“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
Sustainability and frugality aren’t just ideas, or words in our vocabulary, they are a way of life.
For most of us, living it means learning new and reinventing old ways for saving money and resources. One of the best ways to do that, as far as I am concerned, is by producing more and consuming less. Our ability to save truly starts at home…
…and growing your own kitchen herbs is a great way to do just that!
The Cost of Fresh
Earlier today, I went to my neighborhood grocer to see what the going rate was for store-bought, fresh herbs. Here’s what I found:
Almost $2 for a half ounce of herbs!
Oh the needless spending…oh the waste.
The History of Kitchen Herb Gardens
Hundreds of years ago people grew herbs and used them as a source for:
- seasoning foods
- curing illnesses
- preserving meats before modern refrigeration was invented
- dyeing homespun fabrics
However, with the rise of industrial food production, growing herbs in the backyard declined rapidly in the name of convenience and in large part due to the availability of herbs (fresh and dried) in the supermarkets. Now, with a rebirth of the home garden, combined with a realization that homegrown kitchen herbs taste better and are more nutritious, many people are attempting to grow at least a few herbs for fresh use and preserving.
Tips for Growing Your Own
If you’re new to this whole gardening thing and not sure if you can do it, growing herbs is a great place to start. For the most part, they’re easy in a variety of climates, they require very little attention, they don’t really need special soil and average watering will do.
An easy kitchen herb garden doesn’t require a huge amount of outdoor space — a few pots, one or two hanging baskets, a window sill, a small raised bed, or a patio will do just fine. Choose the herbs you use the most and get growing with the help from the following tips:
1. Plant kitchen herbs you commonly use. My favorites — and the ones growing in my backyard now — are parsley, basil, thyme, tarragon, oregano, peppermint, sage, lemon balm, chives, and rosemary.
2. Where should I start…seeds or seedlings? Seeds are definitely the most economic way to go. I purchase mine from Horizon Herbs at Mountain Rose Herbs. They are generally $2-$3 per pack and can produce several vibrant plants. If you’re looking to start a long-term, perennial herbal garden I highly recommend growing from seed. However, the cons to starting herbs from seed is the slow germination rate. It can often take herbs 10-14 days just to start emerging from the ground. As for seedlings, they do cost more up front, but this means your herbs will be ready to harvest sooner. Plants such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano are often easier to grow from good quality seedlings.
3. Plant your herbs close to the kitchen. Or at least as close as possible 🙂 The closer they are to you when you need them, the more likely you are to use them!
4. Grow them indoors. The good news is…you can grow many herbs indoors! The bad news…they may end up less productive than those grown outdoors. Herbs grown indoors require the same conditions as herbs that are grown outdoors — tons of sunshine and well-drained soil. Be sure to water your indoor herbs well, just be careful to allow for moderate drying between waterings. Click here to read more about growing kitchen herbs indoors…
5. Plan on preserving. Most herbs will continue to produce through many cuttings, all season long. Even the smallest of kitchen herb gardens should produce enough during the growing season to preserve for future use. Learning to save seeds from plants, such as basil, is also a great way so save a ton!
6. Plant perennial herbs. If you’re planning your first kitchen herb garden — or thinking about expanding your current one — be sure to include perennial herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme, mint, sage, or chives. If you do this now, you will surely reap the benefits for years to come.
Growing common kitchen herbs will allow you to gain experience working with plants, it will save you bunches of money, and perhaps fuel your desire and boost your confidence for future seasons.
What kitchen herbs are you growing — or planning to grow — this season? Do you have a large herb garden, a few in pots, or a couple indoors? Share your best tips!
Aren’t those herbs at the store just a ridiculous price?! Last year we planted a tiny rosemary, oregano, a near-dead chives from a sale rack, a small sage bush, and a lemon balm. They all took off right away and have come back this year, bigger than I had ever expected. The pathetic little chives came back with more than I think I’ll be able to use, I really need to harvest, dry, and chop some for this fall and winter. This past winter was mild in Ohio so the sage and rosemary have still been great producers even in the cold. The rosemary is so big that I am going to have to prune it to manage the shape. It’s kind of fun to look at the prices at the store and try to imagine what my herb garden is worth at $3/oz!
Also, I’ve been meaning to look this up, my sage is about to flower; is it one that I should clip the buds to keep it producing?
Lisa Lynn says
Just read your question and wanted to let you know that you do not need to clip the flowers off of sage to keep it producing. Just pick the young leaves to use fresh. You can cut and dry any of the leaves that still look green and healthy. Dry and crumble when ready to use. You may want to remove any stems before adding to your recipes.
Clint Baker says
My wife has me grow herbs every year! It taste so much better!
Cutting herbs to use in my meals during the summer, is one of my favorite parts of the garden. I love just pinching some off when I’m outside, and smelling them. There’s nothing better and easier than growing herbs. It brings me a lot of joy.
I have herbs in several places around the yard. The fresh herbs taste wonderful, and as you say, produce far more than I can use. I tie them up in bundles to dry, or dry them in my dehydrator. They make great gifts too! This year I have planted some in my front yard, and encourage the neighbors to come cut some for their use as needed. Those little packets you showed in your post can go for as much as $5 around here!
Deanne C. says
Thanks for the tip on using the dehydrator to dry the herbs, Ingrid! I was just sitting here trying to figure out WHERE on earth I was going to be able to spread out my herbs to dry (my herb “pot” has been so productive that I have an abundance that I did not expect…HAPPILY!!). Now I will use my dehydrator and speed up the process! How long does it usually take you when you use the dehydrator?
That is a lovely photo of sage. It’s so healthy. Did you take that photo? – I planted some basil and I am not exaggerating when I say that I use it everyday. I put it in salads, on spinach pizza, mix it into sauce to go over pasta, and put it in wraps and sandwiches. – I am definitely going to plant more herbs, especially after you wrote about medicinal uses for them. I have also encouraged my mom to grow some. We were joking about becoming medicine women. But the idea is appealing! Thanks for sparking the interest in this new gardening adventure! I can’t explain why, but everything that you write about seems totally doable and therefore, I am always encouraged to try things that you are doing. I’ve been talking about going paperless, but my family is appealed. If you have anything extra to add about that you haven’t already written, I would love to read about it.l
Oops! I meant to write that my family is appalled. LOL!
I have been talking to my husband about starting a small kitchen herb garden on our patio this year, but wasn’t sure where to start. I admit, I’m a little nervous… in the past, my home has been the place where plants come to die, lol.
Thank you for your post today. It has given me the encouragement I needed to try it!
Lisa Lynn says
I grow basil every year. I love the large leaved Italian type, but also enjoy other varieties. I’ve tried lime and lemon basil, Thai basil, purple (love the color) and cinnamon basil and enjoyed all of them.
I also keep a bunch of chives going wherever I live, as well as sage, marjoram and oregano. I have had summer savory reseed itself in my garden…and it is a welcome addition to my fresh tomato and pasta dishes.
I’m planting pineapple sage and mint this year. Mint isn’t very hardy here, so I am hoping to bring it in for the winter.
Kristina (The Greening of Westford) says
I am so envious you all! I have such a black thumb! Any tips for which herbs are the easiest and which ones are perennial? I love rosemary and basil – are these good candidates. I have some chives that my MIL gave me years ago, they always come back and do great even with my lack of gardening skills!
Deanne C. says
Hi Kristina, I’m no gardening expert, that’s for sure…but I give it a go, and many things work, and others don’t. But I don’t give up easily! As for the herbs, I have a few in my raised bed in my backyard (the former owners of this house built 3 of them and I have one in use, planted with strawberries and peppers, parsley & chives. The herbs do fantastic, even though our dirt here is not enriched well, and though I added organic soil last year, I was a “mean” mommy gardener and forgot to do it again this time 🙁 but the chives are plentiful, and the parsley is huge and starting to flower and go to seed which I hope will bring me baby parsley plants next growing season, (the strawberries are also fruiting enough to give me and our backyard squirrel a feast!). Back to my herbs: I started a very large pot for my herbs near my kitchen with full-sun & on my backyard’s auto drip watering (it goes onto all my landscaping here in Arizona) and the herbs are doing fantastically! I planted Basil that started to take off from the moment I planted the seedling (from Home Depot) as a matter of fact, I pinched off a top the other day to use some leaves in a sandwich, and when I went out there three days later, it had already split off into two separate branches with four sets of leaves on each one! I was so surprise how FAST it grew! I also planted Pineapple Sage (which is growing like gangbusters & has beautiful red/orange flowers bursting all over!), Thyme (also doing excellent), Common Sage (doing fantastic), & Marjoram (which is a smaller plant but doing very well!). They are all together in one huge pot (which I was told would be too crowded but I did it anyway because thats the only place I could grow them easily…and they are prolific in the pot with the well-drained soil that was there from some previous lavender flowers that didn’t do so well previously. I added a bit of organic potting soil to top off the dirt before I planted the herbs, and they seem ecstatic to be growing there. I think the key is good sun and consistent (but not too much) water. Now I need to start another pot with Rosemary & Oregano so I have the full-tilt-boogie Herb Garden! Be courageous & Go for it!!! Good Luck! 🙂
Kristina (The Greening of Westford) says
Thank you so much for the inspiration Deanne!
I am planning to start an indoor herb garden in pots. I was inspired this winter when my husband cleaned out an old building for one of his customers in order to take the scraps. I am not sure how many pots there are, but probably close to 100 that she gave us. They are sitting in our garage right now. So I decided to start an herb garden inside to use some of them. I accidentally knocked a stack over so they broke. I think I will do some sort of art project in our sons homeschool, just have not decided what yet. Then over time I am sure we will come up with more uses for these pots. My challenge for the indoor herb garden is that in this rental house there are awnings on the windows so I do not have good light. So I bought a grow light, but now I need to make some sort of way to hold it over the pots of herbs. I figure I will get some scrap lumber or something and then build something with my seven year old and then he can get some Cub Scout credit or something too. My children are still small so I look forward to all the creative things we will come up with together as they grow and we become more and more frugally sustainable.
Sonja @ practical-stewardship.com says
This is my first year being aggressive about growing herbs. We’ve gotten the potted basil at Trader Joe’s before, but I would like to have more than just one or two herbs. Thank you so much for your post and info!!!
The herb packages you showed go for 3.99 each around here (and they’re not even organic!) I just don’t buy them, I use dry herbs instead but sometimes fresh is so much nicer. Last summer I tried growing a pot of basil on my deck. I went out one morning and the plant was covered with beetles and they had eaten away all the leaves. I’m going to try something else this year, and hope the beetles don’t destroy it.
Amy J. says
I grow most of my herbs in pots on my patio and some in my raised beds. My favorites that I use regularly are: basil, thyme (lemon & german), oregano,sage, cilantro, parsely and rosemary. I’ve grown lemon balm in the past but never really used it. I’m also going to add mint this year. The one I find most challenging to grow is cilantro because it bolts so fast.
Right at this moment I’ve got: Rosemary, Peppermint, Lemon Balm (it jumped the pot to a nearby garden plot which worked out since the potted one died mysteriously, with some help I think…), and Parsley (which strangely enough has a stalk of celery that wouldn’t grow last year growing in with it!).
I’ll be adding Chives, Basil (last year’s plant died hard & couldn’t be salvaged), Chamomile, Echinacea, and I’m considering Arnica. I’ve been growing kitchen herbs for several years now & am interested in getting more medicinals going. Anyone have any tips / hints / suggestions?
I’ve been growing herbs for many years but it’s only in the last few that I’ve really worked at finding a big selection of recipes to use them. I have a lot of herbs but last year was the first time I never had to trim them–we used them so much in our food! The flavors are just amazing. We’re very lucky to have lots of room but I like to recommend to people that have space limitations to go ahead and plant them among their flower gardens. They’re very pretty plants when kept trimmed; they’ll have more flavor and be healthier for growing them outside.
Tina M Comroe says
I have a pot garden full of herbs. One has Greek Oregano, and two other types of Oregano all in together. Another has Chives and thyme. Still another has more thyme, rosemary and more oregano. I have one pot set aside with my fingerling potatoes and have sprinkled basil seed along one corner of it. I use the 30 gallon sized pots for plenty of room and put one or more crops in them to save time. When I look at how much herbs and spices are costing I am also tempted to get more large pots and plant a few shrubs such as Bay Laurel, so that when its large enough I can transplant it to a more permanent location. Living in Tacoma, WA has a few disadvantages but the early spring rains are Great!
This doesn’t have to do with herbs per say although I planted from seed quite a few a week ago however only the basil as poked up through the soil in its little tray so far.
I wanted to ask though, what is the trick of growing tomatoes from seeds? I have kept the seeds watered, lightly covered and none of them have sprouted, quite a variety too. Is there something I’m missing?
So far, we have rosemary, chives, sage, oregano, parsley, cilantro, dill, basil, peppermint (chocolate and orange), spearmint, winter savory, thyme, chamomile, catnip, comfrey, wormwood, arnica, calendula, lemon balm, borage, hyssop, mullein, hops and we have a few Calif. bay trees on the property. I will be planting even more herbs this year to dry and store. I’m studying to become a Mater Herbalist and my plan is to stop buying dried herbs and dry my own:)
I just planted 4 herbs on my kitchen window sill! I already have chives and oregano growing really well there so I planted dill, parsley, cilantro and basil. I started them from seed so I am hoping in ten days to have some new little babies!
Growing herbs in your own kitchen says
Yep the store markup on herbs is insane! Plus they don’t taste nearly as good as home grown herbs.
I’ve had an herb garden, in pots on the deck, for years. During the hottest part of the summer, daily watering is required, but it’s surprising how little actual *dirt* you need to grow herbs. I currently have Greek and Italian oregano, winter savory, sage, spearmint, peppermint, French tarragon, lemon balm, chives, garlic chives, rosemary, English thyme, French thyme, lemon thyme, marjoram, a bay leaf bush, parsley – curly and Italian – and just for fragrance, southernwood (relative of wormwood) and scented geraniums. When the weather gets warmer, I’ll add dill, basil and cilantro. It makes a huge difference in the flavour and quality of home-cooked food when fresh herbs are used.