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The sun is warm, the blossoms are out and Spring is here.
I feel like singing and… I feel like gardening. So this week I’m going to satisfy the call of Spring by planting herbs in pots. Growing herbs in pots will let me save them from wilting and dying when frosts roll through Canberra.
Fresh herbs turn an ordinary dish into a flavour sensation. I use them when roasting in the oven – rosemary with potatoes, crispy sage with pumpkin and parsley on carrots. I also use fresh herbs to add flavour to salads and love the way Asian basil and coriander completes Vietnamese rice paper rolls. Yum.
To grow your own herbs, you’ll need a sunny spot for your herb pots.
Choose somewhere close to your kitchen, preferably somewhere where you can see the pots every day. This will help you remember to water the herbs and make it easier to harvest them. Make sure you know where you’ll move them to for frosty nights. I have herbs on my deck and pull them up against the house when a frosty night is on the way.
Next, grab some soil that’s rich in nutrients. Try compost, either homemade or bought from a local supplier. If you’ve got a worm farm or can source some from a friend, mix some of their worm wee or liquid gold through the soil too.
Finally, think about what you’ll use in the kitchen and choose your herbs. Some herbs are best grown from seed and some from separated clumps or cuttings. You can also buy small herb plants at your local nursery or at some farmers markets.
Here are my tips on the easiest herbs to grow and eat in Canberra
- Flat leafed parsley grows well in almost any amount of neglect, sunshine, shade, drought or flood. Parsley continues to grow year-round, even in Canberra. It self-seeds, so if you leave the flowers, you’ll have parsley popping up all over your garden. I use parsley leaves fresh on top of salads or tossed through boiled potatoes, but my favourite dish with parsley is a hot green salsa to accompany cooked meat.
- Mint is best straight from the garden as the leaves quickly bruise and dry out if you’re storing it. That’s why I love growing my own. I love it scattered on top of salads – it adds a beautiful fresh zing. Buy some in a small pot now or wait until November and ask a friend to separate their clump for you.
- I use rosemary with lamb and potatoes in the winter and in a green salsa in the summer. It comes from the rocky hillsides of the Mediterranean and is a very hardy plant. Grow it from cuttings or a small potted plant. .
- There are many types of basil. I use sweet basil in Italian cooking – think fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella salad. I use Thai basil in Asian stir-fries and rice paper rolls. Grow from seed right now and all through the summer. Basiul is sensitive to cold temperatures and frost, so bring your pot inside when it’s cool overnight. If you want to feel really smug at Christmastime, pop some basil seeds in little pots right now and give lush, green basil pots as Christmas gifts.
- Oregano will supply you with flavour no matter how harsh the growing condition – full sun or shade, clay or compost soil. Grab a small pot now or ask a friend to separate a clump in November. Oregano is also a great herb to dry, then give away to friends or family. I love oregano in Italian tomato sauces on pizza or in pasta.
So, get growing and harvesting your herbs. The more you harvest, the more new leaves will sprout. Regular harvesting will also help remind you to water and prevents disease.
I’m looking forward to being a part of the burst of life that comes with Spring. I can’t wait to taste the flavour sensation that fresh herbs add to my cooking and I love knowing that I can cheat winter’s last gasp in October by growing my herbs in pots.
Some further reading on the sustainable gardening of herbs
Alexander, Stephanie 2009, Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion, Penguin Group (Australia), Camberwell
Canberra Organic Growers Society: http://www.cogs.asn.au
French, Jackie 2000, the best of Jackie French, HarperCollins Publishers, Sydney