Grow your very own herb garden
Flavouring your food with fresh herbs from your kitchen garden can beat using prepackaged dry herbs hands down. Also, there is something very simple, satisfying and organic about snipping off just what you need from your garden instead of having to fork out a few bucks per bunch at the market. Whether you’ve got a roomy garden, a small kitchen balcony or even a tiny window sill, growing your own fresh herbs is extremely easy.
Here’s everything you need to know about growing your very own herb garden!
1. Preparing and potting: Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. Most herbs love the sun, so all you need to get started is a nice, sunny place in your house for them to call home. Growing them at home ensures that they are organic and do not contain all the pesticides and herbicides used in commercially grown herbs. Choose a container that has ample drainage holes and is large enough to accommodate the plants. Make sure to buy a tray to place underneath your pot that will collect and drain off excess water. Next, make your own potting soil by mixing 50% ordinary garden soil with 50% homemade compost- wet waste from your kitchen (like tea leaves, egg shells, vegetable peels, stalks), when composted, makes great mulch for your herbs. Not only do your herbs thrive in this compost, it also gives you the satisfaction of keeping your waste off the roads and putting it to good use. Start potting by filling the container with the compost-soil mix about three quarters of the way up. Moisten the soil lightly with water until moist but not wet. Taking care not to damage the roots, evenly space the herbs in the container and sprinkle enough potting soil to cover to the roots completely. After this, pat the soil down lightly and water the soil. If you are growing mint, plant it in its independent container rather than with other herbs because mint grows like a weed and can easily overtake and crowd out other herbs (same rule applies for a number of other herbs too).
2. Caring: Most herbs grow best in a bright sunlit location, but not in harsh, direct sunlight. So regularly rotate the orientation of your pots with respect to the source of sunlight. If you find your herbs have long stems but few leaves, then they are probably not getting enough light. Water each herb according to its individual needs. Test the soil before you water your herbs to prevent overwatering. To do this, insert one finger up to the knuckle into the soil to test for dryness. Water your herbs depending on how dry the soil is. Also, as soggy soil quickly leads to root rot, don’t let water accumulate at the bottom of the pot. One of the first signs of over watering is leaves turning yellow. Air movement is necessary for herbs, as herbs grown in stuffy conditions often become weak and attract pests. Even young herb plants require frequent clipping to encourage them to branch out and become fuller. So make sure to prune often but don’t cut more than a third off. If your herbs are flowering, they are not being pruned regularly enough. The more you prune, the more they will grow.
3. Harvesting: The best part about using fresh herbs is that a little goes a long way. Depending on how mature your plants were when they were planted, you can usually start harvesting herbs right away. Use sharp clean scissors to snip the fragrant leaves off the plants. Remember to snip the leaves around the base first, so the plant will continue to grow and fill out. Also, some plants such as parsley grow new leaves from the center, which means you will need to remove the old plants entirely.
Easily grown herbs:
1. Coriander /Dhania: All you need is to sow a row of whole coriander seeds from your kitchen in a pot on a sunny window sill in early spring. Don’t over-water the plant at any point. Soon you’ll see little shoots of coriander that can be plucked and used as this everyday herb as a garnish for your food. Refreshing and light, coriander, dhania or cilantro partners brilliantly with all Indian food
2. Spear Mint/Pudina: If you happen to have bought mint stalks with roots, you can just plant them (after using the leaves) in a pot. Very easy to grow, once mint takes root it is quite a prolific herb. It is recommended that you grow it in a pot otherwise this invasive herb can take over your green patch. The flavorful green leaves of mint that will let you make the freshest of chutneys, and brighten up your raita.
3. Holy Basil/Tulsi: A sacred herb that grows in many Indian homes, tulsi requires plenty of sunlight and water. It should be planted right before the monsoon, under intense heat and allowed to grow through the rain and cooler climate. The leaves have warm, spicy flavor. Add a few leaves of tulsi to flavour your tea and to heal throat infections, cold and cough. Also try a crushed leaf of this home grown herb on a stinging insect bite for natural relief.
4. Lemongrass: You can grow lemongrass by rooting a market-bought stalk. First keep it in a jar of water. Change the water every day till the lemongrass grows about 2 inch tall and then transfer it to a sunny pot and keep it hydrated. Most people use lemongrass to infuse flavour into their teas, but it can be also be used to make flavoured pasta sauce, Thai curries and marinades.
5. Curry Leaves/ Kadi Patta: The fragrant curry leaf plant needs abundant sunlight. So keep it under direct sunlight for most part of the year except in hot summers. While seeds work well, stem cuttings (about 3 inch long) are the easiest way to plant it. Leftover curd or buttermilk serve as excellent home produced fertilizers that promote the growth of this plant that is known for its distinct flavour.
6. Carom/ Ajwain: Growing the ajwain plant is easy. It does not require too much sunlight or water. The beautiful ridged leaves of the ajwain plant are edible and an easy home remedy for tummy upsets. Add it to raita, sprinkle on to salads for a fresh taste or chew a few leaves for an instant natural mouth freshener. Interestingly, according to Feng Shui, this plant is also lucky for your house!
7. Parsley: Sow Parsley seeds in mid-spring for a summer harvest of parsley, and mid-summer for a winter harvest. To enhance germination, soak seeds overnight and plant them fairly close together as they thrive on competition. It has a long germination period, around three to four weeks, so be patient. Picking parsley often helps it grow. Parsley is popularly used as garnish in salads, pastas and sauces.
8. Rosemary: Rosemary is usually propagated by cuttings as seeds can be difficult to germinate. Once it has taken root, this perennial, woody shrub will thrive for years. It grows well in well-drained alkaline soil and hot sunny climates. Prune it regularly so that the plant doesn’t get spindly. Rosemary has a strong aroma and flavor and is generally used in Mediterranean cuisine.
9. Indian Sorrel/ Chaangeri: A well documented ayurvedic herb useful in vitamin C deficiency, rheumatoid arthritis, indigestion and diarrhea, Chaangeri or Indian Sorrel has a delicious sweet-sour taste. It grows best in sunlight but doesn’t mind a shady patch under the shrubs. The flowers, fruit and leaves are completely edible and can be blended with coriander, mint and raw mango to make a great green chutney. -TTN