Sunday, 12 June 2011

Something You Should Know About Supermarket Herbs

As I stood making myself a cup of mint tea (with homegrown mint), I cast my eye across the kitchen and espied my pot of rosemary that I bought from the supermarket to tide me over whilst I patiently wait for my own rosemary seeds to germinate.  Seeing the pot reminded me of something that I read about supermarket herb plants and I was overcome with the need to share this little gem of information with all budding Grow-Your-Own folk.  After all, nothing is lost when one candle lights another.

Have you ever noticed that when you buy a herb plant from the supermarket, it seems to have a disappointingly short life span?  You bring it into your life, place it on a sunny windowsill or some other highly appropriate spot and shower it with TLC, hopeful that all this care and attention will ensure that the plant will continue to bring you endless joy for time immemorial.  Alas!  After a few weeks you realise that no matter how much TLC you give it, it seems intent on keeling over and dieing on you, just as you begin to truly appreciate its contributions to your culinary adventures.  As it turns out, there is a very good reason for this.  Apparently, the herb's life span is as short as it is due to the fact that there are too many plants potted in too small a pot.  This prevents the individual plants within the pot from maturing to the extent that they can because they do not have enough space for their root systems to become well established.

This knowledge is invaluable because the solutions are so incredibly simple and you can get so much more out of your supermarket herbs if you rectify this uncomplicated problem.  There are at least two things that you could do to ensure that your herb plant lasts longer.  The first thing is rifle around the soil that it is potted in and see how many different plants are actually in the pot.  Once you've established this, you can simply repot each of them into their own individual containers.  Not only will you instantaneously have 'more' herb plants, but each one of them will be able to be their own plant and thus grow much bigger and better than they ever could have in their previously cramped conditions. The second solution is to repot the entire thing into one much bigger pot that will provide each little plant with the space that it requires to flourish and grow for as long as possible.  If you decide that this solution is the one for you, be sure to check the distance between each of the individual plants.  It may well be that they will need to be spaced further apart in the bigger container if they are to develop as nature had intended.  You can find this information virtually anywhere: online, the back of seed packets and books to name a few places, so don't be deterred if you are unsure of the correct distance that should exist between the plants.  I can guarantee you that you will have an answer within five minutes of looking for it.

Armed with this jewel of knowledge, you can now take steps to ensure that you get the most out of your supermarket herb plants, converting them from 2-3 week wonders into robust, bushy beauties bursting with herbal goodness.

You're welcome! :-)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Thing About Mint...

Mint is such a wonderful, aromatic and versatile herb.  It is the kind of herb that instantly puts you in a good mood the minute its magnificent aroma hits your senses.  There are very few meals out there that cannot be enhanced in some way by the addition of a little mint to one of its elements (especially in respect of our favourite course...dessert).  Obviously, we cannot forget our liquid diet in the discussion about this wonderful herb.  Mint goes a long way to spicing up a glass of water when combined with some ice and a little lemon or lime.  Mint tea is incredibly refreshing and the all important Mojito would not exist if it were not for this little herbal gem.

Besides its culinary accomplishments, Peppermint also has a number of health benefits.  Apparently, it's not only calmative and an anti-spasmodic, but it has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic properties too.  Who knew?? Furthermore, Peppermint can be used in a number of ways for gastro-intestinal problems to assist where anti-spasmodic, anti-flatulent and appetite-promoting stimulation is in order.  In addition, it has been known to ease nervous headaches and can help enhance concentration.

There appears to be no end to the list of reasons that we should all have a little bit of mint brightening up our homes.  At this juncture, it would be prudent of me to advise all you budding Grow-Your-Own folk that growing Mint is not without its complications.  With this in mind, I thought it would be handy to inform you of these complications so that you don't have to find out about them the hard way, like I did.  I'm hoping that this will, in turn, keep your Mint growing experience a happy and productive one.

The thing about Mint is that it can be difficult to grow from seed.  Personally, I have had success with my mint seeds but I have read numerous articles commenting on just how difficult this can be.  Many of these articles, as well as books that I have read, state that in addition to being difficult to grow, the mint seeds that you can buy are not worthwhile. Mint hybridises like crazy, so it would appear as though the plants that you grow from seed are unlikely to smell or taste very strongly of the variety of mint that you thought you bought.  My mint plants are still small and I have yet to establish how strong the taste and smell of the leaves are.  I am confident that they will be beautiful, but that's probably more to do with the pride that consumes me when I see the plants thriving as they are, more than anything else.  Armed with this knowledge about shop bought mint seeds, I have lower expectations of my mint plants and to be honest, as long as they smell of some variety of mint I think I'll be able to cope.  Nevertheless, the general consensus seems to be that it is a better idea to buy established Mint plants from garden centres and to care for these to ensure ongoing growth.

Another handy tip about Mint is that it is a viciously invasive plant.  It tends to take over the garden.  For this reason, container growing for Mint is highly recommended.  This having been said, do not despair if you have set aside a special spot in your garden for your Mint beauties.  All you need to remember is that if you want to plant Mint in the garden, do not remove it from its container.  Simply sink the container into the soil and this will keep its roots confined.  'Confined' is a key word in that sentence because the downside of this method is that the confinement of the roots can prevent your Mint plant from maturing as nature had intended.  I don't really know how often Mint is adversely affected by this confinement though because I have read plenty of stories about people who have planted their Mint into their gardens by sinking the containers into the soil with the end result being that the Mint still seemed to colonise the garden.  It's a very eager grower, our friend Mint, and it will do anything to spread its joy around. 

Mint also reroots very easily and so cuttings are another great way to grow them.  However, I have found with a Mint plant that was given to me that it seems to be able to reroot from anywhere.  This particular plant grew heavy and started to lean sideways causing some of the stems to rest on the soil in the container.  These stems have sebsequently rooted themselves firmly down.  I found this behaviour incredibly bizarre but it is true.  It was one of the things that made me realise just how easily Mint could spread if it was left to its own devices.  For this reason, I strongly recommend keeping your Mint well trimmed.  Not only will this
encourage it to bush out as opposed to becoming lanky, but it will also help to prevent it taking over as if it is Master and Commander.

Mint will die right down during the winter.  Do not fret, friends!  It will grow back.  Once established, there seems to be very little that can stop a Mint plant from continuing to flourish.  They are incredibly hardy and can survive a huge amount of neglect.  The only thing that seems to harm them is extreme heat.  Try and keep your plants somewhere slightly more shaded and you will be able to enjoy the sweet aroma and taste of mint together with all its culinary and health benefits for a long time to come.