One of my goals this year is to add more herbs to the gardens (not just the vegetable garden). Herbs have many different characteristics that can make the attractive as well as useful.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Last year I became painfully aware that after making a delicious batch of pesto that we were out of fresh basil and it was the end of the growing season. I'll not make that mistake again! This year I'm adding basil everywhere I can including in the herb patch, the vegetable garden, and any other place it might look good. It's easy to grow and tastes delicious in many dishes. It can also be stored very easily in the freezer. Be sure to pinch basil tips often to prevent flowering until the fall. Pinching makes a bushier plant with more leaves, which is a good thing! In the fall let it go to seed if you want it to reseed.
One of the standard basils that we grow each year is Italian basil. It tastes great in pesto and other dishes. These little basil sprouts are growing in one of our vegetable garden beds. I planted them directly from seed among the tomatoes as a companion planting strategy.
The 'Blue Spice' basil is something a little different that we are trying this year for the sake of variety. It's leaves are tinted a little toward the bluish end of the spectrum but still appear mostly green to me.
Here's an interesting basil specimen, Cinnamon basil! Yes it actually smells like cinnamon! I haven't figured out what to use it for yet but we'll come up with something. Perhaps as a seasoning for chicken or ham?
Dark Opal basil is neat for its coloration. I grew Thai basil last year (which reminds me I need to plant some more) which had some purple tints but not quite like Dark Opal. It's also located in the vegetable garden. I can't wait to try some Purple Pesto!
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Companion planting strategy: Good companions for tomatoes.
How we use it: Pesto, Pasta, Chicken
This herb is one that my wife
demanded requested we get going this year. We've had trouble with damping off in previous years but this year it is doing good. We have two plants growing stong in with the tomatoes. Cilantro seems to be one of those herbs that you either love it or don't.
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Companion planting strategy: prevents potato beetles, aphids, spider mites, and carrot rust fly.
How we use it: Mexican dishes, meats (chicken and hamburger), guacamole (if only I could grow avacados outdoors I would be set!)
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is a very attractive plant but aside from that we haven't utilized it effectively. It definitely smells like lemons and could be a substitute for lemons in tea. We've also used it as a seasoning in chicken dishes. Strangely it appears to be doubling as a bed for some creature, most likely a kitty. I suppose the feline population has to smell their best! Lemon balm also has an added benefit of repelling certain bloodsucking insects, namely mosquitoes!
Companion planting strategy: Bees like it so plant it where you need pollinators (i.e. near squash and cucurbits), attracts beneficial insects
How we use it: Seasoning on chicken, tea
Mint is another new herb in our garden. Due to its invasiveness I've been a little reticent to plant it however I've put it only into two raised beds that have confinement. Hopefully that will keep the mint in their beds but it is so easy to pull out it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Mint tends to spread due to its rhizomatous roots. I planted two types this year spearmint which is a very common and great for teas as well as chocolate mint which we have used in ice tea but would be good in coffee too (Thanks to Kate's suggestion via Twitter).
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Companion planting strategy: repels ants and flea beetles (may also help control aphids since ants tend to aid ahpids by overwintering their eggs. Ants then collect the honeydew the aphids make from the plants they devour.)
How we use it: Tea, tea and more tea! Coffee. I hope to dry some this year to save for the winter. Tea made from mint tends to calm the stomach.