GROWING AN HERB GARDEN
There are so many benefits when we incorporate fresh herbs into our diet, not only do they add such amazing flavor to our foods, they have the added benefit of being healthy for us. They have been used for centuries to treat illness and are even found today in some of the medications we take. Let’s take a look at the health benefits of some of the herbs we can find in our garden:
- Oregano fights inflammation According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mice with inflamed paws were treated with beta-caryophyllin (oregano’s active ingredient) and their inflammation was reduced in 70 percent of the cases.
- Parsley can reduce breast cancer risk Parsley has high levels of apigenin, which has been proven to reduce and delay tumor formation in lab rats. Apigenin blocks creation of new blood vessels required for the tumors to grow and multiply.
- Peppermint can soothe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) Peppermint activates an anti-pain channel in the colon and reduces pain-sensing fibers, particularly those activated by eating chili and mustard.
- Rosemary boosts brain power Scientists at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Center in the U.K. conducted a study on the aroma of rosemary. They reported that when the aroma is absorbed, it was linked to speed and accuracy of brain response in the participants; The higher the level of the compound in the blood, the better the outcome.
- Thyme provides vitamins and antioxidants Thyme has the second highest amount of antioxidants among fresh herbs (sage is the first). It is also an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, as well as iron and dietary fiber.
If you don’t already have an herb garden or just want to expand your existing one, we have a few tips to help you out.
- DETERMINE THE RIGHT SIZE
First, you need to decide on what size you want your herb garden to be. Think about the variety
of herbs you want and that should help you determine how large it needs to be. As a general
guideline, an adequate kitchen garden measures 20 feet by 4 feet. Dividing it up into 12 x 18”
plots should be enough to keep your herbs separated.
To make it more aesthetically pleasing, try planting some of the more colorful and frequently used herbs, such as parsley and purple basil around the border. If you keep your annual and perennial herbs separated, it will make it much easier to clean up the space at the end of the growing season. A diagram of the area and labels for the plants will also help.
- SITE AND SOIL CONDITIONS
Herbs will not grow in wet soil so if you want your herb garden to be successful, make sure the
site you choose has good drainage. If your site does not drain properly, you will need to modify
it for any chance of success. The best way to do this is to remove the existing soil down about
15 to 18 inches and then put down a 3 inch layer of crushed stone. Before returning the soil to
the area, mix some compost or sphagnum peat and sand with it to help lighten the texture. Refill
the beds a little higher than the original level to allow for some settling.
Don’t worry if your soil is not particularly fertile, herbs actually produce better flavor without the excess fertilizer. Some plants such as chervil, fennel, lovage and summer savory do well with moderate fertilizer but otherwise, just add several bushels of peat or compost per 100 square feet. It will help improve the condition of the soil and retain the right amount of moisture.
- STARTING FROM SEED
Nearly all herbs can be grown from seed, however for instant gratification go ahead and buy
some that have already been established. If growing from seed, start them out in shallow
containers in late winter and the seedlings should be ready to be transplanted in your garden by
spring. Don’t plant the seeds too deep; as a rule, the finer the seed, the shallower it should be
sown. Some herbs don’t transplant as well, so if possible, plant anise, coriander, dill and fennel
directly into your bed in the spring.
Be sure you check the growing guidelines of each plant. Some herbs such as mint tend to overtake a garden; a way to keep them contained is simply to plant them in a bucket with several holes punched just above the bottom rim to allow for drainage, and then plant the bucket in the ground. Perennial herbs planted this way should stay confined for several years.
Herbs can also be grown in containers, window boxes, or hanging baskets. Try mixing them up with some flowers in some containers, they add some amazing scent as well as making your pots unique and eye catching. The only drawback of planting in this fashion is that they will require more care, especially watering as they tend to dry out rather quickly.
- HARVESTING As soon as the plant has enough leaves to maintain growth (usually around 6 to 8 weeks if planting from seed) go ahead and start harvesting. If at all possible, collect what you need early in the day, just after the dew has dried up but before the sun become too hot, this is when you will get the best flavor.
- PROTECTING HERBS DURING THE WINTER If you have perennial or biennial herbs, make sure you keep them protected during the winter months. With the harsh winters here in Upstate New York, many shallow rooted herbs will be uprooted during the spring thaw or not be able to survive the cold. In order to keep your herbs protected, generously mulch the beds after the ground has frozen, in early winter. The mulch should be at least 4 inches deep and you can use regular mulch, straw, oak leaves or even evergreens. When the plants are showing signs or growth again in the spring, you can go ahead and remove the mulch. Be careful to not take it off too early though or you might get some frost damage.