Allotment herbs and flowers

This is the time of year when I am doing extensive work with herbs: I’m either planting or transplanting, drying or freezing, all in order to have enough fresh herbs to get through the winter. Because people often don’t realise that herbs can really change the way we cook and taste food, I thought I’d do a couple of blogs on how I store my herbs to get me through the winter.

• Different herbs require different treatment – we freeze parsley for example by laying it out on large trays and open freezing it. Then we put it in plastic bags and use a rolling pin to crush it before putting it in small plastic boxes so that a pinch or two can be added to an omelette mix, while a ladleful gets shoved into a minestrone soup.
• I dig up the tarragon (French, never Russian) and divide it, putting one plant in each unheated greenhouse and replanting the rest, ensuring that there’s reasonable shelter and drainage. Tarragon sometimes makes it through the winter here, and sometimes doesn’t, so having plants in the greenhouse to replant in April when the heavy frosts are over is an insurance policy. Dividing tarragon also keeps the plant vigorous so that it produces more leaves.
• Basil is fast growing and tender and gets sown every six weeks or so through the winter, starting off in the kitchen and when the plants have four leaves, being moved out to the greenhouses – this gives us a constant succession of large-leaved succulent basil to eat. While the winter growth is slow, it’s great to have fresh basil in January and for the price of just one pot of supermarket basil I can sow four or five 20cm pots with seed which keep us going for half the year.
• In this picture, along with the marigolds I use to make salads and the nerines I grow because I love the colour, you can see the lemon balm and scented-leaf pelargoniums. We use both in cold drinks in summer, by freezing the leaves into ice-cube trays or skewering them with slices of fresh fruit on the rim of a glass. The lemon balm just gets thrown away in November, with a single root being replanted in a pot in the cold greenhouse – replanted outdoors in a pot in April, it’s always a huge bush by June – basically it’s a herbal thug which is never allowed near open ground as it runs riot. The pelargoniums are different: because their scent is so redolent of summer, I like to keep them in flower all year if I can, which means moving them indoors (they need 7C or more at night to stay in bloom) and cutting them back by about half, so they don’t need too much water which can cause them to rot if the temperature drops unexpectedly. I use the lemon-scented pelargonium leaves to flavour scones and cakes as well as adding them to flower arrangements in winter so that by brushing or pinching the leaves as I pass, I can scent the room with them. Also in the photo is tansy which can be used as an insecticide, although it's probably not recommended around fish as it can kill them.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Anonymous EdibleLandscapeDesign said...

I'm going to have to get out my little greenhouse this year -- I never thought of keeping the basil in it. For some reason I've never been able to overwinter my basil indoors, which I think is due to not enough light.

I've never tried freezing parsley either. Great ideas!

October 4, 2011 at 7:15 AM  
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October 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Light and moisture are big issues for basil. We stand our greenhouse basil pots on white polysterene tiles: this ensures insulation below the roots from a killer frost and also reflects light back up into the leaves whenever there is any sun at all, so doubling the amount of ambient light the plant recieves. We also water with house temperature rather than greenhouse temperature water so the roots don't get shocked by the cold.

October 6, 2011 at 3:30 AM  

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