Roots 'n' Shoots: July 2014

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Mint: How to Grow - Herb of the Month

Mint stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave
Water:
2/5 – Minimal, twice a week (especially in a container)
Sun:
3/5 – Full sun & dappled shade
Training:
1/5 – Minimal (3Ds: Dead, damaged and diseased)
Fertilise/Feeding:
1/5 – Minimal (at least during the growing season)
Time to Harvest:
1/5 – Immediate (purchased a seedling)
Frost Hardiness:
1/4 – Very Hardy (can’t take black frost)


Uses:
Culinary, Medicinal, Pollinator attractor & Predator sheltering
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Rusts and mildew, die-back with over-watering
Container Plant:
Yes (preferably grown in containers)

Spearmint
Mentha spicata
Flora of Germany Austria and Switzerland
1885
Kurt Stober's Online Library

Quick intro

The humble mint is a remarkably versatile herb, both in a culinary and medicinal sense. It can be used in sweet and savoury preparations, such as chocolate mousse puddings or as mint jelly in lamb dishes. Its oil is important in several commercial products such as gum or toothpaste. Mint is used for gastrointestinal problems, it can alleviate headaches and is used to treat colds and fever.

History

Mint is native to central Europe with likely origins in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Later it was introduced to England, the rest of Europe by the Romans and then to China and North America.

Mint is derived from Latin ‘Mentha’ and Greek ‘Minthe’. According to Greek mythology Minthe was a water nymph turned into a ground clinging plant by her lover’s wife and the lover bestowed on mint her sweet scent. The Greeks used mint to freshen their homes and it became known as the herb of hospitality.

Spearmint
Mentha spicata

Science Stuff

Naturally occurring mint, such as the water mint, Mentha aquatica, and spearmint, Mentha spicata, belong to the large aromatic herb family, Lamiaceae. This family includes several other well-known herbs, such as rosemary, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, marjorams, balm and savory.

There are several species of herbs, which easily hybridize to give rise to new flavours or growth types. Those with interesting flavours for culinary use are listed in the table:

Common Name
Species
Flavour
Apple mint, pineapple mint
Mentha suaveolens
A hint of apple
Basil mint
Mentha x piperita citrata ‘basil’
Mix of mint and basil
Bergamot mint, orange
Mentha citrata
Bit of citrus
Chocolate mint
Mentha x piperita ‘chocolate’
Slight chocolate aroma
Corsican mint
Mentha requienii
Similar taste to pennyroyal, stronger than spearmint due to pulegone oil
Ginger mint
Mentha x gracilis (M. arvensis x M. spicate)
Ginger fragrance
PennyRoyal
Mentha pulegium
Similar taste to corsican, stronger than spearmint due to pulegone oil
Peppermint
Mentha x piperita (M. aquatica x M. spicata)
Strong mint flavour due to carvone oil
Spearmint
Mentha spicata (also known as M. viridis and M. cordifolia)
Milder and sweeter taste than peppermint

Spearmint, as well as many other mints, contains menthol essential oil that has the characteristic flavour and aroma of mint, whereas Peppermint’s strong flavour and aroma comes from carvone and Corsican/Pennyroyal’s comes from pulegone.

Mint essential oils chemical structures

Growing & Pruning Mint

Mint seedlings are purchased from your local nursery. Mint have underground and above ground runners, known as stolons, which can spread indefinitely and mints may overrun less vigorous herbs. Therefore it is a good idea to grow it in containers or restrict its growth in the garden with sunken bottomless pots.

Basil mint, Mentha x piperita citrata 'basil', above ground stolon

Mint can grow in full sun, where its oil production is maximised, or in partial shade. Mints generally like wetter conditions to most other herbs, but can suffer from overwatering during long periods of rain.

Mints can be pruned back hard (remove all spindly growth) after flowering to encourage new bushy growth.

Most mints have an upright habit, but pennyroyal is a matting ground cover that can fill difficult places, such as between pavers or as an insect repelling living weed guards. It is more potent than spearmint for teas. It’s antiseptic and antipruritic properties can be used to treat insect stings (those pesky mosquito bites!).

Mint can suffer from powdery mildew, but if you can get it through the infection it will shake it off next season and become resistant to future infections. Unfortunately mint rust, Puccinia mentha, is not as easily treatable – either destroy infected plants, prevent mint leaves from being wet too long - or try my Eggplant rust spray (against a similar species, Puccinia substriata or Pearl Millet Rust).

Other Tips

Do not plant different mints too close together else their flavours intertwine and individual flavours become less potent.

Mints can be used in a variety of dishes. Taken as a tea it can be used for indigestion, nausea, flatulence, diarrhoea, colic, reduce fever and colds. Peppermint applied to the temples and base of the neck can alleviate headaches. Mint should not be used by pregnant ladies or people with kidney disease.



Harvesting & Storing

Mints do not dry well, but are evergreen and should provide year round leaves for fresh use. Otherwise store in ice cubes.

Mints cordials make refreshing summer drinks. 

Seed Saving & Propagation

Mint flowers attract pollination, but serious mint harvesters will likely not see any flowers due to constant pruning of the leaves throughout the season.

Mints do not readily grow from seed as germination is variable, rather cuttings are used. Root or softwood cuttings (non-flowering stems) can be used to establish new plants. Large plants can also be divided in Spring when split with a spade.

Spearmint
Mentha spicata

My Mint

Spearmint: The reliable garden staple.

Chocolate mint: Very nice for puddings or just with chocolate J

Basil mint: In areas where cold winters don’t allow year round basil, this is an alternative supply.

I would love to get my hands on some ginger and apple mints as well – they are on my “Most Wanted List’!




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Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Shroom’s Weather Report 2013/2014


*Cue music*

… da da da dum dum…

*Serious reporting voice*… Good morning and welcome to The Shroom’s annual weather report for the period of Winter 2013-2014.

Since the establishment of a mechanical weather monitoring system at The Shroom’s vegetable garden premises; several observations of extreme weather have been made and empirical data collected of these events with regards to precipitation (mm), temperature (oC) and humidity (% r.h.).

Mechanical weather station
Weekly temperature and humidity data were collected of maximum daytime temperatures during the peak hours of 11h00 to 13h00 and precipitation was measured in mm (or more accurately; the amount of rainfall in millimetres on a flat surface) after every rainfall event.

The results were as follows:

Temperature and Humidity for Roodepoort 2013/14

Temperature for Roodepoort 2013/14

Humidity for Roodepoort 2013/14

Rainfall for Roodepoort 2013/14

*Ahem*

On a less serious note; I have been monitoring our weather patterns since Winter (~July) of 2013 with bare basic equipment – lately I have seen more sophisticated home-weather monitoring systems of the digital kind that even links to your computer and can make predictions! I would love to get my hands on one of those, but alas the garden budget does not support such endeavours…

Personal home weather station
Anyways, I thought I would share some of my observations for the year. Let’s start off with how South Africa’s seasons are formally divided and what is expected - then move onto my observations:

Highveld/Johannesburg Area ‘Official or Expected’ Seasonality
Season
Timeframe
Expected weather patterns
Spring
August to Mid-September
Strong and cold southerly winds during August and frost expected till mid-September. First day of spring is 1 Sep and first showers are usually expected in September as well.
Summer
Mid-October to Mid-February
Dry and hot with rainfall from Sep/Oct to April. Maximum daytime temperatures 26oC during January. Average rainfall 713 mm per annum, mostly during the summer months and occur as brief afternoon thunderstorms. Hail storms can occur from October to December.
Autumn
Mid-February to April
Hot weather prominent till end March when cold fronts start to chill the Highveld.
Winter
May to July
Dry and crisp with little/no rainfall, occasional shower can occur but usually with less than 1 mm of rain during a shower. Minimum daytime temperatures 16oC during June. Night temperatures can drop below freezing causing frost. Snow rare.  

Alright so the table summarised the average of what is expected for the Johannesburg area, but my vegetable garden is in Roodepoort and we have a prominent hill that dictates locate weather patterns. Here is an overview of Roodepoort and that hill (of which I don't know the formal name, so let's make it Roodepoort Hill)...

Roodepoort Streetview Google map
Roodepoort topology Google map
Orange: Roodepoort Hill
Green: Water Sisulu National Botanical Gardens

Now, I don’t think that our Roodepoort Hill is large or high enough to cast a “rain shadow” on either side, but our rainfall patterns (time and amount) differs from Johannesburg and Pretoria. I mean rainfall even differs within Roodepoort itself. For instance, I have some rainfall data courtesy of a local golf estate not far from us and we have hugely different rainfall and temperature patterns! Let me summarise my observations similar to the previous table:

Highveld/Roodepoort Area Observed Seasonality
Season
Timeframe
Observed weather patterns
Spring
September to Late-October
I documented the last cold front in late Sep, hence the shift in seasonality, and there were some nasty cold August winds that did quite a bit of damage to early budding fruit trees. Maximum daytime temperatures only exceeded 20oC since Oct. First rains (above 5 mm event) arrived Mid-Oct.
Summer
Late-October to Mid-March
With the first rains came hail-storms, especially during Oct/Nov. On average <10 mm of rain fell during a rainfall event and more often a rain event would be 5-6 mm from Oct-Dec. From Jan-Mar rainfall occurred more often (average <15 mm) and 8-10 mm events would occur more often. The average maximum daytime temperature was 24oC, but several days reached 30oC during Nov-Jan. Average rainfall was 877.5 mm for the year, which is higher than average, but rain occurred mostly at night.
Autumn
Mid-March to Mid-May
March was still very hot and the average daytime temperatures only fell below 25oC during mid-march. Daytime temperatures remained around 20oC for most of Autumn.
Winter
Mid-May to August
Average daytime temperature was 16oC with the coldest days from June to August. Some very windy days did some damaged to plants in the garden. Two showers occurred, but the rain was so marginal it could not be measured. Light to severe frosts occurred during August and September.  

Final Remarks: Extreme weather dominated summer and we had several events when I was certain that the vegetable garden had its last day, these were:

1) Three hail-storms were recorded, two had 1 cm hail stones and the last had 4-7 cm hail stones!! 

I was convinced that the veg garden was flattened but thankfully we only had a few casualties.

Hailstorm, summer 2012-2013
Nasty serrated hail!
Hailstorm, summer 2013-2014
Hail stone in the picture on bottom right is one of those 7 cm ones!

2) Floods had occurred during January and February because of 100 mm rain falling within 24 hours, that is 10x more than our average rain event! You can see it on my rainfall graph as two huge spikes!

So much rain fell that several herbs had to be emergency evacuated into the house due to threat of dying! The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden not far from our home reported that flood waters had caused damage and resulted in a monster waterfall there!

Rain refugees

Waterfall at Water Sisulu NBG on the (left) during floods and on the (right) full, but normal size 
For more info and videos on the flood and waterfall of Walter Sisulu NBG check out:

Other observations:

1) Some interesting correlations was that it was more likely to rain when the measured humidity exceeded 60% and that I would not have to water the garden for a day only after 10 mm of rain had fell.

2) No bees are seen at the basil when rain is imminent.

3) Hailstorm clouds are big, black, high off the ground and scary. They mostly come from a South-Western direction, whereas thunderstorms are dark grey and big, but not so high off the ground. Yet they bring rain down with such a force that sometimes leads to damage.

4) A shift in maximum daytime temperatures. I measured weekly daytime temperatures during 11h00-13h00, as this is our 'official' maximum temperature during the day, but this has shifted to 15h00-17h00. Although, my average daytime maximum is at 24oC on my graphs, we regularly had temperatures of 29-31oC in the late afternoon!


Just a quick note on frost dates for Roodepoort, but I imagine it would be similar for the rest of the highveld (Johannesburg, Pretoria and Gauteng). The first date of expected occasional frost is 3 May, whereas the first expected date of regular frost is 30 May. Thereafter the last date of expected regular frost is 25 August, but the last expected date of occasional frost extends until end September (30 Sep).

I have expanded my weather observations to forecasting by using the shape and colour of clouds (still trying to get the hang of it, will do a full post of weather forecasting using clouds at a later stage!) and I am also recording all the activity in the garden in terms of wildlife as well – be on the lookout of a Nature Watch post later in the year! 

That concludes our crazy weather for 2013/14, stay tuned for another update next year! 

*Serious reporting voice*
…Keep well and good night…





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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆
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