TopVeg – growing veg,fruit&herbs

March 3, 2012

Absolutely Minted: The ‘Nojito’!

Filed under: herbs — Tags: , — TopVeg @ 1:12 am

A Guest Post by Cee Perkins:
Mint is one of the freshest, crispest, most versatile herbs you can grow – whether you’re making tasty tzatziki, having mint jelly with your lamb or adding a pinch your peas and new potatoes, there’s no flavour quite like it.

The best thing about mint? It’s so easy to grow. Pop a plant in a pot and watch as it flourishes year-round on your windowsill or in your conservatory – it grows better when it’s contained, and its roots tend to wander when left to their own devices.

In celebration of the season-less seasoning, here’s a recipe for a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage that uses mint as its main ingredient. Enjoy!

The ‘Nojito’ (Virgin Mojito)

To make two glasses you’ll need:

  • One lime
  • Brown sugar
  • A few sprigs of mint – about 10 leaves
  • Soda Water, ginger beer or lemonade (depending on your taste)
  • Apple juice
  • Two chilled glasses
  • Ice

Start by chopping the lime into eighths. Pop four chunks into the bottom of your glass, add two teaspoons of brown sugar to the mix and crush everything together with something blunt – I find the handle of a wooden spoon works rather well.

The sharp sugar granules will help cut through the fruit’s juicy cells and you should have a few good squashes before you move on to add the mint – don’t break up the pith of the lime, but do make sure you’ve got a few millimetres of liquid in the bottom of your glass.

When you’re happy (and it won’t take long) sprinkle in four of five fresh mint leaves and have another pummel. Alcoholic mojitos traditionally contain a bit less mint, so feel free to experiment – but I find with a ‘nojito’ you need a bit more of everything to fill the rum-flavour void.

Don’t be so vigorous that the mint breaks up – you’re just looking to bruise the leaves to release the flavour. If you’re too enthusiastic you’ll take one sip and end up with a load of bitter, shredded mint stuck in your teeth.

Next, crush the ice – wrap the bag or cubes in a teatowel and give it a good bash with a rolling pin until you’ve got enough powdery shards to fill your glasses to the very top.

Fill the ice-full glass to quarter-full with apple juice, then top up with soda water or lemon juice and stir with a straw – enough to lift the mint through the ice, but not enough so their floating on the surface of the liquid.

Voila! You’ve got a ‘nojito’. It’s best drunk through a straw on a spring evening, accompanied by smoky barbeque food and a glorious sunset…

February 7, 2012

How to Grow Watercress

Filed under: herbs — Tags: — TopVeg @ 10:22 pm

Water cress does not have to be grown in running water according to BBC’s Gardeners’ Question Time last Sunday. 



Watercress roots grow in the water, but the plant grows above the water. To harvest cut the leaves above the water leaving about 10cm of stem, which will regrow. Watercress is a cut and come again herb! 

Two ways of growing water cress were described on the program: 

  • on the water surface in a water butt
  • in a washing up bowl with holes in the bottom which is placed in a water bath.  The water should be changed weekly as watercress does not like stagnant water


To Grow Watercress: 

  • Plant watercress seed on a paper towel that has been soaked in water in April
  • Keep the paper towel moist
  • Germination takes about 10 days
  • Place the seedlings into their growing position when the danger of frost has passed
  • They like full sun.

For a shortcut way to grow watercress: 

  • buy a bunch of watercress at the greengrocers
  • place the bunch in a bucket of water
  • put the bucket outside in full sun
  • change the water daily


The dark green peppery flavoured leaves of Water Cress are rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and iron.  Watercress is quite easy to grow.

November 11, 2011

Catmint Deters Bloodsucking Flies

Filed under: herbs — Tags: — TopVeg @ 9:14 pm

Catmint (Nepeta) attracts butterflies but deters bloodsucking flies.

Scientists at the USDA research station in Lincoln, Nebraska  have discovered that catmint oil deters 99% of horse flies.  They made pellets containing nepetalactone, the active compound, and scattered them on the field or in feed lots.  They found that ” catnip essential oil (at a dosage of 20 mg) resulted in average repellency rates of 96% against stable flies, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.) and 79% against houseflies, Musca domestica (L.), respectively.”

August 8, 2010

Black Bay Leaves

Filed under: herbs — Tags: — TopVeg @ 7:33 pm

Sara from FarmingFriends has had this comment on her website about black substance on bay leaves & asked if TopVeg could help.

“I have two standard bay trees in pots and have kept them like this for three years. Recently, I have noticed a black substance on the leaves which washes off with just plain water but keeps coming back! Do you have any idea what this is? Or what I can do to prevent this reoccuring? Mia”

Malcolm Allison, our plant consultant, has answered:

“This would be a result of aphid infestation ~ the aphids secrete honeydew which provides a substrate & nutrition for the black mould.  I’d recommend spraying the aphids with soapy water (or water with a bit of washing up liquid in it), hopefully this should deal with the problem.”

This has been a bad year for aphids – they like it hot and dry.  So it is not surprising to find some bay leaves with black mould.

July 17, 2010

How To Grow Lemon Balm

Filed under: herbs — Tags: — TopVeg @ 10:09 am

Lemon balm (Latin name – Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb, which is attractive to pollinators including bees.

The leaves have a gentle lemon scent which are used to flavour ice-creams and herbal teas.

Lemon balm has a bushy habit and grows to a height of 50cm (20inches) & spreads 30cm (12in)  although it can be trimmed. It is vigorous and can take over, so is often grown in a pot or container.



Lemon Balm will grow almost anywhere as long as it is not too dry, but prefers a fertile , well drained soil in full sun.  It grows well in containers.

Sowing Lemon Balm

  • Sow March to May
  • Place seed on the surface of the seed compost and cover with a sprinkling of compost
  • Place in a propagator or a polythene bag and keep at 20-25C (68-77F) until after germination which takes up to 21 days.
  • Keep the compost relatively dry
  • Leave in a light place.


Care of Lemon Balm

  • Plant out Lemon balm plants between 12 and 15 inches (30 and 38cm) apart.
  • Remove weeds regularly.
  • Water well in dry weather.
  • Trim in summer to encourage new, brightly coloured growth,
  • Remove flowers to prevent self seeding.


Using Lemon Balm

  • Harvest the young leaves when they are 10cm hight and bright green.
  • Use the leaves of lemon balm in stuffings for fish & poultry.
  • Use crushed leaves to flavour ice-creams and herbal teas.
  • Use in pot-pourri for scent

Click the image below to discover more about Lemon Balm and other  herbs:

How To Grow Culinary Herbs is an ebook produced by TopVeg and FarmingFriends. The ebook is on sale now and explains how to plant a herb garden or grow your own herbs for cooking.


Growing lemon balm in the garden is well worthwhile.

March 23, 2010

Time to plant herb plants out?

Filed under: herbs — TopVeg @ 5:13 pm
We have had a question to see if it is a safe time to plant some small herbs outside.


I live in the Netherlands and since I don’t speak fluent dutch, you helped me out last year with growing potatoes….. This year I have got small plants of rosemarie, sage and parsley (all grown indoors in pots to date and are about 5cm high).  We have just come into spring and it is about 13°C (average);  is the time right to set the plants outdoors?


We remember from last year that this grower lives in an urban environment, so know that it will be quite sheltered and protected from winds.



This was our reply:

I think your plants will be OK to plant outside – but cover them in the evening if you expect a frost, because they will be a little bit tender after being inside.  Watch them at first, but they should be fine after 3 or 4 weeks.
Good luck!

Click this link for more information about the herb Rosemary, sage, or parsley.

If you would like a pdf of  the grow card for How to Grow Rosemary, How to Grow Parsley, or How to Grow Sage please complete the contact form asking for the particular grow card you would like and we will email it to you.

Rosemary, Parsley & Sage are included in the How to Grow Culinary Herbs ebook written by TopVeg & Farming Friends which costs £3.

Click this link to buy a copy of the ebook How to Grow Culinary Herbs.  It gives details of time to plant herbs out, growing and uses.

February 4, 2010

How To Grow Borage Card

Filed under: herbs — Tags: , — TopVeg @ 10:54 am


Farming Friends & TopVeg have collaborated to create a How To Grow Borage card.


If you would like a pdf of  the grow card for How to Grow borage, please complete the contact form asking for the grow card for borage and we will email it to you.



Borage is included in the How to Grow Culinary Herbs ebook written by TopVeg & Farming Friends which costs £3.

Click this link to buy a copy of the ebook How to Grow Culinary Herbs.

How to Grow Bay Card

Filed under: herbs — Tags: , , — TopVeg @ 10:48 am

Farming Friends & TopVeg have collaborated to create a How To Grow Bay card.


If you would like a pdf of  the grow card for How to Grow Bay, please complete the contact form asking for the grow card for bay and we will email it to you.



Bay is included in the How to Grow Culinary Herbs ebook written by TopVeg & Farming Friends which costs £3.

Click this link to buy a copy of the ebook How to Grow Culinary Herbs.

January 8, 2010

Size Of Herbs

Filed under: Uncategorized, herbs — Tags: , — TopVeg @ 1:46 pm


When choosing which culinary herbs to grow in a container it is important to consider the potential size of the herb, and their natural habit.

    Large, sweet leaf basil

can grow to 60cm or more. It bushes out slightly.  Smaller types grow to 20cm.




can grow up to 90cm. It tends to branch out (30cm), rather than form a dense bush like basil.




develops into a small woody shrub. It can grow up to 90 or 150 cm – but is best kept trimmed. It forms a dense bush and can spread out about as wide as it is high.



grow between 20-30cm. The leaves form a dense clump, about as wide as they are high. The flowers stick up another 10cm above the leaves.





grows 30-60cm and often has a trailing habit, so is good at the edge of the container.


grows 30cm or more. It is best to cut the tall flowering stems down, so that the plant continues to produce green leaves. Parsley bushes out as wide as it is tall




grows 30-60cm. It tends to go woody and is best trimmed to below 60 cm. It does branch out as wide as it is tall.





is short, only growing about 10-25cm high. It does have a trailing habit and will spread a good 30cm. It is good at the edge of a container because of its trailing habit.



When planting a selection of herbs:

  • Arrange tallest herbs in the centre and the low-growing herbs at the edge.

  • Trailing plants, such as oregano and thyme go well on the ends or edges of the window box and will drop over the sides.

  • More information on herbs can be found in the To buy the How To Grow Herbs For Cooking eBook.

    To buy the How To Grow Herbs For Cooking eBook for yourself or as a gift for a friend or a family member please click the buy-now button:

The potential size of the herb needs to be considered before planting.

January 7, 2010

Growing Herbs from Seed

Filed under: herbs — Tags: — TopVeg @ 10:34 am

Most herbs for the kitchen grow quickly and easily from seed, but others are difficult to grow from seed, such as horseradish, mint, rosemary and bay.



  • Horseradish is best grown from a root, which has been cut off a mother plant.

  • Mint is best grown from roots, which have been divided off a mother plant.

  • Rosemary is easily grown from cuttings.

  • Bay is easily grown from cuttings, but very slow growing.

1. Equipment you need:

  1. Containers – Clean plant pots or recycled containers e.g. yoghurt pots, margarine tubs etc should have holes in the bottom for drainage. Plastic trays are ideal for small seeds. Old cardboard toilet rolls or peat pots can be planted outdoors, with the growing seed still in situ, at planting time. Egg trays are OK for very small seeds.

  2. Compost

  3. Seeds

  4. Labels /markers – old lolly sticks are ideal, or tongue depressors from the chemist, or cut up margarine lids. Write with black permanent marker.

  5. Plastic Covers – to keep conditions warm and humid.

  6. Water

  7. Light

2. Prepare Compost:

  1. Break up the compost so it consists of fine crumbs with no lumps.

  2. Add enough water to wet the soil, without having the water dripping out.

3. Fill the container:

  1. ¾ full with damp compost.

  2. Keep the compost loose – don’t squash it down.

  3. Firm the compost down, very gently.



4. Plant seeds:

  1. Read the seed packet – check seeds are not unusual, needing to be left on the surface or in the light.

  2. Spread seeds on compost, so plenty of room between them.

  3. Cover seeds with thin layer of compost, unless seed packet says otherwise.

  4. Water surface of compost with a fine spray of water.

  5. Cover the container with plastic, or place in a plastic bag, & hold with rubber band so that there is an airtight seal.

5. Place container:

  1. In a warm (18-21degrees C – 65-70 F) place.

  2. Out of draughts.

6. Check daily

7. GerminationAs soon as seed leaves can be seen poking through the compost, move the container to a very light position and remove the polythene.

8. Feeding and Potting On -When the first true leaves appear add a little plant food. When several sets of leaves have developed, & the seedling is about 5cm tall, they should be put into another pot.

9. Harden off before placing outside.

More information on herbs can be found in the To buy the How To Grow Herbs For Cooking eBook.

To buy the How To Grow Herbs For Cooking eBook for yourself or as a gift for a friend or a family member please click the buy-now button:

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