There is something really satisfying about growing your own herbs. A quick snip of lovingly grown basil, chives or cilantro into a prepared dish adds a level of completeness you just can’t achieve from a jar of dried stuff you have had on a shelf for months. In fact, when is the last time you have looked at the expiration date on those spices? Have you ever?
McCormick shares these guidelines for how long spices can be expected to last.
- Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
- Herbs: 1-3 years
- Ground spices: 2-3 years
- Whole spices (such as cinnamon sticks and peppercorns): 3-4 years
- Extracts: 4 years (except for pure vanilla, which lasts indefinitely)
So, if you are fine with using herbs in a dish that are one to three years old, read no further! I absolve you from gardening responsibility! But if you aren’t?
No kitchen, no apartment, no yard is too small to accommodate a pot or two of fresh herbs; even a windowsill has room for a little basil and thyme. A porch, yard or garden can afford a tub of mint, cilantro, basil chives, thyme or oregano. And all you do is grab a pair of scissors and snip some fresh herbs for your cooking dish.
Let’s face it, fresh herbs can be expensive when you purchase them individually at the grocery store every time you need them, and the local grocery doesn’t always stock all the herbs you are looking for. And while jars of dried herbs may be cheaper, what is the shelf life of a bottle or can of dried herbs? How long has the jar in your hand been sitting on the grocery shelf and then in your pantry?
So how hard is it?
When to plant: The best time to grow your own herbs is between March and August.
Step 1. Choose your herbs. I was at our local home improvement store. The peat pots of herbs were going for $3.87 a pot. Less than most bottles at the store, again fresh, and lots of that herb in just one peat pot. Remember, you are not using the whole plant! Just a teaspoon or tablespoon of fresh leaves depending on the dish.
To get the most from your outdoor garden, pick a variety of herbs. Here are a few herbs that are easy to grow: Sweet marjoram, Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Basil, Sage and Oregano. I always plant Cilantro because I use it a lot but Cilantro is a more delicate herb and requires cooler temps than I have and more care than the others.
Step 2. Decide on the location for growing herbs. Different herbs require different condition to really get growing, and while some love the sun others prefer shade. You can plant among your flowers. Just do your research to make sure your plant will not take over! Some spread. Some make pretty fillers and some like rosemary, are woody stemmed plans, grow large and are more hedge or bush like. With rosemary, you can actually trim it into a shape (you will see these at Christmas as a front door Christmas tree).
MAJOR EMPHASIS ABOUT SPREADING: Many herbs spread. A large barrel or outdoor pot is an ideal way to plant herbs. I can tell you the “wish I had known” story that after planting mint, even with an addition added over the mint spot, it continued to grow and spread through the garden and across our lawn!
If you are adventurous enough to want a spread in a garden bed, thyme has a low spread and tiny flowers. It fills in well and can be easily trimmed. Mint? NOT SO MUCH!
For herb pots or window boxes on the sunny side of your house, Chives, Oregano and Lemon thyme will flourish, whereas Wild Rocket, Chervil, Parsley and Cilantro prefer a shadier location.
Step 3. Potted herbs
Buy a large pot with holes in the bottom for drainage or a layer of rock or some gravel, a bag of potting soil and a watering can. Take your pot and pour to fill about a fourth of the pot as this will help with drainage and then fill the pot with multipurpose potting soil mixture. Easy find at any hardware or garden store.
Depending on the plant packaging, I will gently pull the bottom of the peat pot off or if a non-composting container is used, gently work the plant free and slightly loosen the roots to encourage them to spread, then place the plants in the large pot leaving room between each plant. Place taller plants at the center of the pot and trailing herbs near the edge and you will have a beautiful arrangement for a deck or patio plant. I have placed a cherry tomato in a pot and surrounded it with basil and thyme. Fill in any gaps between the plants with compost, gently pushing it deep down a bit with your fingers and leaving a little room between compost and the top of the pot so it doesn’t overflow when watered. This year, our deck plants only have one herb in them, thyme. It makes for a pretty and usable filler!
I’ll be honest. I make sure the pot is regularly watered but with the right potting mix, I have not fertilized it. Life should be easy.