There is nothing greener (both literally and figuratively) than eating locally-grown food. And you can't get more local than your own garden, window box, or backyard.
This week, I want to give you that little push you need to start your own kitchen garden. It can be as modest or as ambitious as you like - from a set of three flowerpots on your windowsill to one of those delightful raised bed numbers.
Step 1: Choose Your Seeds
I suggest that you figure out which herbs you use most often, and go with some or all of them.
I planted lots of basil because I love to make pesto, cilantro because I use it in a lot of my cooking, dill because I love it on potatoes and in egg dishes and I never use up enough to justify buying a whole bunch at a time, and mint because it's so nice in summer dishes and middle eastern food. Other herbs to consider include chives, parsley, sage, thyme (there are many varieties), marjoram, savory, and oregano. You can either go to a garden store/plant nursery and pick up your seeds there or you can order them online if you are not in a huge rush. Either way, I recommend choosing a seed company that is certified organic. There are also lots of fun heirloom varieties available nowadays and they may offer better flavor than the more conventional varieties.
Step 2. Get Prepared
While you're at the garden center, you may need to pick up some organic potting soil and a few other things like a seedling tray to plant the seeds in (though you can also use a paper egg carton), terra cotta pots for the mature plants, a trowel, and a watering can.
You'll also need to stake out your planting spot -- are you planning to grown the seeds in pots in your kitchen or does your back deck get more sun? Or do you have the time, energy and space to do something more involved like an actual kitchen garden? Although all plants like slightly different growing conditions, chances are you'll need to find a spot that gets a good deal of sunlight throughout the day.
Step 3: Start Planting!
Start by filling your seedling tray or paper egg carton with dirt.
Then read the sowing instructions on the back of each packet of seeds. Each type of plant responds best to a slightly different sowing depth. Some seeds may also call for special handling before being planted (for example, soaking them in water for a number of hours beforehand.) Don't forget to hold on to the seed packets as you'll need them to determine the proper spacing once you're ready to transplant the seedlings.
Sow the seeds according to the directions on the packet and cover with dirt. Then give them all a light watering making sure to get them thoroughly wet but trying not to disturb the seeds too much.
Step 4: Watch, Wait, and Water
Depending on the type of plant, it may be a week to two weeks before the seeds sprout. During this time, you'll want to keep the nascent seedlings well-watered and make sure that they don't get too cold (most plastic seedling trays come with a clear cover to create a little greenhouse-like environment).
Step 5: Transplant The Young 'Uns
Pretty soon, you should see determined little green heads breaking through the dirt. It's a wonderful feeling and very inspiring.
Follow the directions on the back of each packet to determine the right time to transplant the seedlings to their adult homes (whether they be terra cotta pots or a garden bed) as each one will vary.
One of the nice things about using the egg carton instead of an actual plastic seed tray is that you can just cut the egg carton into 12 separate pieces and plant each one in the dirt when the seedlings are ready for transplant. The paper will dissolve as the plant takes root in its new pot.
If you use a plastic seedling tray, you'll need to loosen each one individually (pushing up from the bottom and using a knife to cut around the sides is helpful) so that you can pop it out into your hand and place it in a well of dirt in the ground or in a pot. Try to be as gentle as possible since this will be a fairly traumatic process for your tender young seedlings. Again, follow the planting and spacing instructions on each packet and be sure to use organic dirt in the pots or garden beds. Water the transplanted seedlings well after you've moved them.
Step 6: Enjoy the Harvest
You'll need to continue to water regularly and to make sure the baby plants are getting enough light and staying warm. Bugs may also be an issue so keep an eye out for any infestations (and remember that ladybugs and spiders are your friends as they eat pests). As spring and summer progress, you should start to enjoy having a bounty of fresh herbs at your fingertips whenever you want them. Check out this luscious photo of my mint plant below to get a glimpse of what could be in store for you if you start your own kitchen garden.
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