Kitchen garden with Di-Di Hoffman - All systems go!
Life has come back into the kitchen garden and it is time to sow herb and vegetable seed.
But, before you plant anything, renew the soil. Raid the compost heap or buy compost and stock up with bonemeal. Work all this into beds that have lain fallow over winter or into beds that you are replanting.
The herbs most associated with spring are the tasty salad herbs like sweet Basil, Rocket, Dill, and Coriander (Cilantro) which are all annuals and grow easily from seed or, if you are in a hurry, can be bought as small plants.
My advice with rocket and coriander is to sow the seed quite thickly and harvest the young plants as tender shoots for your salad. This is also a way of thinning them out.
Don’t let coriander, rocket or basil plants flower because the leaves become bitter. However it is a good idea to allow a few coriander plants to mature and flower because the seed is worth harvesting.
Don’t forget the perennial herbs like Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme, Chives, Rosemary, Fennel and Sage. They just need to be trimmed back, some compost dug in around their roots and a drench of liquid fertiliser to get them going.
Cuttings can be taken of Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Oregano and marjoram, Rosemary and Thyme. A cutting should have at least three leaves and a shoot. The best stems for cutting are the side branches or those near the base of the plant. Trim the stem just below the lowest leaf point.
Put the cutting into a clean pot that is filled with damp compost. Gently firm the compost and water lightly.
Cover the pot with a transparent polythene bag or cut the bottom off a 2-litre Coke bottle and place it over the pot. Place the cuttings in a warm area that receives good light but no direct sun.
The plastic bag or Coke bottle traps the moisture and the heat inside, creating a mini-micro climate and the pots can be left for about 3 days without watering. But keep an eye on them and check every now and then that the soil is still damp.
If it gets too humid in the bags it might be necessary to open them up during the day otherwise fungus could attack the plants.
There is also an exciting array of vegetables that can be sown and organic gardeners should use companion planting principles by combining them with herbs.
Leaf vegetables that can be sown are Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, and cabbage. Beetroot, which should also be sown now, is a good companion for both Swiss chard and cabbages and its leaves can be used like spinach.
A favourite root vegetable of mine is the Little Finger carrot that is sweet and crunchy, and it doesn’t require quite the depth of soil as the larger varieties. Radishes can be sown as well and they work well with carrots. Companion herbs for carrots include basil, chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary and sage.
Of the fruiting vegetables, the tomato is king, but brinjals and peppers (both sweet peppers and chilli peppers) are close behind. Basil is a proven companion for tomatoes while brinjals are happy to be around marjoram, oregano, thyme, winter savory, borage and lovage. Lovage and chillies also do well together.
All kitchen gardens benefit from peas and beans and because both are high in nitrogen they can be dug into the soil at the end of the harvest or added to the compost heap. Beans are known for “fixing’ nitrogen into the soil, but just make sure that you don’t plant them anywhere near dill, fennel or members of the onion family.
It is always nice to have colour in the kitchen garden so plan to include insect repellant flowers like marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, carnations, catmint and calamint.
Finally, mulch, mulch, mulch – to conserve water, keep the soil cool and protect the young seedlings against the already high midday temperatures.
Information supplied by Di-Di Hoffman, owner of Bouquet Garni Nursery – South Africa’s Top Potted Herb Growers and Marketers. When you're ready to discover the miracle of herbs visit him at www.bloggingherbman.com or phone Bouquet Garni on 012 808 1044.
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