Chervil: Indoor or Direct Sow Herb
How to Sow and Plant
Sowing Seed Indoors:
- Sow indoors 4-8 weeks before the last frost in spring using a seed starting kit.
- Sow seeds 1/8 inches deep in seed-starting formula.
- Keep the soil moist at 70 degrees F
- Seedlings emerge in 14-28 days
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
- Transplant carefully as plants develop tap roots.
Sowing Directly in the Garden:
- Direct sow in average soil in full sun to light shade 2-3 weeks before the last frost date, after danger of heavy frost. In frost-free areas, sow from fall to early spring. In very warm areas plants may benefit from afternoon shade.
- Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
- Sow seeds evenly and cover with 1/8 inches of fine soil.
- Firm the soil lightly and keep evenly moist.
- Seedlings will emerge in 14-28 days.
- Thin to 10 inches apart when seedlings are 1-2 inches tall.
How to Grow
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Pinch plants and deadhead to encourage better growth.
- Chervil will produce more foliage in cooler weather.
- Plants develop a tap root and do not like to be disturbed.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
Harvest and Preserving Tips
- Fresh chervil leaves are prized for their anise flavor and are a common ingredient in many fine herb mixtures. Add young leaves to fish, poultry, salads, omelets and sauces.
- Harvest as needed throughout the season.
- To dry, cut a bunch of stems on a sunny morning, tie them loosely and hang them in a dry, airy location out of the sun. Or, dry herbs in the oven for 2-3 hours on a cookie sheet at the lowest heat, leaving the over door open. Or, use a dehydrator following the manufacturer’s instructions. When thoroughly dry, store herbs in a tightly sealed glass jar in a dry, dark location, such as a cupboard.
- Chervil may also be drained, dried and chopped and frozen, or frozen in water in ice cubes.
- You can also mix chervil with butter, then refrigerate or freeze.
- Chervil may also be preserved in a white wine vinegar.
Common Disease Problems
Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.
Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish grey patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.
Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Rust: A number of fungus diseases that cause rust colored spots on foliage and stems. Burpee Recommends: Practice crop rotation. Remove infected plants. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.
Sclerotinia: Also called white mold, this fungus looks like a spiderweb crawling on the surface of the growing medium. It can climb onto plants and kill them in time. Burpee Recommends: Decrease humidity and increase air circulation. Avoid overcrowding seedlings. Clean seed starting supplies thoroughly before reuse.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects that can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Deer: Plants may be eaten to the ground. Burpee Recommends: Try a deer repellent or physical barrier for young plants.
Groundhogs: Groundhogs can eat chervil to the ground. Burpee Recommends: Physical barriers work best. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.
Rabbits: Chew on plant leaves. Damage is similar to deer damage but not usually as extensive. Burpee Recommends: Use a hot pepper wax spray or rabbit repellent.
Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.
Can I grow chervil as a houseplant? Yes, chervil works well indoors.
My chervil is blooming, is it still good to use? Cut flower stalks as they appear to continue your chervil harvest as the quality of the foliage will decline when the plants go to seed. You can allow the flowers to seed themselves at the end of the season, or cut them for dried bouquets.
Why should I grow chervil? Fresh chervil is difficult to find in stores and loses its flavor quickly after harvest. It’s also easy to grow on your own, and attractive in the garden.
Can I eat chervil flowers? Yes, they have a delicate anise flavor.
How can chervil be used as a companion plant? Chervil makes radishes hotter and crisper. It benefits lettuce and broccoli.