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Do you enjoy the flavor of fresh herbs? If you’ve bought fresh herbs from the store, you know how expensive they are. Did you know that herbs are easy to grow? You don’t need a large garden to grow herbs - a sunny balcony or patio will work just fine because herbs grow well in containers. So, let’s forget about pricey herbs at the grocery store and grow our own.
Herbs aren’t fussy plants but need at least 6 hours of sun and well-drained soil. When choosing your container, keep in mind that the larger the pot, the more herbs you can plant. You can grow 3 to 4 different herbs in a 60cm (24”) wide container. Make sure that the container has hole(s) for drainage. Because herbs need well-drained soil, it’s best to use a growing medium that is specially formulated for containers, which won’t get soggy. Before planting, add a slow-release fertilizer.
Now comes the fun part – choosing the herbs you want to grow. Basil, chives, cilantro, lavender, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme all do well in containers. It is easiest to start with young plants for most herbs, although basil will grow easily from seed. The possibilities of herb combinations are endless - from a container filled with a variety of basils (cinnamon, purple, sweet, Thai or chocolate) to a collection of Italian spices such as basil, oregano parsley and rosemary.
Water herbs deeply and infrequently - they don’t like wet, soggy soil. Allow the top 5cm (2 inches) of soil to dry before watering again. To determine when to water, stick your finger into the soil to your second knuckle - if the soil is barely moist, it’s time to water again. Another important tip is to not over-fertilize your herbs – they’ll produce less flavorful leaves if you do. Add slow-release fertilizer every 3 months for best results.
Harvest herbs just before they flower when the flavor is most concentrated in the leaves. Picking herbs in the morning also ensures more intense flavor. Use your herbs right away or preserve them for later use by drying or freezing them.
The flavor of herbs is most concentrated when they are dried. To dry herbs, first rinse them and tie the stems together so that you form a bundle. Hang your herb bundle in a dark, dry place for a few weeks until the leaves are crisp and dry. Crush the dried leaves and put them into small, airtight containers. Dried herbs are best used within 6 months for best flavor.
Freezing herbs is another way to preserve your harvest. Chop fresh herbs and fill ice-cube trays 2/3 full and fill the rest with water or olive oil. Freeze and then pop out your ‘herb cubes’ and store in freezer-safe, plastic bags. Whenever you need to add fresh herbs while cooking, simply add an herb ice-cube.
Containers filled herbs don’t just add delicious flavor to food – they are also attractive. Try pairing contrasting colors of herbs together such as purple basil and sage. The tiny leaves of thyme or spiky foliage of rosemary add texture when planted next to larger-leafed herbs such as basil or oregano. Herbs produce lovely flowers if their leaves aren’t harvested right away. To add a bright spot of color, tuck in a few flowering annuals, such as petunias or violas, among your herbs.
Herbs are delicious, easy to grow, attractive and easy to preserve. So why waste time and money buying them at the store when you can grow your own?
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