Start an herb garden

Have you ever watched in wonder and envy when celebrity chefs turn around in their immaculate kitchens to harvest fresh herbs in cute little countertop pots?

Wonder no more, because you too can grow your own fresh herbs and spices to help you elevate your cooking to Masterchef level with this simple guide.

There are generally two methods of planting herbs. In your garden or in pots.

Planting herbs in the garden

1. Make sure there is enough space

If you live on land and plan to start your herb garden, it is advisable to make sure there is enough space.

Like all living things, herbs need enough space to grow healthy and abundantly. The first step is to make sure you have enough space to plant herbs.

You need about 1 to 4 feet in diameter for each plant to grow, depending on the plant.

For starters, herbs such as rosemary, sage, mint, and oregano need 3 to 4 feet of space.

Herbs like basil, thyme, and tarragon require 2 feet of space. Small herbs like parsley, dill, chives and cilantro need about 12 inches of space.

2. Prepare the ground

Then it’s time to prepare the ground. Use a garden fork to loosen the compact soil to help aerate the soil. Loosening the compact soil will help the water to drain later as well. Once done, drop an inch of compost on the soil to act as a fertilizer for the plants and to prevent drainage issues.

3. Ready to plant

The last step is to plant strong, healthy herbs. Herbs should be watered when the soil becomes dry. One way to check for dry soil is to put your finger in the soil. Be careful of overwatering as this can lead to root rot which can kill the entire plant.

Here is a list of the best herbs to grow at home.

4. Harvest correctly

It is important to harvest herbs correctly to ensure abundant growth. Cut back about 1/3 of the branches when the plant is at least 6 to 8 inches tall. For the leaves, be sure to cut close to the intersection of the leaves to ensure rapid plant growth.

Planting in containers

1. Get a large pot with drainage holes

Some herbs do not grow well in small pots. As such, getting a large pot or container from the start is a safer bet and gives plenty of room for your beautiful herbs to thrive.

To save space and be economical, it is a good idea to combine several herbs with the same watering needs in the same pot. It is advisable to have pots with drainage holes so that excess water can drain off during watering.

To avoid watering damage, place a plate under each pot to catch excess water. Excess water can be discarded to prevent the soil from getting too wet and to prevent root rot.

2. Get a good soil and a good fertilizer

Once you’ve chosen the pots, it’s time to fill the pot with some good potting soil. As a general rule, it is good to follow the directions that come with the herbal packet. Before planting the grass, add water to the soil to moisten it completely.

3. Start planting

Dig holes in the ground with enough space for your herbs. To release the herbs from their starter containers, turn the container upside down and pat the bottom while gently pulling up on the base of the plant. Once it is out of the container, place the grass in the hole and press the soil around the stem to fill it. Remember to water the plant immediately after planting.

4. Water just enough

To check if the soil is dry, poke a finger into the soil. It is best to water completely so that the roots can grow to the bottom of the pot. Overwatering is more likely to kill a plant than when it is submerged. As such, remember to discard the excess water collected in the plate after watering the plants.

5. Make sure it gets enough sun

Herbs need at least 4 hours of sunlight per day. To prevent leaf sunburn, keep the plants in a lightly shaded location.

6. Right to harvest

When harvesting herbs grown in pots, remember to cut near a leaf intersection so the herbs can grow back quickly. For herbs like basil, simply pinch the stems regularly. Don’t worry too much about this as two stems will grow in place to allow for a tall, bushy plant!

Preserve the herbs in your garden

If your aromatic plants are producing too quickly for the family to consume, you can try drying them to keep them. Air drying is an easy and inexpensive way to store excess herbs. This method can also help retain essential oils in herbs, which helps maintain their flavor. Alternatively, you can also dry the herbs in a food dehydrator or in your oven.

1. Air drying method

-> Gather 5 to 10 branches and tie them with string or elastic. The smaller the package, the easier and faster it will dry.

-> Put the bouquet of herbs, stem upwards, in a paper bag. Tie the end of the bag closed making sure not to crush the herbs and drill a few holes in the bag for ventilation.

-> Hang the bag by the end of the rod in a warm and well ventilated room.

-> Your herbs should be dried and ready for storage in about a week.

2. Oven drying method

-> Place the leaves or seeds of herbs on a baking sheet an inch deep or less.

-> Heat your oven to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and place your herbs in it.

-> Leave the oven door ajar so that the oven does not get too hot and excess moisture can escape.

-> Dry the leaves for 30 minutes, then turn them once. Continue to dry for an additional 30 minutes.

-> To see if the herbs are dry, check if the leaves crumble easily. It is inevitable that oven-dried herbs will cook a bit, thus removing some of the potency and flavor, so you may need to use a little more in your cooking.

-> With both methods, you will know that the herbs are dry when the leaves crumble easily.

3. How to store dried herbs

Once you’ve dried your herbs, they’re ready to use right away, but more often than not you’ll want to save the herbs for later.

Either crumble the dried herbs with your fingers or crush them in a pestle and mortar. Remember to throw away any hard stems you might find.

You can also leave some herbs whole, which helps retain their aromatic oils better.

Place the processed herbs in small airtight containers and store them in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard.

Dried herbs can be stored for six to 12 months, but the sooner you use them, the more flavor they will have. You can also give them to your friends and family as a gift.

The global pandemic has forced many people stuck at home to choose new hobbies and DIY projects, with investing in an herb garden being one of the favorites.

You can buy anything you need online during this lockdown and have it delivered right to your door.

This article first appeared in theSun Buzz Herb Garden edition. Here is a list of the best herbs to grow at home.

Terri S. Tomasini