I'm going to be the first to admit that I don't have the greenest thumb. You certainly won't see me tending to any palatial gardens any time soon. But it irks me to have to buy expensive herbs from the supermarket when it's quite easy to grow your own in the comfort of your own home. Seriously. So here's an absolute beginner's guide to planting herbs. Read on to start enjoying home-grown herbs to perk up any dull meal!
1) Work out what kind of food you always cook and what dried herbs you tend to use regularly.
There's not much point growing dill when you rarely eat the dishes that dill is regularly used for. Check out this site to work out which herbs pair well with what meals.
But if you want a decent variety of herbs, here's a good list to begin with -
Basil: Pasta sauces, risottos, bruschetta. Basically any food that involves a tomato sauce.
Rosemary: A staple in lamb roasts, stuffing and herb breads.
Parsley: Necessary in tabouleh, delicious with mushrooms and red meat dishes,
Oregano: Perfect with chicken, also makes great vinaigrettes.
Sage: Works well with pork and chicken.
Thyme: Great for slow cooking and works perfectly with lemon. Use in roasts with most meats.
2) Find a window that gets about 4-5 hours of sun a day
If it's south facing, you're onto a winner. Say hello to your herb garden's new home. If your windows don't get a lot of sunlight you might need to look into getting a fluroescent grow light. Here's a little guide to grow lights.
3) Go to your local gardening store and get the following:
- Starter herbs of your choice. Don't bother with seeds unless you're the patient type.
- Planter with several drainage holes and is about 20-30cm in depth (individual pots for each herb works well - or go with an extra long planter).
- Saucer to go under planter to catch the excess water
- Potting mix (ask the advice of the reisdent gardening guru at the the shop)
- Fertiliser that's safe for use on edible plants (again, your gardening guru is your friend)
- Grow light (optional unless you live in perpetual winter).
4) Plant your herbs
Pour 8-10cm of the potting mix at the bottom of the planter/s and then gently transfer your herbs to the centre of it. Surround the rest of the herb plant with the remainder of the potting mix, leaving about 3-4cm at the top for when you water. Place the pot in your designated sunny spot, and water it thoroughly until you see water in the saucer.
When you start to see new growth, that's when you can start picking the leaves for your meals.
(Sustainable wood salad servers by Reine Mere)
- If you've never touched a plant before you might want to start with just one herb plant to really get your confidence up. Buying too many herbs to in one go is quite overwhelming (I should know). Basil is the ultimate beginners growing herb - it's relatively low maintenance and you'll start seeing results quite quickly. Once you see some growth with the basil, then you can venture out and add some parsely and thyme to your little garden. You can only grow from there! (Pun intended).
- Good drainage is really important - herbs don't like soggy roots. So test the soil for wetness by placing your finger about 3-4cm down into the soil each morning. If it feels dry, water it well. If it's still damp, leave it. It's also best to water in the morning to give the roots enough time to soak up with the water before the sun evaporates it.
- Don't skip buying the potting mix - you can't simply use soil from the garden as it's generally too heavy and doesn't drain well.
- Use a seaweed based plant food spray once a season to give the plants some nutrients. Use it a little more often if the plants aren't getting enough sun.
- Speaking of which, herbs need plenty of sun (the most flavour will come with at least five hours of sunlight per day). So start planting them now ahead of Summer and think about using a fluroescent glow light otherwise.
- Oregano, Rosemary and Thyme prefer drier soils than other herbs so you might want to plant those ones together and water slightly less often than the others. Rosemary in particular is a larger herb, which might benefit being planted in its own pot so as not to overpower the other herbs.
Once you start successfully growing your own herbs you won't want to stop. Then you can experiment with more herbs and get even more adventurous with your meals. In the height of Spring why not try a simple pasta mixed with olive oil, anchovies and a big bunch of freshly-ground basil?
And once you've got all your herbs growing, why not mark them out with these Italian handmade ceramic garden markers?
Do you have any other helpful herb-growing tips for the budding kitchen gardener? Let us know on Twitter @moraapproved, facebook, or in the comments below!