Herb growing Ireland – How to grow herbs – Herb growing workshop – Gretas Herbs Annascaul, Dingle

West Kerry Live April 2013 April 24, 2013

Filed under: Published Articles — gretasherbs @ 9:32 am

Greta’s Herbs


Bitter, cold, dry weather conditions have made this spring of 2013 the hardest I can remember. The countryside is barren; the buds on my Horse Chestnut tree have yet to burst into that wonderful wave of green which in my garden marks the arrival of springtime. My seedlings in the polytunnel have to be nurtured like premature babies in an incubator. I have to cover them with fleece each night. Alas the few that escaped cover suffered severe frost bite recently. Most things will recover if allowed defrost gradually in early morning: keep them out of direct sunlight until later in the day so their cells don’t collapse.

I have moved out a lot of the hardier herbs and salad vegetables including Lettuce, Mizuna, Rocket and Parsley. Regardless of this intense cold, young plants will require watering. Aim to do this before late evening to avoid chilling! Once the temperature rises by about 5 degrees and the rain softens the atmosphere, we can commence planting in earnest. Any of my herb plants on sale inside – such as the local supermarket – will already have been hardened off so just leave them outside in their pots before planting.

I just planted the first batch of early potatoes last week but still have plenty more to plant. Everything is very late this year. My three tomato varieties have failed to emerge; the first time this has ever happened so I will have to make repeat sowings. Luckily I never sow all seeds at once so losses will be minimal.

I had the unsavory task of checking for any vine weevil larvae (Otiorhyndus sulcatus) which may have over-wintered in potted plants from last season. These small white grubs with bronze heads adore munching on roots of certain plants such as Primulas and some have even formed a taste for my Mint plants. They completely devour the plant’s root system and if not manually extracted cause awful damage. I avoided physically squashing them this year and choose instead to feed them to my goldfish in the pond. Lots of protein after a difficult winter will enhance their health! If the vine weevil larvae escape detection, they mature into nasty adult beetles which attack the foliage of many shrubs in summer, creating semi circular bites along the leaf edge. One way of identifying this brownish vandal is to knock it over and watch it play dead: it is a deceptive creature. One can invest in the organic, biological control by nematodes. These are microscopic pest parasites which are mixed with water and then applied to the soil. There are well over 100 species used to control a variety of insects and pests including slugs. It is an expensive but highly effective method however the weather condition, e.g. temperature must be correct to ensure success. I have never used them, possibly preferring to indulge in my own sweet revenge of elimination or better still biodiversity!


West Kerry Live Published Spring 2013

Filed under: Published Articles — gretasherbs @ 9:23 am

Greta’s Herbs

Spring has sprinted forth with crisp, dry days however low temperatures demand caution when sowing seed. In my polytunnel the first seedlings of lettuce, rocket, broccoli and various Asian salad leaves have emerged. I have been covering them with fleece by night to give some protection. Once temperatures rise by a few degrees, I will prick them off into pots and trays. As I have often mentioned, sowing little and often is the key to a continual harvest. I use the glass and newspaper method; however adhere to whichever technique proves successful. Outside, an endless list of chores awaits me. I recently massacred a pussy willow shelter-belt, reducing its height by half. It had missed its annual clip last year and required serious pruning. I’ve had to forfeit the pretty catkins which were just developing, so delay until later if one wishes to retain these.

Pruning back fennel to ground level  along with any other untidy comrades is essential. Also top-dress all plants with an organic soil enricher such as garden compost or choose a commercially produced brand of processed manure or seaweed. I like to mix a handful of granular fertilizer through this to give the plants that extra boost they need right now: this annual application works wonders!  I have had to relinquish my all time favourite potato variety Home Guard for more blight resistant new-comers, such as Orla and Coleen. They are chitting (sprouting) indoors. Choose a cool, light location and position them upright in trays or egg boxes. This will give their growth a head start. I am also trying a new main-crop variety called Sarpo Mira, which I am told is fantastically blight resistant. However seeing is believing; my potatoes are always plagued, especially in recent wet summers!

The first flowers to break the bleakness in my garden are miniature daffodils, Ribes sanguingea (red flowering currant) and yellow Cytisus scorparius (common broom). The addition of a pond last year excites me with the prospect of frogs gobbling up those luring slugs. My three goldfish have survived the cold and the heron. They are slowly beginning to exercise again after their winter rest. Pond plants are still dormant except for Mentha aquatica (water mint) which modestly displays one shoot! Like all herb plants it hides a multitude of secrets, the leaves evidently make a pungent peppermint tea which will no doubt accentuate a pleasant end to a hard working day!


Published Articles on North Cyprus March 4, 2013

Filed under: Published Articles — gretasherbs @ 10:56 am

North Cyrus Botanic Gardens (2)

Greta’s Herbs

Winter Gardening in North Cyprus

 The weather has begun to change and has become increasingly erratic. Sunshine is still plentiful and temperatures remain pleasant in circa 12-20c. Quite often gigantic thunder and lightening storms orchestrate between the massive mountains behind me and the Mediterranean ocean to the front. The majority of my seeds e.g. Rocket, Lettuce, Spinach, Tomato, Pea have germinated rapidly within four days. However, I notice their growth has suddenly halted, mainly I think due to fluctuating temperatures, the days are still hot but night temperatures drop dramatically. Growth here appears sporadic whereas at home it is slow but consistent. I have to remind myself that this is winter-time so daylight hours (7am-5pm) are diminished. This naturally affects the mechanism of Photosynthesis, whereby plants convert light energy to chemical energy promoting growth. A recent tropical storm raged for 48 hours and damaged a lot of flowering shrubs, splitting top heavy branches, especially the Bougainvilleas. My neighbour’s young Banana tree almost toppled and he had to brace it to the railing. It still bears a solitary bunch of green fruit, it’s first I would imagine and I wonder when they will ripen! On my first day weeding the villa garden I was trying to discern the cultivated from the wild, some of these weeds are very decorative. There was a trailing plant with large cucumber type leaves, pretty lemon flowers and chunky round seed pods. I had just cut into it when it suddenly sprayed a shower of liquid directly into my face, fearing it was toxic I ran to wash it off. Later I recalled the story to a local nursery man, who, with great amusement informed me the plant is a tenacious weed, nick named exploding or squirting cucumber. The seed pods burst automatically, and he re-assured me I won’t go blind this time. With further research I discovered it’s botanical title is Ecballium elaterium. It is poisonous, however, it is suspected to provide food for the caterpillar of the Tortix moth. Also interestingly in Turkey it is used in herbal medicine to treat sinusitis. Needless to say being involved in the herb business I found this completely intriguing! My time here has come to an end and I have learned a lot about Med gardening. It is with regret I leave behind the veggies that I will not get to harvest, and of course, the sun in the mornings upon flowers that blossom endlessly! However I cannot deny I am looking forward to the approaching Spring-time in Ireland, for me the beauty of that is hard to beat. There is something special about the richness of Irish soil, the lavish green grass and the purity of a rain that falls as if by duty, so it is with gratitude I return to my home land with the word Murhaba!

Published in West Kerry, Corca Dhuibhne Beo Jan 2013

Ecballium elaterium (exploding/Squirting cucumber)

Ecballium elaterium Exploding cucumber!


North Cyprus Winter Gardening 2012 January 19, 2013

Filed under: Published Articles — gretasherbs @ 11:18 am

Greta’s Herbs

Gardening in Cyprus

On arriving mid November the maximum temperature hovered between 20-25 degrees celsius during the daytime, with a drop to about 15 degrees by night. Most days I awoke to blazing sunshine and air that was heavily scented from the abundant blossom. Pink and white Bouganvilleas rampantly adorn villa archways and pillars. I noticed an orange variety I had never before encountered. Lantanas, orange tubular Daturas and striking blue Jacarandas bloom in full force everywhere. Oleander is used as a hedging and appears to flower all year round. I have to re-learn a lot of these mediterranean plants as it is almost 30 years since I studied them in the glass houses in the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. It makes me nostalgic to see them again, like re-acquainting with old friends, very familiar, flamboyant ones from a distant land!

The most incredible plant specimen I have seen was an Ipomea (morning glory) growing wild in a small Cypriot village up the mountains on the North West coast. It had gone totally berserk! Vigorously, scrambling to the very top of an electric pole and completely covering an adjacent wall. Hundreds of vibrant, blue flowers danced in the sunshine. The effect was hypnotic. I have grown this as an annual climber in Ireland where it has begrudgingly produced some flowers, sulking for want of heat and sunlight. I have always loved it and now at last experience its full glory.

I am told Cyprus has two growing seasons, so crops are harvested now and again in April-May. Olives and Citrus fruits are plentiful but quality is superior in the first season after the winter rains. My passion for growing led me to the nearest garden centre to acquire compost to germinate the seed I have carefully transported from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere.  I was shocked at the price; it did contain a water retention additive, however, most products are imported from mainland Turkey, so prices on many items are surprisingly high. Some of these seeds such as Basil and Tomato should feel completely at home here. They are now sitting on the balcony in pots donated by neighbours, wrapped up in fleece (also carried over) as the nights are turning chilly. I expect expediency as I am on limited time.  Hopefully this Mediterranean heat will prompt them rapidly into growth, or perhaps like me, they will somehow feel a familiar link to their ancient past.



Herb Questions and Answers Published January 15, 2012

Filed under: Published Articles — gretasherbs @ 4:22 pm

I am starting a new article in    West Kerry Live Magazine from the end of this month onwards. Readers need to email their questions to me at gretasherbs@yahoo.com!  A monthly draw will occur for all those whose questions get published and the prize is a €15 herb voucher! Good Luck!

West Kerry Live 2nd  February 2012

What are the best and most common healing herbs to grow in a greenhouse?

Frank Buckley Castlegregory

I am not a Herbalist so can not recommend any herbs for ingestion. However I believe that scent has a calming, therapeutic quality so try growing Lemon Verbena in your green-house, it has the most powerful scent of all and reaches about6 footin height! Other herbs which have an intense aroma and will enjoy the heat are Lavender, Lemon-Balm, Basil and Scented Geraniums. You can also try growing a variety of Citrus fruits from pips, they won’t produce fruit but will give your green-house a Mediterranean atmosphere. They make beautiful scented pot plants but are slow-growing initially so have patience!

I am a Felter and wish to grow some herbs that will enable me to dye Merino wool?  I would appreciate some advice in this area and would be very grateful for any information.

 Anne Hennessy  Tipperary

All plants will result in some colouring. You’ll find a wide range of  herb plants that will produce colors in yellow, yellow-brown and grey-brown tones. Deeper golds, russets and reds are a bit harder to come by and blue and purple are down-right challenging. A great deal of plant material is necessary to achieve an intense color. As you probably already know the addition of various mordants (an element which aids the dye to fix) dictates the resultant colour. For example Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion) root turns wool magenta when the mordant alum is used, however, the use of tin and vinegar results in purple wool, and yellow is the color when no mordant is added. The flowers also yield a yellow dye. Calendula officinalis (old English marigold) infusion yields a pale, yellow dye even though the flowers are orange! Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort) gives a red dye when using a tin/vinegar mordant. I would advise you to experiment by also gathering material from other gardens. Tree foliage such as Eucalyptus and Alder may also be used. The varieties I have mentioned in this article are all very easy to grow and most of them are perennial, but do not limit yourself, try everything!

Brown: comfrey, fennel, geranium Blue: Inula helenium (Elecampane)
Pink:  chicory,  Green: Nettle, angelica, foxglove, marjoram, rosemary, tansy.
Grey: poplar, raspberry Red: sweet woodruff, hops Yellow: Solidago species (Golden Rod)

I find it difficult to grow Basil any tips? What are the best 3 or 4 herbs to grow if you only have room for a few pots?

Ann Hartnett, Annascaul

Sweet Basil (large leaved) is the one most commonly grown. It is a very tricky herb to cultivate in our unpredictable climate. It desires a hot, dry environment so full sun is essential. I would advise keeping one pot inside on a sunny window-sill and one outside. Always water it mid-day avoiding the foliage, never during late evening as this can give it a chill. If space is limited to pot culture grow the most versatile, compact, varieties such as Coriander, Parsley, Oregano, Chives and Mint. Larger pots will contain Rosemary, Bay and French Tarragon. When potting up always mix some garden soil with the compost and liquid feed 10-14 days with an organic brand.

Does Parsley do better in full sun or shade?

Maeve Harnett Annascaul

From my experience I find Parsley does best in a rich, moist soil in a position that gets sun for half of the day. It will also thrive in full sun provided the soil is kept well watered. It has a habit of going to seed quickly on poor, dry soils.

I was given a Rosemary plant for Christmas, how do I care for it and can I plant it outside in the ground?

Derek Hunt Annascaul

If the plant you have is small, grow it on outside in a pot for another year or two. Otherwise plant it in the ground late March to early April. It loves a sunny, sheltered position, remember to give it ample space as it grows 5-6ft in height. It is an evergreen shrub so it is available to add delicious flavour to your lamb etc all year round! If the soil is heavy add some silver sand (can be purchased in Garden centre). Top-dress it annually in Springtime with compost and a sprinkle of organic fertilizer and liquid feed it weekly throughout the growing season. Little pruning is required just remove any dead or broken branches  as they develop throughout the season.

What are the main guidelines for planting culinary herbs?

Siobhan Guilfoyle, Annascaul

The main planting season is March to end June. Herbs should be grouped depending on their site and soil requirements ie Thymes need full sun in a light sandy soil and Mints like a damp soil in semi-shade. Read individual labels and allow adequate growing space as some varieties such as Lovage can reach up to6 ftin height. Add a handful of organic soil enricher (shop bought or home-made compost) and a sprinkle of organic fertilizer when planting. If growing in containers ensure to mix soil with compost etc this gives a longer lasting compound. Good Luck!

What is the best way to grow Nigella flowers and Fenugreek? Is it possible to harvest the seed?

Rachel Holstead, Ventry

Nigella sativa (black cumin) is the main variety used for seed harvesting however Nigella damascene with it’s pretty ‘Love in a Mist’ flowers has black seeds which are  also edible! This is an easy annual which freely flowers in a good soil in a sunny position, sow broad cast so it germinates en masse. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum) described in the catalogue as an easy herb to grow I found much trickier.  I have tried growing it once with little success, it definitely requires a hotter, sunnier climate than ours! It is a pretty plant with clover, type leaves (young leaves are edible) and has scented pea like flowers. The seed which are produced in pods are used a lot in Indian cuisine. Whole seeds are pickled  and are also ground to make a curry powder. I would suggest you give it a grow! You may have more luck than me. I have never harvested seed from either of these plants. However, I do know from collecting seed from other plants that you need to harvest when seed has properly, ripened on a calm, dry day.

What herb would be good to help me sleep and how should I take it?

Monika Maroszova, Castlegregory

I am not a Herbalist however Valerian is particularly good and you can get it in the health food store. Chamomile tea is also a pleasant night cap. Other remedies include Lavender or Hop oil baths before bed. Also placing a sachet of lavender under your pillow should help send you into blissful sleep!

 March 2012

Why does my Rosemary plant get so woody after a short time? How toxic is the oil?

Joan Greene, Inch Hotel

This question arises a lot. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is slow growing so it is important to encourage rich, green growth from the base. Ensure to purchase a bushy plant and top dress annually in Spring with a mix of organic soil enricher and granular fertilizer. Also regularly remove dead, spindly stems. It should then grow to become a full bodied specimen. Mature plants that have grown excessively woody may be hard pruned in April however there is a risk of losing the plant. Otherwise the only option is to replace it. The second part of your question should be directed at an Aromatherapist. I would not consider Rosemary oil toxic except like most oils it needs to be mixed with a base oil such as almond to reduce it’s concentration and to prevent a skin reaction.

What are the best Herbs to grow in pots?

Pauline Hunt, Annascaul.

Small herbs such as Golden oregano, Chives, Thyme varieties and Parsley are ideal planted in groups. Larger varieties such as Lovage, Rosemary and Bay may be planted individually and of course Mint should also be confined as it is highly invasive! Any type of container can be used but terracotta is definitely the most suitable and the most aesthetic.

Can you give me some beginner’s tips on growing lettuce and salad herbs in containers?

Ursula O Connell, Dingle

You can commence sowing now in containers i.e. fish-boxes using potting compost mixed with some garden soil and a handful of organic fertilizer! Adding a little processed manure or soil enricher (bagged product) gives the mix an extra charge of nutrients promoting lush growth! The easiest Lettuces are the cut and come varieties such as Salad bowl green or red leaved. Selection packets of salad greens can also be acquired but are very popular so immediate purchase is necessary! An easier option is to buy ready to plant Lettuce and Salad Herbs like Parsley, Mizuna, Mustard Greens and Rocket. The Wild Rocket is wonderful as it is a hardy perennial so will flourish through a mild winter. The ordinary Rocket is an annual which disappears quickly so sowing in succession is vital. If you are growing from seed sow every 2 weeks, a little at a time, most people over sow! Regular watering and liquid feeding is all that is required. Remove any flower buds that attempt to develop on the Salad Herbs. Watch out for slug attacks at all times ensuring to scatter pellets (preferably organic) on the surface after sowing or planting. Harvesting occurs sooner than one imagines usually 4 to six weeks from seed and from plants almost instantly.

Does Basil need to be grown inside all year round? I have planted flat leaf Parsley and Dill and they are thriving but the Basil hasn’t grown and it appears there is a fungal growth across the top layer of the planting pot.

Gareth O Donnell, Annascaul

Basil is extremely difficult to cultivate, it germinates easily from seed sown March to June but forget about it in winter. It will only reach maturity in the height of a really hot, sunny summer. I recommend placing one pot outside and retain one inside on a windowsill. The fungus you describe often occurs due to over watering and is more prevalent in dreary, sunless conditions. Your Parsley and Dill should be moved outside once weather improves.

What is the best manure to put on Rhubarb?

Martin Sayers, Annascaul

Rhubarb requires a rich, moist soil so regular feeding is important. Spreading manure of any kind i.e. horse, cow etc around the base of the plants is extremely beneficial however it must be well rotted or it may scorch or even kill the plants. Autumn is the ideal time to do this practice of mulching as it smothers weeds and lends some protection to the roots. It also creates a type of hot bed so the Rhubarb may emerge earlier and stronger! You can however mulch now in spring and then in about 6 weeks apply a scattering of fertilizer.

April 2012

How do I care for my Jasmine plant and when should I feed it? The base of the plant is quite bare showing no new shoots.

Trica O’ Sullivan Annascaul

There are many varieties of Jasmine so I am assuming that you are inquiring about either Jasminum polyanthum (Indoor) or Jasminum officinale (outdoor). Both species have white scented flowers however J. polyanthum has a far superior fragrance. There are numerous other outdoor varieties which require similar care to J officinale, that being a sunny, sheltered wall and a rich, well-drained soil. Normally pruning is done after flowering on both these species and mainly consists of removing weak shoots. However in this case you may now prune back a majority but not all weak shoots to ground level in order to revitalize the plant and encourage it to sprout from the base. The flower production may be less this year but overall appearance and blossom will improve in subsequent years. Plants should be top dressed with organic soil enricher and granular fertilizer in April and again around mid June. Liquid feed weekly once temperature increases with last application ceasing the end of August. Jasminum polyanthum can only be grown inside on a sunny windowsill or conservatory. Its scent is breath taking! It is usually sold in full bloom, trained to a hoop supported in a tiny pot. Many plants are forced into flower in this manner by restricting root development, another example is Azalea. It is important when re-potting to just increase pot size by 1 or 2  otherwise the plant will explode in an excess of leaves with little blossom. Under these imprisoned conditions J polyanthum must be lavished with liquid feed. When in flower keep moist at all times but reduce watering in winter. As it matures remove the hoop and train along an indoor trellis or up bamboo canes. It can grow over 20ft in length and is a magnificent conservatory plant.

I have a side garden that gets around 4 to 5 hours of sun, is it suitable for Fennel?

Pat Moriarty,Tralee

Fennel is a herbaceous perennial which means it dies down completely in winter so several daily hours’ sunlight in spring and summer is adequate. The bronze variety forms a pleasant contrast to the green. Both are easy to grow but tend to re-seed a lot so remove flower heads before they set seeds otherwise your side garden may become invaded!

How do I keep Spinach growing so there is a long supply and how does one prevent it going to seed?

Celia O’Brien Inch

Spinach is very prolific, yielding several seasons’ harvest. To ensure a continuous supply it requires a rich, moist soil. Remove any flower shoots which tend to occur in dry weather. To aid moisture retention, mulch several times in the growing season with organic compost and liquid feed regularly. I am presently harvesting Swiss Chard (type of Spinach) from last year’s crop!

April 2012

How do I grow Coriander?

Cheryl McLeod, Annascaul

Coriander is a much loved herb which can be grown successfully from seed or else purchased as plants from April to June. It does like a sunny location but is a lot hardier than Basil. I suggest you plant some outside and retain 1 or 2 for a sunny windowsill inside. The varieties ‘Cliantro’ or ‘Slowbolt’ are an ideal choice as they are slower to go to seed than other varieties, especially in dry, hot weather. Sowing seed a little every 2 weeks should provide ample cutting throughout the season.  Keep it well watered and liquid feed weekly to encourage plenty of foliage. The seeds of Coriander may also be collected and crushed to make a spice at the end of summer.


Are there many different varieties of mint i.e. lemon which grow easily in our climate?

Arty Clifford, Dingle

There are many fantastic varieties of mint which can be easily grown here in Kerry, particularly because, unlike Thymes, they can tolerate excessively wet conditions. Grow them in pots as most are highly invasive. Try Lemon, Peppermint, Eau de Cologne, Lime,

Spearmint, Applemint and most exciting of all Chocolate Peppermint. The only one I tend to find less hardy is Gingermint, it is very ornamental with gold striped leaves. A new addition is Indian mint. This is a trailing variety which combines scent to hanging baskets and tubs!


My Garlic tends to get rust like spots on the leaves half way through the growing season and the bulbs remain small but edible. What is causing this?

Brita Wilkins, Baile an Trasna, Ventry

I have never had this problem with Garlic so I am guessing a little on this one! I imagine it is mainly due to the dreadful wet summers in recent years. So diligently improving soil drainage may help. Ensure to add sufficient sand (horticultural sand may be purchased in Garden Centres) and grow on drills or raised beds. If you can, use a cloche to give some cover from excessive rain mid-summer. Rust, like blight is a fungal disease which is  infectious, so foliage must be burned as it can spread to other crops, like wise in reverse your Garlic may be getting infected from other plants nearby which may be carrying rust disease so check around. Excessive leaf growth caused by too much nitrogen can promote the disease so go easy on fertilizers. This year just add potash to try to balance out the soil composition. If the bulbs remain undamaged then the dreaded white rot is not the problem, if this was the case I would advise you not to grow Garlic in that area of soil for 8 years!

May 2012

How do I grow Sage?

Patrica McCleod, Annascaul

Sage is a perennial herb which means it should last for several years. Unfortunately like Thyme it has a tendency to rot during our constant rainy weather! Generously incorporate horticultural sand into the soil where it is planted to aid drainage. Lightly clip dead or straggly stems in April and top dress with organic compost and a granular fertilizer to encourage fresh growth. Salvia officinalis (common Sage) is the most vigorous variety. There are beautiful, decorative gold, purple and tricolor varieties which may be less hardy but are very eye-catching and may also be used in cooking.

What is the main pest which attacks carrots?

Anthony Leo Dempsey, Annascaul

The Carrot Root Fly is the carrot grower’s nightmare! It is a small black fly which lays its eggs at the base of the carrots during the growing season of April to August. These hatch out to become rampant, creamy white maggots which tunnel through the carrots, decimating the crop Ugh! There are two preventative methods which should be used to ward off this destructive pest. Firstly the fly is attracted to the carrot aroma especially during thinning so try to minimize this by quickly discarding and disposing of all carrot  thinnings. Even better, try and avoid thinning by sowing seed lightly and carefully. Inter-planting or companion planting with onions, garlic and pot marigold (Calendula) also helps as does the planting nearby of heavy scented herbs such as Rosemary or Sage. The second effort involves the creation of a barrier so the fly cannot land to lay it’s eggs. The use of fleece in recent years has proved successful, making sure to imbed the edges so the fly can’t sneak in. The construction of a 6o cm high polythene barrier around the crop can also prevent access as this pest is a low flyer. The scientists have been endeavoring to breed a carrot variety resistant to this pest for almost two decades. They have managed to reduce the chemical within the carrot which the larvae (maggot) requires for survival. In recent trials the variety Flyaway proved most successful other varieties displaying some resistance include Flyaway and Health Master.

My Rosemary is growing upwards alarmingly, but remains quite sparse. Should I be cutting it back and if so how and how often?”

Ann O’ReganLimerick

Rosemary does not tolerate severe pruning so prune lightly anytime during the growing season but never in winter. Remove dead or spindly branches and trim to encourage bushiness. Light, regular pruning will ensure a good shape. It prefers a sandy soil if your soil is very rich it will have a tendency to sprout soft growth, so refrain from over feeding this year. A light application of an organic granular fertilizer is adequate this again should be added only in the growing season.

Which herbs are best for honeybees?

Marie Charland, Ballydavid

There is a wide selection to choose from so I am limiting it to free-flowering varieties which flourish in our climate. Obviously the more flowers the more nectar and pollen for hungry bees! Many self seeding annuals such as Borage and Calendula will provide blossom en masse for many years, once you are not averse to a little wildness in your garden as they will pop up like weeds! Rosemary (R. officinalis) is another excellent choice as it has a long flowering season and grows into a substantial6’shrub.St. John’sWort (Hypericum perforatum) is also worth a go as it spreads quickly and reseeds everywhere. Honeybees love Thymes, Lavender, Sage and Hyssop, these pleasant aromatic herbs need a lot of sunshine and a very well-drained, sandy soil otherwise you can lose them in winter. Much easier subjects are Chives, Fennel, Lemon Balm, Oregano and Mint especially Apple mint. All these are perennial and spread rapidly once given a  sheltered, sunny position which is also important for our bees. According to my herb reference book ‘bees ignore plants within a radius of approximately 15m from the hive as this area may be contaminated by the bees’ own cleansing flights’. Bee keepers will no doubt understand this concept. I recommend planting in groups of 5 or 7, to add extra interest and colour include Poppies and ornamental Nettles (Lamiums) these are non-stinging varieties. Bergamot (Monarda didyma) commonly known as bee balm is a very pretty plant, it does attract honeybees but they unlike bumble bees cannot reach the nectar due to the narrow tubular flower structure! Comfrey, Golden rod (Solidago) and Sunflowers are also excellent and a joy to look at. Apart from the herb plant kingdom there are lots of other bee-attractors especially native plants such as Fuchsia and Heather.  If you are blessed like I with a natural hedgerow of our precious flora –what a beautiful back-drop this would make for your bee garden!


I purchased herb plants several weeks ago, can I plant them now?

Iain, Slea Head

All plants need a hardening off period before planting out into the ground or into bigger pots. If they have already been outside in a Garden Centre or Nursery then continue to leave them outside for a week, or longer if temperatures are cool. Plants purchased from indoor stores will not have been hardened off . These will need a lot more care by placing outside daily but bringing in at night until they are acclimatized, then leave them out completely again for one week before transplanting. Many such as Basil or Coriander are grown out of season in heated conditions and will not adapt to outside temperatures unless it is the height of summer. Retain them on your windowsill and harvest for as long as possible.

June 2012

I have a small flea-like fly in my compost eating my baby spinach plants; what can I do? Vikki Louise, Munster Trader

My guess is that your Spinach is being eaten by the flea beetle. This treacherous, shiny insect hops about quickly, leaving round holes in the leaves. Seedlings growing in dry compost are especially vulnerable so keep everything well watered as these pests seem to like dry conditions. I used to apply Derris dust which was an organic derivative from a plant root however I see it is now banned. There probably is some form of chemical control of which I am not aware. The other prevention is companion planting, they love radish and will be drawn to those as it is only the leaves they attack and you can still consume the radish! Inter planting with strong scented herbs like garlic, chamomile and marigold may help. Other methods involve sticky tape traps and home-made organic mixes to deter them but you will need to contact an organic grower for advice on these. Another tip that may reduce attack is to delay sowing until later in the season. The eggs develop over winter and hatch out in late spring. Depriving the first emerging generation of food may starve them out. By observing and studying the lifecycle of non-beneficial insects we gain an understanding of how to naturally reduce their population without completely eliminating that species. This is how we achieve a harmonious balance in the garden.  I rarely encounter flea beetle attacks and when I do it is usually brief.

How do I control club-root on Cabbages as I can no longer obtain Calomel?

Mike Devine

This is a serious soil-borne disease which attacks Brassicas (members of Cabbage family), stunting growth and completely distorting the roots: hence its name! Yes Calomel was a powder we once mixed with a mud paste into which we dipped the cabbage roots to prevent the disease. Like so many other chemicals it has now been banned. It contained mercury mineral and was once used in a variety of fungicides. Research has shown in recent years that it does not break down safely and is a danger to human and wildlife. There are no doubt replacement chemicals such as Borax which control the disease. Club-root spores can reside in the soil for 20 years so it becomes an on-going problem. The application of ground limestone every few years is   recommended to raise the pH as this fungal disease thrives in acidic soils. Planting in raised beds to enhance drainage should also help as the fungus loves damp conditions. Try specific Cabbage varieties such as Kilaxy which have been bred to resist this disease. You will however have to raise these from seed as conventional plant varieties appear to be those mainly on offer. Hygiene is also crucial so never leave infected plants laying about burn them! I don’t grow Brassicas anymore as I find Swiss chard, Burly and Red Russian Kale far easier greens to cultivate. Caterpillars are also a dreadful pest on all members of the cabbage family. I prefer trouble free vegetables.

July 2012

This is my final garden article of the season. I wish to thank my contributors and readers and hope the question and answer section has cultivated an interest in herb growing. Some of your questions were challenging, demanding  research  but I always enjoy gaining further knowledge about such a vast subject.

The season has been extremely erratic with fluctuating temperatures amid endless rainfall. Even though it is now mid July it feels more like Spring than summer. The hardy perennial herbs such as Oregano and Fennel have grown with remarkable vigour. The colourful delights of the ornamentals such as Lupins and Oriental poppies have defiantly blossomed; however, sadly their glory was short lived! The adverse conditions affected many salad herbs like Mizuna & Red Mustard Greens prompting them to bolt prematurely. Often they appeared unable to discern whether they were at the beginning or end of their growing season.  Top heavy blooms of self-seeding Borage  were lacerated and toppled by wind. The only way to combat the mess is to prune back and liquid feed to urge a surge of new buds. Staking of course helps, but I like many, never seem to get there on time. Dead heading Pansies and Calendula after rain is an essential and continuous task. The war against slugs continues and I have yet to acquire copper wire to encircle varieties they find irresistible, a method I am told is highly effective. My recent addition of a pond will hopefully attract a massive population of hungry frogs for next year’s generation of Slugs. Normally I would advise against planting mid summer, however as the soil is moist, plants will transplant easily and there are presently plenty of bargains! Sowing fast growing vegetables like Lettuce Salad Bowl, Rocket, Radish and Spinach may continue successfully and will provide a late harvest. We may well end up with an Indian Summer, a gardener always lives in hope!