The following post is from Victoria of Project Homestead:
Signs of spring are springing everywhere. Though if you’re in a chilly place like I am, evidence is fleeting. A warm, sunshiny day is followed by a blustery, snowy one.
That’s why it’s so gratifying for me to start plants indoors this time of year. I start vegetable seedlings in April to give them a head start for our short growing season here in Maine. But March is for planning—and herbs. They offer a bite-sized project for homesteaders and cooks alike. And they pack loads of flavor in very little space. There are few things I like more than brushing up against the rosemary plant in my sunny office window. It’s the closest I come to a spa treatment until Mother’s Day.
Here are few tips for getting your herb garden started:
Choose your varieties.
The easiest herbs to start inside are often the ones you’ll want to use the most. For some people, that means dill, oregano or chives. But I can live without these until the garden warms up. But I reach for these five herbs day-in and day-out. They’re also pretty, which makes a difference when they’re living on your kitchen counter.
- Basil. Snip it into tomato sauces, soups and salads. It’s peppery and sweet and smells just like summer. Look for big-leaved Gevovese or tiny-leaved Spicy Bush varieties.
- Flat-leaf parsley. If I had to grow only one herb, Italian or flat-leaf parsley would be it. Its so fresh, so versatile and so, well, green, I can’t do without it. (The stems have as much flavor as the leaves, even.) Any “giant” version will do.
- Thyme. It’s one of the most lovely herbs to grow, and there are dozens of varieties. Choose Summer Thyme, which boasts lots of leaves and a bushy (instead of creeping) shape, when it grows up.
- Cilantro. The world would be a duller place without curry and guacamole. If you agree, you can’t afford not to grow dainty cilantro. I’ve grown Santo, but I think I’ll try Calypso this year. Cilantro germinates quickly and grows easily.
- Rosemary. This woody evergreen is so aromatic that a little goes a LONG way in your cooking. (Too much tastes a bit like soap to me.) It’s easy to grow—but not start from seed. Give yourself a head start: Buy a seedling, and call it good.
Some herbs are easiest to grow from seed, others from seedlings you can start to buy at your local greenhouse or garden center now. Here’s how to handle each.
Seed purveyors including Johnny’s Selected Seeds sell nifty seed “disks” that fill a 6-inch pot. For the time-starved or unsure gardener, they’re nearly foolproof. But I usually use seed packets because they’re a better value; you can use what’s left over in the garden later on. When you’re deciding on your container, keep in mind that each full-grown plant can use 1 gallon of potting soil. A 12” pot holds 3 ½ gallons—room enough for 3 or 4 plants. To save space, you can also plant your herbs in smaller pots. Then move them outdoors once they’ve really taken off by early summer.
Now, follow these four simple steps:
- Step 1: Find your herbs a warm home. Basil, parsley, and thyme prefer a balmy 70 degrees to germinate, which may be warmer than your house this time of year. And, if your windowsills are drafty like mine, that’s not the best start, either. I put mine near the wood stove or on the shelf above my stove. Once they’ve sprouted, you can think about the sunny window where they’ll live.
- Step 2: Plant. Some herbs need light to germinate, other don’t. Basil and parsley prefer darkness. When seeding these, make a little dimple (about 1/4” deep) in the soil where the seed will go and cover it lightly with potting mix. You can sprinkle seeds for herbs that need light, including cilantro and thyme, right on top of the soil. Easy!
- Step 3: Water lightly and often. Parsley, thyme and rosemary get touchy about too much water. So let the soil dry out to the touch, then give them a good drink until water drips out of the bottom of the pot. The others love a light misting (little ones love this job) a couple of times a day. Aim to keep their soil moist to the touch.
- Step 4: Wait. It can take several weeks to see real progress, but it will come. Once it does, you’ll be spending lots more time outside, in the “real” garden. And these little beauties will fill your kitchen with delicious morsels of freshness all the while.
What is your favorite herb – and how do you use it?
|Victoria is a writer and editor who lives with her husband and two boys, seven hens, thousands of honeybees, and far too many woodchucks on a homestead-in-the-making in southern Maine. When she’s not gardening, chicken herding, sewing, or learning how to aim a shotgun, she blogs about it at Project Homestead.|