Saturday, July 23, 2011

Grow Your Own Herbs & Save Money

Picture courtesy of flikr

Once in a while you're going to find a great recipe that calls for fresh herbs.  Now you can either head over to the grocery and buy one of those plastic packs of herbs for two or three dollars or you can get a bunch wrapped in a rubber band.  Either way you are going to usually end up with more herbs than you need, and since they don't keep you'll be throwing the rest away along with the packaging.
There is another choice though.  Potted herb gardens.

Lots of herbs grow happily in small pots.  Seeds cost no more than $2.50 for a pack that could easily result in fifteen or more plants or purchase a small plant for usually no more than five dollars.  And many can be kept on your fire escape or in a window box to be used for years to come.
 Both the flowers and leaves of Pineapple Sage
are edible

Some great perennial herbs to grow in a small space are rosemary, sage, oregano, tarragon and thyme.  They all come in many varieties (especially sage and thyme) and produce beautiful flowers in the spring that will attracts lots of lovely bees and butterflies.  Annuals and bi-annuals like cilantro, dill, basil and parsley can also be grown in pots.  Parsley will attract the swallowtail butterfly and its caterpillars.  Perennial tropical varieties of sage (pinapple sage for example), basil (holy basil) and oregano (Cuban oregano) can't take our long winters, but they can be brought inside over the winter time and then taken back out in the spring (it's just important to keep an eye out for spidermites that can kill a plant when it gets too dry with the heater on in the winter time).  There are lots of great edible flowers that can be grown in a pot also, like nasturtium (flowers and leaves have a peppery taste similar to that of watercress), bee balm, lemon balm and anise hyssop.
Another great thing you'll see in the fall is that after your basil plants have died and dried out, you will get some lovely migrating birds coming to eat the seeds from the once lovely flowers on your plant.
If growing on your fire escape, make sure you leave enough space to walk in case of an emergency.  And don't heavily block your window that leads to the fire escape.
 Catnip can be used to make teas with
fresh or dried leaves and flowers
There are lots of hardware stores that carry window boxes you can grow flowers and herbs in.  Make sure to add extra drainage holes.  Place a screen (like that found in windows) at the bottom to prevent soil loss when watering.  Next put in about a one inch layer of styrofoam peanuts, broken pottery or rocks for extra drainage.  Finally, add potting soil with a little extra vermiculate and perlite mixed in.  Then start planting.  Remember to fertilize (monthly during the growing season) and water regularly.

Most all perennial herbs can get as large as the space you give them to grow.  They can grow happily in pots as small as eight inches or as large as fifteen inches or more.  Just keep an eye to make sure they are aren't getting too dry in the hot summer months.  If using a large pot you can also sometimes put more than one plant in a pot.  Thyme grows nicely with just about everything.
 Chocolate Mint has strong scent of
milk chocolate

Grow from seed or just purchase a plant at your local greenhouse, farmer's market or hardware store.  Sometimes even grocery stores carry fresh herb plants.  Silver Heights Farm, found at the Union Square Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, carry a wide range of herbs you may have never even heard of before and they are certified organic.

Check here for other container herb garden how-tos.

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