Friday, May 7, 2010

Potted Herbs for the Kitchen

Sarah asked me to write about how I keep herbs growing year-round for use in the kitchen.  Her request kind of surprised me because I don't think I am very good at keeping my herbs alive, but I do always keep trying and experimenting with new ways.  I enjoy growing herbs, every which way I can.  Indoors and out.

We have a limited growing season here, so I try to extend the life of my herbs by growing them in pots and then bringing them indoors.  Pots are portable, so I can take them to the cottage in the summer, too.

Planting the hydroponic herb as an experiment. 
It was a coincidence that her email request came at the exact same time I decided to try planting one of the hydroponic basil plants -- you know, the kind from the produce section that sells for $2.79 and it dries up on you before you can use all of it.  It was going to go to waste anyway, so why not see what happens if I pot it?

New growth on the hydroponic basil a few weeks later
Well, it continues to live!  It's been several weeks now.  I cut it back, then watered it well and put it in a place with strong but not direct light.  Then, gradually started moving it outside to harden it off.   I think it is going take hold. I am getting new growth. 

My favorite herbs to use in the kitchen are basil, cilantro, parsley, thyme, rosemary, mint and sage.
In the garden
So, I plant chives, parsley (both curly and traditional), a variety of thymes, and sage in the ground --- they will grow without any effort by just putting them in a good sunny spot, sheltered in the winter, but with good ventilation in the summer.  I also plant these herbs in pots. On the other hand, I haven't had any success with cilantro, so I skip it. And I have tried growing chervil several times, too. Don't use much dill, so I skip it too.  Ditto for oregano and tarragon.

Love rosemary.   A plant in a pot will last about 3 years, if you think like a rosemary plant, i.e., it's a Mediterranean plant; don't let its roots get soggy, and give it plenty of sun, i.e., on the deck in the summer, and your brightest window in the winter.  
Right now it is leggy from the weak winter light. 
Before/After its Spring haircut
I cut it back, trim off any dead parts, add new soil on top, and put it outside for the summer.  

A rosemary plant I potted to give to Sarah
Now is the time to buy a rosemary plant and put it in a porous (clay, not plastic) pot much bigger than you think.  The soil should be a fresh mix of potting soil and sand or little rocks to keep it porous.   Then, just water it when it gets dry, and keep clipping and using the new growth.
Drying Rosemary Clippings
The clippings can be dried.  I tie them up with a rubber and suspend them from something.  You need good circulation.  Once dry, remove the leaves from the stalks and store in an airtight jar. 
Sage should go in it's own pot, because it like dry conditions, like rosemary, see above.
Chives, Thyme and Parsley
You can put chives, parsley, and thyme together because they are a happy family together.  Keep moist.
I either buy herb plants now while the plants are still in good condition at the nurseries or I wait until they are very cheap---around the 4th of July-- when the nurseries close down .  Although the selection is limited, you can get great deals and there is still a long growing season ahead.

Potted herbs require extra nutrients.  I use fish emulsion in my water as my fertilizer, every few weeks.  And be sure to water them frequently, but don't overwater.  Herbs require lots of sun.  6 hours minimum. 
The new basil plant and the hydroponic transplant
Basil is my project for this year.  I have had little success growing basil in the ground here.  The ground is too cold early on, and then it gets attacked by slugs and other pests.  So, I am going the pot route.  I have purchased a plant, plus I have the hydroponic one to play with.  My neighbor, Jan, at the lake is masterful at growing basil. She puts hers on the dock in full sun and pinches it everyday.  I am going to do that to see if it works.

Mint is my nemesis. It should be easy to grow. I use a lot of mint in cooking, so I try to keep a couple of pots going, but they end up dying on me. I haven't wanted to plant it in the ground because it takes over, like a weed. This year I am going to try putting mint in the pot, in the ground to keep it from spreading.  Maybe that will work.  Haven't decided what kind I want to buy yet---spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, there are so many kinds...

This summer Tom/Dad is going to try growing peppers in pots, now that he is retired and has time to tend them.  We bought two --- hot ones, of course.

So, that's what I do to grow herbs, Sarah.  I know it is much easier to just buy the herbs, but that's not as much fun. My only advice is start small ---add one or two herbs each year to your repertoire. I will give you the rosemary plant when we see you over Memorial Day weekend.  Happy growing!


  1. Thanks, B! Can't wait for my plant! Where do I find fish emulsion for fertilizer? See you in a few weekends.....

  2. Fish emulsion comes in a bottle in the fertilizer section of better gardening centers like the Agway in Ithaca. I used to be able to get it at Lowe's but haven't seen it there recently. It's concentrated. You dilute it in water each time you use it. It is VERY smelly, but organic and works very well.

  3. I'll check our gardening coop today! Great organic choice. Thanks thanks thanks!