Thursday, February 11, 2016

End of Season Review - Herbs & Flowers


I grew a variety of herbs this year together with a few pollinator attracting flowers.  Alyssum & lemon bee balm were new to the garden and I enjoyed them immensely.  Both were planted in the straw bales and the alyssum also found a spot in some of the beds.  The plants in the bales didn’t take off until late summer, but once they did it was quite the show, especially when it came to the bee balm:

Lemon Bee Balm - it was gorgeous!

We had a very severe winter in 2014/2015, so I was a bit concerned at the start of the season that some of my perennial herbs had not pulled through.  Even the tough guys like mint took a long time to show any sign of life, but thankfully, almost all the herbs did end up surviving.  The only casualty was the chocolate mint, which I don’t think is quite as hardy.

There were a few standout herbs this year, one of which was the cilantro.  I had some empty space in one of the allium beds at the end of August and, since I hadn’t grown any in the spring, I decided to give a fall sowing a shot.  It was one of those unplanned, spur of the moment sowings that ended up working very well.

Cilantro

I was expecting to get a small picking or two from this patch, so you can imagine my surprise when it took off.  I was able to harvest more than enough to take us through the winter - two large pickings totaling 986 grams (2.17 lbs).  The 2nd picking was courtesy of our unusually long, frost-free fall.

This year I also tried a new variety of basil – Eleonora – which was touted as being basil downy mildew resistant.  And lo and behold – no downy mildew on the basil this year which meant a bumper crop of basil & lots of basil pesto for the freezer:

Eleonora Basil

I decided to plant the basil down the side of the tomato beds instead of in the herb bed this year, which worked quite well this time round.  I had done this a few years ago, but the basil didn't thrive – however that was before the garden was fenced in and many of the seedlings were decapitated by some mischievous bunnies.

The other surprise was a new to me flower/herb – chamomile.  I didn’t have enough asparagus seedlings to fill the 3rd bed, so decided to use the empty spot for the chamomile.  Seven tiny, innocuous seedlings...

Chamomile seedlings in May
 
turned into a huge patch of soft, ferny foliage topped with mounds of flowers:

Chamomile in mid-July
 
The only issue with the chamomile, other than the fact that I couldn’t keep up with harvesting all of the flowers, was that green aphids were attracted to it.  Not a huge problem as they were only on a few of the stems/flowers, which I simply picked off, but they were still somewhat of an annoyance.

Even though I was a bit slack in picking the chamomile later in the season, I still ended up with a lot of flowers, which I dried & stored in jars.  My kids gave me a single serving teapot with a built in strainer for Mother’s Day a couple of years ago, but I don’t often purchase loose leaf tea so I haven’t used it that much.  Not until now, that is – it’s perfect for making my very own chamomile tea:

I have a feeling a lot more tea from the garden is in my future...
 
Other notable harvests were dried dill seed:

Made some bread with a spoonful of these just a few days ago

and a nice big picking of parsley in the fall:

Lots of parsley = Lots of chimichurri in the freezer

One thing I was hoping for last spring was that the parsley would overwinter so that I could harvest some fresh leaves in the spring while the newly sown parsley was still sizing up, but the plants didn’t make it.  This fall, I decided to give them a covering of straw to see if that makes a difference.  Our winter has been nowhere near as severe this time round, so I’m actually quite hopeful that they will make it through.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

I had some wonderful flower & herb surprises this past year.  I’ll be repeating the fall sowing of cilantro – this will provide me with a good stash to freeze for the winter.  I'll also make sure to sow some in the spring, which I will let go to seed.  That’s one thing I missed last season – fresh coriander seed.

I’ll be sticking to the same variety of basil, Eleonora.  I would really like to grow them in the tomato bed again, but since I'll be using a different configuration in those beds this year, I'm not sure if that will be possible.

I will not be sowing any chamomile as I have a feeling that we are going to be inundated with self-sown seedlings.  In fact, the spot where they grew still had a mat of green seedlings before our last snowfall covered them up.  I’ll be digging up any that survive the winter or emerge in the spring & transplanting them elsewhere, although I haven’t decided where yet.  What I do know is that 4 plants will be more than enough for my needs, so long as I keep them picked.

Chamomile harvest

I’ve also decided that even with hardy herbs, it’s better to be safe than sorry – you never know what the winter will throw at you.  To that end, I decided to apply a layer of straw to the herb bed in the hopes of insulating it against winter’s extremes.  I also felt that the container holding the mint was too small, so I transplanted it into a large metal bin, together with some new chocolate mint, and topped it with straw.  This should give it a better chance of pulling through a severe winter, although it doesn't look like that will be put to the test this year.

I’ll be re-establishing the chives this year as well.  They were growing at the edge of the herb bed and since that bed is only raised by 6”, quite a bit of grass had found its way into it.  You can imagine how tedious it was to pick out pieces of grass as I harvested the chives, so I decided to rip them out last fall and I’ll be planting a new clump this year.

And lastly, I didn’t end up purchasing a new rosemary plant last year to replace the one that died over the winter, so that will also be on my purchase list for the garden centre this spring, together with whatever else tickles my fancy...it's impossible to walk out of one of those places without a few impulse purchases :)

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

24 comments:

  1. Loved this post and the comments. Made me smile because chocolate mint (geranium) is one of my best and easiest plants as is rosemary. Investigate the different rosemaries as there are many kinds, surely one will work for you. Such are the differences of latitude, like 14 F/C and 85F, today's high temperatures.

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    1. Thank you Jane! Isn't that the way - one gardeners struggle is another's "piece of cake"! I have looked into hardy rosemary varieties, but unfortunately there are none that can withstand our winters. My downfall is not so much with growing it outside, but overwintering it inside - that's usually when my houseplant brown thumb kicks. Although I must say that, with the kids getting older and being less of a handful, I've improved in that regard. I now have a few small plants in our family room that are doing quite well.

      Enjoy your 85 degrees...here I sit with winds howling and -16C/3F. But that didn't stop me from going for my walk. Nothing feels better than getting cozied up when back inside :)

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  2. That would be fun to make your own Chamomile tea! I love Cilantro, so my mouth was watering when I read that part. Suddenly, I have a craving for some fresh Salsa with lots of Cilantro. You certainly have a productive garden!

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    1. Thanks Beth - the chamomile was just crazy! I definitely want to try a few more herbs that would be good for tea & have been toying with the idea of a dedicated herb bed (but not this year!). The cilantro was so easy to grow & I could see it doing well in a semi-shaded spot, perhaps in a pot...hint hint ;)

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  3. I'm very keen on growing herbs - we use a lot in our cooking - but several of my least favourite ones are on your list: Dill, Cilantro, Chamomile! We use lots of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, plus Chives and Mint. We tend to pick just a little at a time, rather than making a measurable "harvest". I don't think dried or frozen herbs are anywhere near as good as fresh ones, with one exception: Oregano. Dried Oregano is very different to fresh, but also very nice!

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    1. Two of your least favourite and two of my favourites, especially the cilantro! I do pick a bit of this and that throughout the growing season, but it's lovely to be able to have some put by for the winter. I've tried to grow some herbs in pots over the winter, but have never been successful, so frozen is about as close to fresh as I can get. It's not to bad, though, as I find frozen comparable to fresh when used in cooked dishes. The cilantro (which I know you hate!) is good even when not cooked, but stirred into dips...I use it a lot for things like raita. You are right about dried oregano & I would also put thyme in that category too - I prefer to use those when making slow simmered dishes.

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  4. I adore that single serve tea pot! I didn't know such a thing existed and will be on the lookout for that as I enjoy mint tea and would also like to try the chamomile. And yes-I do believe you'll have PLENTY of seedlings of that popping up. Everywhere. Yep.......
    LOL!
    Have a great weekend and Happy Valentines Day

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    1. The teapot is so cute, isn't it? And the metal strainer has TINY holes so that you get all the flavour and the tea still comes out perfectly clear with no bits at the bottom of the cup. They purchased it at DavidsTea which I believe now has many stores in the United States.

      Yikes...judging from the mounds of seedlings that popped up in the bed later in the season, I am going to have my job cut out for me!!

      Have a wonderful Valentines day too!

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  5. Coriander/cilantro never does well for us - it goes over too quickly

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    1. You know, that happened to me in the past as well...each plant produced 3 or 4 leaves and then bolted - it was hardly worthwhile. I think that the variety makes all the difference - I purchased a slow bolting variety, not expecting much actually as you know how seed packets sometimes give these glorious descriptions that don't end up being exactly accurate. Well, in this case I was definitely pleased. For the type of weather you have there, I wouldn't be surprised if it was simply a matter of finding a good, slow-bolting variety.

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  6. I love all the different herbs you're growing, so fun! Your basil, chamomile, and cilantro look absolutely lovely. I'll be trying lots of different herbs and flowers this year as well, we have a flower bed up against the house that's edged by a walkway which might be perfect for mint.

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    1. Each year I seem to be growing a few more flowers & herbs. The strictly ornamental ones, like the petunias I also grew last year, are picked by my daughter - it's actually quite wonderful as I'm usually so focused on edibles or those that benefit the vegetable garden in some way.

      And that does sound like the perfect spot for mint - can't wait to see which flowers & herbs you decide to grow.

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  7. My gosh, the cilantro! No matter what I do I just get tiny bolting plants. I'd like to know what you did to the dill seed to get them so clean. Mine always has tiny spears attached.

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    1. I was commenting to Sue that I think variety makes all the difference with cilantro - I actually can't recall the variety I'm growing at the moment, but will make sure to note that in a post when I sow the seeds.

      Oh yes, cleaning the dill seed...not exactly easy. I tried to do the winnowing trick first and, as you can imagine, just as much seed as chaff blew away. So that left me with picking out the chaff by hand, which actually wasn't too bad, considering. I placed the seeds in a large metal bowl and shook the bowl a few times. A lot of the chaff would come to the surface where I picked it off. Took probably about 10 minutes of shaking and picking, but well worth it in the end.

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    2. Oh yes, forgot to mention - I let the flowers dry completely, then rub the seeds off of the flowers with my fingers and the seeds come cleanly away with no tiny spears attached :)

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  8. Mint is definitely a bit of a thug. When we took on our first allotment, it was covered in it and we never successfully got rid of it. It was very pleasant as we wandered round though as there was such a lovely scent underfoot. Herbs are something I've never really grown as we don't use them very much in cooking but I've started building up a bit of a collection over the last couple of years which has encouraged me to experiment a bit with them in the kitchen too.

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    1. I have seen some lovely herb gardens, and one in Niagara Falls really stands out as it was absolutely gorgeous with mounds of herbs that were both neatly and naturally laid out. It was quite inspirational.

      In my first garden, I planted mint in the ground...and then let it go to seed. Yes, I was pretty much clueless ;) I don't think I ever successfully removed it all & I felt quite badly for the new owners when we sold the house.

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  9. Interesting post. I need to grow some camomile to make some tea. I never did trim my mint back so wondering what I will find in the spring! Nancy

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    1. If the mint went to seed, you may find a whole lot of baby mint in your garden this spring! The chamomile was fun to grow & I'm looking forward to it this year again - I wonder if I'll still think that when I'm inundated with volunteer seedlings ;)

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  10. The chamomile is lovely, I remember when you posted the picture of that bowlful! I also ripped out my chives, although I had grabbed a clump before doing so and transplanted. I'll see how it does in the new space but might have to get some new stuff this year (couldn't live without chives in the backyard).

    I think I'll try cilantro in the fall - it always bolts on me but wow, you sure had a successful fall planting for your herbs!

    A nice picturesque post, Margaret!

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    1. Thanks Susie - I was thinking of replanting a clump of the chives elsewhere, but as the grass was growing amongst the chives, I figured it was better to start fresh. Kind of a bummer as they do take a season to really get going, so I'll likely not be able to harvest that much this year.

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  11. That bee balm is incredible! I love all the monardas. I'm going to see if I spot to squeeze this one in. :o)

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    1. Also, thanks for the heads up about the mildew resistant basil. Woo hoo!! Off to order seeds. :o)

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    2. The bee balm definitely exceeded my expectations; I'm thinking that I'll be planting a few in the beds as well as in the bales this year.

      When I first saw mildew on the basil and then read how widespread an issue it was, I started to think I wouldn't be able to grow it anymore. So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard about the Eleonora basil...and I'm even more thrilled now that its actually lived up to it's claim!

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