The coming of spring seems to turn everyone into a would-be gardener. The warmer weather and green growth shooting up everywhere awakens a need in many to plant and nurture things of their own. Even if you don’t have a green thumb of any kind, you can still grow a pretty impressive kitchen herb garden. Honest. Growing herbs outside is one of the easiest ways to get started gardening.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a gardening expert – not a Master Gardener (yet). In fact, for years, I would have been classified as barely proficient in many respects. Don’t get me wrong – I love gardening. I enjoy spending time outdoors feeling the warm sun on my back as I prepare the soil for planting. I love planning where everything will go and setting the seedlings and small plants in the soil.
And there’s sort of where things start to go downhill. I quickly lose interest in the constant weeding and watering, I never pay attention the sun or soil requirements, and don’t concern myself with companion planting. Which is why I love herbs. They don’t care much about any of that either.
Growing Herbs Outside
Growing herbs outside is extremely easy. Most can be started by sowing the seeds directly outdoors in early spring. They generally don’t care about soil type, how much sun they get, or even if you water them all that often. Bunnies and deer don’t eat them, and bugs don’t generally bother them – in fact, many types of herbs are natural insect repellents. Herbs produce all summer long and with regular snipping, they won’t get leggy or go to seed. Herbs also smell wonderful. Just brushing against one in your garden produces a burst of heady aroma.
Another nice thing about herbs is that you never have to wonder if they are ripe, as you do with other fruits and vegetables. With herbs, if you see leaves and they are large enough for your purposes, go right ahead and snip away.
Herbs don’t take up much space either. You can plant them in small raised beds, containers or even window boxes. All the culinary herbs “play nice together” which means that you can plant them in the same container or space and not worry that one will rob the other of nutrients or space. (Except for mint that is! Mint has a tendency to spread out.)
Cooking with fresh herbs makes a good dish great and a great one even better. If you grow more than you can immediately use, just harvest leaves (mid-morning is the best time after the morning dew has dried but the afternoon sun isn’t at its strongest), spread them out in a single layer on paper towels on cookie sheets or on old window screens and let them air dry, then crumble them and store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark spot. In addition to smelling wonderful and looking pretty, culinary herbs also have some amazing health benefits for both people and animals.
Here are a few of the more common culinary herbs and some tips for growing herbs outside. These six herbs would form the base of a great starter herb garden, and a great healing herbs list for your chickens as well.
While many herbs are easy to start from seeds, growing basil from small plants or seedlings is recommended. Basil is a bit more difficult to start from seed and started seedlings don’t transplant well, so if you do start seeds, they should be sowed directly into the ground. Basil is a tender herb, so wait to plant outdoors until the soil has warmed sufficiently and nights are staying consistently warm in the spring.
Basil likes well-drained, sandy soil and does best in full sun. Don’t over water your basil plants. Let the soil dry out in between waterings. To harvest, pick the largest leaves throughout the season, then just prior to the weather turning cold in the fall, harvest all the remaining leaves and dry them or you can make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays.
The dill plant is a personal favorite of mine. Not caring much what type of soil in which it is planted, or whether the soil is dry or wet, dill seeds do best if planted where they will grow, since dill doesn’t transplant well either. The seeds should be planted in early spring directly in the ground. Dill also likes sandy soil. In the warmer climates, it may die back in the summer heat, but should reseed itself in the fall to make another appearance, and will also reseed itself year after year. Fresh or dried dill fronds are delicious mixed into cream cheese on a bagel or on baked salmon.
Oregano is my absolute favorite kind of herb — a perennial. Buy or grow it once and it keeps coming back year after year, bigger and better. Oregano can be started from seed or a small plant and loves full sun and well-drained soil. Oregano doesn’t need much water and will do just fine if left to its own devices. Like most of the other Mediterranean herbs, dry, sandy soil and lots of sun is just fine.
Oregano leaves can be harvested throughout the season and used fresh or dried in sauces or as pizza topping.
Unlike basil, parsley is extremely cold-hardy. It likes full sun and soil that drains well. Seeds can be started indoors and the seedlings transplanted, but the seeds take a relatively long time to germinate, so start them at least 6-8 weeks before you plan to move them outside, or wait and sow them outside in early spring. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it generally lives for two years, and will also self-seed. I mean, really, is there nothing cooler than a plant that replants itself?
Parsley can also be used fresh or dried for use through the winter. Added to everything from breading for cutlets or soups, parsley is extremely versatile.
Rosemary can be grown from seed indoors and then transplanted outdoors but should be started 2-3 months before you plan to plant it in the ground after the danger of frost has passed. It’s also very easy to start new rosemary plants by rooting cuttings from a larger plant. Just set the cuttings in a glass of water on the windowsill until roots have started, then it can be planted outside. Rosemary is technically an evergreen shrub, and therefore a perennial in areas that don’t get too cold. It also loves full sun and is drought-tolerant, meaning it’s going to be okay if you forget to water it. Trust me on this.
Thyme is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It’s extremely forgiving and will grow in almost any type of soil. Thyme is a perennial and best started as a small plant, rather than from seeds, which take a very long time to germinate. Thyme prefers full sun and dry, sandy soil, but will usually flourish in any conditions. Thyme is a pretty garnish for food and can also be dried for later use.
Growing herbs outside is easy. Herbs like full sun but will tolerate some shade and don’t need fussy attention in the form of fertilizer, nutrients, plant food or even regular watering. If you are a very new gardener, you might want to start your garden from small plants which is even easier than starting seeds. Maintaining your own kitchen herb garden requires very little time, money or space and in addition to being fragrant and visually attractive, will elevate your home cooking to a whole new taste level, not to mention the potential benefits for your chickens. Try growing herbs outside this year!
Are you growing herbs outside this year? What are your favorites?