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The Culinary Herb Garden
Chives – Fennel – Horseradish – Lavender – Marjoram – Mint – Parsley – Rosemary – Sage – Tarragon – Thyme
Culinary Herbs with the exception of Parsley, only four or five herbs are utilised to any extent. Mint, Marjoram, Sage, Tarragon, and Thyme are, however, in full demand, and no Vegetable Garden, however small, should be without a patch of these herbs. With the exception of Tarragon, which does not produce fertile flowers, the above-mentioned herbs may be propagated from seed or plants. The Home Gardener will find it more economical to purchase plants, putting these out in the garden during late Spring.
Culinary herbs usually give the greatest satisfaction when planted on a good, friable, fairly rich loam, and to develop the moist soil, require plenty of sunlight. Do not make the ground too rich, as in very rich soil the percentage of soil is likely to be small in proportion to the excessive leafage. Moderately moist soil will generally give the best results, except with Mint, which prefers a damp place. Trench the soil well and break up the ground very finely, adding well-rotted stable or cow manure, or failing that, Bone Dust, and working this fertiliser thoroughly into the soil. Rake the surface still finer, and the bed will be ready.
Cultivation of herbs
The only cultivation necessary is to keep the surface loose and open by hoeing at least once a fortnight, as well as after every rain. Give the plants a dressing of well-rotted stable or cow manure, or an application of Bone Dust and Superphosphate mixed, every Winter, forking this lightly into the soil.
Harvesting and curing herbs
The green leaves of Herbs should be gathered in the early morning while the dew is still on, as at this period of the day the proportion of oil is greatest. For the best results in preserving or drying, pick the main crop just before the first blossoms appear, as the plants are then richest in oil. Mint and Tarragon are more frequently used as an infusion than in dry form, and all that is necessary is to fill a jar with clean, fresh green leaves, cover them with good vinegar, and keep out the air. After standing for a few weeks, the liquid may be used according to its strength. When gathering Herbs for drying, cut, if possible, in full sunshine and in dry weather, for at that time all the best properties can be preserved. The practice of hanging up Herbs in bundles for months tends to dry the leaves too much, with the result that they lose their flavour and become covered with a fine dust. When thoroughly dry, Herbs can be preserved in perfect condition as regards flavor, by putting them in wide mouthed jars and sealing them up.
Herbs not described above and after those in most common use are as follows:-
Perennial : Angelica, Balm, Fennel, Hyssop, Mercury, Rue, Winter Savory, Tansy, and Wormwood.
Annual and Biennial : Anise, Carraway, Chervil, Coriander, Dill and Summer Savory.
Sweet Basil is a tender annual.
Three or four plants of most of the Herbs will be found quite sufficient for the needs of the average family.
Very useful for flavouring soups and stews. A small onion-like plant, which has a pretty pink bloom and makes a good edging. It grows about 20 cm high. Plant the bulbs or seeds. To increase stock divide as you would for shallots.
Grow from roots planted. Buy two roots to start with, as they will soon increase. Plant 60 cm. apart. Fennel comes up looking like asparagus, and throws out fine green leaves which, when chopped, make fennel sauce for use with mackerel. Given where it not not need be disturbed, fennel grows wild once established. Fennel likes to be in a dry situation.
Horseradish is always in demand. It should be grown in a corner by itself where it can spread undisturbed. Plant the heads or crown of sticks that have been used in the kitchen deeply in the ground; they shoot up and make a thick stem ready for use again. Horse-radish spreads very rapidly, and once planted you cant get rid of it. Every little piece of shoot left in the ground grows again, or made into horseradish cream and put into attractive jars as gifts.
You can raise Lavender by seed sowing in drills and transplanting apart when the seedlings are three or four leaves, these make nice little plants. The more usual way of propagating Lavender is by taking cuttings. This is done by tearing from the old plant of young wood about 15 cm long, taking care to leave on each piece some ‘heel’ of the old wood. When gathering blooms cut them with long stalks, as son as the first, two or three blooms at the bottom of the spike are open so the flowers retain their fragrance much longer.
Marjoram is a very hardy perennial herb, which may be raised from seed or from root divisions. Marjoram will grow in any well-drained soil. Sow the seed in either the out-door seed bed or when the plants are to remain, covering it very lightly with fine soil. Transplant from the seed-bed in rows 18 inches apart each way, and thin out early those grown where they are to remain, to the same distance. In order to prevent “misses” it is advisable to thin gradually, starting at 6 inches apart and deferring the last operation until the plants are well established. If further plants are desired, these may be had from root divisions, which can be taken either in the Spring or Autumn, or from cuttings taken in the Summer. In the case of the latter, set in a shady place and water until established. As soon as the plants are established and growing well, the leaves may be cut as wanted. Divide the roots of Marjoram and re-set the plants every three years. Four or five plants of Marjoram will supply the needs of the average household.
There is always a great demand for mint in the kitchen. Mint requires a fairly moist soil, and is grown from the roots, which are put in in drills from 18 to 21 inches apart, allowing from 12 to 15 inches between the plants. Late Spring is a good time for putting out Mint, and during this period of the year, if further plants are required, the old roots may be divided and re-set, where they are to remain, planting about 2 inches deep.
When planting Mint roots in a border make sure it’s about a meter wide, allowing plenty of room for the plants to spread. The roots creep along under the ground and new plants appear all round the original plant. Mint should be raised in pots. To do this, take up roots, plant in pots of a convenient size and place them in a warm sunny corner or in a frame. Cut the leaves as wanted when the plants are once well established. Four or five plants will be ample for starting a bed.
Do not forget to dry some mint or place in ice cubes to freeze for use in drinks. Spearmint is the variety of this plant, used for Mint Sauce and general household requirements.
Parsley will do well on any soil that is not too rich. If the soil is too good, it is apt to be rank and will not curl. It can be grown as an edging to the vegetable garden, where the fresh green leaves are easy to gather at any time. Sow seed thinly, in drills and keep sow every month for succession. Parsley will not transplant. Do not let it run to seed, although the plants will live for two years, it is much better to scrap them and raise fresh from seed and so get the finest quality.
Rosemary is a very attractive plant, and is probably my favourite herb. Rosemary makes a beautiful evergreen hedge in the flower garden, the blue—grey flowers blooming throughout May. It can be clipped when the flowering period is over, and is easily grown from cuttings in the same way as lavender.
Sage is a half-hardy perennial, which may be propagated from cuttings like Lavender, root divisions, from seed, or by layering. The best method for the Home Gardener is to procure the root divisions and plant out during Winter or early Spring. The ordinary garden sage is kept in clumps, which should be divided, re-set, or pruned every couple of years. Sage requires a well-drained soil and a rather dry position. Sow the seed about half an inch deep, in a protected seed bed and thin out the seedlings as they grow. Transplant to permanent rows 18 inches apart, allowing 12 inches between the plants. Whether sown in the seed-bed or where they are to remain, the seedlings must be thinned out early so as to give the plants plenty of room to develop, and to obviate the possibility of weak, spindly growth.
Do not cut Sage too heavily the first year (once is enough), but after this, three cuttings are possible in a year, taking the first of these before the flower stems appear. As Sage is a half-hardy plant, put it out in a sheltered position in the garden. Re-prune the beds every year, just after flowering, and re-set the permanent bed every three or four years by taking out the plants and dividing them.
There is a good demand for this herb in the kitchen, for the making of stuffings for chicken, pork, etc. Gather the young top shoots for cooking as required, or dry all that remain. Do not let the plants get too old; take fresh cuttings every year to replace all three year-old plants. The old stalks can be placed under roasts (lamb, chicken or pork work well) as a flavorsome ‘dip tray’.
The true Tarragon does not produce fertile seed, and must be propagated from plants. It is a perennial and one of the best of the aromatic plants. The leaves and tender tips are used in seasoning, in the making of Tarragon Vinegar, and Oil of Tarragon. To make Tarragon Vinegar, the leaves and tips, when cut, are steeped in vinegar. Tarragon likes the sunlight and must not be planted in too shady a position plant out in the Winter or early Spring, in rows from 12 to 15 inches apart, allowing the plants to stand 12 inches apart in the rows. The best time to pick the leaves and tips is when the plants are just about to flower. In the Autumn cut down the plants and dry the leaves. Re-set Tarragon every three years in fresh soil.
The Common Thyme is a perennial plant which, apart from its value as a culinary herb, makes a very fine edging plant for the Vegetable Garden. Thyme may be raised from seed or propagated from root divisions. A light, well-drained soil in a warm, sheltered position, is the most suitable for the plants, which are put out in rows from 12 to 15 inches apart. As Thyme is tender until thoroughly established, sow the seed thinly in rows in seed boxes in August, or in the open ground about the end of Spring. Thin the plants out to 6 inches apart, and when thoroughly hardened off, plant out to their permanent position. The leaves and tender tips may be picked when required for use or dried and stored. Thyme should be re-planted every three or four years. The Lemon Thyme is a variety of the Common Thyme, and is propagated by root divisions and layers. Lemon Thyme is a spreading plant, which grows about four inches high.