How often have you longed to use fresh, homegrown herbs? Starting a little herb garden, whether in your kitchen or outdoors, is pretty easy, nice to look at, tastier than store-bought herbs and can be a great project for the kids. So what’s holding you back?
There is undoubtedly a lot of information out there about herb gardening. We won’t try to compile it all here, but we do have four simple steps (and a little encouragement) to get you started.
What should I grow?
Think about what you cook with most and pick your favorites. Starting small is okay; you can always expand later. If you’re still not sure, here are our top picks for growing success: basil, parsley, mint, thyme, perennial oregano and dill. With a bit more space, add chives and rosemary to the list. For a unique addition, try nasturtium. It's an edible flower that's also easy to grow.
Is your thumb green?
If not, stick to the hardiest of herb varieties, like mint, basil, parsley and thyme, which can handle harsher climates, low quality soil or a little forgetfulness.
Where are you going to put your garden?
Gardens grow best in the ground, but if you don’t have a piece of earth, the next best alternative is an outdoor pot or series of containers. Start seeds indoors and move them outside when the weather is right. Most herbs like full sunlight, so if you must grow indoors, make sure there is plenty of it!
Do a little research on the herbs you’ve chosen before you buy. For instance, some herbs are quick to sprout from seed (like oregano and mint), and some are better pre-started (like rosemary). Some have multiple varieties with very different flavors, like peppermint vs. spearmint (hint: most people prefer peppermint).
Tip: If you don’t want to or don’t have time to start seeds indoors, support local farmers by purchasing pre-started herbs at your spring farmers market or a local nursery.
High quality potting soil is extremely important when growing an herb garden in pots.
Here’s where you can get creative. Any container will work as long as there is good drainage, plenty of sun and the soil is kept moist. Yogurt cups are the perfect size for seed-starting. Recycled Organic Valley containers also work great. Simply cut them in half and punch a hole or two in the bottom!
Tip: Theme a container garden by material or container shape, such as galvanized metal, cracked enameled dishes, terra cotta, old teapots—the list is endless.
Visit Organic Valley's Garden Board for inspiring ideas >>
Scissors / Cutting Tools (For trimming containers or punching holes.)
Garden Trowel (A spoon works, too.)
Labels (Use craft sticks, homemade signs, or even part of the container itself.)
Gloves (We recommend skipping this item to get the full experience.)
Little Helpers (Always welcome!)
This is the easiest part! The seed packets will have variety-specific instructions for seed-starting and transferring outdoors. Here’s where the little hands can be most helpful.
For container gardens, one pot does not have to equal one plant. Pair a taller plant (like basil) with a creeping plant (like thyme), or make a “bouquet” of different varieties of the same herb, such as Genovese, Thai and Lemon basil. Think about the visual effect you want to achieve before you plant.
Tip: When transferring your herbs to the ground or into larger pots, bury the containers, too. This makes it easier to move your herbs indoors for extended life during the fall. In addition, if you are planting aggressive herbs (like mint), bury the container leaving a 2-inch lip above the ground to keep it from spreading.
From a parent’s perspective, there’s nothing better than demonstrating the miracle of a seed… how that tiny little seed is going to grow into a special plant, and if we care for that plant, it will give us food. It’s a great way to spark interest in plants, food and priorities. It certainly teaches a little patience, too.