NZ Kitchen Garden

Home grown goodness for the kitchen and pantry

The world for some Coriander!

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If you are anything like me, then you will have struggled growing coriander at some point in your herb growing time. It is always worth persevering until you get it right, as coriander is a really versatile herb that can turn pork mince + oyster sauce + the humble iceberg lettuce into an authentic-tasting Asian extravaganza (fun for the whole family – use the lettuce leaves as spoons/scoopers). It is definitely one of the most used herbs in my kitchen.

Simply sprinkle freshly chopped coriander (otherwise known as cilantro) onto this easy pork dish or use in a bunch of others (salads, Thai and Indian curries) to create a fresh flavour burst. An old friend of mine even used to have coriander and cheese sandwiches! Experiment a little, but check out what lemon, coriander and olive oil does to your lightly steamed greens – things will never be the same.

I have grown coriander really well for two seasons now, which means that I failed miserably for about four seasons. I knew that coaxing coriander to grow for me could be tricky, so I always bought an established, potted seedling from the store, transferred it carefully to my garden and then lovingly tended to it every few days or so to make sure that it grew strong and healthy. It didn’t.

A couple of years ago I read that coriander really doesn’t like to be moved or transplanted. So, along with my supermarket bought variety for immediate use, one warmish spring day I also bought a packet of seeds and sprinkled them liberally on top of my garden and scuttled damp soil gently over the top. The location I picked had good draining and received full sun for most of the day, rather than the shady patches I had previously tried. As I had also planted some other types of seedlings at the time, I turned my attention to them and forgot about my tricky little seeds. After all, I hardly expected success.

Then shock of shocks, the first time I noticed the seedlings they were nearly 5 cm tall! I began watering them regularly and cared for them – and most of them died! I decided to leave the few alive ones alone to see what they would do – and they lived!

In fact, they grew healthy and strong throughout the spring and summer, with a top up of water in the early evening every few days when it was really hot and we had gone days and days without rain.

Clearly, my tender love and care was received by the testing cilantro as smothering, so I decided that I would only water them when it hadn’t rained for a week or when I see the leaves changing shape or the small buds of seeds forming. You’ve got to be quick to spot these changes though, as it “bolts” to seed very quickly and the leaves turn a little sour. When I do see the changes, I pluck the forming buds and funny shaped leaves off and my coriander grows bigger and stronger. I can proudly say that my coriander last season grew into herb-version tree trunks that required snips or a knife to chop off the odd bit for dinner. And, the more I chopped the bigger it grew. It was a dream! Coriander for everyone!!

When the plant was losing quality right at the end of summer, I let it go to seed – and seed it did! I kept and dried some for the next season and for cooking, but I also let a number drop to the ground and self-seed. The plant itself died back a few months ago and I pulled out the dead stalks and mulched them. Now I have new plants cropping up in my herb garden at different stages right now around my lemon balm. I am plucking a leaf here and there to use, which will encourage the plant to produce more.

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My current coriander experiment is to grow a few seedlings in little biodegradable tubs that can be planted directly into the ground if I lose these ones to bad weather. Maybe they will not notice they’ve been moved and the tubs can go straight into the ground whole.

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