Herbs 101

Few things in life are as satisfying as making fresh tomato sauce for pasta using fresh basil plucked from your very own herb garden mere moments before it goes into the pot. Yummy roasted potatoes with fresh rosemary are equally gratifying.

The point here is that nothing beats the taste that freshly-picked herbs add to any type of cuisine—and there’s no way to get them any fresher than growing them yourself. Freshly picked herbs simply possess a pungency of aromas that far exceeds that of their commercially grown counterparts.

Not only do herbs have unlimited culinary value, they are as aesthetic as they are useful. The soft grey sage plant that looks so lovely in your garden and adds flavor to your turkey dressing also lowers fevers when brewed as a tea and looks wonderful too. Truly, an herb garden is one of the most pleasantly aromatic, lovely and rewarding gardens anyone can plant!

Even after the outdoor growing season is over, you can still enjoy dried herbs in cooking or as components in potpourris and sachets. You can also pot your garden herbs and move them inside to live in sun warmed windowsills during the winter.

Herbs are undemanding to grow, taking little care and space, and have very few insect and disease problems. Most of the herbs we use in cooking today originated in the Mediterranean climate, and so perform best in sunny locations, though most can stand partial shade as well. Most herbs will also tolerate a wide range of soil types, with the exception of extremely wet, poorly drained soils.

If the garden soil is poorly drained, you can add humus, compost and some sand to make it lighter and easier to drain. Use several bushels of compost per 100 square feet of soil before planting and work it into the soil thoroughly using a spade. Don’t overdo the fertilizer, either—most herbs do better without it because fertilizers tend to make them produce too many leaves that have too little flavor.

The size of your garden will depend largely upon the quantity of herbs that you want to grow. Herbs can be inter-planted with flowers and vegetables; indeed, many herbs make good companion plants for vegetables, as in the case of dill with cabbage or lettuce, basil and borage with tomatoes, chervil with radishes or various lavenders and Artemisia with roses.

Herbs also thrive in containers, so if your garden space doesn’t allow for a full on vegetable or flower garden, don’t forget to include a few herbs in your container garden. An herb garden can be started in just a few small pots for the beginning and expanded as your expertise grows. Even if you live in an apartment and have no outdoor garden space, a small space in your kitchen that receives ample sunlight is perfect!

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