Notes by Phil Dudman
If you love to cook, then fresh herbs are an absolute must. You can use them in just about every dish you make. But the great thing is, most herbs are incredibly easy to grow, and they thrive in the ground as well as in pots. Buying them from the supermarket is a waste of money and they never have the same zing as freshly picked herbs. So think about some herbs that you’d like to grow, find a spot to grow them and let’s get cracking!
What’s your flavour?
A good place to start is to choose the herbs that suit the type of cooking you like to do. If you enjoy Italian, then you must grow sage, oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay, flat leaf parsley and basil. If Asian food is your thing, then make sure you put coriander, lemon grass, and Vietnamese mint on your list.
I enjoy cooking a range of styles, so I grow all of these plus dill, fennel, chives, tarragon, chillies and mint. If you’re a herbaholic, then you might like to plant up some of the less common herbs like chervil, cardamon and curry bush as well as lemon verbena, lemon balm and peppermint for herbal teas. This is just the tip of the iceberg folks. There are so many flavoursome herbs to discover.
Choose a location
Most herbs like plenty of sun, but plants like parsley and mint will do well in a little shade. You don’t necessarily need a special spot – stick them anywhere in the garden amongst your other plants – make sure the soil is well drained – or wack a few in a pot on the deck or a windowsill. One thing I recommend is that you plant your herbs as close to the kitchen as possible. That way, it’s never a problem to nip out and grab a bunch of whatever you need while you’re in the throws of creating something magical. I like to grow them along pathways where they release their aromatic scent as you brush by.
Group herbs of similar needs
A good thing to do when you are growing a lot of herbs is to group herbs of similar growing needs. For example, plants like basil, dill, parsley, coriander and chives prefer prime growing conditions, just like vegies do, so it’s worth grouping them together or planting them amongst your vegies, so that you remember to water and fertilise them regularly (see weeks 1 to 3 for tips on fertilising and preparing soil). Then you’ve got the Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano – they will grow in less fertile soils and once established can pretty much fend for themselves with little or no additional water and fertiliser, so it makes sense to keep them together too.
Get your timing right
While many herbs are perennial plants that grow all year round, some herbs, like sweet basil and coriander are annuals, which means they complete their life cycle within a period of 12 months. Like a lot of vegetables, these annual herbs have a preferred growing season and if you plant them at the right time, you’ll enjoy greater success. Basil likes the warmer months and thrives from September to around May. Coriander likes the cooler conditions – April to November is the best time to grow it here in the northern rivers.
Fresh young shoots have the best flavours and are the easiest to work with in the kitchen. Older stems get far too woody so it’s a good idea to trim your herbs regularly so that you stimulate the growth of lots of new shoots. Regular usage guarantees this, but even when you are not using a particular herb, trim the tips off from time to time. It’ll keep your plants looking compact and bushy too.
Growing herbs in pots
Most herbs grow well in pots. Start with a good quality potting mix and make sure you add some kind of fertiliser – slow release types like osmocote and nutricote are the best, because they continue feeding your plants for 3-4 months. It’s good to remember, herbs in pots dry out more quickly than those in the ground so they will need more regular watering. And a little tip – don’t leave pots sitting in saucers full of water – this will rot the roots and eventually kill your favourite herbs. Once your pots have drained, make sure you tip the excess water out of the saucer.
Phil’s Top Tips
1. Choose herbs that suit your style of cooking – start by growing the herbs you know, then add to your collection as you explore new recipes and flavours
2. Group herbs of similar growing needs – some groups of herbs like regular attention while others can cope with neglect. Grouping them this way makes caring for them easier.
3. Harvest regularly – even when you are not using a particular herb, trim it regularly so that it keeps producing lots of tender new shoots ready for cooking.
Herb Growing (pdf 2.2mb)