Spring has sprung, April showers are bringing May flowers and March came in like a lamb and went out like a lion...I know that’s backwards but it’s how it happened. At one time this was when my gardening started but I am now wiser...and older...
The time to start is now.
If you want to start growing and using herbs the time to start is now. I’ve seen many people say they can only handle one thing at a time and they’ll get to herbs next year. Even if you only grow the herbs and worry about using them next year, you want to start your garden right now!
Let me show you how to get started right now!
Make your garden plan
Your going to want a notebook for this.
Choose the herbs that you’ll be planting. As you choose your herbs consider the needs of your family. You should not randomly pick herbs that sound cool. Instead you need to look at the uses of the herbs and match them with the goals of your medicinal garden. You also want to consider the zone you’re in and the growth requirements of your herbs. Check out the Your Garden Your Herbs Free challenge to choose the right herbs for your garden.
Choose your space. Your space can be up-cycled containers on a small porch or it can be a spot in your yard transformed into a lovely medicinal garden plot. You can plant herbs in your vegetable garden or alongside buildings and fences. As you choose your space be aware of how the sun touches the space. And keep in mind what you’ll need to do to prep your space to plant. Don’t overthink it, you have enough space, you just may need to get creative. Don’t overestimate your space however. Squishing too many plants in one spot can stunt the growth of your herbs, reducing the harvest and the health of the plant.
Draw out your plan. Matching up the herbs with your available space you can draw out a general outline of what will go where. Don’t forget to include containers in this drawing. Keep in mind how taller plants may affect the sun on shorter plants. Keep in mind what herbs prefer the same soil, sun and watering requirements. As you draw out your plan, place plants together in a way that they work together and help each other out.
Gather your supplies. Supplies can include potting soil, shovels, plants, seeds, containers and whatever you plant to use to frame your garden if you choose to do so. When you are choosing your herbs think about whether you’ll be starting with seeds or plants and this will help you know what you need to buy when you get to this step. This project can be very frugal if you up-cycle containers or garden frames, use natural means of mulching and get creative with where you find your plants. It’s all about creative planning.
Get your hands dirty!
Get to know your soil. I used to skip this part, I used to believe God made dirt and anything can grow in it...am I right? Well sort of.
Most herbs can do well in poor soil and they can even help make your soil better but it never hurts to take a look at the soil you’re starting with. You can even look back later and see how all the work you’ve done has actually improved your soil! There are mail in soil tests you can do to get a very deep look but you can simply do a pH test to start out with.
Choosing potting soil is also important. It may seem simple enough to grab dirt from your yard to put in your containers but there are just not enough nutrients to keep your plants going that way. Look into buying dedicated potting soil for your container gardening.
My dad told me the other day that my grandma would roll over in her grave watching me garden...I told him she’d probably wish she had the internet to show her all the time saving tricks I’ve learned about gardening.
Pick your gardening style. Traditional gardening is changing and this doesn’t just apply to vegetable gardening. I find two big benefits from moving away from traditional gardening. I am taking care of my land by allowing nature to do it’s thing, replacing the nutrients that growing has taken from it, in a natural way. And I don’t have to till.
I lean toward different permaculture styles of gardening because they seem a little more frugal, fruitful and less time consuming than the typical till technique. This is my style, you can decide what you are most comfortable with or capable of doing.
Prep your garden. Depending on your gardening style of choice, prep your garden for your plants to go in the ground. Add mulch, fertilizers or soil amendments that may be needed. Build your beds, add your soil or compost, set up your frames and pathways if you’re doing that. Get an idea of how your watering system will work.
Dig in, get dirty. Grab your plans and put your plants in the ground. Using your drawing as a reference, keeping in mind the space each herb will need, get outside and get your garden planted. Herbs do not require the same care that vegetables do and are quite a bit hardier and adaptive so this little garden of yours will not require much time after you get the plants in the ground.
Maintain, Observe and let it grow.
Now your plants are in the ground...your done. Just kidding.
Succession planting. Some of your herbs may require succession planting if you want to keep them going all season. These will mostly be culinary style perennial herbs. Succession planting is where you plant new plants every couple of weeks. Planting herbs in succession will allow you to always have something to harvest and when the first plants fade out the following will still be producing.
Take pictures and notes. Start taking pictures before you even break ground. Who doesn’t love before and after photos. But really get photo happy as everything begins to grow. It’s fun to see the progress but you will also learn so much by having a record of the stages of your plants and garden.
Keep notes on what you do in the garden and the results you see. Track when you water, how the weather has been, what seems to be growing well and what needs some help. You also want to make notes on what year you planted the first round. Some herbs can’t be harvested until they are a year or two old so you want to keep track of this. If you feel like it needs written down, write it down.
Get to know your garden and write about it.
Pests and protections. Many herbs are actually used in vegetable gardens as pest protection. They help balance the insect population between the herbs and the veggies. The fragrance of herbs are usually a deterrent to most insects as well. If you pay attention to your herbs and harvest often, you will rarely have a large pest problem.
Molds and fungus are usually the biggest struggle with herb gardens. To prevent this problem, keep your herbs spaced well allowing good sun and air flow and don’t over water them, causing the soil to be soggy. This will help protect your herbs from the growth of unwanted mold and fungus.
Plan the harvest. Use this time to learn about the plants as they grow. Read up on them and think about the ways you can use them now or preserve them for later. Think about when it will be time to harvest these plants and how you will do this. Start thinking about the supplies you’ll want on hand when it is time to harvest.
Harvest. When the time is right, harvest what you need to. Do this slowly, one plant at a time and really get to know what you are working with. The methods of harvesting vary only a little depending on the parts you are harvesting. Knowing the parts you’ll harvest ahead of time is very beneficial.
Each herb can be a little different but you’ll learn more as you practice harvesting and preserving. You can also skip the harvest if you don’t have the time. I recommend focusing on harvesting the annuals. You spent the time to grow these and only have one season to harvest them, so let the perennials wait if you have to skip something.
Time to close up shop.
Seed saving and letting it go. If you plan to seed save any of your herbs this is the time you want to let a few of your herbs to begin to go to seed so you can collect them.
Mulch the gardens. This is the time of year you want to start adding good old organic material to your garden so it can break down over the winter and build up your soil.
As the leaves fall and the last lawns are mowed you can start building up your soil by mulching your garden. You will trim back some of your herbs during the end of the season. You can leave these to lay in your garden and let their nutrients build up your soil as they break down. Mulching using garden and yard leftovers is such a natural way to replenish your soil and prep your garden for next year.
The down season
Yay! It’s winter time to take a break. Pack it up and get back to it next spring..or you could get ahead of the game while the weather is cool.
Make your plan. As soon as I start my garden in the spring I begin thinking about what I should have done in the winter. Keep notes if your mind wonders like mine so you can get ahead of the game. Take all you’ve learned and start your plan for next year.
Did you run into herbs that you wanted to buy but couldn’t find locally or online because they were all sold out? Now is the time to checkout different suppliers online and buy your plants ahead of time this year.
It is also a great time to think about starting seeds indoors. Create a list of the herbs you’d like to start indoors and a list of the supplies you’ll need to make it happen.
Play with your herbs. Now is the time to warm the house buy playing in the kitchen. If you didn’t have time to create all the herbal creations on your list, you can use your dried herbs to play around with recipes during the down time.
Winter is also a great time to test out all the remedies and herbs you’ve preserved. So play around with your bountiful harvest and see how amazing the fruits of your labor can be!
Watch the garden. The garden is only dormant in the winter. This can be an important part to observe too. Make sure you check your garden even in the winter. Add mulch if you feel you need to. Water a little if it has been very dry. Continue to take pictures and notes over the winter as well.
And don’t forget to just enjoy the view in every season.
In just a year you can start a garden to last a lifetime. You don’t have to start at any certain point you can start exactly where you are. There is always something that you can do to start your medicinal herb garden, no matter the season. So go on get started. Don’t miss another season, don’t wait another year.