Growing an herb garden can be immensely satisfying, especially if cook with what you harvest. If you love the idea of working the soil to grow something you and your family will actually eat, you should consider planting and maintaining an herb garden. Although you won’t harvest as much as you would if you had a large vegetable garden, you’ll still enjoy the constant availability of fresh, delicious herbs to flavor your meals.
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Choosing Herbs to Grow
First, you’ll want to choose the right herbs to plant. You can grow a wide variety of herbs in your herb garden, but start with the herbs you cook with on a daily basis. By planting your own collection of these herbs, you can save money on buying them from the grocery store, while having the added benefit of freshness. Basil, bay leaf, chives, cilantro, dill weed, lemon verbena, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are common herbs that are grown in Lancaster, PA.
Choosing a Location for Your Herb Garden
One of the factors you should consider when you’re deciding where to put your herb garden is soil drainage. If the soil stays saturated when you water it or when it rains, your herbs will never thrive.
If you have limited space and must use a location that tends to stay soggy, you can do something to try to fix the problem.
- Dig about a foot down into the soil where the herb garden will be. Keep the soil nearby because you’ll need it.
- Put a layer of crushed rocks down before replacing all the soil. This will help disperse the water into the soil.
- Then replace the soil and tamp it back into place.
Your new herb garden bed should drain more quickly now.
Planting Your Herb Garden
When you’re ready to begin planting herbs, you might be tempted to buy plants from your local garden center. While that will certainly save you time, it is much more expensive than growing herbs from seed.
Herbs are much easier to grow from seed than many other plants. In fact, some herbs grow at an alarmingly fast rate. For example, if you plant any variety of mint in an open space, it will soon take over your herb garden and choke out other plants. Plant aggressive herbs in pots with proper drainage; the pots will keep aggressive plants from spreading above or below ground.
Harvesting Your Herbs
Once it’s time to harvest your herbs, you must do so carefully. If you take too much, you won’t leave enough of the plant to make chlorophyll and it will die. After laboring over your herb garden, you certainly don’t want that to happen.
If the herb plant isn’t well established, leave it to grow a little more. You should wait until your plant is well established for at least a few months before taking off any leaves or stems. Waiting will definitely be worth it, because allowing your herbs to grow until they’re well established will allow you to harvest from them for years to come.
Drying Your Herbs
Before you can use the herbs in your cooking, you must first allow them to dry. You can hang them to dry or let them dry on a rack or in a paper bag. Rather than wait several days for the leaves and stems to dry naturally, you can use your oven to speed up the process.
- Placing your fresh herbs on a cookie sheet.
- Bake them at 170° F for two to four hours.
- After they’re crisp and crumbly, they’re ready to be used.
If you want to store your dried herbs for later, keep them in a plastic or glass container. Paper or cardboard won’t work as well, because they will absorb the taste of the herbs.
During the first few days of storage, you should regularly check the container and see if any moisture has accumulated. If it has, remove all the herbs and re-dry them. If moisture is left from the first drying process, it will encourage mildew while you store your herbs.
Enjoy Your Herb Garden
If you enjoy gardening or cooking, or both, consider planting an herb garden. Although it will require more work in the beginning than just running to the grocery store for herbs, you will feel a great sense of satisfaction when you harvest your own herbs. Plus, you’ll notice a new freshness when you use them in your cooking.
What do you grow in your Lancaster herb garden? Tell us in the comments!