Save money by growing your own herbs
IWAS in the grocery store the other day looking for some fresh tarragon. My wife sent me out on this expedition with strict instructions to not come home without the herb.
My journey took me to five stores before I finally found my elusive prey. I happily took my treasure to the cashier, but that glee turned to chagrin when I found out how much those two little wilted pieces of tarragon were going to cost.
I get many of my inspirations for my columns from everyday events and this certainly was one of them. I know we addressed growing your own herbs several years ago, but it is certainly time we revisited this topic. For the price of two or three packages of storebought herbs, you can grow a variety of your own herbs and have them available year round.
You can start with either seeds or living plants. I prefer to go with the living plants because it allows you to get things going far more quickly, and herb seeds can be hard to germinate. It’s simple to take a trip to your local greenhouse and find a good selection of herbs to choose from that are already happily growing. This is true in winter or summer.
When choosing a container, plastic or ceramic pots will retain water better and you will need to water less. Terra cotta, on the other hand, tends to allow soil to dry out quickly, and with this comes a need to water more frequently. Use a good-quality potting mix and add compost. Two parts potting mix to one part compost is a good ratio.
Most herbs will require between four and six hours of direct sunlight to perform to their best. An unobstructed south, west or east exposure will provide the best light for your plants. There are some herbs, such as mint, watercress and chervil, that require a bright north-facing window. If your windows do not receive full sun, you may want to consider going with an artificial light source such as a gro-light. Regardless of your light source, you should turn your plants frequently to make sure all sides get good light exposure.
If you have your plants next to a window, be careful on cold days to ensure that your herbs are not too close to the glass. They can be easily damaged by getting too cold or may even freeze.
You will need to pay attention to water and humidity requirements. Different herbs require different levels of moisture. For example, basil, parsley, mint, chervil and arugula do best if kept moist, but not wet. Let Mediterranean plants such as rosemary and lavender dry out slightly before you water again. As a general rule for most herbs, water when the top of the soil feels dry and then allow to dry out again before watering.
During winter, humidity is often a problem for herbs, as it is with many houseplants. An excellent way of adding humidity to a plant or grouping of plants is to put the pots on trays of pebbles. Add water to the tray and pebbles until the water comes up to a height just below the top of the pebbles. It is important that the water never touch the pot itself. Misting the plants frequently will also help.
Many herbs grow quickly and will need to be harvested frequently to keep their shape.
You can dry the harvested herbs for use at a later date. You may also consider replanting herbs you harvest often so you’ll always have a fresh, young plant to take the place of an older one. Buying fresh-cut herbs in the grocery store can be an expensive proposition, so buying a new plant every few months is still the less-expensive alternative. Some herbs, like rosemary, can be grown almost indefinitely.
While fertilizing your plants is important, be careful not to over-fertilize. Use a well-balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 at one-quarter the recommended rate. Apply this diluted fertilizer every two weeks.
Herbs that grow well indoors include basil, bay, chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. Herbs that require special care include: camomile (extra light), chervil (extra light), coriander (sparse watering), lemon verbena (sparse watering), sage (sparse watering) and tansy (sparse watering.)
Moving your herbs outdoors in the spring after all danger of frost has passed is a great idea. The plants will love being outdoors. Just remember to bring them in before the first fall frost.
— Canwest News Service
Potted herbs have different watering needs according to the herb, so pay attention to the plants’ needs.