A taste of summer herbs
What amazing variety of edible plants can be easily grown by children, beginner gardeners and people with no garden at all? Herbs. My colleague, Christiane Share, has picked two summer herbs for this article. Read on and try them for yourself!
Perhaps the best reason to grow herbs this summer is to put an end to being ripped off by the supermarkets with their expensive little packets of ‘fresh’ herbs. Instead, your kitchen windowsill can provide all the convenience and abundance you need. The aroma is wonderful too…
Basil, the ultimate summer ‘King of Herbs’, can be sown now and should germinate and grow quickly as the weather warms up.
In Ireland, basil is grown indoors, in a pot on your sunniest windowsill or in a glasshouse or polytunnel bed.
How to sow
Basil seeds won’t germinate in cold, wet compost. Water your tray enough so compost is moist but not soaked, and sow three or four of the tiny seeds in each module, barely covering with compost. Water very sparingly until you see shoots emerge. If the temperature is above 20 degrees, shoots should appear within a few days.
While they are still quite small, seedlings can be gently pinched out and repotted into individual small pots, in clusters of three seedlings per pot, which will give you good bushy growth. Later re-plant the clustered seedlings in to larger pots.
Growing and harvesting
Water regularly in warm weather, but don’t overwater. Water in the middle of the day. Allowing the soil to dry out a bit between watering will intensify the flavor of the basil.
Picking basil leaves in the right way will encourage further growth. Harvest the top leaves from the plant, pinching out the stem just above its joint with the side shooting leaves. If you see any top leaves of basil beginning to form flowers, pinch these out before they get the chance, so that leaves will continue to grow.
The main reason I grow basil, especially the sweet variety Genovese, is because of its perfect combination with tomatoes. Sweet basil is the variety used to top a pizza or bruschetta and for making pesto. Basil is always used fresh, added to a dish at the last minute to preserve its flavour. Thai basil has purple stems and flowers and is used in Thai curries.
Basil leaves can grow quite large at their peak. If you prefer smaller leaves try the variety Fino Verde.
On the plate
When you are growing your own, fresh basil is an inexpensive summer luxury. Basil pairs well with roasted aubergine and any type of cheese. Try a bowl of strawberries with torn leaves of sweet basil for dessert.
This most popular of culinary herbs, enjoyed since at least 320 BC by the Ancient Greeks, is a plant in no hurry. Seeds take between 42-56 days to germinate. For this reason I suggest buying seedlings. If you want to take the leisurely approach and sow seeds, a tip I have often heard repeated is to soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours prior to sowing and then follow the instructions on your seed packet.
There are flat leafed (Mediterranean) and moss curled varieties of parsley. Flat leaf is great for salads and pestos and curled makes a good garnish, it is handy to grow both. Parsley can be grown indoors in pots for most of the year or outdoors in a sunny spot during the summer months. I grow flat leaf parsley in a bed in the polytunnel, where it does very well for at least six months of the year, requiring only occasional watering.
On the plate
There are so many uses for parsley; it is the star ingredient in the Lebanese salad Tabbouleh. Or try a roast beetroot, feta and parsley salad, where it nicely balances salty and sweet.
Hans Wieland is joint manager of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie or phone 071 9854338.
Questions or comments? Contact Hans at firstname.lastname@example.org.