By Vina Medenilla
Along with practicing healthy eating habits is making sure that the food we consume is safe and nutritious. For this reason, there has been a surge of interest in gardening among individuals (in urban and rural areas) who try to grow their food amid the pandemic.
In AgriTalk’s webinar on herb gardening that was aired on Facebook, Francisco Doloso, Agriculturist of BPI La Granja National Crop Research, Development and Production Support Center (NCRDPSC), talked about three herbs: stevia, tarragon, and basil that aspiring and existing growers can easily tend at home.
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)
Stevia, also known as the sugar plant or sweet leaf, is grown for its leaves that serve as a sweetener. It can be consumed as a tea or used to sweeten beverages. Stevia grows best in upland areas with a cool climate and sufficient sunlight. It requires three to four hours of sun every day and growing space must be kept at 20 to 30°C for ideal growth.
This herb can be propagated through seeds or cuttings. For cuttings, one must cut at least two-inch long mature shoots from the mother plant, immerse them into the rooting hormone, plant them into the pot, cover with plastic to retain humidity, and nurture it by watering daily.
Pests that commonly attack stevia are cutworms, aphids, thrips, and whiteflies. And to drive them away, put beneficial garden insects like assassin bugs (Reduviidae). Natural insecticides like fermented plant juice or vermitea can be sprayed on the plant too. Manage diseases like septoria leaf spot (or septoria steviae) and white mold (scierotinia scierotiorum) by adding enough distance in between the seedlings to avoid overcrowding, by immediately getting rid of infected plants to prevent spread, and by watering them in the morning or before sunset.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Tarragon, a popular culinary herb, is widely used as an ingredient because it gives a fresh flavor to various courses. In Doloso’s case, they make tea out of tarragon leaves mixed with other plants like lemongrass, ginger, and lemon. Vinegar can also be made from tarragon leaves.
Cultivating this herb requires six to eight hours of sun a day and grows best in a greenhouse or well-drained open field. To prepare, sow the tarragon seeds either in a container or to the ground and cover them with fine soil. Two weeks after planting, transfer the seedlings into another planter, place them in a shaded spot, and water them every morning. Make sure not to water at night as it makes the plant more prone to diseases. In propagating tarragon cuttings, just cut healthy, matured stems and submerge them in water for two weeks or when roots have already developed.
Aphids, beetles, armyworms, and thrips are some of the attackers of this plant. Combat these through biological pest control like assassin bugs, by spraying natural insecticides, by removing weeds, and by using sticky traps. Some diseases of tarragon are fusarium wilt, damping off, and downy mildew. Avoid overcrowding the herbs, get rid of contaminated plants, and water plants during the day to prevent such diseases.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This is another prevalent culinary herb commonly used in pesto and salad as a flavoring. Basil plant thrives in a cool environment with six to eight hours of sunlight every day. It requires daily watering that is preferably done every morning also.
Propagating basil can also be performed through seedlings. Place them in a shaded area and let the seedlings acclimatize before exposing them to full sun. After two weeks of growth, that’s when you can transplant them. The pests and diseases of this herb are the same as tarragon, hence, proper preventive measures must be practiced.
For the three herbs mentioned, a good potting soil, as per Doloso, would be a 1:1:1 ratio of either a mixture of vermicast, organic fertilizer, and garden soil or a combination of well-drained soil, decomposed manure, and other organic materials. Pots or plastic bags can be used in tending these plants as well. Regularly remove weeds on the herbs and do not let it produce seeds that will hinder the plant’s growth.
Watch the full video of the webinar here.