Designing and Growing an Herb Garden
Kitchen herbs have been grown a long time. Most of this time, there was no supermarket to buy them from. If you wanted herbs, you grew them yourself. Normally, the herb garden was as close to the kitchen door as possible so the cook could get what she needed to season her family’s food. As people become more interested in fresh, healthy diets, they have rediscovered herbs and herb gardens.
Before you plant an herb garden, go out your kitchen door and walk about twenty paces. Now turn around and find a twelve foot by twelve foot square to plant your kitchen herb garden. The space you choose should be as close to the house as possible, but must receive at least half a day of sun each day. It should also be as easy to look out the kitchen door and see at a glance what herbs you have in your stock and what ones you are out of or running low on. In choosing your herb garden space, remember you will still want to get your herbs when it is raining or muddy, so some well placed stepping stones will be appreciated in bad weather.
In order to plan your herb garden, look at the seasonings you usually use. If possible, plan to plant those herbs in your garden. A good mix of herbs means you have a better chance of having the one you need next time you cook with herbs. Many people plant basil, chives, cilantro, dill, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme. Now you need to choose the herbs you want to grow.
Just because it is an herb garden doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty. Use some variegated varieties of the herbs you want so that the garden looks nice. Variegated types of thyme, sage and mint are readily available. Basil with dark purple leaves looks nice and tastes just as good as basil from a plant with green leaves on it.
Herbs are more tolerant of poor soil than flowers or vegetables. However, you should still prepare your herb garden space. Till it to a depth of six inches. Use compost that is so composted you cannot tell what was in the compost pile when it was made and lay down a three inch layer of compost where you have tilled. Till the compost completely into the soil so that they are thoroughly mixed. It is better to improve the soil near your kitchen so you can grow the herbs you need near the kitchen than to move out farther from the kitchen in search of better soil.
Many culinary herbs are annuals, and can be sown right into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Examples of popular annuals are dill, basil, and cilantro. The rest of the common kitchen herbs are perennials. They come back year after year. Examples of popular perennials are: mint, French tarragon, oregano. These can be grown from seeds, but it takes several months for the seedlings to grow enough to harvest anything from them. A faster way is to purchase the perennials from a reputable nursery. Look at the plants carefully to make sure they are healthy and free of pests. The soil around the plant should be moist but not soggy. You need to also check to see how many plants are in the pot you want. Many times there are two, three, or even four plants in the pot. You can get one pot and have enough plants for your uses all year.
To make sure your perennial herbs survive the winter, will can do several things. First, you can bring in any herbs in pots before the first freeze. Place them in a cold, dark place, such as your garage. Make sure the temperatures stay at least 30 degrees F, and do not go under 20 degrees F for very long. This allows these herbs to go dormant and come out again in the spring.
You can move other herbs into pots and bring them into the same storage facility the other herbs are in. Rosemary must be dug up and placed in a pot in a dark, cool, place in zones cooler than zone seven, or it will die over the winter.
If you want to winter your plants in place during the winter, you must mulch them deeply enough that it keeps them warm. You can do this be surrounding the herb garden with a twelve inch tall wire cage filled with straw to keep the crowns on the herbs from freezing. Either way you protect the plants, the mulch and straw has to be removed one month before the last frost. This allows the leaves to start growing as soon as it is warm enough for them to do so.
The offerings at the nurseries may not be very appealing, or they just have the standard herb varieties and you want something different. You can buy a much wider selection of seeds by ordering them over the internet. Some places will even mail plants if you purchase them. Perennial plants and annuals can be started in the house or greenhouse six to eight weeks before the last freeze is expected. When they have grown to a good size to transplant, place them where you want them in the garden.
Do not get stressed with where your herb garden is going to go and where in the herb garden each plant should go. Start small the first year you raise an herb garden. Experiment with where in your plot to plant each herb for the best crop. Keep a journal so you will know when you planted each type of herb and how it did. This information is invaluable the next growing season because it tells you what thrived and what perished. You can either raise more of what thrived or devote some space to trying a new herb in the spaces where the herb you planted perished. Herb gardens can deliver herbs that are so fresh you will never go back to supermarket spices again.