Organic Vegetable Gardening in An Urban Setting

Starting Your Kitchen Herb Garden

Growing herbs is much the same as growing vegetables or flowers and indeed some herbs are used in flower arrangements. Essentially herbs are any leaf, flower, stem, root or seed that is used in cooking or medicine. Spices are flavorings derived from herbs and generally grown in warmer tropical regions. Potherbs are those that derive full flavor when used in cooking food.

Herbs are for the most part very easy to grow. They usually prefer dryer sandier soil and use little water. The do however need at least 8 hours of full sun daily though there are those that will survive in partial shade. This makes most annual herbs perfect for container or window box gardens. Once you start to grow your own herbs you will never use the dried out powders that you find in your grocery store again.

Deciding what to plant in your herb garden is really quite simple. Start by looking in your kitchen cupboard or spice rack and see what it is that you use the most. Annuals can be started any time of year from seeds found in your local garden store though you may also be able to purchase transplants early in the season. Perennial and bi-annual herbs are usually started from cuttings or divisions. If you are planting them in your garden remember that some perennials like mints, thyme, or oregano can become quite invasive and you should consider planting them in containers or areas that their spreading into will not become a problem in the future. Remember to get an early start on your herb garden as many annuals are ready for use in as little as a month. Most herbs are harvested before they flower when their essential oils and flavors are at their peak.

If you decide to grow your herbs outside and do not have a lot of space for them; consider using them as border plants in a flower or vegetable garden. Thyme is very durable and makes a great plant to use between your patio stones. You can trample it without hurting the plant. Lavender, oregano,  and sage work well on borders as they are fairly low growing and release a wonderful aroma as you brush past them

Any annual herbs will grow well indoors providing that they are not over watered. Try using a very loose soil, or better yet; a soil less potting mixture. This will cut down on the chances of insect or soil born diseases. Do not over fertilize you indoor herbs. This leads to leggy scrawny plants lower in flavor and remember: you will be eating these plants. Please stay away from herb and pest control methods that may impact on the health of you, your children, or your pets. There are safe organic herbicides and pesticides on the market that may not hurt you but they will kill your goldfish if sprayed into the air of your home so remember that the best tools to treat most problems are your hands.

Pinch you herbs often. You have grown them to be used so do just that. Sage, basil, and mint  flowers  are great in salads and look beautiful. You want to pick most annual herbs before they flower so you can get the most flavor from them. This means that you can give them a haircut quite often. This will spur growth and help them get bushier. Just remember more than a third removal at a time is probably not wise. Most herbs grow best indoors when the temperature is between 18 and 25 degrees Celsius and prefer to be in deep pots about 15 to 30 centimeters deep with good drainage. They don't like wet feet.

Below is a list of 19 of the most garden herbs and suggestions on how to grow them. Any of the annuals can be grown in a window box container either inside or out. Most perennials work better if they are planted outside but they too can be grown in containers.

ANISE. Use licorice-flavored seeds for cookies, candy, meat, soup; leaves for stews, salads, meat.

Description: Annual. Lower leaves oval, serrated edges, small yellowish-white flowers, low-spreading plant 18-24 inches high.

Grow: Best to sow in place, thin to 6-8 inches apart, full sun. Slow growing.

Harvest: Harvest seed about 1 month after flowers bloom.


BASIL, Sweet. Use leaves in tomato dishes, pesto, spaghetti sauce, soups, vegetables, stews.

Description: Annual. Leafy, light green foliage, spikes of tiny flowers 20-24 inches high. Compact bush form to 12 inches high.

Grow: Easy to grow. Sow seeds in place after last frost or start inside and transplant; full sun; space 12 inches apart. Pinch tips to grow bushy.

Harvest: Harvest leaves just before flowering begins; cut plants 4-6 inches above ground.


BORAGE. Use cucumber-flavored leaves in salads, flowers in soups, stews.

Description: Annual. Coarse, rough 4- to 6-inch long, gray green leaves, light blue flowers in clusters, 12-36 inches high.

Grow: Sow seeds in place; difficult to transplant; space 12 inches apart in sun or filtered sun.

Harvest: Harvest young leaves before flowers open.


CARAWAY. Use seeds to flavor breads, cheese, cakes, salads, soups, stews; leaves for salads.

Description: Biennial. Carrot-like leaves, creamy to greenish-white , carrot-like flowers, 8-20 inches high.

Grow: Sow seeds in place, space 8 to 10 inches apart.

Harvest: Harvest leaves when mature; seeds will form second season, harvest a month after flowering.


CHERVIL. Use fresh or dried leaves in salads, soups, fish, poultry, vegetable dishes. Use in sauces: béarnaise, vinaigrette, rémoulade, sauce verte.

Description: Annual. Fern like foliage turns pink in fall, small white flowers in clusters, 18 inches high.

Grow: Sow seeds in place or start indoors in pots, keep soil moist, partial shade, space 6 inches apart. Easy to grow indoors, does not require direct sun.

Harvest: Pick leaves just before flowering. Tender leaves may be dried.


CHIVES. Give an onion/garlic flavor to salads, soups, eggs, sauces, sandwiches. Make chive butter

Description: Perennial. Onion-like leaves, lavender flowers, 10 inches high.

Grow: Grow from seeds or divide the clumps; full sun; space 5 inches apart. Will grow in kitchen window

Harvest: Clip leaves close to ground.


CILANTRO - CORIANDER. Use leaves similar to parsley in fish dishes, soups, curries, Mexican dishes. Use crushed seeds in pastries, sauces, curries, shellfish platters.

Description: Annual. Oval leaves with serrated edges, small pinkish-white flowers in clusters, 12 to 30 inches high. Odor of plant may be offensive to some.

Grow: Easy to grow. Sow seeds in place in early spring; full sun or filtered shade; thin to 6-10 inches apart.

Harvest: Pick leaves when plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. Fresh leaves are called cilantro. Harvest seeds called coriander in midsummer when they begin to turn brown.


DILL. Use slightly bitter seeds in pickles, sauces, meats, salads. Dill weed (the plant's leaves) is used as a bouquet in salads, potatoes, tartar sauce, and butter dishes.

Description: Annual. Tall plant with light green, feather, foliage, flowers in open heads, 24-40 inches tall.

Grow: Sow seeds in place in spring; full sun; well-drained soil; thin to 12 inches.

Harvest: Pick fresh leaves when flowers open; gather seeds when brown.


FENNEL, Sweet or Common. Use licorice-flavored seeds in breads, cheese spreads, vegetable dishes, and potatoes. Drop a few seeds in vinegars.

Description: Perennial. Tall plant to 5 feet. Bright-green hollow stems with feathery leaves and flat cluster of yellow-golden flowers.

Grow: Sow in place; full sun; thin to 12 inches apart; stake when tall.

Harvest: Pick stems just before flowers bloom. Seeds can be dried.


MARJORAM, Sweet.  Sweet-spicy leaves complement flavor of salads, omelets and eggs vinegars, rub on pork, veal; use like oregano.

Description: Small, oval leaves, knot-like clusters of flowers, 12-24 inches high.

Grow: Perennial treated as an annual. Sow seeds in place or start indoors and transplant when danger of frost is past.

Harvest: Harvest young at any time, mature leaves before flowers bloom.


OREGANO. Use dried or fresh leaves in tomato sauces, beans, cheese, soups, roasts, vegetable dishes such as zucchini.

Description: Perennial. Shrub-like plant with dark, oval leaves, pale pink flowers, 24 inches high.

Grow: Start seeds indoors or divide already established plant; full sun; thin to 10 inches apart. Grows well in containers.

Harvest: Gather fresh leaves as needed; leaves can be dried.


PARSLEY. Use as garnish, whole leaves or minced.

Description: Biennial. There are several varieties: curled, plain, Italian. Dark green, curled or plan leaves, 5-6 inches high.

Grow: Biennial. Soak seeds in warm water 24 hours before planting; plant in partial shade; thin to 6-8 inches apart.

Harvest: Pick from first year plants, good-sized, not yellow, leaves when needed. Leaves can be dried.


PEPPERMINT. Leaves in tea, jelly, sauces; sprigs in sauces, summer drinks.

Description: Perennial. Bush-type plant with tiny purple flowers, 18 to 36 inches tall.

Grow: Start from root divisions or cuttings, space 8-10 inches apart; sun or shade. Contain spreading by growing in containers. Renew every 3 to 4 years.

Harvest: Cut springs or leaves frequently.


ROSEMARY. Sprinkle fresh or dried for lamb, pork, veal, sauces, and soups. Use as a rub for veal, lamb, and chicken.

Description: Perennial. Leaves needle like and glossy green, lavender blue flowers, plant in dry, sunny location; pinch often to train to 36 inches tall or lower.

Grow: Propagate from slips or seed.

Harvest: Gather leaves and sprigs as needed.

SAGE. Use fresh or dried leaves for stuffing, rabbit, chicken, roast turkey, baked fish, pork chops and meats, eggs or vegetables. Slightly bitter flavor.

Description: Perennial. Shrub-like plant with gray leaves, purple flowers, 18 inches high or more.

Grow: Start from seeds or stem cuttings or divide established plants; full sun; space 30 inches apart. Slow to begin growing. Renew every 3 to 4 years.

Harvest: Harvest leaves before flowering. Cut back after blooming.


SAVORY, Summer. Use in salads, soups, eggs, dressings, poultry dishes, fish, with vegetables. Goes well with beans

Description: Annual. Small, gray green leaves, with purple and white flower, 18 inches high.

Grow: Sow seeds in place after danger of frost is past; full sun; space 6-8 inches apart. Easy to grow.

Harvest: Gather leaves before flowering.


SPEARMINT. Use as garish on fresh fruits, ices, summer drinks.

Description: Perennial. Reddish stems, crinkled and pointed leaves, lavender flowers in spikes 12-24 inches high.

Grow: Start from root division or cutting; sun or shade; space 8-10 inches apart. Renew every 3 to 4 years.

Harvest: Cut springs or leaves frequently.


TARRAGON, French. Use leaves for fish, shellfish, poultry, veal, meat, eggs, vegetables; salads, sauces and marinades.

Description: Perennial. Dark green leaves, very small, clustered white flower; grows to 24 inches high.

Grow: Start from cuttings, root pieces, or seeds; can take partial shade; space 12 inches apart. Protect in cold-winter regions.

Harvest: Gather leaves before flowering.


THYME. Use leaves in soups, gumbos, chowder, salads, omelets, vegetables, meat; has warm, clove-like flavor.

Description: Perennial. Common thyme has small gray green leaves, purple flowers in spikes, 8-12 inches high. Lemon thyme has golden-green leaves and a yellow scent with pinkish flowers.

Grow: Start from seeds indoors or in place; propagate from cuttings, space 10-12 inches apart; prefers dry soil and full sun. Renew every 3 to 4 years.

Harvest: Clip off tops when plant is flowering.


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