Food gardening has proven to be a useful, and tasty, hobby for many. For some, it is a passion. “You feel a sense of accomplishment taking something from a seed and seeing it grow,” says Greg Goodrow, who works with IFA Country Stores in Utah. “It’s a therapeutic thing. I think that’s why a lot of people garden. They get a feeling of doing something worthwhile.”
For novices, cooks, or those with little space, an herb is just the thing to get your started this spring. Here are some basic herbs that are simple to care for and work well in the kitchen.
Chefs out there will know how frustrating it can be to buy fresh basil, one of the most common fresh herbs in cooking, only to have it spoil before it’s used. This truth makes having a growing basil plant even more attractive than just its great taste and smell. Though basil can still temperamental when you grow it, if handled correctly, it will be a great addition to your garden and kitchen.
“Basil is a fun one to grow,” says Goodrow with a smile.
Basil dies in winter, so you will need to replant it each spring. If you are planning on starting your basil outside rather than in a pot indoors, even a slight frost will kill it, so make sure the days are warm before planting.
Plant it in a place that is well sheltered from the wind and receives a lot of sun. Greg Goodrow advises gardeners to add a rich soil medium to the area, rather than planting in the soils already found in the yard. Basil requires good, healthy ground to flourish.
If you choose basil for your garden, you will soon learn that there is a huge variety. “There are hundreds of kinds of basil,” says Goodrow, “and each type has a different flavor. Some have a hint of licorice. The most common is sweet basil.” He also adds that Thai, sweet dani (or “lemon”), and purple basil to the list.
For harvesting basil, Goodrow suggests you “harvest the leaves before the flowers come. Once the basil begins flowering, the leaves lose their flavor.” Remember to pick leaves from each of your basil plants rather than stripping one plant completely—chances are it will never recover.
Chives grow from bulbs; therefore, unlike basil, they become dormant in the winter and sprout again the next spring. “Chives are easy to grow from seed,” Goodrow says. “They like a rich soil, and you need to keep it fairly moist, especially at first.”
In March or October, pull up your chives, separate them into individual bulbs, then replant them with the tip of the bulb right at the surface.
Once full grown, chives can take care of themselves and no longer need your caretaking. If you cut them back, they’ll just continue to grow up. The cut leaves will grow back quickly, allowing for multiple harvests in a season. Goodrow said that they are also very tolerant of heat and conditions outside.
Dill is a tall, lanky plant that will grow up to 2 or 3 feet. “Dill is easy to grow,” Goodrow says. “It doesn’t have any special needs, but if planting them outside, do it when the soil is warm.” Like basil, give it very good soil. Dill plants can be fussy about being transplanted, so make sure that the first place you plant them is where you want them to stay.
Dill is best used on seafood, in eggs, and for pickling.
Plant parsley a few weeks after the danger of frost has passed and the ground has dried out a bit. Goodrow explains that it will grow in poor soil, so put it in the ground you aren’t reserving for your more picky plants.
There are a lot of varieties of parsley and all are easy to grow. As a perennial (meaning it will last many seasons), parsley will come back bigger each year. When you harvest your parsley, snip off the large outer leaves and allow the inner leaves to continue growing.
“Some people dry parsley in a dehydrator or on low heat in the oven. Usually they mash it up and put it in a container,” Goodrow says. Though not a personal favorite, he explains that parsley is frequently used as a garnish because of its bitter taste.
When Goodrow grew his own thyme, he started the plant inside then took it outside, where it grew to about 6 inches around. “It takes a bit longer to get it to a good size, but it’s very aromatic,” he explained. “It is fairly easy to grow.”
Thyme does best with as little interference as possible. Plant it under full sun and in light and in sandy or loamy soil, and it will grow itself. Too much water will rot the roots. Like basil, thyme should be replanted each year as it dies off in the winter.
Now it’s time to get growing!