavouring and garnishing food.
Herbs are ideal for growing in pots, either as a mixed group or as single specimens.
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Always plant mint in its own pot because it is so vigorous it will outgrow all the others.
Cold-sensitive herbs such as basil and coriander, if grown in pots, can be brought inside when the weather turns.
For best results, herbs should be harvested regularly and given a liquid feed such as Ican Fast Food every fortnight during the growing season and put down bait for slugs and snails.
Leafy herbs need regular watering. Coriander, in particular, is prone to going to seed quickly if it dries out. Being shallow-rooted, it does this quite easily unfortunately. A useful tip is to grow coriander in the shade during the warmer months which reduces the rate at which it goes to seed. This can also be applied to other herbs with which you may have these issues.
There is much interest in what sprays and chemicals have been in contact with the food we eat; this has become a catalyst for some people to grow their own vegetables at home.
However, growing vegetables at home and with little use of sprays for pest control can mean our crops are less than satisfactory. Alternative control, such as the use of bug netting to cover crops and combined with companion planting, is necessary.
Companion planting is the planting of certain plants together which can result in far more successful crops.
This is an area that we can explore and try some different planting arrangements that will improve home vegetable production. Here are notes on some herb varieties outlining their uses as beneficial companions in the garden:
• Basil repels white fly and makes a good companion to tomatoes, both in the garden and in the kitchen. It is said to plant three basil plants to every tomato plant for it to be effective. Basil also helps to repel flies and mosquitoes so a pot or basket is handy in the kitchen and outdoors near the barbecue. Basil dislikes being planted near rue. Basil attracts bees for general garden fertility.
• Carrots grow larger and healthier when planted near chives. Chives help delay parsley going to seed. If grown underneath apple trees, chives help to prevent apple scab. They are also said to help control aphids and black spot on roses. Cooled chive tea, made from the chopped herb with boiling water, helps combat downy and powdery mildew.
• Coriander repels aphids. Don't grow it near fennel as it hinders fennel's seed formation.
• Fennel repels fleas, so grow it around the dog kennel. Don't grow it in the vegetable garden as it is disliked by tomatoes, beans and caraway.
• Hyssop is good for both cabbages and other brassicas as well as grapes. It helps deter white butterfly. A good insect repellent if planted in the vegetable or flower garden. Keep away from radishes.
• Lemon balm improves the growth and flavour of tomatoes as well as attracting bees which aid pollination.
• Mint repels cabbage butterfly, so grow near your brassicas. It also repels fleas, ants and mice. Keep mint and parsley away from one another.
• Oregano should be planted near broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower to repel the cabbage butterfly and improve the flavour of these veggies. It also seems to benefit grapes.
• Parsley aids the growth of roses, tomatoes, asparagus, beans and carrots. It is great grown near chives but should be kept away from mint.
Have a great week.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre