Note: In honor of Earth Day today, Denise Sakaki (a.k.a. Wasabi Prime) shares tips for growing herbs. Though a self-proclaimed "reluctant environmentalist," she promises that starting your own small herb garden is a cinch. Even the least green thumb-inclined can reap the benefits of having a little pot of chives or parsley sitting around. —Mgmt.
I look forward to using our paper shredder because I know all those old bills and annoying credit card mailers will be pulverized and thrown in as dry materials for our compost pile in the yard. I hoard our used coffee grounds and veggie scraps for the same reason, throwing them into this literal steaming pile that, for all its stinky malfeasance, will be om-nom-tastic for our vegetable garden.
Would I consider myself a green thumb-obsessed environmentalist who loves the planet? Not really. All this started from the fact that I'm just cheap.
Long before I became a crazy compost hobo queen, I had a little windowsill garden of herbs, which was an easy and inexpensive way to be involved in growing one's own food.
We've all been there—you're at the store buying ingredients for a stew or a roast, you need thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley. But you only need a pinch or a dash of particular herbs, leaving you with enough leftovers of the fresh greens to make the same dish five times over, yet you know they'll all be spoiled and wilted before you get a chance to make the same meal again.
Curses! The solution? Grow your own herbs and add a little bit of green in daily life, which will ultimately leave a little green in one's pocket.
Don't roll your eyes. Keeping a small herb garden and growing some even from seed isn't difficult. For the most part, the herbs one uses in almost daily food preparation are ones that are hearty enough for the even the most questionable green thumb. I should preface this gardening advice with the fact that I live in the Pacific Northwest—the warm summer growing period is short, only a few months, and our winters, while sometimes snowy, is not the icy storms other regions experience. But with herbs, it's all good—keeping them in pots keeps them mobile and when the weather is frightful, bring them indoors or under cover where it's more delightful.
Herb Growing Basics for the No-Muss/No-Fuss Crowd
Parsley and chives are super hearty plants, and these are probably two of the more popular herbs you'll use on a weekly or daily basis. They are quite easy (and cheaper) to start from seed, and once they get going, you'll wonder why the heck you ever paid almost two dollars for a single bunch of flat-leaf parsley.
Popular herbs to buy as young plants from nurseries include: thyme, rosemary, sage, and basil. Warmer climates could easily grow basil from seed (I'm not as lucky where I live, so I buy the plants). The thyme, rosemary and sage are heartier and will tend to die back and return in the spring—these are best kept outdoors and then brought under cover when there's a hard freeze
Growing herbs outdoors doesn't require much space; strawberry pots are great to use as an all-in-one herb garden, as the multiple openings along the sides of the pots are great little areas to put in a bunch of chives or a small bit of thyme. Put it on a rolling plant stand if you know you'll need to move it around, as it can get heavy once filled with soil.
Peat pots are awesome. They're dried little discs of peat that expand when you soak in water. You bury a few seeds down the center and keep them moist and in a sunny spot until things sprout. Once the starts get big enough, the peat pots are easily-transplantable into larger containers.
Be resourceful; you don't need special gardening gear to grow stuff. Save your cardboard paper rolls for DIY compostable starter pots. Gardening blogger South Sound Garden had some great posts about this method for starting seeds, plus an experiment with using glass baking ware that yielded great results using all things that non-gardeners would have around.
Be inventive and think, "If I were a plant, where would I like to live?" I kept the plastic packaging from apples that I bought at a bulk store because the round domes were the perfect mini-greenhouse for peat pots I was using to sprout seeds. It keeps the starts protected and moist, plus they're so sturdy, they can be used multiple seasons.
Sure, it seems like a lot of "well, duh" gardening common sense, but that's because it really is easy, and there's not a lot of preparation involved. Just get out there and do it. Make a little room on the kitchen windowsill and have a little bundle of chives to snip from to freshen up dinner.
No one's advocating a Green Acres life or getting a pig named Arnold (unless you really want to), but for something simple like fresh herbs, it's a low-effort, high-reward project. And who knows, maybe in enough time, you'll find yourself hording paper shreds and used coffee grounds to feed your vegetable garden.