"Herbs are the friend of the physician and the pride of cooks." — Charlemagne
Herbs are used to flavour food; promote health; discourage bad insects and attract good insects; and to be companions for some of your vegetables. The leaves of herbs may be used fresh, or dried to be used in the winter months.
You can easily start from seeds in five-centimetre-by-five-centimetre containers using a potting soil mix and some compost. Or you can buy seedlings at a market garden. Herbs grow well in any soil, including poor soil. Plant in a sunny area.
When the seedlings grow to about 15 centimetres tall, transplant them into pots. Pinch off the top to grow a bushier plant.
Herbs in Zone 3 may be classified as follows:
Perennials that grow in Zone 3 include chives and horseradish. Perennials that do not overwinter in Zone 3, grown as annuals in the garden or as perennials in containers to be taken in into your home or greenhouse during the winter: marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme.
Bi-annuals: parsley for example, produce seeds in the second year and then die off. Annuals: basil, dill, garlic, and all perennials that do not overwinter in Zone 3.
Plant perennials that can't survive a Zone 3 climate in containers. Bring the containers in before the first frost. With enough light and water, they will grow and provide herbs over the winter.
You may also bring in some pests, such as spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, mealy bugs, or others. Inspect plants every day. Two organic insecticides may be used to kill off an infestation: neem oil or permethrin. Each has some negative effects on humans, so follow the instructions. Start by placing the plant in a plastic bag, spray into the bag, then close the bag off. This keeps the spray in close contact with the plant for a long time.
Follow these suggestions regarding specific herbs:
Basil must be kept moist or it will die. It is also very frost sensitive.
Chives are harvested by snipping off what is needed for the meal. One large clump is enough for even the largest family.
Dill is an annual and will self-seed all over your garden. Use the green fronds, the flowers, and the seeds.
Garlic is a cooking staple. Plant cloves in the fall and harvest in late summer.
Parsley is a bi-annual; in the second year it produces seeds. Harvest the leaves until it begins to produce seeds.
Rosemary’s spruce-like needles go well with chicken, fish, and bread. Sage is used in poultry dressing. Thyme is used in Italian cooking.
The leaves of herbs can be used fresh or dried. To preserve them: dry the leaves; pick when they are dry; hang the entire plant in a dark area or dry the leaves in a flat container; when dry, shred them in a blender and store.
Freeze parsley, cilantro, chives, fennel, and chervil. Cut the fresh leaves from the stems, shred them, and put them into an ice cube tray. Top up the cubes with water or cooking oil and freeze.
The best way to grow herbs you use the most is in containers. The rest, grow in your garden and dry or freeze the excess.
Charles Schroder is a St. Albert resident and an avid gardener.