Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

You too can Grow an Italian Herb Garden

     

Italy is said to have some of the best cuisine in the world and, at the heart of that cuisine are their famous herbs. Growing your own organic Italian herb garden is sure to be rewarding and delicious. Whether indoors or outdoors, as additions to your vegetable garden or in a garden of  their own, Italian herbs are a delight to both grow and eat.

You may already be familiar with a number of Italian herbs. There is a good chance that you have some Italian herbs growing in your garden and an even better chance that there are some in your kitchen. Basil, fennel, rosemary, oregano, and parsley are all household names in Italy and around the world.

     

How to Plant and Grow Fresh Basil
Basil may be the most well known Italian herb. Basil is an annual warm-season herb that is sensitive to cold weather. While you may be familiar with dried basil, enthusiasts will tell you that nothing compares to a few fresh basil leaves. Basil is relatively easy to grow and makes a great addition to your vegetable garden. Grow basil next to your peppers or tomatoes, basil is said to improve the flavor of its neighboring plants. Basil is also said to repel flies and mosquitoes!

When planting basil, pick a site with full sun. Basil prefers warm to hot weather and a pH of 5.5-7.0. Basil can be planted in pots as well as directly in the ground; requires low watering and should be propagated by seed. Basil’s most common enemies are the Japanese beetle, slugs and snails. Start seeds inside and transplant when a few inches tall.

To avoid an infestation of slugs and snails, line your garden with copper strips or wire mesh. The charge that builds up on the copper surface, repels both pests away from your garden as they are unable to move across it.

Basil must be pinched back as it begins to flower as once it flowers it loses flavour. Pruning back the flowers will also encourage it to grow bushier. Leaves should be cut in the morning after the dew has dried. Do not wash basil leaves, as they will lose their flavor.

    

Tips for Growing Fennel
Fennel has a wide range of uses. You may be most familiar with fennel seeds, used in Italian sausage or chewed with candy after an Indian meal. Fennel stalks are also edible, though not commonly eaten in the United States. Fennel has long been believed to have numerous medicinal benefits, namely digestive, and is often made into herbal teas and tinctures.

Fennel is a perennial, but should be divided and re-planted every few years as the plants tend to lose flavor as they mature. They are propagated from seed and enjoy full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Fennel plants require light but even watering and have an enemy in the Carrot Rust Fly, which can be avoided by planting in a windy location.

   

A Dash of Parsley is Always a Good Idea!
Parsley is relatively difficult to grow and known for its long germination time. Before planting parsley, soak the seeds for two days, changing the water after one day, refrigerate them and pour boiling water over the soil plug. Why all of this work? Parsley seeds contain a chemical, which prevents germination, and this process works to get rid of it.

Though parsley is technically a perennial, it usually goes to seed in its second year and so is grown as an annual. Because parsley is difficult to transplant, it should be sown directly into the ground or into large, well-drained pots.

Parsley should be planted in full sun or partial shade. If growing in a vegetable garden, plant near asparagus, corn, peppers and tomatoes. Make sure that the soil is nematode free, as these are common pests where parsley is grown. If you do have a nematode problem, try introducing ladybugs and predatory nematodes into your garden.

Now Let’s Add a Dash of Oregano
If you are planning on growing oregano, talk to some local farmers. It is easy to start an oregano plant from a cutting of an existing one. Choose an existing plant with strong flavor to guarantee the quality of your own crop. Oregano is decorative as well as delicious, sprouting lovely little purple flowers at maturity.

Oregano should not be harvested until it has flowered, as this is when its flavor is the strongest. Oregano prefers full sun and matures best in hot weather. Oregano is a perennial and can spread very far; you may want to take this into consideration when determining whether to plant in pots or in the garden.

Everyone’s Favorite: Rosemary
Rosemary is a tough evergreen perennial, which can grow into a large shrub. Though it is sturdy and does well in many climates, rosemary is very sensitive to frost. Rosemary does well in the ground or in pots and grows pretty little blue flowers, which, can be used in salads or as a garnish. Rosemary makes an excellent hedge and is great for attracting bees.

Italian herbs make excellent compliments to your existing vegetable or flower garden. The fragrance of these potent herbs will make you feel like you are taking a trip to the Mediterranean every time you stroll through your own garden. Growing these herbs locally and organically is one of the best decisions you have made all year.

Growing Herbs

Alice May Brock, who inspired Arlo Guthrie’s famous ’60s song, Alice’s Restaurant, knew that flavor is key to culinary culture: “Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.”

For those who love the flavor of the Italian countryside, with its fresh vegetables and savory pasta, there is no better way to dabble in cuisine than by growing your own herbs. Dried remnants of a previous harvest can’t hold up to the fresh bunches from the market. But even the slightly wilted market clippings can’t rival the unique bite of freshly picked herbs.

The reason they’re so different? The moment you pick an herb, its aromatic oils begin to evaporate through tiny pores in the leaves. Even those bought at today’s farmer’s market will have already lost some of their punch.

If you’re a novice gardener or have just a little space, follow Brock’s advice and plant some oregano. It is the quintessential Italian flavor, derived from a tough perennial that will last for years. They’re also so vigorous they’re downright hard to kill, so even a rank beginner will find success.

Oregano is the herb for spaghetti sauce and homemade pizza. It’s a tough little ground-hugging perennial that goes by Oreganum vulgaris, which is hardy to Zone 5. Mediterranean in origin, it will tolerate a surprising amount of heat and drought. Don’t worry about soil, because these plants are native to dry rocky soils, so beware of overwatering, particularly in heavy clay soils. To ensure the highest oil content, oregano requires at least a half-day of direct sun daily, preferably more.

These plants spread underground stems. If you know someone with an established herb garden or patch, chances are he or she will be happy to dig you up a clump. Just replant in full sun and well-drained soil to start your own source. If you are given more than a single clump, spot the oregano into various places around your landscaping to provide a much larger source for cutting.

If you live in a climate colder than Zone 5, you can try a different approach with this fast-growing perennial. At the end of the season — after frost comes, but before the ground freezes — dig your oregano and pot it up to bring indoors for the winter.

Where it is hardy, oregano will die back to the ground with the first frost of fall. It remains dormant until spring temperatures rise enough to stimulate new sprouts from the roots. For this reason, many gardeners cut their oregano to the ground in late fall to harvest and dry the foliage.

While you can dry oregano by hanging it in upside-down bundles, it’s so short-stemmed this isn’t the most efficient choice. The best way is to use an old window screen. Take the freshly cut oregano pieces apart, then strip the leaves from the hard stems. Scatter the leaves on the screen in a single layer. Place the screen in a dark, well-ventilated place such as a garage or closet for a week or two. This allows the leaves to maintain their oils while slowly drying out. Drying herbs in the sun is tempting because it’s quicker, but much of the flavor will be lost to evaporation. Once it is dry, store oregano in an airtight container to prevent further evaporation of the oils.

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