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How To Over-Winter Your Herbs

Over-winter herbs to add soul to warming winter cuisine. With a little bit of care you can keep a fresh supply growing through frosty winters.

potted herbs lighten up a doorway over-winter herbs
Potted herbs and flowering plants lighten up this doorway .

 

While it’s goodbye to summer favourites like basil, mint and chillies there are many other herbs that can happily survive through winter if they are cared for correctly.

Robust culinary herbs like thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, chervil, and even sage, are hardy enough to survive our dry, cold and even frosty winters provided you find a sunny, sheltered spot for them.

In winter, herbs need at least four hours of sun a day, and they should be kept out of cold winds, especially if the soil becomes too wet. The best way to ensure this is to pot up a few of your favourite herbs and move them as the sun moves.

Sage is probably the least hardy of the herbs but leaves can still be harvested up until the end of July even though they get smaller and smaller. Sage is also the most sensitive to over watering so the potting soil should drain well. In spring they will sprout again and throw up lovely spikes of mauve flowers.

Sage, parsley and thyme also have medicinal properties for treating winter ailments like coughs, colds, and sore throats. By adding hyssop, which has expectorant properties for relieving bronchitis, and yarrow for lowering fevers, it is also possible to have home-grown winter remedies on hand.

If there is not an area in the garden that receives consistent winter sun, then containers are the best option. Choose containers that are at least 20cm in diameter (larger is better) have drainage holes and are deep enough for the herb’s roots to develop. Use a normal commercial potting soil that drains well.

Generally potted herbs only need to be watered one or twice a week in winter, preferably in the morning. Check the soil moisture levels daily because the soil should not dry out completely. Herbs don’t like wet feet so don’t put saucers underneath the pots.

Another option, especially for apartment dwellers, is to grow herbs on a windowsill that receives winter sun.

Ideally herbs are meant to be grown in full sun, in well-drained soil. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them on your windowsill. You just need to adjust your expectations.

Don’t expect them to act like perennials. Treat them like any other flowering pot plant that you buy for the house and discard when it has finished flowering.

The same applies to herbs. Use them and when they start looking sickly, turf them out and buy a new pot. It doesn’t mean you have failed as a gardener.

The reason why such herbs have a limited lifespan is that the windowsill pots are actually too small for sustainable growth and they are probably not getting enough light. It is also possible that the air may be too hot or steamy and that the temperature changes are too extreme.

Try grouping the herbs close together so that the transpiration from the massed leaves creates some humidity. It’s also an idea to stand the pots on a layer of gravel as this helps retain moisture and keeps them cool without the plants becoming waterlogged.

Their life can also be extended by feeding with a liquid plant food at half the strength. Also, don’t over water. Once a week should be enough.

Keep the soil feeling slightly damp, but not sodden or bone dry. Check that they aren’t sitting in a saucer of water. This causes the roots to rot and the plant to die very quickly.

When harvesting collect small quantities at a time and always leave two growth points on the twig for re-shooting. Instead of cutting at random rather use the opportunity to pinch out or prune the plant to encourage bushiness

Once picked handle the herbs as little as possible because the subtle nuances of flavour are lost if handled or allowed to wilt.

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Spring Vegetable Growing Tips

spring vegetable growing tips from bouquet garni nursery

spring vegetable growing tips from bouquet garni nursery

Herbs and vegetables are natural companions. If you grow fresh herbs you’re bound to also love the idea of harvesting your own home grown tomatoes, beans, lettuce and anything else in season. We can dream after all!

Here’s our top spring vegetable growing tips and a proven  list of popular veggies that can be sown in the garden or in pots in South Africa from mid August to the end of November.

Salad Vegetables

  • Tomatoes – good varieties are Heinz 1370, Moneymaker, Oxheart, Floridade
  • Cucumber if you have space because it’s a vigorous creeper
  • Lettuce – especially those that don’t form a head, like Lollo Rosso and Lollo Biondo because the individual leaves can be harvested for up to three months
  • Sprouts – one of the easiest ways to get fresh salad greens
  • Radishes – Sparkler and Cherry Belle.

NB: For lettuce choose a spot that gets afternoon shade or dappled sunshine because full sun in summer is too hot and the lettuce will quickly go to seed.

vegetable growing kit

Vegetables for Small Gardens

Spinach (especially ‘Bright Lights) beetroot, lettuce, bush beans, eggplant, chillies, summer cabbage (‘Cape Spits) and leeks. All these are compact growing vegetables and veggies like lettuce, beetroot and spinach can be used as borders. Chillies also make beautiful pot plants.

Find out How To Start Your Own Herb Garden!

Vegetables in Pots

Tomatoes can be a bit overwhelming for a garden bed but you can plant a tomato bush in a large pot (about 20 liter) and train it up a trellis or pyramid. To contain its growth pinch off the growing tips when it reaches the desired size otherwise you could have a monster. The small cherry tomato ‘Sweety’ is particularly good in pots.

Other runner plants like peas and beans can also be planted in pots and supported on a frame. Try chillies and eggplant in pots as well.

tomato plant in fruit grown in a container
Tomatoes can be a bit overwhelming for a small garden but you can plant a tomato bush in a large pot (about 20 liter).

Vegetables for Large Gardens

If you are lucky enough to have plenty of space you can also grow the more rambling types of vegetables like squash, patty pans, cucumber, and watermelon.

 

Vegetable Growing Tips

Like herbs, vegetables do best if grown in a sunny position. Prepare the beds by digging them over well and mixing in compost. Growing veggies from seed is much cheaper than buying seedlings and most veggies can be sown in situ. Just store the left over seeds in the seed packet in the fridge or in a dark drawer and they will remain viable for longer.

There’s a saying that ” a good gardener always plants three seeds – one for the grubs, one for the weather and one for himself.” It seems to work.

Keep the soil moist during germination and thin out the seedlings when they are big enough to handle. For a good crop fertilise with a balanced organic fertilizer two weeks after germination and at monthly intervals after that.

All the planting instructions are on the seed packet (planting depth, final spacing etc) so don’t forget to read the instructions!

To control insects spray with Ludwig’s Insect Spray or Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide. Both are ECOCERT approved for use by organic gardeners.

And a last word from Prince Charles:

To get the best results you must talk to your vegetables.

herb growing kit

 

click to download master chef cheat sheets

This article wad first published in September 2015 and updated on 26 October 2016.

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5 Proven Mixed Herb Pots or Window Boxes

a selection of herbs planted in  a window box
Window boxes are ideal for planting a selection of herbs. Here we have garlic chives, parsley, lemon thyme and basil growing happily together.

Herbs can be grown very successfully in containers and can be an attractive addition to any garden or patio. Apart from their aesthetic value, they are a practical solution for people who have limited gardening space at their disposal.

Most garden centres and nurseries stock a large selection of containers. They come in many shapes and sizes and are made from various materials like plastic, concrete and real clay. Finding the right container is a matter of personal taste, as almost any container can be used for planting herbs.

Herbs can be planted on their own or in combination with other herbs. When planting more than one variety in a container, care should be taken that there will be ample growing space for all the plants.

Prune the faster growing varieties regularly to ensure they do not overgrow their slower companions. Also, competition for space and nutrients will result in some varieties flourishing while others will suffer and, in most cases, eventually die.

It is never wise to plant any of the mint varieties in the same container as other herbs. In most cases the mint will overgrow the entire pot.

Proven Mixed Herb Containers

An Italian Chef’s Selection

Sweet basil
Italian parsley
Oregano
Marjoram
Thyme

A Perfume Pot

Lavender
Rose scented geranium
Lemon balm
Lemon thyme
Pineapple sage

A Salad Bowl

Garlic chives
Rocket
Salad burnet
Parsley
Celery

A French Chef’s Selection

Tarragon
Chervil
Parsley
Chives
Sage

A First-Aid Medicine Chest

Hyssop
Peppermint (prune regularly to prevent it from overgrowing the other herbs)
Rue
Thyme
Yarrow