For adding flavour to new potatoes and the first green peas there is nothing to rival juicy, aromatic mint. Dried and powdered mint is a second choice for adding to vegetables while cooking and for making sauce; but green mint, picked from the open (or from a box of soil in warmth in winter) is vastly superior. Unfortunately, mint is so often left to take its chances in the ground, that instead of foot-high, juicy stems with big, wholesome green leaves the neglected mint bed offers only wiry, spindly stems and a few indifferent leaves.
It has its own requirements in the matter of soil and position. Though the roots travel mostly parallel with the surface they like the ground to be dug deeply before they are consigned to it, to be enriched with a little manure or plenty of leaf-mould or hop manure. They like plenty of moisture, and they hate to be sun-baked.
Mint is propagated by division of root clumps and by cuttings of the top growth. A start can be made with one strong clump, purchased from a nurseryman, and a stock quickly worked up in the manner described below.
Ready for Use.
Pickings of mint are available outdoors from April to September; the rest of the year from plants in a pot or box of soil in a warm greenhouse.
Mint will not grow under trees or a hedge or in full shade, but it requires some shelter from midday summer sun. The patch where it is to be planted might be a sheltered corner, dug 1 ft. deep and enriched with decayed vegetable matter, or animal manure or hop manure, and not beyond easy reach of the watering can. To be profitable it must have one of these humus-providing materials; unfortunately no artificial fertilizer can be used as a substitute.
How and When to Plant.
Roots are planted either in October or March – separate roots placed about 9 in. apart in a 2-in. deep drill; or a clump, for working up a stock of plants, can be put into a trowel-made hole by itself.
Increasing the Stock.
Cuttings taken in late June and planted in a shaded spot and kept watered root quickly. They consist of shoot ends 3 in. or 4 in. long, cut through immediately below a joint; the leaves at that joint should be cut off and the stem planted 1 in. deep.
Also stems about 4 in. long can be eased up from around the outside of a clump, each with its few roots, and be replanted.
A row or bed of ‘rusty’ mint with stems and leaves that have a rusty appearance, should be scrapped. Plants and roots should be burned and a fresh start made, the new stock of plants being given some other position. The trouble is brought about by neglect and starvation. It seldom occurs if plants are dug up every third year and the best of the roots replanted in another part of the ground.
Mint grows so quickly as a rule, especially in a moist summer, that a patch of it soon becomes a miniature jungle; and because the congested roots have exhausted all available food the plants deteriorate. On that account replanting in fresh ground, after the plants have been in occupation about three years, is practised. The tangled roots are dug up, the oldest and woodiest burned and the younger, vigorous ones planted 9 in. apart and covered 2 in. deep, in October or March. Every piece of creeping root should be extracted from the old quarters, the spade being used deeply to ensure that no portions are left behind in the abandoned patch.
Watering and Weeding.
Give water by the canful as often as the ground dries. Moist conditions will be favourable to the growth of weeds, so these should be looked for and pulled up before they become any size.
Take the shears to the old mint bed in late autumn and cut off all the stems close to the ground. Remove them, together with weeds and general rubbish, to the bonfire; then cover the bed or row 1 in. deep with sifted leaf-mould, or with soil mixed with broken-up hop manure. New growth the following spring will be worth having.
Green Mint in Winter.
When there is no sign of mint outdoors recourse can be had to the dried and powdered product; but fresh mint is better in every way. To secure winter green mint lift a clump from the ground in autumn and plant it in a flower pot filled with good soil; or plant roots closely together in a box just deep enough to hold them with ½ in. of soil below and above. Water the soil thoroughly, then place pot or box in the greenhouse where the temperature does not fall below about 55 degrees. Inside the window of an always warm room will do. Full light, and moisture as required, will do the rest. Pickings will be produced abundantly.
Storing for Winter.
Mint gathered in summer is easily preserved.
Nip off young shoot-tips, about 4 in. long, with thumb and finger, as required. New shoots will appear lower down on the stems for later use.
Preparing for Table.
For making sauce, young stems should be stripped of their leaves (after washing) and the leaves minced finely. Young shoots can be placed whole in the saucepan along with potatoes, peas and so on, after being washed.