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Delicious Herbs You Can Grow at Home
A trip to your local farmers’ market at this time of year can yield an awesome selection of herbs that have already been started in small pots or flats. These will not only look great planted in containers on your windowsill, fire escape, deck, stoop, or whatever, they can add delicious flavors and aromas to anything from pesto to pound cake throughout the summer, and most likely, well into the fall.
Most herbs are easy to grow, even for horticulturally-challenged individuals such as myself, as long as you water them and regularly move them around to take advantage of sunlight. I grow mine in terracotta pots, but you can use any kind of container (cookie tins, wooden crates, metal buckets, chimney pipes, half-barrels) so long as it can be filled with dirt, allows moisture to drain from the bottom, and allows room for the plants' roots to grow. Garden soil is too dense for proper drainage and root growth. Instead, a good choice would be a low-cost potting mix combined with a more nutrient-rich selection like 100% organic Black Gold, made with worm castings, peat moss, and pumice. You may also add a good-quality natural fertilizer. To prepare the containers for planting, place a small pile of pot shards or rocks over or around the container's drainage holes. Then fill the container most of the way to the top with your pre-mixed potting soil.
You can combine several kinds of herbs into a single container, but be aware of the light, water, and temperature needs of the herbs you wish to combine to make sure they're compatible. One of the best features of buying herbs at the farmers’ market is the chance to talk with the grower, as they will usually have the best information about what works in your climate zone.
What herbs should you plant? Clearly, plan on large quantities of anything you like to use frequently, but don't limit yourself to what's already familiar. There are unusual and tasty variations to be had, from lemon thyme and chocolate mint to less familiar herbs like chervil and sorrel. I like to try a few new things every year. Here are some less-common varieties to look for:
- Blue and Purple Basil
- French Tarragon
- Lemon Thyme
- Chocolate Mint
- Lemon Verbena
To get a sense of an herb's flavor and aroma, gently press a small leaf or a section of a leaf between your fingers and then rub your fingers together under your nose to release the scent. Tasting the leaves is usually a harsher experience, and is not usually a good indicator of the flavor that an herb will impart.
Once you've selected your herbs and prepared your containers, it's time to transplant the herbs. It's easiest to transplant when the herbs are on the drier side - if they've just been watered, leave them out for a few hours before transplanting. I like to transplant in the early evening, so the plants have time to absorb a good drink before facing the sunlight. To transplant, first, prepare a small hole in the container where you want the herb to grow. Then, holding the herb in its small pot over the destination container, gently hold the stem of the plant between your fingers, palm down, and invert, removing the plant and soil from the container. Place root-end down in the hole, and pack the soil in around the plant. Once you're done transplanting, give all your containers a good watering. Remember to keep up with watering - even one day of neglect can result in sad, wilted, scorched plants. As with everything else, there is a balance: it is definitely possible to over-water, so be sure to ask how much you should allow the soil to dry out between watering. To keep pests away, it can be useful to plant a few containers of marigolds and nasturtiums.
Give your herbs several weeks to grow and establish themselves before you start picking them, and harvest judiciously, thinning the herbs' growth rather than mowing them down. With just a little bit of tending, your herb garden will continue to reward you for months to come.