June 26, 2015

Growing Fresh Herbs - Toolbox

Thyme in a pot

If you’ve ever liked the idea of growing your own food but are feeling a bit intimidated by it or don’t know how to go about it, growing fresh herbs/aromatics is a good place to start. There is no need to be an accomplished gardener or to have a lot of space available; a small pot or two on a windowsill or kitchen counter is enough to start with.

Fresh Mint Plant

Why grow fresh herbs?
There are many advantages to grow your own aromatics, but number one would probably be to have a fairly constant supply at your disposal to use in your cooking. Fresh herbs are sometimes all it takes to boost the flavour of a dish, they are very commonly used in cooking and for medicine use and they come with an array of health benefits, being filled with antioxidants and nutrients. When you know that half the nutritional value of herbs is lost within 30min of harvesting, growing your own will allow you to harvest small amounts only as and when you need them. You can also make sure your herbs are grown in a totally organic and natural way, without the use of any toxic fertilisers.

Growing your own is also a money-saving option, when you think of the price tag of fresh herbs at the shop.
Finally, growing your aromatics is fun, a great way to involve children, and will allow you to reconnect with nature and where your food comes from.

Basil seedlings in a zinc pot on a windowsill

How to grow fresh herbs?

Varieties
First and foremost, you’ll need to choose which herbs you want to grow! There are many different types of aromatics available. Common ones include basil, parsley, chives, coriander, rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon, mint and dill. Depending on how much space you have available, you might pick only one or two varieties or decide to have a more comprehensive choice of herbs. My advice would be to grow herbs which you tend to use regularly in your cooking, in order to prevent waste. However, do not hesitate to get off the beaten track in terms of the varieties that you pick, and your taste buds will be amazed by what nature has to offer. For instance, did you know that there are over 600 different varieties of mint in the world?  You might want to give a try to Chocolate Mint, Bergamot Mint or Arabic Mint to name only a few...

Mint in a container

Planting & Care
You can then decide whether you will grow your herbs outdoors or indoors and in open ground or in pots. Starting growing herbs in pots is often the easiest way of having fresh herbs available year round, however, they will provide less yields than outdoor gardens.

Use organic peat-free soil-based compost, and place a small layer of clay balls or small stones at the bottom of the pot, if growing in containers, to help with drainage. If you are a beginner at growing your own food, buying already grown plants will be the easiest option. You can also grow them from seeds, following the instruction on the packet for when and how to sow them, but although I have found that some plants such as basil and parsley are pretty easy to grow from seeds, other such as thyme or tarragon have proven more challenging. Garden centres are the obvious place where to go buy your plants, but it is definitely worth considering other places too, such as farmers’ markets or plant fairs, where you might be able to find locally grown plants, a much larger choice of varieties, and most importantly will be able to get precious advice from the grower as for how to care for your plants. The internet is also a good place to get organic seeds, and you might even be able to find seed-swapping websites. When buying already grown plants, dip them (up to the rim of their pot) in a bucket of water for about 10min before transferring them to their container/soil. Then, when in place, water again.

Mint in a pot

Most herb gardens do not require the use of fertilizers; however, adding a small layer or good organic compost to the soil (when growing herbs outdoors) twice a year will provide a good amount of nutrients to the plant. Check whether your plants will need to be exposed to direct sunlight or not. Water them in the morning (ideally with collected rain water), when the soil is dry.

Some herbs are perennial such as rosemary, thyme, mint, marjoram or tarragon. It can be useful to cut the plants just above soil level in the late autumn, and they will start growing again fresh shoots in the spring. Other varieties such as basil, chervil, coriander or dill are annual and will need a new plant every year.

For specific instructions on growing different varieties of herbs, do not hesitate to refer to a gardening book or to get advice from an experienced gardener, as each plant has got specific needs.

Let me know if you grow your own herbs or have any tips to share and happy gardening!

Basil in a zinc pot

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