Growing garlic, parsley, basil, coriander, dill, borage and other annual herbs in an organic garden in Andalucia
Borage with hen
All the annual herbs can be grown from seed sown directly into the soil. All do best in well prepared, composted, well-drained, soil. Keep the soil damp until the seedlings are well established.
In Andalucia you should be able to start sowing the seeds in early March.
Parsley is everyone’s favourite herb. It will thrive for two years or longer but is often treated as an annual. Some gardeners maintain that the flavour is best in the first year. There are two types of parsley, flat leafed and curly. Some say that flat leaf is tastier than curly but then curly is more decorative on the plate. Grow both and decide which you prefer.
Italian basil is the taste of summer. Slightly anise in flavour, it goes well with tomatoes, salads and in pesto. Italian basil is the broad-leafed kind. Greek basil has a similar taste but has small leaves. Basil originated in Africa and came to the Mediterranean via the Middle East and Asia. It likes it hot so sow in full sun towards the end of March and keep the roots moist. Other types, such as Thai or Asian basil, have a more clove-like taste, small leaves, and are suitable for all Asian recipes.
Where would we be without garlic? Ideally, garlic cloves are planted in the autumn. They develop a strong root system over the winter that then supports the rapid leaf growth needed to form large bulbs. Cultivated bulbs are available in the autumn from garden centres. In spring though you will have to buy untreated bulbs from a market stall. Split the bulb into its separate cloves and plant them ten cms apart with the tip of the clove just showing. The bulbs will be ready in the autumn. They will not be as large as autumn sown garlic but will be perfectly acceptable. Split a few bulbs straight away and plant the cloves. You will now be in the garlic growing cycle. Just picked garlic is wonderfully soft and juicy. The juice is slightly sticky, with a robust yet sweet garlic flavour. Dry bulbs in the sun until the stem is withered and then string them together. If kept in a dry, dark, cool place they will keep until your next crop is ready. Check periodically that the bulbs are still firm. Discard any that go soft.
Coriander is a member of the carrot family, essential in many Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian dishes. Sow the seeds thickly, as you would grass, and keep moist. Sow in succession every month until June for a supply from May to September. Get more value from your coriander by using the finely chopped stalks in cooking and the leaves in salads and as a garnish.
In the right ground, Dill will grow to one metre in height. It has attractive, feathery, foliage, very similar to fennel to which it is related. The slightly tangy leaves and stem are good with tomatoes, potatoes, fish and eggs. Dill will self-seed so, with an annual top dressing of compost, will look after itself.
Borage on the left
Finally, Borage, but only if you have the space. This is another herb that will self-seed. The hairy leaves taste like cucumber, but its main value is its decorative, edible, flowers that are loved by bees (and chickens) and its efficacy as an accelerator on the compost heap.