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How To Start Your Own Herb Garden

rasied herb garden - start your own herb garden
This raised herb garden looks great and it makes harvesting easier.

The rewards of growing herbs are far greater than with other plants. Other plants in the garden are mostly planted for their decorative value. Herbs, on the other hand, can also be used for a myriad of other purposes that stretch from flavouring your food to curing your flu to ridding your home of insects.

Herbs are some of the easiest, most grateful plants to grow. If you follow the following basic guidelines for how to start your own herb garden in this article, they will richly reward you with their flavours and aromas.

Location: Where to Start Your Own Herb Garden

The ideal site for a herb garden is a sunny, open but sheltered spot with well-drained fertile soil. As far as possible it should be free from weeds and overhanging trees and have good access to the house so that the herbs can be harvested in all weather.

Most of the herbs that we can successfully grow in South Africa originated in the warmer climates of the world where they grow in full sun. It is these conditions that we must create for them. The minimum requirement is four to seven hours of direct sun per day.

Remember that your herbs will grow well even if they get less sun. They may tend to grow scraggly and will be more susceptible to diseases, but with a little extra attention they will still be successful.

Herbs are like most people: they do not like to have ‘wet feet.’ It is very important that your soil have good drainage. Most herbs will survive in poor sandy soil, but few will tolerate wet clay soil.

Culinary herbs should be planted away from possible contamination by pets, roadside pollution and agricultural sprays.

Herb Garden Ideas

The appeal of a small formal herb garden remains timeless. Formal designs are based on geometric patterns, which are framed by low hedges and paved paths. For maximum impact each bed is planted with one kind of herb, giving bold blocks of colour and texture.

Paving is an essential element, accentuating the formal lines and geometric design. Natural shades, like sand, terracotta or grey, contrast beautifully with the herbs, adding to the design element. The pathways and stepping stones also provide access to the herbs for ease of harvesting.

Herb Planting Tips

Prepare the ground well in advance, remove weeds (they compete for nutrition), fork in organic matter, such as compost, and rake the soil so that the bed is level. You don’t need to add large amounts of manure or fertiliser because that produces soft growth. The article on site preparation will give you some additional tips on the preparation of your herb garden.

Before transplanting herbs out of their “nursery” pots into the ground, water the pots well because a dry rootball is difficult to wet thoroughly once it is in the ground.

Because “nursery” pots are small, herbs tend to become root bound. To encourage new root growth gently loosen the root ball before planting in the ground. Pinch out the tips of shrubby herbs, like thyme, to encourage bushy growth. Add some bone meal or fishmeal at the bottom of each planting hole.

If you are using a planting plan, first set the herbs in their positions. It is easier to move them around while they are still in their pots, rather than having to transplant them later. Space them according to their expected height and spread so they have room to develop.

After planting firm the soil gently around the plant and water thoroughly to settle the soil and give the herb a good start.

Some herbs, like spearmint, can be invasive. Restrict their spread by planting them in sunken containers. Remove any spreading material immediately. Repot them yearly with fresh soil.

Caring for Your Herb Garden

Water newly planted herbs regularly but once they are established, they are naturally drought resistant. Watering and drainage goes hand in hand. Rather give your herbs too little than too much water. After a good soaking, allow the water to drain away and the soil to dry off. Water again when the top 2 or 3 cm of soil is dry to the touch.

Mulch your herbs once a year with bulky organic material, such as shredded bark.

Fertilizing is very important, especially if you intend to use your herbs on a regular basis. During the growing season (August to April in the Southern hemisphere) fertilize at least once a month. During the winter months one or two doses will be sufficient. Inorganic fertilizing and heavy composting is not recommended because this produces sappy growth that’s more prone to disease and pests.

Use any balanced fertilizer like 2:3:2. Always halve the dosage given on the packaging. The reason for this is that the essential oils of herbs that ‘suffer’ a bit are more concentrated, increasing their flavour, aroma and medicinal value.

If your herbs get too much fertilizer they will grow scraggly and be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Please note: If you are growing herbs for medicinal purposes do not use chemical fertilizer. Use organics. You can also make your own compost tea.

Pruning is essential to encourage healthy, bushy growth. Remove dead leaves and flowers on a regular basis. Should you frequently use your herbs, pruning may not be necessary as you would be pruning automatically.

Herbs are not very prone to pests but if you do have an infestation (aphids, red spider, white fly) either cut back the herbs or use an organic pesticide.

Harvesting Your Herbs

Collect small quantities of herbs at a time and handle them as little as possible.

Do not cut herbs at random. Take the opportunity to pinch out or prune the plant at the same time, removing unwanted shoots and encouraging bushiness. Use a sharp knife or scissors, do not break, bend or tear off the branches. Always harvest from clean, healthy plants in peak condition.

Visit the Green Living Store for a range of organic herb and veggie seeds.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2015, and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.

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Spring Vegetable Growing Tips

spring vegetable growing tips from bouquet garni nursery

spring vegetable growing tips from bouquet garni nursery

Herbs and vegetables are natural companions. If you grow fresh herbs you’re bound to also love the idea of harvesting your own home grown tomatoes, beans, lettuce and anything else in season. We can dream after all!

Here’s our top spring vegetable growing tips and a proven  list of popular veggies that can be sown in the garden or in pots in South Africa from mid August to the end of November.

Salad Vegetables

  • Tomatoes – good varieties are Heinz 1370, Moneymaker, Oxheart, Floridade
  • Cucumber if you have space because it’s a vigorous creeper
  • Lettuce – especially those that don’t form a head, like Lollo Rosso and Lollo Biondo because the individual leaves can be harvested for up to three months
  • Sprouts – one of the easiest ways to get fresh salad greens
  • Radishes – Sparkler and Cherry Belle.

NB: For lettuce choose a spot that gets afternoon shade or dappled sunshine because full sun in summer is too hot and the lettuce will quickly go to seed.

vegetable growing kit

Vegetables for Small Gardens

Spinach (especially ‘Bright Lights) beetroot, lettuce, bush beans, eggplant, chillies, summer cabbage (‘Cape Spits) and leeks. All these are compact growing vegetables and veggies like lettuce, beetroot and spinach can be used as borders. Chillies also make beautiful pot plants.

Find out How To Start Your Own Herb Garden!

Vegetables in Pots

Tomatoes can be a bit overwhelming for a garden bed but you can plant a tomato bush in a large pot (about 20 liter) and train it up a trellis or pyramid. To contain its growth pinch off the growing tips when it reaches the desired size otherwise you could have a monster. The small cherry tomato ‘Sweety’ is particularly good in pots.

Other runner plants like peas and beans can also be planted in pots and supported on a frame. Try chillies and eggplant in pots as well.

tomato plant in fruit grown in a container
Tomatoes can be a bit overwhelming for a small garden but you can plant a tomato bush in a large pot (about 20 liter).

Vegetables for Large Gardens

If you are lucky enough to have plenty of space you can also grow the more rambling types of vegetables like squash, patty pans, cucumber, and watermelon.

 

Vegetable Growing Tips

Like herbs, vegetables do best if grown in a sunny position. Prepare the beds by digging them over well and mixing in compost. Growing veggies from seed is much cheaper than buying seedlings and most veggies can be sown in situ. Just store the left over seeds in the seed packet in the fridge or in a dark drawer and they will remain viable for longer.

There’s a saying that ” a good gardener always plants three seeds – one for the grubs, one for the weather and one for himself.” It seems to work.

Keep the soil moist during germination and thin out the seedlings when they are big enough to handle. For a good crop fertilise with a balanced organic fertilizer two weeks after germination and at monthly intervals after that.

All the planting instructions are on the seed packet (planting depth, final spacing etc) so don’t forget to read the instructions!

To control insects spray with Ludwig’s Insect Spray or Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide. Both are ECOCERT approved for use by organic gardeners.

And a last word from Prince Charles:

To get the best results you must talk to your vegetables.

herb growing kit

 

click to download master chef cheat sheets

This article wad first published in September 2015 and updated on 26 October 2016.

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7 Popular Potted Herbs

I’m often asked to recommend herbs for beginners. The following are 7 of my favourite potted herbs. And they all do well in colder areas as well.

potted herbs on a window sill
Potted herbs do exceptionally well on a windowsill.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the hardiest of all the herbs. It makes a small, bushy pot plant and the more the leaves are picked the better it does. An infusion of lemon-scented thyme, helps relieve coughs and colds. Use thyme in casseroles and stews, to garnish roasts or added to salad dressings and salads.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a robust herb that stands up well to cooking especially in slow simmered casseroles, roasts and grills. It also combines well with cheese. An infusion of sage leaves can be used to treat colds and coughs and it also makes an excellent gargle for sore throats. To make a Sage gargle infuse 3 teaspoons fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, strain and cool. Gargle three times a day.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) does better in semi-shade if grown in a pot and the soil should be kept moist. The leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and Iron. Build your immune system by eating two tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley each day. Sprinkle it on salads, add it to meat, pasta or cheese sauces at the end of cooking or juice it up in a blender with apple or tomato juice.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) actually prefers cooler weather. Its delicate, fern like leaves are full of vitamin C and have a slightly aniseed taste. It’s best used like parsley, chopped as a garnish or added to salads, soups, sauces, vegetables and meat dishes at the end of cooking. An infusion of the leaves stimulates digestion, relieves head colds, and acts as a blood cleanser.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) easily withstands winter frost but likes full sun. The more you harvest the better it grows. It has a strong aromatic taste ideal for rich winter food, but use sparingly or it can be overpowering. An infusion of oregano can be used to treat coughs, tiredness and irritability.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) grows well in pots and tolerates quite cold weather. It has a bushy form and attractive spikes of blue flowers. Both the leaves and flowers can be used in an infusion to treat bronchitis and loosen mucus. The leaves have a peppery taste and are a good addition to thick soups and stews.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is principally a medicinal herb and can be used to bring down fevers, and helps relieve infections, influenza, and sinusitis. Both the leaves and flowers of the plant are used as an infusion. Add peppermint or a teaspoon of honey if you find the leaves a bit bitter. I use it en-masse in borders and Teresa likes using the flowers in arrangements.