Rice Paddy Herb or Ngò Ôm is a very popular herb in Vietnam and is one of the critical ingredients for Canh Chua Cá the traditional sweet and sour fish soup (which I will share the recipe and some photos in a future post).
Like most herbs, the Rice Paddy Herb can be propagated from cuttings which makes it easy and fast to start your own little indoor garden. Here are the steps I took to grow my kitchen window Rice Paddy Herb garden.
1. Buy some Rice Paddy Herb from an Asian grocery shop
Living on the Central Coast, NSW, there are no shops that sell the Rice Paddy Herb, so I had to go to Cabramatta 85km away from home... Cabramatta is the place to the largest Vietnamese community in Australia so we are going there regularly to get Vietnamese food and ingredients we can't find near us.
So you need just a little bunch of Rice Paddy Herb that looks fresh and healthy.
2. Put some cuttings in a glass of water
Usually, we would cut the tip of the herb and leave 4 - 6cm of the bottom for propagation, but my wife was away (she's the cook) so I just used the whole thing. In this picture, the herb looks wilted because they have traveled a long way, but they should recover very quickly once added to the water.
3. Planting in a pot
After about two weeks, you should see little roots forming on the cuttings. They are ready to be planted in soil. The growing medium I've used here is a cheap potting mix from the garden center mixed with vermicompost (worm compost) and Zeolite to allow better drainage and add trace minerals.
I've chosen self-watering pot (with a water container at the bottom) to make it easier and because the Rice Paddy Herb likes it moist at all time, some people even plan them in a non-draining container with water covering an inch above the soil.
After adding the soil to the pot, I watered the soil thoroughly and added the herb. I used an old chopstick to make little holes into which the cuttings will go and then I'd lightly compact the soil around the cuttings to make sure they are in contact with the soil.
4. Build a small greenhouse to keep moisture and warmth
As mentioned above, the Rice Paddy Herb likes moist environment but it is also important to keep it warm. In order to get a good moisture and temperature control, I needed a greenhouse, but how to build greenhouse indoor by the kitchen window?
I started cutting sections of bamboo branches and stick them into the soil in the pot to make a frame. I then took a large translucent plastic bag (one from the veggies section of a supermarket) and cut it into rectangle sheets which I then taped around the bamboo frame to form my homemade tiny greenhouse. I made sure the last side (facing inside) was only taped on the top so it would act as an access door (see photo further down in the maintenance section).
- Once your cuttings are planted, you need to monitor the water level in the self-watering pot, if it dries out, add more water.
- On hot days, you might want to open the greenhouse at night to let the excess moisture in the air to escape.
- Until the cuttings settle and are strong, you might see some of them starting to wilt down. In some cases, it can be fixed by watering a little bit at the base of the wilting cutting. After two or three weeks the cuttings should be stronger and won't need much attention.
- every month, add a little bit of fertilizer. I have been successful with seaweed extract, fish fertilizer and compost tea. A little bit goes a long way
- every three months, I would top up with a 50/50 mix of worm compost and sheep manure. I just sprinkle the surface of the soil in between the stems.
As the Rice Paddy Herb develop, it might outgrow the greenhouse which is the case for me because I built it too small. So I dismantled everything and rebuilt it with cloth hanger wire.
As you might be able to notice in the photo above, the front panel of the homemade greenhouse is only taped on the top side allowing me to lift it up and access the inside for harvest and fertilizing.
This little setup works very nicely, the project was started on Sept 30th 2017 and today (Feb 20th 2018) we are still harvesting from the same setup and the herb is thriving. The first photo at the top has been taken today mid-way writing this post, it shows the little jungle that has formed inside the greenhouse.
I hope you will find this article interesting and it will inspire you to grow your own Ngò Ôm.
For how to set up a worm bin for making your own compost and compost tea, check the following posts: