DIY Herb Garden – Spice Up Your Life
If you love to cook, you know the value of fresh herbs. Modern transportation and preservation methods make all kinds of products, including herbs, readily available from most of our grocery stores. But if you want them even fresher, more convenient, and less expensive, consider growing a culinary herb garden. You’ll have fresh herbs on hand any time of the day, plus plenty to share with your neighbors and friends.
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When planning which herbs to plant, first think about the dishes and styles of food you are preparing. What herbs do you use most often? Oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill and chives are among the most popular. If you’re making fresh salsa, you’ll want to grow cilantro. If you cook a lot of Asian food, on the other hand, you might want to try lemongrass if you live in a warm enough climate. Herbs can even be very decorative in a landscape, as well as contributing to your table: thyme is a common addition to a garden path.
If you’re ready to start a culinary herb garden, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Location. Herbs grow best in full sun. Give them a garden location that receives 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. You also want convenience, so somewhere easily accessible from the kitchen is ideal. You can plant your herbs together, among other vegetables, or even in your landscape.
Floor. Grasses like fertile, well-drained soil, although many will tolerate less than ideal conditions. Enrich your soil with compost or other organic material, such as mulch. Most grasses grow in neutral to slightly alkaline soils. If you don’t know the pH of your soil, you can pick up an inexpensive kit at a hardware or hardware store. Then you can modify it with something like lime or wood ash (for more alkalinity) or peat moss (for more acidity).
Watering. Make sure your herbs stay well watered, but not saturated – you don’t want them to drown. Some herbs like rosemary prefer drier soil, while others like mint need more moisture. (**A Note About Mint** It’s very invasive and can quickly take over a garden, so it’s best planted in a container.) Consider grouping herbs by their watering preferences to make things a little easier. Many diseases thrive on moisture, so water grasses close to the ground to keep their leaves dry. Soaker pipes, which allow water to slowly seep down to the ground, are ideal for this task.
Cut. As with other plants, pruning stimulates the growth of herbs, so don’t hesitate to harvest regularly even if you don’t need it for cooking. This will benefit your plants in the long run. Herbaceous herbs, such as chives, oregano and mint, die back during the winter, but return the following season. You can then cut them to the ground, but feel free to harvest up to 1/3 of the plant at a time during the growing season. Annuals, such as basil, dill and cilantro, will be sown for the following year.
However, once an herb begins to flower, it stops sending energy to its leaves. Try to prevent flowering as best you can by pinching off the buds as you see them appear. You can also plant these herbs in succession, every 4 weeks or so, to ensure a constant supply. Evergreen herbs, such as rosemary, sage, and thyme, will become woody as their stems mature and stop producing growth. Prune tall, woody branches to let light and air into the tenderest shoots. When you cut a branch or stem, prune it in an area that shows new growth.
Growing herbs is practically child’s play; it’s a wonderful way for inexperienced gardeners to get started. Most weed starters are relatively inexpensive, so planting as an experiment is low risk and a lot of fun. And best of all, herbs grow incredibly fast! In no time, you’ll have a bounty that’ll be the envy of every cook in the neighborhood.
To learn more about gardening, consider:
How to: plant a vegetable garden
Growing Leafy Greens in Container Gardens
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