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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Whiskey Barrel Herbs

New to the garden a few years ago was a small collection of herbs planted in half a whiskey barrel. This is the post I wrote at that time.

Kentucky is known for its bourbon whiskey, among other things. Sometimes the barrels are cut in half and made available to gardeners for purchase. They are made of good white oak wood, which lasts a long time and will swell tight if kept damp.

I thought about where it should be located and decided the perfect place would be the spot where I could reach it by going down the kitchen steps and right out the Garden Door staying on concrete and brick during all types of weather.

If you look beyond the barrel, that round bare spot is the location of the future Japanese Tomato Ring.

Husband/Best Friend/Chief Photographer drilled drain holes for me; then I positioned the barrel and filled it with layers of bark chips in the bottom, then well-draining planting mix that I made from soil conditioner, compost, and bagged potting mix from the garden supply store. After mixing in a small amount of time release plant food granules, I planted it with some of the herbs I had started indoors during late winter and early spring: chives, parsley, borage, and nasturtium.

When I began filling the barrel, I smelled a few whiffs of bourbon. So, when tea-totaler-me receives some teasing about having a whiskey barrel, I just tell them that is my "secret ingredient" in my herbs and spices.

I had never seen nor tasted borage, but I had read that it has bright blue flowers and that the flowers, leaves, and stems taste mildly of cucumber and can be used in salads, or to decorate them. Sounded good to me. A package of borage seeds makes a lot of plants. I couldn't miss the three plants I put into the center of the whiskey barrel. There were pots of borage everywhere. To confound the matter, I tasted all parts of the plant and learned it tasted terrible, nothing like cucumber to my taste buds - and, it was FUZZY - yuck! Granted, the blossoms were very pretty. So, all things considered, I planted the extras in among the flowers everywhere I could find a little open space. There they lived the rest of the summer, blooming away and never eaten by anyone nor anything.

The chives remained rather weak; I probably didn't feed them enough. When spring rolls around again, and if they are still alive, I will make sure they are fed on a regular basis and see if they respond.

The nasturtium variety was a short growing one, but still they outgrew all their neighbors. Next time, I will leave those out and try something else. Extra nasturtium plants went into the ground, along with the borage, on top of faded tulips.

The parsley grew very well and again I had way too many plants. So, they too, were planted out in the beds among the flowers for the swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs on. I had parsley everywhere! And, butterflies.

By early autumn, everything had been used and the barrel looks empty. In the distance, the tomato plants in the Japanese Tomato Ring await the final gathering of green tomatoes just before first frost. We ate most of the green ones, too. Our favorite way to prepare them is very simple: just cut into thick slices then sauté in a small amount of good olive oil.
Next spring I may try some different herbs. Wonder if I could get an early crop of leaf lettuce first, before putting in the herbs. Hmmm… another experiment coming up!


JGH said...

Hi Barbee - Borage is something I didn't know too much about.

I have one whiskey barrel planter -wonder if it's from Kentucky! I wouldn't mind having a few more of these, but nice big ones like this are hard to come by around here. The one I have is on my deck and so heavy I doubt I'll ever move it. You seem to have put yours to good use. What lettuce are you going to try?

Barbee' said...

JGH (New York, U.S.A.): Hi, JG. The borage flowers are very pretty - very blue. I have heard of people using them to decorate a cake.

The barrels are not available all the time, here. I just happened on a store that had some. I had wanted one a long time, so was excited to find them. I bought just the one. That oak is quite heavy, and once filled... I have no plans for trying to move mine. Guess we would have to unload them if we decide to move them.

We like Simpson's Black-seed Lettuce. It is a leaf lettuce (does not make a head), it is easy to grow here, is very tender, and it produces a lot. I may post further about it, but right now I am working in the yard due to so much to do before rain and winter set in. But today, I absolutely must get a haircut before I scare all the critters out there. They'll be thinking a hermit moved in.

inadvertentfarmer said...

Great post. I have climping roses in my barrels that spill out everywhere. I think herbs are a much better idea!

I've used Borage to decorate cupcakes for a little girl's tea party...they loved them but few ate them, lol!

I would only eat the very young leaves, you are right the older are wayyy to fuzzy for me! I haven't tried cooking them like other greens but it is said you can. Think I'll stick to swiss chard! Kim

Kerri said...

Your whiskey barrel makes a very rustic herb garden. I love it! I'm glad you told us what borage tastes like. I grew it this year, but didn't think taste it. Now I definitely won't be tempted!
You've reminded me to go out and pick some parsely for the freezer.

Cinj said...

I'm going to add an herb garden next year too. Busy, busy. Which herbs are best for a newbie like me to attempt to grow?

Barbee' said...

inadvertentfarmer Kim, I don't know where you live. I couldn't find you on Blotanical, and you are not in Blogger, and I can't remember if I have read it on your blog... my lame memory!
Anyway, I have laughed and laughed about your camel eating your roses and tomatoes! Awww, pretty blue flowers on little girls' cupcakes.... Perfect! Maybe I should try Borage again and stay with the very young leaves. I found that a whiskey barrel doesn't hold many herbs.

Kerri (New York, U.S.A.): Good idea about the parsley. Mine is all gone. Maybe next year.

Cinj (Wisconsin, U.S.A.): I think Basil is easy and it comes in different colors and sizes of attractive plants. Borage is easy, but you might not like it, it is very pretty in bloom. Nasturtium is easy: the buds, flowers, leaves, and young seeds are all good to eat, but they are very pungent similar to horseradish. I've read of people pickling the green seeds once they are large. Thyme might be fun to try. Rosemary would freeze out for you same as for me, but some people bring theirs into the house for winter. Chives is easy if you start with a clump from the grocery store or somewhere. I started mine from seed and it took till the second year to have enough to clip and use.

Esther Montgomery said...

When I first grew borage, I was very put out by the result.

Like you, I found the leaves and stems tough and prickly and my plants were big and straggly too.

On the other hand, I was dazzled by the flowers.

The trouble is, borage flowers hang down and they are most beautiful when you look up into them. So I've never found a good place to grow them. Even if I were a hanging basket kind of person (which I'm not) they aren't a hanging basket kind of plant - which is a shame.

A question . . . the barrel looks quite deep. How do you stop the soil going sour when you have small rooted plants in it?


Barbee' said...

esther montgomery (England): Esther, I guess this is a case of 'ignorance is bliss'... I didn't know soil could go sour. Obviously, I have not done much container gardening. How will I know if it does? Will there be an unpleasant odor? Will the plants die? I have a small package of aquarium grade bits of charcoal, maybe I should dig those in. Maybe our blasts of summertime heat cook it? I usually forget to water, maybe it's been running too dry to sour? It does have drainage holes. Anyone else have thoughts on this? Esther, what do you do for yours??

spookydragonfly said...

Hello Barbee...What a great use for the whiskey barrels, instead of flowers. When I lived in suburbia, we grew parsley and chives in the garden. Chives are my favorite to have in an herb garden. Maybe I need to get an authentic whiskey barrel and start enjoying chives again, this time with that "secret ingrediant"! Ha...maybe my baked potatoes would never taste so good!

Barbee' said...

spookydragonfly (Ohio, U.S.A.): Ha,ha! I won't tell :)

Anonymous said...

Trial & error has taught me more about plants in the past 20 years. Looseleaf lettuce works great in containers.

Steve said...

Barbee, first, I loved the post. Out West, we use wine barrels for exactly the same puroses.

On the soil "souring", I assume you probably amend the soil yearly, adding aged manure or peat or something. Typically, soil sours only if water remains in it without an outlet. By freshening (lol, odd term for manure, eh?) the soil, you generally remove some to make room for the amendments and the work of that tends to lossen any compaction that might trap water. If you have drain holes and you have porous soil, you should not have to worry about "souring". If, however, you leave the same material in, year after year, yes, it can turn the Ph into an overly acidic Ph. And, yes, it will smell.

Philip Bewley said...

Hi barbee!
Ah HA! now we know the secret ingredient to your herbs!
With borage you can cun a flowering branch and place upsidedown in iced tea. Borage certainly does multiply as do nasturtiums. we I get a package of wildflower mix I will go through and pick out the nasturtiums pods as I find they love San Francisco and really take over. Unfortunately it is too cool for basil here. We planted motre thyme last week. I put rocks around it so there is more heat generated off the reflecting rocks. my heb garden is down the stairs. Your in the barrell off the kitchen sounds just the ticket!
Best regards,
PS I love you new banner,too

Barbee' said...

perennialgardener (Virginia, U.S.A.): I think the trialing and experimenting is one of the most fun parts of gardening. Thank you for coming by and commenting.

Steve (Oregon, U.S.A.): Thank you. And, thank you so much for taking the time to leave all that information about soil souring in containers. I learned a good bit from it. Happily, I have been doing what is correct without even knowing what I should do. Beginner's luck! Thank you. I hadn't thought about the change of pH. That is a good thing to learn.

philip bewley (California, U.S.A.): I hope Esther sees your comment about turning the Borage flowers upside down in the iced tea. I love growing Thyme, and there are so many different varieties. I bet you can grow Rosemary, but here we cannot leave it outdoors during the winter (too wet and too cold). People who have suitable indoor places, bring them inside till spring.

Philip Bewley said...

Hi Barbee!
Yes, we have a great old rosemary bush that I have trained with twisting trunks and a clipped curving hedge top.
Have a relaxing sunday!
Best regards,

Garden said...

Borage is one of my favorite plants, but I would think it wouldn't grow well in a container. It has deep roots and doesn't like to be transplanted. It is a herb in a sense, but mainly I use it as an edible flower. When I was selling salad mix I used to add borage flowers to the mix. It was very popular. I like the fact that it spreads all over because it will pop up in empty spaces in the garden and you need a lot of plants to get many flowers, but if you prefer a tidy garden that could be a problem.

Barbee' said...

garden Hello, I greatly appreciate your input about Borage, as you can tell I know next to nothing about it and love learning more. I wouldn't mind it spreading... some. I didn't know about the deep roots. You are correct it lived in the container, but it didn't florish. Thank you so much for enlightening me. By the way, when I clicked on your name and tried to go to your blog I got the Blogger.com message that you hadn't filled out your profile information and your profile is not available. If you are hesitant to give information about yourself, I believe you can just fill in the section with the name of your blog, only. Then I (we) could visit you by clicking on your name in this comment page. Thank you for visiting my blog.