Monday, May 7, 2012

Herb Gardening

It's that time of year to start the garden and I am soooo excited!
I spent all day on Friday running around to every greenhouse and nursery in town trying to find the best deals.  We finally found what we were looking for and I was so excited to get started.  The weather has been consistently nice, but when I checked the forecast, it said that Saturday night would be 36 degrees.  That's a little too close to freezing for me to risk all of my baby plants.  So instead, we just planted our herbs on the balcony.
This is my third year planting herbs and they can be a little tricky.
The first year, our basil turned into a giant bush and the cilantro turned into a massive weed.
The next year, our basil did great but I killed off our camomile and cilantro almost immediately (I don't know what happened.)
I think we've finally mastered growing basil, but I'm branching out and trying cilantro (again), rosemary, and parsley.
I also planted wildflowers, but if they don't grow, I'm picking up some more herbs.

Here's some helpful tips I learned about planting herbs:

-It's better to buy herbs at the greenhouse and then plant them.  You can grow them from seeds, but they can be fragile and take along time to be big enough to use.
-If you're new to growing herbs, start with basil.  It's pretty easy to grow and easy to use.  
-Make sure you cut from your herbs often or they can get out of control.  My first basil plant was great, but it was massive and started flowering.  You don't want it to flower because then it will put all of it's effort and flavor into the flowers and not the leaves.  Plus, it attracts a ton of bees.  If you trim it regularly, you will be able to clip off the flowers right as they start before it gets out of control.
-Trim from the top, not the base.  Even though the top leaves are newer and smaller, you don't want to end up with a skinny stick with leaves on top.  Plus, the big bottom leaves soak in all of the sun for the plant.
-I found this great blog called The Skinny Gourmet that explains 10 mistakes that herb-growers make.  It's worth reading.
-I have been reading a lot lately about growing cilantro.  Apparently there is nothing you can do to keep it from bolting.  Every plant wants to reproduce.  Some tips to help are to keep it trimmed, keep it cool and shaded, and grow it close together so that they can shade each others roots.  When it gets too hot, it knows it will die soon and it starts to reproduce and then your cilantro is useless.  Cilantro seems to be a pretty high maintenance plant because everything I've read suggests that you replant every few weeks so that when one starts to go to seed, you can pull it up and use the next one.  Then you always have one ready.  Hmm...seems like a ton of work.  We'll see how it goes this year. 
- One thing to be aware of is choosing the right herbs.  Make sure that you choose things that you will use, or that you can dry or freeze for later use.  Make sure that you are choosing the right kind of herb for what you want.  For example, in basil alone there is sweet basil, lemon basil, purple ruffled basil, etc.  This year, I picked a curled parsley because it looked like what I would have bought it the store.  However, upon further research, I read that Italian parsley is the way to go if you are using it for cooking, curled parsley is more of a garnish.  Oops.
-Don't waste your herbs.  Make sure that you dry them or freeze them if you can't use them in time.  They are too great to go to waste.  I learned from my husband (who lived in Italy for 2 years) that you can freeze basil.  Right before the end of the season, we picked all of our basil leaves off and put them in the freezer.  Now we have garden fresh basil all winter long.
If you're new to gardening start with an herb garden.  It is fun, simple, and you don't need a lot of space.  I keep mine right on the balcony.  Plus, it's portable so you can bring it inside if you need to.  Herb gardens are fun because they force you to be a little more creative with your cooking if you want to put them to use :)

1 comment:

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