The Real Value of a Herb Garden
It doesn’t matter how little space you have available; you can have a fresh supply of herbs all year round.
Because I initially didn't want the expense of an automated drip system I found self-watering pots terrific because it gave me a back up for when I was time challenged.
But I later put in a drip system linked to a timer, which helped ensure all my plants survived well during dry weather. And this really improved my results. In hindsight, I'd set this system up earlier than later, as now my herbs basically look after themselves. And if you have a patio area such a system would be ideal.
If you have limited space, pots or vertical walls, may work for you. Or you might have a sunny, well-drained spot in the garden where herbs suitable for Mediterranean foods grow well.
Fresh Italian parsley, mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, coriander, thyme, sage and chilli are staples and are used in a large number of recipes. I also regularly use leaves from a bay tree in soups and stews.
Sweet Basil likes morning sun and moderate amounts of water. (Snails seem to love it so you may need to use a safe snail repellent.) I regularly use large amounts of Basil in Italian cooking so I try to have multiple plants.
It's relatively easy to grow from cuttings in warm weather but it's almost impossible to keep alive during winter except during early winter in really sheltered positions. I often buy a sweet basil at the beginning of spring to get some basil in again, then use it for cuttings.
Oregano does best with morning sun and moderate amounts of water. I again use large amounts of oregano in stews, casseroles and a variety of Italian cuisine.
Coriander can be fickle and you need to continually plant more slow bolting seeds to keep up a ready supply. I find giving seeds a rub between two sheets of sandpaper, then soaking them for an hour or two before planting helps with germination. Or if ever I buy coriander from the store in a sleeve, I cut the bottom 2-3 inches of the stalk and replant it.
Coriander likes morning sun, moderate watering but hates drafts. I use coriander in many different types of cuisine from Asian through to Mexican. It's wonderful in fresh salads, Asian style soups, corn fritters, risottos and salsas.
Sage seems to like well drained soils, but a reasonable amount of water and morning sun. It is terrific with chicken.
When I began growing herbs convenience was the most important factor for me. Prior to having my own herb garden I was often frustrated if I planned to make a meal and then couldn't access the fresh herbs I needed.
I began with one parsley plant over ten years ago (which I grew in the dirt.) And because I let it self sow I still get parsley, every year, at not cost. The same with a selection of chillies.
I planted a small rosemary hedge in the dirt in a dry area against a north facing wall which flourished in the Mediterranean like conditions. And I've since struck many, many plants and given them away to friends and family from the original two.
I put a mass of spring onions in right near the back door.
I put oregano, sage and thyme into 12 inch (30 cm) pots and other than watering them, they pretty much look after themselves. Although I do feed them at the beginning of spring with an organic pelleted fertiliser.
Basil is seasonal and I've grown it successfully in the dirt for years. But every spring I need to put new basil seeds into seed raising mix, then transplant seedlings into the dirt, or 30 cm (12 inch) pots, as basil will not live the whole way through winter.
To keep a good supply of coriander, you need to keep planting new lots of seeds into seed raising mix, every couple of months as coriander is inclined to bolt (goes to seed.) Keeping it trimmed can extend its life. Make sure you choose slow bolting varieties of coriander seed to reduce this annoying tendency.
To keep a ready supply of fresh herbs year round you can:
Succession plant (e.g. coriander)
Take cuttings and
Replant according to seasons
And if you do all of these things, you'll likely be like me. Fresh herbs will cost you very little, or nothing at all.
On a dollar per gram basis, one of the most expensive fresh foods are herbs
Accessing fresh herbs at home is convenient and foods will likely taste better
Once established, herbs can be free, often self sowing (e.g. chillies, parsley, coriander) or you can grow them from cuttings (e.g. rosemary, mint)
The quality of the softer herbs like basil, mint or coriander is better if picked fresh
An automated self-watering system is worth the investment, as it will greatly increase your chances of success
While I grow lots of herbs in the dirt in the garden, I grow most in potting mix in 30 cm (12 inch) round pots, or in large self-watering troughs (if not linked to an automatic watering system.)
I keep them close to the back door so it's convenient. And I position herbs next to a wall to protect them from the most common winds.
This is what I've learnt about the herbs I use most.
Mint likes moist, semi-shady areas and needs to be kept in a contained garden or pot to prevent it spreading throughout your garden. Mint grows well from cuttings. It is wonderful for adding a freshness to foods. E.g. rice paper rolls, fruit punch, tabbouleh.
Rosemary loves dry conditions in full sun up against a north facing wall and flourishes on neglect. I use it for lamb, stews, soups and for roast vegetables. It also grows well from cuttings.
Parsley also likes good sun but needs plenty of water to flourish. I use it mostly for risottos, stews and casseroles. I let some of it go to seed as it self sows easily.
Dill is a herb snails and slugs seem to love. I found it does best in morning sun, in a reasonably well-drained soil with moderate amounts of water. It is wonderful with fish and in mayonnaise.
Thyme does well in a well drained pot in morning sun and is useful to give a freshness to stews, pastas, risottos and lamb dishes.
We also have a Bay tree and I use its leaves to give a sweetness to soups and stews. It does well with morning sun and I keep it in a pot near the back door.
And I have a number of Chilli plants ranging in levels of hotness which I use to give a kick to meals ranging across a range of cuisines.
I grow many herbs in pots especially mint, as it is very invasive. And for mint I have two different pots as I use a lot of it.
And I have a variety of spring onions growing just outside my back door because I use them all the time.
Attaching an automated watering system made all the difference to my herb growing success.
Here you can see the thin black tubing which supplies water. The drip end put near the centre of the pot and is held into position with a an inverted U shaped piece of wire clamped over it and pegging it into the dirt. (An old wire coat hanger corner bent into position would work, if you don't have wire.)
The reason you keep drippers held in position is, they can fall out, and you don't realise until your plant starts to die that it's happened.
Below is the garden we planted during the pandemic. And regardless of initial food shortages, we always had access to fresh vegetables.
I love to grow vegetables you can't buy at the shop. If you're interested in finding more ways to support your family... Follow me on Instagram: best_parenting_advice.com
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For ways to use fresh herbs in cooking you may find the following links useful:
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