Flavor. It’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Humans have sophisticated palates, complete with individual likes and dislikes, and what we do to our food represents that. Herbs, fresh or dried, are a typical addition to many, many foods. We use herbs to enhance flavor, and to gear those flavors in one specific direction or another.
For example, one might use various curry powders and other aromatic spices in an Indian dish, and perhaps cilantro and oregano to enhance a Mexican meal. Parsley lends a slightly peppery flavor to dishes it is infused into. Poultry loves to be dressed with sage, thyme, and rosemary. Italian cooking? Break out that oregano again, and add some sweet basil and robust garlic.
Hungry yet? Me, too. But we must press on. Today we’re going to focus on fresh herbs, and before you can eat them, we need to get growing! You can always select a few varieties and grow them in separate containers, which is practical if transplanting outdoors later on. But if you’d like to experiment with a few different herbs, and plan on keeping it solely an indoor event, consider an herb pot instead!
Simply find a medium size planter pot. Or, you may use almost any type of container you’d like, just make sure you have a drainage hole, or if possible, several holes. Small stones lining the bottom will aid in drainage, as well. Now all you need is some good soil!
Look for soil that is light-weight, dark in color, and a bit fluffy. You may even get a bit of peat moss and mix it in to lighten your potting mix. There other amendments you could make, adding a bit of this and a bit of that. However, I find this sufficient, and so it is what I suggest the beginner draw the line at. Often we can get ahead of ourselves and simply “do” too much.
Now it’s time to choose your seeds. Pick ones you like, or new ones you want to try. I would suggest planting three varieties to a pot, and ones that will perform similarly. The packages of seeds will let you know average germination rates (the number of days or weeks before little seedlings should appear), and I suggest picking three of similar time frames. Consider size when choosing your pot mates, however, keeping them in a container permanently should control growth to a certain extent. So will eating them! (Yum!) Now, let’s sow some seeds…
There are different methods for germinating seeds, however, I typically just sow my seeds, soak (not flood, soak) with water, cover the container with a plastic baggie, and leave in a dark place for a few days (or a week, or however long a particular variety takes). Keep the soil moist at all times, removing the baggies once a day or so to allow air flow to avoid any issues from overly humid conditions. Once seedlings do sprout, move to a sunny windowsill.
Leave the baggies on until seedlings are up to 2″ tall, removing them for longer periods of time gradually until you remove them permanently. The baggies should be relatively clean, so just stick them in with your gardening things so you may reuse them.
Now comes the fun part: watching your herbs grow! It should only take a few days to be fairly impressed by what you see, but after a month or two you should be blown away. You will have grown your very own herb garden, and all in one pot! Now just water regularly, when soil begins to feel dry to the touch. Don’t let your seedlings wait for water, though! If they are wilting, give them a good drink as soon as possible.
Once your plants have several sets of “true leaves” (mature leaves), you can begin to harvest sparingly. Even when your plant is full and lush, never remove more than 1/3 of foliage or stem at any one time. There are a few exceptions, but best to err on the side of caution while starting out. Why wipe out your whole “crop” in one fell swoop? After all, it doesn’t take a huge amount to liven up an average meal.
Now that we know how to grow our own herbs, lets briefly explore why we would want to in the first place. For one thing, it can be rewarding to nurture something, and have it grow. Simple as that. But more importantly, rather than tending the typical flower garden, this experience isn’t merely fun and rewarding, it’s edible!
From an economical standpoint, the savings start with sowing the seed. In the grocery store, you can expect to pay between $3-4 a package for fresh herbs. It’s usually more than you really need for one use, and they don’t keep long. In my experience, the rest of the package often goes to waste. Growing your own means a steady supply, and you use only what you need, wasting nothing.
No waste is certainly better for the pocketbook, and the environment. For around what you would pay for three or four single-use packs of herbs, you could have your own custom array of regenerating culinary delights, grown with care and harvested right from the kitchen counter!