Growing Annual Herbs and Salads

Annual herbs and salads

Most annual herbs are best started off sown in situ during mid-spring. They resent transplanting and will not make as much growth though they will be easier to manage if started in small pots or cells as for the vegetables. Pot them up if necessary then harden off and plant out after the last frost. If sowing direct, mark out and station sow as for vegetables, but for most herbs there is no necessity to sow or thin to one plant per site.

growing herbs Sow most annual herbs fairly shallowly. I press a cane into the surface to make a drill and, after sowing, cover the seed with clean potting compost and firm down well. It is important to mark the site as many are slow to germinate. A label aids later identification.

With most, the flavour is ruined by the onset of flowering, so successional small sowings are a good idea, spreading the cropping. Cut them back often. The younger shoots and leaves are the more tender, and most herbs become more succulent with adequate moisture. They all grow lusher in a richer soil though this may spoil their flavour — see individual entries for details.


Annual Herbs Used Mostly for their Leaves

Rocket (Eruca sativa) Italian cress leaves are spicy and peppery and the flowers add interest to salads. It is very sy to grow, but tastes best when gr quickly in moist conditions. It can be cut back for new flushes. Sow often and sow thickly. Rocket is prone to flea beetle but otherwise no problem. Sow this instead of radishes, because it is the best salading. Rocket was banned from monastery diets as it allegedly inflamed lust!

Chervil will grow in shade, needs moisture and loathes transplanting very much like parsley. Yet it’s easier to grow with a milder flavour so much more can be used in salads. The root was also once cooked as a vegetable. It may keep aphids off lettuce. Sow thickly in situ from late winter till autumn. Chervil will self-seed if left to flower, but you may prefer to cut it down before flowering to produce a new crop of fresh foliage. A subtle flavour, chervil enhances other flavours best when raw or only slightly cooked, very highly recommended.

Dill has a pleasing, fresh, clean flavour. The leaves and seeds are added to pickles, sauces, cheese and fish dishes. The fresh leaves can be added in quantity to salads. Sow dill thickly direct or in pots and in situ. If left to grow waist high, it flowers and attracts hoverflies. Dill allegedly attracts bees, though I find otherwise.

It’s not liked by carrots, but aids cabbages and may help lettuce, onions, sweet corn and cucumber as it repels aphids and spider mites. It appears to hybridise with fennel!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea sativa) is an infuriating plant as it is hard to grow from seed, but self-seeds happily. Useful as a salad crop it needs to be grown quickly and kept cut back hard for flushes of the young, succulent shoots. Get fresh seed, sow it on the surface of a layer of sterile compost on top of the soil where it is to grow. If you succeed, let it flower and seed, then it will appear of its own accord everywhere.

growing radishes Radishes can be sown in situ anywhere you like, a few seeds at a time every week from spring to autumn. Very quick, but need to be eaten young and tender as they get more fibrous and hotter with age. If ordinary radishes are allowed to go to flower, they are good for beneficial insects and then produce pods which are tasty and nutritious while still small and tender. ‘Munchen Bier’ was developed for that purpose. The ‘Black Spanish’ and Japanese radishes are sown after mid-summer and are more like turnips than radishes so treat them as such. They are almost pleasant grated raw in salads.

Land cress resembles watercress, but grows almost anywhere, even in windowboxes, if kept moist. It gives a peppery flavour to salads. Surface sow in situ and keep cutting it back.


Annual Herbs and Salads Sown Once or Twice a Year

Basil is one of the tastiest herbs in the garden — it is a shame it needs so much warmth. It goes so well with tomatoes, with which it also grows happily, and these make a trio with asparagus, but basil dislikes rue. It has been sprayed as an emulsion against asparagus beetle and used as a trap plant for aphids. There are a purple-leaved, a tiny-leaved and a lemon-flavoured version as well as the familiar sweet basil. They are all delicious, though their final heights vary from dwarf to shoulder level — given time and heat. Use basil leaves in salads, with cheese and in quantity with garlic in every tomato dish. Freeze or dry any surplus for winter, as this is sadly a very tender plant. Start basil off in pots in the warm and grow alongside tomatoes or peppers as they like similar conditions. Watch out for aphids, and cut the plants back before flowering.

Claytonia (Montia perfoliata), winter purslane, miners’ lettuce, is a potential weed as it seeds prolifically and comes up everywhere. However, it grows really well, even in midwinter under cover, on any soil. It is very tasty in salads and all the leaves, stalks and flowers are edible. Surface sow anywhere and thin if you wish. Let it self seed because you will want perpetual supplies and give it shady, moist, rich conditions for lush growth. You’ll like it, chickens love it and children will eat it.

Corn salad, lambs’ lettuce, is a very useful winter salad crop, best grown under cover to keep the weather and dirt off the leaves. Corn salad can be sown direct or in pots from spring till mid-autumn and spaced a finger or so apart. Left to flower it resembles small forget-me-nots and self-seeds. Pick individual leaves rather than the whole plant.

Iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) is an ornamental and makes excellent groundcover for barren, hot, dry sites. The leaves can be used in salads or cooked like spinach. It will grow in hot, dry conditions when all else fails. Sow in pots and plant out in early summer. It’s well worth trying though a peculiar texture and strange taste.

Lettuces and endives are among the easiest crops to grow well and yet are often badly grown. Never sow a lot of seed at once, instead sow in small batches in a seedbed. Better still, use multi-celled packs. Sow a few cells each of several varieties every few weeks through most of the year. Thin to one plant per cell and plant out as catch and intercrops putting them in as you pull other plants out. They do best amongst cucumbers, carrots, radish and strawberries, but may not prosper near broccoli. Lettuce can be partly protected from aphids with chervil nearby. Their root aphid over-winters as eggs on poplar trees, later infesting the leaf stalks and forming galls which split in mid-summer when the aphids move on to lettuce. Anthocorid bugs destroy these galls and reduce the pest numbers.

If it is hot, sow lettuce in the shade as the seeds will not germinate if they are very warm. Lettuce is one of the plants that has been shown to take up natural antibiotics from the soil. Birds need keeping off, and slugs controlling. The biggest problem is slow growth caused by lack of water which makes them bitter, so keep them well watered. Salad bowl and cutting varieties make the best use of the ground because they are not prooted at harvest time, but eaten on a cut-and-come-again basis. Cos lettuces are tall and need tying up to blanch them or they may be bitter.

Over winter, lettuce need to be grown under cover not so much for the warmth as for protection from the weather and hungry creatures. There is a tremendous range of lettuce varieties, so try many different ones to see which you enjoy most. I grow dozens, but only a few of each. Endives are grown just like lettuce, but must be blanched or they are too bitter. They can also be cropped on the cut-and-come-again basis, so are economical on the ground. Sow in situ from early summer or, better, start them in cells like lettuce.

Mustard and cress are the easiest of all saladings and quicker than rocket. Just sow them densely in short rows on the flat any day of the year. Spray gently with water, then cover each batch of seed with a clean cardboard mat. Once the seed has germinated well, remove the mat. Cut with scissors when two inches high, they don’t regrow.

Pak choi, leaf mustards and Chinese greens are fast-growing, pest- and disease-resistant additions to other dishes, occasionally used raw in salads but usually cooked, especially stir-fried. Sow in pots or direct, and thin to just less than a foot apart from early summer to autumn. Late crops need a cloche or coldframe to protect their appearance and growth. They benefit from a moist rich soil and slugs may cause problems. Well worth growing under cover in winter as it is very easy and productive — and especially if you like Chinese food.

growing parsley Parsley is very nutritious and is used in countless dishes as well as a garnish and salading. It is biennial so flowers in its second year. Leave to seed, as self-sown plants are always best. Sow soaked seed on the soil surface and barely cover them. Sow once in spring and again in autumn for two years then use self-sown seedlings. Thin plants for seed to one per foot. It will revel in rich, moist conditions and will stand moderate shade. Parsley freezes and dries well and plants can be dug up, potted and moved under cover or cloched for fresh winter leaves. The bigger, continental flat-leaved variety has more flavour than our common curly-leaved form. Both are highly recommended.

Shungiku is an edible, highly decorative chrysanthemum which is rich in vitamin C. It is a good companion for keeping pests away from other plants. Used like Pak Choi and as chop suey greens, it has a very strong flavour and gets bitter once it has started flowering. (The flower petals are good in salads, however.) Very tough and easy to grow, it can be sown direct or in pots from late winter to autumn and under cover.

Summer savory is traditionally grown and used with broad beans and the tips are tasty in salads. It adds a lovely flavour to all savoury dishes. Do not allow it to flower or the flavour goes. Sow shallowly in pots or direct in the soil. It can be dug up and potted for winter use under cover, but dries perfectly well anyway.

06. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Growing Annual Herbs and Salads

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