By Lanie Espiritu

Is growing culinary herbs relatively easy? Is it easy? For me it is not easy, but since I love cooking, I chose to grow culinary herbs in my garden. A culinary herb is a plant without a woody stem that dies back at the end of each growing season. Herbs were once considered a gift of the gods. Today, herbs are popular in many home gardens where the leaves are used for flavoring or the entire part.

Getting started 

An herb garden can be grown outside or inside, depending on your needs, climate, and space. An indoor garden is very accessible and no weeding is required. Also, growing season is year-round. On the other hand, growing herbs outside has its own advantages. One can produce higher yields because there is more space. Usually, herbs grown outdoors are more flavorful.

The author and her rosemary.

Herbs need plenty of sunlight whether you choose to grow inside or outside. They need moderate temperatures and a soil or potting mix that drains well. Most herbs are native to the Mediterranean region so you need to provide them with conditions similar to that to make them flourish. You can grow herbs in containers in both indoor and outdoor garden. Location is most important if you choose to set up an indoor herb garden. The herbs need at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight every day.

Growing medium 

Use an organic growing medium that is loose and drains well.

Soil Mix – Use equal parts of compost, sterile top soil and organic fertilizer like vermicast, rabbit manure, or over-the counter organic fertilizer.

Soilless Mix – This includes a combination of 2 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite/perlite, and coarse sand.

Culinary herbs grown in kitchen 

Basil, coriander, dill, rosemary, and oregano can be started indoors and can be grown year-round. They can be placed in a sunny kitchen window so they can be readily available when needed. Perennial herbs like chives, parsley, sage, and thyme can be started from seeds.

Planting and propagation

Many herbs can be started from seed, but there are a few varieties (rosemary, oregano, mint, and basil) that are better propagated by means of cuttings or transplanting. Select healthy shoots that are not too thick or too thin. By using a sharp knife or pruning shears, cut a 2-10 inch section of a stem at least 1 inch below the leaf node and include 2 or 3 pairs of leaves. Make a diagonal cut; the larger the cut, the more surface area will be available for roots to develop.

Herb seedlings.

Remove the lower set of leaves. Scrape a little bark from the end of the cutting into water and then into rooting hormone, making sure to cover the wounds left by the removal of the leaves. Use organic soilless mix for rooting cuttings.

Start planting seeds

If you know what you are doing, starting seeds indoors can be pretty easy.

• Select the containers. You can use seed trays, egg trays with rolled newspaper inside the tray hole, fresh milk container, or pet bottles.
• Choose a high-quality potting soil.
• Fill the containers with potting soil and water but don’t get soppy, just evenly moist.
• Place the seeds on top and cover with tiny bit of soil. Very small seeds can lie directly on the surface without being covered. Check the seed packet for specific planting guidelines.
• Place pots in partly shaded area where there is bright light but low sunlight.

Transplanting and fertilization

After 4-8 weeks, your seedlings will be ready to move outside. To harden plants, leave them outside in the shade for progressively longer amount of time each day. Transfer to a 3-5 inches size of pots. Herbs grown in containers will require a bit extra care. Even if your growing media is perfect from the start, container-grown plants continually use up nutrients as they mature. The nutrients are also leached out from the potting mix every time you water; you should water more often because potted plants dry out faster than their backyard counterparts growing in the open soil.

Remember not to over-fertilize herbs. Too much of a good thing will produce bigger plants, but the essential oils that give them their flavor and aroma will be diluted.

Harvesting

• If it’s the leaves that you want (mint, basil, stevia, tarragon, etc.), harvest them before the plant bears flowers. Harvest flowering herbs (chamomile, lavender, etc.) before the leaves are fully open.
• Many herbs (basil, mint, chives, oregano, and parsley) grow better with consistent pruning and harvesting.
• Perennials can be cut back to half their height without problems.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2018 issue.