Thursday, May 3, 2012

Culinary Herbs Herb Gardening for Beginners

Culinary Herb Gardening for Beginners By Wenona Napolitano

With the growing popularity of fresh herbs being used in recipes more people are planting their own herbs. Fresh herbs can be costly and sometimes hard to find. If you enjoy cooking a fresh herb garden is almost a necessity. A culinary herb garden does not have to be planted in a complicated design nor do you need a lot of space to plant a simple herb garden.

Herbs are very versatile and can be planted almost anywhere. You can plant them along pathways, in rock gardens, on terraces, in among vegetable beds or your other plants or they can be planted in containers. Most herbs require full sunlight though a few such as mints and lemon balm do best in shade. Most herbs prefer well drained soil with a neutral pH.

Very little planning is needed for designing a basic culinary herb garden. Prepare your spot, clear the area, and add organic matter to your soil such as compost or peat moss. Break up any clumps of soil by raking over it. You can start herbs in your garden by directly planting seeds, though this needs to be done early in the season. It is easier to buy starter plants and transplant them into your garden. After planting your herbs, spread mulch around each plant to keep the plants clean. After planting your herbs do not over water or over fertilize.

Some of the most popular culinary herbs are:
lemon balm
and thyme

Basil is an annual and very sensitive to frost; it must be taken inside for the winter or replanted in spring. Basil reaches about 2 feet in height. Leaves can be harvested throughout the summer.

Bay is an evergreen shrub but it is tender and must be taken inside for the winter. It can grow to a height of 10 feet so you will want to keep it pruned and trimmed.

Chives are small onion like plants that are mostly used in soups and salads. They are a hardy perennial that reaches 12 to 18 inches in height.

Dill is an annual that will need to be replanted every year. They grow 2 to 3 feet tall.

Lemon balm plants grow 1 to 3 feet tall. Lemon balm leaves are often used in teas, jellies, or for flavoring.

Marjoram is a tender perennial that must be taken indoors in the winter or grown as an annual. It reaches 8 to 12 inches in height. There are many mint varieties.

Peppermint and spearmint are the most popular. They are hardy perennials that can grow to 3 feet in height. They must be contained or they can spread throughout the garden.

Oregano is a hardy perennial that reaches 18 to 30 inches in height.

Parsley is used in soups and salads and as a garnish. Parsley is often grown as an annual reaching 12 to 18 inches in height.

Rosemary is a perennial shrub growing 2 to 6 feet high. It must be sheltered or taken inside during the winter.

Sage is a short lived perennial growing to 2 feet in height.

Tarragon is a perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet tall.

Thyme is a perennial that grows only 8 to 12 inches tall.

When planting your herbs you will want all your tallest plants to be in the back and the shorter ones in the front of your garden. Space them out and if you have to take any in during the winter make sure they are easy to reach and dig out without damaging any surrounding plants. You also have the option of putting everything in containers that way any that need to be taken indoors during the winter are easily transplanted and you can easily rearrange them and move them around.

You may only want to plant a few herbs at first, mainly the ones that you know you will use. Some of the smaller herbs like chives, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme can easily be grown in window boxes or small container gardens. Hanging baskets are another option if you just want a small culinary herb garden.

Herbs that do well in hanging baskets are basil, marjoram, sage and thyme. It is easiest to grow herbs together in containers or baskets that require the same type of care. Most prefer well drained soil and are draught resistant so they do not need a lot of water.

Some herbs can be continually harvested while others are best to harvest at peak time right before they flower. Some herbs can be used fresh others you will want to dry. Bunches of herbs can be dried by hanging them in a dry place out of the sunlight. Store dried herbs in airtight containers and kept in the dark. It is best to store herbs in a cupboard or put them in dark containers that you can not see through.

With minimal effort and care you can have a culinary herb garden. Imagine bragging to guests that you made culinary dishes prepared with herbs grown in your own garden

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