Herb Gardening – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

Herb gardening can be a challenge if you do not follow the basic rules for proper site selection, soil preparation, and the choice of the herbs you will use in the garden or at your table. I have talked to many people that pride themselves on the many varieties of herbs they grow but if you are not utilizing them in your food preparation, you are missing a wonderful opportunity to compliment your daily meals with wonderful fresh herbs spices you can grow yourself. Fresh herbs can add a boost of flavor and improve the taste of your meals. Store bought herbs and spices can not deliver the fresh taste or the satisfaction of knowing that you have grown them yourself. This week I want to go over “part 1” of my selection on herb gardening so you too can enjoy growing herbs.

            Site selection for herb gardens should be the same as for vegetable gardens. Look for a small area of your garden that receives full sun and can handle the select few herbs you enjoy. Try not to waste your time growing every herb you find at the local store or garden center. Try to think of the few herbs you use most in the kitchen. I have found that if you restrict your selection to some of the more common herbs and spices you use in your dishes, you will appreciate them more and use them as you prepare your meals.

            Give special attention to areas of the garden that receive adequate moisture as your herb garden will require irrigation especially during the summer when temperatures range in the mid to high 90’s. You will also want to protect your new herbs from breakage from high winds during our summer storms. Many herbs can be broken or harmed from excessive wind. If you have an area such as the corner of your home that receives full sun, then this area may offer some protection from wind and which will benefit your new garden.

             Soil preparation is one area that I can not be more emphatic about. Without proper soil, our plants will not grow to their full potential and we may even become discouraged by the underperformance of our plants. When our plants do not do well, or become diseased we lose interest in them and many times the garden is lost because we do not want to care for the garden. On the other hand, when the garden responds to our care, and our plants look great, we tend to put more energy into the garden and we enjoy working our plants. I want you to enjoy the garden as much as I do and if you follow these simple guidelines, your garden will give you back tenfold.

            Weed seeds, nematodes, and diseases are abundant in our Florida soils. These problems make it almost impossible to plant directly into our soil and expect our new herbs and spices to survive let alone thrive. Raised beds are one way to overcome these problems associated with our native soils. With a raised bed, homeowners can incorporate thirty percent topsoil, thirty percent compost, thirty percent peat moss, and ten percent perlite to create a rich growing medium which your plants can thrive. Using cedar boards measuring twelve by two inches in width and thickness, you can create a small five by five foot garden to accommodate all of your herbs. After you have constructed your raised bed, be sure to turn over the existing soil inside the new planting area before you add the new soil components above. Once all materials have been added to the new planting area, be sure to mix them well.

            Earthboxes are another option especially for those of you that live in Mobile
Home Communities, Apartments, or Condominiums. With limited spaces for gardening allowed in theses communities, an Earthbox may be your tool of choice which allows you to grow plants on your balcony or other area you have sunlight. The Earthbox research station located in Ellenton, FLcarries all the supplies you will need to get your garden going. In fact, several nurseries’ and garden centers throughout the Bay area carry Earthboxes and all the necessary soil amendments necessary to fill your boxes. If your budget does not allow you to purchase an Earthbox, you can still enjoy herb gardening with containers.

            Any type of container or pot will work as long as you realize that you must be able to monitor the watering schedule more often than if you started your garden in a raised bed. Let your imagination go wild with your choices of containers. I have seen people use everything from wooden barrels, to kitchen sinks to grow their herbs. Clay pots, plastic pots, even fiberglass containers can be used as long a there are drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain off. There are even prepared soil mixes available which you can use to save you time from making your own soil as I mentioned above.  

            Once you have your garden ready for planting there are a couple of decisions you will have to make. Will you start your new herbs from seed? Will you start these seeds indoors or outdoors, or will you prefer to purchase starter plants from the local nursery or garden center. Depending on the time of year you start your garden, you may need to start your plants indoors rather than outdoors. Starting plants indoors allows you to set your own schedule, avoid inclement weather conditions, and avoid damage to new plants from high winds or rain. However, if the garden center around the corner has all the plants you need now then the easiest way to start your garden is to purchase all the herbs you are going to use and just plant them directly into the garden. This may cost a little more money than I want to spend on my herbs but if you rather have full plants now, then this option is for you.

            The benefit of starting your plants indoors from seed is you can grow many plants at one time for less money then purchasing a full grown plant. This is helpful when starting a new garden as this process familiarizes you with the plants natural growth patterns and if something happens to one plant you will not have to run back out to the garden center to purchase another plant. You will also be able to determine when you want to start your garden as many herbs may not be available when you want to plant them. Growing your plants from seed allows you to make these decisions on your own timetable.

            Now it is time to select the herbs you will want to use in your garden. There are so many choices in herbs and spices you can grow that I like to divide them into two different categories. The first category will be for cooking and the second category will be for flowering or color. Each of these categories may contain some of the same herbs or spices but you can make the final decision as to which herbs you will include in your garden.

            Depending on your nationality or culinary expertise, your cooking herb garden may contain herbs that you use on a daily basis or specialty herbs that you can not find locally. If you are a breakfast lover and you tend to make eggs and potatoes regularly, you may want to consider parsley, basil, onions, rosemary, thyme, dill, and mustard. If you like to make soup from scratch, you may want to add bay, garlic, leeks, lemon balm, sorrel, and chives. The list can go on but you should make the decision as to which spices or herbs you use most and which would benefit your plate and palate.

            If you want to accent your home with a flowering herb garden then I suggest looking toward differing colors and shapes in your garden. Because herbs have different flower colors, you may want to learn the colors and the time of year they go into bloom before adding them permanently to your garden. Bear in mind that if you are continually taking cuttings from your herbs and spices, your plants may not bloom as often as you want and further, many herbs take two years to bloom. If you are looking for white flowers choose anise, caraway, white thyme, and poppy. If you like yellow and orange flowers choose dill, nasturtium, saffron, and calendula. Blue and purple flowers consist of catnip mussini, heliotrope, blue, hyssop, and sage.

            There are many other colors to choose from and if you are looking for a guide to herb gardening pick up the book “Herb Gardening from the ground up” by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan. Look for part two of my articles on Herb Gardening in the next issue of Today’s Senior.  I hope you have enjoyed this week’s selection and remember, without plants we would not be here!

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