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By Susan Brown
Brunswick County Extension
These days with the struggling economy, people are looking for ways to save money. One way to cut corners is to grow your own food. It might actually be the first time you could answer questions like where was your food grown, what type of soils and fertilizers were used in its production and were any pesticides or fungicides applied to the plant material?
If you love to cook, especially with fresh herbs, then you might enjoy a culinary herb garden. Nothing beats the flavor of freshly picked herbs in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, pastas, salad and many other dishes. Winter is a great time to plan out next year’s herb garden. Here are some steps to follow to get started in the right direction:
The first and most important step is picking the right location. It should be close to the house so you don’t have to go far to get your herbal ingredients. Six to eight hours of sun a day is ideal for any herb garden. Proper placement is necessary because once harvested, the herbs may look less desirable.
Second, you should always start a garden with great soil. Most culinary herbs need a well-drained, fertile soil to grow their best. Herbs like organically rich soil, so amend your beds with compost before planting, and then mulch with organic material such as shredded bark after planting. The compost provides nutrients for the plant and aids in root production. The mulch will eventually breakdown into organic matter over time.
Consider what kind of look you are leaning toward. Do you want a formal or informal herb garden? Formal gardens, such as knot gardens, are attractively laid out in beds with brick, gravel or paved walkways in between. Boxwoods are used as a border in many of these type gardens. Beds can have themes such as Italian or Asian herbs. Informal herb gardens are a mix of many different types of herbs designed more like a cottage garden with plants spilling onto walkways. These informal designs are less about looks and more about production.
Mix up the types of culinary herbs you’re growing with an eye for design. There are three types of herbs: herbaceous, evergreen and annual. Herbaceous herbs, such as oregano, chives, tarragon and mint, die back each winter but return in the spring. Evergreen herbs, such as rosemary and sage, stay green year-round. They need spring pruning in order to control their shape. Annuals, such as basil, cilantro and dill, will die when we receive our first frost. You will need to replace these each year. Be sure when planning your garden to incorporate all three types of herbs into your design.
Grow herbs you like to use in the kitchen. If you like cooking Italian food, make sure you have plenty of basil, parsley, thyme and rosemary. If you like Asian foods, grow Thai basil, lemongrass and hot peppers. If you like Mexican cuisine, grow cilantro or chili peppers.
Finally, don’t be afraid to add color to your herb garden. Flowers such as pansies, violas, marigolds, geraniums and roses compliment an herb garden well.