The other day, a coworker was telling me about the raised bed located in the back yard of her new home.
“What should I plant?” she asked. “I’ve never grown anything.”
“HERBS!” I said, with probably a little too much enthusiasm, because she got all wide-eyed and leaned back a bit. So I dialed it back and said, “Start with herbs. Go from there.”
If there’s anything that will put you off a new venture, it’s immediate failure. But herbs are to gardening what training wheels are to riding a bike. Here’s why.
Herbs (usually) aren’t picky
They will often grow in horrible dirt with various nutrient deficiencies. They can handle varying amounts of sunlight, provided they get at least a few hours a day. They’re also often drought tolerant—especially herbs like rosemary, which actually prefer less water than most plants.
Oregano has a spreading habit, so it will pretty much go nuts when left to its own devices, like below. Just make sure you prune it back every so often to keep it in check.
There’s no fruiting
Don’t get me wrong. Fruiting—the process by which a plant creates a fruit or a vegetable with seeds—is great. It’s the whole reason for a vegetable garden. But when you’re just starting out, fruit is a total pain in the ass.
Nutrient deficiencies in the soil mean fruit will be misshapen or undersized. Things like blossom end rot can create the same problem. Pests LOVE fruit, and if you haven’t taken the proper precautions, they’ll decimate your crop. Also, many plants require pollination for fruiting to occur, so if you don’t have a lot of bees around, that can be a challenge. So in a lot of ways, no fruit? No problem!
They’re less susceptible to pests and disease
We eat herbs because they enhance our favorite foods. Their strong scents and flavors are welcome on our plate. Not so for pests like rabbits and bugs. The smell and taste of most herbs is overpowering to the majority of garden pests, and they’re happy to leave herbs alone, even if they’re complete unprotected by fencing or netting. (I know, I’ve tried it.)
They also seem to be far more disease resistant than the more delicate or temperamental plants you’d find in a vegetable garden. They only thing I’ve experienced with mine so far has been root rot, and that’s because we got LOTS of rain almost every other day for a stretch of about two weeks one season. The roots simply didn’t get a chance to dry out between downpours, and the roots started to rot in the ground, killing the plant from the bottom up.
There’s tons of ways to use them
I never have a problem using up all my herbs every year. I promise to post herb-specific ways to use them up down the road (including recipes!), but here’s a list of things I do with many of mine:
- Freeze them
- Dry them
- Garnish cocktails
- Make shrubs and simple syrups (for cocktails or non-alcoholic drinks)
- Make infused olive oils
- Add them to dinner recipes
- Make spreads, dips and sauces
- Make sachets or essential oils
Harvesting seeds from them is easy peasy
There’s not much to saving seeds from herbs like basil. At a certain point in the season, you stop pinching off the flower buds they’ve been trying to put out for the last few months. You let those flowers go brown and brittle, then bring them inside and harvest!
Seriously, most of the time, all you have to do to keep an herb alive is water it and make sure it gets enough sun. These three are my recommendations for new gardeners, because they’re fast growing and readily usable for lots of things around the house.
- Cilantro (also known as Coriander)
They can be grown in pots or outdoors, and they’re not hard to start from seed, either. Give it a try…you might be surprised!
Any herbs you’ve tried and had wild success with? Or crashing failures? Tell me about it!