January 2017 News

January is often the month when you are least likely to venture into the garden. It is cold and there isn’t very much growing herb wise. It is a good time of year for sorting out your mint plants however. As they grow so quickly and send out thick white runners, by the end of the summer they are often pot bound – the roots have completely packed out the pots and used up all the food and space.  This means when they begin to grow in the spring, the new shoots will be around the edge of the pot and though they will look very promising in early spring they won’t deliver – they will stay small, spindly and lacklustre. Now is a good time to tip those congested pots out.  There are three options then, either stick the root ball in a bigger pot and fill with fresh compost, chop the root ball in half and re pot the two halves in separate pots and fill with fresh compost, or you can pull the thick white roots off and place these in a fresh tub of compost – not too deep – about 3 centimetres deep, it doesn’t matter if some of the root is poking above the soil. If you want some fresh mint to use earlier, then put a couple of strands of the root in a pot and bring inside on a sunny windowsill.  Whilst most mint produces those prolific roots, there are a couple of exceptions. Grapefruit mint for example, generally doesn’t have runners and it is better just to re pot this mint. 

A typical mint root

January is a good month for sowing salad seeds. Although they will germinate outside, it will be a slower process and there is the risk of them being eaten by birds, slugs and snails that will make a bee line for the only juicy green stuff about.   A greenhouse or cold frame is ideal if you have one or you could use a windowsill inside. Varieties that will do well are salad rocket, mustard, mizuna, lettuces, lambs lettuce and land cress. These can also be grown inside on a windowsill, but will need turning daily so all parts of the plant get direct light. They will be weaker plants than those outside listed are hardy – and whilst the varieties listed are hardy, if you do grow them inside they will need gradual introduction to outside temperatures to harden up.

Frosty sage leaf

There are still plenty of evergreen herbs growing outside at this time of year – rosemary, thyme's, winter savory, oregano, marjoram's, sages and bay. You can continue to use these right through the winter for cooking. Here is a recipe for using winter savory – a spicy plucky herb, traditionally used with beans and good for flatulence (apparently) and oregano – also a spicy strong flavoured herb.

Rough duchess potatoes spiced with savory and oregano

6 small to medium potatoes

1 heaped tablespoon crème fraiche

6 sprigs winter savory

4 sprigs oregano (Greek if you have it or you can use marjoram)

Salt and pepper

1. Peel potatoes and simmer until soft

2. Meanwhile remove the leaves for the stalks of the savory and oregano. The easiest way is to run your fingers down the stem the wrong way. Chop roughly into smaller pieces.

3. Drain and mash the potatoes. Add the crème fraiche, herbs, salt and pepper.

4. Spoon in rough balls onto a non-stick baking tray and bake at 180C for 15-20 mins until browned.

Serves 2-3 people.

These can be eaten alone with a salad or as an accompaniment to other dishes. They aren’t bad taken for a packed lunch either, especially if you are able to reheat them