A window full of potted herbs–doesn’t’ that sound wholesome, all green tea and granola? What about a stroll to the backyard herb garden, straw basket and shears in hand?
This year, I am doing a proper herb garden and just put a number of plants in containers to complement the perennials in my garden–all following an herbal inspiration event! I have a couple more plants to buy, but I couldn’t wait to share!
Last month, the Garden Room, in Shorewood, WI, hosted an evening class on growing and cooking with herbs. It was taught by Nino Ridgway who can otherwise be found selling herbs and dispensing wisdom at Barthel’s Fruit Farm. Some of her tips (and a few of my own) are covered below.
Did you know that most common culinary herbs owe their popularity to Mediterranean cooking? With this type of warm, fair-weather heritage, it is not surprising that they like lots of sun along with drier, rocky soils. For gardeners in damp climates with clay soils, it may be necessary to amend the soil with sand or gravel or to plant herbs in raised beds or rock gardens .
Growing herbs in containers is another popular and practical option; containers are similar to raised beds with their tendency to dry out more rapidly. For windowsill gardens, Nino recommended keeping herbs in separate pots so that they can be rotated to each get their fair share of sun. But if you really want to plant herbs together, just cut back the more aggressive plants as they start to take over. Repot “when they start to look bad” which may be as long as every two to three years. Some potted perennial herbs may survive over the winter in a garage where they don’t freeze and thaw a lot or in a pot buried in the ground and heavily mulched–or of course inside in a sunny window.
Herbs have relatively few pest problems. If a potted herb does suffer an infestation, transferring it outdoors, where beneficial insects are abundant, may be all that it takes to deal with pests. If summer is too far off to wait for a move outside, a safe soap, mixed with distilled or non-salt-softened soft water (because the calcium in hard water binds the soap), can be used.
Did you know that flowering can negatively affect the flavor of many herbs? This means that any flowering tendencies should be “nipped in the bud” 😉 . When the buds first appear, remove a piece of the herb down to the next closest node to encourage more leaf growth and keep the flavor at its peak. Herbs should be harvested frequently and dried or frozen if not needed fresh.
Coming up…Popular Herbs: Growing and Cooking Tips!