Micro-gardening with herbs for your kitchen

In Lifestyle on March 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm


You can grow numerous herbs together if you are inventive.



Okay, so you do not have a farm, acreage, a big yard, or even a patio or deck.  You can still grow something fresh and enjoy it in your own, wonderful kitchen creations.


You can grow herbs!


Herbs are the quintessential “everyman’s garden crop”.  You can start your sprouts in an egg crate and transplant the seedlings to small pots, window boxes, or those “hen and chicks” strawberry pots.   With a grow light, you can have fresh herbs all year round.


And, if you really want to get into herbing, you can make quite a production of it with a few pots, washing and drying equipment, jars, and a coffee grinder.  The cost of a few one-ounce store bought herbs will pay for most of the startup expenses.


I am not going to go into great detail on growing herbs.  There is a plethora of herb-growing information online and (I love this) many herbs are practically weeds and seem to grow with a minimum of care.  The REALLY neat thing about herbs; they are almost never bothered by garden pests.


What to grow?


One plant, each, of basil, oregano, thyme, mint, rosemary, chives, sage, and cilantro is a great place to start.  Most herbs do better if they are periodically pruned, so do not be afraid to use some before you start putting them into storage. Remember too, drying concentrates the oils.  So, you will use 1/3 to ½ as much dry herb as you will fresh herb in a recipe.


Put those herbs to immediate use.


There is nothing like a Greek salad with the greens, red onion, peppers, feta, tomatoes, and fresh oregano, mint, and olive oil dressing.  A baked potato always tastes better with a tablespoon of chives and a roast perks up when you toss in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary.


Cilantro gets a lot of use in my kitchen, so I grow at least two twenty-four inch (shallow) pots of it.  Just sew the seeds on top of the scratched up soil, sprinkle a quarter-inch of soil on top, and “water” using a spray bottle so you do not wash the thin layer of soil off of the seeds.  In the right weather, you can harvest a crop every 21-40 days.  Just cut down one crop, rake up the soil, and plant more.  Cilantro sells for around two dollars a bunch.  So a few pots are a great investment if you like Mexican, Spanish, or Middle Eastern food.


Basil is a big producer too.  One twelve-inch pot will keep you supplied all summer.  A window box of it will give you enough to dry and give away (or trade) with friends or family.


Preparing your crop for storage is a snap.



Putting herbs in storage is as easy as snipping the stems and tying them together.  If you have REGULAR daytime temperatures of 90-95 in late summer, you can just hang bunches in the warmest, yet shady, part of your patio.  If the temperature is much hotter, the volatile oils that give herbs their flavors will evaporate and you will lose potency.  Much cooler, your herbs may mold or just turn icky black and unappealing.


I really get into herb production, so I put some of my other kitchen gear to use during the herb harvest.


After snipping the stems I place the cuttings in a cold-water bath so I can look for insects and other dirt.  Then I put them into a salad spinner and give them about a minute of fast twirling to remove the excess water or other debris.  If the stems are large, like basil, I cut the leaves from the stem before drying and if the leaves are big, like basil or sage, I cut the leaves in half.  This will aid drying.


I dry my herbs in a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator.  This is an inexpensive dehydrator (about $50-60) but it works well.  I checked the heat settings on mine with a laboratory thermometer and found the actual temperature to be within one or two degrees of the indicated setting!  Not bad.


It takes anywhere from 6-36 hours to dry herbs in a dehydrator, longer if your relative humidity is above 80%.  Our summers are quite humid, so I have had to leave mine in my dehydrator for up to three days.


If the leaves snap easily, the herbs are dry.  Remember, the size of the leaf and the location in the dehydrator will also determine how rapidly they dry.


I package my bulk herbs in double-seal “zip” plastic bags and store them in an old file cabinet in the basement.  Again, keep them cool and the remaining volatile oils will not evaporate and your herbs will stay flavorful.


You can either use your dry herbs in leaf form or you can grind them to whatever consistency you like by using an inexpensive coffee grinder.  I find grinding herbs, especially rosemary, makes them more palatable for children.  For some reason, a visible herb in a food really bothers a lot of kids…even the ones who eat sand from the sandbox.


Growing herbs can be a year-round hobby too.


I move my hen and chicks pot, with its oregano, mint, and chives indoors under a grow lamp.  You have to cut your watering by about half to two-thirds or you can kill the herbs with too much water.  Rosemary is particularly sensitive to over-watering and you will not know you accidentally killed a rosemary plant for several weeks when it turns brown.


The above is not the end-all of herbal cultivation.  I hope the basic information I provided will inspire you to take up herbing.  In a few years you may find yourself experimenting with larger herb gardens and looking into growing medicinal herbs.  However, medicinal herb growing and use is not a venture for novices.


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