Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Planting Patio Herbs in Containers

From the Jul/Aug '02 issue of The Essential Herbal , and written by Johann McKee. (Be sure to read Johann's poem at the bottom of the post.)

Planting Patio Herbs in Containers

First of all, herbs need three things when grown in a container: sunlight, air circulation, and well-drained soil. The plants should be kept a little on the dry side so it is best to choose containers that have drainage holes.

There are many soil mixtures available now in garden shops. If you plan to mix your own, you might want to consider these four ingredients in equal parts: topsoil from your yard, coarse perlite (not vermiculite), peat moss, and coarse sand. Homemade compost can be substituted for peat moss.

Most herbs respond to a little fertilizer. The simple organic method is to use one cupful of dried cow manure or bone meal to a bushel of potting soil. There are many natural fertilizers available on the market; simply follow the directions on the container. Feeding the herbs twice a month should be sufficient.

Containers are the next thing to consider. The porous containers made out of wood or terra cotta seem to work best. The down side of clay posts is they tend to crack if left outside over winter. It would be necessary to store them in a sheltered area such as an unheated garage or basement if the herb contained perennials.

What herbs would you like to plant? For me, I would plant the ones that I would actually use and they would be oregano, basil, thyme, savory, sweetbay, sage, cilantro, parsley, French tarragon, and rosemary. Of these, rosemary, bay, and sage would prefer being in their own individual pots. The other perennials - oregano, tarragon, thyme, and cilantro could live together in one pot. Helpful hint: pinch back the tips or flower buds of the basil to keep it from going to seed, thereby prolonging its season.

Harvesting can be done anytime, but for best flavor, it is best to do it before the plant blooms. Snip them early morning after the dew has dried. Small bunches may then be hung to dry in a dark airy area. Other methods of preserving/drying include screens, paper towels and on cookie sheets in a 200 degree oven. When dry, strip the leaves and store in glass jars in a dark area. Fresh herbs may also be put in freezer bags and stored in the freezer.

Finally, herbs are not usually bothered by insects. Bay is the exception. Scale seems to love it and the only safe treatment is to wash each bump with alcohol or insecticidal soap. Santolina and pennyroyal can be planted close to culinary herbs as they keep bugs away. I have had a carpet of pennyroyal growing inside my garden gate for many years and the only bugs that give me grief are leaf minors on the chard and squash borers in the zucchini.
I hope some of this info is helpful to you. Please let The Essential Herbal know how it goes. Happy Gardening, Johann.

by Johann McKee

Hunkered down at the edge of Spring.

Through the shrieks and laughter of children
Playing in the warming sun

Through the songs and frantic chirps of birds
As they rush to build their nests

Through the groan and hum of tractors
As they plow the barren fields

Listen....listen......hear them?
Deep in the earth, the birthing cries
Of a thousand seeds, as they burst into life
And begin their upward climb toward a light
They can only sense
But have never seen.

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