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Although seeds for edible flowers can be sown directly into the garden, British no-dig gardening expert Stephanie Hafferty says she “finds it beneficial to start them off in seed trays and modules, planting out as small plants. I grow most of my edible flowers along with the annual vegetables (most of these are also started off in modules), so having small plants makes it easier to design the garden and plant out.”
Hafferty offers her advice on growing edible flowers in her article in the most recent issue of Permaculture Magazine. She recommends that we sow larger seeds, such as borage, sunflowers and nasturtiums into individual pots, while most smaller seeds should be sown in rows in seed trays and then pricked into pots, except for those normally grown in clumps, such as chives, which are best multi-sown into individual pots.
“Most annual edible flowers grow well along with the vegetables,” says Hafferty, “I usually grow them at the end and edges of the beds, where they are easy to pick regularly and don’t crowd the vegetables. Consider the eventual height and spread of the plant—nasturtiums in particular spread with great enthusiasm, so if space is at a premium, choose a climbing variety and grow them up a trellis made from poles. Plant tall sunflowers towards the back, borage in the middle, viola and marigolds at the front, for example.”
Hafferty recommends harvesting edible flowers in the morning—while the petals are dry and before the sun gets too strong—or late in the day when temperatures are cooler. “Always pick carefully,” she says, “ensuring that you do not damage the plant and check for insects, especially bees, before picking so that you do not accidentally squash them. It is alarming for both person and bee if they are accidentally picked! Regular picking encourages a longer growing season for the flowers.”
When picking edible flowers, Hafferty says we should, “Choose open flowers at their peak when their volatile oils are at their height, rejecting wilted or damaged flowers. Pick with care for the plant, petals are easily crushed. If there are aphids, they can usually be shaken or blown off. For daily use in the kitchen, edible flowers can be picked when you want to eat them, so that they are fresh on your plate. They keep well in the fridge for a few days too.”