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Growing Mediterranean Herbs

Thyme

All types of thyme grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. For container gardening choose sterile soil and a container with good drainage. Plants make great container subjects for small garden areas, and are an excellent choice along borders and pathways where their fragrance can be enjoyed as people stroll by. Some varieties may be used as ground cover in traffic areas; they will provide scent as they are walked upon.

 Thyme is a great plant for bees and butterflies because of its long and varied bloom times. Depending on the variety they may begin blooming in May and several varieties will bloom on and off all summer.

 Thyme is not a heavy feeder and not particular about soil type as long as it drains well, so fertilize sparingly as excess nutrients decrease the fragrant oils. We fertilize once a year with a mild Comfrey tea and the dirty rock provides trace minerals.

 Being somewhat woody and fairly drought-tolerant once established, provide deep but less frequent watering as compared to more tender herbs like basil. Mulching with gravel or dirty rock discourages weeds and provides a reflective surface to help dry out the crown of the plants in our humid climate.

 The ideal time to harvest thyme and other herbs is on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. Cut as many stems as needed at the time, or cut as many as you like to dry for future use. Tie in bundles and hang upside down in a cool, dark, dry location. This will allow the essential oils to concentrate in the leaves.

 Thyme has a woody stem, so be sure to use just the leaves. They can be easily removed by holding onto the tip of a sprig and with the other hand strip down the stem with your thumb and index finger. Leaves can be added to dishes whole or chopped. Thyme flowers are edible and make an attractive garnish.

Lavender

All types of Lavenders grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. For container gardening choose sterile soil and a container with good drainage. Plants make great container subjects for small garden areas.

 If planted in the ground, space at least 15" apart, in a sandy or rocky soil as they are vigorous growers and like air circulation. read the tag and it will be more specific.

 Lavenders are not heavy feeders and not particular about soil type as long as it drains well so fertilize sparingly as excess nutrients decrease the fragrant oils. We use a Comfrey tea on them once a year for our fertilizing regimen.

 Mulch the area with a dirty rock, or gravel mulch

 Be sure to choose Lavender which is hardy in your area, the labels should list a zone or you should ask the nursery where you get your plants. Reputable nurseries will not sell plants, which are not hardy without telling you.

 Buy the Lavender, which will provide you the type of bloom to match your need. Some Lavenders will hold the scent others will keep the color, and some will fall off the stem as soon as they are dry. If you have a specific purpose in mind for your Lavender, choose accordingly. Grosso, Grappenhall and Provence hold their scent the longest, loose their color and will be perfect for Lavender wands. Hidcote and Munstead will hold their beautiful color but the scent fades rapidly. So plant according to your desires so you will not be disappointed. If all you want is a pretty plant, which smells good, any Lavender will do. Be sure to buy the lavender, which will provide you the type of bloom to match your need. Some Lavenders will hold the scent others will keep the color, and some will fall off the stem as soon as they are dry. If you have a specific purpose in mind for your Lavender, choose accordingly. Grosso, Grappenhall and Provence hold their scent the longest, loose their color and will be perfect for Lavender wands. Hidcote and Munstead will hold their beautiful color but the scent fades rapidly. So plant according to your desires so you will not be disappointed. If all you want is a pretty plant, which smells good, any Lavender will do.

 The ideal time to harvest lavender and other herbs is on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. Cut long flower spikes as soon as the heads begin to color up with tiny flowers. Tie in bundles and hang upside down in a cool, dark, dry location. This will allow the essential oils to concentrate in the flower heads. Prune immediately after bloom to keep plants compact and neat.

 Once dried, use entire stems in decorative wreaths or dried flower arrangements, or strip off flower heads into individual little flowers and add to your favorite sachets, potpourri, sprinkle in a hot bath, or even add to your own homemade soap.

 After blooming Lavender will need to be trimmed to provide adequate air circulation. This is very important with our humid summers. A pretty full plant will have a short life and a humid August has caused many two-year-old "beautiful" Lavenders to rot and die from the base. This is another reason for gravel, sand or another form on non-organic mulch.

 For the classic culinary use, make your own "Herbs de Provence" by combining these dried herbs: Lavender, Thyme, Rosemary, Marjoram, Oregano, Basil, Savory and Fennel. Enjoy with poultry or vegetables!

Sweet Basil

 All types of Basil grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. For container gardening choose sterile soil and a container with good drainage.  While not a particularly heavy feeder, Basil does prefer a rich, moist soil so fertilize several times a growing season. We use a Comfrey tea as our fertilizer, once a month on plants, which are being harvested. 

The ideal time to harvest Basil and other herbs is on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. It is often used as whole leaves in cooking so harvest individual leaves as needed or pinch off short sprigs if desired; this will cause the plant to stay more compact and bushy. Also be sure to pinch out flower spikes as soon as they appear – this too will create a bushier, more productive plant. As an annual the setting of seeds (flower production) signals the end of its life cycle. Although the flowers are edible and make great garnishes keeping them picked will extend the life cycle until frost. 

Storing and Culinary Tips: Basil can often produce an overabundance. To compensate for this, branches can be tied by the stems in a bunch and hung upside down in a warm, dark, airy location to be dried for future use. For the fresh flavor of stored Basil in dishes like pasta sauce, place several leaves in each compartment of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze. Individual cubes can be stored in a freezer bag or container and then added as needed to that pot of sauce in the winter! An abundance of Basil leaves can also be turned into a flavorful pesto which freezes well for up to 6 months. Use dried leaves in the beginning of a recipe to develop the base flavor and add fresh at the end for that fresh herbal kick!

Oregano

All types of oregano grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. For container gardening choose sterile soil and a container with good drainage.

 Plants are in the mint family, and in the ground will spread so space about 12 inches apart.

 Oreganos are not heavy feeders and not particular about soil type as long as it drains well. We fertilize twice a season with Comfrey tea, once when they show signs of growth in the spring and once after they are harvested, to spur new growth.

 Being fairly drought tolerant once established, oregano prefers deep but less frequent watering as compared to more tender herbs like basil. Mulching the area with dirty rock will discourage weeds and maintain the moisture level of the soil. The ideal time to harvest oregano and other herbs is on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. Oregano is often used as whole leaves in cooking so harvest individual leaves as needed, or cut off whole sprigs if desired; this will cause the plant to stay more compact and bushy. Though a woody herb, if it gets out of hand a hard cutting back will not hurt the plant.

Culinary Tip: If chopping a lot of leaves, hold a stem by the tip and strip the leaves off towards the stem end with your other hand. Dry excess leaves for future use, and use dried leaves in the beginning of a recipe to develop the base flavor and add a fresh herbal kick at the end!

Storing and Culinary Tips: Basil can often produce an overabundance. To compensate for this, branches can be tied by the stems in a bunch and hung upside down in a warm, dark, airy location to be dried for future use. For the fresh flavor of stored Basil in dishes like pasta sauce, place several leaves in each compartment of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze. Individual cubes can be stored in a freezer bag or container and then added as needed to that pot of sauce in the winter! An abundance of Basil leaves can also be turned into a flavorful  

Rosemary:

All types of Rosemary grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. For container gardening choose sterile soil and a container with good drainage.

 We fertilize twice a season with Comfrey tea, once when they show signs of growth in the spring and once after they are harvested, to spur new growth.

 Native to rocky outcroppings in the Mediterranean. These plants thrive in well-drained, alkaline, rocky soil, in full sun. In our gardens they require optimal drainage and adequate air circulation. Without this airflow they will develop a mildew-like fungus that kill them. Perennial in zone 6-9, they require protection from harsh winter winds or will develop some dieback. Should this occur, prune back to green growth and they will quickly recover.

 Pick small amounts of rosemary year round to stimulate new growth. In our climate (zone6) this can't be done in winter and will resume in the spring). The first cutting should be in spring, pre-bloom. For essential production it will be during the bloom.

 For normal culinary use it may be used fresh or dried. To dry rosemary, cut sprigs and hang in a dark, DRY, warm place (we use the rafters). They should dry in 4-10 days, depending on the weather. When dry strip the needles off the stems (which may be used later) and store in airtight containers.

 There are many cultivars. Upright ones include, Arp and Hill Hardy (these are hardy to zone 5 with protection), and Salem, Albus and Tuscan Blue. Prostrate ones include Lockwood de Forest, Huntington's carpet, Irene and Prostratus. There are many more varieties; I have included the ones that have been hardy for us here in Va. The others will not survive our damp winters and can't tolerate the cold.