ORGANIC GARDENING TIPS: HERBS

Seen in old gardens, and offered as seeds or plants in nurserymen’s catalogues, are quite a number of herbs whose names are unfamiliar to most home food producers; the most useful are dealt with here.

Angelica.

Grown for its leafstalks, which are cut when young for candying. It is a perennial (comes up every year) requiring a shady position and plenty of moisr ture. Seed is sown during April, or in August, in a A-in. deep drill, very thinly, the young plants as soon as they can be handled being set out 2 ft. apart each way. Flower stems should be removed as soon as they appear. Height, 4 ft.

Basil. Tips of the plants, and leaves, add a distinctive flavour to salads and soups. For winter use, gather when the flowers appear. Dry the tips and leaves, powder them, and store in a tightly corked bottle or stoppered jar. Sweet basil (1 ft. high) and bush basil (6 in.) are both annuals (of one year’s duration only). Plants are raised from seed sown in light soil in a temperature of 55 degrees, in March; seedlings are transplanted to another box, hardened off, and planted out in late May, 9 in. apart in light soil.

Chervil. Used for flavouring salads and soups. Light, sandy soil is most suitable for this aromatic-leaved annual. It is sown in March, deep, where it is to remain, and seedlings thinned out to 6 in. apart, for the summer supply. For winter use a July sowing is made, in a sunny position. Height, 6 in.

Dandelion.

This perennial weed is made much of, in its garden forms, by those who appreciate an uncommon winter salad. Varieties are Improved Thick-leaved and Improved Broad-leaved. Sow in May and June, in well-dug ground, in full sun, 1 in. deep, very thinly. A month later seedlings will be ready for thinning out, to 9 in. apart. This will give a supply of roots for lifting in November; these can be stored in dry soil in a shed until wanted for the production of leaves, which for salad purposes need to be blanched. This is done by planting roots 1 in. or so apart, in pots or boxes filled with ordinary soil, and standing these in a dark, warm cupboard or a heated greenhouse. In the latter, the pots or boxes should be covered with other pots or boxes to exclude the light. Watering needs to be attended to, and the blanched leaves are gathered when about 5 in. long. If enough plants are available a supply can be maintained from autumn to spring.

To secure strong roots for this forcing process plants should not be allowed to waste their strength by flowering; flower stems should be pinched out as they appear.

Blanched leaves can be obtained outdoors in spring and early summer by placing boxes, or inverted pots, over the plants where they stand.

Fennel.

The very finely divided leaves of this plant make it a garden ornament as well as a component of fish sauce. It is a perennial, needing rich soil and a sunny spot. Seed is sown ½ in. deep, in April, and seedlings transplanted 1 ft. apart. Established plants can be increased by lifting a clump, dividing the root mass and replanting the divisions, during March. Sucker growths can also be removed, complete with their own roots, from the base of an old plant, and transplanted. The provision of water when necessary, prompt removal of flower stems are simple attentions required. Height 2 ft.

Marjoram.

As a flavouring for soups and an ingredient of stuffings, the aromatic marjoram holds a time-honoured place. There are two kinds, sweet and pot; both can be raised outdoors in April, from seed sown ½ in. deep. The spot needs to be sunny and the soil good, the pot variety (perennial) requiring a sheltered position and well-drained ground to enable it to come safely through bad winter weather. The sweet variety is treated as an annual.

Seedlings of both should be thinned out early to 9 in. apart. An old plant of pot marjoram can be increased by dividing the root mass in March or April. Shoots are gathered when the plants are coming into flower, dried, and stored for winter; leaves are also used straight from the growing plant. Pot marjoram grows 1 ft. high, sweet marjoram about 2 ft.

Purslane.

Leaves and shoots of green and golden varieties of purslane make excellent summer salading. Seed is sown where the plants are to remain (of one-year duration only) in May, and seedlings thinned out to 6 in. apart. Other small sowings, to secure a succession, can be made until August. Water is needed, when rain holds off, for the production of more leaves and shoots after each picking. Height, 6 in.

Rampion.

Very littie indeed of rampion is wasted. The roots are cut up and used radish fashion, along with the leaves, in autumn salads; and in winter roots can be taken from store. Seed is sown in :j-in. drills in rich soil and partial shade, in March to April for autumn supply, in May for winter use. Seedlings are thinned to 6 in. apart. Ample supplies of water are needed to plump up the roots. Those remaining unused in the ground in November should be dug up and stored in sifted dry soil in a cellar or frostproof shed for use as required. Height about 3 ft.

Savory.

Shoots of savory have a very pleasing aroma, and for adding an extra touch of flavour to salads and soups the plant has long been renowned. It is customary also for those acquainted with savory to introduce a sprig or two into a boiling of peas or beans. There are two forms of this herb, known as summer savory and winter savory. The former is of one-year duration and grows about 7 in. high; winter savory is evergreen and grows about 2 in. taller than the other. Neither is particular as to soil, but both require a sunny spot; seed is sown I in. deep in April, and seedlings thinned out to 9 in. apart each way. Winter savory is also increased by division of the roots during March; old plants become unprofitable, so this method of propagation (quicker and easier than seed sowing) should be carried out every four or five years. Summer savory needs to be raised afresh each spring; the whole plant is pulled up when flowering starts in summer, and dried for winter use. Only parts of shoots should be removed from the evergreen winter savory.

Sorrel.

The large-leaved garden edition of the field-weed sorrel has a number of uses; the sharp-tasting leaves can be dealt with as spinach, or given a place in any mixed salad, and they figure in sauces and soups. To make sorrel worth its ground space it must be given rich soil and be kept moist. Seed is sown in March, in A-in. deep drills, and seedlings thinned out to 1 ft. apart, or they may be transplanted. Roots of established plants (sorrel is perennial) may be divided and the portions replanted in March. Leaves are nipped from the plant as required; and flower stems should be removed early – they waste the plant’s strength. Height about 18 in.

Tarragon.

Leaves and ends of shoots of tarragon are used in salads and pickles. For winter use, tops are cut down during September and dried. The plant is perennial, and propagation is by root division during March, the small rooted pieces being replanted 9 in. apart in a 2-in. deep drill, the drill then being filled in. Tarragon grows up to a height of about two feet.

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