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Virginia Cooperative Extension

Herb Supplement - A Guide to Growing and Using Herbs
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Summer in the Herb Garden

A Time for Nurturing
Welcome HERB gardeners! This quarterly supplement to the monthly post, Between the Rows - A Guide to Vegetable Gardening, provides additional information on growing and using garden herbs. VCE supports local gardeners with a host of resources, including free classes, plant clinics and this newsletter. Want to know more? Subscribe here to receive future issues. Missed out on past issues? You can get them all here.
Herb Supplement
Summer To Do List
  • Regularly prune/harvest herbs to promote vigorous, well-shaped, sturdy growth and to stimulate additional regrowth
  • Deadhead herbs by pinching or snipping florets or seed heads off the top of the plant to prevent bolting and 'going to seed'
  • Continue to direct sow basil every 2-3 weeks for continual replacement
  • Continue to divide "runner" herbs, such as mint, bergamot, and artemesia
  • Harvest garlic when about half the leaves die-back/yellow; dry and cure before storing
  • Discontinue some less heat tolerant herbs, such as cilantro and dill (pull spent plants)
  • Propagate herbs from layering woody-stemmed herbs such as lavender, sage, savory, and certain thymes
  • Mulch base of plant to speed growth, conserve water, and reduce weeds
  • Refrain from overwatering plants as many herbs cannot tolerate overly damp soils and require good drainage
  • Regularly inspect and monitor herbs for common pests, such as whiteflies, spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, scale insects, and ant thrips
  • Harvest and store over abundant herb supplies through drying, freezing, and preserving herbs for future use
Plant, Pest or Other Garden Questions?

Contact the VCE Horticulture Help Desk 

Knowledgeable Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteers are available to answer questions Monday-Friday from 9am to noon.
General information covered in Between the Rows vegetable garden posts on intercropping, container gardening, and best practices to avoid common pest and disease problems are similar to those for an herb garden. (See previous posts for May and June.)

Continue to refer to herb planting schedules and VCE's guidance on herb cultivation. Specific tips for most common herbs can be found in this useful directory. For chili peppers, some recommend pinching out early flower buds and small fruits to produce stronger, more prolific plants. Generously mulch base of pepper plant to speed growth, conserve water, and reduce weeds. Peppers also do well in containers

Most herbs should be watered thoroughly and then the soil should be allowed to dry out somewhat before watering again. Plants also should be watered earlier in the day to allow the plant's leaves to dry before nightfall. Few herbs will grow in moist-to-wet soils. Some exceptions include monarda, comfrey, lemongrass, mints, parsley; however, some tender annuals may require more moist conditions. Some herbs (French tarragon, chervil, cilantro, cumin, and chamomile) are particularly susceptible to humidity and may grow best in containers under more controlled conditions. Other herbs that generally grow well in containers include basil, chives, coriander, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage. 

Herbs need to be regularly and generously pruned or harvested to promote vigorous, well shaped, sturdy growth but also sustained regrowth. In some cases, up to 50-75% of a plant's current season's growth can be harvested at one time. Begin harvesting when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. As a general rule, harvest herbs when the oils responsible for their flavor and aroma are at their peak. Proper timing, however, will depend on the plant part you are harvesting and its intended use (e.g., flower, leaf, root, seed). 

Some leafy herbs, such as mints and lemon balm, will be starting to reach their peak and will be ready for harvest. Herbs can be stored through drying or freezing, but can also be preserved in vinegars and oils as well as a range of non-food uses (e.g., potpourri or homemade body products).

  • Drying herbs is perhaps the more traditional method of herb preservation either hanging herbs from a drying rack (tying stems into small bundles) or spreading out herbs (onto paper towels or screens) in a dry war airy place out of the sun until the surface moisture has thoroughly evaporated. Other drying tips may include using heat from an oven or microwave or a home dehydrator.
  • Freezing herbs is another option to preserve herbs either by placing coarsely chopped herbs in ice cube trays or spreading herbs loosely onto a cookie sheet to freeze.
Here is more detailed information on harvesting and storing herbs for future use, among other online resources on drying and preserving herbs. Making and storing pesto is another popular use of fresh leafy herbs—and not just using basil varieties, but also using any variety of sage, mint, lemon balm, nettle, shiso/perilla, or other types of leafy herbs and edible weeds.  
Fun Ways to Use Herbs

Lavender Syrup for Lavender Lemonade 
Follow general instructions above on how to make a simple syrup using one cup of dried culinary lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) instead of ginger. Add lemonade to simple syrup (amount depending on taste).

Homemade Insect Repellent
Use dried or fresh herbs such as peppermint, spearmint, lemongrass, catnip, lavender. Boil one cup of distilled water and add 3-4 tablespoons of dried herbs. Mix well, cover, and let cool. Strain out herbs out and mix water with one cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Decant to a spray bottle and store in cool location. (Alternatively add 30-50 drops of essential oils—such as lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, cedar, catnip, lavender, or mint—to an 8 ounce spray bottle filled one-half with distilled water and one-half witch hazel.)

Dilly Casserole Bread
2-3 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2-3 teaspoons minced onion
2 teaspoons dill seed (or substitute with fresh dill)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup small curd creamed cottage cheese
1 egg

Combine 1 cup flour, sugar, onion, dill, salt, baking soda and yeast in a big bowl; mix well. In small saucepan, heat water, butter and cottage cheese until warm (120-130°F.). Add warm liquid and egg to flour mixture; blend at low speed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in remaining 1-2 cups flour to form a stiff batter. Cover loosely with cloth towel and let rise in warm place (80-85°F.) until light and doubled in size (45-60 minutes). Grease casserole pan. Stir down batter to remove air bubbles and turn into casserole pan. Cover; let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size (30-45 minutes). Preheat oven to 350°F. Uncover dough. Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Cover with foil to prevent over browning. Remove from pan; place on wire rack. Brush with melted butter; sprinkle with coarse salt. Serve warm or cool. (Source: Adapted from Pillsbury.com)
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