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Growing Herbs

One of the first things to do when starting an herb garden is to decide on what herbs to grow. This can often be a tricky task considering the volume of options available but a quick inspection of the herbs at your local fruit shop or supermarket will give you a good idea of what herbs are generally used in cooking. A casual inspection of your favorite recipe book would also be useful. As a starting point consider the following common options: savory, rosemary, sage, sweet basil, dill, mint, sweet marjoram, tarragon, thyme, chives and parsley.
These will give you a broad variety of flavours and culinary applications and are certain to prick your interest and inspire you to experiment with many of the other herbs available.

It is then time to plan where to grow your herbs in your garden. For this you will need a pencil, clipboard, piece of paper and a little imagination. Make a scale diagram of your proposed planting pattern bearing in mind the relative sizes of the herbs when fully grown. Remember to leave room for weeding and harvesting. Herbs can quiet happily be planted in your existing flower or vegetable garden; in fact they often compliment each other in a very positive way. If, however, you decide to create a separate herb garden your first consideration would be the space that you have available. The size of your herb garden will determine the variety that you will be able to cultivate, a 40 cm square patch should be adequate for most individual types. (So divide your herb garden into squares of 40 cm to determine the maximum number of different herbs that you will be able to grow).

When deciding on what herbs to plant in your garden it is important to consider the distinction between Annuals, Biennials and Perennials: Annuals: are herbs that flower once in a season and then die. Biennials: are herbs that complete there life cycle in two seasons. (Will usually bloom only in their second season) Perennials: are herbs that will seed and flower for many years.

It is a good idea to leave room to harvest and plant the annuals and biennials grown in-between the perennials if you have a more formal herb garden. Annuals are usually ideal for planting in and among vegetables and flowers in an informal growing environment. The best advice, however, is to use your discretion while constantly baring in mind the invariable life cycles of the plants when grown outdoors.

With some exceptions herbs generally like a combination of sun and shade (usually more sun then shade depending on the minimum and maximum temperatures of your particular area) and are not that demanding when it comes to the soils nutrient value. They do, however, like to be sheltered from the wind and it is important to select or prepare an area that has good drainage. (Very few herbs will flourish in wet soil). If the drainage of the area that you have available is inadequate remove a layer of about 30-40 cm of soil from the surface and then insert an 8 cm layer of crushed brick or rough pebbles in the excavated area. Return the removed soil after you have added some river sand and compost to it. (The sand will make the soil light). Make sure that the selected area is not a catchment area for water from roof gutters or paving runoffs. (Mint, however, will flourish in such catchment areas so long as the soil in these areas is not excessively disturbed by the running water)

Diseases, pests and herbs

Fortunately herbs are not especially prone to being affected by pests and diseases; in fact many herbs can be used to repel insects. Mint, nettle and nasturtium can be used to deter aphids, basil is often planted among tomatoes to repel white fly and if one packs mulched oak leaves in a garden bed, catworm are not likely to be a problem. Chives planted among roses would keep the roses free from pests and rosemary, sage and wormwood will do the same for a vegetable garden.

Rosemary and lavender are, however, prone to being attacked by woolly aphids. This can be remedied by rubbing the aphids off with ones fingers if the plant is not to severely inflicted. If, however, the plant is severely damaged, cut the affected areas away and discard. A solution of equal quantities of water and mentholated spirits can also be used to rub the aphids off the affected plant. An old toothbrush is ideal for this job.

A brown dotted blotchy yellow rust is sometimes found on chives. The best solution to this problem is to cut the plant down to about 4 cm and nurture back to life with fertiliser and regular watering. The same affliction is also found in mint. Here it would be best to uproot the plant and discard, although you could first try to remedy the problem with a mild copper spray.

It is very important to avoid using toxic sprays when tendering you herb garden. If you have to use a commercially supplied insecticide make sure that the label clearly indicates that it can be used on the particular herb that you want to treat.

Growing herbs from Seeds

Most herbs can quiet easily be grown from seed if a light well-drained soil is used and care is exercised when watering (use a watering can with a fine sprinkling nozzle). It is important not to cover the seeds to deeply, a general rule is that the finer the seed the shallower it should be planted. You could also mix sand with the finer seeds (such as fennel, coriander, anis and dill seeds) to help them spread and grow more evenly. In most cases start your seedlings off in small containers which are kept indoors and plant them in your herb garden in early spring taking care to protect the plant from the wind and frost. For the most part, however, biennials should be planted directly in the ground as they don't transplant particularly well.