Fresh herbs can turn an ordinary meal into an extraordinary culinary experience. And you can easily grow your own herbs at home, even if you have limited space for plants. Herbs generally are not fussy plants and can be grown in the vegetable garden, in a flowerbed, in their own garden bed, in pots on a balcony, or indoors beside a sunny window.
Most herbs prefer to grow in a sunny location in well-drained soil. Few herbs will grow well in compacted or soggy soil. If your garden has soil that is hard, compacted clay or if it retains standing water after a rainfall, you may wish to grow herbs in a raised bed or in pots.
If you must grow herbs in pots, make sure that the pots provide ample drainage, and use a good quality potting soil. Herbs in pots will need to be watered more than herbs growing in the ground but be careful to not allow the soil to remain soggy.
Herbs are not heavy feeders and generally don’t need a lot of fertilizer. Herbs grown in containers will need more fertilizer than those grown in the ground, but don’t get carried away with fertilizer even for container-grown herbs.
Most herbs dry very well for storage. If you grow more herbs than you can use fresh, you might consider drying some for later use. To dry herbs, gather several stems together in a small bundle. Remove a few of the leaves near the base of the stems to make the stems easier to bundle together, and then secure the stems with a small rubber band. Hang the bundle of herbs to dry in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
Individual herb leaves can also be spread out on a screen in an airy room out of direct sunlight. Turn the leaves daily so they dry evenly and store them in an airtight jar.
Some herbs freeze well for storage and will retain their flavor and bright color better than dried herbs. Parsley and chives freeze particularly well. To freeze chives or parsley, first snip or chop them to the size you generally use in recipes. Then spread out the chopped herbs on a baking sheet and place the sheet in the freezer for a few hours. Frozen herbs can be stored within freezer bags or small containers.
The ideal time to harvest any herb is in the morning just as the dew has dried from the leaves. For the most flavor, harvest herbs just before the plants begin to flower. Do not harvest more than one third of the plant at one time.
Mike McGroarty is the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at Freeplants.com and read his blog at Mikesbackyardnursery.com.