Niki Davis for the South
Growing your own herbs is a great way to add a fresh flavor to your summer meals. Including children in the process will be a rewarding way to introduce them to the life of gardening. If you’ve never grown herbs or aren’t green, this can seem a little intimidating. You may not be sure which herbs you want to grow, or you may be struggling to keep them healthy. Remember, this can be an amazing learning experience for everyone involved – something that you and the young people in your life can do together, developing your own knowledge of food.
Growing a pizza or salsa herb garden takes some of the decision-making out of the equation. Either uses minimal space, includes herbs that are generally easy to grow, and provides you with herbs that you will actually use. The fresh herbs will also inspire you to make your own pizza sauces and salsas instead of buying the potted varieties at the market. You might be surprised at how much better homemade versions really are!
Basil, oregano, and Italian parsley are perfect herbs for a fresh pizza sauce, and all can easily be grown from starter plants purchased at a local farmer’s store or farmers market. These herbs can be incorporated into a pizza sauce or simply used to garnish your pizzas. The added bonus is that these same herbs are used throughout Italian cuisine – you will definitely get your money’s worth.
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Basil is very tolerant and is a good herb to grow if you are new to it. Basil plants should be planted in well-drained soil. Make sure your basil gets about 6 hours of sunlight per day. To promote growth, pinch off the flowers that form at the top of the plant as they appear. This will ultimately result in a full, bushy basil plant. Harvest your basil once it reaches 6 inches in height.
Oregano thrives in full sun or full sun. Pinch off the leaves to promote growth once the plant reaches about 4 inches in height – regular pruning will promote continued growth. Oregano is hearty and doesn’t need regular water or moist soil. It is also self-seeding and should regrow every year.
Parsley starts slowly, so be sure to buy some starter plants to have enough for your pizzas. It likes moist soils and needs regular watering. The outer leaves are more ripe – you can harvest your parsley when the leaves have three segments.
The same herbs from the pizza garden can also be easily used in salsas. Adding cilantro to your herb garden will give you more traditional salsa flavors. Growing from plants is the easiest for beginners. However, cilantro is best grown from seed if you can.
Cilantro grows quickly in warm weather and needs light shade in full sun to grow. Because it grows so fast, you can sow successive seeds every two weeks and have cilantro all summer. It takes about 45 days from sowing to harvest. Cilantro develops a taproot and doesn’t really like to be transplanted. However, if you are impatient, you can sow seeds and start from the plant at the same time to have cilantro a little earlier. Cut off the top of the plant as soon as it begins to develop flowers – after the coriander seeds, they degrade quickly.
General tips for growing herbs in pots
Growing herbs in pots is ideal for beginners or if you are short on space. The potting soil is lighter and softer than regular garden soil and will be perfect for your herbs. Garden soil takes too long to dry out after a rain and could do more damage than expected. A few times a month, add a water soluble fertilizer to recharge your plants’ nutrients.
Be careful if you plant more than one type of grass in a pot. Herbs like oregano and mint can quickly become overwhelming because they grow so fast. It is better to give them their own little house.
Herbs grown in pots will need regular watering – even more so than herbs grown in the ground. However, not all herbs need to be watered every day. Water when the soil seems to be drying out. Herbs that need permanently moist soil will need more regular watering to prevent the soil from starting to dry out. Use plant labels to help you remember what each of your herbs needs.
Have fun making fresh salsas and homemade pizza this summer and let us know here at TASTE how it goes!