Herb Garden Cautions for New Gardeners [Video]

Sometimes when I write tips and clues, I get advice from more masterful gardeners. This time, though, I’m writing about the indoor herb garden I started myself and my tips and clues come from my own personal experience.

P Allen Smith planting herbs

P Allen Smith does herb planting right in his video about Herbs for Beginners

How Not to Start a Herb Garden

First, I am not going to name brands, especially as the results were probably not the brand’s fault – good or bad. I followed the instructions up until the point I lost the package.

  • Wet the soil,
  • sprinkle with seed,
  • cover with a thin layer of soil,
  • water,
  • grow.

Then, once I found the package a few months later, I noticed that there really weren’t any more instructions to follow – so I don’t go overboard trying to follow what isn’t there.

My first mistake was looking at the pretty pictures. I was enticed into thinking I was actually going to grow lush circles of tasty herbs in a long rectangular’ish oval pot – on my very first try.

My second mistake was believing that it was going to grow everything in the package:

  • Sweet basil,
  • oregano,
  • flat leaf parsley,
  • sage,
  • thyme,
  • cilantro.

It grew basil. LOTS of basil – and one reedy, rangy, thin-leafed gangle of a plant that looked as out of place as a concert violinist at a sumo wrestler convention.

Sprinkle Herb Garden with Seed – NOT

The fact that nothing else grew in my herb garden – no oregano, parsley, sage, cilantro – and MAYBE that rangy stuff is thyme – tells me that broadcasting a handful of seed over a long narrow pot full of dubious soil is not the best way to begin.

It was supposed to sprout better in temperatures over 70F, so I was careful to ensure the herb garden had a nice even temperature, no breezes, good sunlight. Even so, when something did sprout, it was most certainly not the variety I was told to expect. Even now, three months after planting, I have lots of sweet basil and – whatever that is.

Next Time I Plant a “First” Herb Garden

Well, the next time I plant a herb garden, I’m going to follow the advice that I found in this video by P. Allen Smith, and buy individual pots of seedlings, plant them in individual growing pots, and tend them as individual plants with different needs and personalities. I’d like to think I’m done with kits – except they’re so durn fun, and I just know then next time I see one, I’ll have to buy it and try it out – and I’ll be wide-eyed and enthusiastic again like a new gardener should be.

Bottom Line

I am having too much fun to let a little herb garden failure wreck my joy. Any projects that don’t thrill me get taken outside to the evergreen and placed in the Bunny Buffet. I predict that we’ll have many very happy, well-fed neighborhood bunnies for many years to come!

Herb Storage and Preservation 101

herb planter ready to harvest

Ready to harvest

Herb storage methods vary depending on the herb. Although (according to some comedians) “it ain’t rocket surgery,” it does help to have a few guidelines in hand.

Harvesting Herb

When possible, try to harvest before the herb flowers. For many herbs this will be in late summer or when the weather starts to cool down. Harvest after the morning dew has dried, in the middle of the morning but before noon. Avoid rinsing if at all possible. If you must rinse herbs, use cool water only and pat them dry thoroughly to prevent mold and rot.

Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, Low-Moisture Herb

Do not rinse. Wrap stems loosely in a paper towel then wrap loosely in cling wrap so that any moisture can escape. Store in refrigerator (in warmest area). Rinse just before use.

Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, High-Moisture Herb

Trim ends. Do not rinse. Stand stems upright in vase or water glass containing an inch of water. Keep at room temperature. Rinse just before use. This is called bouquet-style herb storage – here’s a very informative article.

Drying Fresh Low-Moisture Herb

Chop the leaves of cilantro, parsley or basil. Keep leaves whole for thyme and rosemary. Place leaves or chop on a plate and tuck it away in a cool, dry spot for about a week. Once dried, store in sealable bags or bottles and refrigerate. This technique works best for bay, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, summer savory and thyme.

To dry herb stems, select a half dozen evenly sized branches, strip the bottom inch of the branch and tie together at the very bottom. Place each bundle in a paper bag, tied end up top, and tie the bag closed loosely. Hang the bag upside down in a warm room, checking every week until herbs are dry and ready for storage.

Drying Fresh High-Moisture Herb

Preserve high moisture herb by placing in a dehydrator or by freezing. This technique works best for basil, chives, mint and tarragon. No dehydrator? Try stretching a layer of cheesecloth over a sweater rack and spreading your herbs out on top.

Bottom Line

It’s so simple to have a batch of fresh herbs on hand in your kitchen – not a lot of work and plenty of culinary reward!