Friday, May 21, 2010

Growing Herbs from Seed

wild zaatar oregano

I have always loved herbs. Living in an apartment with no room for the traditional garden rows of tomatoes, peppers, corn and okra really solidified that love. Our garden in Dallas was about 40 square feet and consisted mainly of herbs and greens. There were little squares of kale, lettuce and basil, but mainly we had massive tangles of thyme, rosemary, chives and six varieties of oregano. So, while none of our dinners were homegrown, we at least had an occasional salad and could add fresh flavors to any of the less than fresh meals we found ourselves eating. They also made our little square of the courtyard the nicest looking (and smelling) by far. We stuffed as many plants as we could into the U-Haul as we left (they surrounded Mason in the cab), but still had to leave most of them behind with a newly interested neighbor.

Now that the big gardens are nearly filled, we are both impatient to have our herb garden again. This time around, we have a much larger space right in front of the house. Mason's really rough estimate is that it is somewhere around 150 square feet. With this space, we want to attract as many hummingbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects as possible. We want to put in a few toad houses and build a bird bath. Mason would love to have a tea garden and I'm growing some ornamental peppers and climbing flowers. Moonflowers are my favorite and made our apartment garden the perfect place to drink limeades on summer nights. But, mostly, I envision it packed with herbs. I want them all! The problem is that having them all adds up really quickly when those little pots are $2-$4 a piece. We talked about it and decided that it just wasn't feasible to fill it with nursery plants all at once. That doesn't mean I haven't bought a few--I can rarely escape a nursery trip without at least one, but the bulk of what we will be planting we are attempting to grow from seed.

I have always read that growing herbs from seed is really difficult, so I wasn't expecting to have much success this year when we ordered several varieties from Baker Creek. It was mainly just going to be an experiment to see if anything at all would grow. The first round of herbs that I attempted were started in a 288 cell tray. A few of these sprouted, but only the basil thrived. In fact, nothing but basil survived being transplanted into larger cells.

This time around, I decided to just sprinkle a pinch of seed into a 4 inch cell and let the herbs grow undisturbed until they filled the pot. It seems to have worked really well. The savory and fennel got a little leggy and the chives took a while to fill in, but most of the pots are now full and ready to be transplanted at any time. I've got Wild Zaatar oregano, summer savory, Chinese chives, common chives, Russian tarragon, catnip, lemon bee balm, burnet, fennel and marjoram. Mason is going to clear out the remaining poison ivy (carefully!) this weekend so that we can start planting and I'll take some better photos once we get some of them in the ground. Now that I've had some success, I can't wait to grow more. I've been browsing the Horizon Herbs catalog and making lists of all of the things that I'd like to grow. I think I'll be making an order soon, so any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

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