This week’s gardening guest blogger has a passion for herbs! Marcy Raleigh began growing herbs in 1992 after taking a winter class at an herb shop in Geneva, Illinois and started the Backyard Patch to market her herbs in 1995. She is a published author on subjects relating to herbs, both growing and using, and maintains an herb-themed blog (www.backyardpatch.blogspot.com) where she shares her 20 years of herb gardening experience.
Herbs are the most wonderful and simple plants to grow in the garden. Whether you create a dedicated herb garden or place herbs in an existing flower or vegetable garden, they are a perfect addition to any landscape.
Most herbs require 4 to 6 hours of sunlight, so find a sunny location and start growing. Even if all you do is sprinkle some seed in a 12 inch pot, once you smell the aroma and utilize the fresh flavors you will never know how you did without.
Here are 10 tips to get you started growing herbs:
1. Plant Perennials. Edible plants that come back year after year save planting time, and maintenance is usually limited to annual weeding, fertilizing and mulching. Hearty perennials like sage, lemon balm and mints will thrive where winters are cold, sorrel is a terrific perennial salad green, horseradish grows almost anywhere.
2. Include Essential Kitchen Herbs. You will regret it if you skip the traditional culinary herbs even if what you want is a medicinal garden. The rewards of growing culinary herbs such as basil, dill, oregano, sage and parsley, which are easy to grow and sometimes pricey to buy, will give you good meals and something to trade with later.
3. Grow Good Things to Drink. In addition to growing what you eat, try growing tasty beverages. Making simple syrups from Lemon balm or lemon verbena makes fun lemonade and great summer cocktails. Apple and Pineapple Mint are perfectly refreshing for summer iced tea.
4. Experiment with Herbs you have never grown or never heard of. Look for a variety of thyme, sage or oregano that has a different color, texture or flavor, like lemon thyme, purple sage or golden oregano. They will break up the landscape as well as introduce new ideas. There is nothing more lovely than a vinegar made with purple basil and the taste is just as great as the regular sweet basil.
5. Interplant Compatible Crops. When growing a summer crop such as tomatoes. They will be long harvested before the tomatoes create too much shade. You can also growing a crop that takes a while, such as carrots, alongside a faster-growing crop such as radishes, which will be ready in only 30 days. Some herbs are companions to vegetables because they encourage growth or deter pests. Find many more ideas for complementary crops in Companion Planting With Herbs.
6. Succession Sow for Steady Harvests. Cilantro is a great herb for making salsa, but many people complain that it goes to seed long before the tomatoes are ripe. Solve this problem by sowing seed two weeks apart through the end of August. This will give you a constant crop of tasty leaves. You can do the same with Dill to provide dill weed to go with all your summer vegetables.
7. Create Many Mini-Gardens. For many herbs, you must seek out spots that receive more than six hours of sun from the south or west. Create small “spot gardens” wherever the sun shines. This may be in your front yard. Establish deep, fertile beds wherever the sun beckons, or use large or small containers to make use of sunny spaces on your deck or patio.
8. Use Herbs for Free Fertilizer. Take advantage of free, nitrogen-rich fertilizers you can craft from herbs such as comfrey, parsley and nettle. Make a fertilizer tea by steeping leaf cuttings in water. Or place some of your harvest into the compost pile to ensure nutrients, minerals and nitrogen are part of your blend.
9. Weed Early and Often. Most garden crops require weeding at least three times: Plan to weed five to seven days after sowing or transplanting, again seven to 10 days later, and a third time three to four weeks after the crop has been planted. By that time, the plants should be big enough to mulch and should have plenty of leaves to shade the soil’s surface.
10. Freeze in Small Batches. Much less of your herb harvest will be lost if you freeze the extra in small batches every few days. For example, add chopped chives, minced parsley or stripped thyme to an ice cube tray and cover with water. Once frozen pop them into zip lock bags and label. Measure the contents of the cube before freezing and you will have a pre-measured cube to use in winter cooking. You can also mix and match the herbs, create blends and even make an Herbal Paste. Freezing is less technical than canning or even drying with much less waste. Just remember frozen herbs are never going to look like fresh ever again.