AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Growing Herbs


Indoor Growing: It is more than feasible to grow herbs indoors almost all year round. In fact, it is no more difficult to grow them indoors than growing them in the garden. Essentially they need the same conditions. Sunlight and well-drained soil. If possible you should select a south facing window. Most herbs need sunny conditions and south facing will be best. In winter, a fluorescent or "grow lamp" would be a good idea.

When planting your herbs you need two parts sterilized potting soil to one part coarse sand (or perlite). Add in 1 tsp of lime to each pot. The pots themselves should have one inch of gravel (small stones will do) at the bottom to ensure adequate drainage.

You need to consider the individual needs of the herbs. When plants are in full growth they will need more water than at more dormant times. However, you must make sure that you don't over water. Waterlogged roots are a surefire way to kill the plants off. Ideally, keep the pots on a tray of pebbles, mist the herbs, and keep the pebbles moist.

Perennial herbs will appreciate a move outdoors during the summer. They won't die if you don't but you will see better and stronger growth if you do. Simply pot the pot up to it's rim in a suitable location within the garden. Obviously when the weather starts to cool, you need to make sure that they are brought in before the first frost is forecast. Annual herbs can spend the full year cycle indoors.

An indoor herb garden can be pretty much maintained indefinitely providing, they get lightly fed periodically, get repotted yearly, and watered as necessary.

Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. The best time to harvest your herbs is in the morning after the dew has disappeared, and before the sun has become too hot. To ensure good oil content, pick leaves or seeds after dew has disappeared but before the sun becomes too hot. For dry, winter use, harvest leaves before the flower buds open. Pick the seed heads as the color changes from green to brown or gray. Wash dirty leaves and seed heads in cold water; drain thoroughly before drying.

Outdoor Growing: The first thing to decide is the size of the plot you're allocating to your herb garden. Most herbs need about one square foot to grow successfully. So something around fifty square feet would let you grow around fifty different types of herbs. You need to keep annual and perennial plants separate and it's a good idea to "make a map" of what you plant where. Markers can easily get moved, knocked over, displaced etc.

One of the main things you need to consider for a herb garden is soil condition and drainage. Drainage probably more than anything will be the deciding factor on how successful your efforts are. The fertility of the soil can always be improved by the addition of natural compost. If your soil waterlogs easily then you will need to dig down a good eighteen inches and lay a bed of stones several inches thick before replacing the topsoil. It's hard work but your garden (and you) will reap the benefits. When you replace the topsoil fill to a higher point then the original bed to allow for settling. Even if your soil is fertile, it's a good idea to mix in a good amount of compost as not only will it improve the fertility, it will help with moisture retention.

Nearly all herbs can be grown from seed. The best time to plant seed is late winter in shallow boxes. When spring arrives, transplant the seedlings into your garden. Some seeds, such as anise, coriander, dill, fennel, and biennials should be sown directly into the garden, as they do not transplant well. Don't sow the seeds too deeply. As a tip, mix the seed in with some light sand before sowing. It will make even sowing easier. If you are going to grow mint (of any variety) it should be grown only in a container. Mint is very aggressive and will take over your garden if you let it.

Perennial and biennial herbs will need winter protection. Many, if not most, herbs are quite shallow rooted. You will need to mulch with straw, or anything else suitable, to a depth of approximately four inches. The mulch should not be removed until the plants show signs of spring growth.

Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. The best time to harvest your herbs is in the morning after the dew has disappeared, and before the sun has become too hot. To ensure good oil content, pick leaves or seeds after dew has disappeared but before the sun becomes too hot. For dry, winter use, harvest leaves before the flower buds open. Pick the seed heads as the color changes from green to brown or gray. Wash dirty leaves and seed heads in cold water; drain thoroughly before drying.

The whole idea of having a herb garden, whether indoor or outdoor, is to be able to enjoy and use the herbs all year round. Most herbs are at their peak just before flowering. So this is an excellent time for collecting them for drying and storing. Cut off the herbs in the morning after the dew has disappeared. Annuals should be cut off at ground level. Perennials should be cut approximately one third down the main stem.

Storing Herbs: You now need to make a decision as to which storage method you wish to use so that you have herbs on tap throughout the year. Basically, they can be dried and stored, or frozen and stored. Both methods work well.

Wash the herbs with the leaves still on the stem in lightly flowing cold water, so that all dirt, soil, dust, bugs etc. get removed. If you have chosen freezing then the washed herbs need to be blanched in boiling water for about forty-five seconds. Cool them quickly in iced water and then package and freeze. Some herbs such as basil, chives, and dill can be frozen without blanching.

If you have chosen to dry store your herbs, drain them thoroughly on absorbent paper towel, or hang them upside down in the sun for a while. Herbs need to be dried thoroughly before storing. For most herbs you should tie small bunches together and hang them upside down somewhere dark and warm ( 70-80F or 21-26C). It should be a well ventilated and dust free place. Hanging them upside down allows essential oils to flow from the stem to the leaves. The leaves are ready in approximately two weeks, or when the leaves feel dry and crumbly.

Herbs with a high moisture content will need more rapid drying or they will go moldy before they are ready for storing. Strip the leaves from the stalks and place them on a cookie sheet in an open oven at about 180F (80C) for three to four hours.

Microwave ovens can also be used very effectively to dry out herbs quickly. Place the leaves on paper towel, or a paper plate (don't use an ordinary plate) and microwave on high for between one and three minutes (depending on the power of your oven). The leaves should be mixed and turned every thirty seconds until ready.

Microwave ovens can be used to dry leaves quickly. Place the clean leaves on a paper plate or paper towel. Place the herbs in the oven for 1 to 3 minutes, mixing every 30 seconds.

When completely dry the leaves may be ground to a powder using a mortar and pestle, or stored whole in airtight containers. A canning jar is ideal as the container needs to have a tight-fitting airtight lid. Store the jars in a cool, dark, dry place.

It is important to check your storage jars every day for the first week. If you see any sign of moisture in the container you will need to repeat the drying process.