Herbs are generally the starter plants of choice for the new gardener. They are easy to grow, are contained in pots, can be started at any time of the year, and kept indoors all year round. They serve more than one purpose as well which is great.
Growing herbs is a good way to experiment as well. You can observe and note your successes and failures. For the beginner gardener who is starting out with herbs, you will learn about container gardening, growing mediums and acquire great (and extremely valuable) watering habits. You will learn about feed and fertilizers, sun requirements, growing habits and so much more.
USAGE OF HERBS
Let’s not forget about usage! One of the great joys of growing herbs is that you’ll have the option of fresh herbs all year round that deliver delicious and nutritious flavor to your meals, or you can dry them out and store them as spices for later use.
Certain herbs also have a medicinal purpose that can and should be used when needed. Lavender is the perfect example. This versatile herb can be kept as a very pretty (and fragrant) perennial. It can be used fresh in cooking. Both the flowers and leaves can be dried for spices. It can be extracted into oils for it’s calming and relaxing effects. Many herbs offer a dual purpose where they are both beneficial to our health in both culinary and medicinal practices.
When you first begin your herbs, I cannot stress enough the importance of using the proper growing medium. Many people go cheap to start because they are uncertain if they can even grow anything at all! Let me tell you a little secret… starting cheap is the key to failure. Buying a cheap soil at the dollar store or even Walmart won’t get you the results you want.
Do you buy a potting mix? Compost? Black earth? Garden soil? With so many options, what is the best option for you? I personally recommend picking up a small bag of Pro-Mix Premium Organic Vegetable & Herb Mix. You can buy it at any home and garden centre. My local Canadian Tire sells it for $8.99 for a 28-L bag. Not a bad deal at all. Then you want to buy some planting pots. Yes, you can go to the dollar store for these. A 10-pack of black 4″ pots is $1.50. Then you need your seed. If you are just starting out, you can pick up seed at Walmart, Canadian Tire and heck, even the local dollar store has seed. I’ve bought from all three sources and honestly, they all worked out quite well.
When you start planting, keep in mind that herbs are delicate and require a certain style of care versus vegetables or flowers. When planting your herbs, first, in a separate bowl take a few cups of soil and moisten it. Not soggy, but damp. Now put this damp soil into your pot. sprinkle your seed on top of this mix. Pat the seed down very lightly to ensure it has proper contact with the soil and then put a very light dusting of dry soil on top of the seeds to just barely cover them. Give it a few minutes to settle then water it lightly. Unlike vegetables and flowers which often require the seed to be planted at least 1/2″ deep into the soil, most herbs do not like being buried and will rot and die if they are.
Germination can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the type of herb planted. I recently started a new batch of 6 different herbs (about 2 weeks ago) – some germinated within 7 days, other just recently germinated and I still have 1 that has not sprouted out at all yet and likely won’t for another 2 weeks. Learn about the type of seed you bought and figure out how long it CAN take to germinate. Just because the package says 7-14 days doesn’t mean it will in 7-14 days. That is under ideal conditions. But are you providing ideal conditions?
Ideal conditions generally refer to a steady temperature specific to that herb. A certain amount of sunlight specific to that herb. A certain level of humidity specific to that herb. Now this is different to some degree for almost every plant. Since you cannot make them all happy with their own preferred ideal conditions – you have to set a range that they can deal with.
A steady indoor temperature between 20C-24C (68F-75F) is preferred but not always easy in the summertime if you don’t have central air and the temperatures are well above 35C (95F). 8-10 hours of direct sunlight is not always an option in Canada during the dead of winter when we are lucky to see 8 hours of light in general. Sure you can buy grow lights, but then say hello to an increased electric bill, which may or may not bother you. An ideal humidity level of 55% is generally preferred but without the use of a dehumidifier (and possibly even a humidifier working in tandem), keeping the proper level of humidity can be difficult.
My point is, it’s not easy to provide ideal conditions for each and every herb you’ve got going, so don’t aim for perfection. However, keeping them within the ranges listed about, while may not be perfect, it is good enough. But these ranges will affect everything from germination to blooming to bolting. So some herbs will take longer to germinate, and that’s ok. Some may take a little longer to grow, and that’s ok. Some may bolt faster than you anticipate and that’s ok too. It’s all about learning what to do and what not to do. How to change things up when there is a problem and when to keep it steady if all is running smoothly.
Let’s not forget watering habits! Some herbs need more water than others. Putting every plant on the same watering schedule is not ideal at all. For example, herbs from the mint family can easily be watered 1-2 times a week. However, herbs like lavender prefer a
TIP: During germination and young phases – water from the top. Once a plant sprouts its first true leaves, only water from the bottom from that point forward.
HARVESTING YOUR HERBS
Harvesting your herbs is the fun part! You can take from your plant whenever you want once it is a fully-matured plant. You can use them fresh or dry them for future use. To use fresh, simply snip the leaves or blooms you use to use, wash and use as desired.
To dry your herbs for future use, you should cut in bundles, leaving at least 2-3 inches of the plant to spare so it can grow for a continuous supply. Bundle the bunch of herbs and hang them to dry for 3-4 weeks in a spot that is dark (a closet is a good space) and make sure to place it somewhere where there is very little wind exchange. Once the herbs have dried out for the allotted time, you can crush them and place them into an airtight spice jar and they will last from 6 months to 2 years depending on the type of herb!
Growing herbs is very easy and very inexpensive. It’ll give you a bird’s eye view of what goes into actual gardening but on a much smaller scale. It helps you to learn about all the different factors that can affect the yield of your harvest. Also, it helps you to decide if gardening is for you or not. It helps to educate you and gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment as well. To be able to see, eat and benefit from the fruits of your labour is one of the most amazing feelings I’ve personally ever experienced. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get growing!