The struggling economy has many people looking for ways to save money. One way to cut corners is to grow your own food. Growing your own will also ensure you know where your food was grown, what type of fertilizers were used in its production, and if any pesticides or fungicides were applied.
If you love to cook with fresh herbs, you should start a culinary herb garden. Most herbs are easy to grow, yet expensive to purchase from the grocery store. Nothing beats the flavor of freshly picked herbs in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, pastas, salad and many other dishes. These steps will get you started in the right direction.
Finding the right place
The first and most important step is picking the right location. Find a sunny area close to the house so that you won’t have to go far to get your herbal ingredients. Six to eight hours of sun a day is mandatory for any herb garden. The fragrant oils, which give herbs their flavor, are produced in the greatest quantity when plants receive plenty of sun and are not watered or fertilized too much.
Second, you should always start a garden with great soil! Most culinary herbs need well-drained, moderately fertile soil to grow their best. Amend your beds with compost before planting. Then mulch with organic material such as shredded bark after planting. The compost provides nutrients for the plant and aids in root production. The mulch will eventually breakdown into organic matter. After finding the right spot, submit soil samples for testing to determine if lime or nutrients need to be added to the soil.
Although many herbs are drought tolerant, moisture is needed to maintain active growth. Water herbs thoroughly after planting but allow the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again. Plants should be watered early enough in the day that leaves can dry before nightfall.
Choosing the right varieties
Grow the herbs you like to use in the kitchen. If you like cooking Italian food, make sure you have plenty of basil, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. If you like Asian foods, grow Thai basil, lemongrass and hot peppers. If you like Mexican cuisine, grow cilantro or chili peppers.
Some herbs may be grown in containers and brought inside in winter to provide fresh herbs all year. Bush basil, sage, winter savory, parsley, chives and varieties of oregano and thyme are some of the best herbs for growing in containers. Herbs grown inside will need plenty of sunlight from a south or west window.
There are three types of herbs: herbaceous, evergreen, and annual. Herbaceous herbs, such as oregano, chives, Texas tarragon, and mint die back each winter but return in the spring from the same roots. Evergreen herbs, such as rosemary and sage, stay green year round and live for many years. They may need pruning in spring to control their shape. Warm season annuals, such as, basil, perilla, and Stevia can be planted now but will die when we receive our first frost. Cool season annuals like parsley, cilantro, and dill can be planted in the fall. You will need to replace annual herbs each year.
Herb garden design
Plant your herb garden with an eye for design. Consider what kind of look you are leaning toward. Do you want a formal or informal herb garden? Formal gardens, such as knot gardens, are attractively laid out in beds with brick, gravel or paved walkways in between. Boxwoods are often used as a border in these type gardens. Beds can have themes such as Italian or Asian herbs.
Informal herb gardens are a mix of many different types of herbs designed more like a cottage garden with plants spilling onto walkways. These informal designs are less about looks and more about production. Don’t be afraid to add color to your herb garden. Flowers such as pansies, violas, marigolds, scented geraniums, and roses compliment herbs well by adding visual interest to the garden, and also have edible petals that can be sprinkled in salads or over cakes.
To learn more about herbs, visit ces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.
Susan Brown is with the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension of NC State University, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at Charlotte_Glen@ncsu.edu.