Tuesday 2 July 2013

Patio Growing Update Summer 2013 - Herbs and Salad Crops

Although I am in the middle of a series of blogs on heating requirements, and how to meet them in the house I am proposing to build, I am aware, with daytime maximums of 30 degrees and overnight minimums of 18-20 degrees, that the summer heat is here in Crete. I have therefore decided to intersperse the non-seasonal topic of heating with a few ad-hoc updates on how the patio container garden is progressing.

Container herb "towers"  
The container herb garden I constructed (see earlier blog) is requiring regular watering but is yielding more than enough herbs to meet our needs. Namely mint, basil, coriander, marjoram, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chives, sage, parsley and lemon balm. As explained earlier these have mostly been grown from seed or from cuttings and supplemented with half a dozen plants bought from the local market.

I have been careful in using the herbs, as I am establishing perennial plants, to let them flower naturally and only picking non-flowering stems. The advantage of this is that we have had a profusion of flowers on the herbs which have proved a great attraction to a wide variety of flying insects. In particular the number and variety of butterflies visiting our patio garden has been significantly greater than last year.

Butterfly (and friend) visiting the herbs
A particular observation I have made this year is that in this climate, not surprisingly with Mediterranean herbs, fruit and vegetables, growing only really takes off when the weather warms up but then grow at a fantastically rewarding rate with regularly watering. This applies particularly to the salad crops I selected to supplement the excellent supply of locally grown vegetables available at the weekly market. This year I have focussed on rocket, wild rocket, radish, and fenugreek. I have found that these crops are best grown in positions that limits their exposure to the fierce mid-day and late afternoon sun. A big advantage of the container approach has been that I have been able to experiment with the positioning of these crops and thus find a position with a mix of light and shade that keep them growing well, without bolting in the case of rocket, and with the minimum watering requirements.

A real success this year that has not required the shading treatment has been Purslane.

When I had my seed ordering extravaganza (see earlier Post) I received a free gift of Purslane seed. I had a vague memory that this was found growing wild in Crete so I checked it out before sowing a little as a trial. I discovered that it is regarded as a weed in many parts of the world requiring a major effort to eradicate once it was established. I therefore proceeded with caution and decided to restrict my test sowing to the controlled patio container environment rather than trialing it immediately on our plot of land!!

Purslane in flower
Purslane is a perennial growing to about 25cm tall and wide. It has small yellow flowers that, interestingly, only open for a couple of hours in the mornings. The initial planting took about 6 weeks to produce a crop from seed but later plantings have been much quicker.   Purslane is cultivated for its edible leaves and can be harvested on a cut and come again principle. These mild lettuce flavoured leaves and storks which have a water cress like consistency are nice in salads and can also be added to soups and stews where they will act as a thickening agent.
One of the attractions of purslane, that has been particularly noted is that its leaves are fairly rich in omega-3 fatty acids thus playing an important role in preventing heart attacks and strengthening the immune system. Therefore definitely worth a go at growing and adding to our non-meat Cretan diet. (See a fuller description of how we are using purslane at The Kedros Kitchen .

Salad Bar - Chives, Purslane, Radish, Rocket, Coriander, Wild Rocket etc.