Jacqueline Soule here to discuss some herbs to grow now that the Autumn Equinox has come and gone. Days are cooler and shorter, and that means it is time to plant the plants that will thrive in the cool season garden. This means a wide variety of leaf and root crops, most of them imported from the cooler areas of the Old World. Today let us look at a north temperate plant family that loves our winters – the Carrot Family.
The Apiaceae or Umbelliferae, commonly known as the celery, carrot or parsley family, is a family of mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems. The family is large, with more than 3,700 species spread across 434 genera; it is the 16th largest family of flowering plants. Included in this family are the well-known plants: angelica, anise, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, sweet cicely, coriander (cilantro), culantro, cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock (used to kill Socrates), lovage, cow parsley, parsley, parsnip, cow parsnip, sea holly, and giant hogweed. Note that some of these are also deadly poison so this is one family you should only collect in the wild if you know what you are doing.
Plants. All members of the Carrot Family are a tad fussy about growing conditions. They do not transplant well so either seed them in place or be very careful to not disturb their roots as you plant.
Soil. All carrot kin grow best in a well-drained, sandy, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. That makes them best grown in containers in our area. Use a pot one and a half feet deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.
Light. Six or more hours of winter sun is needed to do well.
Water. Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. You can let all of these dry a little more between water once the plants get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.
Fertilizer. These plants will get very lush and full with some fertilizer. However, if you amended your soil at the start you don’t need to purchase fertilizer. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. Come late February you could apply a half-strength general-purpose fertilizer.
Harvest and Storage. Carrots and parsnips are best harvested on based on the days to maturity on the seed package. Most of the herbs taste best when fresh but lose much flavor when dried. Freezing the leaves retains more flavor. Select healthy leaves, rinse, pat dry but leave some moisture. Chop into roughly quarter inch squares and freeze in a labeled plastic bag or yogurt container. This can be used directly from the freezer.
Seed is harvested after the plants “bolt” or flower in spring as it heats up and the days get longer. Pull up the entire plant once seeds start to dry and put it upside down in a paper bag in the shed or garage. They should be dry enough to store after 2 weeks.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
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