Thursday, August 23, 2012

Make the Most of Your Fresh Herbs

I love the smell and taste of fresh herbs - the dried ones just don't have nearly the same flavor or aroma.  They can be pretty expensive in the stores.  The nice part is that fresh herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow.  They are low maintenance - they don't usually require great soil or a ton of watering.  The one thing they do require to reach their maximum potential production is frequent harvesting.  Great news right?

I have only one plant each of basil, sage, cilantro, chives (well its a clump but started from just one small division), and lemon thyme (again a clump started from just a small starter pot) and this produces a large amount of fresh herbs for me from about March through November.  This year we also planted some nasturtium from seed but they didn't do very well with the heat.  
*Fertilizing tip: Because these herbs stay planted long-term and I don't want or really need to disturb them by totally replacing the potting soil, I try to give them a little help that probably isn't necessary but does seem to boost production a bit and keep them more resistant to disease like mold.  Occasionally, I will give it a "feeding" when I have a cup of tea or black coffee or a little left in the coffee pot that has gone cold.  I also will sprinkle my wet coffee grounds around the base of the plants once or twice during the growing season.  Coffee and tea has great nutrients the plants love as long as it doesn't have any cream or sugar in it that will make your soil moldy.  You can use this trick with house/office plants, and vegetable plants too.
*Winter/spring care:  I have most of them in one of those giant foam pots that looks like terra cotta and they winter over just fine.  I do have them planted a bit below the edge of the pot so that the base of the plant is somewhat protected by the edges of the pot.  I usually don't trim them once the frost starts to kill them back and then I cover them with a thick layer of leaves for the winter.  When it starts to warm in the spring and I see the chives start to green up, I trim them all back.  The chives get trimmed down to about 2 inches and the rest get trimmed down to just above wherever green buds are starting to form.  The only thing I do have to buy a new small pot of each year is the basil.
*Potting tip: Those huge pots are very heavy once they are filled, even the foam ones, and it takes a ton of dirt to fill them.  When you buy an appliance or something else that comes packed with those large formed foam protectors, save a few and break them into large chunks to use in the bottom of really big pots like this.  Fill the bottom 1/2 to 2/3 of the pot with the foam and then add your dirt.  Make sure your pot has holes in the bottom or drill holes near the bottom for allow for drainage.  The foam will still leave pockets for roots to grow down if they should go past the dirt but you will actually be able to move your pot around fairly easily this way and you will need far less potting soil.  Your dirt will continue to settle over time so it will sink but after the initial planting I just add a topping of fresh dirt every spring when I cut the plants back.  This will add fresh nutrients for your plants as well.

The kids are huge fans of this herb pot - they love to rub the leaves and smell them, and help themselves to a little taste.  I have made sure that they know this is the only plants they are allowed to eat without checking with me first.  We have it on the deck so its easy access for cooking so its easy access for them too.  My daughter snack on the fresh herbs and chew them like gum when she's out playing.  And its good for the herbs too because the more they get picked, the more they produce.  

When the plants get really full or start getting leggy, I cut them back to about 1/3.  I wash them and then let them air dry for a couple hours.  Then I remove any dead or mushy parts and pick just the leaves off the basil, parsley, and sage.  The woody parts are discarded.  Thyme is left as sprigs.  Then I store them in bundles in snack-size Ziploc bags and freeze them.  To use, I will just remove a few pieces at a time or defrost a full baggie.  In this one harvest I had 2 bags of sage, 1 bag of basil, 4 bags of chives, 4 bags of lemon thyme and 3 bags of parsley that will go into lovely soups and other meals all winter.


Shawn said...

I have begun to try fresh herbs a bit more and I'm so happy with the results! Right now I only have rosemary, but I'm definitely planning to plant several more in the coming weeks. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend.

Lori said...

now i feel inspired to grow some herbs! what a great idea :)

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Lisa Sall - Sall's Country Life said...

some really good tips here! I wish I had more garden vegetables take every spare minute I have right now! Fresh herbs in the freezer would be great to have this winter! Thanks for sharing at Farm Fresh Friday!!