August 22, 2011

5 Easy Herbs to Grow...and How

We hope this modest selection will grow in sufficient quantity to make a real difference in our menu selection, helping to balance our diets by encouraging us to create healthier dishes enhanced with fresh greens, and in our connection with the earth itself, by involving us directly in the grounded work of its natural cycles and rhythms. We also hope to reduce our food waste, as store bought herbs come in bunch sizes we can hardly use before they spoil, in spite of my failed efforts to try freezing various herbs. Gathered from a number of online sources, what follows are the essential data on nursing five of the most popular and easy to grow (we're told) herb varieties. 

These can each be grown, or at least started, indoors. They each promise to be easy, but then again, they hadn't met me before today, so I won't hold them to it. Regardless, I feel inspired, positive, and armed with great data. Will report on the progress of each in a couple months time, even if the result is decidedly less than herb-a-licious. Wish us luck.

And in the interim, if you have tips, tricks, or experience for better or worse, I could certainly do with hearing it. I am, after all, a newbie among a world of veterans, or at least that's how it feels from here.

annuals - complete their lifecycle & die forever in 1yr or less. But seeds produced may bring new growth the following season.

biennials - go to seed in 2nd year. complete their life cycle, never to be reborn. However, the
seed may bring new growth the next season.

perennials - leaves/branches may die, but the plant regrows/blooms each year.

arugula - annual but regrows from seed easily and is hardy. likes it cool. (heat causes bolting/seeding). flavor becomes stronger and stronger until it can be too strong/bitter for some by the end of the season in fall. at end of it's useful season allow it to flower. leave for weeks. once dead, remove dry stalks. the following spring new growth is likely. harvest outer leaves only and often if possible, to encourage regrowth. plant every 3-4 weeks  to ensure supply. germination 5-7 days. part shade ok. is sterile, so needs insects for pollination for self-seeding, therefore best to grow outdoors. once it has completely flowered and begins to brown, STOP water. allow it to complete its life cycle. Arugula Reference here.

basil - is a biennial. it is recommended to have multiple plants, at least 2 and never to take too many leaves off at once or the plant will not recover. it is best to pinch the leaf only not the stalk (you knew that didn't you), and to pinch off any little flowers as soon as you see them. Sow every 2 weeks throughout growing season in order to keep constant supply. requires more or less full sun 5 hrs a day or so if indoors (6-8 outdoors). harvest time: 10 weeks from sowing. mature height is about 4" tall. keep moist but not too wet. attracts bugs/slugs if kept outside. likes warmth. Germination ~7 days. likes good circulation, so coarse compost is good &/or rocks in bottom of plant pot for good drainage. Basil Reference here.

cilantro - an annual. grows 1-3 ft high. begin harvesting at 6" height. partial shade okay, but needs 8" deep pot minimum. sow every few weeks to ensure supply is constant. careful to keep moist but drained. Once it flowers, collect seeds for re-germinating or dry for spice use (will need drying). plant likes liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks. does not like to be repotted. Cilantro Reference here.

lavender - perennial. hardy but needs some care its 1st & 2nd seasons until it's established. Grows indoors or out. Full Sun. well-drained soil (not too wet), so allow soil to dry out between waterings (ex water 2x week, less in winter). Prune--cut back plant by 1/3 to half, either once flowering season is over, or just after new buds begin in new season, to keep the plant compact. fertilize every couple of weeks. PROPOGATION: take a few long 3-4" stem cuttings and place in moist pot, preferably in spring or indoors until the spring. From seed is more difficult to catch on and grow and should be done in spring. Lavendar References - multiple, no link

rosemary - perennial. propogates best from cutting. Seeds can be difficult to germinate and often don't grow true to their parent. It's possible to root rosemary in a glass of water, but a bit more effort will give more dependable results. Easy to care for once established. Rosemary Reference here.
1.     Snip about a 2 inch cutting from the soft, new growth of an established plant.
2.     Remove the leaves from the bottom inch and dip that tip into a rooting hormone. Rooting hormones can be found in any garden center.
3.     Carefully place the dipped end into a container of dampened, sterile seed starting mix. Choose a mix that says it is well draining, like something containing peat moss with vermiculite or perlite.
4.     Place the container in a warm spot with indirect sunlight.
5.     Mist the cuttings daily and make sure the soil does not dry out.
6.     In about 2-3 weeks, test for root growth by very gently tugging on the cuttings.
7.     Once your cuttings have roots, transplant into individual pots about 3-4 inches in diameter.
8.     Pinch off the very top of the cutting to encourage it to develop branches.
9.     Begin caring for your cutting as a rosemary plant.
10. Prune to keep the plant full and lush, shapely, etc.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice. Ymmm, fresh herbs make all the difference. Thanks for pulling together all this info. Inspiring!

    Besides freezing, you could also dry/dehydrate surplus.
    Another use of any surplus is a crop swap, if your city/area has one (Berkeley & Albany have them). Trade your excess Basil for lemons, grape leaves, whatever!

  3. Ooh. I hadn't thought of crop swapping. I may just do that. Even among my neighbors here, there are so many growers. Thanks, Jay!

  4. Or they'd make lovely little gifts :) a box of pasta with homemade red sauce and fresh basil. Heck you'd probably make your own pasta wouldn't you?!!!?

  5. i don't know about that.. but thanks for the vote of confidence Stine. and thanks for stopping by the article :)