This course aims to familiarise you with the use and culture of what are traditionally the most common herb plants. It will provide you with a sound framework upon which you will be able to develop your knowledge of herbs. The use of herbs is the oldest tradition on earth and there are so many wonderful properties they have. Here we begin to look at companion planting, propagating, herb crafts and the basis of good horticulture with soils and plant nutrition.
This is a course for the amateur who likes to use herbs at home. If you are serious about growing or using herbs commercially, you are better to do our Herb Culture Course (BHT114).
The course is divided into 6 lessons as follows:
1. Introduction to Herbs. Plant identification, plant names, general characteristics of herbs, the history of herbs, and herb resources (nurseries, seeds, clubs, etc).
2. Herb Gardening. Planting, propagation, soils, plant nutrition, and container growing.
3. Companion Planting. Introduction to companion planting, herb garden design.
4. Growing Herbs to Harvest. Herb products, setting up a herb farm, making compost.
5. Herbs for Cooking. Herb crafts, herb ingredients, cooking with herbs.
6. Herbs for fragrance, health and beauty. Dyes, mordants, oils, other herb crafts.
- Define "herb"
- Identify herbs suitable for hanging baskets, indoor growing, and appropriate methods of propagation for at least 50 herb species
- Define "companion planting"
- Give examples of appropriate companion planting
- Build an efficient compost heap
- Identify appropriate herbs for culinary uses
- Identify some medicinal uses for herbs
EXAMPLES OF WHAT WILL YOU MAY DO IN THIS COURSE?
During the course, the student will actually do the following:
- Collect and identify 30 different herb specimens
- Learn the basics of plant identification
- Make contact with herb farms to ask about their operation
- Propagate herbs by cuttings
- Prepare a soil suitable for growing herbs
- Design and plant a herb garden
- Visit retailers to investigate the types of herb products available
- Prepare food containing herbs
- Harvest and dry a herb correctly
- Prepare one other type of herb product
WHAT IS COMPANION PLANTING?
Many companion planting ideas such as the one above might be criticised by scientists; but even scientists will advocate some companion planting ideas. Leguminous plants (eg. peas and lupins) are known to have the ability to fix nitrogen (ie. take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it into a nutrient form which the plant can use). It is common in horticulture and agriculture to use legumes to 'feed' other plants.
Ideas on companion planting, a lot of which is folk-lore, are commonly criticised as having no solid scientific basis. Few companion planting techniques have been researched sufficiently for us to draw solid conclusions that the practice is a substantially effective cultural technique. Your own experience is your best source of knowledge.
Read all you can about the inter relationships between plants both in texts you have received with this course, and any other sources you can find. However do experiment yourself, as you will probably learn more about companion planting by trying it than you ever will by reading about it.
Although there is no scientific explanation for the effects of companion planting however companion plants are believed to work in several ways:
- May act as a barrier to the crop
- May camouflage the crop
- May confuse insect pests
- May attract insects away from the main crop
- Produce exudes from the roots that appear to deter pest attack
- Produce chemicals that repels pests or masks
Certain plants will repel insects or other pests from an area. This usually works by the aroma being released from the plant (as such a repellent plant might not work unless it is brushed or broken frequently and the smell is released).
Plants claimed to work in this way are:
- Fennel for fleas
- Peppermint for mice and rats
- Wormwood for snakes
- Pennyroyal for ants
- Tansy for flies
These are plants which keep pests away from where you want them by attracting pests to the herb (eg. a nasturtium, grown at one end of the garden may attract aphis, keeping them away from plants at the other end of the garden).
- Moths are attracted to some types of lavender
- Hyssop attracts cabbage white butterfly
- Marshmallow plants (ie. Malva sp.) attract harlequin bugs
Plants which affect the soil
Plants can affect the soil in many different ways to create desirable or undesirable affects for other plants. For example:
- Legumes such as peas, beans or lupins have colonies of bacteria on their roots which have the ability to take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form of nitrogen which the plant can absorb.
- French marigolds exude a chemical from their roots which deters the development of nematodes in the soil.
- Garlic and other onion type plants will increase the level of sulphur in the soil in desirable forms, leading to some control over fungal diseases.
Sometimes these effects may only be mild, and at other times they may only have an affect under certain conditions; but often there is at least some truth in the claim.
Where Can Herbs Be Grown?
Herbs include lots of very hardy and adaptable plants; but like all plants, every species does have it's own prefered conditions.
Though most herbs are very adaptable to a wide range of soils, the following are particularly suited to the soil types listed.
Alkaline Soils Catnip, hyssop, Juniper, Lavender, Marjoram, Rosemary, Salad Burnet and Summer Savory.
Sandy Soils Anise, Borage, Chamomile (Roman), Coriander, Cumin, Evening Primrose, Fennel, Lavender, Marjoram, Tarragon, Thyme, Winter Savory.
Loam Soils Basil, Bay, Betony, Caraway, Catnip, Chervil, Chives, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Rosemary, Rue, Sage, Scented Geraniums, Tansy, Thyme.
Clay Soils Bergamot, Comfrey, Mint, Wormwood.
What about Herbs as Indoor Plants?
In planters around the kitchen they look great but a word of warning. If things get too warm, most herbs get temperamental.
Many herbs are ideal as indoor plants but it should be remembered that conditions are not always ideal inside. Temperatures can get too high and lack of ventilation can be a problem, especially where gas and air conditioning are used. Heaters cause a lower humidity than out of doors and light can be too low.
In temperate climates, direct sun in winter for at least three to four hours is needed for most (not all) herbs grown indoors. In warmer climates direct sun, even in winter, may burn or overheat herbs grown indoors. Ideally the temperature should be 10 to 22 °C for most herbs.
The majority of herbs will grow happily in rooms that are a little too cool for human comfort and are tolerant of temperatures slightly above or below the ideal range, when exposed for short periods. The main cause of death is temperature fluctuation. A sudden drop of 10 °C can damage a plant or kill it. Try to minimise winter night temperature falls by removing the plant from cold areas and checking that it is out of draughts. Also, high temperatures such as hot spots created by sunshine will scorch leaves and dry out plants.
Periodically, plants grown indoors should be taken outside and given adequate light to build up carbohydrate levels essential for their growth. This should be done in a temperate season, where temperatures are not going to be at extremes.
Why A Course is a Good Idea
You can always learn by just reading of course; but when you undertake a formal study program like this; you are getting guided along a carefully constructed learning pathway, with the back up support of expert tutors who have worked with herbs for decades. Your learning is far more likely to be balanced, holistic and complete. You won't risk missing important things, and at the end of your studies you will have a more sound and balanced understanding of the plants, the growing techniques and the scientific principles that underpin proper growing and use of herbs.