Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reader's Questions: Growing and Using Herbs

The dandelions and buttercups gild all the lawn: the drowsy bee stumbles among the clover tops, and summer sweetens all to me. ~James Russell Lowell

Today I have questions from readers on growing and using herbs, one of my favorite topics. I have the prettiest bee balm this year that I bought on sale for a dollar at the end of last season. That's one of the blooms in the pictures above.

My bee balm has had it, the blooms are spent, if I cut it back will it bloom again this year? ~Cynthia

In most areas if you cut bee balm (monarda) down to a couple of inches from the soil, it will bloom a second time. Make sure you keep it watered and weed really well around it. Beebalm needs space and good air circulation to do its best.

I was wondering if I may freeze herbs and how do I do it. May I just cut them and put them in plastic bags or is there something to do to them before I freeze them. ~Janice

I've frozen sage and dill which really turned out well, but you can freeze most herbs very simply. Harvest in the morning after the dew has dried, rinse lightly if they have dirt on them, and loosely place them in plastic freezer bags. Some people always rinse the herbs, but I only do if they really need it. I don't use any chemicals in my garden, so I don't worry about that aspect. I've found it's better to rinse under cold, running water, holding the springs or leaves in my hand. Then I pat them gently dry, then place in the freezer bags. To use, remove the herbs you need, chop them, and add directly to soups, stews or other dishes. I add them to roast chicken and turkey. You can also use frozen herbs for dips and herb butter.

You can mince or chop the herbs, add them to ice cube trays, then top with water. After they freeze, place the herb cubes in freezer bags. This works well for adding herbs to soups and stews in the winter.

One last freezer method is to combine minced fresh herbs with olive oil to form a paste, then freeze this in freezer containers. This works great for basil, oregano and parsley, which have a softer type of leaf.

What fertilizer do you feed lavender? ~Ginny

Lavender benefits from some lime mixed in to the soil, but it really doesn't need fertilizer. If your soil is extremely poor try adding a little compost and lime, but most of the time you won't need any additions. If you notice older plants looking a bit poor,that would be a good time to add some nitrogen- you could use blood meal or bone meal in the spring--but again, not too much. Remember, Lor gave us the tip of adding crushed eggshells to the soil around lavender, and that was a great idea!

New young lavender plants need more water than after they are established. Never soak them completely, or keep them moist, but water during dry periods. Once they are about a year old they shouldn't need extra water. Don't fertilize the young plants though-- just be patient and leave them alone to get settled.

On OFL we have Tips on planting garlic chives, which is the first thing I put in my new garden when we moved!


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