Growing your own fresh herbs is easy to do, and when you add them to dishes like spaghetti and soups, they add much interest and flavor. Many herbs are wayside plants in their native environments and thrive on neglect. They don't need special soil, they require very little fertilizer and many are drought-tolerant. You can get growing today.
History and Types
The cavemen were the first humans to make use of herbs, both as a food source and for medicines. Cave paintings date the use of herbs back to 25,000 B.C. In the 1600s the pilgrims brought herbs to America on the Mayflower and established them in early gardens. John Winthrop introduced parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, lovage, catnip and others to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. Soon, more than 100 species of herbs were growing in the colonies, including some current favorites such as sweet basil, spearmint, savory, bay laurel and chives.
Preparing Garden Space
If you have an existing garden, clear an area about 2 feet-by-6 feet. This will provide space for over a dozen herb plants, planted 1 foot apart in two rows 8 inches apart. Because herbs are not fussy about their soil, you needn't add a lot of compost or manure. Any dirt will do. If you don't have a garden, you can grow most herbs in pots. Or create a garden space by placing cardboard over a weedy area, and then cover it with peat moss, compost, topsoil, dried leaves and other organic material.
Nurseries carry an assortment of herb starter plants in small pots. You can get going with your dozen herb plants for under $30 if you buy young plants. Seed catalogs carry many more varieties of herbs: perhaps you'd like to try 12 different types of basil or thyme. Good choices for a beginning herb garden include sweet basil, Thai basil, chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, dill, lavender and sorrel. You will discover more herbs after you embark on your herb garden and discover recipes that use them.
Care and Feeding
When you transplant young herbs, water them well and keep the soil moist for the first two weeks. Protect them from snails and slugs---diatomaceous earth around your garden area will deter them. No fertilizer is needed unless you feel your plants need some, and weak fish emulsion is a natural choice. When plants like basil begin to form flower spikes, keep flowers pinched back to encourage bushiness and longevity. Then use the flowers in dishes that call for the herb.
Hanging Baskets and Containers
Even apartment dwellers can enjoy fresh homegrown herbs. Many different types of herbs do well in hanging baskets and containers. Look for a creeping variety of rosemary or thyme that will hang over the sides of your pot, and you will have an attractive edible plant on your patio or in a sunny window. Herbs prefer to grow outdoors under direct sunlight, so bring your pots indoors if you have cold winters.