Growing (and Using!) Your Own Herbs
Gardeners are gamblers. Every year we scatter seeds, stock up on seedlings, amend our soil, water faithfully, cross our green thumbs, close our eyes, and pray for something out there to survive -— all the while knowing that Mother Nature has totally stacked the cards against us. Why? Because we've tasted that delicious homegrown payout, and we crave more. And besides, even if we lose everything this year, we know there's always a chance we can win it all back, and then some, next season.
There are no sure things when it comes to coaxing food out of the garden, but just like at casinos and the horse races, some bets have better odds than others. And after 18 years of growing everything from arugula to zucchini in my large organic kitchen garden, I've figured out how to consistently walk away with the biggest payouts: by planting herbs. Homegrown herbs are easy to grow, cheap to keep, don't require lots of space or attention, and aren't usually bothered by diseases and pests. They're pretty to look at, bursting with flavor, and far fresher than anything you can buy at the store.
In comparison, store-bought fresh herbs are notoriously pricey, often come packaged in non-recyclable plastic containers, and are sometimes sprayed with really scary chemicals. The selection is limited, and a lot of times the fresh herbs aren't actually all that fresh. One of the nicest things about growing your own herbs is that unlike many vegetables, you don't need a whole bushel to make a worthwhile harvest; just a little bit will go a long way. And most herb plants actually benefit from from being regularly snipped back, even when young. All you really need to get growing is a mostly sunny spot that has well-drained soil. Lots of herbs will also do well in containers, and many can even be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill.
Ready to risk it? Here are my six favorite, easiest-to-grow herbs:
If I could only have one perennial herb in my kitchen garden, I would definitely choose chives. They'll endure hot, dry, humid summers with nary a droop and are hardy to Zone 3. Pests ignore them, and they're even said to discourage harmful insects, including aphids and mites, from attacking nearby plants. Chives should be dug up and divided every three years. I also tucked some purchased seedlings in with them, too.
Chives have hundreds of uses. You can add them to everything from mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs to chicken salad and quesadillas. They also mingle well with other herbs; try mixing some chopped fresh chives, basil, oregano, and parsley into yogurt cheese for a quick, scrumptious, versatile dip/spread. Before your plants die back in winter, stash a cup or two of chopped chives in an airtight container in the freezer. The pieces will freeze individually, enabling you to pull out a pinch of two whenever you need it.
Basil is an excellent companion for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
Gardening can be a real challenge here in Missouri, and basil is one of my few never-fail crops. If you're a big pesto fan, you can save a small fortune by growing your this heat-loving annual. Each year I stock my freezer with enough pesto to last throughout the year.
Basil just keeps on giving; with water and sun, these plants will start growing right back.
There are two main things to remember about basil: It hates the cold, and it loves to be trimmed back. Start pinching off leaves as soon as the plants are just a few inches high, and continue throughout the season. In early spring and fall, drape floating row cover or an old bed sheet over your plants to protect them from the cold.
Prepping freshly picked Greek oregano. When you buy fresh or dried herbs, you often pay for a lot of stems.