Chefs know it. The Food Network preaches it. Amateur cooks admit it: Freshly picked herbs are more delicious than anything you’ll find on a spice rack.
So why not try growing your own herb garden?
Many herbs can be maintained throughout the summer with minimal effort. And according to Michigan State University Extension horticulture educator Mary Wilson, the payoffs go beyond your pocketbook.
“It’s fun,” Wilson said. “You can go right out and harvest them, so you don’t have to go to a grocery store when you need something.”
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Here’s a crash course.
1. Decide where to plant. “Incorporate herbs into a vegetable garden,” Wilson said, “or put them in with your flowers, and you can almost have an edible landscape.” Pick a well-drained area where water doesn’t pool. The most forgiving route is to use containers. Wilson recommends any well-draining container (make sure it has holes on the bottom) that is safe for growing food. You can use small pots for individual herbs, or plant several together in a 16- to 18-inch container. Even a window box works.
2. Consider the sunlight. Herbs like a good deal of sun.
3. Pick your herbs based on what you use. Keep in mind which are perennials and which are annuals. Perennials include chives, marjoram, mint, and thyme. Parsley is biennial, meaning it comes back the second year with blooms. Wilson cautions that some perennials, such as rosemary, sometimes don’t make it through the winter.
4. Start with seeds or pick up plants at a farmers market. Search around, and you can find chocolate or lemon thyme, spearmint, cinnamon or Thai basil.
5. If using containers, plant in potting soil. And skip the fertilizer; it can dim the taste, Wilson said.
6. Don’t pick too much at once. Leave enough of leaves to keep the growth process going.
7. Weed and water. Don’t over-water. Containers dry out faster than the ground and will likely need daily watering during the hot months. For in-ground plots, water if it has rained less than 1 inch in the last week. No matter what, don’t be neglectful.
8. Beginners should start small. “When it gets to the maintenance part and the summer gets longer, people give up. They need to start small, have some success and start with plants you know you’ll use.”
And then ... use them! Put a sprig of rosemary on a chicken breast as it grills. Snip some basil onto vegetables as they cook.