Growing Fresh Herbs
With warmer weather now hitting the midwest and seeing my first crocus blooming this morning I'm ready to get outdoors and begin planting!
Eating healthy doesn't mean depriving yourself of any particular food group or flavor. A healthy diet for me, that is sustainable long term, includes all the foods that I enjoy, but being mindful of portion sizes, number of calories needed per day and getting plenty of exercise and rest.
Cooking with herbs adds a fresh and flavorful addition to your favorite recipes. However buying herbs from the market or grocery can be so expensive and sometimes hard to find when you need them. In addition, once you open the package from the store the shelf life is greatly reduced. Growing fresh herbs guarantees a steady supply throughout the summer and well into the fall and even winter if you properly care for them.
I use herbs in a variety of ways and am sure there are so many more ideas. I'd love to hear from you, please feel free to share:
I also have a vegetable garden that is located behind my garage and when I first started planting herbs it made sense to put them alongside my vegetables. The problem I found was that they weren't handy and I tended to forget about them.
The solution I thought was to have the herbs right outside my back door where the kitchen is located. But the next step was to figure out what to grow them in so that my patio wasn't cluttered with individual pots yet was easy to water.
Enter....a very old ready for the trash wheelbarrow. This particular wheelbarrow was all beat up, kind of lumpy inside from mixing cement and not getting it completely cleaned out before the cement residue dried, but for some reason I had saved it. I thought this would not only make one easy pot to house all my herbs but it would look fun on my patio which is right outside my kitchen door, and next to the grill, for easy access as I prepared each meal. I painted the wheelbarrow inside and out with black paint and stained the handles a dark oak.
To be honest having the herbs so handy makes it easy to think of creative dishes since I have to walk past them to/from the garage and can easily cut fresh what I need for each meal. It's also great for being creative with my dishes!
So how do you make a fragrant and abundant herb garden?
First, find the right space in your yard/patio/balcony. You'll want a spot that gets plenty of sun and is easy to access.
Second, decide if you want one pot for all your herbs or several small ones. Be creative and consider that some herbs can be brought in for the winter and still thrive. Below are several ideas, but use what you already have at home, ex) do you have a favorite coffee mug with a broken handle, instead of tossing it, use it for herbs. If you have a big yard or a nice corner that is unused, you don't actually need a container, just plant directly into the bare ground or into raised beds.
It seems everyone has their own preferred method that works for them so I'm writing only to share what works for me, not to discount what may work great for you. Depending on the composition of your soil and where you decide to plant your herbs, you may prefer to plant in fresh dirt, topsoil, garden soil or compost. I like to use a combination of compost that I've 'made' plus dirt from the season before to fill out the pot. Compost is rich in nutrients, improves the fertility of soil, requires less watering and can reduce/eliminate plant diseases. It's made a huge difference in the quality and size of my all my gardens (flowers, herbs and vegetable) plus it's a great way for me to recycle food and yard waste. More on composting in another post.
Fertilizer- depending on the amount and quality of your soil you may need to use a fertilizer. Scott's is my favorite. Preparing your soil is critical, I like to mix dirt with compost for a rich soil plus mix in Scott's continuous release plant food.
Seeds versus plants- I prefer seeds for most of my herbs with the exception of Rosemary which I like to start with an actual plant rather than starting from seeds. These seeds or these are easy to grow. Most garden stores and home improvement type stores carry seed packets too and each year I start looking at seeds and planning my garden on paper around February hoping that will somehow make a difference for when warmer weather will return!
Whether you choose to use one large pot, several small ones, raised garden beds or right in the ground for your herb garden I strongly suggest marking each herb so that you can gauge which ones are growing, and to be honest, a few of the herbs look very similar when fully grown, so make it easier on yourself and consider adding markers, There are so many fun ones to try, like this one, this one, this one or this one.
Herbs are best freshly cut for each meal, but if you choose to cut a small bunch (they do make the home smell nice) place them in a jar or glass of water for short term storage or use an herb keeper like this one which will allow them to remain fresh for several days to weeks.
Lastly, is my herb bible so to speak, this is a great guide for learning about herbs and how to use them in everyday meals.
Seeds normally are planted just below the surface and will begin to sprout within a few days. Water gently and if you don't see growth within the time frame on the seed packet, plant again! Sometimes if you have a huge rainfall when the seeds are newly planted it can wash them out, so don't be discouraged just replant!