Tag Archives: growing herbs indoors

Planting up my herb garden

Planting up my Herb Garden

Cooking herbs are essential, aren’t they? How could people possibly manage without bunches of fresh parsley? Or pinches of thyme and marjoram? Or sprigs of mint? Imagine having no handfuls of fresh sage leaves just there when you need them!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly 😉 But I find herbs really are quite easy to grow. Even if you don’t have a garden or outdoor space, your herbs will grow happily in pots on a reasonably sunny window ledge. Before I had my allotment garden, I grew my herbs in pots on my kitchen window ledge or in my yard. Now, I’m growing herbs on the window ledge AND on the allotment. Let me show you what’s where.

Old Thyme plant - New Thyme plants
Old Thyme – New Thyme

My old pot of Thyme was well-used but had grown woody and the leaves are now very small. This Spring I sowed some new Thyme. When I returned to blogging after a long break, I talked about “Making more Thyme“. The thyme has now begun growing on a little and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on my kitchen window ledge. Thyme doesn’t like wet soil, so I find a clay pot is best for growing it.

Pot Marjoram - new plant
Pot Marjoram – new plant

I was aiming to grow Pot Marjoram directly in the herb garden but when the snails ate my seedlings, I resorted to sowing more seed indoors in a seed tray. As with the thyme, the marjoram is growing on a little now and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on the window ledge.

I’ve not harvested leaves from my new thyme or marjoram yet. I’m letting them grow on a little more first. Both my thyme and marjoram plants have benefitted from pinching out – that is removing the growing tips to encourage side growth. If you’re new to gardening or would like to learn more about the process of pinching out, you might like to take a look at the helpful Green Thumb Tip on pinching out by fellow blogger, and experienced gardener, Woodland Gnome, over on her Forest Garden blog.

Titan parsley plants going to seed
Titan parsley plants going to seed

Parsley is a herb I use regularly, so I grow lots of it. Here in my herb garden you can see last year’s parsley plants. This is a flat leaved variety of parsley – “Titan” (from D T Brown). I’ve found it a very sweet, tasty parsley with the deep green leaves produced on short stalks.

I over-wintered some of these plants in pots in the greenhouse so that they still grew and I could harvest from them during the Winter months. Some of the parsley plants just stayed in the ground in a sheltered part of the garden through the Winter and, although they grew more slowly, they were fine. I’ve left my parsley plants to grow their flower heads now and then they’ll hopefully produce seed.

Giant Italian Parsley - in the greenhouse
Giant Italian Parsley – in the greenhouse

This Spring, I’ve chosen a different type of parsley – “Italian Giant” parsley, from the Organic Catalogue. It took the plants a while to get going (though, as with many plants this year, I suspect it did not care for our cold Spring), but now these Italian Giants are beginning to live up to their name.

My Italian Giants are looking rather large for their small pots in the greenhouse so I must get them potted on again soon. I have just begun harvesting leaves from these plants. The large flat bright green leaves are produced on long stalks. I think perhaps this variety doesn’t have quite the full parsley flavour of the “Titan” variety and seems a little drier and less juicy, but it’s still tasty enough.

The Mint cutting in my backyard is growing on into a plant in its own right now
The Mint cutting in my backyard grew on into a plant in its own right

The spearmint plant that I’d nurtured from a cutting a couple of years ago had grown to a nice clump in a pot in my yard. I had hoped to add the mint plant to my new herb garden this Spring, but sadly somehow it didn’t survive the Winter and I lost it altogether.

Large bucket of new herbs
Large bucket of new herbs

To replace my lost mint, I asked a neighbour (who I knew had a large patch of mint in his garden) if he could take a couple of mint cuttings for me. He readily agreed … and the following day presented me with this beautiful large bucketful of herbs – far more than the plant cuttings I was expecting! I could see there was a large clump of spearmint, complete with roots. I could not resist taking a few leaves for a lovely, refreshing cup of mint tea … mmmmm … wonderful.

In the bucket with the mint, there was also a large clump of sage, flowering freely with its gorgeous bee-friendly purple flowers. Sage flowers are so bee-friendly, there were bees visiting these flowers as I was collecting the bucket of herbs from my neighbour, bees visiting while the bucket of herbs stood in my yard and more bees visiting when I took the herbs down to my allotment garden! If you want bees, plant sage!

New sage plants in the herb garden
New sage plants in the herb garden

When I investigated my bucket of new herbs more closely, I found there were two full sage plants, complete with roots. I’ve now planted up these sage plants in the centre of my herb garden, next to my own original sage plants. And the bees are still visiting my sage flowers!

My new Spearmint in a large pot
My new Spearmint in a large pot

I planted my new clump of spearmint into a very large pot and it is currently still standing on the herb garden, though I will be moving it elsewhere in the garden at some point. You have to be careful with mint, as normally it is a very strong grower and can easily do a bit of a take-over in your garden if you aren’t careful. I will choose a permanent spot for my mint when I’ve thought carefully about where will be best. Mint needs rich, moist soil which is quite the opposite of some of the other herbs I like to grow.

Lavender among the herbs
Lavender among the herbs

As well as my culinary herbs, I love lavender. I’ve grown pots of lavender in my yard for years. I love to brush my hands over the leaves and breathe in that beautiful perfume. Lavender is another herb flower that is very popular with bees. The lavender I grow is the old English lavender, “Vera”.

In addition to the lavender plants I keep in my backyard, I have planted out a couple of well-grown lavender cuttings into my herb garden, between the parsley and the sage. I take and cultivate cuttings from my lavender plants to create more plants. As well as receiving unexpected bundles of beautiful herbs from generous neighbours ( 😉 ), taking cuttings is a really useful way of producing new plants for free. I’ll have to show you that process another time.

Pot Marigolds in the herb garden
Pot Marigolds in the herb garden

For the very first time in my life, I am growing Pot Marigolds. I don’t how I’ve never grown them before, but this year I decided to rectify this oversight. I sowed the seeds directly into ‘pots’ in the herb garden. I grew them in bottomless pots so that I knew where I’d sown them! The Pot Marigold plants that the snails have kindly left for me seem to be growing on quite well now and I can even see the promise of flowers.

Soapwort seedlings
Happy, healthy Soapwort seedlings … and they continued to grow

The final herb in my herb garden at the moment is soapwort (Saponaria officinalis). I raised these soapwort plants in my yard a couple of years back (you can read my soapwort tale here). I decided the soapwort plants would benefit from the sunnier position of the herb garden, though, rather like the mint, I’ll need to be careful that the soapwort doesn’t take over, as it too can be a rather vigorous grower.

My soapwort - carefully pruned by the rabbit
My soapwort – carefully pruned by the rabbit

However, I must say, so far there isn’t much chance of the soapwort running amok, as my bob-tailed garden helper is keeping it rather well-pruned! Yes. Of all the herb plants in the herb garden, my visiting rabbit only seems interested in eating … soapwort! 🙂

Are you a herb gardener too? Do you grow your favourite herbs in your garden or in pots?

J Peggy Taylor

Autumn Green Beans

Autumn Green Beans – harvest time

Growing green beans in Autumn has been a first for me this year. Buoyed by the success of my initial air-pruning planting experiment earlier in the Summer, I was keen to keep up my air-pruning experimenting momentum.

Here in northern England we would normally sow green beans in May and harvest them through July and August. I decided to sow my green beans in early August and see what happened.

Primavera Dwarf Green Bean - DT Brown seed packet
Primavera Dwarf Green Bean – DT Brown seeds

The beans I am growing are “Primavera”, which is what we call a French bean – a long,thin and round stringless green bean. As I was growing my plants indoors, the variety I’ve chosen is a dwarf bean – the plants only grow around 2 feet high (60cm). In my earlier post I showed you how I’d sown the beans in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots and their progress up to the end of September. So, how have they fared in the last month?

My first green beans ready to harvest on 7th October
My first green beans ready to harvest on 7th October

On 29th September the two plants in the more successful of the two plant pots had grown to their full height and there were several promising-looking green beans on these plants. I decided to give them another week of growing time before my first ‘harvest’ on 7th October, almost exactly two months after sowing. After I’d picked my first beans, there were still several developing beans left on the plants, plus there were now a few beans growing on the plants in the second plant pot. The two plants in the second plant pot have never quite caught up with the plants in the first pot. In my earlier post I explained that light levels were the issue that made the difference between the two sets of plants. The plants have been growing in a bright, west-facing window.

The less well-grown second pot of green bean plants with their beans ready to pick
The less well-grown second pot of green bean plants with their beans ready to pick

If you’ve grown beans before, you’ll know that regular harvesting normally encourages more beans to grow. I kept the plants well-watered and fed with my ‘Magic Potion’ Comfrey feed and this has kept the developing beans growing well. However, since early October, a few colder nights seemed to begin impacting on the foliage and also killed off the remaining flowers. I began covering the glass of the window each night with some recycled packaging I had to hand. I noticed the green beans on the plants seemed to be growing quite slowly now, although we have had a lot of sunny and warm days in October this year.

Second harvest of green beans ready to pick on 22 October
Second harvest of green beans ready to pick on 22 October

Two weeks later, on 22 October, I ‘harvested’ the second handful of green beans, including a couple from the less successful plants in the second plant pot. I would certainly say that whilst I am pleased that at least some beans did grow on all of the plants, the plants haven’t exactly been prolific! Quite a number of small flower buds developed but then fell off before flowering properly. I don’t see these as problems with the Primavera bean plants themselves, nor the fact the plants have been indoors in air-pruning plant pots, but rather that green bean plants are not built to withstand cooler temperatures.

Successful Sage plant and some of the green beans
Successful Sage plant and some of the green beans

To an extent this was not an unexpected outcome to my Autumn bean growing experiment. In the past, in my eagerness to get things growing in Spring, I’ve sown bean plants too early in May and had them fail because the temperature was too low. Getting the plants to germinate seems relatively easy, but it does seem the weather needs to be warm enough during the day and night to enable the bean plants to be productive. I’m pleased to say the Parsley, Thyme and Sage herb plants that I grew from seed this Spring and that have accompanied the green bean plants on the same window ledge are continuing to flourish.

Flourishing Parsley and Thyme plants with fading green bean leaves
Flourishing Parsley and Thyme plants with fading green bean leaves

I shall try sowing some more of the Primavera dwarf green bean seeds next May and see how they do in Summer … making sure I don’t sow them before it’s warm enough of course!

With all of these green beans and green herbs, I decided to link this post to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week, on the theme of ‘green’. Do take a look at the wonderful greens others have found for the challenge.

J Peggy Taylor

The wonderful texture of Sage leaves

Enjoying aromatic texture: drying and storing Sage

Having fresh herbs to hand makes home cooking even tastier. During the warmer months of the year I like to make sure I’ve got some of my Summer-grown herbs stashed away ready for use in the colder months too. A little while ago I was telling you about the various herbs I am growing and preserving this year.

One of the herbs I grew from seed this Spring was the wonderfully aromatic Sage. I cut my first batch of Sage 6 weeks ago on 24th June and hung it up to dry. Now this week I when I checked its progress I decided it was dried enough and ready to ‘rub’. Rubbing Sage is simply breaking up the dried leaves with your fingertips so that the herb can easily be stored in a jar ready for use.

Dried Sage stems and jar
My first batch of Sage, now dried and ready to store

You can rub Sage onto a plate or other surface but as I only had a small batch to rub I attempted to rub it straight into the jar … most of it went in, as you can see, with only a little escaping onto the clean cardboard beneath. First I removed the Sage leaves from their stem. To do this, hold the base of the stem in one hand and point the leaves downwards. With your other hand, pinch the stem firmly near its base between your thumb and first finger. Then draw your ‘pinch’ downwards, pulling the leaves from the stem as you move towards the top of the stem.

Removing the dried Sage leaves from the plant stem
Removing the dried Sage leaves from the plant stem
Stem and dried Sage leaves now separated
Stem and dried Sage leaves now separated

Now we are ready to rub the Sage leaves. It’s best to lay the leaves down and work with just a few at at time. Hold the leaves between your thumbs and fingertips and literally rub the leaves. If they are dry enough they should break fairly easily, though some may need a little tug to tear them apart. Sage leaves don’t take much processing as we are aiming for small pieces of leaf rather than dust! When all of the leaves have been rubbed they can be stored in an air-tight jar.

Rubbing the dried Sage leaves with my fingers to break them up
Rubbing the dried Sage leaves with my fingers to break them up

I love not only the smell of Sage but the texture of the leaves too, so rubbing the Sage allows me to enjoy both! I think the way the veins grow in the Sage leaves give them such an interesting mosaic texture.

Grey-green Sage leaves with their mosaic texture
Grey-green Sage leaves with their mosaic texture

My Sage plants have also now grown on enough to allow me to cut a second batch today and hang them up in their brown paper packet for drying. This second batch is more substantial than the first. This is because when I cut the Sage I left about one third of the stem on each plant. All of the stems I had left have now re-sprouted strongly. Again I have left a little of each stem to enable the Sage to regrow.

My second batch of Sage, cut and ready to dry
My second batch of Sage, cut and ready to dry

Maybe I will be able to take a third batch for drying before the plants slow down their growth when the weather begins to grow colder and there’s less sunshine – I shall have to wait and see.

Do take a look at the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week for lots more fabulous textures 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

Drying herbs - Sage

Drying herbs for home use: Sage

This year I have started afresh with growing the herbs I use most – some indoors, some in my back yard. I have Parsley, Sage, Thyme and Mint. As well as using fresh herbs over the Summer, I will also cut and dry some sprigs from all of my herbs except the Parsley.

One of the advantages of growing herbs at home is that I can also dry or preserve herbs for use when my herb plants are less productive during the colder months of the year. Sage, Thyme and Mint are all easily dried for future use. I don’t dry Parsley but I generally put some in the freezer from the Summer crop, as well as keeping a pot herb on a warm window ledge over Winter which can still be snipped occasionally for garnishes.

My Sage plants - time to take some cuttings to dry for use later in the year
My Sage plants – time to take some cuttings to dry for use later in the year

Today I was cutting my first batch of Sage for drying. It’s best to cut herbs early in the day before the sun evaporates their plant oils as we want to retain as much of the oils as possible for their flavour and health-giving properties.

Snipping the sprigs of Sage with scissors
Snipping the sprigs of Sage with scissors

I snipped all of the main Sage stems by about two thirds, leaving about a third of each stem, making sure there were some side shoots on each stem stump waiting to sprout away.

The trimmed Sage plants - the side shoots will now grow on
The trimmed Sage plants – the side shoots will now grow on

As I’d been growing this pot of Sage indoors, the cut stems and leaves were clean enough ready to bag up for drying without needing any extra washing.

Wrapping the small bundle of Sage in paper for drying
Wrapping the small bundle of Sage in paper for drying

Then it was a simple task of arranging my bundle of Sage with stem ends together in a paper wrapping. I used some brown kraft paper for wrapping my herbs today, but I’ve also used newspapers or paper bags of various sorts for this purpose.

The bunch of Sage wrapped in paper and ready to hang up to dry
The bunch of Sage wrapped in paper and ready to hang up to dry

All we need to do when drying herbs is to tie up the herbs in small bunches and exclude light to help preserve the colour a little. Small bunches of herbs are best as they dry more evenly. There is always a risk with larger bunches that the leaves will develop mildew rather than drying properly. I also check my herbs after a few days just to make sure they are drying successfully. The bunch of Sage I had cut today I made up into one bundle.

My bundle of paper-wrapped Sage is then hung up to dry with the leaves pointing downwards. Hanging herbs upside-down to dry helps to direct any plant oils in the stems into the leaves, which is where we want them.

I’ll show you the next stage when the Sage is dry – that will be rubbing the Sage and packing it into a jar.

J Peggy Taylor

Fresh cooking herbs on a plate

Handy home-grown herbs

There’s nothing quite like having your own home-grown herbs right there ready to add a handful of fresh flavour to all kinds of cooking. From flans to fish and stews to salads, I really love being able to snip some of my favourite herbs right when I need them.

Not having much space means it makes sense for me to grow the herbs I use most. For me, that means Parsley, Thyme, Sage and Mint. This Spring I sowed my pots of Parsley, Thyme and Sage indoors.

I was starting from scratch with most of my herb plants as the previous plants had either reached the end of their productive lives or succumbed to backyard pests! As an extra precaution I went for indoor window ledge gardening for these three herbs this year.

First Parsley seedling2014
My first parsley seedling of 2014

It seems a long time since I sowed the Parsley seeds in yoghurt pots back in early March and watched the first little green crooks pop up through the compost. After the seedlings had grown on a little, I potted them up into some deeper recycled vegetable trays, spacing out the plants so they had enough room to grow.

Potted-up Parsley seedlings growing their first leaves
Potted-up Parsley seedlings growing their first leaves
A forest of Parsley plants growing in their upcycled plant pots on an indoor west-facing window ledge
A forest of Parsley plants growing in their upcycled plant pots on an indoor west-facing window ledge

The Thyme was sown at the end of March into its own mini-coldframe – an upcycled salad box with a hinged transparent lid. Thyme seedlings really are very small at first so I tend to sow seeds thinly and grow them in a little clump.

The tiny Thyme seedlings germinating in their upcycled mini-coldframe
The tiny Thyme seedlings germinating in their upcycled mini-coldframe

I then leave the Thyme seedlings just as they are without pricking them out separately. When the seedlings grew larger I simply potted up the whole clump into a clay plant pot. I chose a clay pot for the Thyme as it prefers well-drained soil.

My clump of Thyme is growing on well in its clay pot
My clump of Thyme is growing on well in its clay pot

The Sage was sown in early April in its larger sized clay plant pot – Sage also likes well-drained soil. Sage seeds are large enough to sow individually so I carefully distributed twelve of them around the pot. Although it wasn’t especially cold, it took some time to persuade the Sage seeds to germinate. When no seedlings seemed to be appearing I covered the pot loosely with a plastic sheet for about a week, then sure enough, through they all popped up quite quickly after that!

The Sage seedlings were eventually persuaded to put in an appearance - then they all popped through at the same time!
The Sage seedlings were eventually persuaded to put in an appearance – then they all popped through at the same time!

The Sage seedlings certainly very quickly made up any lost growing time – they seemed to shoot away on this sunny west-facing window ledge!

The Sage plants have grown on rapidly after a hesitant start
The Sage plants have grown on rapidly after a hesitant start

The Mint has grown on well from a cutting I obtained late last Summer. After encouraging this herb on my ‘warm’ window ledge over the Winter, I potted it up and placed it out in my yard in early April.

The Mint cutting in my backyard is growing on into a plant in its own right now
The Mint cutting in my backyard is growing on into a plant in its own right now

It’s starting to look like a real Mint plant now and at least it seems our slugs and snails don’t care much for menthol so they are steering clear of it, I’m pleased to say!

I find growing my own herbs is really easy. Herb seeds, some general purpose compost and some containers to grow them in, that’s all you need. You can see I haven’t gone for any fancy stuff here! Apart from the two simple clay pots, most of my ‘plant pots’ are recycled packaging from vegetables or other foodstuffs. Yoghurt pots are another of my favourite upcycled containers, along with milk cartons which I do find can be extremely versatile.

Harvesting fresh herbs couldn’t be simpler – a pair of scissors is all I use. I will usually just cut enough for the cooking task in hand. With Parsley, I harvest starting with the outside leaves. I took my first Parsley ‘harvest’ in early May – that’s a couple of months from sowing the seeds. I’ve aimed to grow enough plants to provide a plentiful supply for our needs, allowing time for the plants to grow on again. The Parsley should continue to grow and provide fresh leaves throughout the year from this indoor planting (unless it gets very cold in winter).

With the Sage, Thyme and Mint, I will continue to use fresh leaves over the Summer. However, I shall also start cutting and drying some of these herbs too, for use during the colder months. I’ll show you more on that another time.

J Peggy Taylor