Herbs are one of my favourite productive plants, they are cheap to purchase or propagate, will grow just about anywhere and will reward you with lots of produce. I could not imagine cooking without fresh herbs but to buy bunches of fresh herbs every week would be very expensive. So growing my own organic herbs is both rewarding and saves me heaps of money.
Over the next few weeks I would like to share with you what I know about growing herbs and will include information on how to grow and use some of my favourites.
What are herbs?
As a group of plants, herbs can be difficult to define. From a botanical definition, a herb is herbaceous—that is, it does not form woody stems. Most gardeners, however, take a broader view of plants grown as herbs and include plants that have roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits valued for their culinary, medicinal, aromatic, household, or ornamental uses. This definition encompasses plants that have woody stems, such as rosemary, thyme, and lavender, as well as some shrubs, trees, and vines. Today, herbs are often classified according to their use as culinary, medicinal, aromatic, ornamental, or household/industrial.
Why Have an Herb Garden?
Herbs are some of the easiest plants to cultivate, growing in a wide range of soils and they will remain productive with very little maintenance. They are easy to propagate making them an inexpensive garden plant.
Growing your own herbs and using them is the one of the easiest and fastest way to reduce your “Food miles” and reduce your impact on the environment (carbon footprint). Many of the dried herbs sold locally are imported and store bought fresh herbs are often grown in hot houses, sprayed for pest and diseases and transported great distances in refrigerated transport.
So by growing your own you herbs you are ensuring that the product you are eating is organic and that you are also reducing your impact on the environment.
Herbs have many practical uses in the kitchen and household. They can be used in cooking as seasoning, to make pesto, herbal vinegars, herbal butters etc or medicinally to make herbal remedies for the family, for pest control both in the house and the garden and also to make products for pet care. Herbs are used widely in making beauty and hair products as well as household products such as lavender pillow and Pot Pori.
In addition to their practical uses, herbs make interesting and beautiful landscape plants, whether they are used formally in an herb garden or informally mixed into gardens with vegetables or added to a mixed border of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. Herb flowers and foliage provide a beautiful palette of colour and variation in texture and form. Herbs add an element of excitement to landscaping that no other group of plants do—they evoke the senses of taste, smell, and touch.
They are used extensively by organic gardeners in companion planting and to make organic pest control sprays.
BASIC HERB CULTURE
Determining Where to Plant Herbs
Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow when given the appropriate environment. Herbs are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions; however, given the following growing conditions, they will thrive rather than just survive.
Most herbs need a sunny location, and only a few, including angelica, woodruff and sweet cicely, are better grown in partial shade. The oils, which account for the herbs flavour, are produced in the greatest quantity when plants receive six to eight hours of full sunlight each day. If you don’t have a good, sunny location, many herbs will tolerate light shade, but their growth and quality will not be as good.You could also think about growing herbs in containers and moving them into spots where they will get enough sunlight.
Many herbs are from the Mediterranean area, like rosemary, oregano, thyme and lavender, and are drought tolerant. However, a regular watering helps plants maintain good production. As a general rule water annual plants, such as Basil and Parsley, at least weekly (more often in very hot dry windy weather) where as perennials, such as rosemary or bay tree, a good soaking once a week in dry weather, otherwise it is not necessary.
Herbs will grow in any good garden soil, though good drainage is essential. Most herbs dislike wet feet and therefore do not survive in wet soils. The exception to this rule are the mints, angelica and lovage, which all thrive in fairly moist soils.
If the only area available is poorly drained, you need to modify the area. If you have heavy clay soils add lots of compost, peat, or other organic material to improve drainage and air space for root growth. Alternatively build raised beds or grow your herbs in containers. If you have sandy soils you will be able to grow herbs easily.
Herbs grow well in a soil with a pH reading between 6.5 and 7.0. If your pH is not within 6.5-7.0, then it will need to be altered-Lime to increase the pH and lots of organic matter to decrease the pH.
Though most herbs will tolerate nutrient depleted soils, all will grow better in a fertile soil, so the addition of organic matter, in the form of well rooted animal manures, before planting will increase plant growth and keep your herbs healthy.
Next week how to propagate herbs.
Happy Gardening, Kathy