Save money by grow­ing your own herbs

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Ger­ald Filip­ski

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.

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