With the rising cost of petroleum, the price of just about everything else has gone up, and that includes all types of food. This is especially true in the case of conventionally produced fruits, vegetables, grains and herbs, though even the cost of organic herbsand other produce has gone up, too. You can make a real difference in your household food bills by growing your own, savings hundreds of dollars per year with just a little effort each week.
Organic herbs are perhaps the easiest of these items to grow yourself. Whether you live on many acres or in a 30th floor penthouse, you can still keep herbs in pots. Whether in the ground or containers, pot herbs for cooking are most often found near the kitchen, making them easy to harvest for whatever dishes you make.
Organic culture is especially important for medicinal herbs. Whether being made into an herbal tea or used in any other type of preparation, the presence of pesticides can defeat the purpose of treating yourself with herbal preparations. Organic herbs, even dried herbs, can be very expensive, so it really is to your advantage to grow them yourself, whether used for a pesto or a poultice.
Many of the most common herbs are perennial crops that come back year after year with very little feeding and maintenance. When planted as seeds or transplanted as nursery plants, perennial herbs are easy to take care of once fully established in the first year or two. More often than not, the most difficult part of keeping such herbs is choosing the best site and preparing it.
Other herbs are annual, requiring replanting every year. Such herbs usually produce copious amounts of seed and are very often the type of open-pollinated plant that reproduces true to type. Many such plants are used as both fresh or dried herbs and seed. Because the chemical toxins bio-accumulate in seeds, it’s especially important to plant and care for organic herbs when using those seeds for cooking or medicine.
Most herb seeds are quite small, so when planting the majority of herbs, it’s very important that you take care to prepare a very fine seedbed in an effort to ensure good contact with the soil. In the case of some annuals, such as the annual heat lovers like basil, it’s often a good idea to start them indoors in a sterile media with some bottom heat a few weeks before the last frost date and transplant when they have at least a few true leaves.
For those growing herbs organically, site selection is very important. A sandy loam soil with at least four hours of full sunlight per day is ideal. In marginal climates, you can create a micro climate boost by planting on the southern side of a house with dark paint.
It is not usually necessary to dig too deeply to accommodate the growing roots – 12-18 inches (30-45cm) is usually enough. However, incorporating a moderate amount of compost in at the planting site is very important. Soils that drain too quickly can be amended with plenty of organic matter over the course of a few years, though additional applications of high nitrogen amendments such as blood or feather meal are a good idea, since too much carbon can actually use the available nitrogen before your plants can.
Once perennial organic herbs are established, a yearly side-dressing is most often all that’s required to keep perennial herbs healthy. Annual herbs and perennial herbs in their first year need plenty of water to become established. Very often, in large plantings, temporary irrigation will be installed and then removed the next year in all but the most arid climates.
Like most edible crops, most herbs require a neutral or slightly acidic pH between 6.5 and 7. This can be accomplished in acidic soils by adding some agricultural lime that also does a good job of providing calcium, an element that is often in short supply.
When harvesting, you can pick leaves any time there are enough. Many herbs, especially annual ones, are kept from flowering too soon and getting leggy by regularly pinching off the growing tips. Herbs harvested for their seeds are best harvested when they dry out on the plant, weather permitting. When harvesting for aromatic herb production, it’s best to cut them back just before flower, when the oils are at their highest levels.
Regardless of what you choose or whether you grow from seed, pick plants up from your local nursery or start your own clones from cuttings, organic herbs for cooking, medicines and herbal teas are surprisingly easy to get going and even easier to keep going. You’ll love how fresh and handy it is to be able to walk out your back door and cut fresh organic herbs whenever you need.