What do onions, garlic and pepper have – in a home herb garden – in common?
They are all herbs used to add flavors to our favorite foods and dishes. Herbs are a good-tasting and attractive-looking part of our daily meals. These plants are easy to grow even with our own efforts. We don’t have to buy anything that we have to add to our foods. Why not starting your own, simple home herb garden? Or, for that matter, even a tiny window-box garden in the city? You do not need a great deal of space to raise herbs. More and more people, wanting to be more nearly self-sufficient, and concerned about rising prices and the use of chemical pesticides in commercial herb growing, have begun to realize that their small backyards can be used for herb growing.
A good first step is to consult your state department of agriculture to learn what herbs grow best in your area, and what the usual planting and harvesting dates are. Now carefully plan your garden. Choose a sunny place, marking off an area at least 3 by 3.5 meters. Test the soil and see that it has a moist, crumbly consistency. Then it is time to go to work.
First turn over the soil with a shovel or a garden fork. This is the equivalent of plowing on a commercial farm. If you find any roots or stones, dig them out. If the turning of the soil has left big chunks of soil, break them up with the garden fork or the back of a rake. At this point spread some of the well-decayed compost, or some commercial fertilizer, over the garden. Mix it in well with the soil, raking back and forth until the soil is smooth.
Now you are ready to plant – seeds, following the instructions on the seed packets, or any small, immature herbs you may have bought or raised indoors from seed. In a few weeks, given proper weather conditions, most herbs will start to sprout.
As growing progresses, the new herbs require much care. They must be thinned out, as directed on the seed packets. If no rain falls for a while, the garden should be watered thoroughly every evening, or more often, depending on weather and soil conditions.
The garden should also be kept free of weeds. Weeding by hand, using a simple hoe to get at underground stems and roots, is sufficient. Weeds can be kept down and moisture held in the soil by covering the earth between the herbs with a thick layer of straw, old hay, or sawdust. This covering, called mulch, also keeps the soil temperature steady.
Insects frequently pose a problem. A herb gardener will want to remove many of them and their larva by hand. A dusting of ashes and ground limestone can be used to deter many kinds of beetles. But some gardeners don’t do something because the herbs have their own skill of driving insects away.
You will be able to harvest and eat your herbs all summer long, but by fall only a few herbs will still be growing. After you pick the last of these, don’t simply forget your garden patch. Bed it down for the winter.
First pull up all remaining stalks and add them to the compost heap. The turn the soil over lightly and cover the whole garden with a thick layer of compost, hay, or leaves. Last, lay a few evergreen branches over the garden to keep the topping from blowing away. In that way you will have a head start in next year’s home herb garden project.
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