If you’re new to gardening planting herbs is a great place to start, most herbs are very easy to care for and grow well in containers if you’re low on space. We’re going to discuss some of the best herbs to start with and how to care for them, and what you can use your herbs in and how to preserve them for use through the winter months.
Herbs are a great place to start if you’re just starting out in gardening or if you’re looking for plants that are low maintenance, mature quickly and are useful in your kitchen. To start your garden the first step is deciding what you would like to grow, choosing the kinds of containers you want to use and getting the right soil for your plants. I have gone over this in detail in some of my other post, you can go here to help you determine what will work best for you.
Herbs are a great place to start if you’re gardening on a budget as well because generally the plants don’t need big deep pots, making it easy to repurpose containers that you have from your kitchen into a pot for your herbs. I have used mason jars before, another great option is plastic yogurt tubs.
When choosing what herbs you want to plant, first think about what you will use. If you use a lot of parsley in the kitchen then you should plan on planting a few pots of parsley. Some other great herbs to plant are basil, cilantro and oregano. Rosemary is a good one to plant but it is a very slow growing herb so you need to be patient with it and know that you might not get to use it right away.
Planting and Care
Once you’ve got all your materials you can start planting your seeds directly to the pots you intend them to stay in. Most seeds need to be covered by just a little of dirt, be sure to read the back of the package for planting depths and instructions. After planting seed you want the soil to remain moist but not completely saturated. You can do this by covering your pots with some saran wrap if you want, this helps keep some moisture in and acts like a mini greenhouse, once your seeds germinate you can remove the saran wrap. If you opted to buy plants from a nursery you just need to transplant them into the pots you have chosen to use.
Caring for herbs is very simple, you need to provide them with water and light. When planting things in pots you want to be sure that you aren’t letting them completely dry out but also aren’t over watering them. A quick feel with your fingers of the soil is generally sufficient in determining if your plants need water. A good rule when just starting is to water once a week unless your plants get a lot of direct sunlight, then they will likely need water more frequently as they will dry out faster.
When your herbs get large enough to begin picking and using you can pick them in a way so they begin to branch and grow larger.
You generally want your herbs to have two full sets of “real” leaves, these are the leaves that grow after the small leaves that start when you plant has just sprouted.
When looking at the top of a basil plant you will see that there is a set of four leaves and there should be two more large leaves below them. If you cut the stem of your basil down to those two leaves, harvesting the four at the top your basil will branch and grow bushier. At the base of those two leaves two more small sets of leaves will begin to grow.
Using Your Herbs
Having fresh herbs to use in your kitchen is very satisfying, they are generally quick to mature meaning you can start using them in your kitchen sooner than many other vegetables.
Staples in my personal garden are basil and parsley, I decided to try some cilantro last summer and was not disappointed. I like to use basil to make pesto, parsley and cilantro are great for garnishes, and I also used some of my cilantro when making fresh salsa.
Preserving Your Herbs
If your herbs are outside you can bring them in for the winter months and continue to have fresh herbs year round but you will likely want to try to preserve some of your herbs before they bolt. When a plant bolts it grows quickly and begins to flower, this is great for the bees but the plants will start to put their energy into the flowers rather than the tasty leaves that you want to eat.
To preserve cilantro I found that freezing it in ice cube trays works well. Each tray holds about 1 Tablespoon of chopped cilantro, then you add water to fill the tray and pop them in the freezer. When you have a dish that needs a little cilantro you can just pull a frozen cube out to thaw and use it like you would fresh.
Parsley is a good herb to dry, you can bunch several stems together and hang them somewhere warm and dry so that they don’t get moldy. After a period of time, the length of time will depend on where you end up hanging your herbs, you can break the leaves off the stems and put them in a container to be used in your cooking.
Basil is another herb that can be dried in the same way that you would dry parsley. I like to make my basil into pesto and freeze it to be used through the winter. I have made pesto and frozen it in the jelly size canning jars before, my problem with that is that I would always want to use the pesto at the last minute and then not be able to get it out of the jar because it’s frozen solid. My latest method is to make the pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. You end up with small cubes of pesto that are easy to thaw out if you don’t remember to do it earlier in the day, and like I said before one cube is about a tablespoon if you need just a small amount of pesto.
Herbs From Start to Finish
Having a small container garden of herbs is a really great way to get into container gardening since herbs are fairly forgiving and easy to care for. They allow you to add fresh ingredients to you cooking and when they are producing a lot you can work on preserving some for use during the winter months or when your plants end up dying. What are some of your favorite herbs to grow? Let me know in the comments below.