The Joy of Growing Herbs
This week all of our posts will be about herbs in one way or another. Today we want to talk about how to grow herbs. Growing herbs is not hard at all, in fact a child can do it. My 8 year old grandson, Jeremy, actually planted the parsley plant pictured here on my kitchen window sill. He started the plant from seeds in a little dixie cup and as they sprouted and began to grow, we transfered them to this terra cotta pot. In he walked, one day after school, and beaming he announced, “Lolli (my grandma name) this is for you. I planted some parsley and I wanted you to have it because you love to cook and I thought you would really like to have it in your kitchen.” He was so excited and I was so proud of him. There is something very satisfying, no matter what your age, about putting some seeds in the dirt, adding some water and in a few days watching the little sprouts pop their heads up out of the soil looking for some rays of sunlight. I love Jeremy and I love having this special reminder of him in my kitchen greeting me every morning.
Today we want to continue our “herbs week” by giving you a few ideas about how to grow your own herbs. If any of you have any pointers or secrets for growing a particular kind of herb we would love to hear from you and will pass your suggestions along to all our chums. Herbs are fun to grow yourself and they make a lovely addition to almost any meal. So here is what we want to share with you today.
Choose a container that allows enough room for the plants to develop strong roots and grow as large as possible. The bigger the plants, the bigger your harvest will be. So if you are planting several herbs together to form a sort of kitchen herb garden, plan to use a pot that is about 24 inches in diameter. Another benefit to using a big pot is that having more soil means that the soil will stay moist longer and require less watering. Terra-cotta pots are always a great choice because they are porous and allow air and water to flow through the walls.
Planning Your Arrangement
A 24-inch container can fit five to seven seedlings of varying sizes. Add a plant with height—say, a tall, graceful fennel, or a dill. Then fill in around the edges with smaller herbs like parsley, basil, or rosemary. Try to include a plant that will dangle over the edge like nasturtium.
Pick your plants
You can plant seeds yourself like Jeremy did or check out your local farmers’ market or nursery or even Trader Joes to pick up some seedlings. Select varieties that are bred to be compact: Look for words like “dwarf,” “tiny,” “bush,” and “patio” in the plant names and descriptions. Pay attention to leaf colors and textures; to keep the arrangement looking attractive all season, you might want to plant different colors of herbs like golden oregano, or variegated thyme. Also, plant some edible flowers like pansies, violets, and lavender. You will want to check the tags on the plant for the necessary care of each plant to be sure you planting compatible herbs with each other. Check the care tags to make sure the seedlings are compatible and can grow in the same pot.
In the bottom of the container, place a layer of pea gravel or shards of broken terra-cotta pots; this will help with drainage. Top with a bag or two of regular potting soil, a mixture of materials like peat moss and vermiculite. Pat the soil down lightly with your fingers to get rid of air pockets. Soak the soil with water (from a hose or faucet) before planting so that it settles.
Dig holes about four to six inches apart. Tip the seedlings out of their nursery containers and plant them, making sure the stem is completely above the surface. Leave about an inch between the soil surface and the rim of the pot. Water lightly once again until water comes out of the pot’s drainage holes.
Make sure your container gets plenty of sun each day. Water it whenever the soil is dry to the touch two inches below the surface—during the heat of summer, the soil may need watering every day. Every couple of weeks, feed the plants an organic plant food like fish emulsion, following the package directions. (The fertilizer will smell strong for a day or two but the plants will love the nitrogen.)
As soon as your herbs….basil, cilantro, thyme, and parsley have leaves they are ready for you to start using them and enjoying your herbs. Snip off any stem that looks as if it’s about to bloom—if it flowers, the plant will die early after going to seed. Herb leaves can be snipped at their bases, leaf by leaf, or snip a small stem, while the plant continues to grow. In most cases it is good to trim and use the leaves or stems often as this actually stimulates new growth.
Rosemary is a bit different in that it will continue to grow larger each year and can become very “woody” at the main stem of the plant. Allow an area that will accommodate a shrub if you are planting your rosemary in the ground rather than in a pot.
Mint is probably the easiest to root and grow (along with basil which is actually a part of the mint family). You can simple take the stems of mint you bought from the grocery store or clip some from a friend’s yard, give the end’s of the stems a fresh cut and place them in a glass of water that comes about half way up the glass. Within a week to ten days the stems will show roots. Change the water every 2-3 days and you will be amazed at how fast your mint will root all by itself. When you see the little white roots at the end of the stems they are ready to be planted in soil either in your garden directly or in terra cotta pots. The mint does like a lot of water and prefers sun ( it is hardy enough that it will grow even in very shady areas though a lot slower) so keep that in mind.
Now start planting and harvesting and be creative. Have fun with you herbs. Tie them on to gift packages. Throw some in some soup or make some salad dressings with the fresh flavor of your favorite herb. Later this week we will give you more recipes and ideas of what you can do with your herbs. So check back. We are here and looking forward to both hearing from you and sharing with you more love, more joy and some of the things we’ve learned about living abundantly