Gardening, which was once only possible for those who lived in houses or around community patches, has now become a possibility for apartment and condo-dwellers alike with the rise of container and balcony gardening. Herb kits can be found online and in home and garden sections of stores everywhere, and with their rise in popularity, the time of the herb garden is truly upon us. By growing a herb garden, not only will you save money and have fresh, delicious herbs available at a moment’s notice, but you’ll be helping the environment as well. It takes a lot of fossil fuels to grow, transport, and sell herbs through a traditional grocery store. In addition, growing your own garden allows you to avoid dangerous pesticides or weed killers, and instead use a more natural solution.
Tools you’ll need
Only the most basic tools are required for an at-home herb garden. To get started you will need: soil (specifically potting soil), a container or several smaller pots, herb seeds or plants, and something to dig with (this can be as simple as an old spoon). You’ll also want something to pour water with; due to the fragile nature of small plants, a watering can is a good investment (since it is designed to release water gently), or you could carefully use a small cup or container. Be wary of using any container that was used to contain food or other items; wash it thoroughly to avoid leaching chemicals or extra materials into the water and threatening your plants. Also, if you’re planting your herbs in small containers, consider finding some rocks or large pebbles to place at the bottom of the container. This will improve the drainage and help keep roots from getting oversaturated.
Choose your herbs
Now that you have your basic tools ready, you’ll need to pick which plants you’re interested in growing. A few common choices are: basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cilantro, mint, sage, lavender, and dill. Make sure not to choose too many herbs; it is better to start with a few that have plenty of room to grow than to overpack your containers. Once you’ve made a list of your desired herbs, decide whether you’ll buy pre-grown plants, or attempt to grow plants from seed. Some, like rosemary and thyme, take a while to mature and it may be better to start with a grown plant. You can buy plants or seeds from home and garden stores, nurseries, or even from some grocery stores. Don’t limit yourself to the common types of herbs either, most herbs lend themselves well to container or small-pot gardening.
Planting and maintenance
Planting will depend on whether you’re beginning with a seed or a plant. Start by putting a layer of rock at the bottom of your pot, then filling the pot with soil, leaving a small gap close to the edge (so that the water does not run off the built-up soil). Plant seeds according to the instructions on the packet. lace plants deep enough to cover roots with soil. The amount of watering needed depends on whether you’re keeping plants indoors or outdoors, or whether it’s rainy or sunny. The best way to check whether your plants need watering is to feel the soil around the base; it should stay moist but not wet. Water as required, pouring water gently around the base of the plant. If your plants are in a hot location, consider watering at night to minimize evaporation. For an environmentally-friendly solution, you can save rainwater or extra water from around the house to water plants with. Make sure to pull out any weeds that might appear in the pots.
Be sure to pay attention to whether small flowers appear on your plants. This maturing of the plant often causes the plant to die or the taste of the herb to change. Pinch off and discard or compost any flowers that you find.
Harvest your herbs
Once your plants are ready to harvest, be sure you’re familiar with the best harvesting practices to get the most out of your plants. Some, like cilantro, tend to ‘bolt’ (flower) and go bad quickly; many people pull the plant up and use the entire herb at once. Some plants, like rosemary, can tolerate small sections being cut off frequently. Any time you harvest a plant, unless you are using it in its entirety, leave at least a few stems and leaves so the plant can continue growing using photosynthesis.
Once you harvest your plants, you have several options. You might snip a bit to use immediately, or you might want to store it for future use. Most herbs can either be dried or frozen. Whichever method you choose, you’ll want to give the herbs a quick rinse and ensure they’re fully dry before you begin. To dry your herbs, simply hang the bunch (each type of herb bunched individually) in a cool, dry place until fully dry (this usually takes up to two weeks depending on environmental conditions). Dried herbs will generally keep for up to a year. To freeze any herbs you’ve harvested, you’ll want to place them in an airtight bag and store in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, you can break off the amount you need. To make cooking easier, consider chopping the herbs prior to freezing.
Whether you choose to grow one herb or ten, indoors or out, growing a herb garden means you’ll enjoy all the benefits of fresh herbs, with none of the expense of store-bought. You’ll also be doing your part to help the environment by reducing the need for fossil fuels, or the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Best of all, you’ll have a constant supply of herbs for your recipes anytime you’d like.
Melissa is a young and energetic writer, a mom to a sweet little boy, and a fur-mom to two perfect pooches. Before becoming the Associate Content Director for Project Female, she was a journalist specializing in topics related to women in politics and policy affecting women.