Kitchen Herb Garden

herb garden in potsWhat could be better than a container or garden full of your favorite herbs to help bring all your favorite recipes to life? Nothing beats the intense flavor of just picked herbs. It’s easy to have an herb garden, probably the most low care edible garden you can raise. (Recipes below!)

Ingredients

1 rosemary* plant
1 oregano* plant
1 thyme* plant
1 sage* plant
1 French tarragon* plant
1 parsley plant*
1 basil plant*
Planting containers, window box, or small garden plot

*Feel free to substitute other herbs based on what you like and use.

Location

You can plant this garden in a large pot/barrel or directly in the garden. While the perennial herbs can be planted in early spring, the warm-season crops (basil, parsley) should not be planted outdoors until after Western Washington’s last average frost-free date, May 15. Some years, when the spring is particularly cool and wet, it’s best to wait until the first of June.

Whether in a container or garden, herbs need good light,  soil, adequate space, and water. Choose a location that is somewhat flat, has excellent drainage, and receives a minimum of 8-10 hours of full sunlight each day. More is always better. In addition, make sure you have a good source of water nearby. Western Washington summers are often very dry throughout July & August. Your herb garden will likely need a good watering every couple of weeks during the growing season and daily watering if they are in containers.

Soil Prep

If you are starting a new, in-ground garden, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested first. Your local conservation district should be able to help you with that task. You can also use raised beds or large pots/barrels. Fill them with clean soil and/or compost for an instant garden.

Mix 3-4 inches of compost into a new garden to improve its overall soil biology and health. If you already have a garden area, be sure to add 1-2 inches of compost each year to maintain soil health.

Fertility

To ensure adequate nutrition for your herbs, broadcast a complete organic fertilizer (available at most garden and nursery centers) to the entire area to be planted. Mix it in well before planting. Herbs use much less fertilizer than other plants. Be sure to follow directions for the product you are using; generally use no more than 1/2 cup per every 10 square feet. If in containers, a couple tablespoons per plant is plenty.

Planting

If growing in-ground, space the herbs up to 24 inches apart. Basil can go 8-10 inches apart. However, when planting in a container or window box, you can reduce that space by half or more. Just be sure to compensate by providing more water and fertilizer over the season.

When planting herbs, be sure to bury the entire rootball, about 1/2 inch deeper than the pots they were in.

Maintenance

Weed, water, and nurture your plants through the summer. Information on growing herbs can be found here. For more information on vegetable gardening, Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington is a great resource from WSU.

Harvest

For best flavor, harvest herbs just before using. Careful drying preserves the flavor of most herbs for use in rubs and other recipes.

 Picking Fruits and Vegetables provides specifics to look for to harvest each vegetable for best flavor and nutrition.

Herb Recipes

Depending on what you planted, there are plenty of ways to use your herb garden ingredients; here are a couple of examples to get you going.

Butter Lettuce & Radish Salad w/Fresh Herbs

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 small heads of butter lettuce, outer leaves removed
4 thinly sliced radishes
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup assorted whole fresh herb leaves (such as tarragon, chervil, parsley, and cilantro)

Whisk oil, vinegar, shallot, and mustard in medium bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Cut cores from heads of lettuce, keeping heads intact; rinse and dry. Arrange 1 head of lettuce on each of 2 plates, forming rose shape. Tuck radish and avocado slices between lettuce leaves. Scatter fresh herb leaves over lettuce on each plate. Drizzle salad with dressing and serve.

Herb Pesto

1-1/2 cups (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine first 6 ingredients in processor. Blend until herbs are finely chopped. Add oil and blend to coarse puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl. Can be made 1 day ahead. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pesto (or cover with a thin layer of olive oil) and chill. Tip: For a terrific sandwich spread, mix some pesto into mayonnaise.

Washington State University