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Cut your own herbs and cut costs

Check out a fantastic herb spiral for more information or for a large herb garden 10 m by 10m see this design and planting list.  Our simple advice should save you a small fortune if you love using fresh herbs in cooking as much as we do.

Chose a location. 
The best location for your herb garden is going to firstly be sunny for most of the day and avoiding trees if possible.  You will want to be able to reach the herbs at arm's length and ideally for them to be near the house.  You don't want to be slipping in the dark, onto wet mud, just before your dinner party.  

The soil should be well drained and fertile but not over fertile as you'll get tasteless herbs) and the spot sheltered from pets and pets and harsh wind too.  You can also grow several herbs in a shallow planter of around 30 inch round, pots, a hanging basket or most other things!  For sunny steps, different containers with drain holes work well. 

Herb Garden Site Preparation
Good drainage is one of the most important aspects of growing herbs. Most herbs will survive in poor sandy soils, but few are able to cope with water-logged soils. Herbs hate wet feet caused by poor drainage and will show their discontent by growing poorly.

While preparing the soil for planting, get rid of all the weeds.  Most herbs prefer a slightly alkaline soil.  You can add fertilizer if the soil is bad but herbs do not like over fertile soil as they will grow too quick and be tasteless. 

For a container garden, you will need to purchase composted potting mix and sand. You will also need a bag of potting gravel or a bucket of small rocks. Place the gravel in the bottom of the container, measuring about 1-2 inches. Mix 2 parts of potting mix and one part of sand. Pour the potting mix into your pot until it is about an inch from the rim. Give the potting mix a good watering; let the water drain before planting your herbs.   Container herbs need just enough water so that the soil feels slightly moist to the touch. Keep them pruned to stimulate new growth, and take care to not over fertilize.

Buying the plants
The type of herbs you'll want to grow are up to you. Rosemary, parsley, and basil are terrific herbs for beginners. Oregano, cilantro, thyme, chives, marjoram, dill and mint are easy to grow too. 

Growing from seeds
If possible, sow seeds in shallow boxes in late winter. Transplant seedlings outdoors in the spring. A light, well-drained soil is best for starting the seedlings indoors. Be careful not to cover the seeds too deeply with soil. Generally, the finer the seed, the shallower it should be sown. Sow anise, coriander, dill, and fennel directly in the garden since they do not transplant well.

Plant your herbs when all danger of frost has passed. For tender herbs such as parsley, you may want to keep the pots indoors until early summer. Dig holes deep enough so that all the herb's roots are covered, but don't bury the plant's stem. Pat the soil around the plant, and water thoroughly.

Herbs can be either perennial or annuals. Some perennial varieties such as oregano and rosemary, can get quite large and will crowd out other herbs. It is always best to keep them in separate planters. I also plant mint and thyme in separate pots since they spread quite rapidly and will choke out adjacent plants.  You can plant in the pot to limit this effect.

Water the herbs well and let them stand for half an hour or more before planting. Dig a hole twice as large as the pot.  Loosen the roots at the bottom of the root ball slightly. Set the plant in its hole and fill it up with soil to the same level as it was in the pot. Water the entire area thoroughly after planting.  Mulching will help to prevent the soil from drying out, it can also supply nutrients and also reduces weeds.

Harvesting Herbs
Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. To ensure good oil content, pick leaves or seeds after dew has disappeared but before the sun becomes too hot. Wash dirty leaves and seed heads in cold water; drain thoroughly before drying.

And when you have them...
Basil goes well with vegetables and garlic.   Chives is good with soups, salads, chicken, potatoes, and even egg dishes.  Coriander complements salads, vegetables and poultry.  Dill tastes good with fish, cream cheese, and cucumber.  Fennel is good with oily fish, salads, and cooked vegetables.   Mint goes with sauces, syrups, teas and desserts.  Oregano and marjoram complements beefs, soups, pastas and many vegetables.  Rosemary is good with lamb roast, pork, pigeon and sausage.  Sage goes with omelets, bread to stews, and tomatoes.  Lastly, thyme tastes good with meat, game, poultry and shellfish.

Winter Protection
Perennial and biennial herbs should be winter protected. Many herbs are shallow-rooted, which makes them susceptible to heaving during spring thaws. Mulch with straw, oak leaves, or evergreen boughs 4 inches deep to protect the plants. Apply the mulch after the ground has frozen in early winter. Do not remove the mulch until plants show signs of growth in early spring. Early removal could result in some early frost damage.

Herby facts 
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on Herbs lists 73 different types of herbs.  

Copyright: The Local Food Company, 2007


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