Summertime, and the picking is easy…

We recently enjoyed our penultimate Open Days of the season, and happily, the weather turned warm in the nick of time. Of our 650+ varieties, the most popular herbs were  Sweet Cicely (a natural sweetener), French Tarragon (no chicken dish is complete without it) and Lemon Verbena (makes the best tea in the world).

During her (twice daily and free) herb talks, Jekka asked ‘How many of you are growing Bay in a pot?’ and then ‘How many of you are feeding them? Because they won’t survive on water and love alone.’

Jekka's Open Day talk "Feed on Fridays"

Especially container grown herbs. Give them a foliar feed – being organic, we use liquid seaweed, which is available from most garden centres. And remember, “Feed on Fridays”.

Jekka’s workshop, ‘How to grow salad herbs for autumn’ included some special, seed sowing tips and tricks of the trade.  Student herb-growers were very pleased to take their samples home afterwards; they’ll see their efforts grow into a luscious, tasty autumn crop.

August is harvest time –  a month of abundance in the herb garden. There’s a vast choice of fresh, verdant herbs to harvest: Chives, Lemon Verbena, Mint, Sage, Wild Rocket,…to name but a very few.

Chive abundance

Evergreens like Rosemary and Thyme can be harvested all year round, but if you’ve recently cut them back, you might have an excess that you’re wondering what to do with. If you have a glut of a particular herb (and no wish to be gluttonous), then preserve them for winter use. Parsley, for example, freezes beautifully, and Lemon Verbena is easy to dry and store for use until this deciduous herb produces leaves again next (late) spring/(early) summer. Or try your hand at making a herb butter, or vinegar. Sage butter, for example, is fantastic for basting a roast, or tossing, melted with fresh cooked pasta. Vietnamese coriander vinegar is great for sauces and stir-fry. Jekka’s Herb Cookbook has a section at the end of each chapter on what to do with a glut of herbs (don’t miss Fennel and cucumber pickle – very, very mmm).

Melted herb butter - what could be better?

 August is also, really, your last chance to safely cut back those herb plants which have rewarded you with beautiful flowers and now need a darn good haircut to preserve the health and shape of the plant, before the season of mists and potential frosts. But the mellow fruitfulness of the herb garden goes on right throughout autumn, with the ripening of deep, dark blue berries on Myrtle (dry them, grind them and use them like Juniper) and the sweet, red fruit of Chilean Guava (allegedly Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit).

Myrtle - summer flowers & autumn berries. Use the leaves like Bay for a touch of spice

But enough of this chilly talk – it’s holiday time. Don’t forget to keep your herbs well watered on hot days (the best time is early morning before the sun gets up), and don’t forget these dates: 2nd, 3rd and 4th September. They’re our last Open Days of the season, and our end-of-season plant sale. It is the very best time of all to get a perennial bargain – plant it then, and it will have two whole seasons to get established for next spring. A most sensible plan. Happy herb harvesting.

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