Get down and dirty in the garden
Cynthia Meredith has been gardening with herbs, reading about herbs, and discussing herb gardening in Texas for more than 20 years. She has owned The Herb Cottage (www.theherbcottage.com) for over 10 years, selling herb plants to people all over our state.
Rain. Rain. And, more rain! We here in central Texas couldn't be more pleased with the change in the weather. It's cooler and the roadsides, pastures and lawns are actually turning green. As I look out the window by my computer, the overall look is greenish rather than dusty brown. What a lift for our spirits as well as local gardeners, ranchers and farmers. If this keeps up, and I hope it does, we may have to mow the grass this fall.
As I mentioned last week, I hoped that I would be able to plant parsley in one of my beds soon. Well, I did get a chance to plant the parsley and I couldn't stop there. Since the bed is right outside the back door, close to the kitchen, I decided to also plant some spinach, minutina, nasturtiums, and a mesclun mix as well.
Johnny's Selected Seeds says this about minutina:
"Minutina (Erba Stella)
Especially for winter salads.
Along with Sylvetta arugula and Claytonia, a cold-hardy salad plant for fall, winter, spring, and summer production. Small plant with a rosette of slender green leaves. Provides a crunchy texture to salads without fiber. Flower buds are edible. Regrows after cutting, but succession sow for best quality and appearance."
Photo courtesy of Johnny Selected Seeds
I've never grown minutina during the summer, but it would be worth giving it a try, especially if you live where it's a little cooler.
So far, a few nasturtiums have poked their big leaves up; the minutina and mesclun mix is up; and a few thin leaves of new spinach are showing. Parsley takes somewhere from 14 to 21 days to germinate, so I'm not surprised that it's not showing yet. And, if the seeds somehow get disturbed from my guinea fowl poking around in there, I'll have potted parsley plants in about 4 weeks that I can put in.
I just love the winter herbs and vegetables. Here, everything grows so well, stays a rich green due to the cool weather, and most winter herbs and vegetables are quite hardy for our mild winter. If you live in the more northern or western part of the state, your season is more limited, but you still can have a fall crop of cilantro, chervil, cutting celery and dill. The winter salad vegetables that grow so well with herbs will do well with some protection in your area. Spinach is very hardy and even if it freezes it'll come back. Arugula is another one I find to be very hardy.
And, don't forget about the edible flowers. Nasturtiums are frost tender, but violas, pansies and even calendula can take pretty cold conditions and still grow and bloom to add color to your salads. Just make sure you grow them without pesticides if you're going to eat them... just like you do your herbs.
An easy way to grow winter herbs and vegetables outdoors in a cooler winter climate is to make a simple cold frame. If you have access to hay bales, you can make a square out of them with about 6 bales and cover it with an old storm door or windows. You could even cover it with plastic weighted down with bricks or boards. Make sure you can lift the lid, not just for harvesting, but to keep it cool on those warmer, sunny days. It'll get really hot in there otherwise!
Here's a picture of a hay bale cold frame with leaves piled on the plants inside to really insulate the contents during a hard freeze. This is done instead of using a glass or plastic cover. This could be covered with glass or plastic for more protection and to keep wind from blowing the leaves out of the area. If you live where it is cold with high winds, which will really dry out your plants, hay bales are a good way to protect the crops.
You can make your area as large as the number of bales you have available or however large you need the space to be. Then, in the spring, use the hay for mulch in the garden beds.
Growing herbs and salad greens in pots is another way to go, of course, for the winter if you are concerned about crops freezing. That way, you can move the container to a protected area during a cold snap.
There are as many ways as there are gardeners to grow a fall/winter garden in Texas. Look for seeds of easy to grow fall herbs such as cilantro, dill and arugula. Lettuce and other salad greens grow easily from seed as well and combine beautifully with herbs to make an attractive as well as tasty winter garden.
"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
—Marcus Tullius Cicero