|For those who love to cook, and also to garden, the chance to pick your own fresh herbs can have you out and digging up the ground, before you’re really ready.
First, you’ll want to decide what herbs to start with. As a beginner in herbs, you should stick to a few varieties that you will be using, or would like to share with others. You might choose from the various “strengths” of herbs as well. For example, those with a very strong flavoring include rosemary, sage and winter savoury. Some that contribute to a good blending of flavors are sweet basil, mint and thyme. Then there are herbs that are basically “accents”, adding a little extra to a good blend of flavorings that are designed to work together. This would include things like parsley and chives.
It’s also a good idea to check and see whether you have chosen annuals, biennials, or perennials. The annual herb will bloom one year and die. Biennials grow for two seasons, but flower only in the second one. Perennials grow every year, providing they are properly overwintered in cold climates. If you have chosen a mix of all three types, then you should also get colored stakes to place next to the plants in your herb garden, so that next Spring, you won’t be waiting eternally for a plant that was only good for one season. It also allows you to clean out that area, and plant new annuals or other herbs.
Herbs enjoy sunlight, and will grow well in many types of soil that are properly prepared. One of the primary concerns is drainage, as they don’t like soil where the water tends to lay. If you only need a little help with this, turning your bed over with some sphagnum moss or compost will help. If you perhaps have a surface where the water lays after heavy rains, consider digging out the bed to about a foot and a half down, and laying a four inch bed of crushed rock or gravel. And since your herbs don’t really require fertilizing, but they do benefit from natural nutrients, you can dig some compost into the soil as you replace it. Be sure to add lots of material, and mound your bed up, because the soil will settle some afterwards. Preparing the bed two weeks before setting out your plants or putting in seeds, will give it time to sink down a bit, and spread some of the goodness of the compost.
Most herbs can be grown directly from seed, but be careful of your timing, since like other tender new seedlings, they will freeze easily. For your first year, you might like to go with nursery grown plants.
One of the good things about growing herbs, is that they have few natural pests, and in fact, many herbs can be pest repellents themselves, including lemon verbena. Give your herbs room to grow, according to what your gardening books or local nursery have advised. Don’t forget that some plants, like mint, are enthusiastic spreaders, and will not only take over your garden, but even your lawn! To prevent this, choose a container that would hold the roots of a mature plant, even though you may have only a seedling. Tin cans, plastic bottles that are cut off, or similar containers will work. Punch holes around the container, about ¼” above the bottom. This will allow for proper drainage. Fill the container with soil from the garden, plant your herb in the center, and then sink the can into the garden, to just below the surface. Roots will be contained within the tin or bottle, and won’t encroach on the rest of the garden.
You’ll have fresh herbs all season, and if you want to enjoy them in the winter, simply cut and dry the stalks before any flowering occurs. Annuals should be cut off at the ground, and perennials may be cut 1/3 of the way from their tops. Tie in small bunches, place inside a paper bag, and hang upside down in a moderate temperature where it is relatively dark. In one or two weeks when the leaves appear dry, they can be crushed or stored whole in sealed jars, but do check them occasionally in the first few weeks to remove any stray bits of moisture that you might have missed.