Sunday, February 21, 2016

Culinary Herbs Part 2: Herbs Best Grown from Transplants.

This is the second part in a two part series of creating a culinary herb garden.  Culinary herbs are both useful and beautiful.  They are easy to grow and have both culinary and medicinal value for you and your family. 

If you are venturing into the world of herbs for the first time then culinary herbs are a good place to start.  The herbs discussed in this part are those best grown from transplants or cuttings.  Part 1 of Culinary Herbs focuses on herbs you can grow from seed. Although they are easy to grow from seed, culinary herbs are usually easy to find potted at your local nursery.

Herbs Best Grown from Transplants

Sage, oregano, thyme, tarragon, and mints 

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is an essential herb in stuffing for chicken, turkey and pork. It is a strong flavor. Whether used in cooking or not, it is worth saving a spot in the garden for sage.

Sage is a perennial that needs full sun.  When established it is drought tolerant and is not partial to feet feet.  It needs a well drained soil.
Most sage will not grow true to type if planted from seed so purchasing transplants is recommended. Sage can be propagated from cuttings.

There are ornamental types with variegated leaves but for culinary purposes be sure plant to the plain grayish leafed variety.  All sages are a great addition to any garden because bees and pollinators love the flowers.  

Prune sage each spring.  Leave the old wood and remove the top half of each branch.  This encourages new growth from the base.

To harvest cut 6-8 inches of leaves above the woody growth before the plant flowers.  They can be air dried in bundles or in a dehydrator.


Oregano is a culinary favorite. Finding the right type for culinary use is important.  Wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare) will be a culinary disappointment. It has mild, bland flavor. It is a beautiful flowering perennial but not a good choice for culinary use.  Unfortunately it is often sold for that purpose at the garden centers and nurseries.  

Best Culinary Oregano

Greek (O. vulgare subsp. hirtum). Vigorous and very hardy. Grows to 3 feet tall with green, slightly hairy foliage. Greek oregano is generally best for most culinary uses, with 'Kaliteri' (a strain within the species) delivering the truest of oregano flavor (see below). Zone 5

'Kaliteri' (O. vulgare 'Kaliteri'). This Greek strain is truly among the best (kaliteri means "the best" in Greek). Grows to 18 inches tall with silvery gray foliage. Spicy and flavorful without being too bitter. Zones 6 & 7

Italian (O. 5 majoricum
). Also sold as Sicilian oregano or hardy sweet marjoram. Italian oregano is an exquisite blend of sweet and spicy, without the bitterness of more intense types. That characteristic flavor varies, however, as Italian oregano is a hybrid resulting from crossing sweet marjoram with oregano. Plant form, leaf size, and color can vary depending on the parents, but most plants are upright in growth to 2 feet tall, with small pale green to gray-green leaves. Wonderful fragrance and gourmet flavor. Zone 7
(Rodale's Organic life)

Oregano makes a nice ground cover.

Sweet Marjoram is more delicate than oregano.  I purchase seeds and grow it in pots.  The seeds are very fine so just barely cover.  It is easier to find transplants to enjoy sweet marjoram.
  Oregano is a low growing compact herb.  It will need to occasionally be divide to prevent it from sprawling.  Do not over water and plant in soil that drains well. 

Harvesting:  Cut stems as you need them using the leaves in cooking.  Since oregano dries well you can make 2 large harvests by cutting it back to 2-3 inches before it flowers and then again in fall. 

You can air dry by bundling the stems and hanging in a dry, dark place or use your dehydrator.  I store the leaves on the stem in mason jars and crumble the leaves as I need them.

You can also preserve by making an infused oil or putting leaves in ice trays covering in broth, oil, or butter. 
A designated herb box in my veggie garden with salvia, catmint, and thyme.


Mints share certain characteristics:  they are perennials, with square stems, paired leaves, and whorls of small flowers.  They spread by seed and by underground rhizomes.  Because of this they are very invasive!!  They need to be contained.  I only plant them in pots.  They will seed rhizomes under raised beds and spread so you have been warned:  Beware of the square stem!

Chocolate mint in a pot with petunias.

I like to plant peppermint, spearmint,  and chocolate mint.  Pick the chocolate mint leaves and rub them between your heavenly!

Mint leaves should be dried quickly or can be enjoyed fresh in lemonades, mint waters, on vegetable dishes and fruits.

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

French tarragon is the herb for culinary use.  It is a mix of anise, licorice, pepper, and basil flavor.  Russian tarragon which is sometimes sold as a culinary herb in seed is a bad choice.  It has a repugnant, bitter flavor.  Rub the leaves and smell your fingers to be sure you are purchasing French Tarragon. Do not purchase seed even if it is labeled French tarragon.  The French variety is only propagated by cuttings or root division.

Pick leaves and use fresh.  It does not dry well.  If you are unfamiliar with tarragon it is often blends with other herbs.  

Fines Herbs
Chervil leaves minced
Chives chopped
Parsley leaves minced
French Tarragon leaves minced
Use equal parts

Fines herbes are good on scrambled eggs, in salads, mayonnaise, butters, vinaigrette, and on vegetables.  (Herb Companion May 2012)

 Bonnes Herbes
Basil leaves minced
Chervil leaves minced
Chives chopped
Dill sprig
tarragon leaves minced
fresh ground pepper

Very good in potato and egg salads, pasta, rice, and in salad dressings. (Herb Companion May 2012) 
It is best to enjoy this herb fresh.  Drying results in a lose of flavor.  Freezing is a better options for preserving.  Chop the leaves into ice cube trays and cover with broth, melted butter or  your favorite oil.  The leaves can also be preserved in oils and vinegar's.

Culinary Uses:  creamy soups, egg dishes, fish, asparagus, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini or mushrooms.  


The best culinary thyme is Thymus vulgaris.  It is a perennial small woody shrub.  It has similar growing conditions to oregano.  

Harvest the leaves when the flower begins to bud.  Cut the stems to 2 inches above the ground.

Thyme retains its aroma very well when dried and in cooking.
Lemon thyme

Lemon thyme is one of my personal culinary favorites.   I prefer to use it fresh or infuse in cooking oils.  It is delicious on vegetables, chicken, fish, and eggs.  It is propagated by cuttings so purchase transplants.

There are other landscape thyme's such as creeping thyme and wooly thyme which make great ground covers or are beautiful in rock gardens.  There are golden and variegated varieties which all have a purpose in landscape but not culinary use.

General Care:
 Keep weeded
Mulch lightly
Pinch back flowers,
Stake if necessary
No fertilizers just a good soil amended with compost.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Broccoli and Cauliflower: A Royal Treat

Some many find this hard to swallow but broccoli and cauliflower had there start in royal gardens.  Originally broccoli was the name given to the tender shoots of overwintering cabbages.  These shoots were highly prized in royal gardens and selection and cultivation focusing on delicious shoot production resulted in sprouting broccoli and eventual the broccoli of today. Early broccoli was not green but purple. Plants with white curds appeared and were eventual cultivated into cauliflower.  So if you want to grow a crop fit for a king, grow broccoli and cauliflower.

Broccoli and cauliflower belong to the group Brassica oleracra.  There are eight subspecies in this group and they will all cross pollinate.  This group includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, and kohlrabi.  If you are saving seeds only allow one of these to flower and go to seed.

Both broccoli and cauliflower are biennial, frost tolerate plants that enjoy the cool spring and fall weather.  If you plant it right you can enjoy both a spring and fall crop and avoid mid summer. Hot summers seem to encourage aphids and poor flavor.

Broccoli needs 1 square foot and cauliflower needs to be spaced 24-36 inches apart. They can be inter-planted with a variety of other crops including onions, celery, dahlias, calendula, leeks, cilantro, parsley, nastruiums to name a few.

Cheddar Cauliflower, a beautiful orange


Cauliflower is more temperamental than broccoli.  It is finicky about the temperature and wants consistently cool weather and isn't fond of heat or extreme cold.  If temperatures fluctuate a lot or watering is not consistent it will form buttons which are small tiny heads instead of a nice head.

This is cauliflower inter-planted with celery and onions.

Preparing the Site:

Prepare you soil well for both crops.  Mix a well rotted compost and dry organic fertilizer in the soil when you prepare your beds.  I mix my own dry fertilizer of 1 part blood meal, 2 parts bone meal and 1/2 part greensand or azomite.

I seem to have better luck if cauliflower is planted were it gets some afternoon shade.

Start cauliflower and broccoli indoors around March 1st.  Plant the transplants out 2 - 4 weeks before the last frost date which for me is mid to late April.  To transplant dig the transplant hole a little bigger and add a handful of compost and small handful of dry organic fertilizer and mix it with the soil then transplant the cauliflower and broccoli. Add mulch around transplants.  You can fertilize with fish emulsion as the plants are being established.

Graffiti cauliflower


Consistent even moisture is key to developing good heads.  Don't water stress plants. Mulch generously around the plants.  

Monitor for aphids and cabbage loppers. 

A fall planting of broccoli with fall there are fewer pest issues and broccoli tastes improves with the cool weather

Fall Plantings:

For fall crops plant transplants out after temperatures are below 75 degrees and 4-6 weeks before first frost date. Start indoors around mid July. After transplanting both crops will appreciate a row cover or low tunnel to give protection from sun while they get established.

Cauliflower requires patience.  The heads start out small and loose and need a total of 75 - 80 days to form the dense larger heads.  As the head starts to form take the outer leaves and clothes pin them around the head.  This protects white cauliflower from the sun and is called blanching.  I grow a green, orange, and purple cauliflower that do not require blanching.


Harvest cauliflower when the heads are around 6-8 inches and compact and firm.  If the heads start to open and are small you have to harvest.  When the cauliflower starts to look coarse it is too mature to eat and can be feed to the chickens.  Once you harvest the head the plant can be removed from the garden and composted or feed to chickens or pigs.  Goats enjoy the leaves also.

You can freeze or pickle cauliflower.  There are wonderful ways to prepare fresh cauliflower including roasting, steaming, and then baking with sauces.  It is favorite in our family

Harvest the broccoli head when it is firm and dense.  Cut 4 inches of the stem with the head.  Leave the broccoli in the ground and you will continue to get many side shoots through out the season.  

Sprouting broccoli only produces small side shoots so be sure you are planting a variety that forms a head and allows you to enjoy the side shoots.  

Fresh broccoli is delicious nothing like store bought.  Every time my husband eats it he comments on how good the flavor is. The key is growing it in the right season.  It needs cool spring weather or fall weather.  Late plantings are prone to aphids and harvested in the heat of summer so get broccoli in the garden early. 

  Aphids and cabbage worms love both cauliflower and broccoli.  Monitor your plants for both these pests for early control.  Curling wilting leaves are a sign of aphids and chewed holes are a sign of cabbage worms.

How to Get Rid of Aphids

  • For a mild infestation try spraying cold water on the leaves, sometimes all aphids need is a blast of water to dislodge them.
  • If temperatures are not too high, spray with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
  • You can often get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves of the plant with a mild solution of water and a few drops o f Ivory dish soap.
  • Stir together 1 quart of water, 1 tsp of liquid dish soap and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Do not dilute before spraying on plants. Be careful using in high temperatures and test on the leaves before spraying the whole plant it can destroy the cuticle of the leaf.
  • Remove badly infected leaves
  • Use a Neem oil for aphids and Spinosad for caterpillars.
  • For more info click on these links.


      Favorite broccoli varieties:  
      Waltham, Premium Crop  
      Favorite Cauliflower Varieties:
       Amazing, Green Harmony, Cheddar, Graffiti