Worms and Flowers

Growing Herbs and Spices

Posted in Herbs, How To by Lzyjo on July 13, 2009

One of the true delights of gardening is the access to fresh herbs. Herbs are wonderful fresh, but they are also great when dried. There is an amazing difference between herbs dried fresh and those dried before Pontius was a Pilot.

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Italian Parsley 'Gigante' Seedling

Annuals are some of the easiest and fastest herbs to grow. They will produce spices (seed) the first year. Annual herbs  include anise, angelica, basil, borage, chamomile, chervil (french parsley,) coriander, cumin,  dill, epazote, fenugreek, nigella, aka, love in a mist, mustard and parsley root.

Cilantro can be used as an herb and later in the season harvested for the coriander seeds. Dill leaves can also be used fresh or dried, (in cumbers dishes,  Swedish meatballs, etc.), and then harvested for the dill seeds, an important pickling spice.

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Basil 'Genovese'

Perennial herbs include catnip, chives, lemon balm, lavender hardy to Zone 5, hyssop, anise hyssop, sweet marjoram, mint, oregano hardy to Zone 5, a Dave’s Garden user reported Greek Oregano overwintering in Zone 3 with mulch. Sage hardy zone 5 possibly lower, rosemary no colder than zero, in Zone 6 it’s likely you will lose plants in the ground during bad winters even with mulch, thyme hardy to Zone 4 .

When grown from seed, perennial herbs usually flower the second year, although I grew a lavender and it waited until this year, the third year, to flower.

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Culinary Sage started this spring

Perennials grown as annuals include fennel and marjoram. Fennel is usually harvested for the bulb the first year before flowering, which occurs during the second year. Marjoram is technically a perennial, but is usually grown as an annual because it is unlikely to survive harsh winters with temperatures lower than zero, possibly hardy to zone 6.

Caraway and Parsley, are two of the few herbs which are biennials.

There are two different savories, Winter Savory and Summer Savory, both have a similar spicy flavor, but Summer Savory, the preferred drying savory, is an annual, while Winter Savory is a perennial hardy to Zone 5.

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SLOOOOOW growing Rosemary 'Romero'

Marjoram and other semi-hardy perennials, like rosemary, can always be overwinter in pots. If you have a sunny location that’s great, if not store the plants is a basement or storage room and withhold water. Rosemary is one of the trickier herbs to grow from seed, they are sometime slow to germinate and slow growing after germination. For busher plants pinch seedlings once they have approximately 6 sets of leaves.

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Greek Oregano started this spring

When herbs are dried the water evaporates, shrinking the leaves and concentrating the flavor. When substituting dry herbs for fresh it is best to use only 1/3 or 1/4 of the amount suggested and vice-versa.

One of my favorite all-purpose seasonings is Herbes de Provence. Although the name suggests a venerable origin in the pantries of the Francais it is a much more recent invention. French spice-giant Ducros, now owned by McCormick, was the first manufacturer to market Herbes de Provence in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, Provencal cuisine traditionally used the same herbs, but cooks would have used each herb separately and with discretion.

Ducros recommends Herbes de Provence for soups, stews, casseroles, anything roasted, and even pasta sauce.

Here is a basic guideline for Herbes de Provence.

Primary Herbs

  • Thyme
  • Savory, preferably Summer Savory
  • Marjarom
  • Rosemary

Secondary Herbs

  • 1 or 2 crushed Bay Leaves
  • Lavender flowers
  • Oregano
  • Tarragon
  • Sage
  • Chervil

Optional Herbs

  • Mint
  • Fennel seeds
  • Basil

Overwintered Peppers–The Results

Posted in Peppers by Lzyjo on June 9, 2009

Last autumn I posted about my experiment overwintering peppers. This spring the results are in. The good news is it works! But the bad news is, it only works about 40% of the time. Two out of five. Below is a photo of one of the hot pepper plants I removed from the garden. I removed all the peppers I could find and then lopped off the truck, leaving a few inches for new growth to grow from.

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This is how the trunks look after the foliage has been cut off. All of the plants that did overwinter grew new growth almost immediately.

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For whatever reason one of the plants that had overwintered died after being planted out. The others are growing very nicely.

It was almost impossible to get the peppers to sustain growth through the winter. I just didn’t have enough light. It would most likely require grow lights to fruit indoors. I have some to the conclusion that it is just not worth the effort to trick the plant into growing.

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Above is the same hot pepper plant shown against the fence. It is already flowering and a lot bigger than this year’s transplants, only time will tell if the harvest is consistent with last year’s.

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Above is Sheepnose pimento, this plant was started late in the season last year and had not yet fruited when everything was starting to go dormant. It kept its leaves through the winter and it already had three large pimentos on it!

In consulsion I  rate this experiment as a moderate success. I recommend to anyone interested in trying this, to use a good number of plants to increase the probibility of a successful overwinter. Keep in mind that the peppers I used are Capsicum Annum, not the hardier South American C. pubescens, which has been recommended for overwintering.

Overwintering Peppers

Posted in How To, Peppers by Lzyjo on December 27, 2008

Most of us grow peppers as annuals, but all peppers are actually perennials, even the species Capsicum Annum, which can be overwintered and planted out again.

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The genus Capsicum includes over 20 pepper species, but most popular varieties are included in the five domesticated species, C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and C. pubescens. The species Capcuscum Annum includes sweet bell peppers, cayenne, Anaheim, de Arbol, and Jalapeno, while Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros belong to the species Capsicum chinense. The famed Naga Jolokia, aka, Bhut Jolokia the hottest pepper in the world, is a naturally occurring hybrid between C. chinense and C. frutescens. The species C. Frutescens includes Thai Peppers and the Tabasco pepper, which was originally imported from the Mexican State of Tabasco, before it was made famous by the Louisiana-based manufacturer of Tabasco Sauce. According to the TheChileman.org, the hairy stemmed peppers in the species Pubescens, which are native to the mountains of South America are more tolerant of cooler conditions and tend to overwinter best.

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I found a great guide to overwintering on The Chileman.org, my absolute favorite chili resource. The first thing to do is dig up the pepper plants before the first frost. Remove any fruits and cut off all of the foliage and branches, leaving a stump. Cut off a proportionately large amount of roots and plant in a container, tamping down the soil with a skewer or chopstick. Two to three weeks later, new growth is sprouting from nodes along the trunk. Water the peppers when new growth starts to form, or if the soil looks very dry. Currently more than 50% of my peppers of putting out new growth. So at least I’ll have a head start on my chilies for next year, if not some fruits during the winter.

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In conclusion, overwintering peppers is a fun experiment. Personally, hot peppers grow very well for me, with few pests, but I have terrible luck with sweet peppers. They are sensitive to temperature changes and moisture changes, which most of the times causes them to shrivel up before they reach picking size. Just this year my California Wonder pepper finally starting producing at the end of October. So, maybe next year the plant can start off where it left off. One thing is for sure, I’ll be mulching my peppers next year.

Thanks to a number of great responses on my first overwintering peppers post, I learned some additional facts about growing peppers as perennials.

What I didn’t know before was peppers do not need to go dormant to be overwintered. If provided enough light, peppers can grow year-long and fruit indoors. Patrick of Bifurcated Carrots posted about a Siberian pepper plant that fruits and even flourishes in low indoor light conditions.

According to fellow organic gardener Mr. Tummas, at Growing Groceries, it is possible for peppers to be grown for several years in the same pot.

There are also some great pictures on the wonderful blog Mas Du Diable, where blogger Laura Hudson has posted the results of her in-the-ground overwintering experiments. Laura has successfully overwintered the same pepper plant for three years. It’s massive. Check out the post.

There is no consensus on the best practices for growing peppers as perennials and material from official sources is nonexistent. It is an an experimental process. There’s nothing to lose, at least it will be an educational experience.

Thanks to everyone for commenting and contributing their knowledge.

“Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs. ” – Albert Einstein