By Jack Hardy
There are two approaches to growing herbs: one is to buy a few of the herbs you use most from the nursery and raise them in pots; the other is to grow masses of herbs from seed. The herbs from the nursery will often have more than one seedling per pot and you will have to carefully separate them and plant them into your garden or a 3-gallon pot. Only grow one plant per pot for best returns.
A basic herb collection will include Italian parsley, curly parsley, thyme, basil, chives, and your own personal favourite. Maybe you are into mojitos and need fresh mint, or Mexican cuisine needing lots of cilantro. Grow what you know you will use.
I suggest you grow both Italian and curly parsley because the straight-leafed Italian has the depth of flavour needed in soups and stews while curly parsley is so much handier to chop for a finishing touch to savoury dishes, and is an attractive garnish. Parsley seeds contain a natural germination inhibitor in their coating. If you soak the seeds in several changes of water for two or three days you can have useable parsley much earlier than straight planting.
Thyme is the essential Bahamian herb and is very easy to grow. The seeds are very small and must receive light in order to grow. Sprinkle the seeds thinly into damp soil and lightly press them into the soil with your knuckles. Keep the soil damp by spraying with water every morning and evening. Abaco Hardware sells an Ace hose-end sprayer shaped like a flashlight that has a mist option. This is perfect for dampening a seed bed without washing the seeds away.
In a very short time basil has moved from ‘just for Italian’ to everyday. Basil leaves can be added to salads (try lemon basil here) and as a finish to many more dishes when chopped and sprinkled onto food just before serving. Basil is probably the easiest herb to grow and will certainly find its way to parts of the garden you did not plant out. While basil is young you should nip off the flower heads to keep the leaves producing. Once your plants are mature and the leaves growing smaller you can let the flower heads produce seeds for the next crop. Genoa basil has large, easy-to-work-with leaves and excellent flavour.
Cilantro has no substitute and is not a herb you can grow singly in a pot for all your needs because it bolts quickly and turns bitter. For this reason you should grow cilantro from seed and sow new seeds at least every month in order to maintain a good supply. For emergency purposes you can harvest the leaves, blanch them in boiling water, and freeze. Allow your bolted cilantro to stay in the ground and produce seeds. Herbs are mostly leaves while spices mostly come from seeds, aril, bark, roots and rhizomes. Cilantro gives you both herb and spice, the seeds being coriander.
Unlike cilantro, a pot of chives will last you forever as long as you remember to water it regularly. Plant chive seeds (or transplant chive seedlings) at least an inch and a half apart in a fertile potting mix in a 3-gallon container. When you snip chives, leave a one-inch stalk at the base. The foliage will grow back in short order. An occasional compost tea will keep your chives happy and ready to enliven your chicken salads, white sauces and omelets.
Ready for a mojito? The mint to use is spearmint and this is best grown in the ground rather than in a pot. Apple mint is quite similar but peppermint is too intense and is best used as a digestive tea. Mint sauce for lamb also calls for spearmint.
Rosemary can be bought as a small plant but grows into a shrub and needs either a 10-gallon container or to be grown in the ground and become part of the landscape. A full size rosemary shrub will give you large sprigs or branches that can fill the roasting pan for a leg of lamb or be layered on the barbecue for chicken and pork cuts.