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Jekka's tips on sowing your winter culinary herbs

by Alistair McVicar |

Many people do not realise that now is the perfect time to sow culinary herbs to get a winter crop for salads and be able to add fresh herb flavours to your winter meals. This is because the soil is still warm and the pest and diseases that might have been present earlier in the year, such as carrot fly, have gone away.

Some herbs that can be sown now are coriander, winter purslane, parsley and chervil. The two methods at the end of this blog should give a good crop of leaves.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is a very useful herb for the kitchen combining well with many dishes from curries to salads. It is one plant that hates being transplanted because, if it feels threatened, it bolts and goes to seed. 

Jekka's tip - Coriander is much hardier than people think. If you keep cutting it as a cut and come again crop you will be able to harvest it for most of the winter.  It does die if the temperature is -8C for a week, but it will tolerate a couple of days of hard frost.  When sowing in the spring wait until the soil starts to warm up and the night time temperature does not fall below 10C.

Winter Purslane (Claytonia perfoliata), also known as miner's lettuce, is a delicious salad herb. It has a crunchy texture and a wonderful flavour, it is also hugely high in vitamin C.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum French) is a very popular herb that has been cultivated for thousands of years. Parsley is a key ingredient in Bouquet Garni. The secret to growing Parsley successfully is to keep the temperature consistent during germination and to keep the substrate moist.

Chervil  (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a wonderful, often forgotten, herb. Its leaves are very high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron and carotene. If you are unfamiliar with Chervil, it can be substituted for Parsley in many dishes and goes well in salads, soups or chicken and fish dishes.

Jekka's recipe for sowing herbs in winter

Below is a basic recipe for sowing winter herbs. Of the four, Coriander is the most sensitive to temperature whereas Chervil, Parsley and Winter Purslane will survive most winters. This recipe is based on Coriander, but can easily be adapted to suit them all. 

Ingredients

  • 10-15 seeds of Coriander, Parsley or Chervil. Winter Purslane is very fine and will be quite difficult to count out, just sow finely.
  • 1 pot 13cm, (5in) diameter.
  • Standard seed soil-less  substrate (compost) either peat or peat substitute.
  • Perlite fine grade  wetted) or vermiculite.
  • Stick -in white label.
or, for outdoor growing:
  • Prepared site in the garden.
  • 2 Stick in white labels.

Method

For sowing indoors.

  1. Fill the pot with the compost, firm and water in well. 
  2. Sow the seeds thinly on the top of the compost, press gently in with a flat hand,  cover with perlite, label with plant name and date.
  3. Place the pot in a warm light place, 18 °C  (65°F) , not full sun. 
  4. Keep watering to a minimum until germination has taken place, which takes 10-20 days.
  5. Once the seedlings start germinating, make sure the container gets as much light as possible. If you live in a frost free environment, when air temperature does not go below  7°C (45°F),  place the container outside during the day, bringing in at night. 
  6. Continue until the third leaf starts to appear, then the container can be left out all night. If you are keeping the pot on the windowsill, rotate daily so the plant does not start growing towards the light. 
  7. Start picking the leaves once they are large enough, this will encourage the new growth to develop.  

Alternatively, which is what we do here at the herb farm in Bristol, is to sow directly into a prepared site in the garden, early autumn is ideal as the soil is warm. 

  1. Space the seeds  2.5 cm ( 1 in) apart  in a drill   2.5 cm ( 1 in) deep, lightly cover with soil and water in well.
  2. Label either end of the seed row. Germination takes 10-20 days.
  3. Start picking as soon as the leaves are large enough.

Click on the link to view our full range of herb seeds, or alternatively our seed collections that make ideal decorative gifts. Also, see our gardening master classes and our video on sowing seeds for more tips.