Grow Herbs for Bugs!

Swallowtail Butterfly on Dill
Even if you don’t cook with herbs there is another terrific reason for growing herbs in your garden and yard.
Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Dill

The flowers attract beneficial insects and butterflies. If you grow any of the plants in the Umbrilliferae family: dill, parsley, fennel- the butterflies come and lay their eggs on the plants so the hatching larva have something to eat. Those larva, the caterpillars, of course, can decimate a plant in no time. But, we get butterflies in exchange, and generally the plant recovers.

Other insects, many of them beneficial to our gardens, are attracted to herb flowers, too.

The following was posted by “Honey Gal” at Organic Consumers Association’s web forum years ago, but it’s relevant today: “I’m a beekeeper and teach classes in bee stewardship. One thing folks can do to help, even if you aren’t a beekeeper, is to make your yard bee friendly. Plant a flowering herb garden.

Bees use herbs medicinally and your plants can help make a difference. I suggest rosemary, sage, THYME (lots of it), marjoram, chives, basil, all the mints and other herbs with flowers. Bees will find them. To do more, plant native flowering bushes, too. In our area (WA) spirea and goldenrod are bee magnets. Try to have flowers in bloom through into fall.

Put out a big shallow dish of water with sticks or moss in it (so they don’t fall in) and keep it moist. If you can get seaweed, bees are particularly fond of the minerals so I keep a little pile of seaweed in the “bee pond.” All these small actions add up and make it a little easier on your local bees.”


Mint Flower- don’t be afraid to let your mints flower. The flowers bring beneficial insects to your garden. Use the flowers in teas and drinks, too!

 

 

Low growing plants such as mint and thyme act as cover for ground beetles which are good predators for lots of tiny pests. These low plants also provide shady, protected areas for laying eggs.

 

Cilantro in Bloom

 

 

Tiny flowers, like plants from the Umbelliferae family: fennel, angelica, cilantro/coriander, dill, Queen Anne’s Lace, yarrow, and rue will attract tiny beneficial wasps.

 

 

Tiny flowers of Chamomile

Composite flowers (calendula and chamomile) and mints (spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, catnip) will attract predatory wasps, hover flies, and robber flies.

 

 

Attract the above mentioned beneficial insects to combat the following:

  • Parasitoid wasps – feed on aphids, caterpillars and grubs
  • Lacewing larvae – feed on aphids
  • Ladybug larvae – feed on aphids
  • Ground beetles – feed on ground-dwelling pests.
  • Hover flies, and Robber flies – feed on many insects, including leafhoppers and caterpillars

Many common pests in gardens can be deterred by interplanting herbs among and along vegetables and in flower gardens. This practice eliminates the need for harsh pesticide use around your food crops and your family and pets.

The following list will give you some basic information regarding which herbs to plant to deter the pests that can plague your garden.

Aphids – Chives, Coriander, Nasturtium

Ants – Tansy- not useful for Fire Ants in the South

Asparagus Beetle – Pot Marigold (Calendula)

Bean Beetle – Marigold, Nasturtium, Rosemary

Cabbage Moth – Hyssop, Mint (also clothes moths), Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Southernwood, Tansy, Thyme

Carrot Fly – Rosemary, Sage

Flea Beetle – Catmint (Contains nepetalactone, an insect repellent. Steep in water and spray on plants.), Mint

Flies – Basil, Rue

Fruit Tree Moths – Southernwood

Japanese Beetles – Garlic & Rue (When used near roses and raspberries), Tansy

Potato Bugs – Horseradish

Mosquitoes – Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Grass

Moths – Santolina

Nematodes – Marigold (Marigolds should be established for at least 1 year before their nematode deterring properties will take effect.)

Savory, Winter – Some insect repelling qualities Squash Bugs & Beetles – Nasturtium, Tansy

Ticks – Lavender (Also thought to repel mice and moths.)

Tomato Horn Worm – Borage, Pot Marigold

You can find seeds for many of the plants mentioned here at The Herb Cottage Seed Shop. Or, if you’re local, you’ll find me out and about at Markets and Garden events. Check the calendar to see where I’ll be. You can come see me at The Herb Cottage, too! Just give me a shout and let me know when you’ll be coming so I can be here to greet you! 

I hope you can use this information to better plan your next garden, whether it will be in the spring or next fall and winter, for those of you who live and garden in the South and West where mild winters allow for gardening. In mild winter areas pests are not killed off by the cold and freezing weather and can be a problem year round.

 

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth — and truth rewarded me. -Simone de Beauvoir, author and philosopher (9 Jan 1908-1986) 

Pollinators

Swallowtail Butterfly on Dill
Swallowtail Butterfly on Dill

We hear a lot of talk now about the importance of pollinators. There have been numerous articles encouraging us to plant for pollinators in our garden and landscapes. And, what a good idea that is! Bees, butterflies, even flies can all serve to pollinate our plants. 

Many of our food crops need pollinators to form the fruits and vegetables we eat daily. Some vegetables are wind pollinated, but most are pollinated by insects. Have you ever grown squash or cucumbers, seen lots of flowers on your plants but had few or no vegetables form? The main reason for that is lack of pollination. Those crops, the circubits, have both male and female flowers. The pollen needs to be transferred from the male flower to the female one for the fruit to form. That’s where the bees come in. While they are after the pollen for their hives, as a side benefit, they transfer pollen from flower to flower creating the magic that makes our squash and cucumbers form. There would be no Hallowe’en Jack O’ Lanterns without the bees!

borage
Bees love Blue Borage!

Pollinators also help the plants set good, viable seed. By cross pollinating within a species, strong seed is created to carry on the best traits of the current generation. 

Sometimes, though, the pollinators create unwanted crosses in the garden. If you’re growing several types of squash, for instance, and want to save the seed, having the plants too close together can cause cross pollination and the resulting seed is not the variety you thought it was. Sometimes these hybrids turn out OK, but most often they are not very tasty. 

I usually grow several types of basil in the garden. I have had volunteer seedlings come up that look like sweet basil but have a distinctive lemon flavor due to the bees bringing the pollen from the lemon basil to the sweet basil. 

Peppers are notorious crossers. If you save seeds from sweet bell peppers that have been grown close to hot peppers, you might have hot bell peppers from the seed you plant next season! 

Pollinators for every garden

Spanish Lavender Plant
Spanish Lavender is a short lived evergreen perennial for me

 

Continue reading “Pollinators”

Spring!

Spring just has to be the most exciting time of year for us gardeners.

The equinox has passed and the sun is climbing in the sky offering us longer days, more sun to help our plants grow and milder days to work in the garden.

Oh, I know many of you are still in the grip of Old Man Winter, but, Spring will come soon enough. Have you started your seeds yet? Planned this year’s garden? Started cleaning out the beds?

Here in the South, our gardens are transforming, with the end of our winter crops of leafy greens, root vegetables and green peas clearing space for warm weather crops such as beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and the like.

I’ve been harvesting Snap Peas for weeks.

Tired Pea Vines!
Tired Pea Vines!

 

The vines are looking a little peaked now and I think it’s time to cut the pea vines and plant something else in that tub. Since I grew peas, which added lots of nitrogen to the soil, I’ll grow a heavy feeder such as a Tomato, Pepper or Eggplant in that tub.

New Lavender, Thyme and Rue!
New Lavender, Thyme and Rue!

 

New herbs are being stocked here at The Herb Cottage just in time for Spring shows and markets.

 

 

 

People are making their way out to the farm to get the best selection of herbs and vegetables, too.

Cucumber, Melons, Okra

In the herb beds, new growth is everywhere!

IMG_0315
Texas Bluebonnets love The Herb Cottage!

Of course, since I let our State Flower, the Texas Bluebonnet, grow wherever it pleases, the beds are full of them now. I’ll have to wait another few weeks until they fade and throw their seed out before I can replant my favorite warm weather annual, basil.

In the greenhouse, I have seeded traditional Genovese Basil, but also lemon, lime, Holy and Thai varieties.

Los of little basil! 4 varieties!
Los of little basil! 4 varieties!

 

 

Each type has a different aroma and flavor. Watch for it at my markets starting in mid to late April.

 

 

 

This year I also have African Blue Basil, which I ordered in for a local bee keeper. He said his bees love it the best. So… if you want to attract bees to your gardens and yard, plant some African Blue Basil for them. Most people find the flavor of the African Blue variety too strong for cooking, but it makes a fabulous landscape plant for the bees and for cut flowers. It’ll bloom until frost! If you live in a frost free area, African Blue Basil is perennial! Start more plants from cuttings, as the seed is sterile.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
African Blue Basil- Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

African Blue Basil isn’t just for bees. It’s a great butterfly plant as well.

In fact, most plants that bees like are also favored by butterflies.

 

Continue reading “Spring!”

Lemon-y Herbs for Summer

Monthly Feature APRIL 2014

Last month I wrote about Lemongrass, so this month I thought I’d continue with the lemon theme and discuss a few other lemony herbs. Lemon flavored herbs are great for summer: they make light and refreshing iced tea, add bright notes to grilled fish and seafood and combine well with salads.

Here are my favorites!

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citrodora

Lemon Verbena Flowers

A perennial shrub from 3 to 6 feet tall, Lemon Verbena is also known as Lemon Beebrush due to its attraction to bees when in flower.

The leaves will freeze and fall off the plant at 32 deg. F, but the wood is said to be hardy to -10 deg. F. Since I don’t live where it gets that cold, I have no experience with such low temperatures. I do know, my Lemon Verbena comes back every Spring on the old wood. So, if yours freezes, do not prune the woody stems all the way down. Prune for shape, if you like, but know new leaves will soon populate the old, woody stems.
In containers, I’ve found the smaller woody stems to also freeze, but new growth reliably comes from the root system.

Lemon Verbena can be a bit of a lanky, leggy grower and a bit of Spring pruning can help shape the plant. Left on its own, it’s not the most attractive plant in the herb garden. The flavor of Lemon Verbena, however, easily makes up for any lack of physical beauty.

In the garden in the Southern US, give Lemon Verbena some afternoon shade and it’ll be very happy, providing you with lots of leaves for tea and cooking. If you have a bee garden, Lemon Verbena is a good addition. The flowers are very attractive to our little pollinating friends. It makes sprays of white to pinkish flowers. Very attractive in arrangements, too.

I like to refer to Lemon Verbena as The Queen of Lemon Herbs! It’s flavor and scent is most like a real lemon, giving it the ability to make terrific tea, hot or iced. Used in cakes and cookies, it adds a distinct lemon flavor.

Here’s a recipe I found using Lemon Verbena in a muffin recipe with another summer favorite, zucchini:

Lemon Verbena and Nut Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup packed shredded zucchini – do not drain
  • 12 lemon verbena leaves, sliced finely

Into a large bowl, put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon peel, cinnamon and nuts.
In another bowl, beat the eggs with a fork, beating in the milk and the oil.
Add to the flour mix and stir well.
Then add the zucchini and lemon verbena and stir all together.
Grease mini-muffin tins and then fill 3/4 full.
Bake at 400 deg. F for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the tins.
Test with toothpick.

Glaze: juice the 2 lemons from above and add enough confectioners sugar to make a thin glaze. While the muffins are still hot, dip the tops in the glaze and set on wire rack to drain.

Recipe from In the Kitchen at Shale Hill Farm Continue reading “Lemon-y Herbs for Summer”

Artemisia, Herb of the Year 2014

January 2014

wormwo37-l

The International Herb Society choses an herb to be the Herb of the Year each year. The hope is that the chosen herb will become more well known and studied, due to its prominence. This year it’s Artemisia, a large, diverse genus of plants with between 200 to 400 known species belonging to the daisy family, Asteraceae.

Artemisia is in the daisy or Asteraceae family. It is one of over 350 species in that large family of plants. It comprises hardy herbs and shrubs known for their volatile oils. They grow in temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere, usually in dry or semi-dry habitats. The fern-like leaves of many species are covered with white hairs. 

Common names used for several species include mugwort, sagebrush, sagewort, and wormwood, while a few species have unique names, notably Tarragon (A. dracunculus) and Southernwood (A. abrotanum).

Occasionally some of the species are called sages, causing confusion with the Salvia sages in the family Lamiaceae. Most species have strong aromas and bitter tastes from terpenoids and sesquiterpene lactones, which exists as an adaptation to discourage herbivory. The small flowers are wind-pollinated.

The aromatic leaves of many species of Artemisia are medicinal, and some are used for flavoring. Most species have an extremely bitter taste.

Wormwood has been used medicinally as a tonic, stomachic, febrifuge and anthelmintic- to destroy parasitic worms- hence the term ‘wormwood’ One species, Artemisia annua, has been used and is still used to fight malaria. Continue reading “Artemisia, Herb of the Year 2014”

Parsley, Herb of Many Uses

Newsletter from February 2015

Sometimes common herbs become overlooked in favor of more exotic and “newer” varieties. Parsley is one such herb. Petroselinum crispum, Curly Parsley and Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley are common as dirt yet much more nutritious and versatile. Parsley is used in food and drinks and is a work horse in the herb garden. Here in my area of Texas it’s often used as a winter border with hardy annuals such as pansies and violas. It reliably holds up to our winters, although our summers can cause it some grief.

Parsley

Let’s look at how to grow parsely. I have people tell me they cannot get Parsely seed to germinate. There are various reasons for that. One common reason is using old seed. By that I mean seed stored a long time- even 2 year old Parsley seed will have low germination rate. So, if you’re growing from seed, be sure to use current year’s seed if purchasing the seed. If you’ve saved seed from the previous season, that seed should germinate well.

Parsley Seed PackageYou can always test the germination rate of the seed by placing about 10 – 20 seed on a damp paper towel or cloth, put it in a plastic bag and keep it at about 70 deg. F. Parsley is slow to germinate and can take 14 – 21 days. Check your seeds after about 2 weeks and keep an eye on them. If after 3 weeks you have no or very low germination, replace the seed. You can always toss the seed into a garden bed. A few might surprise you and come up.

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “Parsley, Herb of Many Uses”