Do you love the delectable depth and complexity that fresh herbs can add to any dish? Think about a sprig of just-picked mint in your next glass of iced tea or the punch packed by just-minced cilantro – which even seriously perks up a store bought jar of sauce – in your next bowl of salsa. If your mouth is already watering, think about this: why not grow your own herb garden?
Go into any decent supermarket today and you find that the produce section features a bounty of herbs. Often, however, this bounty comes with a healthy price tag. That price gets steeper once you factor in that when you buy a bunch of chives or cilantro, you may not use it all before the greens lose their crispness or flavor. But, if you grow your own herb garden, you can take the same money you might invest in buying herbs into raising exactly those you want.
When you grow your own herb garden, your plants are ready and waiting when you want to use them, without the expense or waste you have with store-bought versions. Your plants are always fresh, too. Plus you also have the advantage of growing a number of different varieties (think spearmint, peppermint and even chocolate mint and pineapple mint).
The best part? You don’t need a big garden plot, a cart full of tools, and you can forget the time spent on your knees working your plants. Instead, consider small pots that you can start in a window regardless of whether your place in a tiny studio or a large country house complete with a greenhouse window as mine is.
When you use the simple pot method to grow your own herb garden, you reap big benefits over a traditional garden plot. There is virtually no weeding required, for example, and you can better control your results. You can make your herbs as organic as you want since you probably won’t need pesticides, whether natural or man-made. Whether you use something like Miracle Gro or similar products is entirely up to you. You also get the ability to grow herbs year-round rather than only have them available during summer.
Also, many herbs do very well in even the simplest of pots. You can make your pots very ornamental to fit your kitchen or other décor or you can go the cheap route: use well-washed milk cartons and large soda bottles that you cut down. Just be sure you add drainage holes in the bottom. You can then place these makeshift pots into a more attractive plastic or resin planter you can buy at many stores to keep your plants together.
You don’t even need to start your own herb garden from seeds, although the planting can be a great activity you can do with children if you have them – more about this in a moment. Go back to the same supermarket that features a good produce department and you may likely find they sell small herb plants as well, some for as little as 99 cents to $1.99. Commercial greenhouses, home and garden stores, and even some florist’s shop sometimes sell small starter herb plants, too. You can also buy them online, but shipping costs may make this route less attractive.
If you do choose the seed route, appreciate that planting your own herb garden can be a marvelous way to introduce kids – and yourself – to the simple joy of growing their own food and the responsibility of tending plants from seeds to maturity. If you go this route, you may want to avoid the prepackaged kits you frequently see. Some of these kits have sat on the shelf for a bit so the seeds may no longer be viable and the soil may be fairly dry and depleted.
Also consider talking to a few of the gardeners you know among friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. There is an excellent chance some will have seeds for herb varieties you want to try. If you have a local gardening group, talk to these folks as well.
Beyond containers, you will need a bag of seed starter mix for seeds or potting mix for plants you buy. Your seed packets, for example, will tell you about any special needs a particular herb may have. Some may crave nitrogen and begin to lose their green without nitrogen added to the soil.
If you do start from seeds, check your seed package to determine at what point you need to transplant your maturing sprouts into larger pots. Times can differ from six to eight weeks to much longer, all depending on your choices when you grow your own herb garden.
Once plants are fully started on their way to maturation, you should generally avoid transplanting them again unless you notice the plants seem root bound or crowded. For example, when my chives truly thrive, I often need to break them up into multiple containers. But there you get a bonus: you can always use one of the extras created from a lush plant as a gift for a friend, co-worker or family member who also enjoys fresh herbs.
Also consult your seed packets – or the many gardening tip sites online – to learn about what type of light each herb needs. Some will want very sunny windows and may even require a simple light setup in your kitchen or living room when the sun is not shining. Others will accept much less light. You may find it necessary to move your portable potted garden around to different windows based on the time of day.
My little potted herb garden always has the items I use most often for ingredients or garnishes for what I cook: chives (great for baked potatoes, soups and chowders, and eggs), rosemary (for delightfully scented chicken), cilantro (also known as coriander, perfect for Mexican or other spicy dishes), and always one type of mint or another. As someone who just does not have the time or expertise to garden myself (I leave that to my better half), my choice to grow my own potted herb garden has been ideal.