How to Grow Herbs at Home
Everyone loves herbs. In fact, herbs are so ubiquitous that oftentimes people don’t even realize how much they love them. Herbs make everything taste great, from pizza and pad thai to thanksgiving dinner. So maybe it’s time to start thinking about herbs a little bit more and recognizing them for such momentous achievements.
In addition to nominating herbs for a Nobel prize or Pulitzer, you might honor them by planting a few in your garden. Fortunately for you, an incredible range of herbs are easy to grow at home and they can be immensely productive, even on a small scale.
Soft bodied perennial herbs like garlic chives, chives and parsley can be harvested from regularly. Cut leaves from these crops whenever you need them and they should grow right back!
Some herbs are eaten fresh, and some are dried for long-term storage (and some can be used both ways). Often, just one or two plants of each herb will supply your kitchen with an almost overwhelming bounty.
Herbs can be annual plants or perennials. Annual plants will die after one growing season (just like most vegetable crops) and perennials will survive from year to year. There are literally dozens of herbs that you can grow, so lets look at a few basic guidelines to help you get started:
- Annual herbs can be planted right into your vegetable garden. The size, lifespan and cultural needs of these plants are very similar to common vegetables, so the easiest way to care for them is to act like they are just another vegetable crop. Great annual herbs for home production include basil, cilantro, dill and parsley.
- Perennial herbs are best planted in a separate “herb garden” bed. These crops live for numerous years and can crowd out vegetables as they get bigger over time. Most perennial herbs don’t want a lot of fertilizer or water, so keeping them in a separate bed makes it easier to avoid over-watering or feeding them. Great perennial herbs to grow at home are bay, garlic chives, chives, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.
Here are a few crop specific tips that might help you get that herb harvest you have always dreamed of:
- Basil is very sensitive to cold. Any temperature below 50 degrees can result in damage to the plant (usually seen as brown or black areas on your leaves or stems). Wait to plant it outside until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 (in western Washington, early June). Also, make sure to pinch back your basil stems often, the more you snip back your branches, the more branches it will produce; every time you cut, you’ll get two new branches!
- Cilantro bolts more quickly than perhaps any other crop. Once your cilantro reaches maturity (ready to harvest) it will only last for a week or two (even under ideal conditions) before it starts to flower. So if you want to keep a steady harvest coming in from the garden, it is important to sow short rows of cilantro as often as possible (every one or two weeks). Sow it frequently, but in very small amounts.
- Many perennial herbs will flower mid-summer and then begin to produce smaller, lower quality leaves. Cut back herbs like oregano, mint and thyme mid-season while leaves still look big and healthy (before they flower). On larger plants, you may get several harvests each season. You can dry these leaves for use all year.
Colin McCrate is co-owner and operator, along with Brad Halm, of the Seattle Urban Farm Co. They’ve helped thousands of homeowners experience the joys of farming in their own backyard. For more information pick up a copy of their book, “Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard”, look them up at www.seattleurbanfarmco.com or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.