Growing Summer Herbs

What to sow, grow and harvest now to preserve and enjoy for months to come

Growing Summer Herbs

Try out different herbs like thyme, rosemary and basil in pots before planting up a kitchen windowbox. Image: Getty Images 

Culinary herbs are at their tastiest from midsummer,when their foliage is still fresh and unblemished, as their flavour peaks just before flowering.

This is the time to harvest large quantities to preserve for later. Water and feed herbs well afterwards for a second harvest at the end of summer.

SOW herbs like parsley in summer for use in autumn and winter. 

When the seedlings are big enough to handle, water well and thin out to 80mm apart then water them again.

CUT off the growing tips of bushy herbs like basil for kitchen use and to encourage lots of new sideshoots.

WATER recently planted herbs in dry weather and check pots regularly. 

KEEP on top of weeds, especially in new beds where herbs are establishing.

FEED potted herbs and new perennials in beds with a high-potash fertiliser.

Propagation basics

There are four techniques for creating new plants from herbs.

PINCH out parsley flowers on older plants for more leaves but let one or two flower and self-sow to provide seedlings for transplanting in autumn.

DIVIDE old mint for new plants. Lift mature clumps after flowering, chop into pieces with a spade and transplant the outer pieces, discarding the centre. 

TAKE cuttings of woody herbs like bay and rosemary in summer, dip the stems in hormone powder and pot up.

LAYER low branches of thyme and rosemary by pinning them down in the soil, keeping the tips above ground, and they should take root by winter.

Raising basil 

To grow well, basil needs warmth and shelter, a free-draining rich soil and regular feeding. 

Water plants before midday whenever the soil is dry, but avoid overwatering. Feed basil every 10 to 14 days with high-nitrogen liquid fertiliser. 

Pinch out the growing tips regularly, starting while the plants are still small. This will encourage bushy growth and prolong the life of the plants by suppressing flowering.

Growing Mint 

Most varieties of mint are vigorous growers with a spreading habit. 

To prevent the roots invading nearby plants, grow mint in pots or confine in beds by planting in an old bucket, making sure it has lots of drainage holes in the base. 

Trim back any wandering roots once or twice in summer. 

As mint starts to flower, the quality of the foliage deteriorates. 

Cut down a proportion of the tall stems to just above soil level, water well and apply a high-nitrogen fertiliser to stimulate a second crop of young, full-flavoured leaves.

Check for mint rust, looking for pale, swollen or distorted stems and dirty orange spots on the leaves. 

Cut off affected growth to ground level and burn, or dispose of it in the bin immediately.

Preserving herbs

Gather herbs for preserving on a dry morning before the sun reaches the plants. Harvest only as much as you are able to preserve straight away and select clean, healthy growth. Keep different herbs separate to avoid cross flavouring. 


Freezing 

The best way to keep the flavour and colour of most leafy herbs is freezing. Wash sprigs in cold water and shake dry, as patting can bruise the leaves. 

BAG UP small, loose bunches and freeze. Crush the leaves in their bags when fully frozen, working quickly before they thaw, then store in labelled containers to save space. 

PACK finely chopped leaves into ice-cube trays, add water and freeze. Store the cubes in the trays or bags. 

Use this method to make ice cubes from borage flowers and the leaves of variegated mint and lemon balm for adding to cold drinks in summer. 

TIP Use the herbs frozen not thawed. 
 

freezing herbs, handyman magazine,
The best way to keep the flavour and colour of most leafy herbs is freezing

 

Drying 

After picking, dry herbs immediately to retain as much of their colour and oils as possible. They are ready when the leaves snap easily but are not so brittle they crumble to dust. 

Store dried herbs whole or crushed in airtight jars or tins in a cool place. 

AIR DRY in a well-ventilated, warm, dark place. Tie the stems into small bundles and suspend from hooks, or spread in a single layer on trays and turn several times in the first few days. 

OVEN DRY on a very low temperature with the door ajar. Spread the herbs on trays lined with baking paper and turn often, ensuring they don’t get too hot.

TIP Dry seeds for a few days then store.

dry herbs, handyman magazine,

Infusing 

Flavour liquids and butter with the fresh taste of leafy herbs to use for cooking or as condiments. 

Oregano, basil and chives are ideal for this. To prepare, grind the herbs to a pulp using a mortar and pestle.

ADD THE HERBS to sunflower or olive oil, or white wine or cider vinegar, and infuse for two to three weeks. Strain the liquid and pour into a clean bottle or jar, adding a fresh sprig of the herb.

BLEND THE HERBS with unsalted butter and store in the refrigerator for
a week, or shape into a log, wrap in baking paper and freeze.

TIP To make herb jelly, combine mint leaves with cooking or crab apples.
 

infusing herbs in oil, handyman magazine,
Flavour liquids and butter with the fresh taste of leafy herbs to use for cooking or as condiments

 

The basics 

The leaves, flowers and seeds of herbs can be preserved for later use. Here is a guide to common herbs and methods to preserve them.

what herbs you can dry or infuse, handyman magazine,

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Growing Summer Herbs

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