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How to Start an Herb Garden

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Gardening is a favorite hobby of many women. It can bring peace to a day and a sense of accomplishment to a week filled with other, often-thankless tasks. Experimental Wifery introduces you to the world of herb gardening, gives you a few questions to ask before you plant, and shares our favorite herb-garden recipe.

So why is an herb garden a great idea?

  • Herbs can make food more healthful. Salt isn’t the own way to add savor to your cooking. Not only do herbs have some health benefits of their own—for example, rosemary may even help prevent cancer!—but they prevent you from overusing sodium in your food. Fresh herbs also encourage pairings with fresh fruits and veggies like mint and strawberry or basil and tomato.
  • Herbs help you take more pride in your cooking. Adding fresh herbs from your own herb garden gives you a real sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency in the kitchen.
  • Herbs teach you how to garden. Herbs are a low-risk, low-cost way to get your hands dirty in the world of gardening. Practice planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting before you invest in a full-blown vegetable patch.
  • Herbs are fun to share. Many healthy herb gardens yield more than you can use. Become popular with friends and neighbors by having herbs to spare.
  • Herbs can add joy and peace to your life. Even simple gardening gets you out into the great outdoors more often. Knowing the needs of your plants builds your awareness of the weather, seasons, and the world around you. And there is nothing like the distinct pleasure of watching something you’ve planted thrive.

The success of an herb garden depends largely on choosing the right herbs to plant. Your local garden supply store is your best resource. But here are a few questions to keep in mind as you start your herb garden:

  • What herbs do you like to eat? The most important consideration for choosing what herbs to grow is what herbs you’re likely to use. It will be hard to remember to take care of a garden full of plants you don’t enjoy. Basil, cilantro, and mint are some of the easiest herbs to add flavor to your cooking.
  • Where will your garden grow? Most edible plants grow best with full sun: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Find the space in or around your home with the most natural light. That might be on a deck or in an east- or west-facing window. Don’t worry if lighting is limited—some herbs grow well indoors or in limited light.
    • Chives, mint, parsley, and rosemary grow well indoors. They also do well outdoors in cooler weather.
    • Parsley and lemon balm grow well in the shade.
    • Dill grows well in partial shade.
    • Basil, oregano, and sage need 6-8 hours of full sunlight in warm weather to thrive.
  • Do your herbs play well with others? Not all herbs cooperate. Rosemary and mint, for example, literally grow like weeds and demand pots of their own. Parsley and cilantro, on the other hand, work well together. Again, ask a local gardener for advice.
  • How much time do you have on your hands? Some herbs require more TLC than others. The hardy rosemary, for example, is actually easy to over water and grows will little outside assistance. Basil needs to be kept well watered and pruned before it develops small, white blossoms. Think about the long term, too. Many common herbs, including basil and dill, are annuals. You will need to replant them each year when they die for the winter. Some common herbs, including mint and oregano, are biennial or perennial. The same plant will grow two or more years without replanting.
  • How and when can you harvest your herbs? Annual plants, like basil, can offer several harvestings throughout the summer. Other herbs, like lavender, must be harvested when the herb is about to flower. In any case, always harvest with sharp shears and avoid breaking or pulling the herb with your fingers. A veteran gardener is a great resource for advice about specific plants.
  • So what can you do with these nice, fresh herbs? A simple, Italian caprese salad is one of our favorite summer treats. Don’t bother unless your tomatoes are perfectly ripe and your basil is garden fresh.

    Caprese Salad

    Makes 4-6 appetizer servings

    • 1 ripe tomato
    • 1/3 lb. mozzarella cheese
    • 8-10 sweet basil leaves
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Extra-virgin olive oil to taste, the higher-quality the better

    1. Slice the tomato and cheese into thin slices.
    2. Salt and pepper each tomato slice to taste, being careful not to over salt.
    3. Cover each tomato slice with a piece of mozzarella cheese.
    4. Cover each piece of cheese with a basil leaf.
    5. Arrange everything nicely on a plate. Garnish with extra basil. Generously drizzle with olive oil before serving.

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