Fall is the best time to grow herbs
ANN M. O’PHELANCLEWISTON - From the delicate flavor of marjoram in our soups, to the peppery flavor of rosemary on our chicken, to the spicy-bitter flavor of sage in our pastas, we all love our herbs.
Published: November 7, 2012
Published: November 7, 2012
Right now many of our favorites are being harvested in Florida, such as some of the herbs on C&B Farms — just south of Clewiston.
"We are harvesting basil, thyme, rosemary, chives, oregano, marjoram, mint, tarragon, oregano, and sage," said Chuck Obern of C&B Farms.
The 2,500-acre farm, also offers arugula, thyme, lemon grass, garlic chives, basil, Thai basil, red basil, chervil, dill, sorrel, parsley, and cilantro, as well as a wide selection of specialty vegetables including a variety of eggplant, bok choy, kale, chard, and collards. Some crops are grown organically, while others use conventional methods.
Although many herbs are currently being harvested, there are also quite a few that are perfect for fall planting, such as cilantro, parsley, sage and thyme.
For most herbs, the best time to grow is when it is cooler and drier.
"Highs in the low to middle 80s, and lows in the 60s are ideal," added Obern, who explained that it also depends on the temperature of the soil.
Unfortunately, that type of weather is in contrast to the weather Florida has experienced for many months. "Heat and rain has been tough on the crops. We have a lot of disease, and some higher-than-normal insect problems," said Obern, who mentioned that heavy rain also leaches out the fertilizer.
As any grower knows, bad weather can lead to less profit.
"The yields are poor and prices are cheap," said Obern whose harvest, furthermore, competes with imported herbs from countries that have a lower production cost.
Their lower cost is not offset by the higher cost of transportation, so prices are kept low. Obern sells his crops to wholesalers, re-packers and distributers. Retailers, such as Publix, Walmart, Safeway, and Trader Joes, carry the farm’s herbs.
According to NOAA, above normal rainfall is expected through the first and second half of Florida’s dry season, which is one thing to keep in mind should you plant your own herb garden during the cooler months.
"Herbs do not like high humidity or heavy rainfall," said Obern, who explained that herbs should be grown in well-drained soils with moderate nutrition, as they do not have a high nutrient requirement to grow.
When choosing your herbs, you will want to consider that some herbs are annual, such as dill, arrugula, cilantro, and basil, while others are perennial, such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, chives and parsley. So if you don’t want to plant every year, you are better off choosing perennials.
When planting herbs, you can use pots, raised beds, or even herb mounds (a mound of soil and mulch built up for the herbs to grow in).
Some herbs do well when planted as seeds, such as anise and dill, while others, such as sage and rosemary, can also come from cuttings.
Herbs are easy to grow in 6- or 8-inch pots, or even up to 15-gallon pots that offer good drainage.
The soil should offer the correct pH level (around 6.5) and be free of weeds and nematodes, which are microscopic worms that eat plant roots. Also, herbs love compost. Compost helps a poor soil retain more water and nutrients.
Herbs do well in raised beds and herb mounds, as they offer good drainage.
"You should make raised beds. Height depends on the rooting depth requirements, about 3 to 4 feet wide and the walkways about 2 feet wide between them," said Obern.
It generally takes around 60 days from transplanting or seeding to first harvest, but this varies some by herb type, he said. Herbs must be tended to or they can easily proliferate and become weeds.
Diseases and some insects can affect herbs and should be kept to a minimum. "Copper, sulfur and oil sprays can help with disease, and while insects are not usually much of a problem, if you get a few worms use a Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) product," said Obern.
As far as the colder winter months go, the majority of herbs will take a light frost.
Basil is more sensitive to cold and should be covered when the temperature is below 40 degrees.