I think one of the greatest thrills is to be able to pick and use your own herbs right from your garden. Many herbs can be easily grown either in the ground or in small containers on a windowsill right in your kitchen. Let's explore some of those possibilities.
The first thing you will need to decide is whether you will dedicate an area outside for your garden or if you want to plant in containers inside or on your porch. Your next step is to decide what types of herbs you want to grow. Basil is by far one of the most sought after herbs out there but many people also like to grow oregano, thyme, sage, mint and lavender.
The best way to grow your own herbs is to plant them from seed. Depending on the type of herbs you plant, most seed germinate in about 7 to 10 days.
The first herb we will talk about is basil (Ocimum basilicum). Basil is probably one of the easiest herbs out there to grow. Use a good quality potting mix such as Miracle Gro if you plant in containers or high quality topsoil such as Hyponex if you sow your seeds in the ground. Basil seeds will take about 10 days to germinate and you can use the small peat pots to start them out if you prefer. Since they are easily transplanted, you can start them out wherever it is most convenient for you. The "Dark Opal" variety has deep red foliage and boasts pink flowers. This variety can also be used for decorative purposes as an accent plant!
If you decided to plant in the ground, space your plants about 12 inches apart to allow room for the plants to grow and mature.
Basil has many uses but is most commonly used in Italian dishes and as a seasoning in sauces.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is another common herb that is used for flavoring soups and sauces. Since thyme needs a very rich soil, be sure to opt for the best. I always prefer Miracle Gro since it already has a small amount of fertilizer already added to the soil and it is loose enough for easily starting seeds. Unlike basil, thyme will take almost 30 days for germination to occur and it will grow very slow at first. Thyme can also be grown in containers but since it is more of a shrub like plant, be sure to use a container that is at least 12 inches in diameter. If you plant in the ground, space your plants at least 8 inches apart.
Once your herbs have grown and matured, you might want to dry them out for use at a future date. This is easily done and is actually a lot of fun to do. Simply cut off the tops of the leafy varieties and wash them in cold water. Hang them in an area indoors just long enough for the water to evaporate from the leaves. You can then tie the stems together with twist ties designed for gardening. Place the plants in a paper bag, leafy side first. Secure the end of the bag with a rubber band and hang the bags indoors for about 3 weeks. You can now remove the dried leaves and crumble them in a shallow baking pan. Dry them out for a short time in your oven at the lowest setting. (About 100 degrees) That's it! You can now store your herbs in glass jars or containers and enjoy them whenever you need them for a recipe.
Joe Zelenak has more than 30 years experience in gardening and landscape. Send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site www.hometowngarden.com.