you an organic gardener thinking about growing your own herbs?
Have you been dreaming about the wonderful aroma of sweet basil;
or perhaps the taste of savory and chemical free oregano in your
pasta sauce? Even if you're a novice gardener concerned about the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, you'll be glad to know that organic herbs are as easy to grow as they are pleasing to your senses. They are so pleasing that they are even used in professional arrangements and gardens.
information in this site will help you on your way to enjoying
organic herbs in your home and garden. If you are looking for
a good source of organic
pest control products, and top
notch gardening tools, we recommend Clean Air Gardening.
ALLURE OF HERBS
things come to mind when we think of growing and using herbs.
For example, the spicy and piney scent of rosemary growing in
the garden, a steaming hot cup of mint tea, an aromatic bath with
lavender, or a delicious Italian meal with lots of oregano and
you’ve ever come down with a cold and wanted to naturally
boost your immune system, you’ve probably relied on herbs
such as Echinacea or Goldenseal. Additionally, many herbs can
be used as coloring agents, cosmetics, and natural room deodorizers.
Not to mention that the simple act of growing herbs in your home
or garden is a relaxing and rewarding experience.
IS AN HERB?
have so many uses and play such a vital role in our lives, but
how exactly do we define what an herb is? According to one dictionary,
an herb can be defined as "a seed-producing annual, biennial,
or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but
dies down at the end of a growing season." Furthermore, we
can define an herb as "a plant or plant part valued for its
medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities."
aromatic, and medicinal, these are the basic properties we speak
of when we talk about herbs. We can also think of the joy of using
herbs as ornamentals. So let’s move on and begin exploring
this wonderful, healthy, and exotic world of organic herbal gardening!
can look to practically every culture around the world to learn
something about the history of herbs. The Chinese have a long
history of using herbs for medicinal purposes. Some Chinese herb
books date from about 2700 B.C. and have extensive lists of medicinal
plants. India is the home of Ayurvedic herbal medicine which is
based on long-established Hindu traditions and is still practiced
today. Indigenous cultures throughout the world have used herbs
for centuries for anything from tanning leather to curing hair
loss. When we think of aroma, Italy, India and Thailand may come
to mind for a proud history of using herbs in the kitchen.
Greeks and Romans had the unusual practice of crowning their heroes
with dill and laurel. The Greeks also used mint leaves as a soothing
bath lotion for their athletes. Greek physician Hippocrates (460
- 377 B.C.) used herbs extensively in his medical practice.
don’t have to look far from home to learn something about
the history of herbs. You can think about your favorite recipes
and their origins and maybe even ask a parent or grandparent the
story behind their culinary secrets regarding herbs.
Secret to Organic Herb Gardening
have been growing herbs organically for centuries. It is only
recently with the advent of chemical pesticides and herbicides
that we’ve lost this knowledge and have chosen the convenience
of chemicals. Traditionally, herbs were harvested in the wild
from their native habitats and then later they were domesticated
to be grown in gardens.
really , the secret to successful organic herb gardening, or organic
gardening of any kind, is to understand how nature works and how
these plants grow in their natural setting. If we try to approximate
the environment in which plants grow in the wild, we tend will
have a healthier and more natural garden.
The secret to successful gardening is rich, fertile soil. If you
aren't already composting, start now! Use a compost
bin to turn your yard waste and kitchen scraps into compost,
the "black gold" of gardening.
Nature of Plants and Herbs
you look at your garden, consider that your herbs, trees, flowers
and other plants all share common properties. They always try
to maintain equilibrium—the point of perfect balance. Water
and nutrients are absorbed into the root system and pulled up
through the stems into the leaves. The plants then use Photosynthesis
with the raw ingredients of water and energy from the sun to convert
carbon dioxide into carbohydrates that plants use for growth and
other plant functions.
Carbohydrates are stored in the branches
and stems of herbs and other plants. These stored carbohydrates
are used as reserve energy for the plant. When a crisis occurs,
such as a broken stem or pathogenic attack, a plant can use these
stored carbohydrates. Stored carbohydrates are also used in the
spring to create new stems and foliage.
Soil organisms, from earthworms to
fungi, provide needed nutrients to plant roots. A healthy root
system allows herbs and other plants to create chemicals that
repel pathogens and chemicals that attract beneficial bacteria
and other soil organisms. Yes, your herbs do have an immune system.
A pathogenic attack, whether it is
white flies or a fungal infection, is always caused by the same
problem—an imbalance in the plant. When herbs or other plants
are near the point of perfect equilibrium, pathogens are less
likely to attack them. When your plants are sick, they are out
of balance. If you find out the cause of the imbalance and fix
it, the disease will generally go away.
The most frequent problem we see
with herbs and other garden plants is with the soil. The fix-all
for most soil problems is to add organic material to the soil.
Composting and mulching is a great way to recycle organic waste
material from you home and use it as hummus in your garden.
Other common problems that affect
plant health are root damage, a build-up of chemical fertilizers
or pesticides, over-pruning, and too much or too little water.
A good way to prevent over or under watering is with a Soil
Moisture Tester. Giving your plant too much or too little
light can also affect their health.
more important thing to look at is what other plants can be found
in your garden and their compatibility with the herbs you wish
to grow. Plants in the wild often grow close together because
they share a mutually beneficial relationship. You can duplicate
these relationships at home. Many herbs will actually benefit
the health of your garden, attracting beneficial insects of repelling
pests with their strong scent. However, some plants won’t
get along together in your garden and are not recommended to plant
together. This concept is known as companion planting.
put, some plants grow well together and some don’t. If you
start to grow certain herbs in your flower or vegetable garden,
the resulting combination of plants may help all the plants to
be healthier. If you have a garden of strictly herbs, the addition
of flowers or vegetables can also be beneficial for overall garden
classic example of companion planting long known to Native Americans
is the “Three Sisters” combination of corns, beans,
and squash. The beans serve as nitrogen-fixers for the other plants,
the beans climb the stalks of corn, and the squash shades the
ground to hold in moisture. Check out this great
website on the "Three Sisters."
example of companion planting is roses and garlic. The scent of
garlic will repel some of the rose’s worst enemies such
as aphids. Roses
Love Garlic, a book by Louise Riotte, is a classic gardening book
that explains many beneficial plant relationships. She is also
the author of Carrots Love Tomatoes, which expands on this theme.
This web site is an excellent resource for free Tomato
aware that some plants are not good companions at all. For example,
Irish Potatoes don’t go well with turnips or pumpkins. Plants
may not get along in the garden for various reasons. For instance,
tall plants might block out the light for low-lying sun-loving
plants. Other plants may create negative biochemical reactions
with those around them. Vining plants love trellises
and garden arbors.
these few examples, you can see how companion planting can add
a powerful tool to your organic gardening toolbox.
you can find a complete
list of companion plants.
here is another interesting link
on companion planting.
your Herb Garden -- Where to Begin?
herb garden can take many forms—from a couple of potted
herbs in your kitchen, to a large and diverse plot in your yard.
The most challenging part of growing herbs can actually be deciding
which to plant! You can check out our list of Popular
Garden Herbs to help you generate ideas. Answering the following
questions may also be helpful:
Do you want herbs mostly for culinary, ornamental
or medicinal purposes?
much room do you have to plant your herbs?
you plant them with vegetables or flowers? If so, you may want
to consider texture, height, color, fragrance, and any other
factors that affect the appearance and attractiveness of your
do you plan or planting your herbs? Is it a sunny or shady place?
Note that most herbs need at least six hours of light, and others
you plan on growing herbs in containers or in the ground?
these questions may generate others that will help you plan out
your garden. Writing out your ideas and making sketches is a great
way to start visualizing your garden.
You can begin creating your herb, herb/vegetable, or herb/flower
garden now that you know the basics.
can use containers
or planters for gardening if your space is limited, or if
you want to add character to your yard.
a few herbs to your vegetable or flower garden is easy. Just pick
some herbs out at the nursery and consider the issues of companion
planting previously mentioned. Experiment with the herbs to see
what looks good with your existing plants and continue trying
you want to create a new plot, you will need to do a little more
planning. A good sized kitchen garden will take up around 90 square
feet. When you begin planning, take a look at your house and its
colors and shapes, as well as existing lawns, driveways, walkways,
etc. The computer program Garden
Composer might be helpful if you have a large space to plan.
colors and heights of the other plants in yard in mind as you
plan. Also think about the possibility of adding raised beds,
borders, walkways, benches, trellises, and other peripherals to
the space you have to work with. You can always use containers
or planters for gardening if your space is limited or if you
want to add character to your yard. Keep track of your ideas on
draft paper, making sketches with colored pencils.
you have finished making your design, map it out in your yard.
Place pegs, rocks, or other markers to outline the shape of the
garden plot. Also outline the shapes of the various plant concentrations.
You might even want to lay out colored paper or something similar
to represent the herbs and other plants. Mapping your garden accurately
will give you a good idea of how it will look when it is done,
and what effect it will have on the appearance of your house and
the rest of the yard.
can consider purchasing several samples of each of the herbs and
other plants you are thinking of using and placing them in the
appropriate locations in your mapped-out garden. You can take
back the ones that aren’t quite right and purchase others.
designing your plot, the next step is to start preparing your
soil so that it’s ready to receive your plants. As mentioned
above, one of the best things you can do to insure a healthy garden
is to have healthy soil.
Basics for Herb Gardening
is often divided into various categories, such as clay, sand,
silt, loam, and peat, although there are actually an infinite
number of soil varieties. Soil compositions vary in organic matter,
large and small rocks, minerals, pH, and other factors.
gardeners consider soil that has a combination of sand, silt,
clay, and organic matter to be good soil. Measuring the pH of
your soil is also a good indicator of how your herbs will perform
and will help you determine if you need to make changes to the
soil composition. Here is a terrific little electronic
soil testing tool that can tell you how your soil is doing
quickly and easily.
pH and Herb Gardening
is a scale used to measure the concentration of hydrogen ions
in a solution. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. Acidic substances
have smaller pH numbers and more hydrogen ions. Alkaline substances
have larger pH numbers and fewer hydrogen ions. 0 is extremely
acid; 7 is neutral; and 14 is extremely alkaline. Limestone is
an example of a very alkaline mineral. Sulfur is an example of
a very acidic mineral. Note that arid regions tend to have alkaline
soils and regions with heavy rainfall tend to have acidic soils.
the pH scale only has a 0 to 14 range, it is a logarithmic scale
that is designed to measure vast differences. Think of the Ritcher
Scale of earthquake magnitude as another example of a logarithmic
scale. For example, a pH of 7 is neutral, but a pH of 6 is ten
times more acid than a neutral 7. A pH of 5 is a hundred times
more acid than a neutral 7, and a pH of 4 is a thousand times
more acid than a neutral 7.
a pH of 8 is ten times more alkaline than a neutral 7. A pH of
9 is a hundred times more alkaline than a neutral 7, and a pH
of 10 is a thousand times more alkaline than a neutral 7. A pH
of 6.5 is considered the point where nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium
and the trace minerals that plants need to grow are most easily
available to your herbs.
test your soil, it is a good idea to dig out samples from several
places to see what the soil is like. Soil that hasn’t been
worked is seldom ready for new plantings. It may have too much
clay, too much sand, tons of rocks, very little organic material,
a high or low pH, or other issues that you’ll need to deal
with before you plant.
good way to test the texture of your soil is with the “Ribbon
Test.” After you take a soil sample, roll it back and forth
in your hand. If it sticks together easily, it is high in clay,
if it simply falls apart, it is probably has a lot of sand. Clay
soils don’t drain well and are difficult for the roots to
penetrate. Sandy soils drain well but don’t retain nutrients.
Adding organic material will help both sandy and clay soils
can test the pH of your soil with a simple
pH testing kit. A good quality pH test kit is worth the extra
expense because inexpensive ones are often inaccurate. Remember
that most herbs grow well with a soil pH between 6 and 7, although
a pH of 6.5 is ideal for most herbs.
most accurate way to test the overall health of your soil is with
Soil Testing Kit. These kits are relatively inexpensive and
come in various styles. You can even buy an electronic
soil tester that will also test the pH, as well as fertility,
how much light you are getting, and other aspects of herb gardening.
Magic of Humus
your soil is extremely acid, which can happen in an area with
heavy rainfall, or with soil that has had overdoses of chemical
N-P-K fertilizer, you may need to add limestone to ‘sweeten’
compost can also work wonders if your soil is out of the ideal
pH range. This technique will also improve soil that is too sandy,
has too much clay, or is low in the organic material that plants
need to thrive. If you don’t know much about composting,
don’t worry. You can find more information on composting
at the Compost Guide.
drainage is also critical to herb gardening. Mixing in compost
is the best way to improve drainage. You can also try digging
out a good quantity of the soil, around 16 inches deep, and placing
a layer of fine gravel at the bottom.
you don’t have humus available from well composted material,
you can help your garden through mulching. Mulching is nature’s
way of composting. Forests provide a good example of nature’s
mulching and composting system.
are a complete growing community. Everything in a forest is related
and works together. Leaves and dead branches fall from trees and
other forest plants. Bacteria, fungi, nematodes, earthworms, and
other habitants of the soil help break down the leaves and other
debris into humus. Humus is a natural living environment that
benefits tree and plant roots.
reproduce the mulch that forests naturally create, you can use
garden waste from your home, such as shredded leaves, hay, shredded
bark, or other similar substance. By spreading the material over
the top of your garden dirt, you are mimicking the decomposing
leaves and branches that make up a forest floor.
helps to keep weeds from growing and facilitates moisture retention
in the soil. Mulching also begins the process of natural composting.
Between treatments, soil organisms help to decompose the mulch
that is closest to the ground. Earthworms and other critters that
live in the soil pull composted material into the ground and naturally
feed your plant’s roots.
should add a little more mulch each year to your garden to keep
the process going. You can use mulch even when your soil is in
excellent shape. The mulch will keep the soil healthy and productive.
You can further support your soil by adding a dose of organic
fertilizer. Your mulch will work best when you add this natural
fertilizer over the entire herb/flower/vegetable bed so that the
whole area will gradually become healthier.
YOUR HERB GARDEN
Tips for an outdoor
An easy way to get started with your garden is to purchase starter
plants from your local nursery and plant them in your garden in
the spring. It can however be difficult to find a nursery that
hasn’t already treated their starter plants with chemicals.
Ask around to find a nursery dedicated to organic gardening. There
are more and more popping up every day.
best way to ensure that your garden starts out chemical free is
to grow your own starter plants. Most herbs are easily grown from
seed. Plant your seeds indoors in shallow containers a month or
so before the start of spring. Use a well-drained soil specifically
designed for seedlings and make sure not to plant the seeds too
a general rule, the bigger the seed, the deeper you should sow
them. Some herbs such as coriander and fennel don’t transplant
well so it’s best to sow them directly in your garden.
light, well-drained soil is good for starting the seedlings indoors.
Water with a fine mist sprayer to avoid uncovered the seeds with
the force of the water. When your herbs have good growth and appear
firmly rooted in the soil, transplant them to your garden and
give them a good drink right after transplanting.
can also grow some herbs through cuttings or divisions taken from
other organically grown plants. Lavender is a good plant to grow
through cuttings. You can divide and replant some herbs that tend
to spread out, like mint. This is also a good way to keep mints,
which spread easily, from taking over your garden.
far as pests are concerned, there are only a few you need to worry
about with most herbs. Be on the lookout for red spider mites
and aphids particularly. If you plant mints, check periodically
for rust. You can mix a little castile soap with water and use
a fine sprayer to wash off your herbs periodically to prevent
these common pests.
for an indoor herb garden
Again, soil is the key for growing herbs indoors. You can cut
a standard potting soil with a little sand or gravel to ensure
proper drainage. You can quickly kill potted herbs by leaving
their feet wet. A good way to avoid this problem is to use a mist
sprayer to give your herbs just a taste of water every now and
then without drowning them. This will allow you to give them a
deep watering less frequently.
your herbs by a south-facing window will insure that they get
enough light. If you don’t have much light in your home
or apartment, you may want to invest in a growing lamp, especially
if you’re interested in growing a large number of herbs
can place potted perennial herbs outdoors during the summer to
give them a little extra light and fresh air, but annuals will
do fine if they stay indoors. As your perennial herbs grow, keep
an eye on the roots to make sure they don’t get root-bound.
This problem is easy to solve by repotting your plants in a larger
container as they start to get bigger. It’s also a good
idea to change out the soil from time to time even if your plants
for using your herbs
Herbs can be used fresh or dried. Air and oven drying are two
simple methods described below to prepare your herbs for future
use. You can also extract the essential oils of herbs by soaking
the leaves, stems, roots, flowers, etc. in a bottle full of oil,
such as olive oil. See below for details. Other methods of preparing
your herbs include with salt or silica gel, but we recommend the
above mentioned methods which are simple and effective.
best to use your herbs before they flower for maximum potency.
If you’re harvesting an annual, you can choose to use the
entire plant, but if you’re using a perennial, prune off
less than half of the plant to ensure that it will regrow. After
collecting the part you’re going to use, wash off any soil,
and pat the herbs dry with a paper towel. Let the herbs air dry
until the remaining moisture is gone.
clusters of herbs together and hang them upside down in a dry,
dark place that maintains a warm temperature. Check that the herbs
are ready to use by testing to see if the leaves crumble, around
two weeks of drying. If you decide to dry your herbs in the oven,
use a low heat for a prolonged period of time. Try around 150
degrees Fahrenheit for three hours.
the case that you’re harvesting seeds, place the seeds on
a sheet of paper and let them dry out for a few days. Then, rub
the seeds vigorously between your hands to remove the shells.
Dispose of the debris and continue to dry the seeds for a few
more days before using.
described above, you can extract the essential oils of herbs by
soaking the fresh or dried herbs in a caped bottle of oil. A sterilized
glass bottle that has been boiled in water for 10 minutes is recommended.
Olive oil works great as a base. Place the bottle in the sun for
several days, and then strain the oil through cheesecloth, disposing
of the used plant in your compost bin. The oil can be used for
cooking, or in the case of medicinal plants, to make massage oils
addition to using fresh herbs, drying them or extracting the essential
oils, you can make an herbal tincture with medicinal herbs using
alcohol and store it for up to two years. The following site will
give you the guidelines for making
and using your own tinctures.
l types of herbs l herb
gardening products l resources
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