Questions on: Misc. Herbs
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: I'm working on an article for ways to spruce up or decorate a porch or balcony. The first thing that came to mind was plants and miniherb gardens. Could you offer any suggestions for hanging or standing plants and/or little herb gardens that will fare well in the Brainerd area and possibly would provide a splash of color? Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! (e-mail reference)
A: Herbs, such as lavender and hyssop, are colorful and attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Spreading flowers, such as wave petunias or ivy geraniums, are excellent for hanging baskets. There are flowers, such as portulaca and vinca, that do well in hot, sunny locations. I grew some diascia last year and was impressed with their staying power through the growing season. How about the chilly chili ornamental/edible pepper? It is a colorful, prolific producer that can be eaten without the consequences of heat.
A: Herbs that are adaptable for growing as indoor plants are thyme, chives, parsley, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and the shorter forms of basil. What you need for success is light and plenty of it from window sills and fluorescent units. I would suggest utilizing both sources. Place the light unit on 14-hour days using an automatic timer. Normal room temperature is OK, but if possible, lower the temperature by 10 degrees at night. Place the herbs together and try to have a gentle fan blowing across the foliage most of the time. The herbs will do better if grouped and set on a tray of pebbles that are kept wet. Use only pasteurized potting soil and allow it to dry slightly between waterings. Be sure the containers are free draining.
Q: I have been trying to grow a clove of garlic in my kitchen window, but every time the plant gets nice and tall it begins to fall over. When I dig in the dirt I notice what I think are fruit flies coming out of the soil. I think they have been eating the clove that the plant grew from because most if it is gone and the plant dies. How can I prevent this from happening? Iím trying to help my little boy grow a garlic plant and Iíve failed twice. (e-mail reference)
A: Have you considered showing him how to grow chives such as garlic chives? They are much easier to grow as a windowsill plant than a garlic clove, which needs to go through a cold period to be successful.
Q: Iím looking for the correct name and history of a plant commonly known as Indian tinker toy. I have it in my pond. (e-mail reference)
A: Iíve known it as common horsetail, Equisetum arvense. Itís commonly found in wetlands and spreads by way of rhizomes (underground stems). It is a common food for wild geese and winter forage for deer. Native Americans and early settlers used the plants to clean cooking utensils.
Q: I have parsley and dill that I bought in pots. I haven't transplanted them yet. Some of the leaves are turning light green or yellow. On the dill, some of the tips are also brown.
What could be causing the problem and how do I fix it? (e-mail reference)
A: I swear I have never heard of potted dill being sold! I would throw the plant away and purchase a packet of seed. Scatter the seed where you want it to grow and stand back. Dill is one of those plants that pop up from seed so easily that it should never be sold as a potted plant.
Q: There is a large wild mushroom that grows in grassy areas during a wet spring or damp autumn. It grows in the Turtle Lake area and even though it isn't listed in the North Dakota brochures, it is quite common around our family farm. It meets all the descriptions of being an agaricul agustus. It grows really large and is quite tasty if used fresh. Can I cultivate it if I gather the spores and use decayed horse manure? All types of domesticated mushrooms are offered in growing kits through seed catalogues. Can this wild type be started this way? Also, I have a seed catalogue from Hartman Nursery in Lacota, Mich. It offers ground cover raspberries. Are you familiar with this plant? Is it related to Salmon berries or the cloudberries (rubus chamaemorus) that grow in the South Arctic regions? Would they grow in North Dakota? (Turtle Lake, N.D.)
A: Not being a mushroom expert, the only thing I can suggest is to give it a try. As the saying goes, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." I saw the ground cover raspberry for the first time myself in the Hartman catalog just last week. That's all I know about them. I plan to order some just to see how they grow since I'm an old raspberry grower. They certainly should be hardy enough, coming from Zone 1 in Sweden! It is marked as a hybrid so there could be some relationship to the salmon and cloudberries. Give them a try and we'll compare notes next year.
Q: You are cited as the source for the news article on drinking hot chocolate for antioxidants. I have a question for you. Is it homemade coca or would a mix do? (Mandan, N.D.)
A: According to the researchers at Cornell, they used pure cocoa (with the appropriate sugar added of course). The mixes, if I remember correctly, are a read in chemistry with some cocoa thrown in as part of the experiment. I guess itís all for consumer appeal. According to the researchers, any chocolate has antioxidant activity. The difference is in two areas, saturated fat, and the concentration antioxidants. The nice thing about cocoa, according to the scientists, is the low level of saturated fat per serving. You might remember that dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, got higher antioxidant activity grades in similar studies.
Q: So many recipes lately call for cilantro so I bought some plants this spring. They are growing like mad. They are getting very tall and look like they may blossom and go to seed. Can I cut them off and will the plant bush out? (Aberdeen, S.D.)
A: By all means dead-head them. You will have cilantro growing forever if they go to seed..
Q: Does the morel mushroom grow in South Dakota? If so, where is a good place to look for them? (Milbank, S.D.)
A: I have no idea. Perhaps one of our readers will know and inform us.
Q: Someone's friend wants to use garlic bulbs intended for planting in food preparations. Are bulbs for planting treated with pesticides or other things that we don't want to eat? ( Fargo, N.D.)
A: Garlic cannot be treated with any pesticides, so the "seed garlic" (a misnomer of course!) can be eaten. That is usually the largest collection of cloves that will, in turn, produce the largest bulbs at harvest.
A: Basil preserves best by freezing it. There, it will retain close to 100 percent of its essential oils. Blanch the leaves quickly in boiling water, dry them on paper towels and freeze them in sealed plastic bags. Or, for the short term, the crop can be preserved in oil; wash and dry, and place in a clean, dry glass jar (not a plastic one!). Sprinkle salt over each layer of leaves, and when the jar is full, fill with olive oil to cover the leaves. Close with a tight-fitting lid and store in refrigerator. They will be good this way for about a week to 10 days. You should realize that basil plants get woody as they age, so be sure to start with fresh plants when that begins to happen.
A. I have some information coming to you in the mail. I suggest contacting the people involved in marketing the herbal products. If you can meet their standards of product quality and authenticity, you will have a sale.
Basically, herbs need to be grown organically. Because the herbal material is often concentrateddried, or oil extract takenno pesticide residue can be tolerated.
Q. I recently read one of your reader's requests for growing and marketing herbs for a profit. I would also like to have this information sent to me. Is there much demand for these types of crops to earn a substantial profit? How large an operation must one have to profit from herbs and spices? I hope your article addresses these and many more issues. (Jamestown, N.D.)
A. It looks like herb popularity is here to stay. Grow some for a year or two as a hobby; join associations, find the easiest, and possibly the most profitable manner to market them (dried). All I know is that the folks who are successful work very hard to be so!
Q. I recently read your article on growing herbs for medicinal use and possible profit. I would like more information on possible commercial herb production and marketing methods. I really liked your article, so please keep writing. (Montpelier, N.D.)
A. Thank you! "Growing Herbs and Spices as a Source of Extra Income" is enclosed. Others may obtain this by writing to me at P.O. Box 5051, Department of Plant Sciences, NDSU, Fargo, ND 58105.
Q: Can you tell me how to take care of fresh garlic that you buy at the store? They
always start growing before I can use them. (Winner, S.D.)
A: Good question! At this time of year their biological clock is kicking in to grow. Lowering the temperature would slow it down somewhat. Room
temperature is most conducive to sprouting. Store the garlic close to 32 F in the veggie crisper of your refrigerator.
Q: I can't figure out what's eating my basil. I didn't think anything did, except
people, but the leaves on my basil plants have got holes. It doesn't really look like
and I haven't seen evidence of slugs yet on the hostas or other plants they usually eat. I tried an all-purpose bug spray, but it doesn't seem to help. I've always grown
lots and lots of basil and nothing ever got to them before. But whatever it is, it seems to be eating my sweet peas (the flower kind) too. Any thoughts? (Bismarck,
A: Aphids and thrips are common insect problems with basil. Sounds like it could be a beetle of some kind, since the spotted cucumber beetle feeds on
I advise against the continued use of insect sprays, since your objective is to eventually eat the basil foliage. I suggest perhaps using some Remay, a
geotextile material, to exclude them from the basil planting. The cover needs to be complete and be sure that you are not enclosing the planting with any
insect pests inside! They'll think they've arrived in bug heaven!
Don't leave the cover on all summer, as it may negatively impact the growth of the basil--not as bad as the beetles but basil needs as much sunlight as it
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