18 May 2013

How to cheat at growing herbs

Coriander

I use a lot of herbs in salads and my cooking and, until the growing season gets going in late spring, I find myself paying for pots of supermarket herbs knowing there is every likelihood that they'll keel over before I've finished using them. This seems to be especially true of my favourite herb, coriander (which you may know as cilantro).

It's been the same story with parsley, thyme and chives - in fact every bought herb!  But no more.  I have a built in windowbox on my balcony, just 9 inches height and depth with a width of 70 inches. At the beginning of winter, I transplanted some shop bought parsley into the windowbox thinking this might lengthen its useful life by a week or so.  It's still flourishing.  Several weeks ago, I did the same with a pot of coriander.  Same story.  In fact, both have grown and are looking very lush. (Love that word.)

So, whether you want to avoid the wait for home-sown herbs or simply to extend the life of your shop-bought herbs, here's how to do it.

As soon as you bring pots of supermarket herbs home, take off the cellophane wrapper, give them a good watering if the soil feels dry and prepare a hole in your planter, terracotta pot or window box.  If you're starting a planter from scratch, use multi-purpose compost with several handfuls of perlite or grit added for drainage. The hole should be at least a third larger than the pot the herb came in.  A tiny sprinkling of bonemeal well mixed into the soil at the bottom of the hole will help the roots to establish in their new home. (Don't worry if you don't have any.) Water the hole, take the herb out of its pot, carefully tease out one or two roots if necessary, and place in the hole.  Put the soil back all around the plant, gently firming it in and making sure that the plant is sitting at the same soil level as it was in its pot.  Water the soil all around the plant - and don't forget to keep the soil moist (but not wet) by checking daily to see if more water is needed. (Do this by pushing a finger about 2 cm into the soil; if the soil feels dry, the plant will need watering.)

There.  That should take all of 10 minutes, or less, and give you weeks of lovely fresh herbs*.

Parsley

Herbs produced for supermarkets are intensively grown with too many plants in the pot to survive beyond the seedling stage.  There simply isn't enough space or nutrients in the pot for the herb to survive.  By transplanting into a bigger space, the roots can seek out more nutrients and the plant not only survives but thrives! 

*Coriander, parsley and chives respond well to having the occasional stem snipped off and will reshoot (but not forever), especially if the soil around them is kept moist (but not soaking!).  Coriander doesn't normally reshoot, so I imagine that this is because, as the plant is trimmed, smaller seedlings have access to light and air and so grow. Whatever the reason, it works - and it's so great to have fresh herbs on hand!
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And another thing: This idea also works with those trays of 'living lettuce' available in the supermarket. If you're interested in growing herbs and salad leaves but don't have much space, pop over to VP's blog Veg Plotting to read her posts on the 52 Week Salad Challenge (click the link in my sidebar) and particularly her Cheat's Guide to Salad Growing.  Lots of good advice in one space! 

22 comments:

  1. I think I may have to do this, the cold weather is giving my herb seedlings a bit of a bashing.

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    1. I'm finding the same, Joanne - unless it's stuff that's growing inside and, frankly, my windowsills are full to bursting! I use such a lot of herbs that I need a constant supply which I just don't get in spring. With this way, you don't even have to put the plant through the trauma of separating the seedlings into individual pots so it recovers quickly, i.e. within the week. And you get a healthy plant for about a quid, rather than paying a fiver in a garden centre!

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  2. I've done this in the past and was thinking of doing this to coriander as I seem never to quite get it growing well from seed - I may try basil too. I'm also thinking of tossing a bit of watercress into our pond but will have to keep an eye on that as it can grow out of hand - there's optimistic for you!

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    1. Oh you've made me chuckle now, Sue! I ALWAYS imagine that I'll be overwhelmed by veg as I start sowing - what an optimistic lot we are!! You've got me thinking now, though ... I love watercress and pop it into a vase when I get it home. Planting it might be even better!!! I find that all herbs take ages to grow to a worthwhile size from seed and as supermarket herbs are going to die pretty quickly anyway, you have nothing to lose by transplanting. It works with basil as well. :)

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  3. I always have good intentions to pot up supermarket herbs but somehow they always end up languishing in the kitchen until it's too late. You've inspired me to be more organised and pot them up quickly!

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    1. Hello Minigardeners Mum! Lovely of you to stop and leave a comment - I've now found your blog which is lovely! I'm pleased that I've given you some inspiration; the trick is absolutely to do it more or less straightaway and not wait until the herbs are looking a bit poorly. Also make sure to give the roots plenty of room to spread! Good luck!

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  4. A helpful, and informative, post for anyone wanting to grow herbs. I know someone who does the same, as she has a window box where she finds that they generally do well.
    I only grow a few herbs on the plot for show rather than culinary use. Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you Flighty - I also grow a few herbs for show in the garden: fennel is one, looks fantastic and tastes delicious (I like the taste of aniseed) but there's an awful lot of it!! Likewise with Borage, I know the leaves are supposed to be edible (as are the flowers) but they look rather hairy to me so I'm happy just to appreciate the flowers!

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  5. I did this with coriander last year and it lasted for ages without going to seed. Previously I've taken a pot of Greek Basil and made an edging for a whole garden bed!

    It's also part of my Cheat's Guide to Salad Growing - last year everyone had so many problems with slugs, it was a great way of catching up on lost salad :)

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    1. Aha, we think alike, VP! I do like the sound of your Greek basil edging, I've only grown it in pots as I don't use huge amounts of basil - maybe I should change that! I haven't read your Cheat's Guide to Salad Growing; I'll see if I can find it and then post a link on here - thanks!!
      I'm hoping that the slugs won't be so prevalent this year, although I've just inspected my fruit tree and have lots of aphid eggs on my plum trees. Last year the cherries were smothered but seem okay so far. Vigilance is key with garden pests!!

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  6. Thanks, that's very helpful and I will try that this summer. So far I've been trying to grow herbs all from seed and have to say it has not been very successful: tough basil and bolting coriander (even though it was a bolt-resistant variety). For some reason I'm also having similar problems with salad leaves although that may be down to the weather in recent years.

    Enjoy Chelsea, I'll be tuning in to the TV preview this evening in anticipation for my visit on Friday.

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    1. Hi Claire! You're welcome. As I wrote, I thought "This is something everyone will know anyway" but sometimes it doesn't hurt to put up a reminder. The weather is entirely to blame for your herb growing problems - both basil and coriander will bolt really easily in hot weather, as will lettuce. Hopefully the weather will settle down now and give plants the chance to grow nice and evenly!

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  7. Hi Caro! I'm always cheating with my herbs too! Only in the kitchen though, where I find them most handy. I've got some great herbs in the allotment that come back year on year but there's nothing like having some close to hand in my kitchen, often re-potted from one's I've bought with my shopping! It can't be beat!

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    1. Hey Anna! I just knew we're kindred spirits! I have LOTS of herbs growing in the veg patch but always keep my absolute favourites duplicated on the balcony - although it's very satisfying to pop outside to gather herbs for supper (makes me feel like a true country gardener; bonkers!), if it's raining, late or cold then it's another story and really glad of having a few herbs to hand.
      Really interesting to learn that SO many experienced gardeners do exactly this - we're a practical lot, aren't we!

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  8. If you go to most of the major supermarkets you'll find 'living lettuce', basically cut-and-come-again types in green and red planted in a little tray of soil. Buy a couple, and split each tray into 4, and plant in a long window box - they look lovely, and you'll get regularr leaf harvests for at least a month or two. They look espically good planted with a few marigolds for colour, and as a pest repellant / sacrifice plant for those cunning slugs / snails...

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    1. Great tips and advice, Colin - thanks! Bags of lettuce are such a waste of money, aren't they? I love those trays of living lettuce but haven't planted any out yet - definitely worth a try! At the moment, my windowsills are FULL of home-sown lettuce so have plenty of pickings but love the idea of planting out living lettuce if the pickings get a bit stretched. PS Love marigolds/calendula too - excellent if petals added to salad, makes it all bright and pretty!!

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  9. Great idea for an instant herb container. Sometimes herbs, particularly parsley can take ages to germinate.

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    1. Glad you like this idea, Brigid! Could be very useful to have a few instant herb in your new home; I've seen that you're working hard elsewhere on your garden! I'm growing my own herbs as well (lots, as usual!!) but, you're right, parsley etc takes a good while to get going. The best I've ever had was sown thickly by an 8 year old just before a torrential 4 hour downpour! Thought the seeds would get washed away but they flourished and fed the whole community!! Yayy!

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  10. Love your herb planter. Most of my herbs have been overwintering in the greenhouse awaiting planting out into their zinc bath. I'm just waiting for the tulips to finish flowering and then I can get them into their summer home.

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    1. Ooh, I like the sound of herbs in a zinc bath, Welly! Very country living! Some of my veg patch herbs are so well established that they come back every year - in force, if we're talking fennel! Balcony herbs are an essential back up for me in my second floor flat - I'm never organised enough to think about herbs before I'm in the middle of cooking. Let's hope for some warm weather so you can get your herbs out soon - been reading stats citing "coldest spring on record"! (I'm still wearing my winter coat!)

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  11. I've done this successfully with flat leaf parsley (and with basil too, though I kept the pot inside on a sunny window sill) but never with coriander, which I've grown from seed this year, and am trying to be restrained about using as there isn't as much as I'd like. I will now bulk up the patch with with a supermarket pot or two — thanks for the tip!

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    1. Charlotte, you're welcome - I love to encourage people to grow herbs, even if it's by the easiest route possible! It's a pain waiting for herbs to grow big enough, isn't it? Especially this year!

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Caro x

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