Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – Plants in my Apartment


This will be the last post in the Plants in my Apartment series for a while as I have now profiled all the plants that have grown or are growing in my apartment. Any new posts in the series will occur when I acquire new plants.


Thyme is another popular herb from the Mediterranean region where it has been cultivated for a long time. Thyme was associated with bravery, strength, and protection from the time of the Romans, who believed that it could protect from poison, to the Middle Ages, where it was a common treatment for the plague. Though its antiseptic properties were not known at the time, it continued to be used to treat infections through the Victorian area. Today Thyme is a common ingredient in European cooking, and is added to breads, soups, stews, and roasts. It is often paired with lemon in cakes, salads, and on fish.

Thyme plant in a green pot

Growing Information

Size: Thyme typically grows to be 6 – 15 in (15 – 38 cm) tall and 18 – 24 in (45 – 60 cm) wide, although this can vary among varieties.

Water Requirements: Water thyme regularly allowing soil to dry between waterings.

Soil Requirements: Soil used to grow thyme should be well drained with a neutral (7.0) pH.

Light Requirements: Thyme does best in full sun.

Temperature Requirements: The temperature requirements vary among the different species of thymes. It typically does best in USDA zone 4 or warmer.

Nutrient Requirements: Thyme requires low levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

Pruning: Regular light pruning will keep thyme the happiest.

Pests: Spider mites and root rot can both plague thyme.

Companion Planting: Thyme makes a good companion for cabbage, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and strawberries.

Growing Indoors: Thyme is an excellent plant to grow in containers. It needs a pot that is at least 6 in (15 cm) deep and can be root pruned if it becomes pot bound.

Harvesting and Use: Harvest leaves as needed throughout the year. Thyme can be dried, refrigerated, or frozen and is used to season meats, stews, vegetables, and sauces.

 

Sources

Bonnie Plants: Growing Thyme – General growing and some more detailed pruning information.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Thyme – General growing information in an easy to read format.

The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide by Stephen Albert – If you haven’t gotten this book by now you really should. It has intelligently laid out growing information for the common vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

History Channel’s A Brief History of Thyme – Discusses the history and myths surrounding thyme.


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Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Plants in my Apartment

Rosemary is an herb that will always have a place in my garden no matter where I live. I absolutely love it in potato soup, socca, and lemonade.

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, especially the coastal areas where it has been used since the times of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. A symbol of remembrance, happiness, loyalty, and love, rosemary has found its way into several Shakespeare plays, literature, and music (Scarborough Fair by Simon & Garfunkel anyone?). In addition to its culinary uses, rosemary can be used as a landscaping plant to make hedges and topiaries and in crafts. People make wreaths out of it and use it to create a yellow-green dye.

Rosemary Plant

Growing Information 

Size: 12 – 72 in (30 – 183 cm) tall and 12 – 24 in (30 – 60 cm) wide.

Water Requirements: Rosemary will do the best when the soil is kept slightly wet.

Soil Requirements: Prefers well-drained soil that is sandy or gravely and has a pH between 6 and 7.

Light Requirements: Rosemary likes full sun.

Temperature Requirements: Rosemary’s ideal growth areas are those that correspond with USDA zones 8-10 but it can be grown in colder climates if overwintered indoors.

Nutrient Requirements: All-purpose water-soluble fertilizer applied every two weeks is recommended for potted plants.

Pruning: Rosemary is well suited to hedges and topiaries. Yellowing or dead branches can be removed at any time, otherwise it is best to cut above the woody growth. Rosemary can be propagated from cuttings.

Pests: Rosemary is bothered by thrips, spider mites, and white flies. It can also suffer from root rot. Insects can be sprayed off with a hard stream of water or with a solution of 1 TBSP dish soap to 1 gallon of water if they’re stubborn.

Companion Planting: Rosemary is an excellent companion plant to cabbage, beans, carrots, and sage as it deters cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies.

Growing Indoors: Rosemary does well in pots and containers. Containers should be be 6 – 8 inches (15 – 20 cm) deep. It can be grown indoors but will need a sunny window in a cool room, well-drained soil, and will benefit from misting regularly. If you live in a USDA zone 8 or colder it is a good idea to overwinter your rosemary indoors.

Harvesting and Use: It is best to harvest from well-established plants before they bloom (summer/early-fall). Rosemary can be used for cooking all types of meat and vegetables. Rosemary can be dried or frozen to preserve it.

 

Sources:

Bonnie Plants Growing Rosemary – Basic growing instructions

SF Gate: How to Grow Rosemary in a Container – General rosemary growing instructions.

The Herb Society of America Rosemary Fact Sheet – Growing instructions and interesting information about the Rosemary plant.

Fine Gardening Magazine: Rosemary Outdoors and In – Has instructions for propagating cuttings, information about growing in pots, overwintering and rosemary cultivars.

Golden Harvest Organics Companion Planting – Companion planting guide.

The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide by Stephen Albert  – My favorite gardening book. As it says on the front cover it’s “a practical vegetable and herb garden encyclopedia”


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Little Finger Carrot (Daucus carota var. sativus) – Plants in my Apartment

I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with carrots. Sometimes I can’t get enough of them and will go through a few bags a week, and other times I can barely stand to eat them. Right now I’m at somewhat of an in between point in the cycle; I don’t crave them but they’re not repulsive. Despite my ambivalence, the supposed ease at which carrots grow in containers meant I had to give them a try this summer.

Two small orange carrots

The carrots we are familiar with today were first domesticated from wild carrots (which are still found in temperate regions today and are known in the US as Queen Anne’s Lace) about 1,100 years ago in the Middle East. Wild carrots were likely first used as an herb and medicinally before it became domesticated. The first carrots cultivated for food were purple or yellow. The orange color is a relatively new trait that became common around the 1600’s. The Carrot Museum does a wonderful job of providing an extensive history of the carrot from Neolithic times to modern day, and if you are interested in the history of carrots, please see their History pages.

The variety of carrots I’m growing is called Little Finger (or Orange Finger). They’re a small orange heirloom variety that is supposed to be perfect for growing in pots. I’ve found that they have a sweet taste and a pleasant crunch, which makes them great for eating raw. Their small size is nice too since I don’t feel like I’m going to break teeth biting through them. Having grown several varieties of carrots before, I can easily say that these are my favorite.

Green carrot leaves coming out of a white pot with dark brown soil

 

Care Instructions

Size: Little finger carrot foliage can grow to be 4 – 8 in (10 – 20 cm) tall. For proper growth, the carrots need to be planted 3 in (8 cm) apart. Little finger carrots themselves can grow to be 4 in long and ½ in wide (10 cm long and 1.3 cm wide).

Water Requirements: Keep the carrots well watered, but be careful not to drown them.

Soil Requirements: Heavily drained soil with few roots or rocks (to avoid weirdly shaped carrots) is preferred.

Light Requirements: Little finger carrots grow best in full sun.

Temperature Requirements: Best growing temperatures are between 60 – 70F (15- 21°C).

Nutrient Requirements: Usually mature manure is enough, although the carrots may sometimes need a little extra potassium.

Pests: Pests that may attack your carrots include various caterpillars, vegetable leafminers and weevils, leafhoppers, and southern potato wireworms.

Companion Planting: Carrots do well when planted near beans, lettuce, peas, peppers, and tomatoes. Chives improve flavor and rosemary and sage deter pests.

Growing in Containers: Little Finger carrots are well suited for container growing.

Harvesting and Use: Carrots should be ready to harvest about 60 days after you planted them. They taste the best after they become bright orange and can be eaten raw or cooked in any recipe that calls for carrots.

Orange carrot top and green leaves with soil

Sources

Botanical Interests Little Finger Carrots – The source of my seeds as well as general growing information.

Burpee Companion Planting Guide – A list of companion plants for various vegetables.

Burpee Little Finger Carrot Seeds –  A source for seeds and very basic growing requirements.

Eden Brothers Carrot Seeds “Little Finger – A source for seeds and very basic growing requirements.

North Carolina State University Center for Integrated pest Management: Pests of Carrot  – guide to identifying carrot pests.

Sustainable Seed Company Little Finger Carrot Seeds – A source for seeds as well as planting instructions.

World Carrot Museum: History of Carrots – A very detailed history of carrots.


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White Soul Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) – Plants in my Apartment

Strawberry pez, that’s what White Soul Alpine Strawberries taste like to me. My sister agrees. I’m not quite sure what, but something about the intense strawberry taste and the slight tartness of the tiny berries (which I still haven’t figured out when are ripe) instantly reminds me of a candy I haven’t had in years.

Alpine strawberry leaves

Alpine strawberries are a cultivated variety of wild strawberries, very different from the strawberries you typically find in supermarkets. Smaller, more intensely flavored, and with a shorter shelf life, alpine strawberries were the only strawberries available before the massive modern variety was bred. You may find plants and seeds being sold under the names wild strawberry, woodland strawberry, fraises de bois and many other names; you’ll rarely ever find the fruit for sale since it doesn’t keep very long.

There are lots of options when choosing a type of alpine strawberry to grow. You can choose between red, yellow, and white strawberries and plants that produce runners and plants that don’t. The plants that are runnerless tend to be everbearing and will produce flowers and fruit all summer long. The plants that do have runners are typically June-bearing varieties.

White Soul strawberries are an everbearing, runnerless variety of alpine strawberries with white berries. Because they’re white, a color associated with unripe berries, the white soul berries don’t need protection from the birds. The berries are small and strongly scented.

Unripe White Soul Alpine Strawberries
Unripe berries (with a few aphids).

White Soul Strawberry Care

Size: Plants grow to be 8-10 in (20 – 25 cm) tall and 14-18 in (36 – 46 cm) wide.

Water Requirements: The soil the strawberries are grown in should be kept moist but not soggy.

Soil Requirements: Alpine strawberries prefer well drained, slightly acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. They should not be planted in soil where potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, or peppers have been previously grown as the soil may contain a wilt-causing fungus.

Light Requirements: The white soul likes full sun to part shade.

Temperature Requirements: Strawberries of all types grow best in mild climates. (USDA zones 5-8)

Nutrient Requirements: If you wish to fertilize your plants, an acidic fertilizer (20-20-20) is best.

Pruning: White soul strawberry plants need very little pruning. Because they do not send out runners like some other strawberry plants so will not spread on their own.

Pests: Alpine strawberries are susceptible to aphids, spider mites, slug damage to fruit, and root rot.

Companion Planting: Borage is a good companion plant for alpine strawberries.

Growing Indoors: Alpine strawberries are good container plants and can be grown indoors. You will have to hand pollinate them with a paint brush if you want them to produce fruit (Video How-to).

Harvesting and Use: Fruit should be harvested when ripe and does not keep long. Best eaten fresh and raw it can also be made into jams and used as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and crepes.

White Soul Alpine Strawberry FlowerSources

Baker Creek White Soul Alpine Strawberry – Where I got the seeds for my plants.

Burpee White Soul Alpine Strawberry – Basic growing information.

The Strawberry Store: How to Grow – Information on germination and growing requirements of alpine strawberries.

The Strawberry Store: Growing Alpine Strawberries – more information on growing strawberries from seed.

Terroir Seeds White Soul Alpine Strawberry – Very general growing information and a source for seeds.

White Flower Farm: Strawberry Growing Guide

 


 

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Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – Plants in my Apartment

The lemon balm of my youth was a giant. Taller than I was (at the time) and wider than my arm span it was the forest in the corner of our herb garden. My sister and I used its leaves in our pretend kitchen, making delicious smelling “cakes” and “salads” to sever our imaginary friends. Its large leaves also doubled as Kleenexes when we were far too dirty to go inside to get one. For me the smell of lemon balm will always bring memories of summer.

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and originates from Southern Europe. It goes by many names including balm, balmmint, melissa, heart’s delight, and honey plant. An important difference between lemon balm and mint is how they spread; mint spreads with underground runners, and lemon balm spreads by seed. Still, lemon balm is a prolific seed producer and can spread rapidly if not monitored.

Lemon balm seedlings
Lemon balm seedlings.

Lemon balm has a long history of use. A sacred herb of Artemis/Diana, lemon balm was used by ancient beekeepers to attract bees and keep them happy. In the middle ages, lemon balm was grown in monastery gardens where it was used medicinally to dress wounds and as a general tonic. Lemon balm was also an important component of perfumes and even made an appearance in several of Shakespeare’s plays. Tossed on floors to freshen a room or used as a furniture polish, lemon balm was a useful herb to have around the house. In modern day it is used in both culinarily in a wide variety of dishes and medicinally to treat cold sores and anxiety.

Lemon Balm Care

Size: Lemon balm grows as a bush and can be anywhere from 8 in (20 cm) to 5 ft (1.3 m) tall and 12 – 24 in (30 – 60 cm) wide.

Water Requirements: Keep lemon balm’s soil moist and make sure it has good drainage for best growth.

Soil Requirements: Lemon balm likes well-drained soil with a pH of 5-7.

Light Requirements: Lemon balm prefers part shade but will grow in shade to full sun.

Temperature Requirements: Lemon balm grows well in moderate temperatures like those found in temperate and subtropical regions (USDA zones 4 – 5 and zone 3 if mulched over winter).

Nutrient Requirements: Lemon balm rarely needs to be fertilized; typically leaf matter or compost is enough.

Pruning: Grown outdoors, plants can be severely cut back in spring, summer, and fall to encourage new growth. It is important to prune flower stalks if you want to keep the plant from spreading. New plants can be grown from cuttings.

Pests: Insects do not typically cause a problem for lemon balm. Aphids and spider mites can be an occasional problem, as can powdery mildew and Septoria leaf spot.

Companion Planting: Lemon balm is a good companion plant for anything in the garden.

Growing Indoors: Lemon balm is not typically recommended for indoor growth. If you want to grow it indoors anyways it should be grown in a 15 – 18 in (38 – 46 cm) container and can be accompanied by other herbs. Plants may need to be divided in the fall to prevent them from becoming root-bound. Lemon balm should get 5 hours of direct sunlight or 14 hours of artificial light a day. Lemon balm grown indoors will not be as flavorful as that grown outside.

Harvesting and Use: Typically lemon balm leaves are harvested as needed. It loses much of its flavor when dried and can be frozen for a fresher flavor in the off-season. Lemon balm has a wide variety of culinary uses. It is used to make tea and flavor salads, stews, jams, baked goods, pies, poultry, and fish.

Green leaves with scalloped edges.
Photo Source: Melissa officials – Wikipedia

Sources:

Growing Lemon Balm – Growing instructions.

Growing Vegetable Gardens: Lemon Balm – General growing information.

Herb Society of America Guide: Lemon Balm  – Everything you ever wanted to know about lemon balm, seriously. Includes recipes.

Herbal Legacy: History of Lemon Balm – Detailed history of lemon balm.

Lemon Balm Production – Pamphlet from the Republic of South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries detailing production guidelines for growing lemon balm as a crop.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service – Growing instructions.


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