Fresh herbs add life to a variety of salads, vegetables, dressings, and meats, but many of us find it hard to keep fresh herbs on hand for several reasons. First of all, it is expensive and inconvenient to buy a whole package or bunch of an herb when you only need a small amount for a recipe. Then there is the freshness factor: they are already several days or weeks old when you buy them from the store and always seem to spoil before you can possibly use them up. Wouldn't it be great to pick just the amount you need when you need it without having to go to the store or pay for an entire bunch? You can! Even if you have no gardening skills, growing herbs inside or outside is easy and fun!
How to grow your own herbs
Decide where you want to put them. You can grow herbs in containers indoors or out or in an outdoor garden. Most herbs will grow in partial shade, but they will do better with at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight each day.
If you plant your herbs in pots, they can be terra cotta, plastic, metal, or the foam pots that look like terra cotta but are light and less expensive. Be sure that your pots have adequate drainage at the bottom since you don't want the roots to sit in water. Pot shapes range from round to rectangular, so use whatever will work for your space. Choose pots at least twelve inches in diameter - smaller pots can't hold enough moisture on hot summer days.
Choose which herbs to grow. If you are not an experienced gardener, you may want to stick to just three or four herbs so you don't get overwhelmed all at once. You can always add more later. Several easy to grow, low maintenance herbs are available, so personal preference is the deciding factor. Some herbs that are recommended for the beginning gardener are: basil, parsley, mint, thyme, dill, chives, and sage.
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Planting your herbs. You can plant seeds, or buy small plants to re-pot into your garden. The cost of a small plant is usually about the same as a packet of seeds, which will grow many plants. If you only want one basil plant and it is the right season to find plants to buy it is probably smarter to just buy the plant - it is less work then planting seeds. If you want a lot of plants or if there are no plants for sale in your area at the time, you will want to plant seeds.
Planting seeds. One of the easiest ways to plant seeds is to push a drinking straw into the soil about ½”, remove the dirt and then slide the seed right down the straw and cover it up. Leave a 1 ½ to 2” space between each seed, add some water, and set the container in an area with some direct sunlight.
If it is cold out and you plant your herbs indoors, you might want to create a mini-greenhouse for them.To do this insert a long straw in the middle of the container and measure enough clear plastic wrap to cover the circumference of the pot. Wrap it around and secure it to the top of the straw with a small rubber band or some tape. This will help to keep the plants warm and speed up their growth.
Check your plants every day as they grow. Keep them in good light and water as necessary - when soil is dry to the touch. In hot climates, they will need to be watered every day unless it rains.
Harvesting your herbs. Once they’ve reached maturity, you can harvest leaves as needed. Simply snip off what you need with scissors. At the end of the season, you may want to harvest all the herbs for preserving for the winter.
For more frugal food ideas, see http://www.frugal-living-now.com/frugal-food.html